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  • Writer's pictureSt. Joseph Parish

Practicing to be Paul VIII – Finals Done!

Oh yeah….a great sigh of relief was heard throughout the world of college and grad students as last classes, exams, juries and so on were finished.

Oh yeah…anxieties like I haven’t had in 30 years were my constant companions for a couple of weeks. I wondered, during the course of the semester, how certain classes would be graded. This is what happened, class by class, as they happened during my school week:

Voice Department Seminar: attendance at required sessions (not all of them, just as assigned) singing for the class, and of course class participation;

EEP (Experiential Education Program): class attendance and participation, a number of essays, project proposal for next semester (more on this later);

Basic Diction: yup, attendance and participation, singing, exams, one on French Diction rules, one on Italian Diction, and a final on both of them;

17th Century Concerted Vocal Music (Mostly Monteverdi): yeah, A&P (not the grocery stores), several papers on required readings, final concert and a paper based on the music and topics covered (more on this later as well);

Opera Workshop: class topics, singing so-called audition songs, and performance of opera scenes at the end of the semester (Again, more on this later);

Art Song Repertoire: yeah, A&P, memorizing assigned songs and performing them, memorizing the poem of the song, and end of semester recital (More on this later).

Not a class, but I was asked to be a participant in the Vocal Chamber Ensemble program because, are you ready for this one...I AM THE ONLY BASS IN THE WHOLE SCHOOL!!!!!!! I still cannot believe it, with all the guys here, there are 2 or 3 baritones, a whole slew bunch of tenors, and I am the only bass in the house. It is so funny to me. So, we were able to stage both the Brahms Liebeslieder, opus 52, and Neue Liebeslieder, opus 65, for the first time in the school’s history. Now, I was under the impression that this was going to take place at the same concert, but no. Opus 52 was on Friday, and Opus 65, the one I was in, was on the following Tuesday.

To catch you all up on “A word about this later” things:

EEP: I think I wrote about this at the beginning of all this, but to catch you up, this course prepares us to, quite literally, sell our musical abilities after we graduate! During this semester we read and participate in different experiences that help us get an idea of what it means to make an interactive concert. Not just give information about what is being sung or performed, but to involve the audience in what is happening. Let me give you an example: in a piece in which complicated rhythms are going to be heard, break them down into basic elements, have the audience clap them out, combine them in different ways, then perform the piece. Again, we had three members of a brass quintet in class. To get us to have fun listening to Contrapunctus 9 from J. S. Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of the Fugue) they had sing different voices with text, e.g., for the ground bass (bass line which remains the same throughout the piece) we sang the words something like “This is the ground bass and it behaves like this” At least I think that is what it was. A second line was given a different text, etc. When they actually played the piece, we were invited to sing along! It was actually fun to do, and the ideas of C 9 stuck. Cool yes??

My idea for my project is to do “Folk Tunes to Hymn Tunes.” The first and most obvious example is Greensleeves/What Child Is This? From this to Amazing Grace with its current tune, New Britain, and introduce other possibilities, like the theme to “Gilligan’s Island” or “House of the Rising Sun,” and then invite the audience to make up their own texts for tunes, or match tunes to text, etc. Lots of fun is possible, if you get some adventurous people. Can you imagine “A Mighty Fortress” done to rap??

17th Century, etc. involved a number of readings from books on the High Renaissance/Early Baroque, the life and times of Monteverdi, as well as his contemporaries, and his debate with some dufus by the last name of Artusi, and this presentation and concert. Oh, I forgot to tell you about the concert notes as well. I had done some work on the soliloquy of Seneca in CM’s Coronation of Poppea. Its a really cool piece that is an explanation of his basic philosophy as a Stoic philosopher. It was some good work, and Thomas Bowers (harpsichord) and Hannah (don’t recall her last name) (Bass Viol) and I had some good work with our teacher, Dana Maiben, and Thomas’ clavier teacher, Avi I-don’t-know-his-last-name. It probably would have been a good performance, but this thing got so darned long that there was no way I was going to add yet more time. Besides, this was about the kids in the Early Music Program, and I am not one of them, I am in Vocal Performance. My part of the program notes was on the various styles of settings and explanations of settings for the Sacred Music. I had the LONGEST part, no surprise there, and it was really good. So said my teacher!! Part of my notes was taken out and set apart for another topic, Prima Pratica and Seconda Pratica. Cool beans, as “they” say. The concert was over two hours long, went reasonably well, and we were all fairly well pleased with the results.

Opera Workshop, or as it was called by some OpShop was the most nerve-wracking of all my classes. We started with our “audition song” and then were cast in roles in different operas. I was cast as Mr. Gobineau from Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium. It was one of the weirdest pieces I have ever sung in. It was commissioned by Columbia University, and was first performed there around 1945. Wow…..understand, I was never good at memorizing in the first place. It’s been 30 plus years since I’ve taxed that part of my brain, and have learned that it is just like muscles memory. If you don’t use it, it will go away. Between this and Art Song class, I’ve started to get it into some kind of shape. Thank God. It took until performance night (this past Tuesday) for me to get it completely correct, but it worked. Probably the biggest difficulty with this task here is that the accompaniment is pretty much atonal. Here is the link to YouTube Rats. It didn’t copy so you could just click and go there. Copy and paste this to your browser and visit this. Go to time marks 6 minutes 10 seconds to 19 minutes 10 seconds or so. It ends with the trio on “Why Be Afraid of the Dead.” This is my favorite part of the whole scene. We got rousing applause at the end of the scene.

Art Song: In this class, we did French Art Song this semester. I was assigned “Aubade” by, I think Faure (unless it was someone else!) and “Chanson a Boire” or “Drinking Song,” by Francis Poulenc. I loved both of them, but the favorite easily was the Poulenc. It was funny, for one thing, and a bit of a challenge. Poulenc loves to stretch tonality a bit here and there, which I really enjoy. This song is the second in a set of 7 anonymous 17th century texts that are all racy. The collection is called “Chansons Gaillard” which means, basically, Racy Songs! Cool stuff. At the end of the semester we had a recital for ourselves and any invited guests. I wish I would have known about that because I would have asked a couple of people to show up for it. Since it was during class time not many can come to, but there you go. Mine was okay, though I did make 3 mistakes that I had learned early on and could not unlearn! I hate when that happens. Next time……There was a nice reception afterwards with, appropriately enough, all kinds of French snack foods…mostly. I ended up not only helping to set up, but slicing cheese, etc. As soon as I was done I was out of there faster than fast. Too many people, too little room.

Along with all of the above performances, like I pointed out above, I was asked to be in the Brahms project. This went VERY well. It was part of a longer concert, of course, and the whole thing went well. This concert was part of a series of concerts that are held at the end of each semester. During each semester we have to go to five concerts, keep a program, sign our name at the top, so that we can hand them in to our department chair. Several of the ones I went to were part of these required concerts. I performed in another one, not listed above. It was the Student composers’ concert. Now, I don’t usually indulge in humor that knocks people down, but I will make an exception here.

My parents may have raised an idiot child, and I think I may be he. Yeah…let me explain. We, me and 6 other people, were in rehearsal for “Golden String” by Jared Hettrick. Jared is a really interesting person as well as composer, and I mean that well. His piece is difficult because it shifts in tonality between tonal and modal. We had a 10 or 15 minute break half way through and I was chatting with Michael Byrne, another composer, who as a nice clear tenor voice. So we were chatting about this that and the other thing, and he made a comment about my low range. He asked me how low I could go and I told him (Low C, by the way) and he was suitably impressed. After which he said, and I quote, “Great! I’ve been looking for someone with a low range like that so I could write somethings for it. I have some ideas. You don’t mind if I do that for you, do you?” I was so shocked I told him he could l go ahead and do it. THEN I gave thought to it and said, well you can imagine what I said to myself. So then we go forward in time to the concert in which I sang in both Jared’s and Michael’s pieces. Jared and I happened to walk to the T in Harvard Square together. We chatted about the concert, about voices, etc. and he made a comment about my range. Yeah, you can see JUST where this is going, can’t you. So there are going to be TWO student composers who will be writing for my voice this coming semester!!! Idiot child…..

So, finals are done, papers and programs have been handed in, concerts have been sung and a great sigh of relief has been heard throughout the college/university world, like I said at the beginning. Now I have the dubious charge of trying to find a part-time job. The diocese stops paying my salary this month, since sabbaticals are typically only 4 months, or one semester long. Yup…not a happy camper am I. Next week, after Christmas, I am going to be pounding the pavement to apply for a job!! I haven’t cone that since 1975, after graduating from college. Crap. Since I am going to be here throughout the summer, I am hoping that this will give me a leg up on other student employees. I hope.

My Christmas plans include singing the Masses at St. Francis of Assisi, Medford, going to my brother’s house for Christmas Day, and back here. During the following days I am going to have to look for a job, like I said before, and then get a head start on the music for voice lessons next semester. I hope something works out for this!

The next semester plans right now, for classes anyway, include the required courses of Voice Department Seminar, Lessons, EEP, Art Song Repertoire, and Basic Diction (German and English). Other classes are going to be Brahms Song Cycles, Basic Musicianship for Singers, Bach Cantata (Easter Cantata beginning with #4, Christ Lag in Todesbanden) which will be audited. I think there is one more, but I don’t remember what it is. Don’t worry, though, because I have this in my folder with registration information. I’m looking forward to these classes and challenges because, to be quite honest, I am having a whole world of fun I almost didn’t know I could have. Yeah, loads of fun. My classmates are a great group of people, the prof’s are great folks and very supportive, and I am learning about all kinds of things. I wouldn’t change it for the world, neither my decision to come here, nor the road that got me here.

I hope all of you are going to have a good Christmas, that the days and weeks and months of 2013 will be good to all of you, and that the Good Lord smiles on you big time.


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