Thursday, December 29, 2005

CD Review - Chanticleer sings Purcell

True, we just had some Purcell reviewed last time. But how about some more?

Evening Prayer: Purcell Anthems and Sacred Songs
with Chanticleer, dir. Joseph Jennings, and Capriccio Stravagante, dir. Skip Sempé. Liner notes by Lindsay Kemp.

About the performance: First off, I must confess to a bias with regards to Chanticleer - in my opinion, they can practically do no wrong. Happily, this recording does nothing to disrupt that opinion. This album is a wonderful collection of Purcell's church music. The collaboration with Capriccio Stravagante is fantastic - the blend between voices and strings is amazing. The music allows a number of the members of Chanticleer to show off their solo voices, which they do admirably. But the real magic is when they sing together. For tuning, tone, and pure musicianship, Chanticleer cannot be beat. Whether they are singing in unison, as in 'An Evening Hymn' or in complex counterpoint as in 'Hear My Prayer', it is hard to imagine Purcell ever sounding better. For anyone interested in Baroque music or simply in really excellent choral singing, I would heartily recommend this CD.

About the music: Purcell grew up during the reign of Charles II, when England was experiencing a bit of an artistic renaissance after the stringent nature of Cromwell's Commonwealth. Music by past composers, such as Byrd, Tallis, and Gibbons was revived, and the music of Louis XIV's court was an influence as well. The earlier English influences can be heard in the complex counterpoint of such works as 'I was glad,' which is reminiscent of Gibbon's 'O, Clap Your Hands' or Byrd's 'Sing Joyfully.' And the French influence is clearly discernable in the ritornellos and dance-like rhythms in 'The Bell Anthem' and other larger-scale sacred works. But Purcell shines the most in the smaller anthems such as the well-known 'Hear My Prayer' where his incredible counterpoint skills are paired with a more daring harmonic approach; in these works he exhibits an unusually intense, emotional, and very unique musical voice.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

CD Review - Janet Baker sings Purcell

Long-term intrepid readers of this blog have probably heard previous mention of The Princeton Record Exchange. The Record Exchange is a fabulous store where many classical CDs can be picked up dirt cheap, and has gotten a great deal of my business in the past year and a half. So much, in fact, that I am hopelessly behind in listening to all the music I've acquired there. In the interests of addressing this situation, I am going to post periodic short reviews of CDs after acquiring them. So, without further ado, on to the first review.

Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, with Janet Baker, Patricia Clark, Monica Sinclair, and Raimund Herinex. With the St. Anthony Singers under John McCarthy and the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Anthony Lewis. Harpsichord continuo: Thurston Dart.

I bought this recording because it had Janet Baker, a well-known English mezzo-soprano. I was not disappointed - her performance of Dido was splendid. She has a rich tone, and her singing is extraordinarily expressive. Patricia Clark in the role of Belinda was also very enjoyable - she has a light, clear, nimble voice well suited to Purcell. On the other hand, Raimund Herinex as Aeneas was a little dull and woolly. The chorus, although occasionally sounding a little quavery, was in general quite strong and energetic, and the orchestra was excellent. My main criticism was with the witches' scene. Monica Sinclair as the Sorceress, all the witches solos, and the chorus as well tried to adopt a nasal, sneering, sinister tone. While this was initially dramatic and amusing, this tone interfered with the tuning and the musicality, and I wish a more straight-forward reading had been chosen. Apart from that, this was a fine recording, with Janet Baker standing out from the ensemble for her extraordinary emotional singing.

About the piece: Henry Purcell (1659-1695) wrote Dido and Aeneas, his only true opera, in 1689 for a girls' boarding-school. Accordingly the music is simple and the opera only an hour long. The story focuses on that part of the Aeneid set in Carthage, where Aeneas, a Trojan Prince fleeing the fall of Troy, and Dido, Queen of Carthage, have a brief affair before parting acrimoniously. The most famous part of the opera is Dido's final aria, "Thy hand, Belinda" and the subsequent final chorus "With drooping wings," which must rank as some of the most beautiful music Purcell ever wrote.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

RIP Martino

The Boston Globe reports that Donald Martino, Pulizter Prize-winning composer, passed away on Thursday, December 8 while on a cruise with his wife in the Caribbean.

Martino taught at the Third Street Settlement in New York, Princeton, Yale, NEC, and Harvard. After serving as Irving Fine Professor of Music at Brandeis University from 1980 to 1983, he joined the faculty of Harvard in 1983; he retired as Walter Bigelow Rosen Professor Emeritus in 1992. He founded his own publishing company, Dantalian, Inc., to publish his music.

I am not intimately familiar with Martino's work - the one piece I know is Eternitie, from his Seven Pious Pieces on texts by Robert Herrick. I sang it with the Back Bay Chorale several years ago. It was beautiful, and I loved it, and I am sorry the composer is gone.

At least he had a good run. His many awards include two Fulbright scholarships; three Guggenheim awards; grants from the Massachusetts Arts Council, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and the National Endowment for the Arts; the Brandeis Creative Arts Citation in Music; the 1974 Pulitzer Prize in music for his chamber work Notturno, First Prize in the 1985 Kennedy Center Friedheim Competition for his String Quartet (1983), and most recently, the Boston Symphony's Mark M. Horblit Award.

Nothing to sneeze at. RIP, Donald.

Information from and Grove Music Online.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

the meaning of conductor

Not many posts this semester - one of my New Semester's Resolutions is to change that! Look for more updates coming soon to a blog near you.

Roseae Feminae, the women's choir I founded a little less than a year ago, is having their winter concert tomorrow night. I am a little nervous and a lot excited. Our dress rehearsal was excellent, and while usually that's considered a bad sign, I think in this case it's a sign that a lot of hard work by the chorus paid off. Most of today was spent making the program, both writing program notes and wrestling with the actual machines that put the ink on the page. I did not know that it was possible for a copier to jam so often, and I have had some experience with them. After an hour's worth of work yielded me 27 programs, I decided to call it a draw and retire from the field of battle.

But tramping home in the evening (with a big pile of messed-up programs to recycle) got me thinking, as I have before, about what a conductor does. There are many noble theories related to artistic philosophies and interpretation and focus and musicality and whatnot. But in my experience, what a conductor does is wrestle with copiers. And spend time looking up Purcell in New Grove, and translating words in German folksongs that don't appear in dictionaries, and trying to find translations of the Great Antiphons on Catholic websites, and then digging out a Latin dictionary to make sure those translations are correct. And e-mailing people (oh, the time spent e-mailing people) and making charts to calculate when people are free to rehearse and scheduling rooms and calling choir members, and putting forth an enormous amount of work to get people in the same room at the same time with the music in their hands. And putting up posters to recruit singers, and then putting up more posters to recruit audience members. And pounding out lines on the piano, and learning notes, and studying scores, and waving your arms in the air, and then waving them again, and then waving them again, because your muscles can't seem to remember that it's 3/4, then 1/4, then 2/4, not the other way around.

This blog's web address is based on a pun - in physics, a conductor is a material or object that permits an electric current to flow easily. But that's not so much a pun as a metaphor. A conductor permits the music to flow easily, or in many cases, a conductor permits the music to happen in the first place. That means a lot of administrative organizing, and a lot of behind-the-scenes work, and more than anything, a lot of e-mails.

I spent part of the day reading The Robert Shaw Reader for my last assignment of the semester. Much of it consists of letters to his choir. While most of the letters address rehearsal techiques and philosophies, or artistic reflections, many of them contain injunctions to the choir to show up to rehearsal, not to be tardy, to learn their notes at home, and to get their heads out of the scores. Even Robert Shaw had to get people into the same room at the same time with the music in their hands. I am in good company.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

alive mid-semester

I realize I have neglected this blog of late, for which I apologize. Here are some brief notes on two of the most exciting upcoming concerts of the semester.

Upcoming concerts:

Sunday, October 30 at 7:30 pm
Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church
213 W. 82nd Street
New York City
Membra Jesu Nostri by Buxtehude
Cantata IV, Christ lag in Todesbanden by Bach
Fürwahr, er trag unsere Krankheit by Distler

(I have a small solo in the Buxtehude.)

Westminster Choir
Sunday, November 20 at 3 pm
Bristol Chapel at Westminster Choir College
Hymn to St. Cecilia, Britten
Trois Chanson, Debussy
other assorted pieces

(I have a small solo in the Debussy.)

Hope to see some of you there!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A brief synopsis of my London and Paris visit

This blog swings back and forth between being serious essays on issues in conducting and music, and more pedestrian entries noting what's going on in my life. This entry will swing towards the latter.

8/15 - arrive in London
eat dinner at Il Vecchio Monde on Cromwell Rd. Not that great.

morning: go on London eye, go bungee-jumping on South Bank, see mimes on South Bank, walk to Trafalgar Sq.
eat lunch at Garfunkel's in Trafalagar
afternoon: visit St. Martin-in-the-Fields, pick up theater tickets for the evening, walk through St. James Park, see outside of Westminster Abbey
eat dinner hurriedly at an American diner near theatre (!!!)
evening: see Woman in White, Lloyd Webber's new musical. Is about what you would expect - I find it quite enjoyable, if unsurprising.

morning: meet up with my friend D
eat lunch at the Marlborough Head, a perfectly lovely pub with secret bookcase doorways to the bathrooms
afternoon: wander Covent Garden and watch the buskers, hit another pub
eat dinner at Pasha, a North African restaurant on Gloucester Rd. Very good.
evening: go to BBC Proms, see Paul Hillier and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Fine performance.

morning: see auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham and British museum
eat lunch at British Museum. Fairly miserable and over-priced food.
afternoon: continue to wander British museum. Have very nice private tour with a volunteer on early Celtic artifacts
eat dinner at Ask, an Italian restaurant on Cromwell Rd. Very good.
evening: visit a coffee house on Gloucester Rd. Mom has best cappucino ever.

morning: meet K, family friend
eat lunch at the Hook and Cleaver with K, near Smithfield Market. As is drizzling and chilly, finally understand the true magic of British pubs.
afternoon: walk through Barbican, find nearby music store
evening: go to BBC Proms, see LSO under Sir Colin Davis perform Tippett #4 and Beethoven #3. Graceful and gentlemanly performance, w/ incredibly tight ensemble.
eat dinner at Koi, a Japanese restaurant on Gloucester Rd. which is divine.

morning: go to Portobello Rd. with Mom, incredible market that I highly recommend. Get hit by car. Buy several presents.
eat lunch at Electric, a shockingly good bar on Portobello Rd. V. good watercress soup with goat cheese.
afternoon: continue wandering Portobello Rd, also stop by Harrods. Have incredibly overpriced sushi snack at Harrods.
evening: go to BBC Proms, see LPO under Kurt Masur perform Sofia Gubaidulina's The Light of the End and Beethoven's 9th. Much broader stroke and bigger energy than previous night.

morning: drive to Oxford
eat lunch at a pub called the White Horse. Like all pubs I visit in England, the food is entirely satisfying.
afternoon: wander bookstores, walk around Christ Church Meadow. Father and brother watch Chelsea vs. Arsenal.
eat lunch at Le Petit Blanc, v. good French restaurant in Jericho section.

morning: visit Blenheim Castle. See very good sword demonstration.
eat lunch at Blenheim Castle
afternoon: visit Mini Cooper factory
eat dinner at the Eagle and Child, which was the meeting place of the Inklings, a group that included Tolkein and Lewis, and which they called the Bird and Baby. Find all this out quite by accident when reading placques on the wall.
evening: see The Importance of Being Earnest at the Oxford Playhouse. Very enjoyable - especially enjoy Cecily.

morning: private tour of Bodleian and Magdalen College w/ RB, librarian and colleague of my father's.
eat lunch at Queen's Lane Coffeehouse. Quite good and reasonably priced (nearly faint.)
afternoon: punting on the River Cherwall. Not as embarrassing as feared. Drive back to London.
eat dinner at Frontline, a restaurant near Paddington Station. Possibly the best meal I have in England.
evening: go to Fountain's Abbey pub, watch end of some crucial soccer game with father and brother, stay out late drinking and talking w/ A.

morning: fly to Paris
NO LUNCH - v. unhappy
afternoon: check into Tim Hotel in Montparnasse
eat dinner at Zazous. Perfect. In France at last!

morning: visit Cemetaire de Montparnasse, see graves of Saint-Saens, Poincare, Beckett, etc. Then visit catacombs. Cannot recommend highly enough. V. creepy.
eat lunch late at small cafe near Alesia road
early evening: see The Island (w/ French subtitles) Shockingly good - quite delightful, since previews made it look quite bad.
eat dinner at yet another non-descript perfect French cafe.

morning: meet w/ friend CFC
lunch: picked up at small corner bakery - cheese, lettuce, and tomato sandwich with mayonnaise on real French bread. Yum.
afternoon: prepare house in Berzy-le-Sec for wedding. Old charming house in old charming cute French countryside.
eat dinner at Pere Claude with wedding party. Best chicken ever, and best potatoes. Continue to adore France - way to my heart is through my stomach.

morning: meet w/ CFC
lunch: buffet by groom's parents. Bread, fruit, cheese, meat, v. delightful cherry tomatoes.
afternoon: check into Hotel Le Regent, prepare for wedding
Wedding, feasting, partying!

Go home.

My brother would no doubt want me to recount the jottings he made in my notebook, namely the soccer games he saw and the types of beer he tried, but since his handwriting is illegible, I'm afraid this entry will remain centered around me.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Hair reunion

One week ago, I went to the reunion of my senior-year high school musical. It was a fascinating and very positive event, where I got to connect to some people I hadn't seen for 10 years. After a few hours of chatting and ordering dinner, we all settled in to watch the fuzzy old video of our production of Hair so many years ago. And on the way home I found myself thinking about what I had looked like, what I had felt was lacking in my performance, and in what ways I had changed since that musical.

One of the topics I was mulling over as I drove back to my parents' house was the difference between my movement and the quality of movement of the leads. (I had a bit part, and was mostly in the chorus.) I knew they had something that I was lacking, but I couldn't figure out what it was.

I considered the aspect of risk-taking. It couldn't be fear of looking like an idiot, I thought. I've never been afraid of looking like an idiot, in large part because for much of my life I simply took it for granted that I would, so I might as well not worry about it. Then and now, I consider myself pretty good at simply barging ahead and not concerning myself with other people's opinions.

So if I wasn't afraid of looking like an idiot, how could I still be inhibited in some way?

Then it hit me. I wasn't afraid of looking like a fool. I was afraid of not looking like a fool. I was afraid to try and look good, in case I succeeded in a merely mediocre fashion. In a way, I still was afraid of looking like a fool...but I was afraid of looking like a fool who was trying to look good and failing.

All of my movements on stage had just as much purpose and emotion and intent to communicate as anyone else's. But there was no extraneous joy in movement itself. I didn't think I would be purely aesthetically pleasing to watch while I was on stage.

There are times when I have felt good on stage - in control, the star of the show, graceful, and fun to watch, most notably when I was taking all the baritone leads in Gilbert and Sullivan performances. But that was an exception. Much of the time, on stage and off, I assume people won't really enjoy looking at me. Because I assumed I wouldn't look good, I looked down on the idea at all. Looking good was not the point, I defensively thought. Accomplishing something was the point.

It was at this point that I missed my exit in the bright light of revelation, and had to go into the next town over before I could turn around.

The pieces all fell into place. Since high school, I had certainly learned to be more comfortable in my body and on stage. But I always took pride in the effectiveness of my body, in what I accomplished, and not how I looked doing it. And I chose activities that emphasized accomplishment of a goal, and not how you look getting there - taekwondo, crew, and especially biking. I also tend to dress efficiently, rather than enjoying how I look in clothes. And, crucially, my approach to conducting is communication-oriented, and has nothing to do with aesthetics. I assume that I won't look great while I conducted, and so I concentrate on getting the job done.

And, of course, this cripples my conducting. Since part of me is always thinking "Sorry you have to stare at me while we do this, but it's the best way to get the job done" I am not fully stepping into my role as the visual focus of the musical experience, and I am sabotaging both myself and the ensemble. I can't communicate with people emotionally about what's going on in the music if I think I'm a visual imposition.

So, how to fix this? Start to study Alexander technique, as I had planned. Keep working with my friends who try to get me to enjoy wearing clothes and understand how they work. Start to assume that other people will enjoy looking at me. And work on feeling that I am beautiful when I move, especially when I conduct.

At the reunion, I was discussing taekwondo with the husband of one of the cast members, and mentioned my strong desire to return after the hiatus I took last year during school. But now I feel that perhaps it is not the proper time for me to return to taekwondo. I think it's time I started to

Once again, I am brought back to that pivotal Marianne Williamson quote. Perhaps I should just get it tattooed on my arm.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Secret Santa Swap

Last December, the conducting department got together and had a Yankee swap. Through a combination of no mercy and luck, I ended up with exactly the gift I wanted - a $10 gift certificate to The Princeton Record Exchange and the company of Prof. DM on a trip to this store where he would recommend all the good recordings.

Well, I finally got my X-mas present today! DM and I met up this afternoon, and spent an hour wading through the used classical bin. The Princeton Record Exchange is the cheapest spot for used CD's I have ever found, but nevertheless, it was a tough job keeping my spending in the double digits.

It is doubtless a sinister sign of a covetous attitude, but I always want to list what I picked up on my blog. For me, it's a way of re-appreciating what I got, and for anyone else, a clouded and confusing glance into my musical interests.


  • Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, perf. by Les Arts Florissant, cond. by William Christie
  • Dvořák's Stabat Mater, perf. by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, cond. by Robert Shaw
  • A 2-CD set of Vaughan Williams, including A Sea Symphony, perf. by the BBC Orchestra, cond. by Sir Andrew Davis
  • Voices of Life, various songs by the Bulgarian Women's Choir
  • Sigismondo D'India's Il primo libro de madrigali a cinque voci, perf. by The Consort of Musicke, dir. by Anthony Rooley
  • Martin's Mass and Pizzetti's Requiem, perf. by the Westminster Cathedral Choir, cond. by James O'Donnell
  • Various pieces by William Mundy, perf. by The Sixteen, cond. by Harry Christophers
  • Górecki's Symphony No. 3, perf. by Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta, cond. by David Zinman
  • Zelenka's The Lamentations of Jeremiah, perf. by The Chandos Baroque Players
  • Cozzolani's Messa Paschale, perf. by Magnificat, cond. by Warren Stewart
  • Renée Fleming's relatively new Handel CD, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, cond. by Harry Bicket
  • Various pieces by Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre, perf. by Cecilia's Circle
  • Scarlatti's Stabat Mater, perf. by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, and cond. by John Eliot Gardiner
  • Mozart's Mass in C Minor, perf. by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists with Sylvia McNair, Diana Montague, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, and Cornelius Hauptmann, and cond. by John Eliot Gardiner
  • Charpentier's Miserere and various motets, perf. by Choeurs et Orchestre de La Chapelle Royale, cond. by Philippe Herreweghe

Well, don't look at me like that, people. You should have seen the stack I didn't buy. And I have orals coming up this year. That means I need to have a thorough knowledge of the choral repertoire. It's my job to educate myself like this!

Vocal Institute

Well, it's nearly over, but July was very busy. Big Job Number One was singing in La bella dormente nel bosco in the Lincoln Center Festival a few weeks ago. Puppets, puppets, everywhere - almost all the action was performed by life-size puppets, and the singers stood off to one side. There was a week of rehearsals, and then a week of performances - 6 shows in 5 days. The opera was splendid and charming, the audiences as giving and receptive as one could possibly hope for, and the music was just as enjoyable to sing and listen to the last night as the first. Best of all, I got paid, and got to be part of a professional opera. And yet, this experience was most valuable because it helped me to figure out that I don't want to be part of a professional opera chorus. Since this is not something I'm currently training to do, perhaps nobody else is surprised, and yet it's always been one of those tempting options, especially when you hear about the salaries and benefits some opera houses offer. However, the hurry-up-and-wait aspect of all professional theater, combined with the business-like approach of all the participants (it is, after all, a job) is not as exciting as the performances I've been in where everyone was an amateur, very passionate, horribly nervous, and totally invested. This goes not only for the singing, but the conducting - I don't think it would be as rewarding to conduct that opera as it would be (was!) to conduct enthusiastic amateurs.

Speaking of enthusiastic amateurs, and the other half of this equation, the middle of July was taken up with Vocal Institute, a 2-week high school choir camp on Westminster's campus. I taught and acted as an assistant to the big chorus. I taught ear-training from 8:30 to 9:00 am, and then from 9 to 9:30, then sectionals from 10:15 to 11:30, then theory from 1 to 2, and again from 2 to 3, and during the second week I sat in on the big afternoon rehearsal from 4:15 to 5:30. I had been extremely nervous about this job, since high schoolers are not a population I'm familiar with. I've taught only once before, and that was high school physics for 2 months, which was pretty tough - convincing second-semester high-school seniors in a lower-level physics class that they care is nigh impossible. However, caring makes all the difference! My theory class, which I had to make up as I went along, turned out to be a great success - I took the kids who'd had a little theory before, and had chosen to be there. We started out with key signatures and intervals, and by the last class they could all analyze a hymn (some of them were superstars, and I was able to push them ahead to seventh chords and secondary dominants.) I was immensely proud of them. I also had more fun than I expected in ear-training, which was mostly teaching solfege, with a bit of tuning thrown in. Although sometimes they were tired and grumpy, it wasn't as hard as I had expected to get them rolling at 8:30 in the morning. My favorite ear-training game was Muppetphone, named after a Muppets episode where someone plays a xylophone made up of muppets. I would assign groups of 3 or 4 students a note, such as "do" or "sol", and put together a whole scale, and then by pointing to a group, which would sing their note, I would play songs and have them try to identify the tune.

Sectionals were fun too, and whether by luck or something I did, the alto section was by far the most bonded, and had the most sense of unity and cohesion. All of the kids, even the ones trying to be noncommittal and cool, were excited and dedicated and generally excellent. Compared to singing professional opera, teaching music theory to high school students was far more interesting, exciting, fun, and rewarding.

I've known since I started studying conducting that I would probably be teaching high school at some point before I reached my goal of a really good university position (I've got my eye on you, MIT!) But until this summer, that knowledge was a source of dread - it's no secret that teaching high school is difficult and draining. Now I've gotten to see the good side of it too, and I'm not so worried anymore. However tough it is, I know there will be some exciting and rewarding moments.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

not there yet

Once upon a time, when I was a wee tyke, I asked my father what he did all day at work, as I sometimes did. On that particular day, he said, "Oh, I sit in meetings a lot."

"What do you do in meetings?" I asked.

"Well," he said, "I make suggestions, and nobody really thinks they're that great. Then somebody else makes the same suggestion an hour later, and I say, 'That's a fabulous idea! We should definitely do that!' and then it gets done."

The prioritization of getting things done over ego made quite an impression on my young mind, as it was already obvious that many people out in the world didn't work that way.

Cut to yesterday. The five graduate choral assistants are all milling around, trying to figure out the best way to have the Vocal Institute choir stand in the Princeton University Chapel. Someone suggested having the guys across the back, and the girls down the pews at the sides, so that the guys' sound would head straight out into the chapel (there are fewer of them.)

"I don't think that's a good idea," I said. "This is a really echoing space, and people have trouble hearing, and my experience standing in the back of the chapel has been that it makes one feel distanced and insecure. They're going to be at the farthest spot from the conductor there. Why don't we put them in the front two rows of pews up at the front, close to the conductor?"

The other four guys didn't seem to think that was such a great idea, and the guys ended up in the back.

Halfway through the rehearsal, one of the conductors moved the men to the two front rows of pews up at the front, close to the conductor.

I went up after the rehearsal, and she was saying to one of the other assistants, "That was a great idea to move the guys up to the front. Whose idea was that?"

The assistant said, "Oh, that was BH's idea."

!!! Maybe he'd been the one to suggest it mid-rehearsal when it was clear the guys were feeling distanced and insecure, but it hadn't been his idea!

I didn't say anything (except a brief look of surprise at the assistant) but inside I was instantly outraged.

I still have a ways to go to reach my father's more mature priorities, I guess.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Flummerfelt - the end of an era

Joseph Flummerfelt just conducted his last concert with the Westminster Choir. I am happy to say it went quite stunningly well, but everyone was pretty teary at the end. I hope we sang Barber's The Coolin well enough for him - he's been trying to "get that song right" for years. He seemed pretty happy.

Last night he conducted the Brahms Requiem and I think he conducted it better than anyone else I have had the pleasure of singing it with, which after this past year is saying quite a lot.

I have nothing particularly deep to add, but this afternoon's concert deserved note.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Hazelle Goodman and Mabou Mines

Notes from the South:

Last Saturday, we had our 3rd Die Vögel performance, and it went splendidly until the finale, where the tree is supposed to miraculously light on fire...and didn't. Singing the praise of Zeus when he's done jack scrap to deserve it tests your acting ability, let me tell you. "Oh, wow! The tree that I have worshipped for so long is...not on fire. Yippee."

Sunday I went to see Hazelle Goodman, the second of the monologuists (Mike Daisey was the first, if you recall, and I will also see the third later this week - there's three at the festival.) She did a performance called On Edge which was essentially a series of skits about race relations, as well as general life issues. She put on a completely different character for each skit, and her transformations were amazing - she really had the body language down of a true variety of people. My favorite skit was her ironic "Get out of the Ghetto! symposium, Part III - The New Black Suburbia!" She scolded her audience to straighten their hair, stop talking with "homeboy" bad grammar, pull up their pants, and to stop eating fried chicken, because "Oreos are a very tasty snack!" Some of the skits were very serious - such as when she played Amadou Diallo's mother - but many of them had me laughing extremely hard.

Yesterday I was pretty sick, and since we had the day off, I spent most of the day in bed, and the rest in front of my friend's TV watching more Alias. But I felt better in the evening, and went out to see Mabou Mines Dollhouse. Mabou Mines is a theater company that had put together an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's The Dollhouse. Most of the script was intact, but the staging was incredibly inventive. To highlight the feminist lesson of women being forced to live in a man's world, all the women were over 6 feet tall... and all the men were played by little people (aka midgets, although apparently that term is now considered offensive.) All the actors were great, and although the performance was very stylized and played with the fourth wall (some dialogues were done with stilted dance, some dialogue was done with overly melodramatic gestures, the stagehands came onstage and participated) I still found it to be very intense and effective.

The next few days will be all-Brahms, all the time - a four hour rehearsal tonight, a rehearsal tomorrow, and then a performance of the Brahms Requiem in the evening. Then a Westminster Choir performance on Thursday...but Friday I'll be hitting the theater again!

Saturday, June 04, 2005


Well, it turns out that I did not see Xenakis. On Wednesday night I hied me over to the place where the concert was scheduled to occur, and got there barely in time, only to find out that because the weather looked threatening and this was an outdoor venue, the concert had been moved halfway across town. I could have sprinted and possibly gotten in the door late...but I decided it was a sign, and I should go and watch some Alias. So I did. It's a very convoluted show, which is a high compliment where spy shows are concerned.

Thursday was quite busy - we had our first Westminster Choir concert, which was sold out and went quite well, and then our second Die Vögel performance, which also went quite well. Then there was a party at the apartment of one of the lead singers, which was fun - there was some dancing, and I got to talk to some people I hadn't talked to much before (such as the director.) However, it did make hauling myself out of bed at 10 am the next morning to get to a chamber music concert quite painful. It was worth it, because Messaien's Quartet for the End of Time gains a lot in live performance, but I have to admit to briefly falling asleep at a couple of points. The performance was quite good, but the violinist had a few tuning issues at the end.

Yesterday afternoon we all went to a party thrown for the choir by a family of benefactors who have been supporting both Spoleto and Westminster for quite a long time. We all drove out to their beach house, and played games and hung out on the beach (yes, I finally got to the beach!) and we sang some pieces for them, and they fed us dinner. It was very pleasant.

My clock is being set further and further back...I don't have to get up that early usually, and everybody stays up late. Going to bed at midnight is considered going to bed early. I've been staying up on average to about 2 am. It's going to be a painful wrench going back to New Jersey - when they tell you Charleston is in the same time zone, it's not really true!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Mike Daisey

Last night I went to a performance by a monologuist named Mike Daisey. He did a show called The Ugly American about his experiences studying theater abroad in London, and it was fantastic. If you ever get a chance to see this guy, you should definitely go. He was by turns very, very funny, and very, very intense. Possibly the most surprising moment was when he came out for his bow. He was sitting the entire show behind a desk, where he had a glass of water and some notes, and because of his skill, he was able to present the image of exactly who he was...but then when he took his bow, at the end of the show, after I'd been staring at him for 2 hours, all of a sudden I saw him as I would have seen him if I passed him on the street, a less true image than what I'd been seeing during the show. He was just a short, fat, doughy, ordinary white guy, and not someone I ever would have expected to be that fascinating on stage. It was yet another lesson not to write people off based on appearances.

The show hung together really well, and he didn't pull his punches - he talked about some really disturbing things, and he didn't try to sugarcoat anything to make it easier on the audience. There was also some hilarious commentary on theater, such as a really amusing riff on the idea of "challenging" theater being something people don't always want to see even if they say they do (an issue that hits home with Spoleto audiences, trust me.) Apparently he has a book out, which I plan on investigating.

Tonight will either be watching Alias with some friends or going to a Xenakis percussion concert. Haven't decided yet.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Spoleto Update the First

Here I am, at Spoleto USA 2005! The first week was certainly exhausting, but now that Die Vögel has had its opening night, the schedule has dropped off considerably - just in time for me to enjoy all the other festival performances.

The first one I went to was on Sunday night. It was called Improvography, and was a tap-dance show starring Savion Glover. However, it was really a jazz show, because Savion Glover is a jazz musician above everything else. He tapped on a raised, amplified wooden stage, and his feet were his instrument - he tooks solos, and accompanied the rest of the band's solos, and performed little duets with them, and all of it, just like the drummer (if a little more flashy!) His athleticism and dancing were superb, but his primary commitment was to the music, not to the visuals, and every step he took was for the sound it made. It was amazing - I don't know how he kept his body relaxed through that relentless dancing. And his three back-up dancers were amazing as well - when they all danced together, it sounded like one person, they had the rhythm so firmly in their bodies. It was a wee bit long towards the end, especially in a cold theater, but on the whole really fabulous.

Yesterday (Monday) afternoon, I went to a concert of the James Madison University Chamber Choir (I think officially called the Madison Singers?) who were quite pleasant, but not really revelatory on any level. Also, everyone does Billy Joel's "And So It Goes." I know it's a nice song, but give it a rest, conductors of the world. And do we always have to end with a spiritual? Isn't that a little cliched?

Yesterday evening I saw Emio Greco, which was very modern, very avant-garde dance. It was beautiful, strange, and not particularly accessible - very abstract, and I was never sure what the point was. But it made a good contrast with Savion Glover - tap concentrates all the energy in the feet, and this dancing just flung energy out of every limb, using the entire body in all possible swings and curves and large-scale arcs and bends.

Tonight I switch from dance to theater, and if we don't have rehearsal too early tomorrow, I'll get to finally go to the daily chamber music concerts. I've seen other people being drawn to concerts and shows that reflect their particular interests, but I'm hoping while I'm here to absorb as wide a range of performances and art as possible.

Friday, May 13, 2005

semester is done! long live the summer!

This is one of those I'm-still-alive posts, so it will feature bad grammar and run-on sentences. I apologize in advance.

I am done. I finished my exam and project for Choral Literature, and I did a lot of concertizing (my women's chorus, Roseae Feminae, had our final concert, and it went very well, and it was only half an hour, and we had 3 audience members, but they were all high quality audience members, so it was fine) and I sang in a concert with Westminster Choir and Jennifer Larmore, who is a fabulous, charismatic diva, and I'm done with school. Graduation is tomorrow, which I will attend and watch, and that's it. I have a lot of errands to run between now and when I leave for the Spoleto Festival on Sunday.

I just signed a contract with Lincoln Center to perform La bella dormente nel bosco there in July. How cool is that?

And I'm off to Charleston, South Carolina, to perform in the Spoleto Festival and get paid to sing there, too. How cool is that? (Although the rehearsal schedule looks exhausting, so I predict radio silence for the next month.)

Friday, April 29, 2005

last week of classes

The past week has been exhausting, but productive and successful.

Thursday (a week ago) I sang in performance class, which is the weekly recital for all the voice majors. Non-majors rarely sing, but my voice teacher encouraged me to do it for the experience. I sang Bereite dich, Zion from Bach's Christmas Oratorio, and it went very well. Didn't hurt that I had a kick-ass accompanist - one of the graduate accompanying majors agreed to accompany me. I totally owe her sushi. (Incidentally, she is perhaps the only other person on campus who doesn't own a cell phone.)

That Bach is a piece that sits very well in my voice, and is a lot of fun to sing. And I'm glad to have done it, and proved myself.

Friday evening was the first Kantorei concert, at Rider University, and Saturday evening was the same concert on the Westminster campus. We sang some Couperin, and Tallis' Lamentations of Jeremiah, and the Gesualdo Tenebrae Responsoris (the third set.) It went spectacularly well, and I was extremely happy to have my father, uncle, uncle's friend, and cousin in the audience. That may have been the best and hardest concert I've ever performed, and I was really proud of it, so it was good to have family there to share it! Saturday especially rocked - and right in the middle of the seventh response, the one with the most war-like text, "The kings of the earth shall rise up, and the princes take council together against the Lord and against his annoited" there was a bright lightning flash and a HUGE crash of thunder. It was so very extremely cool.

Saturday afternoon, between the two Kantorei concerts, was the performance of my women's choir (which now has a name! Roseae Feminae, in an oblique Latin reference to Rizzo's gang from Grease). We performed 3 works by 2 composers on campus, all of which went quite well. At the end of the concert, the head of the department came up and asked if we would perform one of the pieces, the one by the graduating senior, at Convocation (which was today.) We were somewhat caught off guard by this, but of course said yes.

Sunday morning my dad and I attended the Unitarian Church in Princeton, because we had been notified the day before that a fabulous women's chorus, Olympia's Daughters, would be leading the service. They were just as great as we had heard, and afterwards they kind of sort of invited me to join their group, which is based in New Jersey. I'm not convinced that with performances practically every weekend at Westminster I could make it work...but it would be a fabulous musical opportunity, so I'm going to keep thinking about it. I think they have what I was trying to find when I joined the Jubilee Singers last semester - a sort of direct, folk/spiritual-based, fun-loving communication-centered music...and they're also all UU's, so it would be a safe place to explore my spirituality.

Oh, and I liked the UU church, too. I think AN and I are going back this Sunday to dance around the maypole.

Sunday afternoon part of the Symphonic Choir sang the second suite of Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. They're a great orchestra - I noticed the outstanding brass particularly - but seeing as we hardly sing at all in that suite, and there was much standing around while the conductor rehearsed the instruments and not us, this rather qualified as a chore. Also, anything is a let-down after singing it with Lorin Maazel. I got home from that and just collapsed.

However, there was really no time to recover - Monday I was back into a frantic cycle of rehearsals, preparing for classes, and generally trying to get everything set up for today, which was extremely stressful. First of all there was Convocation, where Roseae Feminae performed beautifully. I really do get extremely fond of choirs that I conduct on a regular basis. They are all such great and fun people in addition to being an excellent and intelligent combination of musicians. Then there was my ear-training final, which was stressful, but fine. Then there was my 45-minute presentation in my Rachmaninoff Choral Works presentation, which was also very stressful, and required a fair bit of preparation, but also went fine. Now that those three things are over, hopefully I can relax and not have bad dreams from stress and not wake up with the jitters before the alarm goes off.

After Saturday, when I have a masterclass with Dr. Flummerfelt and a recital to sing in, I really ought to be home free - a final or two, several concerts, but also hopefully some spare time. Real life requires my attention. I really need to get my bike out of the basement and give it a good cleaning, for one thing!

I ought to finish my composition assignment for my lesson tomorrow, but I'm afraid that after the intensity of today I'm incapable of focus. I'll just have to get up early tomorrow and finish it then.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Bush's thoughts on atheists

Is anyone shocked?

"No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." - George H. W. Bush (father of the current monarch)

From this website, courtesy of my brother.

Good thing I'm just trying to change my graduation program next year, and not get elected.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Jacob wrestled the angel

It has taken me days to write this entry. Bear with me.

Symphonic Choir has begun rehearsals for graduation. Naturally, being a choir college, we all sing a great deal in the graduation ceremony, and the entire school is required to be there and sing together. The music for graduation was introduced on Monday. It is all Christian. We are not singing one secular piece. The graduates are singing a secular piece by one of the composition majors, and that's it. And the texts are not as inclusive as many Christian hymns are. Here is a sampling:

"Rejoice, ye pure in heart! Rejoice, give thanks and sing! Your glorious banner wave on high, the cross of Christ your King."

"March we forth in the strength of God with the banner of Christ unfurl'd; That the light of the glorious gospel of truth may shine throughout the world; Fight we the fight with sorrow and sin to set their captives free; That the earth may be fill'd with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea."

"Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee."

"Take my will, and make it Thine: it shall be no longer mine...Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee."

"O, Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end."

Participating in a secular ceremony at a secular school and knowing that everyone was being obliged to sing these texts would cause me problems regardless of my religion. But being someone who is not Christian, this is personally very disturbing as well.

To date, I have been forced to be flexible in my approach to sacred texts, since so much of the music I work with is sacred. I have no problem singing sacred music in concert and honestly and fervently delivering what the composer has created. I love performing the Gesualdo Tenebrae Responsoris for Holy Saturday that Kantorei is working on. Bach and Beethoven present no problems. Nor do current works - everything my chorus sang at the fundraiser last weekend was sacred, and one was a piece by our resident composer. I have no problem singing great, emotional music, nor do I have a problem helping other people to worship. If my music-making helps someone to feel a spiritual connection to God or anything else, then I am happy about that.

But I do have a problem being forced to worship myself. I do have a problem with singing sacred music in a context where it is assumed that I share the beliefs stated in the texts. And I definitely have a problem singing the above words in a context that is supposed to be by definition inclusive, celebratory, personal for the community participating, and secular. This is graduation, after all, not a service.

Another aspect is that if I respect other people's beliefs, and I respect their statement of those beliefs, then I am being disrespectful if I say those beliefs myself while not believing them. And it seems odd to me that people who do hold those beliefs should not feel the same.

Incidentally, this experience has forced me to realize that I really am UU. I have for the past several years described myself as a "lapsed UU", tongue somewhat in cheek. But it was not until the graduation music forced the issue that I realized the UU principles are not just something I agree with, they are my core beliefs. There is nothing that I believe more strongly than that every person should be free to search for what is true and right in life. And so I cannot sing "March we forth in the strength of God with the banner of Christ unfurl'd; That the light of the glorious gospel of truth may shine throughout the world" when I believe that I have no more claim to know what the truth is than any other thoughtful, spiritual person. After all, those are quite insulting words to sing to a fairly diverse community.

The main problem, however, is that I can't keep from breaking down in rehearsal. Being forced to sing about carrying the banner of Christ into battle is just too deeply insulting and hurtful to me, and although all of the reasons above are true, I can't quite effectively communicate the root of my hurt. I almost cried on Wednesday, and I really, really almost cried last Friday - I couldn't read all of the music sometimes because it became blurry. So, I decided steps had to be taken. I knew I wasn't alone in my feelings - AN shared them, which helped. And so I had a meeting with DM Friday afternoon, in which I laid out my problems with the texts, and ended up breaking down in his office. He told me that my feelings were shared by other students, and if I didn't want to be in the choir for those reasons, then I would be excused. He also said that I could determine the extent of my involvement with the ceremony. He let me explain as much as I needed to, and listened very hard, despite the fact that I think he could read my mind on the subject the moment I entered the conversation. I often feel that way in talking to him - conversation can spark along the wires at an incredible rate because he always immediately groks what I am trying to say. Not just understands, groks. In the same way that I always sing better in the presence of my voice teacher (whose initials are also DM - that'll get confusing!) I always think better and communicate faster in the presence of DM. Signs of good teachers, I suppose. Perhaps someday people will think more clearly in my presence.

Come to think of it, DM often says, when teaching conducting, that the best way to make something happen beautifully is just to listen for it. Perhaps the same works for conversation - if you just listen to someone hard, it will come out more truly.

I decided this weekend that I shall go and sit in the audience. I will sing along with the Lutkin "The Lord Bless You and Keep You," because I have sung it before, and I can sing it to the graduates in good faith. But I will not sing the others, and perhaps graduation will manage to be a positive experience yet, rather than the miserable experience I know I would have singing in the choir.

Now, that's not all, of course. The above music was chosen by a student committee. You can bet money that I will be on that student committee next year (see? I am a UU) and will insure that this sort of discrimination doesn't occur again. (For the record, I was informed that the committee decided to choose this music because it has traditionally been sung at graduation, and they decided to try to make other parts of the ceremony more inclusive to other religions. I'm afraid having the local imam make the opening prayer doesn't quite make the ceremony more relevant for me.) My friend AN, however, was unwilling to let the issue rest until next year. She formed a petition, and I helped her collect signatures, requesting that secular music be required to be a part of the graduation ceremony. She meets with the Dean tomorrow. Hopefully she will help initiate a permanent policy. We shall see. The bulk of my contribution will be research done over the summer for works for organ and chorus (or brass and chorus) that are appropriate for graduation. Part of the problem is surely that the student committee didn't feel they had many options - I suspect they may have only looked at past Westminster graduation ceremonies for their ideas.

This issue has consumed me for the past week. I have entered into a great many discussions with people, which is the best outcome of this whole event. One particularly interesting conversation happend today with a rather naive South Korean who said, "Oh, I just assumed that all Americans were Christian, even if they didn't all go to church." (Being deeply Christian herself, she seemed quite sad to find out she was wrong.)

So, obviously, this whole tempest has been of some value, if I'm able to get people who make wide-ranging assumptions to reconsider their preconceptions. Also, I tend not to broadcast my atheism, because I worry that it will either make my Christian friends feel attacked, or else sad. I sometimes feel that just saying the phrase "I'm an atheist," no matter how politely, is perceived as a slap in the face. But if there are people at my school who think that all Americans are Christians, perhaps I've been too circumspect.

There is one final slant to this whole business that is personally important, even if it's not crucial to the plotline. On Friday, after my emotional meeting with DM, I had conducting class. We're working on Bach's St. John Passion - we all have different bits of it that we're working on. So on Friday, several people got up to conduct their chorales. The chorales in this work are rather heart-breaking. The whole work is, really, but the chorales are simple, and nuanced, and direct, and express the emotions of the congregation watching the story unfold. In the middle of class, in the middle of one of the chorales, I started crying - I couldn't help it. It was definitely related to the events earlier in the day, but I still can't articulate to myself exactly how. It was something to do with so recently having broken down, and feeling so had something to do with being confronted with music that was deeply, personally had something to do with being allowed to approach the music and not having it thrust upon had something to do with, after becoming so angry and frustrated with the indirect effects that Christianity was having upon my life, being presented with something very near its essence.

When DM was describing to us in conducting class the way in which Bach sets text in the St. John Passion, he pointed out to us that evil or negative characters or ideas are presented very chromatically, and good or holy characters or ideas are presented very tonally. He said that this reflects Bach's idea of tension or unrest being a negative state, and resolution, calmness, and repose being positive states. I suddenly thought of how this is true of so much art. Most plays, for example, set up a problem that must be solved, or a tense or unbalanced state that must come to equilibrium. And although I understand the reasons for equating tension with bad and resolution with good, I think the opposite may be true of my relationship to religion in general, and Christianity in particular. I can't decide to ignore it - without Christianity, Western art music would be so vastly different that it defies imagination. I will be interacting with this religion in an intimate way for the rest of my life. But if I ever come to a resolution with it, that will mean that I have given up engaging with important and crucial ideas. I think where my musical interpretation is concerned and where my humanity is concerned, mental resolution will only mean mental stagnation. I cannot finally make up my mind about a topic as broad and deep as this, because my philosophy can never be complete. My state of grace will be unrest.

Monday, April 18, 2005

editor's corrections

I quoted a passage in an earlier blog entry that I attributed to Nelson Mandela. However, apparently that was incorrect, and it is actually by Marianne Williamson, according to Wikipedia. Apparently it is so often misattributed to Mandela that Mandela's organization, the African National Congress, has publicly stated that it is in fact a Williamson quote.

For those interested, here is the quote again - it is one of my favorites:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

And they're heading into the final stretch!

Brief news flash from the front:

Today was long, and ended with an enjoyable, productive, but intense and exhausting Kantorei rehearsal. However, the Gesualdo is going to be awesome. April 22 and 23, for anyone in the area!

Yesterday SJ and I went to the gym again. I'm really glad we're doing that. It's amazing how much exercise does for my sanity. Perhaps I didn't notice it before because I biked everywhere.

Saturday my women's chorus (which still doesn't have a name) performed in a fund-raiser at the church of one of the members. We sang a Hildegard antiphon, a piece by our resident composer AD, a song written by one of the members of the congregation, and a hymn arrangement by Holst. It went very well! I now have to decide whether or not to put on a final concert this year, or to let the composers' concert in 2 weeks be our last hurrah. I think I'll try to schedule a final concert, but it'll be awfully hard to find time. I should, though - they deserve to show off, b/c they're fabulous. This is the second group I've founded, and the second one I've become hugely fond of. I hope the trend continues.

I have huge amounts of work to do, and my brain is fried. I'm going to try the "do work in the morning before class" tactic - it rarely works, because I just hit snooze, but I think I have to give it a shot.

P.S. Who is 3M-on 8 Wheels? I'm just a wee green blogger as of yet - I assume that if you're commenting, I must know you!

Friday, April 08, 2005

Unitarian Jihad

I found this here. It tremendously delighted me, and I thought I would pass on the revolutionary principles. Sincerely, Sister Machine Gun of Diversity.

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary.

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States! Too long has your attention been waylaid by the bright baubles of extremist thought. Too long have fundamentalist yahoos of all religions (except Buddhism -- 14-5 vote, no abstentions, fundamentalism subcommittee) made your head hurt. Too long have you been buffeted by angry people who think that God talks to them. You have a right to your moderation! You have the power to be calm! We will use the IED of truth to explode the SUV of dogmatic expression!

People of the United States, why is everyone yelling at you??? Whatever happened to ... you know, everything? Why is the news dominated by nutballs saying that the Ten Commandments have to be tattooed inside the eyelids of every American, or that Allah has told them to kill Americans in order to rid the world of Satan, or that Yahweh has instructed them to go live wherever they feel like, or that Shiva thinks bombing mosques is a great idea? Sister Immaculate Dagger of Peace notes for the record that we mean no disrespect to Jews, Muslims, Christians or Hindus. Referred back to the committee of the whole for further discussion.

We are Unitarian Jihad. We are everywhere. We have not been born again, nor have we sworn a blood oath. We do not think that God cares what we read, what we eat or whom we sleep with. Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity notes for the record that he does not have a moral code but is nevertheless a good person, and Unexalted Leader Garrote of Forgiveness stipulates that Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity is a good person, and this is to be reflected in the minutes.
Beware! Unless you people shut up and begin acting like grown-ups with brains enough to understand the difference between political belief and personal faith, the Unitarian Jihad will begin a series of terrorist-like actions. We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions of the issues of the day. We will not try for "balance" by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues.

We are Unitarian Jihad. We will appear in public places and require people to shake hands with each other. (Sister Hand Grenade of Love suggested that we institute a terror regime of mandatory hugging, but her motion was not formally introduced because of lack of a quorum.) We will require all lobbyists, spokesmen and campaign managers to dress like trout in public. Televangelists will be forced to take jobs as Xerox repair specialists. Demagogues of all stripes will be required to read Proust out loud in prisons.

We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: "Sincerity is not enough." We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it's true doesn't make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn't mean you are not doing harm. Get a dog, or comfort someone in a nursing home, or just feed the birds in the park. Play basketball. Lighten up. The world is not out to get you, except in the sense that the world is out to get everyone.

Brother Gatling Gun of Patience notes that he's pretty sure the world is out to get him because everyone laughs when he says he is a Unitarian. There were murmurs of assent around the room, and someone suggested that we buy some Congress members and really stick it to the Baptists. But this was deemed against Revolutionary Principles, and Brother Gatling Gun of Patience was remanded to the Sunday Flowers and Banners committee.

People of the United States! We are Unitarian Jihad! We can strike without warning. Pockets of reasonableness and harmony will appear as if from nowhere! Nice people will run the government again! There will be coffee and cookies in the Gandhi Room after the revolution.
Startling new underground group spreads lack of panic! Citizens declare themselves "relatively unafraid" of threats of undeclared rationality. People can still go to France, terrorist leader says.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Berlioz and brothers

It's been a busy few days!

It was ensemble week at Westminster this week, b/c of our performance of the Berlioz Damnation of Faust. (We got a glowing review in the New York Times! If you need to log in to read it, use the username "letmeinpiggy" and the password "chinnychin".) Charles Dutoit was conducting, and the soloists were Sir Willard White (a truly fabulous Mephistopheles), Paul Groves (a glorious Faust) and Susanne Mentzer (an admirable Marguerite.) The two male soloists were so absorbing that I didn't pay as much attention to the conductor during non-choral bits as much as in previous performances with the Philharmonic, but I quite like Dutoit on the podium. Unfortunately, I am able to say much less about him in rehearsal, since between his soft voice and strong French accent, I was hardly able to understand a word he said. However, he is certainly detailed and involved - he did not let communication problems prevent him from getting what he wanted during rehearsal, even if it took a few tries.

This was a much less involved experience for me - I attended only two of the choral rehearsals this semester, only half the orchestral rehearsals, and I'll miss the last performance due to a dress rehearsal for the division of Symphonic that I actually belong to. But I did learn a good deal about my learning process - namely, that I don't learn French as quickly as I thought, and that I need to start studying musical scores more in advance! I did my best to contribute with energy, expression, and an eye to accurate tempo rather than sparkling diction. It's also a fabulously fun piece to participate in, so I'm immensely glad that I was allowed to join up at the last minute!

The other exciting thing this week was a visit from my brother and his girlfriend.

They arrived on Wednesday night. I was worried about finding things to keep them interested, but I ended up just cooking dinner for them and we chatted until quite late, while listening to my splendid birthday mix. Thursday I sent them into the city via train to pick up Berlioz tickets and have dinner, and then we all rode home together after the performance on the shrieking, hyper-active Westminster bus. I am happy to report they appeared to suffer minimal trauma. Friday we met up after my rehearsal in the morning, and I took them to the best sushi place in town (absolutely huge pieces of sushi), then to the gourmet ice cream shop, then to Micawber Books (where we managed to while away about 2 hours) and then to the Princeton Record Exchange. At all of these places, of course, I ended up making the most purchases. But really, who can complain about 11 CDs for under $30? And these are good CDs, too! Or at least interesting - for $2, I can afford to pick up something completely unfamiliar. I acquired the following. Skip the below if you don't care to hear me rattle on about newly acquired recordings.

Classic Wynton (Marsalis plays some classical trumpet chestnuts)
Tan Dun: Out of Peking Opera, Etc. (I know his name, but not his music. This CD includes a piece called Orchestral Theatre II: Re for divided orchestra, bass voice, and audience with two conductors - that's why I picked it up, I was so curious)
Robert Shaw conducts Hallelujah and other great Sacred Choruses (can't say no to $2 Shaw!)
Panufnik's Westminster Mass (never heard of her, trying it out)
Of Eternal Light (music by various people - Meredith Monk, Robert Moran, Messiaen - inspired by chant)
Patterson: Mass of the Sea (again, never heard of him, trying it out)
New World Jazz, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (this includes Rhapsody in Blue by Gerschwin, La Creation du Monde by Milhaud, Ragtime by Hindemith - it looks like a good CD)
Thomas Ades, "Life Story" (again, not familiar, but DM highly regards his work)
Robert DeCormier conducts the New York Choral Society (this is all new music, and I'm not familiar with the group, so it will be educational on two fronts)
Lilith Fair, Vol. 2 (with Sinead O'Connor and Angelique Kidjo AND Queen Latifah, how can you possibly go wrong?)
Lena Horne (a 2 CD set!)

And today I cooked pancakes for my brother and his girlfriend (remember them? last paragraph? before we got side-tracked?) and we went our separate ways.

It was really, really excellent having them both here. Relaxing and enjoyable, and having time to hang out with my brother and just chat is a rare pleasure. I also had the pleasure of introducing them to Iron Chef. (Mom, it's a very excellent TV show on the Food channel. Competitive cooking, samurai style.)

I have one more day before the last month-long sprint to the finish of the semester. Wish me luck. Donations of highly caffeinated tea will be graciously accepted.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Amusing bookstore exchange

Today is Good Friday, so Westminster has no classes or rehearsals. This is more due to practical considerations rather than religious ones - so many students work in churches that classes would be practically empty. So, since I had the day off, I woke up a little later, worked on Gesualdo and Berlioz, and then walked to the YMCA, where Rider students can get in free (Westminster has no gym.) SJ is my normal lifting partner, but (since she works in the church) she's busy today. Since we only went to the gym once this week, I thought I'd go on my own.

Well, guess what the C in YMCA stands for? They also are closed on Good Friday. Should have seen that one coming. Oh, well.

On my way home, I passed Micawber Books, which always has a bin of $1 books outside. I found one I wanted, which necessitated going inside, which necessitated going past the "discount fiction" table, which ended with me picking up The Return of Merlin by Deepak Chopra. I was buying these two when the clerk said, "You know, we have another table of $1 books right over there." I lifted both hands as if he was holding me up, and said, "Don't do that to me! You must work with a lot of book addicts, you know that's not a very nice thing to do!" (I tend to get a little defensive in bookstores, b/c I'm perpetually so close to walking out w/ 20 books.) He just chuckled.

There was a pause.

"You know, there's an Ursula LeGuin book over there."
"There is? Which one?"

He walked me over to the table and pointed at The Wind's Twelve Quarters.

"I'm saved! I have that one!" I said.

And I escaped with only two books (one of which is not even for me.)

I was pretty impressed that he pegged me for a LeGuin fan that fast, though.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


The special:
Several weeks ago (in February, to be precise) I assembled a chorus and premiered a piece of a Westminster composer, AD. It was an excellent piece, with a Shakespeare text and a rock-piano accompaniment. She entered that piece in a competition, and today found out that she won first place! The New York Treble Singers will perform (not premiere, baby, b/c that was me!) it on April 3 - I'm hoping to attend the concert, but it means I have to reschedule rehearsal.

Do I know how to pick 'em, or what? :)

The mundane:
It was a good day for mail today. Normally I don't like mail, b/c it's just more paper to deal with, but today brought goodies. My CD of the Berlioz Damnation of Faust arrived today, and I went through the chorus parts with my score. I have to learn it on my own, b/c while I'll be performing it with Symphonic Choir and the New York Philharmonic next week, I've been rehearsing with the other division of Symphonic Choir. I think I'll be OK, but the French is really tricky. Luckily, Romantic notions do not allow for women to be part of soldiers' choruses, students' choruses, or demons' choruses, so that happily subtracts from the large swathes of French I have to learn.

I also received a beautiful wedding invitation (alas, for a wedding I doubt I'll be able to attend), a bunch of free sample octavos (single pieces of music) for women's chorus that I signed up for at the ACDA convention, and a job posting announcement for a community chorus in Philly. I think I may apply. If I knew I wouldn't get the job, I would definitely apply for the experience, but I'll have to talk to DM about whether or not he thinks it's feasible if I was chosen. It is only one rehearsal a week. It'd be a great opportunity, but it might mean committing to staying in the Philadelphia area after graduation. I'd also probably have to sign up for Zipcar. *plotplanplotplan*

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Spring Break

Ah Spring Break, where art thou gone, and wherefore must thou pass so quickly?

I've been looking forward to my spring break trip to New Mexico to visit HQ, who moved there to work at Los Alamos at the same time that I moved to Princeton. MW and HH arranged to fly out from Boston at the same time, so we had a four-way reunion. We all trained together in taekwondo in Boston, hence the connection. After looking forward to it all semester, it's suddenly in the past! I shall have to begin looking forward to CC's wedding in Paris now - that at least is far enough away that I shall get a good deal of anticipation out of it.

Saturday night I stayed at a hostel in Philly b/c my plane left early, and the trains from Princeton don't run at 4 am. Word to the wise: if you are staying in a room w/ 20 other people, and you have to get up at 5 am, and you can't turn on the lights, and it's dark outside, bring a flashlight. I had to pack by feel, groping around on the floor. I flew out on Sunday to Albuquerque - all 3 of them met me there, and drove me the hour and a half back to Los Alamos. I got showered, and the others went to the grocery store and cooked for a little dinner party in the evening, where I met people from HQ's New Mexico taekwondo school. They were all very charming, and I got a good salad dressing recipe out of the encounter as well.

Sunday night Los Alamos got the heaviest snowfall it has had all year. The labs were closed on Monday, so HQ stayed home with us instead of going to work in the morning. We hung out, and talked, and watched TV and movies. We went out to eat lunch at a Thai restaurant, and went out to eat dinner at the home of the owner and head instructor at HQ's taekwondo school. That was interesting - we talked about martial arts and his history, and he showed us some knife defense techniques and we watched some videos of belt tests. Tuesday we woke up to twice as much snow as Monday, and the labs were again closed. This was the day we all trekked out to the gym. We did some wrestling, and weight-lifting, and forms, and I practiced my punching and sparring with MW. I foolishly tried to keep up with HH in weight-lifting, and for the rest of the trip my legs were sore. That night HQ made us yummy things with chicken and chickpeas.

Wednesday we went to a spa near Santa Fe, and sat outside in a steaming hottub and watched the snow fall off trees, occasionally onto us. Then we went to eat and shop in Santa Fe, regrettably for a short period of time. I like cheesy touristy clusters of little shops, I can't help it. I got a few presents, and also got a blanket, since I'm worried about having enough blankets when I have visitors later this month. Then we went together to work out at HQ's taekwondo school. I liked it - they really gave us a good workout! I did fine until the sparring, which was dreadful. Understandable, since I haven't worked out seriously for a year and a half. But sad. I believe the altitude also had something to do with it, since in my second match I suddenly felt as if I couldn't move - my body simply stopped fighting. Generally I'll get slower if I'm tired or out-of-shape, but this was a new experience. MW had my back, though, and told everyone I hadn't been training for a year, so hopefully their poor opinion was mitigated.

We went out for a beer afterwards, and then it was back to pack. Thursday was entirely occupied by travel, broken for a brief dinner with old Williams friends in Philadelphia. I got home at 1 am.

Friday I did my taxes and cleaned the kitchen. Today I ran a few errands, did some cleaning, and met a prospective roommate for next year. I have still not made much of a dent in the pile of schoolwork waiting. All I have to do this week is get through 4 days - we have Good Friday off, presumably b/c so many students work in churches, and next week is Ensemble Week for Berlioz Damnation of Faust, meaning there's no classes. There will, however, be work for me - I haven't even looked at the Berlioz yet. I'm allowed to sing with them although I'm not in that division of Symphonic, b/c I'm a conducting student, but I have to learn the music on my own. Luckily it's very male-dominated - hurrah for stereotypical portrayals of soldiers and demons!

One of the errands I ran was to stop by the Princeton Record Exchange to see if I could get a recording of Damnation of Faust to help me learn it. I didn't find that...but as I always do there, I found a number of good bargains. So I am now the owner of:

Mozart's entire Le nozze de Figaro (w/ Fischer-Dieskau, and Barenboim conducting)
Charpentier, 2 oratorios, w/ Les Arts Florissants
A Palestrina mass and a Victoria mass (and the motets they're based on), by the Choir of King's College
Prokofiev - Alexander Nevsky, and Lieutenant Kije
And, for less than $2, 2 cantatas by 2 composers I've never heard of before, Janis Kalnins and Alfreds Kalnins

All this, 6 cds total, for under $30. I have become quite spendthrift where CDs are concerned this year...but I justify it by claiming it as my responsibility. After all, learning the repertoire is one of the keys to being a good conductor!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

February was crazy, and so is March

This post is only being posted because someone was kind enough to comment on my last post, and I wish to reward my gentle readers with more to read.

In fact, I have no business doing anything other than preparing for a masterclass this evening with Dr. Flummerfelt. The conducting students have 3 masterclasses a semester with him, and I get horribly nervous every time. We have half an hour to teach a piece to the people there, and then Dr. Flummerfelt comments on our conducting, preparation, and rehearsal. I'm sure I'll survive, but I wish it was over. It's like auditioning all over again.

Last night I was in a concert by a Westminster composer. It's rare to have concerts that are a conglomeration of different people - everyone just holds their own concerts. It's required for junior performance majors, all seniors, and all second-year graduate students. So this concert was the senior recital of one of the composers. We performed a mass that he wrote. It went quite well, I think. Last Tuesday the alto soloist got sick and so I was asked to fill in at the last moment. I sang the Credo, which was a solo quartet, and a short chant-like solo in the Gloria. The quartet stuff was fine, but man, did I get nervous for the solo part. I'd forgotten how nervous I get when singing solos. (Unless, of course, I'm in a G&S costume.) However, it went fine.

Yesterday I also went to the gym for the first time in ages with SJ. It's been a long time since I did any weight-lifting, and I'd forgotten how much I miss it. Ostensibly we're doing this b/c we both recently aquired strapless dresses (her wedding dress, my Kantorei dress) and want to look good in them, but really I just need to exercise. It was the day of the concert, and I was a nervous wreck, and it was really amazing how much doing something physical helped to calm me down. I've learned that lesson before, but I keep forgetting to find time to do something active when I'm stressed. We have a schedule together, though, so that should help me stick to it!

A week ago Friday we also had the Westminster Choir concert with Stefan Parkman, who conducts the Swedish Radio Choir among other things. That was fantastic. He's a great conductor, and a great rehearser as well. He did a lot of talking during the concert, which normally I don't like, but he was so charming and charismatic that we all enjoyed ourselves immensely. I enjoyed the repertoire, too. I need to look further into current Scandinavian composers.

The women's choir is also going well (even if we don't have a name yet!) I have six singers, and while ideally I need more, I find myself unwilling to do a lot of recruiting b/c the people I have are extremely good. I'd really like to bring it up to 8, though, so perhaps after spring break I will post some more posters. We're doing a hodge-podge of stuff, from Hildegard to 3 pieces by 2 Westminster composers. Rehearsal is today, right before the masterclass. So I have a lot of work to do for this afternoon!

I am eagerly looking forward to spring break, when I can kick back in New Mexico.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

By the way, I'm willing to bet that if people commented (hint, hint) on my blog more often, I'd post more.


Very sick for the past few days...just generic flu, something that makes me want to just sleep and sleep. I started feeling tired on Thursday morning. I got through all my classes that day, but I only went to my 9 am class on Friday (for a listening test) and then went home to bed. Today, unfortunately, I had a performance and a rehearsal. The performance was a piece for women's chorus that a friend of mine wrote, and the assembling of the chorus and performance was step one in my plan to dominate the world form a permanent women's chorus to perform new music and for me to conduct. In this respect, it was pretty successful - I have about 5-6 people on board for a permanent group, I think. And the performance went quite well - it was a rock-crossover piece, with two pianos - one being played conventionally, and one being banged inside. We were definitely the biggest event on the program. There was some other good stuff, in particular some short piano pieces that were brief, but very meaty. Well-constructed. There was also some folk music, which was interesting - folk music is generally performed in such a different environment that I think the performer had a little difficulty when the normal "working the crowd" thing that's so standard in clubs didn't get a big response.

After that (partly since I was already on campus) I went to the rehearsal of another Westminster composer's work for his upcoming senior recital. I didn't sing, b/c of my illness, and planned to just sit in the back, but then the piano player didn't show up, so I ended up accompanying the whole rehearsal. I thought I did pretty well - I didn't know I still had that much keyboard sight-reading in me.

And now to bed. I have Angelique Kidjo on the stereo - I'm hoping she'll give me enough energy to clean my room a little of old teacups and uneaten food before I zonk out.

Friday, February 11, 2005


So, I dropped Musicology. I was taking 17 credits, when 12 is normal and 35 are required to graduate. I'm still insanely busy, but much happier.

My schedule:

Choral Literature II on MWF from 9:10-10:10.
Symphonic Choir on MTWF from 11:30-12:30. (and I'm a section leader for this, meaning I have to take extra time outside rehearsal to put notes into my score from the conductor and learn my part extra-well)
Westminster Choir on MWF from 4:30-6:00. Right now we're working with Stefan Parkman, who is having us do wonderful repertoire which does, however, require that I go listen to tapes in the library and learn how to pronounce Swedish.
Kantorei on T from 6:30-9:30 in the evening. Gesualdo city.
Conducting II on TRF from 2:10-3:10. One day a week is ear-training with Prof. Lee which requires significant preparation, and meeting outside of class with a partner to test each other. The other two days are gesture and rehearsal technique with Dr. Jordan.
Conducting Lab on T from 3:20-4:20. This one-hour-a-week class focuses on rehearsal technique. I just had my turn this week, so this one will not require preparation for a month, at least.
Rachmaninoff Choral Works on TR from 4:30-6:00. This is a seminar, meaning the professor is very vague about what actual work we need to be doing, and then he assumes things will be done by a certain time. I'm still getting used to this.
Voice Lesson on W from 1:30-2:00. I need to practice more for this than I have been.
Composition Lesson on F from 1:30-2:00. This requires a lot of preparation - composition exercises plus counterpoint exercises every week.
Graduate Assisting at various times, adding up to about 4-8 hours a week. I'm assisting both Prof. Lee and Dr. Jordan with their undergraduate conducting classes. I test the students' preparation of the pieces they conduct - they have to be able to sing and play them. Sometimes I attend their actual classes to watch the students and help out, but more often not.
Tutoring at various times. I tutor a student in theory, and some of the GA sessions are also tutoring sessions for sight-reading and piano skills.

In addition, there's my women's chorus. I am still in the process of getting this baby off the ground. Rehearsals are Sundays from 4-5:30, and that will eventually extend to 6:00. Finding rep, preparing it, and the administrative work of contacting people and scheduling things takes up a lot of time.

Also, I am singing for other people's projects. Although I'm not in Master Singers this year, the class that is the chorus for graduate student recitals, I generally sing in concerts when students ask me to, and that requires rehearsal time. I'm singing in another composer's choral project for his senior composition recital. And although I'm section leader for Symphonic Choir II, I will also be singing Berlioz's Damnation of Faust later this year - that will require extra rehearsal time, as well as a lot of study on my own since I'm not attending the majority of rehearsals.

Add to this the daily chores of living, and I'm swamped. I keep thinking "it'll get better next week..."

Thursday, January 20, 2005


Essay number two for conducting class tomorrow:

Detail your personal mimetical issues and challenges as you have begun to study at the graduate level.

Note for readers: Mimetic theory is the theory of the destructive power of envy. The theory is that we automatically envy that which we desire, and this leads to anger, self-flagellation, and other negative emotions unless we consciously fight to keep our responses positive. The below quote is a good summation.

“Envy desires to have the beauty or power or talent that another possesses precisely because that other strongly and gracefully possesses it, and it desires this at the other’s expense.” - Donald Sheehan

My personal mimetic issues are essentially tied to the areas where I feel no self-confidence in my music-making. Those would be the following:

First: I’m worried that I’m not passionate enough. I envy other people’s passion – when they describe transforming experiences, I simultaneously want those experiences for myself, and want to slap them and tell them that they’re being overly romantic.

The quotes I read in the book about Nadia Boulanger encapsulate this attitude of which I am envious. There is basically a philosophy that “if you could possibly be happy doing anything else, you shouldn’t do music!”

I have actually been worried about this all my life. When I was a child, I would actually sometimes cry in my bed at night about this. I thought I could never be a great composer because I didn't feel things deeply enough. (The irony of crying over not feeling things deeply enough has not gone unnoted.) I thought I could never be great because I wasn’t messed up enough in the head. After all, there is this tendency to revere the composer, to view them as someone touched by a madness that exacts a heavy emotional toll. To a lesser extent, all musicians are viewed the same way – in contact with another world, people who go through things that we mere mortals cannot possibly understand, people who feel more deeply, who are more sensitive. I think this is perhaps an idea left over from the Romantic period, when composers (and musicians in general) went from being employees or servants to honored gods of society. But it is still very, very prevalent today – and it is not in the immediate best interest of musicians to dispel this stereotype, because it’s where a lot of funding comes from.

I don’t actually, when I am in my happy intellectual place, believe this. I believe that everyone can make music. In cultures where the participation in cultural events requires singing, dancing, and playing instruments, I think this stereotype does not (cannot) exist. I will quote the New Grove article on South Africa, on the Venda people:

“The Venda assume that every person is capable of musical performance, unless he is deaf; and even then, he ought to be able to dance.”

and from later:

“However, only a few of those who are born into the right group actually emerge as exceptional musicians, and what sets them apart is not so much their ability to do what others cannot do, but that they do it better because they have devoted more time and energy to it. In applauding the mastery of exceptional musicians, the Venda applaud human effort. In being able to recognize mastery in the musical medium, listeners reveal that their general musical competence is no less than that of the musicians whom they applaud.”

People may have more or less musical competence, but I disagree with the idea (your idea, actually – see pg. 15 of The Musician’s Soul and the description of “the artistic curse) that the ability to create music sets one apart.

Part of the reason I believe this may be self-defense, but partly I believe it because it seems to me to be logical.

It would fall into the category of self-defense because, as I mentioned above, I am worried I am not passionate enough. I could be happy doing something other than music. I could be happy doing a lot of things. It would, in fact, take a distinctly negative job environment to make me unhappy. One of the reasons that I worry that I am not passionate enough is that for a good part of my life, I believed that I simply didn’t have the strong emotional reactions to events that other people did. I don’t lose my temper easily. I don’t act irrationally when drunk. I don’t put my fist through walls. I get pissed off like other people…but I never feel like I lose control. The few times when I decided to pretend that I had lost control to see if I could create a desired effect (for example, of getting people to shut up) were a miserable failure.

I no longer believe that I don’t feel things as deeply as other people. I feel that intense expression of emotion is inappropriate – possibly this is partly learned from my family – so I simply don’t express it as often, perhaps. And as I grow older, I feel as if I feel more emotion. I recognize now when I am stressed, irritated, angry. And dating someone seriously for the first time last year really opened me up – I cried more with him, for no discernable reasons, than I have ever cried in my entire live previous. When I think of vulnerability, I think of the relationship I shared with him.

But the question of passion still deeply worries me. I worry that I don’t respond to music enough. I do respond to it – especially Renaissance music. I have cried in concerts – as I grow older, I cry more often at them. But I have no dramatic stories about how I heard Mahler for the first time and my life was changed. I do not experience sudden epiphanies. And so I worry that I’m not allowed to be part of the genius club.

Second: Because passion in music is so often tied to the concept of musicality itself, I also worry that I am not musical enough.

I was stunned when I was accepted to Westminster. I had been rejected from every other school I applied to, except my “safety”, which was the University of Seattle, Washington (which has the most stunning campus ever, by the way, and you should visit if you get the chance.) Indiana, Illinois, UCLA, Maryland, Ithaca, and Michigan all turned me down. Westminster was my last audition – I knew I was supposed to send in a reply by May 1st, so when I hadn’t heard by April 31st, I figured I was out. I called up the Admissions office fully expecting to be turned down, and just wanting to get the damn rejection letter already, and they told me I was in.

I couldn’t believe it for a good many weeks. I had to get numerous packets, financial and administrative, before it began to sink it…and I kept worrying that some sort of mistake had been made, and someone would call me up to tell me I was actually not going to be allowed to attend.

This was still baffling me enough that I had the gall to ask Dr. Megill the following foolish question at a conductor get-together following the first masterclass. “Why on earth did you let me in?” He laughed, of course, and said that Westminster looked for people with potential, not people who were already polished and knew what they were doing. Putting this together with what I was told before my audition – “We want to see people who can respond to the music” – I concluded that other people must see potential in me, and that I must have been able to respond to the music.

I have decent faith in my nuts-and-bolts musical abilities. I have piano skills, I can sight-read better than most, my theory skills and ear-training are probably above average. Running a rehearsal is something I can do, I know how to keep my eye on the clock, and when it comes to assembling notes and rhythms and articulations, to teaching people the framework, I feel that I do it well, and I enjoy it – I enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together in the most efficient manner possible. But when the time comes to add the “little spark of inspiration” that will make the piece “come alive,” I’m terribly scared, and don’t know what to do. Because I don’t know how to hear it. I may love a performance, have a fantastic time during the piece, and afterwards someone will say, “Oh, that was just dead.” I have no confidence that what I like is, from an objective or majority point of view, great. I came to Westminster because it had the best choirs, and I thought, “If ever there’s a place to learn the difference between really, really good and great, it will be here.” I’m working on trying to hear it, but I don’t feel good about it yet.

Third: Because I worry that I’m not musical, that I lack some undefined inspirational spark (that I cannot even see myself in other people!) I worry that time spent with me conducting is a waste, and would be better spent elsewhere, under another conductor, or even experiencing music in another, perhaps more passive way.

Last year, in order that I could practice for auditions, I formed a chorus of friends and friends of friends. It was 12 people, it was called New Century Voices, and I concentrated on performing new music by young Boston composers, because I have composed myself, and because I hugely enjoy doing new music – I feel part of a living tradition in a way that I do not when I perform Handel. This group really gelled in a remarkable manner, and I loved them so much – I get a little teary when I think about them, still. But although I cared about them, and worked hard for them, and enjoyed rehearsals every week, I didn’t realize until the last concert, when I was sitting backstage with them waiting to go on, that they loved it too. Most of them came initially (I thought) as a favor to me. I didn’t believe them when they said they loved having a place to sing every week, since most of them were not in other choruses. It wasn’t until I watched them talking to each other before going on, and realized that they had met through me, and were singing music that they liked and enjoyed because I had pulled them together, that I realized that I had given as well as received.

I’ve pulled together a group of women to perform a piece by AD in February, and I hope to get some of them to stick around and thus to form a women’s chorus that I can work with, so I can have a rehearsal space each week, and a forum for performing more new music. But the most crippling aspect is feeling that anyone who attends a rehearsal will just be doing me a favor and will be suffering through the experience out of the goodness of their hearts. Shutting up the voice that says I have nothing to offer for long enough to get through a rehearsal can be very difficult.

I think too much, and you know this. All these ideas have been things I’ve been thinking about before tying them in to the concept of mimetics. As I understand it, the proper mimetic procedure for dealing with these issues is to…recognize them, ignore them while I’m on the podium, and concentrate on caring about the people in front of me. This does not seem a very satisfactory solution, I’m afraid. Identifying problems is not the hard part of the process for me. And ignoring them does not seem productive.

There is one further mimetic effect that you do not mention, but which I feel is very real. I discovered this not through music, but through taekwondo, and I firmly believe it is a powerful cultural force, especially in the lives of women in our culture.

It is a curious fact that when learning to spar in taekwondo, women always apologize profusely. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” is a constant refrain whenever contact is made (often even when it’s not.) Apparently, women are far more terrified of causing damage than men, who only apologize profusely when sparring women (women apologize to everybody.)

Related to this is locker-room interactions. Women are constantly denigrating themselves. “You sparred so well today!” “Oh, no, I’m really terrible. Did you see that roundhouse kick? It was awful. And I couldn’t move at all!” “Oh, no, you were really good – I’m so much slower than you are!” Etc. Compliments are given in an honest supportive spirit much of the time, but often, especially in the lower belts, at the expense of oneself.

One could argue this stems from the influence of Asian culture in taekwondo. After all, I have read that in previous times, women in China would go outside after a baby’s birth and announce how ugly it was, so that evil spirits would be disinterested. Tooting one’s own horn was a danger – bad spirits would be attracted to your home.

However, that doesn’t explain why the attitude is so much more prevalent in women than in men. And if you look carefully, self-condemnation is a common method of communication among women. It can be done cattily and snidely, where complimenting another person by insulting oneself is actually a subtle insult. But often it is done in order to ingratiate oneself with the other person.

I know because I do this. Often. And I see other women do it. I don’t think people will agree with me on its frequency, but I really find it a prevalent force. And when I try to stop doing this – when I try to give myself the respect I deserve in speech with other people – it can occasionally be impossible. I am worried that by NOT being self-deprecating, I will insult the other person.

In essence, I believe that I am anticipating a mimetic response, and acting in advance in order to prevent it.

I think we intuit, subconsciously, the entire mimetic theory. And I think that we know that people may get envious of us if we are obviously skilled at something, or talented, or powerful, or beautiful. And therefore we downplay and undercut our skills and gifts in order to prevent a negative mimetic response directed towards us. It is not done out of subconscious concern for the other person – it’s done for our own benefit, to prevent negative emotions being directed our way.

Why else do we so instinctively not stand up and take joy in our accomplishments? We are scared that others will not love us if we shine too bright – we are afraid that if they think we are “better” than they are, they will not like us, they will be angry, because they will be envious.

Why else would Nelson Mandela (editor's correction: actually, it was Marianne Williamson) even have had to make the following speech?

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

That is my final mimetic challenge – to believe with my whole body that shining brightly is the best way to serve others.