Tuesday, December 15, 2009

25th Anniversary St. Mary's Women's Choir Festival

This past summer my good friend Dr. Nancy Menk of St. Mary's College in South Bend, IN asked me to be one of the judges for the 25th anniversary of the high school women's choir festival she hosts every year. This was a big honor, and Nancy also decided to make it a three way composer/conductor panel of judges, so I was joined by Lee Kesselman and also Eleanor Daley from Toronto. Nancy also changed the event into a two day festival and commissioned Eleanor to write a piece for the groups to sing en masse. It sounded like a great way to celebrate this impressive 25 year milestone.

I arrived Wednesday night early enough to work with the St. Mary's College women's choir (well, actually this is a women's college, so all the choir's are women's choirs) on my new arrangement of A City Called Heaven (recently released by Roger Dean). The young women were doing a great job, so I simply asked them to look more deeply into their souls and to reflect on the origins of this very intensely personal African-American spiritual in order to really convey the hurt and hope that it holds in a dual manner. Their facile young minds seemed to wrap around these ideas very nicely and I not only heard greater expression that night, but also continued exploration and highly expressive singing when they sang the song two days in a row during their performances for the high school choirs. Nancy and I then picked up Eleanor at the airport and had a fun, casual dinner at a local eatery. We had never met Eleanor before, and were delighted to discover that she is lots of fun and a real mensch!

Thursday morning- up bright and early and hearing choirs by 9 AM. Some really great groups and Lee, Eleanor, and I seemed to be in a good groove. The way Nancy works this is as follows- a group comes onstage, sings 2-3 selections, and then one of the judges works with them live while the other two judges make written comments. The judges rotate and Nancy worked it out so that if a choir were singing a piece by one of us in particular, then that composer would work with that choir.

Each judge had a different style of course, but I think we complemented each other nicely. Eleanor was very much into meaning of text and beauty of sounds and vowels. She also worked a lot on creating naturally flowing expressive lines. Lee was very good at finding what a choir did well and then build more successes on top of that. I was spending much of my time working with choirs to be more expressive and joyous musically and with their stage presentation, though that was not my only interest. I also worked with a few choirs using non-traditional rehearsal techniques, working on choir members taking more responsibility and ownership of their groups, and also working on color (more on that later).

Eleanor Daley

At lunch both days we shared our mealtime with the directors, which was fun, and on Thursday night Nancy took us to her favorite upscale restaurant. Lee was very adept at picking out an excellent wine!

I think that all of the choirs did a wonderful job and I applaud the directors for attending this event, which provides a wonderful opportunity not only to perform and get professional feedback, but also the opportunity for all the young singers to be out in the auditorium listening to each other sing.

A number of groups deserve special attention. On Thursday, the standout choirs in my mind were the Neuqua Valley HS Chamber Singers, led by Anne Kasprczak. The group was topnotch in everything they did and it is obvious Anne knows how to teach, motivate, and lead some very strong, enthusiastic young singers. Another standout choir from Thursday was from Toledo (OH) Christian HS, led by Dennis Johns. Their highly expressive performance of Eleanor's "Child with the Starry Crsyon" took HER breath away, and the underlying love of music taught in this program was obvious to all.

On Friday, despite their youth (just freshmen and sophomores) the choir from Glenbard West HS (Glen Ellyn, IL) directed by Andy Jeffrey was a joy to listen to and a joy to work with- as I know because I got to do their clinic. We had so much fun experimenting with tone color just by talking about tone in actual colors of the spectrum and just playing with paletes and smiling and laughing- what a great bunch of young singers who were never shy about speaking up or trying new ideas!

Probably the most amazing discovery of the event was the Friday performance by the ensemble from Portage Central HS (MI) directed by Cindy Hunter. All three of us judging were blown away by their presentation, enthusiasm, vocal abilities, repertoire and sheer joy. They seemed to have the stage presence and singing ability of a quality college choir and it was so amazing and wonderful to get to hear them. At lunch we then found this out- the group used to be a regular classroom choir for credit course, but because of district "budget" reasons, the womens choir had been axed recently. The director told the young ladies and they chose to rehearse once a week after school for seven weeks and still attend the festival. When we heard this we were even more blown away, their performance sounded like a choir that rehearsed multiple times per week, without a doubt. I even went out and found the young ladies in the lunchroom to let them know how blown way all three of the judges were- I felt they deserved as much praise as possible for all their hard work, as it was obvious that they had all worked very hard on this music at home or in a practice room on their own time.

The other big highlight to the festival was the premiere performance of the piece Nancy commissioned from Eleanor especially for the festival. Each day, Nancy's college choir sang through it once so the HS kids could hear it sung well, and then Eleanor worked through the piece with all the choirs massed in the auditorium. Eleanor did a beautiful job teaching them the piece, and telling them her motivations in how she set the text. And then the massed choirs did a final "performance" of the piece for themselves. Lots of smiles all around. These kids got to sing a new piece written especially for them, coached by the composer, and surrounded by hundreds of peers. What a great experience!

So congratulations, dear Nancy Menk- you have been an amazing, inspiring musical leader and mentor to so many people of all ages, and you've certainly left your mark on the choral world- with still plenty more to come I am sure!

(Nancy and myself with Gwyenth Walker, from a few years ago)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day Four in South Korea

Composers Byung-Hee Oh (l) and Hyo-Won Woo (r)

Composers Byung-Hee Oh (l) and Hyo-Young Ahn

This was a day for sightseeing led by composer Hyo-Won Woo and some other wonderful young composers and singers of the choir who joined us. The first destination was my choice--the traditional Korean artisan shopping district of Insa-dong. This area is full of medium to high end art galleries, artisan shops, jewelry stores, and so on.

A bit of it is slightly “touristy” but it’s pretty easy to spot the excellent shops and ignore the touristy ones, just like you would in any city with a district like this. I found some cool things to take home to Sherri and Aidan and we had another traditional Korean lunch including one really spicy dish which was quite yummy.

From there we went to the 13th century Gyeongbokgung Palace, a compound of many buildings, which have gradually been restored to their original condition. This was an amazing place, and you could really feel the history around you. The architecture and decorative details of the buildings are mind-blowing, and every few minutes various historically accurate rituals were played out by people dressed in period costume.

l-r; Byung-Hee, me, Hye-Min Lee, Hyo-Won

After this visit to a very historic, beautiful place we met up with singer Hye-Sook Paick and went up to the Seoul Space Needle where you can see out over the whole city. This was an amazing little sidetrip and they also have a tradition at the top-- lovers, husbands and wives, or families can write a wish for happiness on a lock, and then entrust the universe to make their wishes come true as they attach the lock to a long fence and then throw the key over the side of the hill. There were tens of thousands of these locks attached there- it was very cool!

l to r; Hye-Sook Paick, Hyo-Won, Byung-hee, Hyu-Young

We still weren’t done, as it was dinner time and we met up with Hye-Sook's husband, Kyoo-Sang Choi, and sat down to what he described as a working class dinner at a small restaurant. Even on a weekday, the place was packed and I learned more about Korean culture as we roasted our own meat on the little vented individual grill at the table. Some of the small side sauces were delicious and we even roasted our own garlic for fun. We then made our way all the way across Seoul to Puchon where Mrs. Woo lives. We wound up at a very posh and intimate wine bar there and folks asked me to pick out a wine. We went into the storage area and I brought out an Oregon Pinot Noir, as I figured they might like to taste an American wine they might not think of trying themselves. They liked the choice, but Mrs. Woo’s husband, who had joined us, found a better Pinot Noir from Australia to compare to the first. Cheese and chocolate entered the scene and we had plenty of fun chat, including with a very funny Canadian transplant named Nikola Schicchi (not Gianni!). He was great fun to talk to.

It was finally time to pack it in- we had been sightseeing, eating, and chatting for about fifteen hours. The Korean people love to talk and socialize and I was glad that they wanted to do so with me- it was a great honor to be a part of this fun day celebrating Korean artisanry, history, food, culture, and friendship.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bound together by song

Bound together by song

From the Kansas City Star Tribune

Written by Ray Weikal
Wednesday, 04 November 2009 23:01

The human voice can be a powerful vehicle.

North Kansas City High School vocal music teacher Mike Shirley knows the strength of singing. He sees it every time his mixed choir gathers for practice and students from at least five different countries are brought closer together.

In the past 18 months, the transformative impact of corporate singing in Shirley’s choir was made even more obvious with the addition of five Karen (pronounced "car-rin") students.

The choir has become a kind of refuge, Shirley said, for young people who still have vivid memories of government persecution in Myanmar and life in squalid camps along the border in Thailand.

"The thing that’s so unique is that they came to this country where they don’t speak the language and they’ve managed to thrive at our school and in this choir," Shirley said. "They’re a really amazing group of young people."

With the help of North Kansas City Schools interpreter Paw Wah Tamla, student Bo Bo Htoo explained that the Karen are an ethnic minority that has been under attack for decades from the military dictatorship in the former Burma.

All five students have multiple family members who were killed by government forces, Htoo said.

"We moved to Thailand because the Burmese army came to our village and killed a lot of people," he said. "If my family had stayed, they would have been killed, too."

Most Karen are Christians, according to the students, and they practice a form that emphasizes corporate worship and community well-being.

Choral music, the students said, is a central facet of Karen culture. When they came to the U.S., singing at church and school became a way of staying connected with each other and building new relationships with their new neighbors.

"Singing is very important to preserve our ethnic group," student Eh Htoo Na said.

Kitty Robker works with students in the English-language learner program at North Kansas City High School. She was one of the adults who encouraged the Karen students to join Shirley’s choir.

"Some of the other staff and I noticed that they loved to sing," Robker said. "We’d find them sitting together at lunch, singing. And their singing is so beautiful."

As a way of educating his students about world music and to highlight the school district’s ethnic diversity, Shirley requires all of this choir members to come up with something they can perform that reflects their heritage.

During a show last year, Shirley’s Karen contingent sang the hymn "We Can’t Live Without Jesus" in their native language. The response from the other students was great, according to Eh Hit Kaw.

"People know more about where we’re from and who we are because of our music," Kaw said.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Day Three in South Korea

At Dr. Yoon’s request I gave a three hour seminar on composition for about twenty young composers, as well as a few choral conductors who attended. The topic was “Craft and Creativity” and my premise was that a composer needs to address both issues and strive for balance. We had a number of long discussions about this and also wound up on tangents that were pretty cool. I talked a bit about African-American spirituals and the arranging process there, and they had a few questions about jazz as well, particularly how to add jazz elements into a score effectively. There were some questions about writer's block (composer's block?) which were tough to answer as this is usually not a problem for me.

Dr. Yoon also asked me to give them names of American composers who are writing creatively for choirs. I mentioned Paul Crabtree, Matthew Harris, Ola Gjeillo, Stephen Hatfield, and the Canadian composer Stephen Chatman. I also found an opportunity to introduce the music of my friend Reg Unterseher to them; we examined his very beautiful setting of Sicut Cervus published by Oxford and I left Dr. Yoon with a number of Reg’s scores.

All in all, I think the seminar went well and I made a number of new friends there. The folks in attendance seemed to be very serious about their work, and I appreciated that they wanted to subject themselves to listening to me for three hours! I also realize just now as I type that the majority of those in attendance were young women- so it appears that new Korean music has strong female leadership which I think is wonderful. After that, we had a nice light dinner at a nearby restaurant and Kelley drove me back to the hotel. I then hit the neighborhood streets all by myself and explored the neon of the night as well as the street vendor alley areas which extend for long distances behind the main streets. Here you can find vendors offering yummy street food, amazing produce & grains, every kind of fresh seafood you could imagine, including little squids staring back at you with their big eyes, toy shops, carpet and textiles, clothing; you name it- it’s there. My last stop on the stroll was a sweet little bar/café called “So Cool”, which was decorated very quaintly. Here are some random photos I took on my stroll.

Next Post: Sightseeing in Insa-Dong and elsewhere, and a whole lot more Korean food!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Day Two in South Korea: The concert

(cool sculpture outside auditorium)

After the dress rehearsal Dr. Yoon, most of the choir management, my interpreter for the evening, and I grabbed a very light dinner at a sweet restaurant located within the Seoul Arts Center complex. The fare was mostly Italian, and that cuisine seems to be a favorite non-Korean fare, and is prepared quite well.

(dinner with very gifted composer Hyo- Won Woo and Dr. Yoon)

As concert time neared the lobby filled with more and more people and a great deal of excitement. These Incheon City Chorale concerts are seen as great events, and the audience would number over 2,000. I was glad to see a fair amount of families with grade school age children attending, even on a school night. The hall has excellent acoustics and in a few ways reminds me of the great hall design inside Disney Hall in Los Angeles- most noticeably the use of acoustically favorable woods on virtually every wall and ceiling surface.

The concert began with the Missa Brevis Incheon and the singers launched into it sounding fully warmed up and ready to make great music right away from measure one. Perhaps some other choirs would have started off a concert with a shorter, simpler piece to warm up the audience and their voices, but not this group. They sang the Kyrie with great sensitivity and at times the basses led the way in the sound. I had especially noticed the power and richness of the basses in Oklahoma City and knew that I could write passages which would be purposely be bass-led. The Gloria started with the whirlwind bravura passage I was worried about- but this really was of no great difficulty for them and they ripped through the movement with great power in the fast and loud outer sections, and with great sensitivity in regard to some intimate tonal inflections in the middle soft part-wow. The Sanctus was sung with even more exciting bravura- the movement never lets up its forward drive, and the final three cadences build in intensity and in more and more divisi until all of the singers wind up on a very complex chord in their high tessituras at fff. Their singing of the last two pages or so made my hair stand on end, and I knew they were enjoying themselves. The final movement, the Agnus Dei, is obviously more intimate due to its text, and my setting employs some very lush harmonies. Once again, the choirs richness colored the sound in a beautiful way. When the piece was over, the audience reacted quite favorably and Dr. Yoon asked me to speak to the audience briefly. Through my very nice young interpreter, I was able to thank Dr. Yoon and the choir and everyone there for their wonderful graciousness, support for the arts, and so on. I was very pleased with the audience response to my music both during the concert and afterward in speaking with many of them in the lobby. Incheon City Chorale has a pretty sophisticated audience attending their concerts, yet none of them are music snobs.

A few word about this choirs soundmodel- Dr. Yoon has assembled 48 professional singers in their vocal prime who project “formant sound” (sound filled with many rich overtones) in the way an opera singer is trained to project. This creates an amazing richness to the sound at all times, yet is still not at all impossible to “blend”, due to the commitment to fine musicianship from all involved. Dr. Yoon’s concept of choral tone should challenge English and American choirs who try to “blend” their sound by singing blandly toward some imagined warm and fuzzy goal; a mediocre goal which creates mediocre results. This type of non-resonant choral singing is actually becoming more and more a thing of the past- thankfully, because most of the time it just makes for a dull sound with no vibrancy or color, and also lacks any hope for wide dynamic range.

The balance of the serious part of the program were some of my spiritual arrangements- Go Down Moses, Peter go Ring-a dem Bells, and the quasi-spiritual (on an interesting text by Natalie Goldberg) My Friend Elijah, plus an amazingly gorgeous and sensitive performance of Book Six of Monterverdi’s Madrigals. The singing of the Monteverdi was worth the admission price all on its own, in my opinion. In the spirituals the chorale especially brought out the story and drama of Go Down Moses--it was very rewarding to hear Dr. Yoon’s use of very specific dynamics to do so. There were some hoots and hollers in the audience for the big fff ending to Peter Go Ring-a dem Bells, an ending I enjoyed constructing!

The final portion of the concert was what many in the audience were waiting for- folk songs and popular music which highlighted chorale’s love of showmanship and the joy they take in entertaining an audience (gee, could we start doing this more in the US?!). There were a number of pieces where the choir acted and danced, often with sly comedic intent. One of these was an a cappella arrangement of La Cumparsita wherein two of the singers in the choir strove boldly (but with winks and gestural asides to the audience) to outdance two professional tango dancers onstage. The audience roared with laughter as they sometimes danced well but sometimes flubbed too- but really their comedic talent gained the audiences favor, as all roared with laughter at the wonderfully broadcast inside joke. It was all a great witty choral/dance/comedy performance of great hilarity. What a great way to finish a concert for all the young people in the audience- to see that “classical music” could be deeply beautiful AND really entertaining and witty-- and not just for self-appointed aesthetes! Oh, by the way, the women of the chorale used three different outfits for this concert- all three were gorgeous and added some extra visual class and interest to the evening’s performance.

After the concert ended there was great excitement in the lobby- the audience and performers mingled, Dr. Yoon’s entire church choir was there to applaud him, everyone was smiling and taking pictures, many choir directors attending approached me and I chatted with many people. We did a lot of photos and I signed a few autographs (that still feels strange to do) ad everyone went home happy and fulfilled. I was driven back “home” to my hotel and I relaxed with a very nice bottle of Spanish red wine that just happened to appear there. All in all, this was my most rewarding evening ever as a composer and I was so thankful to all the many people who contributed to the evening’s fun and success.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Day Two in South Korea: Leading up to the concert

Day Two in South Korea:
Leading up to the concert

The plan for the day was for Kelley to show me around Seoul a little bit, get some lunch and then get to the dress rehearsal in preparation for the evening’s concert at the very impressive and architecturally attractive Seoul Arts Center, home to an amazing array of performing and visual arts.

Kelley drove me from my hotel on the south side of Seoul (south of the Han River) to the more prominent part of the city north of the river. We passed some very interesting sites, such as Gyeongbokgung Palace, and went up the hills past the South Korean president’s “Blue House” (hey, ours is white, theirs is blue!). Way up at the top there is a sweet lookout point with a restaurant and teahouse or two. We looked out from this hilltop at the amazingly large expanse of Seoul (pop. fifteen million, not even counting the additional millions residing in Incheon City and other immediately surrounding large cities) and had some tea. I opted for the most traditional Korean tea , as my goal on the trip was to steep myself in things Korean- haha, here I was literally steeping in Korean tea-- hey, I made a joke!

From there we drove back down toward the main city business district and had a traditional Korean lunch at a very nice restaurant. Okay, a traditional Korean lunch is about fifteen courses, an amazing assortment of soups, fish, vegetable dishes, noodles, gelled dishes; on and on the food comes! I was tanked by about course eleven , so Kelley had to be the good soldier and finish through to the last dish. For one who hasn’t tried this food it really is hard to describe, there are a few very spicy delicious dishes, yet others which are very refined and not spicy at all. It has similarities to other Oriental cuisines, yet still very much has its own strong identity. I also discovered that every kimchi is different (kimchi is a moderately spicy cabbage dish). And this pickle fan discovered that kimchi and pickles are the ubiquitous appetizer munchies presented at almost every Korean meal.

From there we went to the dress rehearsal. We grabbed an espresso near the concert hall and then headed in. The singers were already intently rehearsing Monteverdi and greeted me warmly. We then launched into the Missa Brevis Incheon and I was in heaven. They really understood the drama of the piece and were singing it with great artistry. The tonal/timbral qualities were exactly what I imagined they might be like (as I worked on my Finale files at North Carolina and at home) when sung now by these real, live, highly talented singers, and I couldn’t have been any happier. Dr. Yoon asked me for comments and/or criticisms, and really it was hard to come with anything. What a luxury! I did point out a few cadences for them tune a little tighter and a few English pronunciations that needed fixing on my African American spiritual arrangements, but that’s about all I could find to talk about. The dress rehearsal was so great, even with the singers cruising a tiny bit and saving their voices for the evening-- I knew the concert would be awesome.

Candid fun photos from rehearsal:

Next post: Day Two, The Concert

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Super Fun and Rewarding Trip to South Korea for the premiere by
the Incheon City Chorale of Missa Brevis Incheon

Part 1- The Background

If you have been following me on this blog, FaceBook, Twitter, my webpage, etc. you definitely know that I was commissioned by the Incheon City Chorale of South Korea to write a concert mass for them to premiere in October 2009. The commission came soon on the heels of my meeting the Chorale and their director Dr. Hak-Won Yoon in Oklahoma City during the ACDA 50th anniversary convention, where they wowed the audience of professional musicians to the max.

Dr. Yoon asked me to write a 15-18 minute piece (essentially a four movement “Missa Brevis”) which had to be written in about sixty days, which also happened to coincide with my challenging new summer job teaching at the amazing North Carolina Governor’s School for all of June and July. It wasn’t easy to make the time to sketch and write the piece while working such a challenging new job in North Carolina, but I knew it was important to make the time to write creative and challenging music for this amazing choir. I was able to complete the Kyrie while in North Carolina, write most of the Gloria, and have ideas and sketches for the Sanctus and Agnus Dei. Perhaps the most exciting thing was that a certain idea (quickly racing through tessituras) I had for the opening of the Gloria would perhaps be very hard to sing, and I was constantly curious whether it was really singable. But I knew this choir of virtuosi just might be able to handle it. And I was also fortunate that I could still hear the sound of the choir in my head as I wrote.

So the piece was finished after I got back home in early August and sent off via pdf file to Dr. Yoon. After awhile I heard back, Dr. Yoon and the singers liked the piece a lot and the singers especially loved the fast and forte Gloria and Sanctus. They loved the fact that I was allowing their abilities to shine and to challenge them to some degree. One interesting side note-- some pentatonic elements started writing themselves into the score while in North Carolina. I didn’t set out purposely to bring pentatonic, seemingly Eastern elements into the piece, they just kind of happened (I am one of those composers who often feels that a piece in progress takes over at some point in the creative process and seems to start writing itself). Actually a number of my pieces lately have had pentatonic elements to them- this just happened to have some of that as well (thought really only quite noticeable in parts of the Gloria).

Just about two weeks before the Seoul premiere of October 20th, Dr. Yoon informed me that a way had been found to sponsor a trip for me to Korea for the premiere. This was pretty exciting- I wasn’t expecting this to happen. Travel arrangements were made, and off I flew to Seoul on Sunday, October 18th, leaving O’Hare in Chicago about noon on Korean Air. The only other thing I had to do was make sure that Aidan, our six year old little guy, would know that Daddy would be back in five days- and not be gone the seven long weeks the poor little guy endured while I was in Raleigh, NC for most of the summer.

Next Post: Day One in South Korea

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Music contributing to society- Bravo to Emporia H.S.

I happened across a mention of a performance of my fun "Mashed Potato Love Song" recently.

The Emporia(KS) Gazette ran this info last week:

Emporia High School Choral Department will present its annual fall concert at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the high school auditorium. More than 200 singers will be featured, representing five choirs from EHS, who are accompanied by Melinda Groves. The concert will use the theme, “If Music Be the Food of Love….Sing on!”

“All of the literature that will be performed on this concert pertains to the food theme,” said Sheree Stoppel, director of the choirs. “You will hear a variety of styles and time periods. We are asking the public to make a special donation at this concert in the form of canned or boxed foods for the Abundant Harvest Food Bank, instead of an admission fee. Boxes will be placed outside the auditorium doors for the donations.

“We are hoping the Emporia community will come and hear a wonderful concert and help support the food bank at the same time.”

I was compelled to contact Ms. Stoppel to congratulate her on the concert's goals, and asked her to e-mail back an update on the results.

Here is her response, and its truly great to see how much food they collected:

"The concert last night went well. Since I have a little over 200 singers, we filled the auditorium with family and friends. At last count, we had 449 food items donated! And Mashed Potatoes was a hit! The chuckles at the end of the song told us we'd carried it off. :) Also, the ensemble singers threw a little party today in rehearsal and one girl brought enough mashed potatoes for everyone to enjoy. With a little pool of butter, of course!"

Sheree and I are now FaceBook friends and I hope to meet her in person some day. Wouldn't it be "wunnerful" if every choir across the country did something like this AT LEAST once a year?

Bravo to Sheree Stoppel and all the Emporia High School students, their families, and their generous audience!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In Memorium: Alicia de Larrocha (May 23, 1923- September 25, 2009)

The brilliant, one of a kind Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha passed away a few days ago. She was always one of my favorite artists- an amazing interpreter of Spanish music and Mozart as well. Her recordings of Granados and other Iberian composers will always be the yardstick by which other pianists are measured when they perform that repertoire.

I especially loved how she could, when the music required it, make the piano sound like the percussion instrument it is, yet in an instant change to the most gorgeous, warm tone imaginable. Her uniquely personal mastery of color, finely shaded internal voices and sophisticated, nuanced phrasing was something to marvel over.

I was fortunate to hear her live twice, once in the early 1990's and then again, at one of her last performances (at the Chicago Ravinia Festival, not sure what year, early 2000's I believe).

The first performance was memorable in a couple ways. What was endearing to me was the following; she started the program with a simple Sor sonata- a warm-up piece and really something most any advanced fourteen year could play. At the end of the exposition, there was a little “stinger” tonic tone in the left hand. Ms. de Larrocha missed the note, landing in the cracks and immediately made a nasty face to herself (weren't we all taught not to do that in public?!). This certainly didn't bother me- I was there to hear her interpret the Granados Goyescas, and who cares about a little flub? So I grinned a bit about the flub and her sour face, and then when she repeated the exposition she missed the note again,and made an even more sour face! I just thought it showed what a perfectionist a concert pianist of this caliber is and how much pressure there is from without and within. The flubs and the faces actually endeared her to me- she obviously was not a robot, but instead, a deeply spiritual and talented human being. (this actually reminded me just now of an appearance by Garrick Olsen on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show back when classical musicians still were welcome in mainstream media- he was playing the Debussy Feux d'artifice [Fireworks] and missed the fff low A, hitting the cheekblock of the piano next to the low A with full force -ouch!).

The rest of de Larrocha's recital was a revelation. I had been bashing horridly through the Goyescas at home for awhile and discovering that all its layering of voices is truly difficult to pull off. I wanted to hear it played by its master, so I brought my score with (yes, nerdy) and followed along as she played. It was just amazing to hear her float across the piano and make all of these intertwining lines make sense horizontally and still maintain an amazing vertical sound, wow! In my opinion, this is one of the hardest things to do as a pianist, maintain an artistically convincing balance of the horizontal and the vertical without one or the other being favored to the detriment of the score.

One of the section of Goyescas I was especially looking forward to hearing her play that day was the section usually translated as “The Lady and the Nightingale”. This is a gorgeous lyrical movement in three parts; first some introductory melancholy tonal wanderings of the lady, followed by the main section, a fully developed and richly harmonized melody which Puccini would have paid money to attach his name to, followed by the final page where the nightingale sings. This page of birdsong is so intensely beautiful that if it doesn't touch you, it would prove you have no soul. So as she played this page I just melted and certainly wasn't following the score anymore- just soaking up the moment of pure magic from composer and interpreter!

The Ravinia performance a few years later was a bit different. She had definitely lost some of her powers technically, but that was, of course ,of no importance to the audience. What we all wanted was one last chance to hear her artistry. The other thing that happened at this performance was some stupid stupid person's cellphone rang twice during the same piece of music- Lord. After Ms. de Larrocha finished the piece she retreated backstage at which point Ravinia management came out and handcuffed and led away the transgressor (nah, kidding- but they did come out and sternly told the audience to turn off their damn phones!).

So Alicia, you will be missed greatly by music lovers the world over. Thank you so much for all your amazing performances and recordings.

Trivia item #1: Enrique Granados passed away in the icy waters of the Atlantic- he was sailing in a ferry that was torpedoed by the German navy. He was only 48 years old. Think what amazing music he might have written had he lived longer- he was certainly expanding 19th-early 2th century tonality in his own Spanish way.

Trivia item #2: Spellcheck does not like the word “Goyescas” and would prefer the word “escargot” be used in its place- huh? I have decided to not allow spellcheck to have its way.

Friday, September 11, 2009


The Leaves are Falling (adaptation of Rilke's Herbst)

The leaves are falling, falling as if from afar;
Wither'd they fall from distant gardens of the sky.
And through this deep night,
The earth falls away from the stars into solitude.
Yet the leaves, the earth, our souls, are gather'd, gather'd gently.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tears of laughter

This is from a blog awhile back by Jonathan Miller, the director of Chicago A Capella, a very fun and talented professional chamber choir in Chicago. I love the fact that Jonathan talks about music affecting people in a personal way, and I certainly enjoy hearing about how silly music, not just serious music, can make life special (and a piece of mine plays a small part in this).

Jonathan Miller
Making Someone Happy
Mon, 7/9/2007

Last weekend, Chicago a cappella had a special performance, along rather unusual lines. A longtime patron was having a big birthday, and his wife hired us to go the Unitarian Church of Evanston for a surprise party and concert.

Sometimes it's hard to know if you're affecting someone, but this was not one of those times. The fortunate birthday boy, Craig (who was turning 50) sat up in the front row, enjoying all of it. One of the requests was the hilarious song by Paul Carey, "Mashed Potato/Love Poem" from the cycle "Play With Your Food!" We hadn't sung it in a few years, and it was wonderful to once again witness that song's effect on an audience.

It was especially touching when Kathryn Kamp and Betsy Grizzell sang a duet that had been written for Craig's wedding thirteen years ago. Then we sang "Happy Birthday" in wonderful harmony, with all the people who had gathered in that reverberant space. At that point, Craig said, "I don't know if my heart can take much more of this," to which I replied, "Okay, we're done!" (which we were).

I have often taken pride in the intimate connection we have with our audiences, even with 300 people in the concert hall. This was a lovely occasion when the intimacy was the total point, and all of the singers totally delivered.

To Amy, Kathryn, Susan, Betsy, Trevor, Hoss, Aaron, Matt, and Ben: thank you.

To Craig and Judith: thanks to you of course, and congratulations, and many happy returns!

Have a good week.

* 1 comment

Craig's 60th birthday
Wed, 7/18/2007 - 10:49am — Judith

I heartily recommend CAC for a festive occasion! Almost two weeks later, Craig is still talking about the performance and how moved he was and so are our friends. He laughed so hard at the Mashed Potato song that he couldn't catch his breath and tears were streaming down his face (although that might have been sweat, as it was 95 degrees outside and the church has no air conditioning where the party was held).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A score is not music

Doing another visit to a choir premiering a commission I wrote for them- I just feel more and more that the key to a great performance is memorizing the darned music!

At the last few clinicians gigs I have done or visits to choirs about to premiere a commission I have written for them I simply get to the point where I just tell them.. put down your scores and just sing! The INSTANT they do this they are watching their conductor better(most of these choirs I have visited recently really do love their directors), hearing other parts better, hearing vowels better and thus tuning better, matching rhythms better,you name it. EVERYTHING is better without the score distracting from the actual music. And we all need to constantly remind ourselves and each other that a score is not music, right?

So the next point of my rant is that everyone should be doing their concerts from memory- everyone. Or at least, do some of the concert pieces from memory, and this should even include community choirs, who often give their aging brains as an excuse for not even attempting to memorize anything. From what I have read lately, working the brain harder by memorizing music would be very beneficial for the health of those "aging brains".

Memorized pieces will always come off better with an audience for so many reasons, and really do force the weaker singers to do their work. They can no longer hide behind the score and fake things. The message is sent that 1) we are serious about our work 2) let's let our audiences notice this as well when they see us singing from memory. A choir memorizing music will always be capable of far better performances and hopefully be more inspiring to listen to and watch.

I recall a choir at the recent ACDA convention in Oklahoma City. Most choirs sing from memory at important events like this and are very prepared with their performances. In addition, they only have time allotted to sing about a half-program anyway. Yet, there was a community choir from the Southeast who read from their scores for their entire performances, and were pretty much buried in their scores. Their results were atrocious and they did not belong at the convention. It was pathetic to see how under-prepared this choir was, but the bottom line blame has to go to their director- he allowed it to happen. If these singers had been made to memorize their music, there would have been no way that they could have slid through in such an underprepared way- I am certain of this.

And besides, isn't it a joy to hear people singing beautifully, and isn't it glorious to see the shining faces of an entire choir opened up to their director and the audience as they do so- without their faces buried in a score? I rest my case.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Long time, no blog

Hello friends,

I'm guilty of not blogging for about three months- but I have excuses. First was my all of a sudden appointment to teach this summer at the North Carolina Governor's School and second was a major commission to be filled ASAP for the Incheon City Chorale. So here are a few tidbits and updates and I'll try to get back to more regular blogging!

I have been chosen to be the commissioned composer and conductor for the Tennessee MENC state honors choir-- for 2015. I am very honored regarding this, and am also impressed that the folks in TN can plan that far into the future. I'm lucky to see two weeks out at a time!

More news- my commission for the Incheon City Chorale is complete and is in the hands of the choir in Korea. I am pretty pleased with the piece and hope that they are as well. I'm looking forward to hearing a recording of what they do with it!

Three new pieces will be coming out from Roger Dean in early 2010. Winter Solstice (SSA/harp or piano) with gorgeous solstice texts by New Mexico poets; The Star, a very fun setting of the anonymous astronomical parody text of Twinkle, twinkle little star) for SA/piano; and Ding Dong Merrily on High (SATB/piano or harp), very upbeat, in 7/8 most of the time. I also finally got pieces reviewed in the Choral Journal- nice reviews for Roger Dean publications Cantigas de Amigo and Life has Loveliness to Sell. FYI, Roger Dean is always happy to provide free perusal scores to directors and also has a free new releases mailing list you can add your name to- if you need assistance signing up for this, let me know and I will help.

We did our final concert at the North Carolina Governor's School on July 24th. This was an amazing program of music about various intertwined aspects of water, war, conflict, resolution. We knew it was an intense program, but I don't think any of us up on the stage realized how amazingly intense it would be with a rapt audience of 600 people in Jones Auditorium. Once again, I was so proud of these 32 singers who never gave up on themselves even when the music was battling us at times in week two of rehearsals. In fact, during their final week of rehearsals they were getting so pumped up about that level of perfection they were seeking that I kind of had to gently cool their jets, as I was afraid they would peak too soon. It was natural for them to be thinking this way, as every night of the final week they were witnessing amazing performances by the dance and theatre groups, and we were the last ones scheduled (for the final Friday night) to show our stuff. I was especially grateful for the parental response after the concert and the fact that Dr. McElreath, head of the school, felt that the choral music performance at the state department of instruction (NC DPI) was one of his own personal summer highlights.

JULY 1 2009:

We just had our first two concerts at NC Governor's School East. we sang to a packed house two nights in a row and received mind-blowing standing O's both nights. These young singers connected to their audience all night in a variety of ways- straight singing, choreographed pieces, folk music with indigenous instruments, spirituals sung in the best possible manner, etc. what a joy and what fun to see the audience enthusiasm for "classical" music done with style and energy. "Does classical music still matter"? Those two nights it sure did.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

After picking on Emily Dickinson, what can I offer as superior poetry?

After picking on Emily Dickinson in my blog post "The Declivity Factor™, I feel I should back up my snideness (hehe) by offering some poetry from more recent times which I feel is far more worthy of our respect. I am going to post three poems here that I have set to music recently that have some similarity to the Dickinson poem being mocked in my Declivity post (hey, please know that that post was all in fun- to me, everyone and everything is fair game for good clean fun and I include myself as a target).

The three poems I am going to post here all are somewhat similar to the Dickinson poem in that their theme is about release-- maybe release from the cares of the world, maybe about the release of death. etc. Obviously the Dickinson tells you upfront that the poem is about death- yet my poems are far more subtle in regard to the identity of their theme.

The first poem, set by me in a fairly romantic way for SSA/piano. Published by SBMP. Cat #831
(excellent recording posted at sbmp.com)

Lake Song, by Collete Inez

Every day our name is changed,
Say stones colliding into waves.
Go read our names on the shore,
Say waves colliding into stones.
Birds o'er water call their names
To each other again and again
To say where they are.
Where have you been, my small bird?
I know our names will change one day
To stones in a field of anemones and lavender
Before you reach the farthest wave,
Before our shadows disappear in a starry blur,
Call out your name to say where we are.

The second poem, set as the final movement of a four movement SATB/piano piece commission by The Festival Choir, the whole piece using the title Into this World (the other three movement texts are by Elinor Wylie, Robert Louis Stevenson, and an adaption of Rilke)

Into this World
, by Natalie Goldberg

Let us die gracefully into this world
like a leaf pressed in stone
let us go quietly breathing our last breath
let the sun continue to revolve in its great golden dance
let us leave it be as it is
and not hold on
not even to the moon
tipped as it will be tonight

And finally , Laura Chester's [HUSH], set by me for SATB/cello/piano

HUSH, WAS WHISPERED, guard it. There is
nothing to be done now, listen. Nothing you
can do. First snow descends most silent. Falling
through worlds to be our covering, our rest,
putting us beside the wood stove, where
the copper pot sings for its supper, and the mouths
of the children breathe against the frozen
glass. There is nothing to accomplish, no
test. Just allow that flower to break
its sheath of ice, and warming, bloom in
brightness. No one has to take it.
Nothing to be said. Let it open--
toward the hills, the higher hills. Let it
be the song on which you rise, even as
the snow descends, and absence
animates the landscape, even at
this time of darkness—sing, for
tomorrow will amaze us, as the
constellation rides, and the moonlight
doubles in the heart of the beholder,
balancing the curving slopes of white.

What do all these texts have in common, other than the death or release theme? Well, they certainly don't rely on simple rhymes to create their art, like the Dickinson does. The meter is sophisticated and changes as the needs of the poet's ideas change during the course of the poem. They also each create an immediate world unto themselves, another mark of a great poem. Lake Song immediately creates the water world and the animals that inhabit it and the undertext which is the meaning on the fate/human condition level. Into this World likewise presents a world of us and our actions..."let us die... let us go, let the sun", etc. [HUSH] presents a family drama, seemingly with a subtext of its own, to be guessed at and uncovered by the reader.

Each poet crafts their own world of subtle interior or exterior action or meaning. But things are not spelled out for the reader--the reader has to work at their meanings, especially in HUSH. Additionally, the texts are humongous motherlodes of textual content, phrases rich in interior value and outward physical imagery, such as...

"I know our names will change one day
To stones in a field of anemones and lavender"

notice "our names" ie., our significance, also the (sad) contrast between stones and living anemones and lavender

"let us go quietly breathing our last breath
let the sun continue to revolve in its great golden dance"

notice the microcosmic personal "let us go" and then the macroscosmic "let the sun go"

, for

tomorrow will amaze us, as the
constellation rides, and the moonlight
doubles in the heart of the beholder,
balancing the curving slopes of white."

This phrase just leaves me breathless. The complexity of the whole here is a logrhythmic multiple of its parts. To me, this phrase is one of the most beautiful poetic images I have ever read.

What composer would ever want to seek out pedestrian rhyming poetry and create kneejerk compositional responses to such material, when richness abounds in free verse poems such as the three poems I have shared here?

Finally, as you see in reading all three of these texts, there is no Declivity Factor™, not a single word that requires looking up. There is brilliant personal insight into the human condition without ever the need for fancy overreaching words.

I'm very thankful to have discover these three poems and these three wonderful authors, who have been very gracious toward me when I requested permission to set their texts to music. I hope you will be curious enough now to discover their work and learn more about them: Colette Inez, a survivor ad great artist; Natalie Goldberg.. a woman whose books on journalling inspire others to find their creative voice; and Laura Chester...a woman open and alive to the world.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Declivity Factor ™

(Emily Dickinson- looking kind of Virgin of Guadalupe-ish)

Someone asked me- Paul, ole buddy, why have you not set any Emily Dickinson texts to music? And my answer is, 1) everyone else already has! 2)
The Declivity Factor™. And, what is The Declivity Factor ™, you ask? Well, it is simply this-- I heard a piece by Gregg Smith (what a nice man) setting some Dickinson, and at some point, the word declivity was uttered or sung or something. And I stopped and said to myself, "Self, what the heck is that word?" And, truly it was unbeknownst to me. So, I then said to myself, "Self, you have studied at a university (or pretended to study) and yet you know not of this word. What is wrong with this cinemascope"?

And then it hit me-
The Declivity Factor™! Which is--- no poem can be set effectively to music which has such ridiculous East Coast learn-ed words- it just doesn't work. Lest you think me wrong and uncouth, no less than the great choral composer Kirke Mechem has stated this as well- though far more "couthly". Mr. Mechem states (I paraphrase here) that choral settings of poems must utilize texts where the language is immediate, and that the big honking Oxford Dictionary 20 volume OE2 (comprising 291,500 entries in 21,730 pages- retail price $995 , for sale at amazon.com today for $848.02) need not be at hand. Mechem goes on to state that immediacy, action, emotion, and imagery are the key elements necessary to a text's successful metamorphosis into a successful musical setting.


Big word guy William F. Buckley (149-3-5)
motto: I'm smarter than you, na-na-na-boo-boo

Savvy composer guy Kirke Mechem (0-0-12)

motto: say what you mean, mean what you say

(Hey, I think Kirke is probably a lover, not a fighter;
but actually he has a chance to win, as he is still composing and Buckley is doing the opposite)

So, long story short, or maybe
vicey-versa- I haven't set any Dickinson texts because they have some of these fancy words sprinkled here and there (plus, declivity just has no musical sound to it whatsoever, I don't know how to make that word musical). Additionally, so many of the Dickinson poems are short and quite sing-songy. Their rhythm/cadence is quite often far too simple-- while the subject matter they are connected to is often not simple at all- to me a very bad disconnect.

Which leads me to the following nail in the coffin:
In addition The Declivity Factor™ (which I just trademarked a few minutes ago, in case you hadn't noticed)) there is The Yellow Rose of Texas Factor, popularized by humorist Roy Blount, Jr. Since so many Emily poems are in simple ballad meter with nice cushy rhymes, you can sing her poetry to ballads such as The Yellow Rose of Texas, or even the theme song from Gilligan's Island. These types of short lines/simple rhymes might make for somewhat passable beginning level children's choir music, but really, for serious music, the continual rhyming is actually detrimental. The reason being, that no really long musical lines can be established with any kind of sophistication--the simple rhymes keep popping their narcissistic heads up demanding attention. And if you do grant their wishes, your musical will usually be very choppy little four bar phrases. Furthermore, I think I am not alone in the belief that the
best poets couldn't care less if their poems don't rhyme.
So, pardner, I think I will pass on the Dickinson oeuvre (I've never said or typed oeuvre before) for now, at least. Here is a poem cut and pasted for you right here, so that you yourself can try singin' it to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas":

BECAUSE I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away

My labor, and my leisure too, For his civility.
We passed the school where children played
At wrestling in a ring;

We passed the fields of gazing grain,

We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,

The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’t is centuries; but each

Feels shorter than the day

I first surmised the horses’ heads

Were toward eternity.

Btw, I am a big fan of Copland's solo settings of Heart, we will forget him, and Going to Heaven.

P.S. Dickinson lovers, bring on the hate mail if you want.

If you have read this far, poor soul, here is your final reward:

pl -ties a downward slope [Latin declivitas]
declivitous adj
Noun1.declivity - a downward slope or bend
downhill - the downward slope of a hill
incline, slope, side - an elevated geological formation; "he climbed the steep slope"; "the house was built on the side of a mountain"
steep - a steep place (as on a hill)

One early use:

Jack and Jill went up the hill

to fetch a pail of water,

Jack fell down the declivity and broke his crown

and Jill came tumbling after.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

(photo of Carl Sandburg)

This Saturday, April 25, 2009- premiere of a fun new piece called Prairie Songs (texts by Carl Sandburg) commissioned by the Hinsdale Chorale for their tenth anniversary. If you are in the Chicago area please come!

For more info- click:


Monday, April 20, 2009

The WFMT/Chicago program announcer's audition

Here in waaaaay too cold Chicago (yes, spring and summer combined last from mid-May to about August 23rd) there is a great classical radio station, WFMT, which does warm our souls. Founded over fifty years ago, the station has never been tempted to become classical lite with a 5o tune playlist the way some classical stations in other cities have. Many of you around the country may actually listen to WFMT via cable or the internet. Besides the classical music, it also is the home of The Midnight Special, a Saturday evening program of traditional American folk music, which has been running ever since the station was founded.

I really don't think the station uses the following script anymore as an announcer audition (and not sure if it ever really was an audition script), but it has been preserved as a bit of fun on the station's website. Most people agree that this script was written by Mike Nichols (of Nichols and May fame, and later, of course, a very famous Broadway producer) when he worked at the station in his early 20's. See how you do on it yourself- maybe your next career is in radio!

(Elaine May & Mike Nichols--apparently propping up a sloshed water cooler friend of theirs)

Btw, this post drove my spellcheck crazy-hehe!

Announcer Audition

The WFMT announcer's lot is not a happy one. In addition to uttering the sibilant, mellifluous cadences of such cacophonous sounds as Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Carl Schuricht, Nicanor Zabaleta, Hans Knappertsbusch and the Hammerklavier Sonata, he must thread his vocal way through the complications of L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and other complicated nomenclature.

However, it must by no means be assumed that the ability to pronounce L'Orchestre de la Societé des Concerts du Conservatoire de Paris with fluidity and verve outweighs an ease, naturalness and friendliness of delivery when at the omnipresent microphone. For example, when delivering a diatribe concerning Claudia Muzio, Beniamino Gigli, Hetty Plumacher, Giacinto Prandelli, Hilde Rössel-Majdan and Lina Pagliughi, five out of six is good enough if the sixth one is mispronounced plausibly. Jessica Dragonette and Margaret Truman are taken for granted.

Poets, although not such a constant annoyance as polysyllabically named singers, creep in now and then. Of course Dylan Thomas and W.B. Yeats are no great worry. Composers occur almost incessantly, and they range all the way from Albeniz, Alfven and Auric through Wolf-Ferrari and Zeisl.

Let us reiterate that a warm, simple tone of voice is desirable, even when introducing the Bach Cantata "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis," or Monteverdi's opera "L'Incoronazione di Poppea."

Such then, is the warp and woof of an announcer's existence "in diesen heil'gen Hallen."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Floor, Wall, Wall, Ceiling (ad nauseum)

(Fritz Reiner, a mean old S.O.B.)

The conductors I like
... are the ones who haven't robotically waved their arms *floor, wall, wall, ceiling* in such a long time-- that they, and no one else can recall them ever doing it.

The conductors I like... are the ones who understand that a downbeat (floor) can be a really strong, hardwood or cee-ment floor, or a cushy carpeted one, or just a wispy cloud that they are sort of floating on.

The conductors I like... are the ones who realize that each beat might just have a different personality, and that those personalities might change during a piece, maybe even a lot, piling up Sybil like!

(Sally Field, "you like us, you really like us")

The conductors I like... are the ones who know that "Wall #2 " (beat 3 in 4/4 time) is their opportunity to move things forward into the second half of the bar, and is also often an opportunity to use an outward expansion of their arms to expand the sound (here is one of the few decent reasons to mirror conduct), hopefully even LITERALLY expand their singers breath/muscular apparatus. Wow, "wall #2" can do a lot, especially with the breath in choral music (I have seen Joe Flummerfelt teach this in conducting masterclasses, though not using my funky terms here).

The conductors I like... know that they can learn new approaches to rhythm from other styles of music; for instance, jazz ( think Count Basie at his swingiest, or a bazillion other jazz artists). "Ceiling beat" (beat 4 in 4/4 ) isn't the goldarned end of the measure- it's the sweet beat that propels on through to the next beat one. This is one of many reasons why jazz is so swankily rhythmic. For instance, classical musicians are often stuck in this square mindframe: 1234/1234/1234/1234 with the barline being an unfortunate wall.
Jazz is more like this: 1234-->1234-->1. If you are a beat number in a jazz tune, being first doesn't matter-- it's more important to figure out what you do with your beat value in relationship to the beats around you. What a difference... a kind of "it takes a village" thing!

The conductors I like... own metronomes that, luckily for us, broke twenty years ago and haven't been replaced.

The conductors I like... let the rhythms breathe (and breath in rhythm with their singers)-- let them out of the box of the "tyranny of the barline". They are dancers, not dictators; painters, not pothole patchers. They like their choirs, and their choirs like them. They invite you into a beautiful soundworld, not glare you into the naughty corner if you don't revere their power. An S.O.B. like Fritz Reiner could bully orchestras into brilliance, yet you can't successfully bully a choir- the psyche of the individual voice and the collective soul of a good choir is too fragile for that (in my opinion).

The conductors I like... are the ones who are sublime to watch and listen to, or whose choir are sublime to listen to with eyes closed.

The conductors I like... smile (and make me smile). In fact, I can easily sense, even with their back to me, that they are smiling and having fun with their choir.

Therefore Aesop and Confucius say: The next time you catch yourself doing a whole bunch of square, robotic *floor, wall, wall, ceiling* conducting (or a lot of mirror conducting for no valid reason) let go of the tension you were burdened with from your classical music conservatory training. Loosen up, pretend you are Sonny Rollins or Danilo Perez-- and let the music's natural rhythms flow. It's okay, really!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Highly recommended- Univ. of Michigan Summer Choral Conducting Symposium

(photo of Jerry Blackstone)

This is a great summer symposium with grad credit available. A couple friends of mine have attended this symposium in the past and loved it. If you are not familiar with the university choral world in Michigan- I have to tell you that things there are great. In fact, I go up to Michigan for their ACDA events as much or more than attending Illinois events (sort of sad, but true). Each of these four instructors is unique from the other, a big strong point.
Pearl Shangkuan does not teach at U of Michigan during the year- her home is the excellent program at Calvin College where she also works with my fiend Joel Navarro.

Oooh... and they're working on one of my favorite pieces- Rejoice in the Lamb by Britten.

University of Michigan Choral Conducting Symposium


July 6 - July 10, 2009


Jerry Blackstone, Paul Rardin, Pearl Shangkuan & Julie Skadsem

(photo of Paul Rardin)


Conducting Masterclasses

Dalcroze Eurhythmics

Score Study Sessions

Reading Sessions


This workshop is devoted to the enhancement of beautiful and communicative choral singing. To that end we will discuss conducting and rehearsal techniques appropriate for a wide range of choral ensembles. Students will conduct in class and be videotaped to aid in the evaluation of their work. Reading sessions of new repertoire will take place daily as well as practical opportunities for workshop participants.

(photo of Julie Skadsem)


Workshops may be taken for graduate credit (NCFD), Continuing Education Units (CEU), or for personal enrichment without college credit.



This workshop has been approved by the Michigan Department of Education for SB-CEU.

Total Number of SB-CEU: 2.8


Personal enrichment and CEU participants complete the application below.

Application deadline - June 15, 2009

(photo of Pearl Shangkuan)

Online Application

Or print and mail: 2009 Choral Conducting Application

Mail all materials to:

Summer Programs Office

School of Music, Theatre & Dance
2005 Baits Drive Rm. 220

University of Michigan
Ann Arbor MI 48109


Non-refundable Application Fee - $25 (not included in the workshop fee)

Workshop Fee - $450

SB-CEU Fee: $ 25 (optional)


For more information about Summer Workshops, please contact Regina Ferguson, Program Coordinator.

Email: rcferg@umich.edu

Phone: (734) 764-5429

Fax: (734) 647-6916


Jerry Blackstone

Paul Rardin

Pearl Shangkuan

Julie Skadsem

Choral Conducting Program


You will be responsible for providing the following materials:

Mozart: Coronation Mass (Kyrie and Gloria)

Available for downloading for study purposes:


Handel: Messiah (Movements 1, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-26067-4 (Edited by Alfred Mann)

Britten: Rejoice in the Lamb

Boosey & Hawkes, #48008987 (ISMN M-060-01512-0)

In addition, please bring the following supplies:

◦ VHS videocassette tape
◦ baton
◦ colored pencils


(Tentative schedule)

9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

Conducting Masterclass

Topics include:
◦ score study techniques
◦ rehearsal strategies
◦ building tone
◦ effective use of warmup
◦ repertoire resources

1:30-3:30 p.m.

Conducting Masterclass and Reading Sessions

3:30-7:00 p.m.

Monday-Thursday - Enjoy Ann Arbor!

7:00-8:30 p.m.

Monday - Summer Sings - community-wide sing through of major choral work with

soloists and piano; Jerry Blackstone, conductor

Tuesday-Thursday - Workshop Chorus Rehearsal led by faculty and workshop participants

with 50-60 voice choir


Musical Resources of Toledo, OH