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  • Writer's pictureSt. Joseph Parish

Practicing To Be Paul X (1/22)

Well, things have gotten off to a great start! I’ll go through this class by class, since that’s easier for me to organize my thoughts.

Monday: Vocal Dept. Seminar

As with the First Semester, we have assigned weeks to be in attendance, sing, or be ready to be the alternate. Last week I was in attendance and this week I sang. The person who was directing this mess, I mean event, was Sondra Kelly. She is a mezzo of some renown, and most importantly she is a really cool person. Her critiques are always given positively, and at the end of your being in the “hot seat” she is very encouraging and she thanks us for our hard work. Cool or what. This week I sang Britten’s setting of “The Sally Gardens.” It is one of his settings that I really enjoy, sits fairly well in my range, and I can do a fairly good job of it. Apparently, however, there is a little glitch here. Just a little one. Sort of. It seems as though, as my mother always said, my face is VERY expressive. When I am between verses, I tend to listen to the accompaniment, and so “shut down” my face relative to the emotion that I could be portraying. Yeah, it shows up big time. Or doesn’t show up depending on your point of view. This is the type of thing that has always been a “problem” for me. So I have to work on it big time. The other thing is that I have a big voice, not just a big mouth evidently. She said that my dynamic levels were more appropriate to opera levels as opposed of art song. For example, the forte (loud) was REALLY forte. Maybe not quite break a window open, but at least crack the frame a bit I guess. Got to be careful. The next time I have to be there is February 25 when, are you ready for this, Dawn Upshaw is going to be the visiting artist! Yeah, that famous soprano (mezzo?) from the Metropolitan in NYC. It seems that she is the voice department person for our sister college Bard College. Trading faculty, how fun is that! We don’t know who will be singing for her, but I am going to presume it won’t be me, as typically visiting artists are given people with their voice to critique. (Did I say that right?? Tenors sing for a tenor, etc.) Since I am a bass, the only bass in the house I continue to point out to people, there is little chance that I will sing for her. It would be fun, though. We’ll see. Then the following week in attendance (4 March) and then not until 8 April. The weeks in between I am going to try to get back to Franklin County a few times to keep in touch with the spinning group. It’s too much fun to miss!

Tuesday: Musicianship for Singers; Diction

Musicianship for Singers: This is all about the basics. I mean to tell you we started with pitch matching, intervals (minor and major seconds) and how to beat rhythms. Not just the basic 2 or 3 or 4, but how to subdivide, which is the lesson to prepare for this week. Also, when we are learning the tunes, etc., she wants us to learn it with conducting movements. And I have a hard time chewing gum and walking at the same time!! This should be interesting to see.

Diction: This is the continuation of last semester. We did Italian and French then, this semester is German and English. Oy. I had to miss the first class because of a doctor appointment back home (nothing serious), so I am already behind, if you will. I am supposed to sing this week, which means doing the IPA for the song (Ihr Bild by Franz Schubert) and a translation (several words were NOT in my dictionary, which means they are either verb forms or obscure words) for everybody, and providing a copy of the music for the teacher. I like to do my own work on both these things. It really is the only way to LEARN the blasted thing. All these weird letters for sounds… of the things I find occasionally funny is that letters that I know from French, for example, are used differently in IPA. Prime example, in French, we use the “c cedille” (c with a comma under it) to make the soft c, or s, sound before certain vowels. In IPA it is used for the “ch” sound after the letter “i”….very confusing. The letter “x” is used for the “ch” sound after the letter “a” and no doubt others as well. Again, very confusing. Once the confusion clears, however, it actually makes singing in another language a bit easier. It just takes a quick mind to adapt to IPA.

Wednesday: NO CLASSES!!!! That means I get to use this for whatever I want to…..which means I am free to spend as much of the day in the library or practicing that I can stand doing that. It is going to take a whole lot of discipline to do that.

Thursday: EEP 2: Voice lesson

EEP 2: (Experiential Education Program) This is the semester that we get to go out in the world and put our projects in the public. As I told you last semester at some point in time, I am going to do mine on Hymn Tunes from different sources. I already have a place lined up, St. Francis, Medford, where I am singing. I spoke to Oksana, the organist/choir director about this. She is very supportive, and told me that she has good relations with the musicians of the surrounding parishes, so when we get everything set up she will extend an invitation to them. I’m looking forward to this. Also, there is a change in this semester from previous years, and as far as I am concerned it is much better! Instead of our having to find our own venues for our projects, Marco Granados and Dr. Judy Bose are the ones who are contacting area schools to set things up. From what Marco has told me, he has had a lot of success so far. There are a number of schools whose staff/faculty are very excited about working with students from Longy. Since my project is really aimed at Church people, he has contacted a place for me….Epiphany School. It is at the end of the Red Line, not Alewife, but the other end. It deals with “disadvantaged” students. I’m not sure how much this will appeal to them, but evidently the music people there think that this will go well enough. The next step is that, once I get a solid outline and proposal done up, I will get together with the people in charge in each of these places, tweak my proposal however it needs to be tweaked for the people in attendance, and off and away we go! I hope.

I had an appointment with Marco today and we discussed this whole thing. First part of this all from our end is that we put an abstract of the project on the school’s web site with an accompanying picture or graphic. The abstract will no doubt need to be tweaked. I am not completely satisfied with it yet. It sounds too……factual, if that makes any sense. It needs to have some kind of “fun” aspect to it, since it can be loads of fun…I hope. Can you imagine, for example, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” sung calypso or rap style??

Voice Lesson: Well, it is what it is. This semester, however, is a little more stressful. I have to prepare for my jury. Last week Mr Moll, the Vocal Performance Department head, sent out a copy of the requirements for this unholy event. Ye gads…..I have to learn and memorize 6 to 10 songs in three languages (in all) prepare program notes, translations, etc. This all has to be handed in I think 4 to 6 weeks ahead of time! And I have a difficult time memorizing….guess what I’m going to be spending a lot of Wednesday’s “free time” doing! Oh yeah…..

Friday: Art Song; Brahms Song Cycles

Art Song: This semester we are going to be doing Spanish, Italian, Russian and other Eastern European languages. Holy Jehoshaphat! Granted, I’ve sung in a number of them but still…..Right now I have a Spanish song to prepare. This will no doubt go much easier when we actually have pianists to do them with! I’m not sure what the problem is, but, as the saying goes, that’s way above my pay grade so I’m not going to worry about it. So nice not to be in charge. It will be interesting to see what the Russian and “other Eastern European” language songs are going to be like. Along these lines, I think I may have gotten myself into trouble…..again. No, nothing illegal. One of the student composers needs a bass for a piece he is writing to be performed in the concert on April 24th. So, this piece is going to be a Liturgical piece in Old Church Slavonic, in which I have sung. So I took pains to write to him today and remind him (here is the “idiot child” moment) that my range goes down to low C if he needs it. Okay, so I do like to brag about this part of my range. Not a lot of basses can do that, or so I’m told. And, let’s face it, if you listen to a lot of Liturgical music from the Slavic churches they like to have those low gravelly notes that I can provide. So……oh well…..who knows. Last he wrote to me, this piece is going to be done fairly soon, or at least the sketches of it will be, so I’ll have a chance to really learn it and have fun with it…or something to that effect.

Brahms Song Cycles: This is going to be fascinating. At least I keep telling myself that. There are 12 of us in the class, only 2 of whom are men, Jack Byrne and me. He is a tenor, and I’m not. The other 10 are 3 pianists and 7 sopranos. Can you imagine…..what a mess! Since I don’t know these works at all, our teacher Jane Struss assigned the Four Serious Songs to me. These are on texts from the Bible, 3 Old Testament and one New Testament. They are actually for Baritone, but there is little in Art Song repertoire that is for a “real” bass like me. I have the range, but I just don’t like singing up there a whole lot. One of the pieces goes up to a g, which is right near the top of my range, in fact a half step away from the very top. So, this should be interesting. As we were discussing this, she took the time to tell me that these are actually quite difficult. I don’t want to do difficult! As if that makes any difference.Our concert date is already set, May 1, and will be at…um……somewhere off campus….St. John the Evangelist in……Boston….address is…..Bowdoin Street, and we are part of their regular concert series!! Our class also has a blog as well, amazing…… Yup, that’s it. This week’s blog assignment is, if Brahms were to write something for you now, what would it be like…to work with him, what would the song be like….I guess different possibilities. I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I do have to get thinking about this sooner rather than later.

Sadly, this semester I am NOT going to be able to do any early music like I had hoped. The classes I wanted to take are all on Tuesday and Thursday, and one or the other of the days conflicts with what I HAVE to take. I already miss the early music, but with the rest of the things that I am going to be doing, I am going to need the extra time. I also am not taking either of the opera workshop classes. Too much stress, plus I’m not entirely sure I want to do opera. Vocal chamber, yes absolutely, and I am tempted to add that to my schedule. BUT…I also need to get a part-time job, so…..I have applied to a couple of places, but have not heard back from them yet. The first one is the local yarn shop “Gather Here” and the second is one of the many cafe/sandwich shops on the way to school. It is called “Darwin’s” and had a hiring sign in their door for months. I’m not sure what that means, but its a place to apply. On Wednesday I am going to go back to the yarn shop, and maybe look at a couple of other places.

In the house here, our kitchen is undergoing repairs. The ceiling is finally going to be replaced! I made a bit of a complaint about it, including health as well as appearance issues. She is finally having it done. So there is the mess with the fine dust from the plaster/spackling to deal with, but at least we won’t have to worry about who knows what falling from the joists into the kitchen. Come to find out, it has been like this for a year or more. I mean really…the excuse Hector (the handyman) said she gave is, are you ready for this, “I’m not ready to do anything about it yet.” Don’t even go there with me about this. Next is going to be the leak in the roof over my bedroom, then the holes, significant in both size and number, as well as the critters (squirrels) in the attic. Yeah……I’ve been warned not to take on this role, but since I am sort of “pater familias” here (head of household?) I do it anyway. Plus, like I’ve told a few people, I won’t leave this for anyone who comes after me to live here. I was like this about a number of things in parishes where I was pastor as well.

I think that pretty much covers it for now. Break time was nice, but I’ve told you about that already…quiet, peaceful (mostly) and healthy. Right now, at 10:30 p.m., there is a light snowfall. We have, so far after about 5 hours, almost a quarter of an inch, maybe half and inch!! Oh no, what are we to do!!! At this rate, we will have an inch by the time I leave for class at 10 tomorrow morning. Maybe…perhaps…..IF it keeps on going. Its beginning to look a lot like another “Winter that wasn’t” similar to last year, only with more snow, if you want to call it that. The last snowfall, I don’t dare call it a storm, we got about 2 or 3 inches, and that’s being generous.

Okay….so this is definitely me signing off! I hope all is well with you folks, and that you have been able to avoid the flu epidemic of this year.


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