Sunday, October 24, 2004


Going back in time a bit, I really feel that the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Mountains and Music retreat experience deserves an entry of its own.

A week and a half ago, Fall Break started. I hopped on a bus up to Boston, and stayed with my parents for a couple of nights, and then we all drove up together to Pinkham Notch, at the foot of Mount Washington in northern New Hampshire, on Friday afternoon, October 15. I didn't know what to expect for accommodations, and had been worried about freezing in a small drafty unheated cabin, so it was quite delightful to find that we were all staying in the lodge, which was heated, and provided sheets, pillows, blankets, and towels. My parents and I shared a room - I got the top bunk. Friday afternoon we hung out in the living room a bit, and I met some of the organizers, and MV, who had agreed to be my accompanist, arrived. Then we went in to dinner, which was delicious. The food in the dining hall was truly scrumptious throughout the entire weekend, so much so that if I ever get married, it might be a fun place to have the reception. Heck, we could hike up to the top of Mt. Washington and get married up there. :) Not that I'm planning on getting married soon, if ever - don't worry, Mom, there's nothing I haven't told you! But they're rather fun to plan for anyhow. Of course, this means that my previous idea about incorporating elephants into the ceremony and swinging in to the ceremony on a vine with the groom under my arm is out. (Hey, when a dozen friends get married in one summer, you tend to sit in wedding ceremonies and come up with crazier and crazier ideas.)

After dinner was the first rehearsal, from 8:30-10:30...or rather, 10. Although we'd been told we could rehearse in the dining hall until 10:30, apparently we got some misinformation. The chorus was about 4 sopranos, 8 altos, 7 tenors, and 4 basses, or something like that. It was a great tenor section...but I couldn't figure out where all the sopranos were! Maybe I'm just too used to having a glut of sopranos since I'm here at Westminster. But they were just as good sight-readers as I had been told, which was a huge relief. I didn't have to go too slow, and there was plenty of time to rehearse everything before the concert on Saturday night with the orchestra.

Anyhow, after the rehearsal on Friday night, I went to bed, and my parents and I all read for a while before turning out the lights (one respect in which I really did get to have a bit of fall break was that I got to do some reading.) I re-read The Mozart Season, which is a very fine book, and seemed appropriate given I was conducting The Coronation Mass. Then it was up very early Saturday morning, in order to have breakfast before rehearsal started at 8:30 am. (This was the respect in which Fall Break didn't really live up to its name, the getting up at 7 every day part.) Rehearsal was from 8:30 to 10:30, and we got through almost all the rest of the movements that we didn't run through the previous night, with the exception of the Agnus Dei, and the full assembling of the Benedictus.

The rehearsal happened early so that people could then leave for their day hikes. My mother went on a hike, but my father opted to stay in and play chamber music, and I opted to stay in and vegetate. I read some more, and in the afternoon I worked on my Brahms Paganini Variations analysis for composition some. Since the weather turned nicer in the afternoon, I also went for a short walk up a trail that started behind the lodge to a waterfall, only about 15 minutes up the mountain, but very stunning all the same. Then it was back down for a short rehearsal at 4 pm, finishing up the Mozart and polishing up Bruckner's Locus Iste. We headed off to a truly scrumptious dinner, complete with the box o' wine my parents had brought up (or Booze-in-a-Box as I liked to call it) and then cleared the dining hall so that we could set up for the concert.

I had figured out by this time that this was a very laid-back atmosphere, so I felt comfortable getting up in front of the orchestra and running the transition points that I was so worried about. I believe this made all the difference in the world. The concert started w/ EH (the orchestral conductor) leading the orchestra through the overture to The Magic Flute. Then it was my turn. The Mass went well - we only had to stop once, in the middle of the Credo, when they didn't believe how slow I really wanted to go. I made a few mistakes - forgot that a transition was coming in the middle of the Benedictus b/c I got carried away listening to the strings and winds, and so that was a little rocky. Also, I didn't cue the chorus nearly as much as I had in rehearsal, or had wanted to in performance, but they did just fine. It's a large and lumbering beast, an orchestra...there were times when it was hard to keep a steady tempo, when I had no idea whether or not I was being steady and had to just plow forward. And it is unfortunately just as hard, if not harder, than I had anticipated to be preparing a new tempo in your mind for after a transition while still beating the old one.

But it went quite well, and it was nice to have my parents playing, especially my mother on tympani. (Shhh...sometimes I just followed her beat. ;) After the mass I sat behind the cellos and followed along with Beethoven's 8th. And then they brought out the tables and laid out dessert. I schmoozed a little bit, but mostly I was exhausted by this point, so after all the proper people had been duly thanked, congratulated, and conversed with, I made my way back to the room and went to bed.

I learned that how well a conducting performance goes is in direct proportion to how much I have practiced. There is no "practicing enough." If I practice some, it will be good. If I practice more, it will be better. I think I would not have made the mistake in the Benedictus if I had not left the score alone for the several days before the weekend in Boston. Also, conducting makes me thirsty! I think after I sat down I must have drunk a quart of water. Of course, it could also have been the wine at dinner.

Sunday we got up for breakfast. I should note that the one thing that could have made the dining hall better would have been the presence of real maple syrup. I can't eat any pancakes if all you have is the fake crap, people! And this was NH! Come on! [Edit: My father claims that it was, in fact, real maple syrup, and since I only tasted a small amount, I suppose it is possible that he is correct.]

Anyways, then we had a read-through with the chorus of just some music. I'd made a packet and brought it down, mostly of old Elizabethans music, the easier stuff. At one point, someone said, "Why are we reading all this slow depressing stuff?" and I was tempted to respond, "Because you can't sight-read the fast stuff! It's too hard!" My point was proven when we sight-read PDQ Bach's My Bonnie Lass, She Smelleth, however. Fast is hard, people! (Hard to compose well in addition to being hard to sight-read well...but that's a topic for another post.) I unfortunately forgot my packet of music there, so I have to make sure I have other copies of things like Madame Jeannette and I Will Not Leave You Comfortless but I'm sure I can reassemble that stuff without too much difficulty. I was going to bring down the latest piece I had written in composition class, but I forgot.

It was at this point, during the sight-reading, that I realized how truly lucky I was to have MV along as an accompanist. Man, oh, man, does a good accompanist make one's life easier. I'm SO glad I was able to get him to come along. "Dude, there'll be free food!"

Afterwards I packed up and loaded the car, and then MV and my mother and I walked up to the waterfall again. We came back down, I stopped in the store to buy some maple sugar for my roommates and a book for myself, called Solo: On Her Own Adventure. Hey, I figured I deserved a good book. I am now more sure than ever that biking across New Zealand would be an excellent idea. Or perhaps the perimeter of Australia!

All in all, very successful...and I am just reminded that I haven't written my thank-you e-mails to the organizers yet for a great experience and opportunity. If I'm lucky, maybe they'll let me come back in February. While I go do that, here's some pictures from the trip.

Here's the waterfall I hiked to twice.

Here's my mother in front of the waterfall.

Here's MV and I, looking like the dorky musicians we are.

Here's me looking, MV assures me, exactly like me.

And here's 75% of the whole musical family!

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