Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My great trip to Oregon and Washington

As you know from my last blog entry, I was invited out to the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA area for the premiere of my unusual double choir arrangement of William Billings' When Jesus Wept. For the folks of Howard Meharg's Chor Anno this concert was also a big deal because ACDA executive director Tim Sharp would be there, and not just to visit- Tim would be present for, and performing as well, in the premiere of his “Come Away to the Skies: A High Lonesome [Bluegrass] Mass" -you can read some more about it here:


I decided to make this a work/networking/fun trip, so I got to Portland on Wednesday night and was picked up at PDX by April Duvic, choral director at Clark College in Vancouver.

On Thursday morning I worked with Margaret Green's amazing high school choir at the Vancouver School of the Arts. Margaret let me jump in and teach them some challenging warmups that I like, and we talked about music and ideas from Alexander technique, and I listened to them sing a piece, after which I worked with them on expression and other things. We really had a lot of fun getting barefoot and letting the sound start from our feet up (ooh, they liked the barefoot thing!) and since this is a long class session (I think it was over 90 minutes) we were able to really connect and pack a lot into the class session. I really liked the students in this class and I love what Margaret is doing with them- they all love music AND work hard for their achievements.

I then hopped on the very convenient mass transit to downtown Portland and strolled around. This was my first visit there and I felt that an older dude like myself needed to find a ponytail rental shop in order to fit in.

(I found a picture of this old guy on Google, whoever he is, with ponytail- but most of the old dudes in Portland didn't braid theirs)

If I were younger I would have needed some tattoos and piercings. But the people seem really cool and I love their diverse ways- “Keep Portland Weird” is a cool slogan, and we could use some more weird in Chicago, that's for sure.

I visited the small Chinese gardens there- very quaint and lovely. I also went to the Portland Art Museum,visiting all four floors of both buildings, using the stairs instead of elevators.

Next I did a couple of geocaches in one of the parks, and then took a break for people watching at sidewalk cafe. I then walked up to Powell's Books. I think this is the largest used and new bookstore in the country and it is way cool. Their selection was monumental and any nerd, geek, or Marian the Librarian could live here for a week.

But the weather was great so it was time to get outside for more strolling. I eventually wound up at a jazz club with a pretty decent group, though they put a little more cliched funk into their mainstream jazz than I cared for. I finally strolled down to where Greg Duvic (April's husband) works a late shift and we drove back up to Amboy, WA where they live. All in all a great day!

Friday started out with more sightseeing. Greg loves the Japanese gardens up in the hills to the west of downtown Portland so we headed there. The Japanese garden was large and the best I have ever been to, even surpassing the impressive Anderson Gardens in Rockford, IL. There's a lot more to do right there up in the hills, so we also strolled around the famous Portland Rose Test Garden- not that I am a rose fan, but that was fun too. We also smashed a few pennies in the souvenir penny smasher (Aidan loves smashed souvenir pennies!).

We then headed downtown since Greg needed to start his shift at the federal building where he is a security expert for the federal judges, which is a second career for him. He was a career police officer and investigator for the Portland Police Department. Greg's stories were amazing, and I was envious of his accomplishments in making the world a safer place.

So now it was time for more strolling and I wound up at the same outdoor cafe where I was doing my people watching the day before. I then headed over to Deschute's Brew Pub which was already massively busy at 3 PM.


I was to meet my old composer/conductor pal Reg Unterseher there, along with two new members of Chor Anno, since Reg and these two young and talented newbies, the very friendly Justin Raffa and Molly Holleran, live all the way three hours east in the Tri-Cities, WA area and were driving in for the Friday night Chor Anno rehearsal. While waiting for Reg, I did a sample flight of Deschute's brews and was impressed. They certainly are well above average. Reg found me and off we went for a funky dinner at The Tin Shack on the east side of Portland and then drove up to rehearsal.

The rehearsal went really well. Since my piece, directed by Reg, was new, I had never heard it for real except in my head and via Finale software playback. I was pleased that everything “worked”-- and I really did have some concerns going into this because the piece, as a double choir arrangement, is a bit complex in spots. There are a number of pages without barlines (but with a pulse), and at times various voice parts do not share downbeats. This was part of the reason for using few barlines or using dotted barlines at different points for various voices. It's not like singers haven't seen a score like this before, but I admit that at first it looks a little odd and challenging. Of course, that should draw the curious singer into the piece, and get them to explore it more- including exploring how their own voice part interacts contrapuntally with other parts. And this was also a goal for this piece- to take a simple round and write even more variations of counterpoint with the material. I am more and more convinced that today's American choral composer/arranger needs to get down to business and write more counterpoint- we have become so monophonic in the last fifteen years that it's pretty scary. When one finally tires of ear candy full of piled chords and lack of independent line, where does a singer or director turn for some counterpoint? Certainly not to any other of our new works- our output is out of balance today in this regard. So this is an area I want to continue to work within- writing creative choral counterpoint and giving altos lines to sing, giving basses lines to sing, etc, and not just writing blobs of homophony which usually give no voice part (other than perhaps the soprano part) an actual line to sing!

NEXT BLOG: The Saturday and Sunday concerts, including a Meet the Composer session

1 comment:

  1. Great travelogue, Paul, and love reading through your gift from Powell's, "101 Places Not to See Before you Die". Great Sunday morning breakfast and conversation. Tim