Wednesday, August 31, 2011

New Music in August - Scott Wheeler's Whiskers and Rhymes

Remember that resolution I made, to go hunting for and finding cool new choral music? Well, here is the first installment! (It is the last day of August, so in order to fulfill the "1-2 times a month" rule I had to get it up today!)

Today's piece is by Scott Wheeler. I first came across his work when the Boston Cecilia performed his one-act opera The Construction of Boston. They also recorded it, and that fabulous recording can be found here. What I most remember from listening to them rehearse and perform that piece was how many countless delightful little melodies were everywhere in the work. I kept wanting to memorize phrases so that I could go around singing them to myself. Wheeler truly writes excellently for the voice, capable of being either naturally conversational or smoothly lyrical.

Those delightful melodies, as well as Wheeler's sense of shifting, elegant harmonies, are also present in today's piece for children's chorus. Thanks to Shannon Canavin for tipping me off to it! It's a setting of five texts by Arnold Lobel (of Frog and Toad and Mouse Tales fame) and Jack Prelutsky. The pieces are fun, but also challenging and musically satisfying. What more could one ask for?

The entire work, which is five movements, is 11-12 minutes. The movements are all for 2-part children's chorus, which occasionally splits into 3 parts. In addition, there's a 4-hand piano part, an optional violin part, and a malleable percussion part. (The score is written for tamborine, hand drum, finger cymbals, maracas, and wood blocks, but also specifies that substitutions and additions are welcome.) The percussion would be a great opportunity to either get non-singing children involved, or to call in the hot-shot percussion player from your local high school. (Doesn't every high school have at least one?) One warning is that the tessitura is rather high for the sopranos, so you need to have already instilled good vocal technique.

If you only want to tackle one movement, I would recommend "The Old Woman," which is the easiest, and also has no violin or percussion. But for most fun, your kids will LOVE "The Bogeyman." (They'll probably love all of them, but that one is the most dramatic - listen until the end!)

But you don't have to take my word for it, as Levar Burton would say - you can listen for yourself! Scott was kind enough to provide recordings of all five movements, and some sample pages from the score. The recordings are up at - click on the link below, and then look for the play-bar on the right-hand side of the page. The performers are the Treble Chorus of New England, under the direction of Marie Stultz, for whom the piece was written.

Whiskers and Rhymes
1.) Opening Rhymes (sample score pages)
2.) The Bogeyman (sample score pages)
3.) The Old Woman (sample score pages)
4.) The Troll
5.) Ending Rhymes

If you want to perform this delightful work, get in contact with Scott Wheeler for a copy of the score. And let me know about the performance!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday links

Alex Ross pointed me towards the Sound Mind blog...because it is ending. Sad to find a nice blog just as it is over, but the archives are all there, and it's a nice place to wander, especially if you enjoy having someone curate Youtube recitals for you.

I encourage all composers to apply for the John Cage Memorial Random Composer Award! Via my Facebook feed and composer Brent Ranalli.

More stuff for composers: ChoralNet's communities for composers.

And just because, have some Dufay.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday cat post!

Oh my goodness, it's actual pictures of Samson! Thanks to the talented Sylvia Berry, who was kind enough to cat-sit for Samson while I was visiting my brother, and who took some pictures of him.

Cantilena auditions!

Everyone is either having or about to have auditions, but from among the thronging hordes of choruses, I encourage all the women to think about joining Cantilena! We do some beautiful, challenging music, the group has a lovely personality, and I am a lot of fun. Details here!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mid-week update

Last night I had a recording session with my good friend Anney Gillotte and the extremely talented Mark McNeill. I made some good progress in my voice lessons this summer, and since I don't have time to study voice during the year I wanted to make an audition CD while my vocal improvements were still fresh! Handel & Haydn, here I come. Again. Oy. (They are very hard to get into, now.) I recorded "Buss und Reu" from Bach's St. Matthew Passion, "But Who May Abide" from Handel's Messiah, "Sweet Suffolk Owl" by Hundley and "A Charm" from Britten's A Charm of Lullabies. Now to listen, edit, and copy. Let me know if you want one! I'm particularly hoping to line up a Messiah-sing gig this year.

Other than that, I pretty much ignored the approaching start of the academic year by visiting my brother in Rochester. It was not particularly exciting, and not a lot happened, which was exactly what I wanted. And on the way back I visited friends from college in Western MA and had lunch with Amelia and her sister in Northampton. It was all very low-key - just what I like in my vacations!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday links

This article from the New York Times on decision-making fatigue is fascinating, and definitely applies to conductors. I have often said to friends, "No, I make decisions all day, I can't make any more, you decide what we should cook for dinner," but I didn't realize that I had actually run out of willpower.

This is an ingenious solution to a common problem. From my friend Maggie.

From the NEC Bridge site, an article written for visual artists, but which applies to musicians as well.

A blast from the past: I used to read Dave Barry's column regularly as a kid. From my parents.

And finally, upon hearing that I am interested in new music, contemporary composer Julia Laylander dropped me a line. I want to highlight her website as the way to do it right - if conductors can both see a score and hear the music, our lives are much easier!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday cat post!

Well, someday I will get a camera and show you pictures of Samson. He is still cuddly and adorable. But in the meantime, have a video of the two cutest conversationalists on the web. Oldie but a goodie!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mid-week update

I am writing this update as I am just about to leave for Rochester, NY where I will get to hang out with my brother and sister-in-law. Vacation ahoy!

The thing about vacation of course is that the period right prior to the vacation always feels more stressful than otherwise because I want to get ALL THE THINGS* done before vacation. And things are ramping up as fall approaches; I had quite a few meetings this past week, in addition to all the remaining work I have to do on repertoire. Not to mention trying to get my apartment, inbox, brain, etc. ship-shape before the approaching deluge. I have talked to other musicians recently who are feeling similarly apprehensive about the oncoming storm of the academic year. Courage, my friends!

One thing I forgot to mention is that I was interviewed a few weeks ago. This went up on the reporter's blog, but I understand it will also be published in the Somerville News.

*See here for an explanation of "all the things." Possibly not safe for work depending on how you feel about asterisks in the middle of swear words.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday links

Well, there have been a few kerfuffles this week!

First of all, Stephen Sondheim does NOT approve of the new Porgy and Bess that is about to debut at the American Repertory Theater. Alex Ross finds Sondheim's letter hilarious, and also mentions the public domain issues surrounding Gershwin's work.

Also in the news is Yuja Wang, not for her universally-acclaimed piano-playing, but for her attire. Various opinions abound; I agree with the last. Sometimes being a woman and not having the default uniform of a tuxedo can be frustrating; more power to those who manage to look good and have fun with their attire! Via Alex Ross again.

And while the painful problems in London cannot be covered by the word kerfuffle, we all know what the root of the problem is, right? Hat-tip to my brother.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mid-week update

Busy week, as always!

Last Friday I went to see the Harvard Summer Chorus perform Corigliano's Fern Hill and Beethoven's Mass in C. Led by Andy Clark, they did an excellent job. I love Fern Hill, and it was delightful to hear it again. And the Beethoven was extremely charming. Kudos to everyone involved for great tuning, diction, rhythm, and expression. Kind of amazing that the group has only been singing together for a couple of months!

Last weekend my father was here, and it was delightful to see him. He came with me to a small house concert that my voice teacher, Emily Romney, had for her students who were studying over the summer. I sang Britten's "A Charm" from A Charm of Lullabies and "But Who May Abide" from the Messiah. Happy to report that everything quite well, and Emily's neighbor who attended quite enjoyed the concert! One of my remaining summer tasks is to make an audition CD to use during the year.

Other work included continuing to teach sight-reading (I picked up another student, and I'm really enjoying teaching lessons), continuing to work on choosing repertoire for the upcoming season for various groups (invariably massively time-consuming), and working really hard with Anthology for our upcoming Road Trip concert at the end of September! We are in the thick of trying to arrange and memorize all the repertoire. Here's a link to the poster for our upcoming performance at the Newton Free Library - put it on your calendars!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Lasell Village wrap-up, Choral version

My summer lectures at Lasell Village ended a week ago. If you remember, I was giving one lecture on "The Ten Greatest Choral Works" and another called "Modern Music: Why It's Not That Horrible." Overall it was a great experience; I learned a lot (such as how MUCH time lecture prep takes, holy COW) and I got to do some research and learning and listening I otherwise wouldn't have had the impetus to do.

At the end of the choral masterpieces class, I took a vote on which piece was everyone's favorite. Some people declined to vote, but here's how it shook out.

Missa Papae Marcelli by Palestrina - 0 votes
Bach’s Mass in B Minor - 1 vote
Handel’s Messiah - 3 votes
Haydn’s Creation - 1 vote
Mozart’s Requiem - 1 vote
Mendelssohn’s Elijah - 1 vote
Brahms’ Requiem - 1 vote
Britten’s War Requiem - 3 votes
Faure’s Requiem - 2 votes
Barber’s Reincarnations - 0 votes

I think the biggest surprise was that none of them went for Palestrina. As a Renaissance-lover, this was shocking to me! Renaissance music was one of the great revelations of my teenage years. I actually had one gentleman come up and tell me he thought he would have to quit the class because he couldn't stand the Palestrina that much; I told him to stick it out and he was happy by the time we got to Handel. But!!!

Also, the Barber probably didn't get as many votes b/c I played it in-class at the last class, so they didn't have a listening assignment with it the way they did with the rest, and they didn't get a chance to sit with it. It might seem like an odd choice, but I wanted to have something in there to represent the beauty of the small-scale. It was a tough choice between the Barber and Fine's Hourglass Suite.

In general, I was trying to choose a representative variety of pieces, no more than 3 from any one historical period, no more than one from any composer (this was to prevent Bach headaches, among other things), not dominated by the Germanic tradition (though how well I did on that front is debatable - after all, no Russians?), and I wanted to choose pieces where the chorus was the main event. (Hence the lack of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, which is arguably one of the ten best pieces ever, but not one of the ten best choral pieces ever because the chorus is not even present for 70% of it.) What pieces would you have added...and most importantly, what pieces would you have swapped out to make room? Verdi, Berlioz, Stravinsky, and Duruflé were all very close to making the cut for me.

Monday, August 08, 2011


I'm playing with my blog design. Can you tell? Opinions welcome; my visual design skills are not my greatest strength!

Also, I need to fill out my blogroll to the right. I try to visit the ChoralBlog on ChoralNet every day, and also to see what Alex Ross has to say. What other music blogs do you check regularly? Self-promotion encouraged!

Monday link

I just found NewMusicBox, a publication of the American Music Center. A great source of information on contemporary music! Check out this great article called "Summers in the Choral World" about some contemporary music in this year's summer music scene. A great place to start for exploring new choral music, as she lists a lot of pieces! The author, Jenny Clarke, will be posting every other week and her next post should go up tomorrow.

How about a TED talk? TED stands for "Technology, Entertainment, Design" and is dedicated to "ideas worth spreading." They have regular conferences, and you can see the talks from all these conferences online. All sorts of people talk at TED (musicians in the past have included Evelyn Glennie and Bobby McFerrin). This one is about the skill of listening, and how we are losing this skill. Via the ChoralBlog on ChoralNet. I certainly feel some of this is true of me. The speaker gives useful tips for working on your listening as well.

Last week I came across this letter by Gidon Kremer, a celebrated Latvian violinist, explaining his reasons for withdrawing this year from the Verbier Festival (an international music festival in Switzerland that looks quite delightful, actually) and this follow-up letter by Fabio Luisi, music director of the Zurich Opera, endorsing Kremer's letter. Both address the question of celebrity in classical music; I actually found Luisi's letter explained the matter a little more clearly to me, though it was written second. Anyways, the subject of young, hot classical music stars and the machinery that packages and pushes them out is an interesting and recurring one.