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  • Writer's pictureSt. Joseph Parish

Practicing To Be Paul 2015

Got this e-mail from Fr. Paul yesterday and thought I’d share it with you.  Just to remind everyone that he has a birthday coming up on April 23.  You can post your birthday wishes here for him to read.

“…holy crap! Is it possible that almost a whole school year has already passed by? Yup, it sure is. Our commencement is May 17, classes and exams finish in about 3 weeks or so. This coming Friday and Saturday is our spring opera. This year’s offering is The Saint of Bleeker Street, by Gian-Carlo Menotti. It is about 2 hours long and is a ….um…very difficult to learn and memorize. He is a contemporary Italian-American composer (think Amahl and the Night Visitors). His music is really interesting and VERY difficult. In this particular opera he blends the chorus singing in a number of different styles, like 5 or 6 different ones, with his own style of writing. Oy. Somehow, though, he makes it work. It will be live streamed. The story centers around Anina and her brother Michele (pronounced Mikaylay). Anina supposedly has the stigmata, the wounds of Christ on the cross, and her brother throws a question to the parish priest (NOT played by me, thank God) “Is this the work of God, or the delusions of a sick mind?” and for me that is what the whole opera is about. In the end, as the curtain closes, we are not given an answer. Cool stuff. Part of the backstory of this is that Menotti actually went to see now Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina to see someone with the stigmata, and Saint Pio dismissed him as being just a kind of “tire kicker,” that is, that Menotti wasn’t really serious about this but was just there to see a “side show” if you will. I think that is what lies behind much of happens between Michele (who represents secular society) and Dom Marco, the parish priest, and Anina to some extent. Some of it is funny, or at least amusing, but much of it is high drama, and it ends on a very sad note as Anina dies in the arms of her brother, after she is vested in a religious habit.

Other than that…..I don’t even know where to begin! I am still in residence in the rectory of Saint Francis of Assisi in Medford. June 1 of last year we were yoked/collaborated with Saint Joseph parish, also in Medford. Things were a little bit tense for a while as we were going in to that date, but I preached through the cycle of Masses, told them my stories of yoked parishes and how it was completely up to them as to how successful or not this was all going to be, and made sure that they understood that. A number of people thanked me throughout the process, and credited me with helping things go fairly smoothly. Whatever. We had our Paschal Triduum together…Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday) was held at St. Francis, Good Friday was at each parish (3 p.m. at St. Francis at 7 p.m. at St Joseph) for logistical reasons as much as anything else. Medford now has metered parking near Medford Square, the center of town, and there is not much parking around St Joseph to begin with, so it just made sense. Both services were very well attended by people of both parishes. Holy Saturday was at St Joseph. The two parish choirs sang at Thursday and Saturday, and, with few exceptions, it all went really well. We had only two rehearsals together, and by the time we finished the second one, we were doing pretty well together. to help things along, when we got to Holy Thursday’s liturgy, we were seated all together instead of in each our own parish section. When one is seated cheek to jowl, it is very difficult to snipe unless one wants an incredible amount of trouble. it worked. The liturgies were all extremely well done, attended, etc. Couple with a really good time with my family at my sister’s house, which included a phone call to our other sister for her birthday (she is now 65 years old!) it was the best Easter I have ever had. Absolutely.

Classes, etc. have been the biggest challenge ever, and not because of topic or study, but because of having to memorize so freaking much music! I have never really had to do much of that, if at all, so having to develop good study habits at this point in my life has been difficult at best. At one point near the end of last semester, Donna, my voice teacher and the department head, had a “come to Jesus” talk with me addressing this issue. She came up with some coping methods, some of which I have used, and as tedious as they are, they do work. For arias and solo songs, or any song for that matter, repeatedly writing the text down until it is memorized. Memorizing tunes has never been difficult for me, its the blasted words! And, like a lot of people I am sure, I don’t do tedious really well. So, first semester was two opera scenes concerts, this semester was a scenes concert, which I missed because of a really bad case of laryngitis, and the opera in which I have two really small vocal interactions totaling about fifteen seconds of fame, and at the very end I was informed on Thursday, I am to be the bishop at the “taking of the habit” by Anina. I will bless the parts of her habit, and as she dies I am to stand behind her as she falls into her brother’s arms, and raise my arms to my sides looking like….not sure what but that is what Donna wants, so that is what she gets! All I need now is a mitre! My pastor is supposed to be getting me one from somewhere or another. I hope he does!

Opera history class, the only one in which I have exams, is incredibly interesting. Finding out how things came about, the people involved, trends in music and the politics involved in some of this stuff is really curious! Right now we are coming to the later 19th century and the very beginning of the 20th, so we will probably hit current stuff by the end of the semester! Frightening….very frightening. Good though!

All the other classes are directly related to the performances that we do…oh except for Aria and Monologue class. That is indirectly related. Vocal performance students can take it as well. I did that last year. It is by far the best thing for vocalists to do. Every class, and there are two a week, is a master class. Most of the time Donna has some words of wisdom for us, either something she has read, reflected on, or from her own career, she invites questions, in fact she demands them, and she has us do a journal which we have to hand in every week! Some of the questions are a little bit silly, but most of them are very thought-provoking, some of them are related to performance matters, for instance, “What can one do if one suddenly develops dry mouth during a performance?” Response, “not a damned thing.” She then went on to explain that more often than not this is related to nerves and insecurity, so…..and then a long explanation of being sure, confident, proper preparation (even the tedious parts of learning) and so on.

Lessons…coaching…movement class where we learn how to do that GRACEFULLY….yeah, that’s the challenging part, the gracefully part. Next year we will have acting on the opera stage and…don’t recall the other one, but it is directly pointed at the opera stage.

So, now comes the part where I have a chance, here at school, to really think about what I’m doing here, and what comes next. I have no real definite idea. At the very least I will go back to the diocese and parish work, but since being out here in the “big bad world” questions are raised, of course. I really don’t know. I often say that if God wants something different for me, He knows that subtle hints will not work with me. It has to be dropped in my lap.

This summer I am going to be working at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre for June, July and August. Maybe something will happen there? I am open.

I am having a blast here, still. I still say that this is the best thing that I could have done, both vocally and personally. Hopefully I will be writing these missives a little more frequently than once a year!

OH…..I finally had to get rid of my Rav4! Back in April I was told that I needed a new fuel line, which was not a problem EXCEPT that if they took the fuel tank off to do the job there would have been nothing to reattach it to because it was all rust. AND, where the coil spring attached to the body, there was so much rust that it, the spring, was close to punching through. I mean really….just because there were 293,700 miles on the thing. So finally I sold it to one of those places that give you cash for your junk vehicle and I got $400 for it! I thought I was going to have to pay them $400 to take it! So, no vehicle since then. And I don’t really miss driving all that much. The transit system here, when it is all working, is great. Two different bus routes stop in front of the rectory, so that makes that easy, and the morning I have Mass at St Joseph, a 20 minute walk away, there is a bus stop about 5 minutes walk away that drops me off about a block away from school. The Red Line T stop is at Harvard Square, and that is a 10 or 12 minute walk from school. Not too bad, really.

So….things are going well…I am doing well, and I am very much looking forward to the summer in Canada and coming back for one more year of school.

I hope things are going well with everyone back at home. I do miss Western MA A LOT.”


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