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  • Writer's pictureSt. Joseph Parish

Practicing to be Paul XIII (7/10)

Has it REALLY been over three months???

Yup, it has.I was recently, okay it was a few weeks ago, maybe a month, for something in my email addresses and spotted the sad fact that it really has been,by now, well over three months since last I wrote about my (mis)adventures at school. Oy vey, have I got lots to tell! From incredibly successful to sadly argumentative. These may not all be related in chronological order, so please bear with me.

For some reason all the events around the Boston Marathon are the first things that pop to mind. It was a real mess out here. The section of Somerville I live in was, indeed, under lockdown. That was a MAJOR pain in the ….um…..neck. The sirens all around us, not able to go anywhere, it was unbelievable. As it turns out, the family of one of the guys responsible lives just up the block from me, and they have a car repair business there. I cannot imagine what they have gone through on so many levels. People around here to whom I have spoken, for a fairly long while, could not figure out what the heck this was all about. Merih, the housemate from Turkey, was especially concerned about what this would do to relations with the Islamic community, of course. Things seemed to settle down fairly quickly, thankfully.

As far as classes are concerned, holy crow. Things “all of a sudden” seemed to crash on on everyone, i.e., the realization that the end of the semester/academic year was upon us. And by the way, faculty as much as students were hit with this! One day Eiko, our Musicianship teacher, said that she had been talking to some colleagues and they were all saying that it seemed to have hit all of a sudden, and she pointed out that students in class were simply nodding their heads like robots as more and more info was being crammed into their already full heads! We laughed as we simply nodded our heads! This was in March, not too long after, in fact, my last letter went out. The end of the semester in that class turned out to be a real challenge. We reviewed all the things that were covered in the semester and I could not believe how much was going to be in the exam. Oh yeah…serious final stuff. It covered sight-singing, sight-reading rhythms, singing one line while playing another, beating 2 rhythms at the same time (excuse me, did I ever say I could chew gum and walk at the same time? NO!), and a curious thing about singing ex tempore. Here it is…she would sing us a 4 measure bit and we had to finish the musical statement. A sort of musical “Finish my sentence.” Then we had to do the reverse, that is, sing a 4 measure sequence that she would complete. Oh, and my favorite part to hate, she played a sequence that we had to identify, aural harmony or dictation I guess it is called. Luckily the first measure was a 1-4-5-1 sequence. That meant only 4 more chords to figure out because the last of the 9 chords was, of course, the tonic, that is, the chord of the starting key. All very musician vocabulary, eh?  I ended up with a B+ in that course, much to my surprise.

Our last class in seminar was NOT one of my more stellar performances. I did not sufficiently prepare my piece, AND, the best part, I had a really nasty argument with the teacher. It was all about the Benjamin Britten song, “The Miller of Dee.” It is one of the sadder songs in his collection of folk song settings. She maintained that it was a drinking song, and it was all kinds of jolly, etc. Not really. When one takes a good look at the text, one realizes that the story teller is using irony or satire to tell the tale of the Miller of Dee. No one will ever be able to convince me that someone who says, “I care for nobody, no not I, since nobody cares for me” is a happy person! Anyway, after shouting at each other for several minutes, she said, are you ready for this, “I’m the teacher and you have to do what I tell you.” At that point I simply put up my hand  and refused to say any more. Meantime the faculty member who is supposed to be monitoring the class simply sat in the back and said and did nothing. Smart move on her part. A week or so after this most inglorious episode I had an appointment with my therapist, told her the story, recited the text, and she agreed that indeed, the Miller of Dee needs intense therapy and most likely lots of medication. I did my best to do this as she wanted it done, but of course, it didn’t work. What did the other students in the class do? Nothing. Smart move on their parts as well. Afterwards several of them did commiserate with me and say that they agreed with me, but by then it really didn’t make any difference. I ended up with a B in that class. No surprise there.; Oh, I did write a terse note to the faculty member to explain things from m,y point of view and why I was so adamant. I never heard back from her. When I saw her at several school events after that,though, she also could not look me in the face. Curious, that.

Maybe my favorite and most difficult class was the Brahms song cycle class. It was also my lowest mark, a B-, which is almost equivalent to a fail mark as it carried a 2.7 and we have to keep a 3.0. I had a nasty case of laryngitis during the end of semester, and was not able to perform in the class recital. I also, and this is what did me in, I did not post a short paper that we were supposed to write. I do have it in my notebook, but every time I tried to post it, I had a hard time. Not an excuse that the teacher would accept most likely, but by the time it came near to the end of semester I was so shell shocked by another incident that it was difficult for me to think about too much. More on this later.

Diction class was a stitch. We had loads of fun, and when we started the English section (it really is a most weird language to sing) Pamela handed out this magnificent LONG poem illustrating the oddities of the English language, the several ways to pronounce so many ward parts, etc. I nearly started a “discussion” when I pointed out that the line “Haunt but aunt” made no sense to me until one of the gals, who is from Maryland, said that SOME people pronounce “aunt” like “ant.” Ah, said I, and she looked at me and said not to judge her. We ALL had a good laugh over that.  We did the German, which I did fairly well in, then the English, in which I did fairly well as well, then we had the sung final, in which I did fairly well, and then the written final, in which I did a crash and burn. I simply could not focus on anything, and well… least I got a B. Up until then it was a B+ or A, but those darned finals……..yup, it was low enough that it brought my grade down that much.

Art song class went well enough towards the end, but the VERY end was best. We had an ABAS afternoon. ABAS stands for “Anything BUT Art Song.” It was great. There were all kinds of things done, musicals, pop tunes, original compositions, jazz, just about anything but art song, opera, etc. The funniest of all was Peter’s performance of a song from a musical neither of whose name I can remember, BUT, I do remember some of the text, as we were all in stitches, and nearly all of us (maybe one or two exceptions?) had sore bellies and sides by the time he was done. It was a love song to Clare, who is being, quite frankly, stalked by this character! Good glory….he talks about having some great photos of her…taken with his super telephoto lens, running over some jerk who didn’t open the door for her at a restaurant, climbing up the fire escape and drain pipe to get into her apartment, this was at the beginning of the song BTW, where she discovered him with her panties around his face!! Poor Mr. Moll, our department head. When Peter was done, he said jokingly that he felt as though the room (one of our recital/class rooms) had been defiled and had to be “re-hallowed” by a proper recital! We all laughed so hard…..oh, I got an A in this.

Voice lessons is where I had the worst time this semester. To get it over with, I got a B, which disappointed me, but when I thought through the whole thing, I was,’t all that surprised I suppose, Disappointed yes, surprised no. It all gets down to preparing for our juries. I wasn’t, and when he tried me on a few of the songs I could hardly put 2 words together, I was so shocked. Yeah, nasty stuff. That was remedied fairly quickly, and just in time for my jury, I got the worst case of laryngitis ever. I am willing to bet it was largely nerves, but there was also a nasty virus going around school, and I was one of the last to get it. One classmate, Masafumi Toyoda, was a whole month without being able to sing. And yes, he was in a few of my classes. Just about everyone got this damned thing. It started in late November and worked its way around the whole student body and a number of the faculty as well. So on my jury day I tried to sing anyway. Dumb move, BUT, I also didn’t have a doctor’s note, and I didn’t want to seem like I was trying to weasel out of the jury, no matter how true it was! So, I did my first piece, a bass aria by Mozart, and it went well enough. When I tried to start my second piece, my voice locked up on the second note and I was stopped dead in my tracks by my voice teacher. I was so pissed that I couldn’t do anything….they all assured me that the first piece was excellent, that it was because of the laryngitis that I was stopped. Even Mr Moll came backstage to make sure I was okay with what happened. So I explained why I looked so ticked off. We rescheduled the jury and things went VERY well. I picked up my remark sheets and the only thing they all wanted me to work on was legato line. That means, for all the non-singers out there, that the line of singing should be smooth, and nearly without breaks between words. This is difficult for me because with all the time I’ve spent choral singing, that is exactly what we shouldn’t do! Consonants are emphasized for clarity, etc. Very confusing.

Ah yes, juries. Now there are several schools of thought about juries that range from, they are a necessary evil, to they are just evil. In my humble opinion, after stressing out over them, nearly having a serious verklempt attack, etc., I realized that all they are really is a private recital of music I am (supposed) to know in front of faculty who have all heard me sing. So, in effect, no real biggie if I know what the heck I’m doing! Yeah, that’;s the catch, though, knowing what I am doing. So I have already started, though not as well as I had hoped to, to prepare my graduation recital. I’ve picked out my proposed recital songs in French, English and German, from Britten Folksong settings to Brahms to opera, and included a song composed for me (YEAH!!) that is really cool, and am really looking forward to having this stuff well learned by Christmas. I hope. It does mean that I am going to have to really get cracking on things, especially this song “The Village Blacksmith.” This thing is 5 pages long, almost atonal, and the only accompaniment for it, if you want to cal it that, is electronic tape that is derived from sounds of real blacksmith shops! So this should be a real challenge in so many ways, good bad and indifferent.

Our Dean emailed us some time ago now about a new composition teacher that was hired for the Modern American Music (MAM) department. He wants to work with some chamber groups of vocalist and instrumentalists, and if he can’t find stuff for the groups he has he will compose for us. Oh yeah……

Then there is the EEP course….I got an incomplete on this one. The project that I wanted to do I couldn’t because the only day that was available to me was the day I had the most classes, and I never like to miss class. So I told the teacher. He was okay with me doing this in the fall, so come September or October I will go back to the school and finish that up. Good news about that is that the woman who WAS there, who I couldn’t stand, is not there any more! In fact, the woman in charge is a recent graduate of Longy, and the gal I was working with. Yeah, this is going to be good. I’ll most likely email her in early August to see if we can set something up.

Now, the curious time of registration for classes…going through the course listings, sorting, picking, etc. I hate it! Mostly because I, like so many others, manage to find things that I cannot take for one reason of another. One class on improvisation is on Tuesday nights. That’s when my paid church choir gig is; others have prerequisites I don’t have, like Harmony 1 and 2 or Theory, etc., then there were a couple of things that are second semester, so I have half of that already picked out. Now, here comes the interesting part…..I went to the department chair and we talked about a few things, and he approved my schedule. I went to the registrar and she gave me grief about it. First, it was about first semester, that I was supposed to have paid an extra fee because I had 9 credits instead of the max of 8. I pointed out that the “extra credit” was an audited group. Then she said that I was supposed to have paid a fee because I had 8 credits instead of 7 this semester. I looked at her funny. She said that the program I am in, GPD, because of the number of credits I needed, was supposed to be done with 8, then twice seven, then 6 credits. Ah, said I, I really didn’t pay that much attention to that, I just signed up for what I wanted to take and that was that. So we made one of my choices an audit (do all the work but don’t get the credit, like much of life!). Then she said that another class I signed up for was NOT a performance course. I showed her the course listing and said that if it was a performance course for Early Music, why not me? She looked at me funny and said that she would have to look into it. I still haven’t heard. You folks have to realize I do NOT do this kind of thing purposefully, they simply happen to me all the time, or at least often enough. So that is all straightened out…..until school starts and we find some OTHER problem with my schedule.

Oh, and one more thing about fall semester, I signed up for “Jazz Improvisation for Classical Musicians.” As I was walking down the stairs in the office building with a couple of friends, we ran into, almost literally, the guy who teaches the class, Peter Cassini, a really nice guy. So I said to him, I said, “Oh yeah…you’re the one who teaches the class I signed up for in Jazz Improv.” He says to me, he says, “yeah, what do you play.” And I says to him, “I’m a vocalist, I sing bass.” At which point I got this “look.” Are you ready for this…..he looks at me and says, with a crestfallen look “oh.” So I says, “What do you mean, ‘oh’?” Well, he says, “I’ve never worked with a singer before.” SO, ever the optimist, I says to him I says, “Now’s your chance!” So he asked me a few questions about why I wanted to take the class, etc. (To learn about jazz, of course) I have no idea what is going to happen with this, but whatever it is, it should be interesting to say the least.

Outside of school stuff…..really cool things. I did a “Choral Intensive” weekend. We worked with some famous woman who has a great reputation, and from my experience well deserved, who decided that we would work on Faure’s Requiem. A curious piece indeed. There was a spot for a baritone solo, but I decided not to put my name in the hat for it, stupidly enough, because I didn’t know what the competition was going to be. It ended up being sung by a really tenorish baritenor! He did a good job on, for a baritenor.

Then I auditioned for a group out here called Calliope, a chorus and orchestra group. I was accepted and offered a 3 year membership, the best offer they have. We are currently working on Edward Elgar’s opus 51, the Kingdom. It is okay, but VERY Victorian English lots of sound kind of thing. Almost schlock. There is a recording of it on YouTube, but if you decide to listen to it make sure you have lots of time to listen. It is over an hour long! Here is the link

And, not only that, but even as a first year member I was asked to be the second (understudy??) for the sung role of Peter. How funny is that! No doubt I will NOT get to sing it in concert, but I don’t care. I will still get the chance to learn, sing in rehearsal, etc. That at least gets my voice out there…somewhere.

Then I went to an Early Music Week at a place called the World Fellowship Center in Albany, New Hampshire.  I almost missed the town, so don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of either one. It was great to be at a week-long  Early Music workshop again. One class I played recorder, one class I sang, one class I played viola da gamba AND sang at the same time. And, my voice was noticed. How cool is that! The recorder class was a special request by the guy who ran it, Ray Sansom. He is the husband of Pamela Dellal, my diction teacher! This was the first time the week has had a good recorder quartet since forever, evidently. We worked on a really difficult piece called “Fantasia on the Hexachord (falling)” by Alfonso Ferrabosco. That’s all I can tell you, besides the fact that it was a really nasty brain teaser to learn and play. We played it for “Fun Night”….how weird is that. We had to do a restart twice, but once we got intot he groove, you hear a pin drop because nearly everyone has tried it at one point or another. We got a resounding applause for our effort. For our class’s recital piece we played the Dowland “Lachrymae Antiquae” on recorder consort….the so called 8 foot consort. This means that the bass was the contrabass recorder, an instrument about 7 feet tall, no word of a lie.

Here is a picture of the beast. The one on the right is the contrabass (F fingering), not the one that was played, but it gives you an idea, The one on the left is a Great bass (C fingering) It doesn’t take quite as much air as you might think, but you do end up, if you aren’t careful, hyperventilating if you don’t learn how to breath right for it!

The class I sang in was run by Jane Hershey, a really cool viol teacher at Longy. We did a Dowland song, “Sleep, Wayward Thoughts” with soprano, treble, tenor and bass viols and bass voice doubling the bass viol line. We also did an Italian piece by Gastoldi, “Ero cosi dicea” (Hero spoke thus) that is from the Hero and Leander legend. She, Hero, is longing for her love Leander, who she compares to Narcissus, to return but learns that he has been killed at sea, so she throws herself off a cliff (short version). We had to restart that one a couple of times. The last time we restarted, I looked at the audience and told them that she, Hero, was actually afraid of heights, and wasn’t sure she wanted to climb the cliff that night. Yeah, loads of laughing at that point, and the rest of the quartet was able to relax with it and we went right along and did a good job of it. The group that I played and sang for was a “big band”or almost-whole-workshop-participant even in the late afternoons. One afternoon we did a double choir thing, and I was teased by Roy that it was done to make me happy. Another round of laughing over that. For church that weekend I went to the Catholic church  in North Conway. This was an experience to be missed. The music was mediocre at best, HOWEVER, the priest sand, the deacon sang, the people sang! So that part at least was cool. It was a recently built church, from 2001, and they already had to redo the roof! Someone sold them the line that what they had was the best available technology at the time. A real line of crap, if you ask me. So they have to raise several hundreds of thousands of dollars for this project, on the order of $450,000, no lie. I was pissed for them over that. The church building itself was….modern. It had no spirit as of yet, and certainly no atmosphere! The deacon preached and he was a fairly good preacher. The only distracting thing was that because of the layout of the pews he had to keep turning around from left to right. Very distracting. It must be difficult to preach there. The only really down sides to the whole experience was that the meals were mostly vegetarian, and the freaking bugs!! My arms and legs look like I had a serious outbreak of a pox of some kind. And, even after these five or so days, I am still itchy. Next year, given that I can make it next year, I am going to bring serious amounts of bug repellent.

So now we come to the rest of the summer….still looking for a job, draining down my retirement funds, looking for a new place to live that is acceptable but cheaper than the place where I am now. The roof has been replaced, but the ceilings have not been redone yet, and this afternoon the owner, who is here for a couple of weeks, took a bath and loads of water came down through the ceiling in the kitchen. This was not a problem when Merih was here, so I have no idea what in the world is up with that. Anyway, the searches are difficult because, at least for jobs, not may people want someone who is 60 years old, has about 20 years’ experience in management. Room-wise, its difficult because most places that advertise for students want people in their 20’s, no surprise there.

July 16th to the 27th, as I have been doing since 1990, I’ll be going on the pilgrimage to Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre. This year I think is going to be really strange since I haven’t really been saying Mass, etc. since 15 August of last year. One weekend, Pentecost weekend, I got to cover for the pastor where I sing, but that has been it. One nice thing about the place, he and I quickly struck up a friendship, and he offered me a suite (for free!) in his rectory, with the chance to say Mass (and get paid for it!) once a week! All we have to do is wait for the bishops involved to exchange letters and I will be all set. I set that in motion almost two weeks ago, and have not yet heard anything. Monday I am going to have to get on that.

Other than these little bits of news, and no doubt others that I have forgotten by now, not much has been happening around here. The heat is getting to us all, like back home, and I can’t wait, I think, for the rain and cooling effect next week. Although, during the early music week we had rain about 5 of the 8 days we were there. Maybe this will be different? Who knows.

This really is it now (I added a bit about Jazz class just before I wrote this). Off to figure out what to do with myself for the rest of the evening besides make a supper and read some more.


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