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.