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  • Writer's pictureSt. Joseph Parish

Practicing to be Paul, Vol. V (10/1)

Here’s the latest email from Fr. Paul:I’ve been really busy with school. Teachers, it seems, have suddenly realized that we don’t have quite as long to go as they thought, so work is starting to pile up. I am, as the saying goes, busy as a one-armed paper hanger. But I am still having fun. There have been a few funny (funny-strange as well as funny- ha ha) things that have happened over the last couple of weeks. I think I told you last time that I had been asked to be in the Brahms Neue Liebeslieder Waltzes project, and so indeed I am. Thankfully I am NOT in charge if trying to coordinate rehearsal times. That is more than a little like trying to herd cats. Among the problems we have getting together are: work schedules; class schedules; and my favorite, one of the sopranos commutes 2 hours to and from the Cape every day!! Yep, that’s right. She lives near Dennis, I believe she said. I don’t know how the heck she does it, but she does. So we agreed, one day, that we would meet on Wednesday form noon to 1. The only problem was that one of the pianists wasn’t there for the meeting. I had a sneaking suspicion that this was going to be the fly in the ointment, and indeed it was. She has class at 12:30 on Wednesday. So, back to the drawing board! It is going to be very interesting to see what happens next. Then was the problem of scheduling the coaching sessions. That we were able to agree on for Thursday at 4 p.m. So, with one half hour rehearsal under our belts, yesterday we had our first coaching session. Brahms’ ghost must have been with us, because it went very well indeed. Our coach, Jayne West, was very pleased with the preparation work we had done, and told us that if it kept going this well, we would have a great concert at the end of the semester! And to think I am doing for fun, and everyone else is doing it for credit. Such is the way of it. Then there was yesterday in Opera Workshop class when the teacher hit me. No, she wasn’t getting violent! It seems as though I am one of those people whom others find…”hittable?” Is that even a word??? I was getting coaching about the song, Les Berceaux, by Gabriel Faure. It is one of my favorites. I tend to think of it as very reflective. The scene is set by the narrator, describing the ships at anchor by the piers. The second section is the wife of the seafarer telling him how she, and presumably other wives feel, but, in my humble opinion, this couple are elderly, sitting on their rocking chairs on the porch which overlooks the harbor. Well, that all got stood on its head by the time she was done with me. now, all of a sudden, instead of being reflective, she is pissed…thoroughly furious, etc. So, in order to emphasize the change of attitude, and all that good stuff, as she walked away form me so I could sing it again, she whacked my arm a good one. Of course it made a good cracking sound and I looked at the class and said, in very hurt tones, “She hit me!” Everyone had a good laugh. It was funny really. So of course I milked that cow for all she was worth…um, not the teacher, I’m not referring to her as a cow, the situation….oh my….never mind. Before leaving this, I was once again complimented on my voice and having a very honest and sincere way of singing. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I do know it is a compliment. Then there are my voice lesson with Robert Honeysucker. These are going very well indeed. I may have mentioned before that I am learning a whole new way of producing the singing. It is much more focused and directed, way different from what I was learning with Catherine. He is more focused on learning for opera style of singing, whereas with Catherine it was more for the art song. Plus, of course, she was helping me build from the ground up, so it was a whole different approach. I don’t know how else to describe it. So, our first couple of lessons were around the character of Sarastro in Mozart’s Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) and the aria, O Isis und Osiris. I love this piece because it goes nicely into the lower part of my register, down to an F, the space below the bass clef staff. A couple of weeks of this then he gave me a piece by Griffes (never heard of him) called The Lament of Ian the Proud (never heard of this either). It turns out to be a really cool piece. There are some sections with really weird chromatics, and the accompaniment is no help at all most of the way through. I really have to earn my keep as a singer in this piece! I am proud to say that I learned the voice part well enough to sing right along and get most of it right.  It really is for Baritone, of course, so it goes right near the top of my range, but not uncomfortably so. I am looking forward to REALLY knowing the piece for my recital, whenever that is going to be. Oh crap….that’s right…the end of year recital, much like a jury, when “they” decide whether or not to let you continue as a student. Crap….wish I wouldn’t have remembered that. Then there is the 17th century class. For a couple of classes Dana, an otherwise delightful woman, made us focus on the Artusi-Monteverdi controversy. This took place from 1598 to 1605. I can hear you all now, “And this is important to us because why?” And my response to you would be, “I have no freaking idea!” We read four articles about this thing, and the only conclusion I can come up with is that it is a clear case of Artusi saying, in effect, “We never did it like that before,” and Monteverdi saying, “Try it, you’ll like it!” Sound familiar to anyone??? Yeah, the ever popular and familiar problem of being taken out of one’s comfort zone and being challenged to think of things in a new and different way. Now, this is all fun, and stuff, but the four different authors we read say the same thing with almost the same words. One article would be plenty enough. And then the last one we read about this was about Monteverdi looking for a “new poetics” for music. Okay, thinks I to myself, maybe he has something really cool to say about this, maybe his research has revealed something new. Nope. He spends 12 pages telling us the same damned things, and at the head of the second paragraph on the last page we reach the incredible statement, “Monteverdi was, in effect, looking for a new poetics for the concerted madrigal.” NO KIDDING DICK TRACY!!!!! I was ready to shit bricks, square corners and all. I was kvetching about this one day to a couple of classmates and we all had reached the same conclusion, Artusi is a jerk, Monteverdi was right to ignore him for 7 years and should have continued to do so. Good glory. Then came the next article about the epigrammatic something or other. I was hoping for some exotic disease that had ravaged northern Italy and as a result had some incredible effect on musical resources, therefore composition, or something. I have no idea what it was all about. Yes, I read it, but unless you have a brain with the unabridged dictionary of the American and English Language, and an exhaustive knowledge of theory and composition, are a music analysis genius, and who knows what all else, you are not going to understand the article at all. I think I was one of the first to read this thing, and showed it to a few of the people in my class. These are folks please remember, who have been studying music for at least 4 or 5 years, have taken all these wonderful classes in music theory, and they had a hard time understanding some of this stuff. All of a sudden I don’t feel quite so dumb.Let me give you my favorite example:The epigrammatic caesura after verse 11 is weakened significantly by the hypotactic syntax of the five lines before it, which creates a rival caesura between the dependent clause of verses 7-9 and its consequent (vv. 10-11). This secondary casura is all the stronger becasue the consequent forms a semantic antithesis to its antecedent (as you show me her beauty, so show her my ardor.). Right. Let me be the first to tell you that even if you had the text in front of you, unless you majored in Late Renaissance Italian poetry, it makes no sense at all. The analysis of the music is completely and totally lost on me, of course, since I have no idea what on the hell is going on with that anyway. Yeah, so that’s 20 pages wasted on me. I even almost feel bad sort of but not really. I would like to know what it all means, since I suspect that it would make something about the performance make more sense. I think. Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Oy vey. Then there is EEP class (Experiential Education Project) class. That was freaking weird. Fun, but weird. We watched a video of Martha Graham’s piece, Lamentation with music by Zoltan Kodaly. It was…um……different. I think you can probably find it on YouTube, Lord knows you can find just about everything else there. Then, as we gathered in a circle, we realized that there were a number of percussion type instruments, drums, rattles, maracas, metallophones, etc. A real assortment of Orff things, for those of you who know Orff Instruments. We were given the opportunity to pick one up of our own choosing, then were assigned to groups, then we had to “compose” a piece using the motifs we had improvised during the earlier part of the exercise. Holy headache, Batman. You need to know that there are about 25 students in the class. All that noise!! And me who can’t take a whole lot of noise in the first place……it was……curious. I don’t even really know how to describe the whole class, all 90 minutes of it, 25 people in a big circle banging and clacking and…AAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!! So, now that that is a all done with, we go on. I’m not sure what this was supposed to be all about, and at this point I really don’t care, as long as it is over. I’m sure we area supposed to reflect on this, write in our journals, and take something of this to our planning for our projects for next semester. Then Art song class was, this week anyway, dull as dishwater. Good glory…we went over the English Translations of some of the poems that we will be singing in the next few weeks. This was led by an Englishwoman who did not “present” well. She was horrible! She was trying to hide, what many of us think was an East London accent, and not doing a good job of it. She was, as the saying goes, trying to shit higher than her asshole was built, and not doing a good job of it. We were all sitting in a circle, and the guy sitting next to me, well, he was resting his head on his hand and that elbow was resting on his thigh, and he slid off his thigh!!!! I almost busted a gut laughing. He was mortified and was hoping that no one caught him, but of course I did. Poor thing…..a bunch of us went out for a drink afterwards, and someone got started on this class….holy jumping catfish. It was awful. That poor thing got ripped to shreds, nary one piece left stuck to another. I just hope we aren’t asked to give our input into it because it wouldn’t be pretty. Enough of that.. Overall things are still going well and I am still happy to be here. The kids, I mean my classmates, are a good bunch of folks, and by and large ignore my age. No one has yet to call me “Gramps” or made me to feel much older than they are. As it is with the fiber people I associate with, they are more interested in what one does with one’s talents that in one’s age. So nice to be a part of. One of you asked how negotiating the “multicultural” house is doing, and it is doing fairly well. Maggie (homeowner, Jewish) is getting ready to move to her apartment in Queens, NY, which we all rather look forward to. Not that we necessarily want her out of the house, but………she does tend to nitpick and stick her nose in where it doesn’t belong. I also discovered that she helps herself to my snacks!!!! In one way it doesn’t bug me too much, but on the other hand, you know, I do try not to use her food.  A few times I’ve used her olive oil, but she doesn’t cook or use it at all. Sounds lame even as I type it out, but there is a principle involved here. Anyway, I am going to have to start bringing some of my food up to my room, which I would rather not do. I did that with a container of raisin/nut mix, and the poor thing didn’t last the evening, never mind a day or two. Mereh, the gal from Turkey, and I have set a tentative plan for going to Trader Joe’s in the next few days to do some shopping, and Ricardo, the Mexican/American (yes, he is originally from Mexico and recently from San Antonio, TX) will be joining us, depending on his work schedule at the restaurant (The Salty Pig) where he works. One of these days I hope to go there and shock the crap out of him. From what he says its a good place, much on the style of French charcuterie, fancy for French BBQ I think. Too bad its all pork, otherwise I think Mereh and I would go. Aside from its suddenly getting cold and damp, much like back home I’m sure, things are going well here. OH….I almost forgot…Thursday evening I went to a “salon concert/recital,” as they are called. It was held in the home of one of the voice teachers, Jane Russ, a delightful woman who was thrilled to see me there. Five voice students, 2 of them graduates of Longy, sang, and the pianist also was from Longy. They are presenting a series of concerts dedicated to the music of Benjamin Britten, whose centennial is this year. It was a fairly good presentation of his vocal solo music, taken from several of his song cycles. There were a few close calls pitchwise, but overall well done. Ms Russ’ home is a magnificent Victorian manse that was lovingly restored. It was obvious that they took great care to respect the bones of the place, and if and when necessary, reproduce elements that may have been missing. Music and environment were well matched. Okay…..I think that’s about it for now. I hope all of you are doing well, and things aren’t too overwhelming. TTFN Paul

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