Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mid-week update

Both my lectures at Lasell Village this week were very interesting.

For my "Modern Music: Why It's Not That Horrible" class, we delved into song literature, and I played my students Hundley, Cipullo, Heggie, Larsen, and Golijov among others. (Peter Lieberson's Neruda Songs are their listening homework this week.) I had expected that the great poetry all those composers set would be a door into the music, not to mention the beautiful lyricism that so many song composers employ, but most of them didn't seem too impressed by most of the settings. I got several comments that they loved the poetry, but that the music didn't seem to reflect the text. These are some of my favorite songs, so I was somewhat taken aback! In contrast, last week was symphonic works week, and while I had expected that they might find a lot of the symphonic works impenetrable, we started off with a discussion of color and texture, and listened to different composers' colors and textures, and I guess that gave them the tools to be intrigued and interested in everything, from Murail to Gubaidulina to Higdon. I think this is a reflection on the fact that I need to give them listening tools in every lecture; I had thought poetry and words would be enough of a listening tool, but apparently not so much!

Then in my "Ten Greatest Choral Works" lecture we tackled Britten's War Requiem. Which is about WWII, and pretty heavy, if you don't know it (if you google the piece, however, there is a lot of wonderful writing about it on the web, more so than most other pieces.) Particularly humbling was the moment when I asked, "Who here fought in WWII?" and almost every single man in the room raised his hand. It also turned out that one of the women had worked in the Nuremberg Trials. There is nothing to make you feel like a pipsqueak more than lecturing TO a bunch of WWII vets about Britten's War Requiem; it felt ridiculous to be trying to teach them anything when they could teach me so much. And at the same time I could see how valuable it was to present this piece; but it's a big thing to be discussing why Britten made the dramatic choices he made, and his pacifism, and what kinds of catharsis he was hoping to achieve to people who have lived what he was writing.

In other news I participated in a recording session that I would love to tell you all about but since I signed a non-disclosure agreement I have to wait a while to do that. My voice lessons (that I'm taking) this summer are going extremely well; so are my sight-singing lessons (that I'm teaching); Anthology is plotting our next big program for late September; and I am taking salsa classes this summer and LOVING it! Oh, and last night I turned in my programs for Cantilena's upcoming season. More on that later!

[Edited to add: I also saw the BOC's production of Falstaff on Saturday! Great performance; all the singers acted and sang impeccably, and the stage direction was a great deal of fun. I hope they stay in the Somerville Theatre in the future, so I can continue to eat popcorn, drink wine, and watch opera all at the same time.]

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday links

Check out this awesome page listing all the grad programs in conducting in the country. Hat-tip to Thoughtful Gestures.

The UU Musicians' Network has a new blog.

Alex Ross encourages us to pay attention to the new composers chosen by the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute. He also highlights a blog called "Superconductor" which has me KICKING myself about the name of this blog. That name is so much better! Superconductor looks pretty cool, it is mostly reviews of performances in NYC. I particularly enjoyed the opinionated entries on the doings at New York City Opera.

Apparently musicians are smarter than you Muggle fools. I always find these articles somewhat irritating. Sorry, I know a lot of my musician friends on Facebook were getting a kick out of it. But aside from providing a dangerous opportunity for "us" to feel smug and superior to "them", let's be frank, music is worth doing regardless of any positive side effects such as how we perform on vocabulary tests. I'm sure most of us would still do it even if it increased our risk of clogged arteries or whatever. It bugs me whenever articles come out about the positive side effects of doing music, because it takes the focus off the main point of doing music, which is that music is a wonderful emotional expression of beauty and an awesome endeavor and makes people happy.

Speaking of things that will make you happy, I found a wonderful, wonderful website called "Awkward Classical Music Photos." (Hat-tip to GS on my Facebook page!) When people who primarily deal in sound suddenly have to market themselves visually, the results can be pretty silly! (I have been in a few awkward photo shoots myself, so I am totally in a glass house here.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thursday update

This week, between planning two lectures on modern song and Britten's War Requiem for Lasell Village, practicing voice, and keeping up with teaching lessons and rehearsals (and a recording session on Sunday that I have to sign a NDA for!) I'm also immersed in planning Cantilena's season. The programs are due next week, so I'm kind of cutting it down to the wire, as usual. Current sadness is that I found a wonderful difficult Persichetti piece that I just think won't fit into the program - Winter Cantata, op. 97. Well, there's always next year!

In other news, trying to actually cook and eat all of my CSA farm share takes an enormous amount of time and effort.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday links

Jan Swafford has a great article on contemporary music in Slate. Couldn't agree more with the dictum "Make it new, or make it old, but make it good."

I mentioned Amelia's blog in my last post; well, I really particularly love this recent entry. Favorite quotes: "Dictatorships have a lot less paperwork than democracies." And "They make us better–not just because they make us better, but because they make us comfortable being better." SO TRUE.

Also, check out this essay by a trans woman about her baritone voice. People who are trans and singers have some really tough issues to get around; I had a tenor in one of my choruses who was a trans man going through the transition while singing, and it was very complicated for him to figure out what his range was (which was also continually changing) and how to healthily navigate it. At the time I tried to locate a voice teacher for him in the Boston area who specialized in helping trans people sing with their new voices, but didn't find anyone; if you know of someone, let me know, as it would be helpful information for the future!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

MA ACDA convention and a RESOLUTION

This past week I attended the MA ACDA convention in Wenham. I feel sort of obligated to blog about it, and besides I've had a number of people ask me how it went, so here goes. The short answer is that I'm glad I went. Next year I will make an effort to attend every day; this year I had to miss Monday because I was teaching at Lasell Village, and I wish I hadn't had to miss the Monday sessions. The clinicians, Dr. Judy Bowers and Dr. Kenneth Fulton, were excellent; Dr. Bowers is a powerhouse, and you have to just hang onto your hat and go with the flow! And I enjoyed watching Dr. Fulton conduct, and discuss gesture; I wish there had been more time for gesture-work. I really liked the way he used his arms.

But it was a little dispiriting that the conference seemed geared towards music in schools, and didn't really focus on any higher levels, not even community choruses. And, of course, most of the people there were music teachers; I didn't see any of the conductors of Boston's many excellent choruses there. I suppose it's a chicken-and-the-egg problem, but I would have loved for every GBCC and university conductor in MA to have gone, and I also would have loved for at least some of the conference to be pitched toward conductors of higher-level groups.

I was also disappointed with the music in some of the reading packets. (Reading packets are the highlight of most choral conferences - you get a big stack of new music and you all read through it together so you can figure out what you like.) But this too is a complex problem - the conductors can only choose from what the publishers are willing to give them for free for these conferences, and the publishers who are happy to give out free music tend to be the ones who are trying to push schlocky stuff, and good luck getting Universal Edition to give you copies of an Arvo Pärt piece to read through at a convention b/c that's just not going to happen. There was, of course, some new stuff I was happy to be introduced to in the reading packets, such as Shvedov, Trotta, Guillaume, some nice works and arrangements by Andrea Ramsey, and I was glad there was a good scattering of world music. But on the whole there were a lot of major seconds, and while major seconds can be done beautifully, they are currently the scourge of schlocky new choral music (this is an example.)

The thing that got me thinking most was a comment one of the attendees made during the very last Q&A before we all went home. I don't remember who it was, but someone raised a hand and made a sad comment about how all the "real composers" (not my words!) were not writing for chorus nowadays. Well! This stirred up a lot of thoughts in me, as you might imagine.

On the one hand, he had a point. If you look at the list of Pulitzers won in the last 10 years or so in music, half were awarded to symphonic works. The others were awarded to an opera, 2 chamber works, 1 jazz album, and 2 choral works. The argument that symphonic music is still (sadly) considered more serious than choral music is valid, and although the times are changing, there is still a feeling that if you want to be considered among the greatest composers you have to write something symphonic.

On the other hand, I had just presented two lectures on contemporary choral music at Lasell Village, and the notion that we are not getting great new top-notch choral music is ludicrous. But there is this sad divide between the professional classical/new music circles and the choral director circles, and I don't think choral conductors really realize what is going on out there. I mean, if you are a choral conductor and you haven't heard David Lang's Little Match Girl Passion yet, then that's too bad. And I get it why it's hard - I'm a fan of new music, and yet I still hadn't heard Lang's piece until this summer when I listened to it during my lecture prep. With the amount of work we have to do to make a living, it's no wonder there is no time to pay attention to what is going on in the wider world of music. 5th graders WEAR YOU OUT, man, and don't I know it, and trying to keep up with what's on the cutting edge of choral music is close to impossible if you are a teacher, or trying to hustle and make your living as a musician.

But despite the nigh-impossibility, it is still important to do. It is not acceptable to me that choral conductors think new music means Whitacre and Z. Randall Stroope, and don't know the works of Wheeler, Betinis, Lang, Reed Thomas, Sametz, Argento, Bolcom, Ashalomov, Finney, Stucky, Rands, Long, Tann, Harbison, Pinkham, Sierra, O'Regan, Paulus, Walker (which one?), Hawley, Yi. There is so much out there and we have to bridge the divide.

My good friend Amelia Nagoski was also at this conference, and she has developed an interest and expertise in mind-body work, and how it relates to conductors. (I highly recommend her blog Thoughtful Gestures.) She will be presenting tai chi workshops at the Eastern Division Conference next March, and I mentioned that I was still trying to figure out if I had a niche or specialty that I could present at conferences. "Well," she said, "I think you should do modern music. Unlike a lot of other people, you really love it, and we all need some help figuring out what's out there." And I think she's right. It's intimidating, because there is so much out there and it's hard to be dive in without the judgement of history; with new music one must rely exclusively on one's own taste! But doing research on new music would be right in line with the original purpose of this blog, which was to force me to engage with the wider choral and musical world. Amelia's blog is there because she has passion for her ideas and needs to express them; my blog is here because I needed an impetus to focus my gaze out beyond next week's rehearsal.

So, I hereby announce a new feature on this blog. One to two times a month, I will feature a piece of new choral music that I think everyone should be aware of. It will be music I consider fresh and fulfilling and worth performing. And hopefully it will be a tool to help me find all kinds of great new choral stuff. We are going to bridge the new music/choral divide! Are you with me?

Friday, July 08, 2011

Friday cat post!

Someday soon you will all get to see Samson again. I am camera-less at the moment, but a friend is bringing over a camera tomorrow, and we will have a little photo shoot! He is well and cuddly and fascinated by the road work going on outside. (Dogs are no big deal but trucks are Cause For Possible Alarm.)

Also, I would love to feature other musicians' cats on this blog. Any musicians want to share a few cute photos of your cat?

In the meantime, let's check in with one of the most famous cats on the internet, Maru! I thought I had linked to him before, but am not sure, so in case you need an introduction, here it is. (Maru loves boxes.) And here's some of the things he's been up to lately (including playing the tamborine!)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Wednesday update - on Thursday

Mid-week update!

I took a stay-cation during the July 4 weekend. I hung out with friends and did no work, and it was good for the soul.

Current projects on the plate include continuing to prepare for my lectures at Lasell Village; this means that currently I am swimming in modern opera, since Monday's "Modern Music" lecture is on operas of the past three decades. I've been watching Nixon in China for the past few days, and finding it quite engaging (and sometimes very catchy.) The "Choral Works" lecture is going to be on Elijah, but since I took a workshop on that piece last summer at Eastman, it's not taking up gobs of prep time the way opera is.

I've also started teaching some sight-reading lessons this summer. A singer from Cantilena asked me to give her lessons, and we are slowly working our way through various concepts and practice melodies twice a week. I'm very much enjoying teaching sight-reading, so if you know of anyone who would enjoy sight-singing or theory lessons, please send them my way!