top of page
  • Writer's pictureSt. Joseph Parish

Practicing To Be Paul VI (10/26)

Here is the latest email from Fr. Paul (not to be confused with Pope Paul VI)…Well, I’ve been reminded by a couple of people that it has been a while since I sent out the last epistle. SO here you are…..Yeah, I have not lost my touch at putting my foot in my mouth. It really is a remarkable talent of mine. I just want to give you a couple of my favorites so far: 1) 17th Century Concerted Vocal Music, mostly Monteverdi…also known as 17th Century stuff. We were working on this really cool big piece that takes the WHOLE class to do, all 12 of us. It ends on a D, and many of you know I love my low notes. Well there are two instruments who also hit that note, so I decided to go for the one in the music, which is the D on the middle line of the Bass clef staff, a very respectable note. Dana, our teacher, looked at me and she said to me, she said, “I want you to go for the low D.” To which I responded, “Dana, David hits that note on Bass Gamba, Zach plays that note on the continuo organ. Me going for that note is like farting against thunder!” For some strange reason the class stopped completely, Dana, who had been standing while conducting was now doubled over, several of the folks looked at me with a shocked look in their eyes, and I suddenly realized…yup…said that out loud. 2) Just yesterday, Tuesday, Oct 23, in rehearsal for the same class, we were chatting about something or other, and I exclaimed, “Sweet shit on a stick.” Yup, I really said that out loud. 3) Just this morning at rehearsal for the Brahms Neue Liebeslieder, I noticed that there was a piece of cellophane stuck under the board in front of the dampers on the piano we were working with. This is a really cool set of pieces for SATB and piano four hands. Anyway, I couldn’t stand the thought of the paper there, so I started to fuss around, stuck my pen under the paper until I got it out. One of the folks, I think the tenor, made a quip about it looking like I was ravaging the piano, to which I said, “Oh to be ravaged.” There was general laughing among the troops, (two pianists, and the SAT singers) and I looked up at them and said, “DId I really say that out loud?” yup, I really did say that out loud. 4) One Friday afternoon I went with some of the kids to a local watering hole. We were having a great time. Robyn, who was sitting to my right, told us that Elodie (who is from Belgium, Brussels to be precise) had finally had her child, a healthy little boy. So I made the appropriate nice noise, made mention of how nice it was she had a little boy. Robyn gave me a semi-withering stare, so I tried to recover and make the nice remark,”Well, it would have been nice if she had a girl I suppose.” Which got me the hairy eyeball look. I looked across the table to Jack and said that I didn’t think there was a way to say anything that wouldn’t get me into more trouble,and he agreed, so HE tried to help me out, and it just got worse, so we diverted the conversation to something else and we all had a good laugh. Yup, I really said that out loud. 5) I had an informal meeting with the dean of Students, Alex Powell. He is a really cool person, very easy to talk to and all that good stuff. He also wears bow ties and manages to carry that off really well. So we were sitting in his office getting ready to chat. I looked at him and said, with no malice but just because I wanted to know the answer, “Is this place for real?” Yeah I know….this time I said it out loud ON PURPOSE! I told him that it was a question that I asked because it was all good. No doubt that it is hard work, that I am learning all kinds of stuff that has been hinted at or even explained to me before, but now in a proper context. I went on at some length, as I am wont to do from time to time, telling him, and explaining that I had some very what I considered to be unusual experiences at school here. The best part is that the faculty are really intent on students succeeding, doing well, not just surviving. I contrasted this with what one of the kids, I mean one of my classmates, had told me about the experience of a friend of hers at New England Conservatory. There is a long story that goes with the background of that, and I will mercifully spare you all that. After doing a quick comparison of the faculty and student attitudes in both places, I looked at him and said, “I don’t really get why they are trying to s**t higher than their a**holes are built.” Yup, I really said that out loud. And the list could probably go on. I haven’t lost my touch, apparently, at being able to stick my foot in my mouth. Among the many other things that have been going on (when I have managed NOT to stick my foot in my mouth) have included trying out for the choir at St. Paul’s parish, Harvard Square. This is the church that has the Boston Archdiocesan Boys and Men’s choir attached to it. The music there has been really great. I tried out for the choir and was given the okay by the choirmaster John Robinson. After emailing the pastor (a week or so ago) I still have not heard from him to go sign the CORI form, and find out what “he expects of me as they have never had a priest try out for the choir before” to quote John. If I don’t hear from him in the next few days I may start looking for a paying position in an Episcopalian church. There is one in Newton that is looking for a Bass section leader. That one, unlike the St. Paul position, is paying. We’ll see what happens.In opera workshop class we were all assigned an opera and role to do. I was “lucky” enough to get the role of Mr. Gobineau in Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know it. Evidently it is a very little known work that was commissioned for Columbia University back in the 1930’s or 40’s. It is short, one hour, two acts. It is really weird, for hose of us use to early music, but it is also really cool. I love listening to it and trying to get a handle on the role. The only unfortunate part of it all, of course, is that this has to be memorized (never really did that before) and staged (holy crap!!!) to be performed at the end of the semester. Even though I can preach off the cuff and sing in both French and English in a full basilica at Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre (about 2000) and be comfortable knowing that it is also telecast all over the province of Quebec at least, the idea of doing THIS scares the snot out of me. Ye gads…… In art song class we are all given pieces to learn and perform in front of part of the class. I learned Aubade by Gabriel Faure, I think. Anyway, some dead French guy from the end of the 19th century. In the middle of learning this with one pianist, I found out that she had to return to France for medical treatment, and so had no one to play for me for class. At the last-minute the teacher for the class, Mr. Moll, played for me, and it went okay mostly. He had me do a redo for the next week when Ms. Jane Struss was the coach, and I had a chance to sing with the pianist. I don’t remember who it was, but that’s okay. Whoever it was did a really good job of it. With some hints about drama in the short song, underlying emotions illustrated by the piano accompaniment, this turned out to be a whole different piece. Next semester she is teaching the course on Brahms Song Cycles. I hope to be able to take it. Voice Seminar…this week was a master class, shared with the Opera dept. There was a really famous Armenian tenor who gave the class and worked with six of our many tenors. So freaking many of them… gads. Anyway, this guy was great. He really focused in on the three major areas of the body and their role in producing the sung voice, support from the belt line, breath from the diaphragm all the way around to the back, and the chest voice (remember, these are all tenors, young voices, and not used to using all of the voice available to them). By the time he was done with each of the six of them they sounded completely different: more mature, more rounded, better focused, etc. I’m hoping that something along the same lines in the works for each of the other voice ranges, Soprano, alto and bass. I know I would love to be at the one for Bass, so I can learn how to better and more easily access my head voice into “falsetto.” Art Song has been really interesting of late as well. We are now on our second song to learn, and I was given the Poulenc “Chanson a boire” which begins with, “Les rois d’Egypte et de Syrie,…” The Kings of Egypt ans Syria wanted their bodies to be embalmed so they could last longer, dead (in death). It goes on to talk about how there is a much more fun way to get “embalmed” that is to get good and drunk!! (hence, chanson a boire, that is, drinking song). This was another chance for me to put my foot in it, as it were. I jetted off a thank you to Mr. Moll (BTW department chair of voice majors) because I really enjoy singing Poulenc. He stretches tonality in a really cool way. So, Mr. Moll came over to me the other day during class to talk about it. He then said that the set of songs that this one comes from is “naughty.” So I says to him, I says, “Well, you know us Frenchmen, we do three things really well, wine, cheese, and being perverts.” Yeah, I really  said that out loud. He turned a most wonderful shade of crimson and walked away. I wonder why?? EEP and the other classes also are going nicely. They are a real challenge because sometimes I have to hold my tongue and not react out loud. I don’t want to get too much of a reputation. (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!) Oh, one more thing about EEP (Experiential Education Program)….at the end of this week’s session, after we had talked about TA (Teaching Artist) lesson plans as opposed to standard lesson plans, I said that with my 30 years of experience of preaching and my teacher training in college, we have to remember that we are teaching people, not a subject, that the presentation has to me adjusted constantly to the people we are dealing with, etc. I got on a bit of a soap box as I can tend to do when I feel very strong about something. Everyone in the room just looked at me, I think a bit surprised at how much I said and my background for saying it. I just remember Dr. Townsend talking to us about this, beginning the conversation with, “What are you teaching when you go into the classroom?” We all gave our majors, like good students, and he responded with, “You’re all wrong. You are teaching students.” and he went on from there. So I gave essentially, I think, the same thing to the room full of students. And today in 17th cent. class I think I may have started something between the teacher and whoever is in charge of class schedule. I told her that I had started to look at things, actually last week I did, and was disappointed that I couldn’t take the Bach Cantata because one of the days conflicted with Diction class. She looked at me and wanted to know what I was talking about. So I told her that the Tuesday class conflicted with Diction, and besides, since it was a two-day, two credit course I couldn’t take it anyway because it would throw me way over my 8 credit a semester limit. Oh no……it is supposed to be a ONE day class, on Wednesday afternoon from 2 to 4 (NOT Tuesday and Thursday from 1:30 to 3) and be for ONE credit, not TWO credits. There is one other Early Music class they did that to, and I am going to shoot her an email so she can tell the other people involved. That’s what I get for trying to be a good student I guess. So things go on and forward. Sometimes I get incredibly frustrated with the kids, I mean my classmates, because they don’t want to or don’;t know how to respond to questions that are posed. These are all really smart people, and the faculty are really great folks who are trying to draw us all into the subject area. And they just sit there and look stupid, or brain blasted or something, but it sure as heck isn’t smart! Maybe its just my years of experience.I don’t think so, though, because I was like this in school, right along the way. Except maybe for Hebrew when I was in seminary. That was difficult for me (first class Monday morning, last one Friday afternoon). But ordinarily I was a fairly good participant in class, because I wanted things to go right along. Maybe some day…… So we go on and on and on…..learning how to memorize opera scenes, learning the PROPER way to speak French (with the IPA “alphabet”) and just really enjoying the challenge of it all. So I get back to the question I asked Alex at the beginning of our conversation, “Is this place for real?” It certainly is, and I am really glad it is, too!! Paul

0 views0 comments


bottom of page