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  • Writer's pictureSt. Joseph Parish

Practicing to be Paul XV (10/5)

Hard to believe as it is, we are already one month into the new semester, and things are shaping up just fine. I think. As always, teachers are VERY interesting, classes are fascinating, and my fellow students are an amazing lot. So all of that combined makes for … um…how shall I call them…well, let me just say that there are NO dull days. At all.

I have already had to miss a couple of classes. Well, I missed a couple of classes and a voice lesson because of a bad case of laryngitis and because I forgot to check my schedule and missed a seminar class (ho-hum) and…I’m sure there was another good reason in there somewhere, I just can’t find it right now.

One very curious thing that has happened, and I mean curious in a good way, concerns the parish where I am living right now, St. Barbara, Woburn. Well, the pastor, really. He has encouraged me to invite classmates to the house/rectory for dinner on Saturdays, when we have a cook, and to set up a concert (or two?) in the coming months. I’ve tossed the invite out to the opera class I am in, and some of the kids seem to be very enthusiastic about it. I am in the process of setting up dates here in the parish, and trying to figure out what to do about a piano. I wish we were close enough to Holyoke for me to use my own instrument. Which is STILL hanging around. I am also going to, after I nail down a couple of dates here and at St. Francis in Medford, extend the offer to the Vocal Performance people (the department I belong to) as well as the Early Music department, in which I take some courses and have some school chums. It would be cool to have them give a little bit of a gig in these two places. Plus, it would give them a chance to perform somewhere outside of school. So…things are going very well indeed as far as  that is concerned.

Last week I screwed up my courage and sang for the opera class I am in, Aria and Monologue. What a treat! First of all, we meet in two different rooms, Monday it is in the N-1 recital room, and Wednesday it is in the school recital hall, Pickman. I did my favorite, O Isis und Osiris, from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. It went very nicely indeed. They all seemed to be fairly impressed, and the teacher, Donna Roll, had a few things to suggest to make things easier and resonate better in my head. The main thing is to breathe through my nose AND mouth at the same time. I don’t know how many of you can do that, but it has always been a matter, for me, of one or the other, not both. So, after Donna stopped me a few times to help me figure out how to do it, I did it. And it made a world of difference. No, I don’t know why, but I don’t need to, only that it did. Even I could hear the difference. So when I went to my voice lesson, I told my teacher Bob about it, and he made me do it all the time! Talk about shooting myself in the foot. Actually, I’m glad I did, because then I was “forced” (encouraged?) to get used to doing it. So when I did my piece, Scintille Diamant (Les Contes ‘Hoffman, by Jacques Offenbach [The Tales of Hoffman]} I was able to much more easily hit the last note, a high G#. I know this doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot to most of you reading this, but it is a really high note for a bass to hit, the equivalent of a high C for a tenor. I told Bob that I was very proud of that note, and he was glad for me. His response when I told him was, “You should be!”

Tuesday I had my 2 hour practice with my accompanist, and we ran through almost my entire program for my graduation recital. Curious indeed. He suggested a couple of changes in the order of my program, and I think I am going to make them. It has to do with what songs to put at the end of the program. We worked quite a bit on the song “The Village Blacksmith” which one of the student composers wrote for me (my voice) as well as a few other things, some of the Britten Folksong settings, and did a very small amount of work on one of the Brahms opus 121 Vier ernste gesange (Four Serious Songs). The last one is based on some of the text from I Corinthians 13, “And the greatest of these is love” and is a very active song, the most active of all of them, which is hardly a surprise. That one, like a few of the others, is going to need a LOT of work because it goes all over my range. Good workout for the voice. This time was also the first time we actually used all 2 hours of practice time. which I felt good about. That is, until I realized that my throat was starting to bother me. By the end of the day I had a nice case of laryngitis. My own fault, really. I hadn’t warmed up at all before starting to practice. It is sort of like, actually it is exactly like, an athlete who doesn’t warm up his/her muscles before the actual competition or practice session. A really bad idea. Allergies, also, play a big part of it right now. A number of the plants I am allergic to (Ragweed being one of them) are sending out their pollen, and that raises…well, it just isn’t good for all of us who are allergic.

This past week I also finally got into Facebook. I found a number of relatives, as well as school chums, here. Interestingly enough, I have heard very little from my siblings. No real surprise there. Caught up with a few of the other relatives, some cousins from both sides of the family, which is nice. Like a lot of people we rarely see one another much, as our lives have gone off in such different directions.

Other goings on at school…we are one of 75 sites in greater Boston where pianos have been placed. There is a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Celebrity Series, of which we are a part. There are all kinds of things going on. This week we had 2 singalongs of The Sound of Music, a couple (I think a couple) of sessions with the students in the composition department, “88 pieces in 88 minutes” or some such title. There were a number of things that they composed specifically for this, and each piece was to take no more than 88 seconds each. A real challenge! I am going to presume that it all went well. I couldn’t go to it as I had class at the time. I was supposed to be part of the Sound of Music sing along today, but with the laryngitis, not  a smart move. So I went home instead.

Other class goings on…..the Monday Jazz class (world music jazz. Venezuelan style) is a real kick. He has us doing this piece of his called “Poconos” that is one of the most challenging things I have ever been involved in. At least musically.(again, apologies to the non-musicians!) Even though he has it marked in 9/4, it is performed in anything but! He breaks down the quarter notes into 4 16th notes, then groups them into 3, 4 or 5 notes each group. So I asked him what we are supposed to do with the left over note in the 5 note groups. Well, it turns out that the measure marking of 9/4 is just a formality. When the music gets going one realizes that 9/4 has almost nothing to do with what is actually happening! Oy…..I don’t even know how to explain it, but if you go to YouTube and search Leo Blanco and Poconos, there is a recording there. Good luck!

In the other Jazz class I have, Improvisation, the teacher and I are having a good time. It is helping me to relax with performance and think creatively, not just in terms of precise execution of a piece. Yes, it is necessary to KNOW the piece, but one has to get to know it well enough to, so to speak, harmonize with one’s self on the fly! Talk about a workout! Good thing our time together is only a half hour because otherwise I would be useless as doggie doo afterward. Another class that helps me to relax and how to think about a piece on several levels at the same time.

The early music class that I have is a challenge a workout in a different way. In this class aside from learning about John Dowland and his son Robert and their music, we are challenged to work with the original notation! Now that is a challenge and a half! Among the differences one might notice is that first of all, each voice has its own part of a page; second, each voice range has its own clef, not just the two clefs we are most familiar with, the G-clef (treble clef) and F Clef (Bass clef) BUT, the soprano clef, mezzo clef, alto clef tenor clef, just to name the most popular ones. There is also, I think, a baritone clef and one or two more; third, these parts are arranged around the table, so to speak. That means that, if you are the lutenist, you and the soprano sit on the left side of the table, because the alto sits on your right, the bass sits around the corner to her right, the tenor sits around the corner to the bass’s right, and of there is a fifth voice, that person sits there as well, I think. And all of this is in a large book, placed in the middle of the table. So by the end you are either close intimate friends (like it or not) or cannot stand one another. God help the group that is not on at least somewhat friendly terms. So we are now in the part of the course where we are all making our presentations on topics pertinent to the course, and are choosing which songs we want to perform from the books we are studying (A Musicall Banquet [yes it really is spelled that way] and A Pilgrim’s Solace) and HOW we want to perform it. I selected the “trilogy” from A Pilgrim’s Solace (Thou Mighty God, When David’s Life by Saul, and The Cripple at the Gate) to be done with voices and viols doubling. This becomes very important as we have no tenors on the group! We have one soprano, 2 mezzo’s, FOUR countertenors, one baritone and one bass (me). It is going to be great! Others are going to be doing other things with only voices; voice and lute; voice, lute and bass viol; voice harpsichord with or without bass viol; there are a couple of pieces that require treble viol (or violin) as well as lute or harpsichord..we have, as you can see, a real wealth of choices before us!

Today I was supposed to sing for the Art Song class, but I have laryngitis, so I didn’t. I still gave my presentation on the song, the poetry and how it can be performed, and Cheryl, my accompanist, and I did a “dramatic reading with piano” version. It didn’t make me happy to do it that way, but at least it got done. I may have to do it next week for class, but that’s okay. I really enjoy singing it, as it sits nice and low, appropriate for a funeral ode. The text is from Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline, act VI, scene 2. It is so complex…a worthy libretto for an opera if ever there was one! It isn’t all that long, and a worthy read. It is set in the time of Caesar Augustus and the “troubles” in Britain with trying to subdue the native populations under the Roman Heel. I won’t tell you more, but encourage you to look it up…the full text, naturally, is available online.

Our Vocal Chamber Ensemble has yet to meet with the full group! First week our faculty coach wasn’t able to make it. This week our baritone wasn’t able to make it. Next week, if my throat continues to play games, I may not be able to make it, or at least if I am there I won’t be able to sing! We are doing three comedic songs; “Couplets des Gents d’armes” (but in English), from Offenbach’s Genevieve de Brabant; “Agony!”, from Steven Sondheim’s Into the Woods; and, “Hush! Not a Sound” from Sullivan and Burnhut’s The Contrabandista, or The Law of the Ladrones (Spanish word for Thief). This one and the Offenbach are, I think, not really well-known. At least this last one is not at all well-known. The songs themselves are great! And Jane Struss, our faculty coach, loves to stage the groups that she coaches, so we have to work really hard at memorizing these as quickly as possible! That is on top of all the other memorization that has to be done! Oh well..that’s one of the things we are here to learn, isn’t it. Complain about at the same time, but certainly to learn.

And so many other things..getting to know the newbies, renewing friendships from last year and getting to know some of the folks from last year that we didn’t because, well, there just wasn’t time!

Oh…one funny happened today….I was chatting with a few of the folks in the lobby of the main building. I complimented one of the guys on his tats..he has some beautiful stuff. We got to talking about tats, etc. Noah, one of the other men in the group asked me if I had some. I said yes, and showed them. Poor guy was totally blown away as he didn’t think I was “the type”. Then I told him that I got the first tat and my first motorcycle at around the same time. Poor pumpkin! Yeah, you could imagine, not only him but the others as well. Well, don’t forget, they know me not only as the “old guy” who goes to school with them, but also the priest who goes to school with them! And we all know that priests just don’t do “that kind of thing.” Right? Well…..never mind. I just thought you might enjoy that little tale from school.

I think I’ll sign off now and go on to the next thing…bed!

I hope all is well with everyone, that the weather wherever you are is nice, and you get the chance to go apple picking, if for no other reason than to just enjoy the fresh air…and some fresh apples, of course.



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