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!