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  • Writer's pictureSt. Joseph Parish

Practicing To Be Paul XVI (10/28)

Yup, hard to believe but we are indeed just a smidge past mid-term. Some of the classes have had their mid-term exams, luckily I didn’t have any, and are recovering nicely. Almost all of my classes are performance classes, so there have been small research papers to do, and LOTS of music to learn.

In the Dowland Class (A Musical Banquet) I did a presentation on Sacred Music (right up my alley!) and covered way too much material. I finally got to the texts for the three songs from John Dowland’s A Pilgrim’s Solace that we nicknamed “The Trilogy. They are called, Thou Mighty God, When David’s Life, and The Cripple. They are actually from a single poem called “The Soul’s Harvest,” and outline in very broad strokes some of the story of Job, David (when Saul was after his life) and the Cripple who was healed by Jesus. At the end of each of these stories in the songs, the poet says that it is hope which keeps them going. At the beginning of the first and the end of the third, the poet gives us a preview and summary prayer. Cool stuff. Part of my presentation was a reflection on the reason the poet and Dowland would have been interested in these particular events in Scripture, since I don’t think we hear much about them at any other time.  Considering the situation of Catholics in Elizabethan England, and the theme of hope that unties the three stories……think about it.

The opera class has been most illuminating! Not just because of the vocal techniques, but the pep talks that we get from Donna Roll are quite something. A few of them, especially the ones on the necessity of time for meditation, have been…not sure what to call them! They have had the character of somethings I’ve heard on retreats, especially while preparing for both diaconate and priesthood ordination. This past week she really tore into the opera students. They have a concert his week, two actually, of opera scenes. Both nights have the same scenes, but with some different people in some of the roles. When they get things really tight, these concerts are going to be incredible. While waiting for us to get off the stage, after the “encouragement” to do better, she informed us that one of the kids, Eric Schlossberg, who had auditioned for Wolftrap, got a recall!! This is most wonderful news for him, and all of us who really like him, that is just about everyone! He is an incredibly voiced countertenor, a very powerful voice, and in good command of his voice. I hope he gets in, as we all do. Other than that, several of the kids have auditioned for different programs and had good results, but there has been no news about recalls yet. I HOPE to sing for the class either this week or next. I think that this week our class time will be given to firming up the scenes in the concert.

The two Jazz classes also have been quite…um…something. The one with Leo Blanco, world music/jazz class, has focused on his piece called Poconos. It is getting to be a bit much. I understand that he wants us to really get to know his piece and his method of composing, which we learned because I asked him what his inspiration was, but we probably should be doing more stuff as well, not just Poconos. And yes, it is named for the mountain resort area in Pennsylvania. The improv class has been quite something else too. I have to learn a vocal jazz classic, and then improvise on it for Peter. This proves to be a real challenge. The scientist in me (another way of saying the control freak in me) wants to analyze everything and proceed with all due caution. Granted, there are rules that need to be followed, but not quite as strictly as one might think. This past week he told me to just sing the scales of the chords…well, I didn’t have the gumption to tell him I had NO idea what the notes in the scale of a c minor 7th with a flatted 5th was. Or was that an F Major…doesn’t really make a whole poop load of difference one way or the other! So we went through things a little more slowly, during which he told me he could almost see the wheels turning and the smoke coming out of my ears I was thinking so hard about what I was doing! I felt like saying, “Yeah, and your point is what?” But I didn’t. Besides, I wasn’t feeling at my best, so best not to say anything.

Art song class has been…well…….art song! This semester we are doing English and American songs. My English one was “Fear no more the heat of the sun”  by Gerald Finzi, and the American one was “Looking-Glass River” by John Carpenter. The first thing I thought was, “Is this Karen’s brother??” But no, he was born in the late 1800’s, so he would be WAY too old to be the brother of “The Carpenters” from way back in the 70’s. The text is from Robert Louis Stevenson’s collection of children’s poems, so it is a VERY easy text to sing, no challenge to look at and “analyze” and all that stuff. Interestingly enough, there is such a place called “Looking-Glass River” and it is in Michigan, runs through the middle (or so) of the lower peninsula, passes by DeWitt, MI, and the mouth is near Portland, MI. According to WikiPedia, it is supposed to be quite the nice place to go. So if you ever find yourself in mid-Michigan with some free time, go to “Looking-glass River Sanctuary” for some nice canoeing and fishing. Enough of the travelogue….a nice song, only 3 pages long, but in some places a nit tricky since the accompaniment leaves the singer on his/her own for a bit. Parts of it are very French Impressionist in character..think Ravel or Debussy piano works. Cool stuff.

Lessons are coming along. There are still a fair number of issues that I have still to resolve, and I am trying to work on them. This semester I am taking more time in practice rooms to work on things. It feels great! No more struggling to find time or rooms with this new scheduling program we have, no more trying to figure out if there will ever be time to sneak around stealing other people’s rooms when they leave for one reason or another…really good stuff.

Oh, and the Vocal Chamber Ensemble group that I am in is a real challenge! The other vocalist is a baritone from Korea, whose English is very lacking. The pianist is a good musician, a good coach, too, and because he is from Hong Kong, his English is pretty good, thank you very much. We worked for over 2 hours on Saturday, to good effect. I think. We worked on 2 of the 3 songs we are supposed to memorize, and cleaned up some of the note errors we were making. We still have a long way, and only 6 or so more weeks to do it in. If it sounds like I am concerned, I am! We all also have loads of other work to memorize, and I also have my graduating recital stuff to memorize. I do have some stuff fairly well done up, but with 12 or 13 pieces to memorize, one of them a contemporary work (meaning atonal) it is a chore and a half to do. Have to work more on it. Then of course there is the opera I am in early February (USA Premier of a Dvorak work in German) I have a very full plate. Enough kvetching…..we work, we enjoy, we remember that we wanted to do all this…..oy vey.

Outside stuff is going well enough…besides the opera with Calliope, there is a fairly good Christmas program with the Oriana Consort, and I also am in a trio of Renaissance musicians who are getting coached by Sarah Cantor. The other are two guys who play recorder, and are okay. I play Bass Viol and sometimes sing. We have one piece that we are working on by Landini, in which I sing and the other two play Great Bass recorders. It sounds like I am accompanied by a pipe organ! Great stuff…..I am curious as to what is in store for us in the future. Sarah also wants me to be in a trio group in January. We’ll see what happens.

I hope to have over half of my recital stuff memorized before December 15 or so. We’ll see what happens. My collaborative pianist, Raymond Chak-Ming, is great to work with. He is patient, and very helpful. He has helped me to clean up some things, has suggested some slight, but good, changes to the order of my program, and is really god about helping with note learning for the Hettrick song, The Village Blacksmith. It is about 5 or 6 minutes of singing to the accompaniment of an electronic tape of processed Blacksmith sounds. This should be interesting….or something. I’ll be doing this not only in my own recital but in Jared’s as well. Oh, for those of you who don’t recall, Jared Hettrick is a composition here at Longy. Good composer, and from what I hear, there are a number of us who are going to be singing his works in our recitals.

Aside from all of this, and helping out on weekends here at St. Barbara Parish in Woburn, and singing at St Francis Parish in Medford, not much else is going on. Sort of. Loads of things on the personal front, having fun with “the kids” and keeping teachers on their toes, keeping myself out of trouble (sort of), thins just diddy bop along! There have been loads of things that have happened that I keep telling myself, “got to tell the folks back home about this” and of course I forget these things almost as soon as they happen. One thing I have been doing a lot of is weaving. I’ve done more weaving in the last month or two than I have in a very long time. I picked up a big load of yarn made with wool that I was gifted with, and have been using that up. Or at least trying to. Right now I am working on a pattern called “Missouri Check” in a  weave structure called Huck Lace Effect. Yeah…next time I’ll try to remember to include a picture of what it looks like. Its turning out really nicely as I used white yarn for the warp (long way) and grey for the weft (cross thread). All I have to do is try to remember where I packed my camera, replace the batteries and get picture snapping! I’m also going to be including them on my Facebook page, so you can look there, if you are on Facebook.

Which reminds me, I am also trying to work up a few concerts in the parishes I serve. Two here at St Barbara and one at St Francis. I’m trying to make some performance opportunities for the kids and for me, as far as that goes. Nothing like practicing for what one is going to be doing!

So…NOW I think I’m all done. I will try harder to include more curious things next letter I write, as well as some pictures of the weaving I’ve been doing. Some of it has not turned out as well as I had hoped because the weft was too big for the warp. Oh well. At least I finally used up some of my huge yarn stash! I’m still at SABLE stage. however (Stash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy).

Take care, everyone….have a good Halloween, and whatever other holiday may pass before I write again!


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