Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday link

The Royal Society of London, one of the world's oldest scientific institutions, is putting some of its historic papers online.

What does this have to do with music? Well, among those historic papers is an "Account of a Very Remarkable Young Musician," who is named Mozart, and contains a discussion of whether he really is a child prodigy or whether perhaps his father was lying about his age. Among the evidence that Mozart really was as young as his father claimed was the fact that "For example, whilst he was playing to me, a favourite cat came in, upon which he immediately left his harpsichord, nor could we bring him back for a considerable time."

Guess what? I have recently discovered evidence that I myself am also a child prodigy! I too would rather play with cats than play upon the harpsichord! Just look at this blog!

P.S. You just know Mozart would have loved lolcats.

Messiah sings!

Here it is, the annual Messiah Sings post! This is the place for all your Messiah sings needs. They are listed by date.

Wed. 12/2: U. Mass. Lowell Messiah Sing. 6 pm rehearsal; 7:30 pm performance. At Durgin Hall, UMass Lowell South Campus. For more information click here.

Thurs. 12/3: Brandeis University Messiah Sing. 4 pm performance. At the Shapiro Campus Center Atrium, Brandeis University. For more information click here.

Fri. 12/4: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Messiah Sing. 8 pm performance. At the chapel, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 15 Ledgewood Place, Belmont.

Sun. 12/6: Carter Memorial United Methodist Church Messiah Sing. 3 pm performance. At the Carter Memorial United Methodist Church, Needham. For more information click here.

Sun. 12/6: St. Paul's Episcopal Church Messiah Sing. 4:00 pm performance. At the St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Brookline.

Sun. 12/6: The Congregational Church of West Medford Annual Messiah Sing. 7 pm performance. At the Congregational Church of West Medford. For more information click here.

Thurs. 12/10: The Roxbury Latin School Community Messiah Sing. 7:30 pm performance. At the Roxbury Latin School, West Roxbury. For more information click here.

Thurs. 12/10: Dunster House Annual Messiah Sing. 8:00 pm performance. At the Dunster House dining hall at Harvard University. For more information click here.

Sun. 12/13: Sudbury Memorial Congregational Church Annual Messiah Sing. 3:00 pm performance. At the Sudbury Memorial Congregational Church. For more information click here.

Wed. 12/16: Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Boston Annual Messiah Sing. 12:15 pm performance. At the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Boston. For more information click here.

Fri. 12/18: Masterworks Chorale Annual Messiah Sing. 8:00 pm performance. At Cary Hall, Lexington. For more information click here. Also on Sat. 12/19.

Fri. 12/18: First Parish Congregational Wakefield Annual Messiah Sing. 7:30 pm performance. At First Parish Congregational, Wakefield. For more information click here.

Sat. 12/19: Masterworks Chorale Annual Messiah Sing. 8:00 pm performance. At Cary Hall, Lexington. For more information click here.

Sun. 12/20: Friends of the Performing Arts in Concord (FOPAC) 4th Annual Messiah Sing. 2:00 pm performance. At 51 Walden, Concord. For more information click here.

Sun. 12/20: Assabet Valley Mastersings Annual Messiah Sing. 3:30 pm performance. At the First Congregational Church, Shrewsbury. For more information click here.

Sun. 12/20: Harvard Unitarian Church Annual Messiah Sing. 5:00 pm performance. At the Harvard Unitarian Church in Harvard, MA. For more information click here.

Sun. 12/20: Belmont Open Sings Messiah Sing. 7:30 pm performance. At the Payson Park Church, Belmont. For more information click here. (Weather make-up date is 12/21.)

And if you just want to hear the Messiah, many groups will oblige you, the most respected of which include Boston Baroque and the Handel & Haydn Society.

Did I miss anything? Leave it in the comments. I will add any other Messiah Sings to the list in this post; but also feel free to leave comments about Messiah performances you are involved in that people might want to attend.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Upcoming Cantilena concert!

Ahem. My debut concert as the music director of Cantilena is coming right up on Sunday, Dec. 6. This is a BIG FRIGGIN' DEAL and you should all come! I am extremely proud of my (extremely ambitious!) programming, and the chorus and I have been working extremely hard, and they sound really awesome, especially in the piece that's all about screaming. (Well, you'll just have to come and find out, won't you?)

If you are interested in ushering, or moving risers, or mixing up punch for afterwards, we are happy to have helpers, and happy to let them listen to the concert for free. Just leave a comment with some contact info and I will put you in touch with the right people.

But regardless of whether you are interested in ushering, put this on your calendars!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday cat post!

I am sure this is only the beginning of the Oomi in blankets theme.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Weekend Concert Calendar, 11/27/09

Well, the Weekend Concert Calendar is a little late (blame the pies) but since I could only find one choral event, and that on Sunday, it's not like you missed anything!


4:00 pm: Braintree Choral Society; "Harvest Home: Songs of Autumn"; Thayer Academy Center for the Arts, Braintree.

Did I miss anything? Leave it in the comments!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday link

All right, all right, I give. EVERYONE has been sending me this link. So here it is for you.

Piano stairs!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday cat post!

Oomi does her best impression of the Sphinx.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Weekend Concert Calendar, 11/19/09

Here it is, your weekend concert calendar!

May I especially call your attention to the Anthology concert on Friday night at 8 pm at First Church Boston, in which yours truly will be singing! (If you like this blog, consider coming out to support its author and hearing me sing. Eh? It will be a rip-roaring good time!)

Thursday (yes, Thursday!):

7:30 pm: Zefiro; Works of Victoria and Gesualdo; Church of the Redeemer, Chestnut Hill.


8:00 pm: Anthology; "Men in Uniform," songs about soldiers, sailors, cowboys, and more; First Church Boston, Boston.

8:00 pm: Boston Choral Ensemble; Thomas Jennefelt’s Villarosa Sequences; First Church Congregational, Cambridge.

8:00 pm: Harvard-Radcliffe Chorus; "Messiah (Part 1: The Christmas Story)"; Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, Cambridge.

8:00 pm: Back Bay Chorale; Music from Italy, including Pizzetti's Messa Di Requiem; Emmanuel Church, Boston.

8:00 pm: Tufts Third Day Gospel Choir; Annual Fall Concert; Granoff Music Center, Tufts University, Somerville.


7:00 pm: MIT Chamber Chorus; Italian art songs from the 15th and 16th centuries; Kresge Auditorium, MIT, Cambridge.

7:30 pm: Sine Nomine; "Music for Voices and Viols"; Sacred Heart Church, Fall River.

8:00 pm: Spectrum Singers; "A Child is Born! Festive Baroque Masterworks heralding the holiday season," including Bach, Schütz, and Sweelinck; First Church Congregational, Cambridge. (Note: there will be a pre-concert lecture at 7 pm by Steven Ledbetter.)

8:00 pm: Mystic Chorale; "Inspiration" concert, led by Nick Page and Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock; Converse Hall at Tremont Temple, Boston.

8:00 pm: Brookline Chorus; English Cathedral Classics by Parry, Britten, Tavener, Finzi, and more; All Saints Parish, Brookline.

8:00 pm: Newton Choral Society; "Franz Josef Haydn's St. Cecilia Mass"; Our Lady Help of Christians, Newton.

8:00 pm: WomenSong and Joyful Noyse; Baroque music including works by Bach, Handel, Purcell, Charpentier, deTorres, and Carissimi; All Saints Episcopal Church, West Newbury.


2:30 pm: Fine Arts Chorale; Mozart's Requiem; Old South Union Church, South Weymouth.

2:30 pm: Boston Choral Ensemble; Thomas Jennefelt’s Villarosa Sequences; Old South Church, Boston.

3:00 pm: Trio Mediaeval; Songs and ballads Norway, Sweden, and England; Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston.

3:00 pm: Sounds of Stow Festival Chorus and Orchestra; Works of Mendelssohn and Haydn; Hale Middle School, Stow, MA.

3:00 pm: Sine Nomine; "Music for Voices and Viols"; Narrows Center for the Arts, Fall River.

3:30 pm: Mystic Chorale; "Inspiration" concert, led by Nick Page and Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock; Converse Hall at Tremont Temple, Boston.

4:00 pm: Heritage Chorale; "Masterpieces by Mendelssohn"; St. Mark's School, Southborough.

4:00 pm: WomenSong and Joyful Noyse; Baroque music including works by Bach, Handel, Purcell, Charpentier, deTorres, and Carissimi; Payson Park Church, Belmont.

5:15 pm: Recorders/Early Music MetroWest presents Susan Hellauer of Anonymous 4 and workshop participants; "Medieval Chant: "Sarum" Ladymass"; Church of Our Saviour, Brookline.

7:00 pm: Lorelei Ensemble; "New Light, New Growth," new and early music for women's voices; First Parish, Malden.

7:00 pm: St. Matthew's Festival Choir and Brass; "Of Praise and Promise," a musical celebration in honor of St. Cecilia; St. Matthews United Methodist Church, Acton.

Also, this is the last weekend to see the Boston Opera Collaborative's production of The Crucible; it's Thursday through Sunday at 7:30 pm. Got a good review in the Globe!

Oof. Boy, in November and December this weekly calendar starts to take a LOT of time. Did I miss anything? Leave it in the comments!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday link

Check out this article in the Boston Globe about how many, many community choruses are participating in two upcoming theater productions, one at the ART and one at the Huntington Theatre.

will be opening the Huntington Theater production of A Civil War Christmas on Dec. 4!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Concert Calendar addendum

Sorry about all the stuff I missed posting about this weekend, what with the flu and all.

However, here's a quick hit about a performance coming up early next week.

7:30 pm: Boston University Symphonic Chorus; Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, Tarik O'Regan's Triptych, Stephen Paulus's Poemas de Amor, Jonathan Dove's Ring Out, Wild Bells; First Church Congregational, Cambridge.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday cat post!

When the weather turns colder, kitties gotta find ways to keep warm!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Weekend Concert Calendar, 11/12/09

This week's Weekend Concert Calendar is going to be extremely abbreviated. I have a very bad cold (or is it the flu?) so all I am posting is the few concerts that I had already saved to a blog draft.

AND one more. Anthology is performing tomorrow night! Friday night, 8 pm, at the Somerville Armory. We're doing a program called "Men in Uniform," and we'll be doing a wide range of folk songs from the British Isles and the Americas about soldiers, sailors, cowboys, union workers, etc. Cross your fingers that I get better in the next 24 hours!

A few other things:


8:00 pm: Providence Singers and BMOP; Lou Harrison's "La Koro Sutro"; New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, Boston. (Note: this work features over 3000 lbs. of percussion!)


9:30 am - 2:00 pm: Jane Ring Frank, artistic director of the Boston Secession; Choral Workshop on The Healthy Choral Voice, with special guest teacher, singer, and conductor Justina Golden; The Church of St. John the Evangelist, Boston.

8:00 pm: Cappella Clausura; "A Chantar: The Greek Connection"; Episcopal Parish of the Messiah, Newton


3:00 pm: Boston Jazz Voices, with special guests Women of the World; St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Brookline.

4:00 pm: Cappella Clausura; "A Chantar: The Greek Connection"; First Lutheran Church, Boston

Did I miss anything? Leave it in the comments!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Monday link

Eh? What's that? You kids want your Monday link?

Here, have this. Via the Oratorio Society of New York.

Now that should keep you kids busy and off my lawn for a while.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Interview with Mary Beekman, P.S.

The Boston Globe has a nice article about both Mary Beekman and Betsy Burleigh, the new director of Chorus pro Musica, and about their two upcoming concerts, both this afternoon. Check it out!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Interview with Mary Beekman, Transcript, Part 5

Here is the fifth part of the transcript of my interview with Mary Beekman. Don't forget, she is conducting Musica Sacra and the Boston Cecilia in the Brahms Requiem on Sunday, 3 pm at Jordan Hall!

Interview with Mary Beekman on 10/31/09 at a Starbucks in Watertown, MA, Part 5

A: And do you have any programming secrets?
M: Yes. What I like. [laughs]
A: But how do you fit things together?
M: What I usually do – there’s usually a piece that I want to do. And then I play around with the idea of what would be a good theme that would fit this piece that I could find other pieces to do. So as an example, this spring, we’re doing a program called “The Spirit Still Speaks” which is all contemporary sacred music that is programmed around my desire again to do “The Sacred and Profane” of Britten. Because I love that piece. We’ve done it twice. Have you ever sung it? Oh, it’s fabulous. So, it’s like, OK, so I want to do that, and we’re commissioning a piece that’s going to be sacred, so there’s that, so what else am I going to do that’s going to work in with that? And that’s how I do it. So, now, with the Brahms, the programming for the Brahms I thought was a great opportunity to proselytize for the choral sound. Because I think second to the Messiah, and it was interesting, I just finished my notes, and I made it a real point not to online at anybody’s stuff, because I don’t want to plagiarize by mistake, but I’d already been saying to people in Cecilia and Musica Sacra that in my opinion the Brahms was second only to the Messiah as being a piece that people would come out to hear. That if there’s a person that doesn’t know any choral music, if there’s anything they know it’s the Messiah and then it’s the Brahms Requiem. And so it turned out that the guy who reviewed Levine at Tanglewood this summer wrote that same thing. So, my thought is, OK, you’re going to have people coming out to hear the Brahms Requiem, this is an opportunity to proselytize. And of course, I think a lot of conductors would say, “I’ve got this big orchestra, what else do I want to do with it?” I’m like, “We’ve got this big orchestra, we have very limited rehearsal time, what am I going to do that’s not going to use the orchestra?” So I learned about Heinrich Schütz from John Ferris, and the first year I was there was the 300th anniversary of his birth, so we did two full concert-length programs of Heinrich Schütz, and I saw John’s love for him, and it bred a life-long love for me. And then it turns out that Brahms was aware of the Musikalisches Exequien of Schütz. I would like to know if he purposefully took so many of the texts. I haven’t been able to search that out. I have somebody on it. But clearly he was aware of it, and they both ended with “Selig sind die Toten.” And his motet from 1648 “Selig sind die Toten” is gorgeous, I don’t know if you know that, but to me it’s a monumentally moving piece of music. So we’re opening with that. The idea is, this is where we’ve come from. We do the Brahms. And then I’ve become very excited in the past few years because – I kind of felt like I wasn’t learning about new composers. Because in this area, particularly, there’s so many choral groups, but very few people do, it seems to me, get off the beaten track much, because they’re worried about their audience, they’re worried about having an audience. So I found out through listening to Vox Radio, Eric Whitacre. I’d never heard of Eric Whitacre. And, oh my God! What a composer!
A: Lovely stuff.
M: Lovely stuff. And choral stuff. Stuff that can’t be – it’s not like it could be instrumental, but it’s choral. It’s choral. So I thought, “I’ll pair it with “Sleep.”” So it’s like, Schütz, Brahms, Whitacre. Where we’ve been, what you know of, and what you could be hearing if you were coming to more choral concerts. And that’s what I want to do. And so, for instance, one year we did the Schubert “Mass in G.” It’s all strings. And I’m like, OK, Schubert “Mass in G.” People who’ve sung in high school chorus are going to come out and hear that. What do I want them to hear that they won’t expect to hear? So we did the Pärt Berliner Messe. Similarly, people who are New-Agey people coming to hear Pärt…Schubert! So I like that juxtaposition. It’s like, I want to stretch you. I want you to come and hear something you know, and then I want you to come with me and look at some other wonderful things. Maybe you’ll go home and you won’t have liked the Schütz, but you will like the Whitacre, or vice versa. Maybe if I’m really lucky, some people will go home and think, “I’m going to go to a choral concert more often. Yes, I loved hearing that Brahms, but those other two pieces didn’t have any orchestra, and they sounded really cool.” I think unfortunately most people hear choral music because their kid sings in not a very good -- they have the church choir, anybody can join, the product’s not very good, it’s a kids’ chorus, the product isn’t necessarily very good, or it’s a big community chorus and the product isn’t necessarily very good, and they’re judging the whole medium on that particular product. So I’m like, I want you to hear a good product, and then you see what you think about the medium. Because even though so many of us sing it, people don’t come to hear it. So many of us sing it, people don’t come to hear it. People who sing don’t go to other choral concerts. Have you noticed that? Do you?
A: I do.
M: You do?
A: But I always look around the audience, and I’m like, “Where’s my peeps?” You know?
M: Yes. Yes.
A: There are certain concerts where you do – BEMF will usually bring out – you know, I’ll look around and I’ll see a crowd I know, but I’ll go to other concerts, and I’ll be thinking of certain people who are really deep into the choral scene, and I’m like, “Maybe you should be here.” Although one person who I always see really going to listen to things is Walter Chapin.
M: Oh really?
A: Do you know him?
M: Yes, I do know him.
A: He goes to concerts.
M: Well, you know the interesting thing about Walter Chapin, too, is that we did a bunch of Tormis, because a guy who’d gone to Haverford introduced me to Tormis, and I was like, “Oh my God! I can’t get enough!”
A: Yes! But so expensive!
M: Exactly! So I went on the web to see who I could borrow it from, and guess what group popped up? Walter Chapin.
A: Good for him.
M: So, you know, before I’d even done it…now, he’d only done one piece from one thing, but still, he’d done it. So. But, you know, so often I think, you know, it’s like, here we go again with the same old, same old. I’ll tell you, I wanted to do the War Requiem. That was what I wanted to do. We got a children’s chorus lined up. We got Cecilia lined up. I couldn’t find an orchestral conductor – we decided that we had to have a collaboration with an orchestra. I couldn’t find anyone who wouldn’t get off the podium. And I get that, but it’s like, look, this is 30, 50 for us. [Note: Mary Beekman’s 30th anniversary w/ Musica Sacra, and Musica Sacra’s 50th birthday.] We’re doing it for you, you can do it for – no. If I can’t conduct it, we’re not doing it. So I had to give it up.
A: That’s sad.
M: It is sad.
A: But I’m looking forward to the Brahms! [laughs]
M: Well you know, it’s funny, because I was like, Brahms, Schmahms. In fact, I did Brahms my second year with the Graduate Chorale. And what’s so interesting is how it’s so in your brain. You know how stuff you sing when you’re a kid, it never leaves you? Whereas stuff you do as an adult, four years later it’s like, “Oh, I know that, what’s it from?” The Brahms is just, it is there. Because I taught it when I was 24 to these people that didn’t sing much.
A: That’s great.
M: Yes, yes.
A: So I’m going to finish up the interview – have you ever seen Inside the Actors’ Studio?
M: No.
A: It’s an interview show with famous actors, and they always end it by asking them this little questionnaire, which I like very much.
M: OK.
A: So I’m going to ask you this questionnaire, I’ve added two questions which I’m sure you’ll – they’re the only two musical questions. And you should just answer as quickly as you possibly can.
M: OK.
A: Your favorite word.
M: Precise. Oh my God!
A: Your least favorite word.
M: [laughs] Precise!
A: Very good! What turns you on artistically or spiritually?
M: Things that make an emotional connection with me.
A: What turns you off artistically or spiritually?
M: Things that leave me cold.
A: What sound or noise that is not necessarily musical do you love?
M: The sound of water passing under the hull of a sailboat.
A: What sound or noise that is not necessarily musical do you hate?
M: God, any of the sounds that are going on next door as they build an addition.
A: What is your favorite swear word.
M: It’s got to be the F-word!
A: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
M: Speech therapy.
A: What profession other than your own would you definitely not like to attempt?
M: Being in any position where I had to take direction from someone that I didn’t respect.
A: Who is one of your favorite composers?
M: Oh, God, don’t make me do that.
A: One of.
M: Britten, Schütz.
A: Who is one composer where you really don’t see what all the fuss is about.
M: Oh, that’s a great question. Oh, Lassus.
A: [makes a sad face]
M: Well, you ought to tell me what you love, because the stuff of his that I’ve looked at for the most part…
A: There’s one piece that I love particularly.
M: What is it?
A: “Tristis est anima mea.”
M: Oh, OK, I’ll look at it.
A: And if Heaven exists, what do you want to hear God say when you go through the pearly gates?
M: Good effort. [laughs]
A: Thank you so much!
M: Thank you so much.

(end of interview)

Interview with Mary Beekman, Transcript, Part 4

Here is the fourth part of the transcript of my interview with Mary Beekman. The rest will be posted later today! Don't forget, she is conducting Musica Sacra and the Boston Cecilia in the Brahms Requiem on Sunday, 3 pm at Jordan Hall!

Interview with Mary Beekman on 10/31/09 at a Starbucks in Watertown, MA, Part 4

M: …at Harvard. [She] joined my group, joined Musica Sacra. And we became very good friends. And then she got the opportunity to disperse funds from a foundation, and decided that we were a group that her foundation was going to support. So our growth has totally been dependant on her. I wouldn’t be paid what I am, we would not have an E.D. The big challenge, of course, is to find a large enough donor base that that’s just part of what you have. But it’s better than no donor base – I mean, it’s fabulous. It’s fabulous! And that’s why at my 20th, I was able to do the B Minor Mass of Bach, and that was totally because of that grant. And every orchestral concert we’ve done with one exception has been because we had access to that grant. The first orchestral concert we ever did, we actually – I had a woman who wrote, we got money from the Massachusetts Council to do it. But then, of course, that all started drying up.
A: Now, I want to make sure that we have time to touch on other topics. So, in two minutes, from that point to this…
M: Well, I did a little bit. I’ve been telling you how we went from two [concerts] to four. The group has stayed pretty much the same, but now we have an E.D. The group has stayed the same. The great thing about the group is that for years, I had maybe 30% turnover, because being in Harvard Square, we get a lot of young people, and they come, and then they get a degree, and they move. Over the last ten years, there’s been less and less attrition among the singers. And the great thing about that is that when people come on board, there isn’t a huge learning curve. It used to be – I work a lot with phrasing. And it used to be I’d have to reinvent the wheel every year, because people would be lulled back into their bad habits by the new singers. Now the new singers hear how the old singers are already doing it, and they know if they don’t get on board right away, the old singers are going to be, like, “You’ve got to do that.” So we can really advance exponentially in a way that we couldn’t before. So I feel like we’re really able to get momentum. Plus, having a web presence, now that the Choral Consortium site exists…everybody used to look at the Globe Calendar. Now everybody looks at the web. We always ask people where they heard about us. It’s always the web. Or it’s a friend. So does that bring you up to today?
A: Yes. So you started Belmont Open Sings? No?
M: No, no, no. That had been started –
A: What other parts of your – what else do you do right now?
M: Well, I do Belmont Open Sings, which actually was started by a woman who saw a group like that in Princeton, and wanted to have it in Belmont. And I got involved with it about fifteen years ago when she started getting dementia. Oh my God, so scary. She’s since died of dementia. And you know, F. John Adams has dementia too, and she was in Holden Chapel. It makes me wonder if there was some horrible chemical in Holden Chapel, or something. But anyway, I was appointed to that, and I’ve been doing that, and then I have a voice studio. And I have my first conducting student, and I’m just so excited about it! I love it! So basically, a vocal studio. And here’s the thing, I mean, I would like to get more involved in – I’d like to have another job now that my kids are out of the house and everything. But I tried out for – there was a big position in Lexington last year, I don’t know if you looked at it, Congregational Church, and they were just looking for…Hancock.
A: Rings vague bells.
M: Well, I was on the short list, and I went, and had an interview. And they said, “Well, now, what would you do with Musica Sacra?” Because this was a full-time – they listed it as a 30-hour-a-week job. And I said, “Well, you know, I used to have four jobs, I’d keep doing it.” [no sound]
A: They’ll learn!
M: Well, but the point is, they’ll have someone who will say, “Oh, well, I’ll give it up,” and then they won’t. I mean, I feel like I’m being honest. But the thing is, too, I don’t know about you, I feel like when you have more than one job, they actually inform each other –
A: Yes.
M: -- and you actually don’t have to work as many hours prep, because – but of course, they don’t want to hear that, right?
A: Sometimes I feel a little bad about it. I’m like, “Hm, well, this song, we could also do that with this other group, and this other group!” So I’m like, OK, we’re going to—
M: But it’s not just the repertory. It’s like, vocal issues, teaching things, I mean, the more you’re in it, the more resilient you are. “Oh, this is going to work.” The juices are always going.
A: Right now mine are – I teach elementary students, and I teach my church choir, and then I have this college – they’re so scattered in different areas of development that it’s hard for me to…yeah.
M: So, are you in a school?
A: Yes, I teach – I have five jobs right now. I teach at Mission Hill School in Roxbury through Urban Voices, have you heard of that program?
M: Mm-hm.
A: I teach there one day a week, I have my church job, which is 10 hours a week, I teach a group called the Notables in Weston, which is an a cappella group that meets on Wednesday mornings –
M: Is it co-ed, or just women?
A: Just women. And I direct Cantilena. And I – oh, and I just became the choral director at Lasell College.
M: Oh, cool.
A: Yeah.
M: Congratulations.
A: So, very busy. So one thing I wanted to – before we get to Brahms, and it’s 12:53, just so you know, I don’t want to --
M: Oh. I’m sorry, I talk to much.
A: Well, that’s the whole point! I do want to ask you about your opinions about conducting. What parts of it you think are important, do you think that people neglect their hands, do you think people neglect score study – what kind of – philosophy of conducting, pet peeves you see in other people, that kind of thing. Take it and run with it, any direction.
M: OK, this is the direction that I’m going to run with it. The problem with conducting is that you have a finite amount of time to prepare something that should be perfect. You have to make choices. Something is always going to suffer. Because there isn’t enough time to do it all perfectly. So, when I started out, cutoffs were very important to me. This is going to be an eighth-note cutoff! This is going to be a quarter-note cutoff! And I have people in my group now that are rather anal, and their hand goes up right away, and I think, “It’s going to be a comment about this cutoff was supposed to be an eighth note, and we’re making it a quarter note.”
A: I call those Public Service Questions.
M: But after a while, it’s more to do with someone’s OCD than really being useful, do you know what I mean? So for me, it’s not so much about the conducting, it’s about the product. So what product am I – I can only really – I mean, it is true that when I hear other choruses, I always come with schadenfreude in mind. You know, it’s like I want to hear things I don’t like, so that I’m like, “Good, I’m on the right track!” [laughs] So I think blend is very important. I think that proper pronunciation of a foreign language or English is very important. I think tuning is very important. And the thing that I find interesting is that my ear has gotten better and better for tuning over the years, but it is not helpful to your singers to tell them that they’re out of tune or they’re flat, or whatever.
A: [strikes a tight, tense pose]
M: Exactly. So now what I try to do is talk about you need to use more air. Everything is from the context of air. Because if you tell someone that they’re flat and they need to raise the pitch there, it’s not going to happen in a way you like. And it might be there then, but here in the performances…so it’s all about always having enough air. So I would say right now my big thing is about breathing often enough. And interestingly, we have re-auditions every year, and we always ask people, “What do you do well, and what do you want to work on?” And almost to a person, the really good singers will say, “I want to work on breathing. I don’t get breathing. I don’t know when to breathe, I don’t know how to breathe.” And it’s just one of those things that, you know, we all take for granted, and yet when you see people…I don’t know, I mean, certainly Emily must work on breathing.
A: Oh, yes. I work on it with my choirs a lot. It’s hard to make myself work on it, because I feel so – it’s so hard to work on, because you can’t work on it in a sort of rhythmic, together way. To a certain extent, when we’re going to work on breathing, I can’t say, “1, 2, 3, go, and we all breathe!” I have to be like, “Ok, think about this, and you’re breathing in, and you’re thinking about this…” So it’s something I’m trying to work on, but it’s also very…you know, teaching choirs to breathe is very – it can be challenging.
M: Well, when you think about it, I have a –
A: They all do it at different paces, everybody has a completely different way of doing it…
M: Well, exactly, exactly.
A: You say one thing, all the people who are already doing it correctly will take it to heart, the people you’re actually trying to talk to won’t even be hearing you, and…yeah.
M: Well, the other thing is, too, that singing is unique in that you have this place, you have this line that you have to deliver, and the presumption is that you’ll have enough air to deliver it. When 90% of the time, you don’t. And so how do you teach your singers to recognize that moment right before they don’t have enough air, and that that’s when they need to get out and take a breath. So I think I’d rather answer your question that way, if that’s OK. It’s sort of like, what am I working on that’s important to me? Certainly – what do I think people don’t work on enough? Well, the one thing I really don’t like to see, and I probably do it myself, but I really don’t like to see it, is people that bring their arms up beyond a certain…[brings up her elbows higher than her shoulders] Like, the guy who does our youth choir at church, he’s quite expressive in his conducting, but it’s all up here like he’s sitting at a keyboard. I’m like, what is it about being up here? Your ictus needs to be down here. I mean, again, that was something again that Pittman – “No lower than your bellybutton, no higher than your breast.” I mean, that’s where it’s going to be. So.

(to be continued!)

Interview with Mary Beekman, Transcript, Part 3

Here is the third part of the transcript of my interview with Mary Beekman. The rest will be posted later today! Don't forget, she is conducting Musica Sacra and the Boston Cecilia in the Brahms Requiem on Sunday, 3 pm at Jordan Hall!

Interview with Mary Beekman on 10/31/09 at a Starbucks in Watertown, MA, Part 3

M: So anyway, I had the Harvard-Racliffe graduate chorus.
A: So you had that moment in Park Street.
M: Yes. And then I just really enjoyed – I loved the adulation. Now, it’s interesting, I’ve found – my own personal study, I always ask conductors what sign they were born under.
A: All right.
M: A lot of us are Leos. A lot of Leos.
A: Aries.
M: OK, I always think of Leo as being the vain sign.
A: What would Aries be?
M: Strong.
A: Oh, OK.
M: Which is good! And Leo is the next one in the same house. But we’re all about show. It’s like, “Enough about me! Let’s hear what you think about me!” Jameson Marvin? Leo.
A: [laughing]
M: Leo to the max. The perfect example of a Leo. John Ferris was a Leo. You had some link on your blog that I went to that had conductors. Four of them were Leos. It’s the perfect sign for us, because if people – you know, you could get this thing going, where – I mean, you know that as a conductor, it’s a very powerful thing. And it can work both ways. I mean, it can really work in a negative way, too. And the thing that’s difficult is that people can see you as their parent, and then it blows up in your face, because of the problem that people have with their parents. So first it’s lovely, they have this look of adulation and worship, and then there’s “I quit!” So. Anyway. So then, here’s an interesting thing. After a year of conducting the Harvard Graduate Chorale, I thought, “I want to sing again.” So I tried out for Cecilia Society. I did not get in. In fact, the person who came to tell me said, “No one would dispute your musicianship, but my dear, have you ever considered voice lessons?”
A: Oh, no!
M: And I said, “Yes, I’ve had four years of them!”
A: I’ve said that to people who have come to audition. I’ve been like, “So, maybe you should take voice lessons,” and they’re like, “I’ve been taking four years of voice lessons.” You know.
M: Well, you know, it’s interesting, because it wasn’t until –
A: People with pitch…and their voice is completely back here, you know.
M: Well, my voice was completely back there, because that’s all I’d ever used it to – and it took me fifteen years of working with singers, that one day I remember singing something, and thinking, “Oh, there it is! There it is here!” But you know, when you’re a sophomore, and you’ve been here all your life, and somebody’s talking “putting it here,” that means nothing to you, nothing. And one of the things I really appreciated about Yuko is that I had grown up having teachers that were great performers. And they’re not usually good teachers, because it all came to them very easily. Yuko was someone who really was a good teacher because she had to figure it out for herself. And I like to feel that that makes me a better conductor, a vocal conductor, because I’ve worked on my voice my entire life. And as an example – I know, I keep digressing – I’d heard a lot about McClosky. Have you heard about the McClosky method?
A: I mean, it sound vaguely familiar, but I know nothing about it.
M: Well, McClosky was a guy in the 40’s who was a voice teacher, and was having vocal issues, and couldn’t find any help from doctors, so he resolved them himself, and developed this method. And his thesis is that we have all these voluntary muscles, here, that we use to eat and speak. We don’t need them to sing, but we do use them. And so you get rid of all your voluntary muscles to allow everything to be properly placed. So I went to this, just five years ago, and there were five people in my group, and at the end of the weekend I realized the teacher was demonstrating to the other teachers the progress people had made in order of the amount of progress they had made. So there was a professional tenor, and it was me and him were the last two people. And I was like, “Please pick him first, because then I will have made the most progress, pick him first!” She picked him first. So then I knew I had really assimilated everything she had to teach. But what was interesting was that she said, “See how much freer that is?” And with everyone else, she had said, “See how much prettier that is?” And so I said, “You said freer, but you didn’t say prettier.” And she immediately, she’s like, “Oh, well, you have a nice voice.” And the former tenor soloist said, “Well, it’s true that you could never have a professional career as a soloist.” And I tell you, I was right back in Cecilia. I was like, “Oof!”
A: Ouch.
M: But I’ve found with my own singers, if someone has a beautiful instrument, they can do a hell of a lot wrong with it, and it’s still going to sound gorgeous. If you have an ordinary instrument, or even a not very attractive instrument, you have to really work to make it. So I feel that really stands in my stead as a director. I know what it takes to become, to produce well vocally. Because I have to really do it myself. Now, what was interesting about McClosky was that I had made all this progress, but they make the presumption you know how to stand, and they couldn’t get me to stand correctly. They were like, “Do this! Do this!” I mean, they just couldn’t do it. So then I’m like, OK, I need to do Alexander. So I’ve been doing Alexander for the last five years.
A: Do you have a teacher that you’re working with?
M: I do, I do.
A: And do you like her?
M: Yes, I do. And I got her name from a woman who was sent to her by Tamara Brooks when she was at NEC. So I’m happy to give you her name.
A: Yes, what is it?
M: Stephanie Segers. I think if you Google her, Segers, Boston.
A: I’ve been intending to do Alexander Technique for years.
M: Yes, well, I’ve done it now for four years. In fact, I had a lesson this morning. But anyway, so I didn’t get into Cecilia, so I’m 23 and I’m heartbroken. My organ teacher from college is conducting a group called Musica Sacra. She says, “Well, you know, I need an alto, so come join us.” So I sang with them for two years, and then she wanted a year off. So they held auditions. And I was the second. I did not get the job, I was the second. The first person was a guy named Jamie Armstrong who had gotten his Masters from Robert Fountain in Wisconsin. And that year was very instructive for everybody on how it was more important – there were other things that were equally important to being a good musician. The morale plummeted, because the guy – if you ask me, I went to work with Robert Fountain later, and the guy had really absorbed everything he taught, which was to never say a positive word. The two weeks I worked with Robert Fountain, the one positive thing he said was, “Well, isn’t that something.” That’s the most positive comment we ever got out of him. So the group, that year, started to look at the fact that this other conductor might not be coming back, and what would they be doing? And they said, “OK, we want to incorporate so we have more control. If somebody’s not working out we can fire them.” So they incorporated, and they held auditions.
A: So they did fire him. Or he just left?
M: Yes. Well, it was a one-year position.
A: Oh, I see, so they didn’t have to re-hire him.
M: Exactly, and he wasn’t happy, obviously, either, because –
A: He never said anything nice.
M: Exactly. So the dynamic just went “errrrrrr” [down noise].
[break in tape]
A: -- put it back on. Oh, well. [Note: I thought I had put the recorder back on and forgot, so what follows is a swift recap of the previous portion of the conversation.]
M: 26, I became director of Musica Sacra. Memorial Church in 1982, I was hired to do the spring semester. In fact, Anne Manson, who’s now a major conductor, she was a senior. So I worked with her. Samuel Wong, who was an assistant at the New York Philharmonic, he was also a senior at that time. So it was – you really had good people to work with. And then I did Chorus pro Musica, I was hired in the fall of ’86. I’m sorry, in the fall of ’83. [Note: to be their accompanist.]
A: So you were there for two years.
M: Two years.
A: And then you got pregnant.
M: Then I got pregnant. So that went, and the Concord Madrigals went. I knew I wanted to do Musica Sacra, and I knew I wanted to do church music, because that was where 90% of my salary came from. Now, just to backtrack, when I took over Musica Sacra, the budget…well, the conductor had bought all the music out of her own – she didn’t pay herself a salary, and she bought all the music out of her own pocket. So when I took it over, it was a twice-a-year performance, performing in University Lutheran Church in Cambridge, which – have you ever been inside there? You should take a look inside there. Lutheran, cement, not very aesthetically appealing. Twenty people. Tickets sold on the day of the concert only. And now we’re four concerts a year, web presence, which of course didn’t exist then. But we didn’t even have a – staff! That’s new. Although curiously and not surprisingly, the staff is paid more than I am. Because, of course, we love what we do, right, so you’re going to find –
A: Collectively or individually?
M: Well, the E.D. is paid more than I’m paid. Oh, well, yes, of course, because she wouldn’t take the job otherwise. I mean, we’ll take it regardless, right?
A: Yeah.
M: I try to be OK with that, because I knew that would happen when we finally got to that point. And the fact is, I think that relative to other conductors in the area for what I do, except for maybe Cecilia Society, I’m probably paid better. I know I’m paid better than John Ehrlich is. Because they once did a look-around at other people’s salaries when they were trying to gauge what to pay me. And I’m paid a lot relative to other groups, but I’m not paid as much as the E.D.
A: Are you comfortable, if I turn this off, sharing…
M: Yes.
[break in the tape]

(to be continued!)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Interview with Mary Beekman, Transcript, Part 2

Here is the second part of the transcript of my interview with Mary Beekman. The rest will be posted tomorrow! Don't forget, she is conducting Musica Sacra and the Boston Cecilia in the Brahms Requiem on Sunday, 3 pm at Jordan Hall!

(This is one of the interview segments where neither of us is holding back on our opinions of things!)

Interview with Mary Beekman on 10/31/09 at a Starbucks in Watertown, MA, Part 2

M: So there I was at twenty-two, I had 125 singers [in the Harvard-Radcliffe Graduate Chorale], because word-of-mouth....[the previous conductor] was not a choral conductor, he was an orchestral conductor, he had no idea what he was doing, and he didn’t enjoy it. So, you know, it was down to 35, 40 people. I joined, 125 people. Here’s somebody who loves choral music and is excited.
A: Now you were 22, were you doing a Masters also at Harvard?
M: No, I graduated in ’75 from Harvard, and at that point I went over to New England Conservatory to work with Yuko Hayashi. Because at that point I was very committed as well to the organ, and particularly to Baroque performance practice, and that was the place to work in the late 70’s. Yuko Hayashi was the person. I mean, Bill Porter, and everybody that was at Oberlin…Cambridge was a very happening place for Trapper organs. Charlie Fisk, Fritz Noack, all these builders were right in this area. And so anyway, I went to New England Conservatory. And I was president of the organ society at Harvard, and stuff, but I hated…I mean, I did not enjoy talking with other organists. It was just like, this is so boring. Whereas, then in my middle twenties I went to a Robert Shaw workshop a couple of times. And I could stay up until 5. I could talk about choral stuff for hours. You know, “What did you think of what he asked us here? What did you think about that tempo?” You know, it was just like, I can’t get enough. That should have been a big clue, but it took me a long time. So I kind of would say I was dual through graduate school. But I did take mostly conducting classes. So I took choral conducting with Lorna Cooke de Varon. I took conducting from the organ from Don Teeters.
A: I was going to ask.
M: And I took orchestral conducting from Richard Pittman, who was the head of the orchestral department at that point.
A: I’ve met him.
M: You have. Well, let me just tell you that he had the highest attrition of anybody in his courses. Fifty percent attrition. And two women started, and I was the only woman by November. The guy was very difficult to work with. I think it was just his personal style. He didn’t see himself that way, but he came across that way. But I will say, of all the classes I ever took, I learned the most from him. Because he was very demanding about, you know, how you did your beat pattern. For instance, John would often, you know, lose track of where the downbeat was, so he’d just be – because with stuff like Schütz, you know...couldn’t do that with Pittman. And that was good, that was very good discipline for me. Also, I’m left-handed, and up until then I’d been conducting with my left hand. He’s like, “No. You’re a conductor, you use your right hand. Your left hand is your expressive hand.”
A: Are you happy about that now?
M: I’m thrilled about it now.
A: Do you think you could ever have done it the other way? Could you have done the beat in your left?
M: Certainly, because that was my initial impulse. The thing is, and I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but one, as a woman, and two, as a choral conductor, there’s a whole issue of credibility, particularly when you’re working with professional orchestral people. So I’m thrilled to be using my right hand, because over the years, when you work with union people, you have to win them over, and at least I don’t have that extra barrier. Yes, I hold the baton in my – I mean – so. Plus, because I am left-handed, then I think it was easier for me to be expressive with my left hand, because it was already pretty dominant.
A: Yes. I find that very difficult actually, and I’m right-handed.
M: OK, well, there you go. So you can see what a serendipity it is. The first two years that I did the graduate chorale, I just remember a moment where we were doing a Christmas gig at the Park Avenue subway station, which in those days was really disgusting. Park Street. Between the trains, we were singing carols. And I was waving my arms, and I thought, “There’s nothing in the world I would rather do more than this.” And that was the “aha” moment. I mean, I knew I loved it. I knew I loved choral singing; in a way I felt like I was conducting as a compensation for not being able to be in the kind of chorus that I wanted to be in. But it’s such a good fit for me. Because I’m very articulate. And what I’ve noticed is that sometimes there are really good musicians, but if they’re not good at communicating their ideas, they might as well not be very good. I feel like I’m really able to maximize my talent because I can communicate. I’m very comfortable with being directive. I always have been. You know, I love it when Fergie made up that song, “I’m Bossy.” I’m like, “Yes, there’s a song for us!” Do you know that song?
A: I don’t!
M: “I’m bossy!” Oh, it’s great. Oh, you have to look it up. It’s wonderful.
A: OK, I will.
M: So, you know, it’s been a great fit for me, personality-wise, with my musical skills, plus…I mean, basically, I realize now, for whatever reason I’ve always seen music linearly. I’ve always been an excellent sight-singer, and a lousy sight-reader on the keyboard. And I think part of it is that I don’t see things vertically. And the great thing about conducting all these years is that now I see things more vertically than I used to, but I just…I could sight-sing rings around anyone. In fact, this summer I went to that – are you a member of the ACDA?
A: I was, I let my membership lapse. I need to…yeah.
M: Oh, OK. Well, I’m a member. And I went to the conference this summer because Anton Armstrong was going to be there, and I wanted to see him work. And so of course we had these extended reading sessions, and everybody there has got a job somewhere. I could sight-sing around all of them. And it was sort of like, “Hot damn! I still have this skill!” And it’s sort of like someone who’s a really good skier or something? You know, it’s a useless talent, but it’s so cool.
A: Oh, it’s not a useless talent at all!
M: But it is for me because I don’t have the kind of voice where I’m ever going to get into Advent, or any of those premiere places where you need it.
A: Have you taken voice lessons?
M: Oh, yes. Oh, God, yes. [laughs]
A: Who did you study with at NEC? Did you study at Harvard or NEC?
M: I didn’t study at NEC. I studied at Harvard through John Ferris. He was a big – at that time, the forward placement was just getting going. Phyllis Curtin was like – you know, so many people were still teaching back, and John was an early advocate of the forward into the mask. And so Phyllis Curtin has a student named Joan Heller. And I studied with her. And she was like, the person. And what’s really interesting, I mean this summer, not only Anton Armstrong was there, but André Thomas, who I hadn’t really heard of. He’s the guy that I learnt – he’s cool. If you ever get a chance to work with him –
A: He’s very cool. He directed my All-States, when I was in All-States, he was the guy who –
M: OK. What state?
A: It was in Massachusetts. When I was either a junior or senior, he was the one who came.
M: He is just –
A: I mean, I don’t remember so much, and I mean, I was in high school, so I was an idiot, but I remember it was so fun.
M: Well, you know, of all the people that I’ve ever worked with, he reminds me the most of John Ferris, in that you’re so admiring of him as a person. When he told his life story, it was – I thought, you know, having a negative attitude is really the privilege of people with privilege. Because he came from nothing. You know, really nothing. But he talked about people who’d come into his chorus, you know, the voice students, and he said, “There’s the ones who bite the apple!” (smiles widely to demonstrate) And I thought, “Oh, that’s what Phyllis would have been, a “bite the apple!’” Then he said, “There are the people that put it up here!” And he had all of these mannerisms, which – I mean, what I’ve come to feel now is that vocal production really should be separate from all of that stuff that you do. It’s all about – I guess, now I’ve worked with McClosky method and Alexander, and I think that if everything is relaxed, and the voice is on the breath, what you do with it is less important. Because what I would find is that with the people that I knew that worked with this forward placement, even Joan Heller, for the first five years she sounded great. Then you heard her after seven years, and all of a sudden the voice was too far forward. It was like, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
A: What’s your opinion of Emma Kirkby?
M: I’m afraid I don’t know her voice well enough to –
A: OK, because she came recently.
M: Yes, I know.
A: She is like, a laser. And I just, like, love it.
M: Well, there’s lasers and lasers. Because there can be an edge to a laser quality or, what’s the other…kind of a shrillness. So it’s a fine balance. And also, you know, someone that’s going to sound beautifully crystal clear in St. Paul’s…where did she perform, St. Paul’s? First Church Congregational? Well, where I would hear Joan Heller would be Memorial Church, dry as a bone. And so that sound was – I go for a bright sound with my chorus, and we perform in First Church, so it hides a lot of things that otherwise, you know, would be an issue. Hides is not a good…it ameliorates things that might…but for instance – well, I don’t know if it’s relevant. I don’t like the soprano sound in the Tallis choir. I find that there’s something that --
A: Oh, the Tallis Scholars?
M: Scholars, yes. There’s something that British women do to their voice. They manipulate something here, and I don’t like it.
A: I don’t remember any objections to their soprano sound. I just heard them a few years ago, and I was like…first of all, I just wish Peter Phillips would sit down. Like – sit – what are you doing? Sit down! You’re not helping anything!
M: You’re not needed?
A: You’re not needed! And secondly, I went to the pre-concert lecture, and somebody asked him about rehearsing, and he was like, “Oh, yes, I hate rehearsing.” And I was like…
M: Was that the one in St. Paul’s, that I was the moderator for the questions? That was me!
A: Oh, you were the moderator! Oh my goodness!
M: Yes, that was a lot of fun. I enjoyed doing that.
A: I was sitting there for a lot of it, though, and I was going, like….”Really?” Like, why would you…like, who doesn’t love rehearsing? I mean, what a sad life if you don’t love rehearsal.
M: But you know, it’s interesting, because people betray, and I’m sure there are things on here that are going to betray me. I mean, people really reveal themselves. I agree with you wholeheartedly, but…for instance, this is an amazing factoid. My second cousin is Harry Bicket. Have you heard of Harry Bicket? Well, he’s an up-and-coming Baroque – he had his debut at the Metropolitan Opera a couple of years ago –
A: Singer?
M: No, conductor. He was an organist. My father used to love to rub my nose in how I wasn’t talented enough – “You know, your cousin Harry Bicket is the organist at Windsor Castle.” Oh, thanks a lot. “Then your cousin Harry Bicket…” Well the next thing we know – he was a fabulous keyboardist, and he started becoming a keyboardist for McGagin (sp?), and some of those people, and then lo and behold, he was at that Scottish opera festival, and McGagin or somebody, Trevor Pinnock, or whoever was supposed to conduct gets sick. And aha, who gets to step in? And so guess who now – even though that’s not his specialty, early music, that’s what the Met hires him to do. And he’s had several appearances at the Met, he was a finalist for Handel & Haydn. And it’s all because he’s a keyboard player.
A: I’m aware of that. Sometimes I’m like, “Do I need to learn piano?”
M: Well, and the other thing is, you know –
A: But then I would want to play – I want to conduct, I wouldn’t want to do all the keyboard stuff so that maybe I would end up in the right place.
M: Exactly! Exactly! But what you realize is that I think a lot of people get into the conducting through being a keyboardist. So it doesn’t surprise me that Peter Phillips doesn’t like to rehearse, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear he wasn’t a singer. He comes at it from a different direction. And so I’m the same way as you. I’m like, well, then, step aside, buddy, because this is what I live to do, and if you don’t like it? What the fuck are you doing there?
A: I think he loves the scholarship was the real impression I got.
M: Yes.
A: And I was like, well, that’s fine, so you do the scholarship, and I’ll come conduct your choir, and then I’m not going to conduct them in performance, because they clearly don’t need it, and, you know. Maybe I’ll sing alto. It’ll be great! [laughs]
M: Right. Exactly.

(to be continued!)

Friday cat post!

Oomi. And a lap.

Interview with Mary Beekman, Transcript, Part 1

Here is the first part of the transcript of my interview with Mary Beekman. The second part will go up tonight, and I'll finish posting it tomorrow!

Interview with Mary Beekman on 10/31/09 at a Starbucks in Watertown, MA

A: …with where were you born and raised?
M: I grew up in New York City, on the Upper East Side.
A: That’s so interesting, I never know any of this.
M: I know, nobody ever does. And I came to Massachusetts to go to college. I came to Harvard.
A: Now, when you were growing up, did you play an instrument? Did you sing?
M: I played piano, and I sang in my junior choir, and I sang in the chorus at my school. But singing…I mean, I may be way off base in saying this, but one of the assumptions that was made in the past, anyway, is that choral conductors are people that aren’t good enough to be orchestral conductors, or they’re people who want to sing, but they can’t do that. Choral music has always been my medium, and to be a choral conductor has always been my goal. So it’s not like I’m waiting around for something else.
A: Since you were what age? Do you even remember?
M: Since I was – oh, that’s hard. You know, it’s interesting, because I visualized myself conducting an orchestra, because my mother took me to the New York Philharmonic as a kid. But I never – I played piano, and I only took up an instrument – I went to the national music summer camps when I was sixteen, and picked up the flute, because a kid in my cabin played flute. And then I came back and joined my orchestra. But I think a tip-off to how important choral music was to me was that I was raised in an Episcopal church on the Upper East Side of New York, and they had a professional boys choir, and a professional adult choir. And there was no outlet for amateur adults. So I was in the junior choir, and then, like, when you’re thirteen you don’t do that anymore, because, you know…
A: They’re little.
M: They’re little! Right. My junior year I re-joined the junior choir. My junior year of high school. Because I just – I wanted to sing. And I was singing in the small select group at my high school, and I was singing in the large group at my high school, and I was studying piano with a person who worked in the prep division at Juilliard. But I just wanted to sing more. So I joined the junior choir. You know, when I think back on that, it was kind of –
A: A sign?
M: Well, yes, it should have been. But it was also, you know, the late sixties, I was also very interested in folk music, I was very interested in using folk music as a protest to the Vietnam War. So I came to college, it was just…
A: You said you came to Harvard?
M: Yes. So here’s the thing. I had taken organ lessons as a senior project in high school. And my teacher had told me that when I came to Harvard, I should go to Memorial Church and talk to John Ferris about organ lessons. So I came to Harvard, I tried out for the Collegium Musicum, which is the – it was the inaugural year of that organization. It’s the premiere choral SATB group at Harvard. And I tried out for that. And I tried out for the chorus, which was like anybody can sing, just because I wanted to cover my bets. And then I was going home from the choral audition, and I saw Memorial Church, and my teacher’s words rang in my head. And I thought, so I’ll go in and talk to the guy. Well, they were holding choir auditions. And I was like, “Meh, I tried out for two groups today, I might as well try out for a third.” So I sit down, and they have these things where you fill out your experience, so I’m like, you know, “Sang in this choir, did this, blah, blah.” It was like a two hour wait, and there were all these people in the waiting room. And I got in this conversation with the woman next to me. She was a soprano, and we chatted, she said, “So, what’s your background?” and I told her, “Oh, I was in the select group in my private high school, and what about you?” And she said, “I’m a graduate student in voice at New England Conservatory,” and I said, “Oh, my God.” This isn’t just any choir. I mean, here’s this woman, really nervous. So, the door opens, it’s my turn to audition, and it’s John Ferris. So I don’t know if you know that name, or if you’ve heard anything about him, but to a person, people who have sung with John Ferris would tell you that their lives have been changed by him. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t say that about him. So I went in and tried out for him. And I found out much later that he was not going to take me because I’d been the alto section-leader in chorus in high school, so I had a voice like a buzz-saw, so everybody would hear me. Like, “MEHHHH!” It was very instrusive in a choral sound, and so I don’t blame him, he wasn’t going to take me. But the guy who was his secretary said, “Take her, because she’s very enthusiastic, and she wants to study organ, and she’ll be good for the morale.” And I thank him. Because I basically lived in Memorial Church for my four years at Harvard. I sang every day in the morning choir. I sang in the regular choir. And then after I graduated I kept coming back for special concert things, because I just couldn’t – you just can’t explain it. I don’t know if you’ve ever worked with someone that’s been just transformative. And it’s interesting, because he died a year ago, and Jeremy Eichler asked if he could interview me about him. And you know, we’re trying to get at the essence of what made John Ferris John Ferris, and you know, basically it wasn’t just his musicianship, it was his whole sensibility as a person. You felt like you were singing Schütz, and Schütz was speaking to you through John, and you were speaking to the congregation, Schütz was speaking to the congregation, and it just was an extraordinary circumstance. So, in my hubris – I mean, everybody who sang with John, the sad thing, the tragic thing about people who have sung with John is that most of them don’t sing. They’re like, “Oh, I can’t replicate that experience, so I’m not going to sing again.” I’d love to know that that was wrong, but at least the people that I hung out with, that was it. “I”ll never have another conductor like that, so I’m just not going to sing.” My thought was, hubristically, “I can’t sing under somebody like that, I’m going to conduct.” Now, in the meantime, summer school of my sophomore year, he taught a conducting class at the summer school, and I audited it. And so now you come to a series – so the first serendipity is that I walked into his office. The second serendipity is that I was accepted. I had a lot of older people sort of sitting next to me, counseling me. The four years I was there, John would say, “I’m just going to name names. Mary, you stand out.” Every time. I tried out for every solo there was, I never got one. So I always tell my singers, “I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like to have the least good voice in a chorus, and to never get the solos.” And I just don’t have a very nice voice. But it’s made me a much better conductor, because I have to figure out how to make people sound the best they can sound.

But anyway, back to the serendipity. I took this class. And one day my junior year John couldn’t warm up the choir, so he asked me to do it. And after I warmed up the choir, there was an alto that he trusted, and she went up to him and said, “You know, she’s very good, she can warm us up anytime.” Because you know, some people, they’re not very efficient, so – yes. So that was one serendipity. Number two serendipity was that I was really good friends with a guy in the choir who had a brother who was two years older than me who lived in Lowell House, and directed this group caleld the Harvard-Radcliffe Graduate Chorale which was open to any members of the Harvard community without audition. He did, I think, a masters at Harvard, so he was finishing up his Masters as I was graduating. And the tradition of this chorale was to have the present conductor pick the successor. So he was bitching one day to his brother that he didn’t know what to do about this chorus, and Chuck said, “Well, why don’t you ask Mary, maybe she’d be interested.” So he did.

(to be continued!)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Interview with Mary Beekman

As you no doubt know from reading the latest Weekend Concert Calendar with a fine-tooth comb (don't ask me exactly how that works) you know that Musica Sacra and The Boston Cecilia have joined forces to present the Brahms Requiem this coming Sunday at 3 pm at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall.

I was lucky enough to interview Mary Beekman, the conductor of Musica Sacra, about the concert and about her background and career as a conductor last Saturday. Here are the sound files; transcripts will be coming soon! (The interview is in three parts; the first and last files are longer, the middle one is quite short.)

My sound files for interviews are always raw, but these are particularly raw. My apologies! You can also download the interview here: part 1, part 2, part 3.

Weekend Concert Calendar, 11/5/09

Wow, Sunday is NUTS. Good luck choosing what to do on Sunday afternoon!


7:30 pm: The choir and orchestra of St. Peter's, Weston and the choir of Eliot Church, Newton; Rutter's Requiem; St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Weston.

8:00 pm: Cantata Singers; Schütz's Musikalische Exequien; also Distler, Schoenberg and Bach; New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, Boston.


6:30 pm: Choral Art Society; "Music Man Sing-along!"; St. Mary of the Nativity Parish Center, Scituate.


3:00 pm: The Boston Cecilia and Musica Sacra; "Before, Brahms, and Beyond" (featuring Schütz’s Selig sind die Toten, Brahms’ Ein deutches Requiem, and Eric Whitacre’s "Sleep"); New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, Boston.

3:00 pm: Chorus pro Musica; Duruflé Requiem, Kodály's "Laudes organi" and Brahms' "Geistliches Lied"; Old South Church, Copley Sq., Boston.

3:00 pm: Masterworks Chorale; Britten's St. Nicholas cantata; Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, Cambridge.

3:00 pm: Seraphim Singers; "Foundation: German Choral Masterworks"; St. Paul's Church, Harvard Square, Cambridge.

4:00 pm: The Boston Camerata and the Choral Fellows of the Harvard University Choir; "A Symphony of Psalms: Honoring Jean Calvin 1509-1564"; Memorial Church, Harvard University, Cambridge.

Did I forget anything? Leave it in the comments!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Monday link

Presenting...the Singing Anesthesiologists, aka the Laryngospasms, from Minnesota!