Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday cat post!

A quick hit of your weekly kitty before I run off to buy cheese for tonight's concert! This one is titled "Lurking: A Study."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Extra, extra - La Donna Musicale

I am pleased to announce another ticket giveaway! La Donna Musicale is giving away two pairs of tickets to their upcoming concert at Sanders Theater this Sunday. The first two people to comment on this post (note: don't bother commenting on a feed) will get put on the will-call list, and you can pick up your tickets at the concert free of charge!

The concert is called "Passionate Scenes: Italian Women Composers of the 17th and 18th Century." There will be music by Francesca Caccini, Isabella Leonarda, Antonia Bembo, and Anna Bon. The concert will be at 3 pm at Sanders Theater, 45 Quincy St., Cambridge.

This concert is presented as part of ensemble director Laury Gutiérrez’s fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the support of the Nakamichi Foundation. A wide variety of dramatic works will be performed, ranging from the dancelike canzonas of Francesca Caccini, through Antonia Bembo’s text-driven mélange of French and Italian styles, to the recently rediscovered Haydn-esque sonorities of Anna Bon. The program will include excerpts from Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero, Bembo’s L’Ercole amante, sonatas by Isabella Leonarda, and more.

The performers! are!

Sherezade Panthaki, Lydia Knutson, Shari Alise Wilson, sopranos
Daniela Tosic, Tracy Cowart, Renee Rapier, mezzo-sopranos
Michael Barrett, Pablo Bustos, tenors
Kiri Tollaksen, cornetto
Laura Gulley, Sarah Darling, Penny Schwarze, violins & violas
Akiko Sato, Noriko Yasuda, organ, harpsichord
Motomi Igarashi, lirone; Janet Haas, violone
Laury Gutiérrez, viola da gamba, director

So leave a comment and pick up some free tickets!

Weekend Concert Calendar, 2/26/09

This is a huge weekend for me. My vocal quartet Anthology will be performing eight world premieres this weekend. We commissioned eight composers (mostly local, but not all) to write us pieces on the theme "Songs of Protest and Social Unrest." The resulting works span a huge arrange of subjects and styles. Also included on the program will be songs of protest from different eras and countries, including South African anti-apartheid hymns, union songs and political songs from bygone decades.

We have been working personally with the composers during the rehearsal process, and we are delighted that almost all of the them are able to make the world premiere on Friday, so you can meet them after hearing their work. The composers are Ashi Day, Stephen Feigenbaum, Erin Huelskamp, Eva Kendrick, Ivana Lisak, Carol Lubkowski, Russell Podgorsek and Michael Veloso.

We will be performing this program three times, twice this weekend and once in April. Performances will be:

Friday, February 27 at 8:00 pm at First Parish Cambridge, 3 Church St., Cambridge, MA
Sunday, March 1 at 4:00 pm at Christ Church Andover, 25 Central St., Andover, MA
Sunday, April 26 at 4:00 pm at First Parish Cohasset, 23 North Main St., Cohasset, MA

And there's another major event going on this weekend, too! The Radcliffe Choral Society is hosting a Festival of Women's Choruses. It is the height of irony that I cannot attend this festival because my group commissioned eight new works for women's chorus and will be performing them. There will be three concerts: one on Friday night at 8, one on Saturday afternoon at 4, and one on Saturday night at 8. Details about each concert are below, and you can also find information about other events associated with the festival at the link above.


Anthology! 8:00 pm at First Parish Cambridge, 3 Church St., Cambridge!

Cappella Clausura presents “From Bingen to Salzinnes.” Music from Hildegard von Bingen, the Salzinnes Antiphonal, and also featuring modern composer Abbie Betinis’s work “From Behind the Caravan,” which is based on the poetry of Hafez, and incorporates influences from European medieval chant and Middle-Eastern influences. This will be at 7:30 pm in Gordon Chapel at Old South Church, 645 Boylston St, Boston (right in Copley Square.)

The Radcliffe Choral Society
presents A Festival of Women's Choruses. This concert will be at 8 pm at the Lowell Lecture Hall, 17 Kirkland St., Cambridge, and will feature:
Boston Children's Chorus, Anthony Trecek-King, Conductor
Festival Singers of Newton South High School, Jessica Rucinski, Conductor
Elm City Girl's Choir, Rebecca Rosenbaum, Conductor
Boston Conservatory Women's Chorus, Miguel Felipe, Conductor

The Handel & Haydn Society
presents a Baroque Grand Tour under the direction of Paul Goodwin. The concert will include Couperin: Concert dans le goût théâtrical; Purcell: Funeral Sentences; Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3; and Purcell: The Masque from Dioclesian. This will be at 8 pm at NEC’s Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough Street, Boston.


The Radcliffe Choral Society
presents A Festival of Women's Choruses. This concert will be at 4 pm at the Harvard Memorial Church, and will feature:
Wellesley College Chamber Singers, Lisa Graham, Conductor
Cappella Clausura, Amelia LeClair, Conductor
The Accidentals from Longmeadow High School, Kayla Werlin, Conductor
Radcliffe Choral Society, Jameson Marvin, Conductor

The Community Gospel Choir will perform a free gospel concert, "Precious in His Sight." This concert will be at 5 pm at the Chevalier Theatre, 30 Forest St., Medford. The volunteer choir is made up of several churches and community members of varying backgrounds.

Cappella Clausura presents “From Bingen to Salzinnes.” They will perform music of Hildegard von Bingen, the Salzinnes Antiphonal, and also modern composer Abbie Betinis’s work “From Behind the Caravan,” which is based on the poetry of Hafez, and incorporates influences from European medieval chant and Middle-Eastern influences. This concert will be performed twice today, once at 4 pm as part of the Harvard Radcliffe Festival of Women's Choruses (see above) and once at 8 pm at Parish of the Messiah, 1900 Commonwealth Ave, Auburndale (Newton), MA.

The Radcliffe Choral Society presents A Festival of Women's Choruses. This final concert will be at 8 pm at the Harvard Memorial Church, and will feature:
Vassar College Women's Chorus, Christine Howlett, Conductor
Lorelei Ensemble, Beth Willer, Conductor
Amherst College Women's Ensemble, Mallorie Chernin, Conductor
Cornell University Chorus, Scott Tucker, Conductor

The Brookline Chorus will present music “I Dream a World” under the direction of Lisa Graham. Music will include selections for Kirke Mechem’s opera “John Brown” and “A girl born in Afghanistan” by Greg Bartholowmew. This will be at 8:00 pm at the First Baptist Church, 848 Beacon St, Newton Centre.

The Mystic Chorale will present a program of spirituals, traditional and contemporary gospel. This concert will be at 8 pm at the Tremont Temple, 88 Tremont St., Boston.


Anthology! Sunday, March 1 at 4:00 pm at Christ Church Andover, 25 Central St., Andover!

La Donna Musicale is giving a concert called "Passionate Scenes: Italian Women Composers of the 17th and 18th Century." There will be music by Francesca Caccini, Isabella Leonarda, Antonia Bembo, and Anna Bon. The concert will be at 3 pm at Sanders Theater, 45 Quincy St., Cambridge.

The Handel & Haydn Society presents a Baroque Grand Tour under the direction of Paul Goodwin. The concert will include Couperin: Concert dans le goût théâtrical; Purcell: Funeral Sentences; Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3; and Purcell: The Masque from Dioclesian. This will be at 3 pm at NEC’s Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough Street, Boston.

The Mystic Chorale will present a program of spirituals, traditional and contemporary gospel. This concert will be at 3:30 pm at the Tremont Temple, 88 Tremont St., Boston.

The First Baptist Church of Lexington Choir will present "The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace" by Karl Jenkins. This will be at 3:30 pm at the First Baptist Church, 1580 Mass. Ave, Lexington.

I'm sure I forgot something - leave it in the comments!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday link

Cute advertisement using a chorus to demonstrate the virtues of surround sound.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Interview with Heinrich Christiansen, Transcript, Part 5

Here's the transcription of the fifth and final part of my interview with Heinrich Christiansen! You can also read part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4. Don't forget, the King's Chapel Choir, which he directs, is performing an hour-long concert at 5 pm TODAY of the music of Poulenc at King's Chapel, Boston.

Part 5:

A: I’m going to end with a questionnaire. There are going to be twelve questions, and just give – the shortest, most instinctive answers, don’t think about it too hard.
H: Word association.
A: Exactly. What’s your favorite word?
H: My favorite word. Gingerbread.
A: What’s your least favorite word?
H: [laughs] Moist.
A: [laughs] What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
H: Singing.
A: What turns you off creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
H: Whining.
A: What sound or noise do you love?
H: Well, I would say, you know, the human voice.
A: Non-musical.
H: Non-musical?
A: So a speaking human voice? Yes, I always have to put non-musical when I ask this of musicians, because then they start thinking about…
H: We do. I can’t think of any particular loveable noise right now. I guess organic types of sounds. I love the sea, so you could say the roar of the sea.
A: That works. What sound or noise, non-musical, do you hate?
H: So, you know, traffic noise, all of these kind of obnoxious noise-pollution things, like the garbage truck. And we used to live in a place in JP where we had all these trucks backing up. That sort of intrusive traffic noise seems to tell us that we’re living in way too industrial a world.
A: What composer – name a composer that you really love.
H: Poulenc!
A: Name a composer where you really don’t see what all the fuss is about.
H: That seems mean-spirited.
A: Well, not so much that you hate them as that you’re just like, “Eh.”
H: It probably depends on the repertoire again, but there’s –
A: You can choose somebody who’s dead, it’s OK.
H: Yes, certain composers that just seem to go on at great length for no particular reason. Like, I don’t like Liszt’s organ works at all. Lots of people play him, and I just feel like there’s a lot of oration for no particular reason going on.
A: What’s your favorite curse word?
H: I don’t even know. They’re all so delicious. How can you choose a favorite?
A: Favorite for today.
H: The favorite for today. See, I’m bad with questionnaires, I have a hard time being very definite like that. Dagnabbit.
A: Dagnabbit? All right. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
H: See, this is actually a question that I ask myself quite often. [laughs] You know, because it feels like it’s a failure of imagination not to be able to think of anything else that you could do in life. I think I would like to be a writer. But I think I have the problem that a lot of people that see themselves as potential writers do, that they don’t know what they would write about. And so I figure – that’s a little bit like what I feel about composing, is you shouldn’t compose unless you can’t help it, because there’s enough bad music being written. So I think I shouldn’t write because I can stop myself, and so it must mean the compulsion is not strong enough that it’s worthwhile.
A: But there’s a compulsion.
H: There’s a thought that it would be a nifty thing to do.
A: And what profession would you not want to do? Ever?
H: I just saw last week this movie called “The Class.” So I would not ever want to be a schoolteacher, because it just looks so fraught with anxiety. Did you hear of this movie?
A: No, I didn’t.
H: It’s a French movie that won the Palmes, you know, in Cannes, and it’s about this guy, and I just felt so bad for him the whole time. And then you’re sort of also filled with admiration, but you look at it, and you say, “How can people go back to that kind of situation every day?” Because it’s just so – and it reminds you of being a child in a class yourself, and all the little games that go on, and all that stuff, right? It just seems like such an unhappy place. But I’m glad that somebody’s doing it.
A: Yes, that’s good. Especially for the first 27 years of your life.
H: I know!
A: And if Heaven exists, what do you want to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
H: Well done!
A: Thank you so much!
H: Thank you! It was fun.

[end of interview]

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Interview with Heinrich Christiansen, Transcript, Part 4

Here's the transcription of the fourth part of my interview with Heinrich Christiansen! You can also read part 1, part 2, and part 3, and there is one more section to come. Don't forget, the King's Chapel Choir, which he directs, is performing an hour-long concert at 5 pm this coming Sunday of the music of Poulenc at King's Chapel, Boston.

Part 4:

A: So what’s the concert that’s coming up? Talk about that.
H: So the concert coming up this Sunday is a Poulenc program, all Poulenc all the time. And it’s called “Night of Snow.” I love Poulenc’s choral music, so I’ve been listening to it over the years, and then I started thinking, why is this always winter? Because his production is not all that large, but there’s an awful lot of pieces where either – you have the Christmas motets, which obviously have this winter association, by the season if nothing else, and then you have Un Soir de Neige, which we’re doing, which is all about snow, and then in some of the other cycles, even in Figure Humaine we’re doing a movement where it talks about this big animal, this imagery of the occupation like a big animal threatening, and has left imprints on the snow. And so the snow just turns up time and time again, and I thought, well, this might be an interesting thing to do in one of the cold months. Certainly this year we’ve had plenty of winter. And so I figured it might be a neat angle. So that’s sort of what ties it together is the winter thing, and we’re going to have – because again, all of these Poulenc pieces tend to be very, very short, so I thought to break it up, and add – I like, in programming these concerts, to try to think of ways to make it a unique concert experience in terms of, when you’re doing a composer portrait like this, really you could go home and just plop in a CD of all Poulenc and you would hear all these pieces, and they would be perfectly in tune, and you would be satisfied, and you wouldn’t even have to leave your house. So what do you do to make people want to leave their house and come hear your concert?
A: In February!
H: Exactly. Maybe even on a night of snow. So we’re adding, in between the pieces, we’re going to have about ten poems that are all about winter, and are all, just to contrast the French, and you know Poulenc loved to set all these surrealist poems, like Eluard and Apollinaire, so we’re going to have some different brands of poetry, and all original English-language poetry. So there’s some T.S. Eliot, and some Thomas Hardy, and some Longfellow, and all kinds of different takes on winter. And so hopefully it will all come together and be just that, a unique concert experience that you wouldn’t find somewhere else. And that’s one of the things that I love about this job, is the opportunity to try and put things like that together. We’re so blessed in Boston with all of these great choruses everywhere, and concerts almost every day of the week, and certainly several every weekend, and we all try to do our own niche programming. And so what I like about the King’s Chapel Series is we do – in general, our programs are about sixty minutes, so it’s not an intermission-style program as a rule. And so I try to think of things that work well in that format, and so that makes it a little bit different also, the time, you know, Sunday at 5, it’s not quite afternoon, not quite evening, but more sort of Evensong time and space. To think of something that in a Sunday, for the audience can be a nice kind of transitional thing. The end of day as we enter into evening. And I enjoy a lot of variety, personally, in my musical life, so I try to program things specifically. So it’s rare that we really have a kitchen-sink kind of program, typically there’s some kind of theme to it. And so this year we have a Bach program coming up in March, so we have two composer-specific programs, and in the fall we did a program called “In Praise of Music” to round off our 50th anniversary celebration. And so it was all pieces that were about music, St. Cecilia and that whole aspect. So I like very much to do these thematic things, and try to – there’s a lot of repertoire that keeps occurring, and I try to put a new spin on the context, and see what we can come up with. I find that very enjoyable and exciting, a creative challenge.
A: Now what are the different--? So, there’s the concert series that is the choir, that’s three times a year, and are there other concert series at the church?
H: There’s a Tuesday at noon series. So every Tuesday, essentially, unless it happens to be Christmas, we keep going all year. So every Tuesday there’s a half hour program. It’s a series that was started – I think the original thought was some grad students at NEC that were looking for a place to perform, and they –
A: All grad students or just organists? Was it organ-specific?
H: I don’t even – this is all sort of mythological, I’ve never seen the first program, so I don’t know what exactly was going on at first. But I think essentially somebody had the idea, and went to Dan or went to the church and said, “Hey, can we come and do this?” And then I think they started out just doing four Tuesdays in a row, and then they apparently thought that it was worthwhile continuing. And so it’s been going on – it’s coming up on thirty years of Tuesdays. That’s a lot of concerts, you know?
A: Yes. Thirty years of Tuesdays.
H: Fifty concerts, or fifty-two some years, you know. It doesn’t have to be Christmas on a Tuesday. And that’s mostly people from everywhere, you know, we get a fair amount of touring folks, you know, that I guess come across the website, so they say, “Oh, I’m coming to Boston, can I perform on such-and-such a date?” So that’s great fun. I have a lot of return visitors, local musicians that like coming in. It’s a great forum if you’re working in a new ensemble, or if you have something that you’re trying out, maybe getting ready for a full-length concert, and you have a half-hour of music that you’d like to try out in front of an audience, and come in on a Tuesday and give it a whirl, and I think it’s – the church considers it outreach, so we try to get some people in the door that might not otherwise discover that we’re there. But I think also in terms of the musical community, that’s a great service to provide, because you know how much work it is to put on your own concert, and how hard it is to get an audience. And by virtue just of having one every Tuesday, you get a certain built-in trickle-down. I have some regulars, but we also get people that come specifically for certain programs, they like a certain type of music. And so it’s a little bit on the radar. I think it’s a great series, just a nice service to provide, both to the community at large, but to musicians in Boston to have a place to perform.
A: So before we wrap up, the final area of inquiry is conductors, and what advice do you have for other younger, or, you know, older, but usually we give advice to younger people, so younger conductors. What things do you see that are your pet peeves, what are areas where you think people just don’t study enough or concentrate enough – just your thoughts on conducting. Pet peeves is always very interesting to hear.
H: Pet peeves are – so, I do quite a bit of accompanying, so that’s often how I –
A: So you get to see a lot of other conducting, more than maybe other people.
H: Exactly, and I get to – yes, I get to experience a lot of conducting and react to it. So that’s maybe where I have a different angle, because that might not always be the case, because a lot of conductors don’t do –
A: Just conduct.
H: Yes, exactly. They don’t necessarily get on the other side of the stick very often, right? And then most often if you’re observing conductors, you’re either teaching them, or you’re seeing them from behind, if you will. And I get to be in front of a lot of conductors, and my pet peeves are people that are rude to their singers. And I’m always flabbergasted at what singers will put up with in that term, because it just seems like –
A: It’s so hard to get work, man!
H: [laughs] Well, but you know, even all the community choruses, you know, and these people that have worked a full day, and then they’re paying good money to come and sing with some conductor that’s just standing there insulting them the whole time. And you know, it doesn’t seem like – how do you have a good time when you’re being treated like that? But sometimes you just get the sense that there’s almost a thought that, “Well, we’ll never amount to anything unless we’re yelled at.” And that “we have to be abused or this will never be any good,” it can’t happen in a happy atmosphere, basically, which I think is very disturbing. The other thing, the other pet peeve is if a conductor is reactive more than proactive. Which happens sometimes, you’re working with somebody, and they’ll start conducting you, and you have a sense that they don’t really believe that the music is coming from them, but that they’re sort of throwing up their hands, and seeing what comes back, and then reacting to that. Does that make any sense? You know?
A: Yes, that makes a lot of sense.
H: So you feel like they are not projecting – to my mind, the music has to start inside the conducting person who then sends a signal that activates something in the musician that they’re conducting, and then of course you should react to what you hear, but the initial impulse, impetus, should come from the person conducting. So that’s the other thing that puzzles me, you know, because it seems that if you are going to conduct, you should have a strong enough musical vision that you can actually project that. You know, and then I think it’s easy to get all bogged down in technicalities when you’re conducting. And it’s an interesting thing that I’ve noticed about American choral conducting, which also because I never had any training here formally, is – there are things that interest me in terms of how did this come to be accepted, because again, going back to what is normal, and so what I take to be the whole Shaw school where you spend an awful lot of time on checking your dots, and crossing your t’s, and saying this is where you take off an eighth note. And I never actually heard that until I came here. And I think a lot of that stuff really could be intuitive, but now it’s not, because people have become so used to that whole editing process, you know, to the point where you work with certain people and they’ll give you a score where it’s all edited in. Because it saves time in the rehearsal, which makes perfect sense to me, so I’ve done it once or twice if I have to – if I have something that I need to Xerox anyway for the choir, and I have the time, I might as well edit those things in, because I’m going to give them to them anyway, because it seems to be the accepted way to do things. And certainly in my particular context, because we always have very limited rehearsal time, I try to be extremely specific like that. Just because there isn’t ever enough time for us to rehearse so much that it gets to be intuitive, which is – it’s wonderful to be surrounded by all these professional singers that are extremely talented, but time is always a concern. So I have to try to be very efficient, and I think that’s true for church musicians everywhere. You always have very limited time. And then every now and then you find yourself hired to do something where there’s all the time in the world, and you can just sort of take your time to get used to each other and not have to be so mathematically specific about your music-making. So…I like intangibles in music, but intangibles unfortunately are not all that practical sometimes. [laughs]
A: Anything – any other thoughts on conducting, or advice, or observations on the practice?
H: Conducting is such an ephemeral thing, because it’s – you know, with the whole podium time thing, it’s something you have to learn by doing it. You can only prepare so much. I certainly thing visualizing in terms of really planning out how is this rehearsal going to go, what is it that I want to accomplish, and how can I do this, you know, doing a lot of thinking about a situation, and trying to prepare yourself that way, is extremely helpful, but at the end of the day it’s a very – that’s the joy of it, is that it is so complex and so interactive. But there are a lot of things that you just really can’t prepare for until you’re in the situation, and then, you know, also listening to the music that comes back at you, and trying to figure out, “What can I do to – again, to make my intentions really clear, but also to make things easier for the singers?” So you don’t futz around – that’s another pet peeve, is what you might call overactive or micro-managing conducting, where there’s just so much going on that it becomes really hard to see the overall picture. There’s so much going on in the technical department of the conducting stick-work that you lose the sense of the musical phrasing, because it’s all about – what we were talking about before, about getting bogged down in all the technical aspects of conducting.

(to be continued!)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Interview with Heinrich Christiansen, Transcript, Part 3

Here's the transcription of the third part of my interview with Heinrich Christiansen! You can find part 1 here, and part 2 here, and there is more to come. Don't forget, the King's Chapel Choir, which he directs, is performing an hour-long concert at 5 pm this coming Sunday of the music of Poulenc at King's Chapel, Boston.

Part 3:

A: And then why did you decide to come to the U.S.?
H: So, it was just a coincidence. I had been working Sweden, as I said, for four and a half years, I think I was there, and it was a full-time job in music, so I kind of felt like I should have been pleased as punch, you know, because lots of musicians all around the world are not able to make a living. But there wasn’t much of a challenge in it after a while. It was fun for the first 2, 3 years, there was the challenge of trying to master the language and trying to sort out how to do the things I was talking about before.
A: And were you directing a choir for the first time?
H: Yes. And you know, I had to put it together, this volunteer choir that was non-existent before I got there, and then I founded a little community choir while I was there too. And those were all fun things, but then I was – so I was around thirty, so I had this little crisis of thinking, “Well, you know, am I going to do this until – I’m all set now, should I just sit here and wait and retirement?” So it felt like, “There’s got to be more to do than this.” So I ran into Jim Christie, who was teaching at the Boston Conservatory. One of the things I did while I was in Sweden, just to sort of keep myself motivated was I would go around the world and play organ competitions, because it was a great way to make yourself practice, and you got to meet a lot of colleagues at various stages of their career, and then you got to go fun places. I went to South Africa one time for a competition, which was a place I would never have gone to otherwise, I think. And it was just wonderful. And this particular competition was in Paris, so you know, any excuse for going back to Paris. And then Jim was on the jury, and we started chatting after the whole thing was all said and done. And I said to him, “Well, you know, I’m kind of done with this whole living in Sweden thing, I’m ready for the next thing, maybe I should just emigrate to the U.S. like people used to, you know, centuries ago.” And then he sent me a postcard a couple of weeks later saying, “Well, if you’d like to come do this artist’s diploma, I could get you enrolled in the program.” He set the whole thing up, and it was just a great opportunity. And I sort of felt like, “Well, I don’t really need one more degree,” because as I said I’d already been in school for eight years straight for organ, and I already had a degree that was extremely similar to what they were offering. But it was just, you know, a chance to go do something else, and also a chance to focus on your instrument and just sit around and play for two full years, and have the time to do it, which is really a luxury. And then I was very fortunate, I just sort of showed up and Jim introduced me to a lot of people, and lots of doors opened and I got a lot of opportunities right off the bat. So really a case of being in the right place at the right time.
A: And what was the culture shock like? Was there any, or – what things, if you can even remember now, struck you as odd?
H: I don’t think that anything struck me as odd. I think I really was ready, as I said, for something else. So I was – I think I was very spongy when I first came here in terms of just taking things for what they were, and absorbing them. And I certainly didn’t really feel homesick at all. Obviously I missed my friends in Denmark and Sweden, but I just had a great time, and it was just a good time for me personally in my life to just be doing something else and just rip up the roots and try something else. And all these wonderful opportunities were there. So I don’t remember being shocked, I just had a good time, and there were so many welcoming people that, you know, took me under their wing, showed me around, took me on little trips to go see – Americans are extremely welcoming that way, they want to show off their country and introduce you to customs and show you the sights and all that. So I had a great time and still do.
A: And then what was it like working with Dan Pinkham?
H: It was great. He was, you know, a wonderful, very generous boss, and a great mentor, and he gave me lots of great opportunities. I got to play a lot of his music. Typically when he was writing something new he would bring it in for church on Sunday morning and we would do whatever the piece was, either as an anthem or for something instrumental it would be the prelude for that Sunday, so he had me learn a bunch of his things for those occasions. So he could correct his scores and change whatever he wanted to change before sending it off to be engraved. So it was just a wonderful time.
A: And how long did you work with him?
H: So he was – for two years, this was the exact length of my program –
A: Oh, really? So it was right when you got out of the program that he decided to retire.
H: Well, he’d announced that – as I said, he was there 42 years, so he’d announced, even before I even came, as I remember, it was known that he was going to retire in the year 2000, and he was 77 at the time, so I figured he thought, “Enough is enough.” As you get older, all the fun parts of choral directing, moving chairs around and setting up risers and things like that, can get to be a bit too much, so I think he felt that he’d had a pretty good run, and it was time to call it a day.
A: So talk to me about the choral conducting. At what point did you start doing it, did you simply learn on the job, were there --?
H: As I told you, I always sang in choruses, even when I was a little boy, and then obviously my voice broke, and then that was a whole issue like it is for boys for a while there. So I wasn’t singing for a little bit, and then it was a very integrated – they tend to say that that program I was in in Denmark at the conservatory has three majors. That there’s a lot of, obviously, organ playing, both liturgical and concert repertoire, whatever you want to call it. And then there’s a big theory component, they teach you a lot of theory, because they figure you’re going to need it for whatever you might have to do –
A: Improvisation.
H: Yes, you know, for improvisation, but also if you need to write things for your chorus, or even for church, they want you to be familiar with the various epochs of how did you harmonize chorales for all the hymns, what is appropriate for a Romantic-style tune, that kind of thing. So tons of music theory, and then there’s a lot of choral conducting.
A: So they actually taught conducting as part of the – oh.
H: Yes. So that’s part of the church music program. So that’s – again, because this particular program is intended for you, when you’re done with it, you’re going to go be a church organist and that’s what you’re going to do. It’s not really – so the moment you start the program, that’s what your focus is, and that’s the specific intention, and if you want to go do something else afterwards, it’s going to be a little bit complicated. Because then chances are you’re going to need another diploma from somewhere else in order to allow you to go teach school, or whatever you might want to do. So they do prepare you, and actually there’s a lot of just singing for each other, because everybody who’s in the program needs to fulfill their conducting requirements, so you spend a lot of time singing for the other people while they fulfill their requirement. And so that was a big part of it, just hours every week, just practicing choir for the various – So in that way, it’s very similar to a choral-conducting program around here, that everyone has to sing for each other, and you don’t get as much podium time as you ever want. So that’s integral up until the last year. I think you do your choral conducting exam the year before you do your final exam, so you have that extra year to focus on your instrument again. And often it’s tricky for organists, because typically your average organist is a shy and retiring person that likes to be behind the instrument –
A: A large instrument.
H: -- where they don’t have to face anybody, right? So often it’s a challenge for organists to be choral conductors, just because the interaction is very different, and so the person’s skills are other. I always have loved doing it, and in my current job it’s what I love most of all, but it’s also by far the thing that’s the most complicated, just in terms of the whole personnel aspect. Any kind of contracting like that is just – it’s neverending. There’s always somebody coming down with a cold, or –
A: Have to find a sub.
H: Exactly. So that aspect of it can be trying. But it’s also extremely rewarding, as you know, when it comes together. There’s nothing like that conductor’s high, or whatever you want to call it. And to me, also, there’s something more exciting about it to me, probably because I’ve been playing the organ for so darn long, that – I love that, but it’s not nearly as interactive. Even when you’re accompanying somebody, it doesn’t have the same immediacy that – there’s something very primal about the human voice, and just the interaction with singers, that is just extremely satisfying when it all comes together, and you know, it’s an arduous and long process, but when it finally starts happening, it’s worth it all.
A: So what are some of your favorite – so how long have you been at King’s Chapel now? Since 2000, right?
H: Yes, so Dan retired in 2000, and that’s when I was hired. It’s coming up on nine years. Time flies when you’re having fun.
A: You’ll have to plan a big party for next year.
H: I know, well, we have a lot of anniversaries around the church, because it’s such a historical place. There’s always some reason to celebrate. Last season was the 50th anniversary of the concert series, and then in 2011, we have the 325th anniversary of the church, it was founded in 1686. So almost every year we have some reason to party. So we’ll see.

(to be continued!)

Friday cat post!

Time for your Friday cat post! I asked my brother for some close-ups; here is one of my favorites.

What would happen if you scratched her belly? It looks so tempting, and yet also like it might be a dangerous proposition.

Interview with Heinrich Christiansen, Transcript, Part 2

Here's the transcription of the second part of my interview with Heinrich Christiansen! You can find part 1 here, and there is more to come. Don't forget, the King's Chapel Choir, which he directs, is performing an hour-long concert at 5 pm this coming Sunday of the music of Poulenc at King's Chapel, Boston.

Part 2:

H: So I did the six-year degree, and then I did a soloist’s – which is kind of like an artist’s diploma – I did the soloist diploma which was another two years.
A: And was that also in Denmark, or was that what you did in Paris?
H: That’s what – so, I was enrolled in Denmark still, because that meant that I got some funding from the school in Denmark, but I did the actual coursework in France, so they accepted that I just transferred. Because I’d been with the one teacher for six years, so I think that he was OK with me going off to France and getting some new input, and then I just came back and did –
A: That was lucky.
H: Yes. So you do a public so-called debut recital, and that’s your soloist diploma requirement, you just do that one recital, so then my old Danish teacher helped me prep for that, so, you know, he had some say in the whole thing. So that how it worked.
A: And how old were you then?
H: The soloist’s debut was in 1994, so I was 27 or so. So I had been in school for my entire life, up until that point. Although, you know, it got less and less structured as it went along, because…I remember having that thought, you know – in high school I was so over-committed, because I had a full course-load in school, of course I was there every day from 8 to 3, and then I went to the music school, where I probably had, say, 5 or 6 hours of lessons a week, and then you had to practice and do your homework, and I was the most over-committed teenager you’ve ever seen, right? And then when I entered the conservatory and all of a sudden you only had, what, ten hours of classes, maybe, per week? And all of a sudden you had all of this time. It just felt like the greatest luxury. And then in Paris I only had one organ lesson a week, so there was a lot of time to kick around.
A: And you were living in Paris.
H: Exactly, because that’s how it worked out, it was easier for me to enroll at the conservatory.
A: And did you get a job, then, too? Was the first organist job you took the one in Sweden?
H: It was the one in Sweden, was the first time I worked full-time. So that’s not a typical thing for most American students. You would not be able to make it through school until the age of 27 without actually really ever holding a full-time job.
A: But did you have a part-time job?
H: I’d worked in the summers, you know, from when I was 17, I used to substitute in churches. So I had one particular church in my hometown where for I don’t even know how many years – so I was in my mid-twenties, let’s say eight years I was the regular substitute, if you will. So I was there every summer when the organist was away on his vacation, and when he had a weekend off I came and filled in for him. So that was good, that was excellent preparation, obviously, for learning about these various aspects. Because again, it’s a pretty composite job. You have to play the organ, but you also have to conduct choirs and you have to – just sort of the various communication admin aspects of being a church music director, right? So that was good preparation for that, because again, the program that I was in was not so much about – it’s the kind of thing you’re just supposed to pick up somewhere along the way, how to deal with all of these workplace relations, and all these sorts of practical aspects that are not strict--
A: How to handle your minister.
H: Yes, you know, that are not strictly about the musical training, right? That’s what you hear often, that people feel like they go through this long, long program that has some very specific goals, but then you get thrown into this position and more often than not you have learned a ton of stuff that you’re never going to use, but this very basic – and often work-psychology-type related and administrative skills that you just never had a class that taught you how to do that, but you’re supposed to just know or pick it up as you go. Reality and school sometime disconnect.
A: So then Sweden. Did you speak Swedish? Did you learn it?
H: I did not when I first came there. You can sort of get along –
A: If you know Danish.
H: Yes. It’s funny these days when Swedes and Danes get together, because of globalization, I think there’s a big difference even between when I was a child and now, that often these days when Swedes and Danes get together it’s just easier for them to speak English, because then they’re sort of on common ground. Whereas if they each speak their language, which is what people used to do – you know, my mother, for instance, who’s 65, and she has some friends in Sweden, and people of that generation, when they get together, they see each other a couple times a year, they just sit down and each speak their language, and then there are certain words that they don’t understand, but they manage to communicate. And so you can get by doing that. But then I’m very interested in languages in general, so I just felt – I didn’t want to be the Dane, in that respect. Because sometimes you meet people that have lived for years and years in the other country, and still kind of speak their native language, but just exchange the words that are not easily understood, and then you get this bastardized thing that doesn’t really sound like anything anymore. Like I had this uncle who moved to Norway and lived there for years and years and years, and he would send a Christmas tape every December that we would all sit around and listen to, which was very quaint and fun, but you know his language was just not to be believed, because he was surrounded by Norwegians every day, so he had that kind of lilting tone that the Norwegians did, but the words that he was using were still really Danish, because I guess he just wasn’t conscious of the difference.
A: And he never really learned Norwegian.
H: Yes, exactly. And that’s what you hear sometimes. So I just made a conscious effort to learn Swedish, in terms of being able to actually write it, and I think I always had a heavy Danish accent, I don’t know that I was fooling anybody, ever, but it’s a beautiful language, so that was part of the fun, was learning that.
A: And what kind of church was that, and what kind of experience?
H: That was a Lutheran church. At the time, the state church in Sweden was a Lutheran church. And that’s another interesting thing about Scandanavian countries versus the U.S. is because at least historically, it’s been so homogenous that everybody was the same denomination, and church is not really a defining factor in your identity because – you know, often in the U.S. you see people that a big part of their church life is their social identification with this particular denomination. Often the heritage plays into it, so you have this feeling that you’re honoring previous generations sometimes, by sticking with your family church. Or sometimes there’s a conscious choice that you don’t want to be associated with this dogmatic church that you grew up in, and so you switch. And you see very little of that in the Scandanavian countries. For one thing, they’re very secular. But also it’s just not – it’s just kind of a given that everybody’s Lutheran, but if you ask people on the street, I think they’d have to think about it to tell you what denomination they were, because it’s just not really a thing. I remember learning it when we were in grade school and it was a big thing, what kind of church is the church, because it’s – it’s the one that’s there, there’s a church in every neighborhood, but why would you – how could it be any different? So again, it’s a different view of denomination. It used to be very institutionalized, especially in Sweden, they used to have this – that the tax and census authority was hosted in – I’m sure it goes back to ancient times when in rural villages the only person, maybe, who could read and write was the pastor, so he would keep the various ledgers, you know, not only the church ledgers but also keep track of the town. A little bit like in New England, you know, when the town government and the church kind of used to be one and the same, right? And so they kept that until into the 1990’s. So if you moved, you had to go to the church parish office to tell them that you were now living here, and so they were the ones keeping track of the census and where everybody was. And so part of the whole tax system also went through there. So you had this big office, because you needed people there to keep track of all that, that really had nothing to do with the church. And then they got rid of that right around 1990. And then eventually they separated church and state in 2000, because, I guess, through that they came to realize that the two really had nothing to do with each other, and they should not be mixed in. There’s a long history of church and state being brought together that was separated out, so the church was an independent thing. And also church tax, and so they changed the whole structure, although I think still to this day church tax is – the state will process the whole thing for the church and then hand over the money, just to make it simpler in terms of administration. But it’s just – so that’s kind of what we were talking about before, what’s normal, you know? Because it’s so different from what goes on here. Which is true, by extension, of the whole arts and music scene, because pretty much everything traditionally was funded through tax money, and so there are a lot of organizations that essentially get their entire budget from the state, or by far most of it, and are not used to this concept of private funding. And so you don’t see nearly as much of these little grassroots arts organizations that we have here everywhere. And you know, again, it’s great that there’s funding for the arts, but it also means that if you’re not in one of the systems, or with one of the ensembles that gets its state funding, it’s very hard to get something off the ground if you want to start your own thing, because it’s not as common, and people are not so philanthropically inclined, because they’re used to thinking of, well, that’s something the state takes care of, and why would anybody ask me for money to do something like that? So again, it’s just a very different world that way. And sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not.
A: Now, you ended up playing an instrument that’s always played in church. Were you religious at all as a child?
H: As a child? No.
How did you – was there any reconciliation that had to take place with the “Oh, I guess I’m going to be in church for the rest of my life.”
H: Not really, again, because it happened when I was so young that I wasn’t conscious of those implications, really. I just thought, “Oh, this is a cool instrument.” And then as I got a little bit better at playing at it, people asked me to play in church, and I very much enjoyed it, and I love being a church musician. There’s this old cartoon I had, that, you know – what was it? “If you’re a church musician, you please both God and people.” Whereas if you’re – I forget how it went. And I think there’s something to that, you know, that you get the best of all possible worlds in being a musician, and being in that context of something larger. So I didn’t ever feel a conflict, but I didn’t really grow up – again, because church is not a defining thing, my parents didn’t go to church, and this is true for probably 90% of Danes – but they do go to church to have their kids baptized, they do go to church to get married, and they have their burials – everybody has a funeral from a church, you know, you don’t have funeral parlors. And in those times of transition, certainly people feel – and the vast majority of kids when I was growing up were still being confirmed. In the eighth grade there was time set aside in your school schedule, you know, on Wednesdays from 8 to 10 you went over to the church and you had your confirmation class, and that was the regular thing to do. So even in this very secular society you would have folks that were – you figured the church is always there, and you didn’t feel the need to, I suppose, go there every Sunday, but at the times that really counted in your life, that’s where you wanted to be. Which is a nice thing, that it’s still a cultural must-have in that sense. But it’s tricky for a lot of people working in church like that, because it does feel like from Sunday to Sunday nobody cares and nobody wants to come to church and be part of it, but they want you there when –
A: When they need you there.
H: Mm-hm.

(to be continued!)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Interview with Heinrich Christiansen, Transcript, Part 1

Here's the transcription of the first part of my interview with Heinrich Christiansen! More to come. Don't forget, the King's Chapel Choir, which he directs, is performing an hour-long concert at 5 pm this coming Sunday of the music of Poulenc at King's Chapel, Boston.

Interview with Heinrich Christiansen at the King’s Chapel Parish House, Boston, MA on 2/16/09

A: So, first things first. First thing is your life story. Where were you born?
H: My life story. I’m Danish, so I grew up in Denmark, and I got my degree there, a church music diploma, they call it. And when I was done with that, I just had to go to Paris, because that’s what organ types do, right? So I was there, studying for a couple years, and then I happened to get a job in Sweden just as I was finishing up in France, so I went to Sweden, worked in a church there for about four or five years, and then I came to Boston.
A: And got the job at King’s Chapel?
H: Yes. I came here to do an artist’s diploma, again playing the organ, so that was at the Boston Conservatory, and part of that whole package that my teacher Jim Christie set up for me was that I was the assistant at King’s Chapel at the time. This was – well, Dan Pinkham was my predecessor. He was the music director for 42 years, and so he would get these assistants that had been students of Jim’s for quite a while before I showed up, and so I happened to be the last one, and he had announced that he was going to retire in 2000, and I got lucky, and they hired me to succeed him.
A: Cool. Now, when you were a kid, when did you start – you didn’t start out on organ, I assume.
H: No, you know, there was really no tradition of playing any instruments in my family, so I started out sort of the path of least resistance. I got a recorder, because they had – it’s a very nice thing in Denmark, they make music accessible in terms of going into the community so you don’t have to work so hard to seek it out and go look for private lessons. In my town there’s a community music school that was organized by the town, and it was subsidized, so you paid something for lessons, but it wasn’t really hugely expensive, and you could do something simple like recorder, where you can buy your kid a plastic recorder and it’s not a huge upfront investment just because your child gets this idea that they want to play some sort of instrument. So I played the recorder, and started singing in the school choir when I was in fourth grade, some things like that. And then after playing the recorder for a while, they said, well, why don’t you try the clarinet? It’s kind of a funny thing in retrospect because it was always some teacher saying, well, why don’t you try…? You know, I played the guitar for a little bit, and I played the clarinet, and I was getting rather serious about that, the way I remember it. But then I was also attracted to the keyboard, and the neighbor’s kid had one of those little sort of table-top electronic things that he was playing out in the yard one day, and I was so fascinated with that that I nagged my parents into buying me a little thing like that, you know, just like a Cassio keyboard, just to sort of figure out the basics of that. And then thankfully somebody else, a family friend, was looking to unload this parlor organ, again just a Yamaha electronic kind of thing, but that had two keyboards and one octave pedals.
A: Interesting.
H: And so I got into that whole organ scene, but much more just playing, you know, pop songs, whatever you play on an instrument like that. It wasn’t really classical music at all. And then I took lessons on that for a little bit at a music store in town. And then I did that for a year, and then again the teacher said to me one day, well, why don’t you try the church organ, and see what that would be like? And so it’s sort of this whole sequence of coincidences that led me [laughs] to becoming an organist and choir director that I just sort of fell into. And it happened when I was very, very young, and you know at the time you don’t really stop and reflect, is this really what I want to do with my life? It just seems pretty cool, and then before you know it, there you are. [laughs]
A: Now, how old were you when somebody said, “Hey, go try the church organ.”
H: It was when I was thirteen. And again, so then I had my dad call up the local organist, and she said, Oh sure, come on over. And then I went, and so I guess I just really fell in love with the instrument, and it’s – the organ is an interesting instrument from different levels. A lot of people are fascinated with it just from the mechanical point of view, you know, they love the machine, and it’s more of an incidental thing that it happens to produce music. And I’m not so much into the mechanics of how the organ itself is put together, but I guess I love the complexity of making music on it, that you have this sort of orchestra at your hands. And you could say that choral direction is a little bit like that too. Your ensemble there, and trying to make beautiful music by trying to do something very composite, so I guess, you know, again in an unconscious way I must be drawn to that type of thing.
A: And then what is the educational system like? What age are you when you go away to university?
H: So then again, a funny coincidence, because as I said, at that point just as I was entering high school, I was playing the clarinet quite a bit, and I was taking private organ lessons, just because organ was not an instrument that was included in this whole community – you know, because the community music school was all about teaching people in groups, just to make it affordable. So a thing like the organ’s not practical as a – even piano lessons were just a little bit awkward for most people, if you don’t have a piano in your home. So the keyboard instruments were really not favored by the music school as much as many of the more group-friendly ones. And so I took private lessons for organ, and then I was still going through the community music school and taking clarinet lessons. And then they had actually sent me to the neighboring town, because they figured there was a better teacher there. So I was taking clarinet lessons at this other music school in a town about half an hour away. And as luck would have it, I also ended up going to high school in that town, because they had a sort of music major, if you will, in high school. So you could go there, and you would have a lot more music than you would anywhere else, which I thought was very neat, and the high school in my home town wasn’t offering that particular line at the time. And so the music school in my high school town was starting this pilot program, a preparatory course for the conservatory, and this was something that had been done in a few places around the country. So, essentially it was designed to be a three-year program. So the thought was that you would do it while you were in high school, which in Denmark is three years. But you could really enter at any age if you could pass the audition process. There were people that were not in high school yet, and there were folks in their twenties who’d sort of decided a little bit later than you normally would, perhaps, that they wanted to try out a career in music. And so that was great, because it was set up to prepare you for what you need to do in order to enter the conservatory in Denmark, which again is a state kind of thing, so it’s very stream-lined and uniform, you know, there are very set requirements. Not at all like here, where there are so many different ways to study music, right? In Denmark you have the conservatory, which is more the performer’s branch, and then you can also study music at the university, but then it will be mostly theoretical and sort of the academic, musicological, so not at all as practical. So you often end up choosing – that’s one thing about Europe that people often bring up versus the U.S., that things are much more in a certain direction right from the get-go, that you choose a certain type of education, and it prepares you for a certain type of job, and then you are certified to do that job, but it’s not so easy then to re-think your career and do something altogether different, because then you sort of have to figure out how you can get certified to do this, that, and the other. Just because you have a music degree, for instance, in Denmark doesn’t mean that you can go teach music at a school, because you would have to have a teacher’s certificate, right? And that’s another four-year degree. And so everybody’s very protective, because they’ve each gone through this particular training, and so they’re not really keen on other people inserting themselves in the job market where they’re supposed to be. So…where did we come from? Well, so, you know, so there I –
A: Well, actually, I’m going to digress for a moment, because this is an area that interests me. Because people – if I’m like, “Oh, I’m interested in maybe going and getting a doctorate, doing some more study, blah, blah, blah,” people will say, “Well, what about Europe?” And I actually – the European system is kind of unfathomable to me at the – past the undergraduate-ish level. What happens – what are possibilities? If musicians in the U.S. want to go study in Europe, how does it work?
H: I think it varies very much depending on what you want to do, again, because most programs there have a specific thing in mind. And so I know a few singers that have gone over, and they typically start by finding a teacher, and in a way, that’s what I would recommend, because then you have somebody to mentor you, so that’s one way to do it. Go over to whatever country it is you’re looking at, try to get some introductions, go meet with some people, see if you find a teacher that seems to have something to tell you, and that happens to teach in a setting that might be helpful to you. For instance, when I went to study in Paris, that’s how I started. Lots and lots of organists go to Paris, so I knew a lot of the people, the famous teachers that were there –
A: So you just went to Paris?
H: Well, no, so I knew of a lot of teachers ahead of time. Some of them had come to Denmark to give masterclasses and whatnot. So I knew of a lot of people. So I tried to get a bunch of recordings to hear what their playing was like, and people that had studied with them, tried to get some input about what it was like, you know, to try to find somebody that you would click with. And then I ended up choosing this guy who was very young at the time, Olivier Latry, who was – now he’s a big name, he’s at Notre Dame. And he had already gotten that when he was not even thirty yet at the time. And so I listened to his recordings, and I decided that I liked his playing, and I thought it would be exciting, because he wasn’t somebody that a thousand other people had already studied with. Again, what do you know when you’re 25? But that was my thought process, more or less. So I wrote to him, I got his address from some sort of contact, I wrote and said, “Hey, can I come study with you?” And I told him, you know, I’m thinking of just coming down every now and then to Paris, maybe not being there full-time, but you know, what would you recommend? And he was very succinct about his recommended cause of action, which was to enroll in the conservatory that he was teaching in at the time, which was out in the suburbs. And it was structured a little bit like Longy, the image of the French conservatory model, where you have teaching on a bunch of levels, and so it was a little bit of a random thing that he happened to have inherited this post from his old teacher, who had been – so, there’d been a great organ program at this particular conservatory for years and years for no other reason than that teacher had happened to be employed there years ago, and just attracted all these students, which is often how it happens. And so they had this program, and if you enroll in a European program like that, then your lessons are subsidized in some form. Sometimes it’s more expensive for foreigners, when you’re inside/outside the EU, and that’s the sort of thing you’d need to look into to see what the best way to do it is. But in this case you paid a little bit of tuition, but there were various grant programs that I applied to in Denmark, so I got my way paid. And that’s another big difference about studying anything in Europe, is that the funding typically is there. Education is valued from the point of view of the society in a way that it’s not really in the U.S. It’s more considered your own concern; if you want this training, then you figure out the funding, and if you’re lucky, you find a school that’ll offer you a scholarship.
A: What do you think the end result – do you see that that affects quality in the end, or do you feel that it just means that – what’s the result of that?
H: It’s interesting, you know, this is something that always fascinates me as you go from one place to another, is what your view of normalcy is. So in Europe, nobody ever stops to reflect how lucky we/they are to have all of this wonderful system in place. And you know, as I said before, sometimes there’s not a lot of flexibility in terms of how to do it, you just follow the path that is intended. Whereas I think people here tend to get more creative, maybe, because of necessity. Because if you don’t want to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, then you have to figure out a way to either get some funding and some financial aid or work part-time while you’re studying. So it’s a lot less rigid in many ways here, and so that’s good and bad, it often means that people maybe get a more composite training, that they piece things together in a different way, whereas in Europe maybe once you’re in the system you might as well see it through to its bitter end. Because as a matter of fact when I entered the conservatory in Denmark – so, you know, after I did the preparatory program alongside my time in high school, I went straight to the conservatory, fresh out of high school.
A: And how many years was that?
H: So that was – until the year or two before I started, that program that I entered was a seven-year program. And at that point, when I did it, it was a six-year to get the church music diploma, which is an equivalent of a master’s, but not structured the same way. And it used to be that there was no such thing as an undergrad in Denmark. The whole bachelor degree was just introduced right around this time in the late 80’s, early 90’s, was when it occurred to them that maybe it would be good to have something to offer, some sort of degree that didn’t –
A: Require six years of --!
H: -- necessarily tie people down to one school, one program for six years if it’s not right. Because, of course, you had all these issues when people start something, and then they figure out it’s not for them or they can’t meet the requirements, and then you’ve invested all this money and time into a degree that’s ultimately not for you. So it’s been shortened somewhat, and these days I think just about every institution offers shorter programs. But that was the time, the horizon at the time, you see that’s kind of the point, that once you’re in that program, then more often than not inertia will just – “Well, I’m here, I might as well finish it, right?”

(to be continued!)

Weekend Concert Calendar, 2/19/09

It's just about to hit cabin-fever time. What better way to fight it than going to see some live music? Admittedly this weekend is a little thin. Maybe it's because of the Academy Awards? But it's not like those take up the whole weekend. Let me know if I missed anything.


The Boston Conservatory Orchestra and Chorale under the direction of Dr. William Cutter will perform Schubert's Overture in D; Beethoven's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage; and Mozart's Regina Coeli and Kyrie. The concert will be at Sanders Theatre, 45 Quincy St, Cambridge.


There's plenty of good stuff going on, but no choral music! (Feel free to comment if I'm wrong about this.)


Go hear the King's Chapel Choir at 5 pm. They'll be presenting "Night of Snow: A Cappella Works by Poulenc." Works on the program will include Un Soir de Neige, Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël, and excerpts from Figure humaine, Sept chansons, Chansons françaises, and the Messe en sol majeur. This will be at King's Chapel, located at the corner of Tremont and School Sts. in downtown Boston. And don't forget to check out my interview with director Heinrich Christiansen!

Also late Sunday afternoon, Exsultemus will present a program of Schütz. Works on the program include Kleine geistlich Konzerte (1636, 1639), Cantiones sacrae (1625), and Symphonie sacrae (1629, 1647, 1650). This will be at the First Lutheran Church, 299 Berkeley St., Boston.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I joined another ensemble at the beginning of the year, because I am nuts like that, and also apparently incapable of saying no to performing great Renaissance music with great people. Check out our new website! The group is called Zefiro, and the website is at

Interview with Heinrich Christiansen

It's mid-February, which means it's already time for another conductor interview! This time I met with Heinrich Christiansen, who is Director of Music at King's Chapel, Boston. The King's Chapel Choir is entirely professional, and has a concert coming up this Sunday afternoon! They put on a concert series every year, and the upcoming concert on Sunday at 5 pm is called "A Night of Snow: a cappella works for choir by Poulenc." I sat down with Heinrich yesterday to talk about the upcoming concert and his own history as a musician. He had some interesting things to say about the differences between Europe and the U.S. in terms of musical training (he was born in Denmark). He also had some interesting things to say about his pet peeves concerning other conductors, which is always one of my favorite parts of any interview! You can listen to my interview with him here. (If the embedded player doesn't work for you, click on the link.)

A transcript of the interview will follow shortly!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

New Ill Doctrine up!

Jay Smooth of Ill Doctrine has a new video up.

I know that a hip-hop video blog may seem a far cry from a choral conducting blog, but seriously, this guy is my favorite blogger. Everything he does is worth paying attention to. In this one, he takes on the issue of Chris Brown and Rihanna, and the wider issue of domestic violence, in the hip-hop community and beyond.

Interview with Walter Chapin, Part 5

Here is part five of five of my interview with Walter Chapin, director of the Oriana Consort.

Interview with Walter Chapin, 1/30/09, Café Algiers in Harvard Square, Cambridge, 2:00 pm

(continued from Part 4)

The very last part of the interview! Here are Walter's answers to the little questionnaire I stole from Bernard Pivot.
  1. What is your favorite word? Beauty.
  2. What is your least favorite word? Schlock.
  3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Unpredictable; an unpredictable moment of beauty in the arts, or nature, or another person, maybe a child; however beauty comes to you.
  4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Insincerity, posturing, people who don’t know where they’re headed.
  5. What sound or noise do you love? Rushing water.
  6. What sound or noise do you hate? Burglar alarms.
  7. What is your favorite curse word? God damn it.
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Architecture.
  9. What profession would you not like to do? Medicine, much as I respect it. I have unbounded respect for medicine, but I would never want to be a doctor.
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
I would like to hear what Nadia Boulanger told Bernstein she was hearing when Bernstein visited her during her last days or hours.

Bernstein said, "Est-ce que tu entends la musique?"

And she said, "J'entends la musique - ni commencement - ni fin."

The translation: "Are you hearing music?"

"I am hearing music, music with no beginning and no end."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday cat post!

Says my brother, "Suspect returns to the scene of the crime."

Interview with Walter Chapin, Part 4

Here is part four of five of my interview with Walter Chapin, director of the Oriana Consort.

Interview with Walter Chapin, 1/30/09, Café Algiers in Harvard Square, Cambridge, 2:00 pm

(continued from Part 3)

What follows are Walter's thoughts on conducting. This is his notes, as the portion of the interview where we talked about this was lost.

What I think young conductors should be working on:

At least the following six things (I could probably think of more), all of which I believe are absolutely necessary conditions for being a successful choral director:

1. Learn repertory, learn repertory, learn repertory. Constantly be playing through choral pieces you’re not familiar with. I doubt that it matters if you do this systematically or haphazardly, as long as you’re always looking at music that’s new to you. Your mental repertory cache will expand enormously over time.
2. Know how to read and play well from open score. Even if you’re not primarily a pianist, you’ve got to have sufficient piano technique to be able to play from four, five, six, seven, or eight staves. There’s no other way to know what each part has to sing. And know how to read instrumental scores as well --- with their C clefs, wind-instrument transpositions, and whatever. If you want to do works with instrumental accompaniment, you’ve got to have this capability.
3. As mentioned above, learn how to put together a concert program that will sustain the attention of your audiences over an hour and a half, and of your singers over a series of rehearsals. This isn’t easy to learn; it certainly wasn’t in my case. But it’s essential!
4. Cultivate, in your mind’s ear, a sense of what a choral group should sound like: develop ideals for the kind of choral tone a section should have, for how vertical harmonies should sound, for how phrasing should go, of how various languages should be articulated in choral singing, etc. etc.
5. Always know in advance the notes, the vertical harmonies, the phrasing, the dynamics, etc., that you want to hear from your singers. In rehearsal, when something is not right, you’ve got to know that instantly, and figure out in seconds how to fix it.
6. Listen to other choral groups --- as many as you can, and often, both live and on CDs. Get to know other choral directors!

Qualities I think are important in conductors, and advice on how to get ahead:

1. Be a DIRECTOR, not a CONDUCTOR. This is an important distinction, one that I picked up from an instructor at New England Conservatory and that attracted me, and not all may agree with me on this. But I think a choral director should not LEAD (as in conduct), but POINT THE WAY (as in direct).
2. A good singing voice has a life of its own. You can choose whether or not you want that voice in your ensemble, but once in, let it live its own life. Get the sounds you want from your ensemble by subjective suggestion, not by objectively telling your singers exactly how to do this and that in a physical sense.
3. Be sensitive to that magic moment that comes at some point in a series of rehearsals when all the technical stuff in a piece is finally learned, leaving the musical souls of your singers free to take over naturally. This is how real choral music happens: while a certain amount of preparatory drill is of course necessary, it should never be of the kind or quantity that leads to a rote-like, mechanical sound in performance. That’s not really music! Music is something magical, which finally emerges after some rehearsal effort, but which, once rehearsed, happens spontaneously and on its own.
4. Know your singers. Get to know them as people. Get to know how they feel about the music they’re doing. Listen to their input and ideas --- about programming, about chorus administration, whatever. Take advantage of their energy by giving them administrative things to do.
5. Figure out how to get your group widely heard and financially supported. Do this with the help of others, of course (such as your Board of Directors, if you have one) --- but lead the way with ideas, concepts, etc.
6. You may very well be a first-rate musical scholar, but a concert should be an artistic, right-brain experience for your audience, your singers, and you - not a lecture! Unless your performance is intended specifically an academic exercise (e.g. as in a symposium), remember that members of your audience want to leave a concert thinking “That was beautiful”. They don’t want to feel that they have been lectured to. Imparting knowledge about music you’re performing is important, of course, but do that in your program notes.

Stay tuned for the last part tomorrow, where Walter answers the Pivot Questionnaire!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Weekend Concert Calendar, 2/12/09

It's not freezing cold! It's actually tempting to get out of the house! Time to go see some choral concerts!

First off, my vocal quartet Anthology will be performing in the Taylor House concert series tomorrow (Friday) at 7:30 pm. The concert will last about an hour, and will be followed by a scrumptious reception. There is a suggested donation of $10 at the door. We will be performing
mostly jazz for this concert. Taylor House B&B is located at 50 Burroughs St. in Jamaica Plain. This is a great venue, and we are excited to be performing in this well-known concert series.


Anthology will be performing at 7:30 pm at Taylor House. (I figure by repeating myself I will get more people to come. Indefatigable logic!)

The Boston Secession will be presenting their popular annual concert series, "(Un)Lucky in Love." Under the direction of Jane Ring Frank, they will present an alternative Valentine concert. This will be at 8:00 pm at First Church Congregational, 11 Garden St., Cambridge. This concert will be repeated on Saturday.

The BU Choral Ensembles, under the direction of Timothy Westerhaus, will be performing Honegger's Le Roi David. This will be at the CFA Concert Hall, 855 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, and it is FREE. Note that it starts at 7:30 pm.


Possibly the biggest event of the weekend is the 30th Annual Thomas A. Dorsey Gospel Jubilee at NEC's Jordan Hall. The festivities start Saturday night at 7:30 pm, and continue on Sunday at 3:00 pm. The Saturday concert features Jerome Kyles and the Sanctuary Chorale of Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan, Linda Brown-San Martin and the Eastern Mass Gospel Choir, the NEC Youth Gospel Choir, with the Belmont Hill School B-Flats, under the direction of Evelyn Lee-Jones, and the NEC Community and Millennium Gospel Choirs, under the direction of James A. Early, NEC gospel music chair Donnell L. Patterson, and Jonathan Singleton. This is a major annual event, and tickets are only $5, so check it out!

The Boston Secession will be presenting their popular annual concert series, "(Un)Lucky in Love." Under the direction of Jane Ring Frank, they will present an alternative Valentine concert. This will be at 8:00 pm at First Church Congregational, 11 Garden St., Cambridge.


Syncopation, a brilliant vocal jazz quartet, is coming to the South Shore to perform. I've started a concert series at my church, First Parish Cohasset, this year, and Syncopation is this month's star guests. The concert will be Sunday at 4 pm at 23 North Main St., Cohasset, and if you are anywhere in the area, I strongly recommend you check them out - the Boston Globe has been giving them stellar reviews, and it's pretty darn cool that I got them onto my series. If you like the Manhattan Transfer, you will love this group.

Possibly the biggest event of the weekend is the 30th Annual Thomas A. Dorsey Gospel Jubilee at NEC's Jordan Hall. The festivities start on Saturday and continue on Sunday at 3:00 pm. The Sunday concert features the St. Paul A.M.E. Church Mass Choir, with saxophonist Bobby Tynes, Dr. George Thorn and the Union Baptist Choir, Our Singing Clergy-The Reverends: Martin McLee, Wanda Josephs, Jeffrey Brown and Olivia Dubose, plus the NEC Youth Gospel Choir, with the Belmont Hill School B-Flats, under the direction of Evelyn Lee-Jones, and the NEC Community and Millennium Gospel Choirs, under the direction of James A. Early, NEC gospel music chair Donnell L. Patterson, and Jonathan Singleton.This is a major annual event, and tickets are only $5, so check it out!

Also this weekend, in the opera category, the Boston Opera Collaborative is presenting Handel's opera Alcina. It will be on Thursday (tonight!), Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm. It is only being shown this weekend, so make sure you check it out! (I'm a new member of the BOC, and will be ushering for Saturday, so if you come Saturday, be sure to say hello!)

Interview with Walter Chapin, Part 3

Here is part three of five of my interview with Walter Chapin, director of the Oriana Consort.

Interview with Walter Chapin, 1/30/09, Café Algiers in Harvard Square, Cambridge, 2:00 pm

(continued from Part 2)

What follows are Walter's notes on the history of the Oriana Consort and its upcoming concert; we talked about this during the interview, but unfortunately I lost that part of the audio.

* History of Oriana and how long I've been with them

The history of the present Oriana Consort is essentially an accounting of many incarnations, the first of which goes all the way back to 1972. If the current Oriana Consort sings at a high artistic level (as many thinks it does), it is certainly not because we reached that level by short and brilliant leaps and bounds. On the contrary, our progress has been extremely incremental since 1972, a period of some thirty-seven years. In 1972, after leaving the community chorus on the South Shore for which I had been the hired director, I founded my own community ensemble, called the Pro Arte Singers. The PAS became fairly successful and grew to 40 members. Among our many concerts, all of which were on the South Shore, were some well-received performances of Handel’s Messiah, with full instrumental accompaniment. All our soloists were members of the ensemble, and we had some pretty good ones.

Still, the group was a struggle, both because the average musical level of the members wasn’t as high as I wished it had been, and because (as I now see in retrospect) I still had an incomplete set of the “people skills” that are needed to form a cohesive amateur choral group. Members of the Pro Arte Singers finally lost the enthusiasm needed to sustain the group. In 1980 we disbanded, and I continued on with about 10 of its members to form the Pro Arte Consort.

The PAC was fun --- we performed at a lot of South Shore events such as summer art shows, church suppers and Christmas celebrations, weddings, etc. --- even an event at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts that featured a number of musical groups. In this group there was a cohesive spirit among all of its few members, a spirit which has continued with all successive incarnations up to the present. This kind of spirit is a sine qua non for successful choral groups, I think.

In about 1986 the PAC stabilized at eight singers, some of whom doubled as instrumentalists on recorder and lute. We renamed ourselves the Oriana Consort, stuck to Renaissance and Medieval repertory, performed in Renaissance costume, and did lots of performances around Boston and Cambridge as well on the South Shore. The strategy was to perform at events organized by people other than ourselves, so that we could avoid the overhead of renting performances spaces. We had good voices in this group, although reading ability was uneven, which sometimes made rehearsals difficult. Another problem with this incarnation was the size of the group: it was too small to do contemporary choral music effectively.

About 1994 we expanded to about 16 singers and shifted our center of activity from the South Shore to Cambridge, where we presented December and spring programs, rented space in churches for performances, and did our own publicity. We did this move primarily because the South Shore was not fertile ground for finding new singers, whereas Boston and Cambridge certainly were.

Our next phase come in 1997, when we started to audition and to advertise publicly for new members. Up to this point we had recruited new members only from people whom our members already knew, and we realized that if we were to improve, we had to look to the general population. Our audition process utilized much member input. Four members would form a quartet with whom the candidate sang along; after hearing a group of candidates we would huddle, and accept people based on how well their voices fit with the group, reading ability, etc. Still, we made some mistakes in our acceptances, as we didn’t always end up with the new voices we thought we were getting; thus we became more and more selective in our auditioning over the next ten years.

About 2003 our constantly increasing overhead expenses, which were seldom entirely met by our at-the-door admissions, led us to file for 501(c)(3) status and to seek donations from our ever-growing mailing list. About this point the Oriana Consort reached its current size of about 24 voices --- which seems the ideal size for performing music of an a cappella era, from early Renaissance to the present day. This size gives a sound intimate enough for motets and madrigals, yet with enough depth for performance of works requiring division up to SSAATTBB.
We have been blessed by being in a community in which there seems always to be an abundance of singers with fine voices, most (but not all) of whom are in their 20’s or 30’s. We have found that success breeds success: the better the group sounds, the more attractive it is to prospective members. There is some turnover at each half-season, but this is reassuringly low.

Our program-building strategy is to choose 60 to 75 minutes of music that contains music from a number of eras that will sustain the interest both of our members over a series of rehearsals, and of our audiences during every moment of a performance. Such a program ought to contain much music that is of a style familiar to singers and audiences, with a certain amount of music in a less familiar style, yet still interesting. This will naturally include a conservative amount of music that will be a technical stretch. While skill in assembling programs of this nature is absolutely crucial to the health of a choral group, it’s very tricky to do. If I have learned to do it well, it has only been after years of trial and error. I consider the ability to put together attractive concert programs one of the critically necessary skills of a choral director.

Since about 2005 we have formed a warm and valuable association with two outstanding members of greater Boston’s early music community, Mai-Lan and Hendrik Broekman. Using these two players as a continuo, and assisted by their colleagues whom they recruit as viol players or Baroque string players, we have successfully performed a number of works from the Baroque era by composers such as Schütz, Bach, Buxtehude, Purcell, and Michel-Richard Delalande (one of whose works we now have in rehearsal). We now perform regularly at Swedenborg Chapel in Cambridge and at the First Lutheran Church of Boston, in December and in the spring. Interesting, these two venues draw audiences that are fairly distinct and not very interchangeable. That’s fortunate, because it seems to maximize the audiences we bring in.

One recent feather in Oriana’s cap was being one of four choral groups selected to participate in a master class presented in March of 2007 by Peter Phillips, who of course is the director of the world-famous Tallis Scholars. It was our great pleasure to sing a Renaissance motet for him (by Cristobál Morales) and to be critiqued by him. I think I can say that the critique was positive.

Our ever-more-stringent audition process has in recent years brought more and more very highly talented soloists into our membership, a fact which enables us to perform works such as Bach cantatas, the Delalande motet, and the demanding “A Child’s Prayer” of James MacMillan. We have never engaged outside soloists, preferring instead to select music that fits the soloists that we have. Thus, as our solo ability has increased, it has become possible to perform works that call for increasingly high solo capability.

Over the last dozen years or so we have built up quite a repertory, of many contrasting styles and eras. The list is here; perhaps it will speak for itself.

* Details about the upcoming concert

It’s called “Miracles of Spring: Choral music for Easter and Passover from the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 20th centuries”. Although we don’t ordinarily do concerts of all sacred music, especially in the springtime, it so happened that this season Christmas and Hanukkah occurred at about the same time, and so did Easter and Passover. This prompted the parallel themes for our two half-seasons: “Miracles of Winter”, containing music for both Christmas and Hanukkah, and “Miracles of Spring”, containing music for both Easter and Passover. Our Easter music includes:

* “Surgens Jesus Dominus”, a beautiful five-part motet by the English-turned-Flemish composer of the late Renaissance, the little-known Peter Philips (that’s with one “l”; not to be confused, of course, with the famous Peter Phillips mentioned above).

* Two contrasting Baroque works. One is Bach’s Cantata BWV 4, “Christ lag in Todesbanden”, which I’ve wanted to perform ever since singing it with the NEC Chorus as a student. The other is Michel-Richard Delalande’s “De profundis”, a motet for chorus, soloists, and instrumental ensemble --- not specifically an Easter work, although the sense of its psalm text, “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee”, fits well with Easter.

* Several contrasting contemporary works: Arvo Pärt’s “The Woman With the Alabaster Box”, which narrates an event of Jesus’ life during the week before his trial; Pärt’s “Which is the Son of ...”, again not specifically an Easter work but which works well with the first Pärt; and Frank Ticheli’s “There Will Be Rest” --- once again, not specifically for Easter and not even really a sacred piece, but whose beautiful poem by Sara Teasdale invokes themes of rest, resolution, and peace at last, which Easter seems to be is all about.

* Five songs for Passover by the remarkable Israeli composer Yehezkel Braun, drawn from his 1982 a cappella collection “Fifteen Passover Songs”. Texts for these pieces are from the Haggadah. This remarkable choral music seems to grow out of the fascinating rhythms of the Hebrew language, and Braun’s Bartok-like use of eastern scales and rhythms leads to a mesmerizing choral sound that “grabbed” our singers right away.

The two Baroque works form quite a contrast with one another, as mentioned above; and each of the three sets of a cappella music on the program couldn’t form more of a contrast with the other two. And that’s our programming style: move from one thing to another, thereby keeping both singers and audience always engaged!