Opera Chorister for a week

Almost everyday I’m grateful for my choir. It is so unique and has given me so many opportunities and exposed me to so much unique music. And last week was no exception. Last week, when we premiered an opera. Yeah, it was a church opera, but we had professional soloists, a professional orchestra, and a professional director.

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Final Scene from Saturday performance (by Mark Christman)

The opera was called The Shoemaker and was written by local composer Stephen Paulus and local librettist Michael Dennis Browne. It was comissioned by a local church and based on a short story by Tolstoy, What Men Live By. Paulus and Browne had written a church opera, about fifteen years ago called Three Hermits, and this is to be a partner piece to that one. Unlike Three Hermits, Philip Brunelle and the Plymouth Congregational Church choir were given the opportunity to premiere this opera. And so, we did.

I’ve never been involved in anything in the theater. At least not since about third grade when I proudly played a Christmas Tree in a school pageant. And I guess I was one of the leads in a set of five Vacation Bible School plays in late elementary school or middle school, but the point is that I’d never been involved with anything involving a director. Or an assistant director. Oh yeah, and a professional orchestra. This was far outside my comfort zone.

That said, I did it. There were numerous rehearsals, dress rehearsals, etc. We had rehearsals with the soloists, without the soloists, and with a subset of soloists. We had rehearsals with Philip at the piano, Sonja at the piano (Philip directing), and full orchestra. Our last dress rehearsal started 4.5 hours before the first performance. Our costumes/choir robes are sweaty.

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Final Dress Rehearsal (by Mark Christman)

But despite the rough “tech” week and the bigger commitment needed to participate, I did it. And I’m exceedingly proud of being involved. But the cool thing is, I’m not the only one. The composer and librettist were at almost every single staged rehearsal. We were working with director Gary Gisselman who is a professional theater director and teaches at St. Olaf College. The soloists were mainly our church section leaders (and superb musicians) but they seemed to greatly enjoy this experience as well. And the soloists that Philip hired from outside the church also seemed like they felt blessed to be involved.

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Leads L-R: Simon the Shoemaker (Jim Bohn), Michael the Angel (Dan Dressen),

and Matryona the Shoemaker’s Wife (Krista Palmquist) (by Mark Christman)

The more we got into the music, the more deeply it became a part of us, floating around in our heads day in and out, even once the opera was finished. The music and lyrics are unbelievably gorgeous. (Luckily both performances were recorded by a professional choral sound engineer.) To see for yourself, check out the sound clip attached to this MPR article. (There are three songs in the piece, the second and third are sung by my choir.)

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Opening Chorus (by Mark Christman)

At first it was just bizarre. Goofy the way I stood up at one point to talk to the female lead. Awkward to hand out the props. (I handed off about half the props in the whole, minimalist show.) Frustrating trying to figure out when we were supposed to come in. Nerve-wracking doing anything (even a portion of the show) from memory. But by the second performance, during the Sunday service, in scene three, I had to avoid looking in areas of the congregation. Because people had tears running down their faces and I was desperately trying to keep it together and keep singing. At least one of the male leads was also crying, causing the nine year old girls to cry as well. And while part of the crying feeling for me was relief that this immense effort was over, another part was definitely sad. We were just getting into our groove! We were just getting to the point where we all had the lyrics to the final chorus memorized. It was just starting to gel. And then it was over. And we said goodbye to Stephen, Michael, Gary, Scotty (the AD), and the external leads. Then we turned in our music. Tomorrow will not be a better or a worse Sunday. Just very, very different. And less stressful on the voice. (And I go back to my place hiding behind the organ, not seeing anyone.)

For more:

The Star Tribune Article. (Missing some critical facts, btw).

The program (PDF).

More photos on Flickr.

Happiness is not a violin playing goat, but it is music

Today started off a little rough. I was worried I’d end up in urgent care because I’d had a migraine for between the last 3-5 days depending how you determine a migraine. My bus route is screwed up because of light rail construction, so my 25 minute bus ride now takes 35-40 minutes. Then I got a flu shot (thankfully I didn’t have to wait in line for 2 hours!).

I got into the office about 15 minutes later than usual and started talking to someone instead of just checking email and google reader, like I usually do. Still, I had a chance to read one blog before my 9:30 meeting. What blog did I pick? The King’s Singers blog, a random collection of the King’s Singers daily musings while on tour. Where did Paul run today? What does David think about the view from the hotel room? etc. Each of the guys has a day that they write and they write 1-3 paragraphs on a topic of their choice with or without pictures. (Sadly the RSS formatting is pathetic, i.e. non-existant, and the feed is such that you get the 25 most recent posts EVERY TIME THERE IS A NEW POST…but still I subscribe, which paid off today). So I clicked through to the post, to avoid the poor formatting, and saw a post from Paul.

‘Always live life to the full’, that’s my motto! Rather than spending a couple of relaxing days at home with my family, today I am in Minneapolis, speaking at the Music School Covocation at the University of Minnesota. I am of course extremely honoured to have been asked, and am delighted to speak with faculty members, students and members of the local community about my work with the KS, embracing the theme: ‘Engaging Audience and Community: A King’s Singer’s Perspective’. It’ll be a full day, coaching a massed choir, consisting of high school boys from the Twin Cities, and my presentation, followed by a reception. Then tonight, I’ll catch a flight at 2145, and arrive home at midday on Thursday, just in time for this week’s concerts in Chelmsford and Cambridge. I’m really looking forward to a quiet day at home on Sunday…..

WHAT? I jumped up. Minneapolis? Today? School of Music? That is literally a 10 minute walk away from my office. I typed school of music convocation umn into google. It started at 10. I ran to my 9:30 meeting. Then off across the mighty Mississippi to the School of Music.
It turns out that the Convocation is a big event. Last year’s speaker was Marin Alsop. This year the program included the department chair, a student speaker, the Graduate Student Trombone Quartet, Alexander Fiterstein (a new faculty member) on clarinet, and a massed choir including the University men’s chorus and several local high school men’s choirs. The massed choir had rehearsed with Paul beginning at 8am. I’d never heard Paul talk independent of the group or a group interview so that was fun and he got a chance to do some Q&A too.
I caught up with him afterwards. He was initially surprised to see me, but not really (“I should’ve known you’d be here.”) and we got a quick chance to tak before he was rushed off to chat with VIPs and I went back to being a CS student.
So that was fun and all…
Then I was late for my bus to choir. I’d been working in the lab and talking to Mikhil about papers that talk about the power of IM/Email/Social Media over face-to-face contact. I was looking for these because Paul was talking about this during his talk and the fact that people need to do studies to show the value of face-to-face contact. (I don’t think he knows my research area.) But I was late, so I was aiming for the 6pm bus, not the 5:30 or the 5:45 I’d planned. So I headed for the bus and popped in my headphones. My ipod was on shuffle and it was Paul’s voice with the King’s Singers on the most recent album that was playing as I waited at the bus stop. Then I looked down the street. No. Seriously? Yes. It was Paul, walking down the street, towards me. He stopped to talk. (Note: I did not stop him, he came up to me.)
I’d like to interject at this point to mention how WEIRD it is that I was listening to him sing on my ipod and he came up and talked to me. VERY STRANGE. So we talked about his day and what an hono(u)r it had been for him to come, about the fact that he hadn’t seen me around the school of music (because I’m studying computer science), about where I was headed (choir), about his crazy schedule (meeting the dean, coffee with Philip Brunelle – Paul: he’s the director of … me:I know who he is! I’m going to choir with him right now … Paul: he only got 2 hours sleep last night. he was in seattle.), about good choir directors, and about the hope that he could get some sleep on the plane (I am SO jealous of the flat beds in business class). All that in 10 minutes!
Then my bus came and he had to get back to the hotel for his 30 minutes of free time before heading to the airport to jet back to the UK. (He’d said earlier in the day that he wouldn’t hide me in his luggage so that I could go to the concerts this weekend.) So with a quick hug, we were off, me to choir and him to England (eventually). And now it’s almost 11pm and I should head to bed and wonder…when is the next time I will have a day that unexpected and surreal…in a good way?

Pieces for John Courter’s Memorial

For those of us who can’t be there today, here are two of the three pieces that will be sung at John Courter’s Memorial Service at Union Church today. Both feature John Courter on the organ and are sung by the Berea College Concert Choir, directed by Steve Bolster. The Agnus Dei is by Duruflé was recorded Fall 2002 at Berea Baptist Church. Wondrous Cross is arranged by Gilbert M. Martin and was recorded Summer 2002 during the Italy/Switzerland tour.

Agnus Dei
Wondrous Cross (Updated! Full version.)

Edit 2: The version of Wondrous Cross is now complete. Let me know if you have other problems with it.

Edit: Thanks to Kristina who pointed out that this upload of Wondrous Cross cuts out right near the end. I’ll check my other versions tonight when I get home and hope to have an updated version (with the full piece) posted by midnight.

In Memoriam: John Courter

There are posts we want to write, posts we don’t want to write, and posts we feel we must write. This is one that I do not want to write, but feel I should. I’ve known it was coming for a while, imminently for the past few weeks, and yet, I ignored it. I first got word that John Courter had died yesterday (Monday) morning via facebook. The news spread fast and I did not write a status message. I felt that it was not enough. I wanted to do more. And yesterday night I felt I could not write a blog post, but tonight I am sitting here in front of my computer, half of my screen filled with blogger.com, the other half with this picture.

Taken by a fellow choir member in Europe

I saw this picture and tears began running down my face. I had to stop and get the kleenex box, for all of us who knew him, this is one of the images we have of him. He was, to the core, a musician. Give him an instrument, he would play, and gorgeously. I first moved to Berea in 1998 and knew him primarily as our church organist, albeit not a typical one. Union Church was the first place I’d ever heard improvisations like the ones John did. (In the context of Union Church, he is John to me…in the context of Berea College, he is Mr. Courter.) Needing no music, he could weave between hymns, fill gaps in the service, and make music like no one I had ever heard in person. He would occasionally play the Widor Tocatta and had it printed, each sheet on a 3″ x 4″ sheet of paper, all of the papers stuck together on a large piece of cardboard. Asked about it one time, he explained that it wasn’t like he’d ACTUALLY be able to read it or follow along, but it felt like a good backup. Those were the smallest pieces of music we’d ever seen.
In the context of the church choir, which I was in (and out of) for a number of years, John provided an excellent ear and guidance. He was amused by clever lyrics combined with smart harmonies and wasn’t afraid to turn a blind eye to (or occasionally join) the disruptions of the bass section. Seeing him in this setting and in a concert or two, helped me change my goals for the future. I realized that I didn’t really like band nearly as much as choir and that the Berea College Concert Choir was a choir I’d want to be in if I went to Berea.
And, of course, I went to Berea…but before I got into the choir (my 2nd semester), I took a class on hymnody from Mr. Courter and Steve Bolster (I was still in high school). For two hours every day, we’d meet and the first hour would be lecture, the second, singing. I learned more about the Genevan Psalter in those four weeks than most people will know in their entire lives! Then when I started college, I worked in the Music Department as the Assistant to Dr. B/Steve. (Again the multiple names from living in the town and going to the college.) Mr. Courter rarely came into the student office, but I recall him being one of the most mild mannered professors there. At the same time, I didn’t dare take piano lessons from him, because he scared me a bit too much. Kindof the same logic that I wouldn’t take piano or voice lessons from my current choir director/organist….then he might find out just how bad I was! I did enjoy hearing tales of my friend J. who took organ and carillon lessons, however.
Second semester, I got into choir, and the choir went to Italy & Switzerland for tour. We left the day after graduation (Memorial Day) and while we were gone they were going to be moving the music department, so Mr. Courter had spent most of the past week attempting to pack up decades worth of carefully stacked music. He always knew where everything was, but that wouldn’t have been clear to a bystander! He came to the bus straight from packing his last box. In Italy, we saw a new side of Mr. Courter. This was the side that didn’t back down to the monk at the Vatican who tried to push him off the bench so that he (the monk) could play the postlude. Mr. Courter was not having any of that. He was Catholic, he was at St. Peter’s…he was playing the postlude. And play he did. I don’t recall the piece, but I recall that it was a hot summer day in Rome, as they often are, and I wanted to lie on the marble floor to be able to feel every single vibration of the music as it rippled across the massive cathedral. (I restrained myself.) Then, in Siena, in another duomo where bare shoulders, bare toes, and knees were verboten, we had 5 minutes to change for the concert. All of us were led to a room to the side of the main hall and told to change. So we did. Several choir members remain scarred for life from that experience.
One thing that is not evident, from my flipping through my Italy photo album, is that John Courter was immensely respected among his peers. Not just at Berea, but in the wider musical world. So much so, that my dad called to tell me a few weeks ago the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America, when they learned that John was dying, decided to do a concert of his works in honor of him at their summer meeting. Search for his name on YouTube and you’ll find videos of him playing postludes at Union Church, but also of people playing HIS compositions in the US and the Netherlands. I’m talking to my brother right now on IM and we’re discussing how on Thursday at 3pm, Union Church will be bursting to the seams with people coming to honor John’s life and work. He would have turned bright red at this notion, but he was deeply loved by his community. I will not be there to sing the three pieces for massed choir that he had chosen, though I will play them on my laptop while the service is live. I do not think I could sing though my tears, so perhaps it is best to have a large choir. I have delegated my voice (though not notes) to my parents, but I know many who are closer, who will be in attendance.
As with much sadness, there is good that comes of this. John is no longer suffering from cancer, which he had been doing for several years. And he has left behind a throng of students, music and non-music, who he has influenced. For I look at the status messages of those I am friends with on facebook who have taken the time to write something and I figure that the number of students he has impacted, over his 39 year career at Berea, must be at least 1000 times that. As for me, personally, I think of him when I hear the Berea graduation marches, the Widor Tocatta, or any arrangement of Wondrous Cross. I just hope they have a carillon in heaven, otherwise they’ll need to get building.

Music and Meaning

(Written Thursday afternoon) For me, many pieces of music hold distinct memories. Some are unlocked simply by the title, composer, or performer, but some are held within the music itself. Music that I spent hours with in college, but had since forgotten. I’m at the North Central American Choral Director’s Association convention this week and there are lots of concerts involved. This morning the Dordt College Choir sang a song called Ngana by Stephen Leek. On paper, it rang no bells. But then came the first notes, and my voice wanted to cry out. I knew every single note. I don’t know what semester we sang it, but I remember wrestling with it and, subsequently falling in love with it.

This past Sunday, we sang a setting of When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, as the middle hymn. All I could think of was singing it with the choir at Berea. Holding hands with two tenors, surrounding the congregation, and singing my heart out. To me, that song meant concert choir. It meant that I was part of a community and that I was bound to the people next to me, both literally (during the song) and figuratively (during the semester). It also meant that my eyes wouldn’t necessarily be dry at the end of the piece, but that, five years later, if I needed a favor, I could email or call many of those choir members and they would be more than willing to help me out. Because that’s the way choir works. And while I still have some of that in my choir today, it’s a little different. Because in some ways I feel like a church is supposed to be like that anyways.

The Iowa State Singers are singing right now. I first encountered them at the national convention in 2005, and, amusingly, one of their cds is the ONLY overlap between my and Ben’s cd collection. But they just sang a piece by Cyrillus Kreek. In 2004, I went to six King’s Singer’s concerts in Germany and Austria over eight days and 1000 kilometers. The first of these was in Waldsassen, a tiny German town on the Czech border, in a massive cathedral. One of the most wonderful and eerie songs they sang in their religious program was Onnis on inimene by Cyrillus Kreek. Kreek’s music was getting slightly more well known, but I could only find one group that had recorded Onnis. To remember how the haunting Alleluias went, I wrote the notes in their relationships to each other, in my journal. That was my introduction to Cyrillus Kreek. A massive Eastern European Cathedral on spring break, sung by six English men. (For fun you can also imagine I was surrounded by Germans, I don’t speak German, no one clapped during the concert, and I had arrived two minutes before the concert started, after ten hours of travel.) It’s amazing, in some ways, that these college students from Iowa can transport me halfway around the world and six years back in time, but they can. That’s the power of music.

And because you made it this far… here’s a video clip for you of the Real Group. Because I am kindof obsessed with them now. And I was contemplating starting my own Swedish Acapella Jazz Group. But then I remembered I wasn’t Swedish, so there was another failed life plan. Enjoy!


P.S. ACDA conventions are more fun as an interloper (i.e. non choral-director) with Kate and Keith to stalk famous people with hang out with.

Unpopular music vs. Teeny boppers

I have almost never listened to any music that would be considered remotely popular for my age bracket. I grew up with Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Bach, and Byrd. Canadian Brass were pretty crazy for my classical world, but still acceptable. Dad introduced me to his music, but that was still more folk or rock than pop… Stan Rogers, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel. On my own I discovered the world of the musical, starting with basics like Godspell, Andrew Lloyd Webber and the 90s Disney musicals.
In eighth grade I briefly decided to attempt to be “cool” for a while and listened to the radio for a year. I listened to top 40 for a year and got very bored, so when I moved to Kentucky, it was back to my music. In high school, I’ll admit I liked Backstreet Boys and N’Sync, but that was the extent of my interest in popular music. (Yes, I was a cliche, but that is gone now, thankfully. Unless you count this rendition of Get Down, sung by the Vienna Boys Choir. I listened to it for the first time in the ER waiting for migraine meds. I couldn’t stop laughing. It helped make the pain go away. Nothing like Austrian choir boys with British enunciation telling you to “get down, get down and move it all around,” to make you laugh hysterically. Then they rap. The album was a steal at Cheapo for the number of hours of laugher it has provided.)
In college I branched out slightly further (thanks to Rachel and Shoshana) and became a fan of Seven Nations, a celtic rock band. We drove up to four hours to see them and learned the hard way about the fact that Kentucky was in multiple time zones. We also got stuck on the Bluegrass Parkway at 3am on Easter morning. That was fun. We definitely didn’t dance to music on our laptops in the middle of the highway. The picture makes them look hippie, but they have fiddle, bass, guitar, bagpipes, and drumset. This is the only pies without the drumset.
Over the past few years I’ve been incorporating more of a mix of music into my ipod mix. Most recently, I’ve incorporated the new Pink Martini album (surely it has nothing to do with the smooth vocals of NPR justice correspondant Ari Shapiro) and They Might Be Giants (not their new science album, but an older less geeky one. Still my ipod primarily plays non-hip stuff…classical, folk, LOTS of NPR, and some audiobooks (currently Stiff by Mary Roach).
All this means that when I do start listening to things that don’t fall into these categories, say, Mika… I feel like a teeny-bopper. I feel like I’m sitting on the bus bopping my head like I’m 12. And I’m secretly afraid that I’m going to be busted for it. Yeah, I know this is bizarre. (Albeit deserved for some of my music, but not this stuff…) I don’t know exactly what it is: his vocal range (3.5 octaves, meaning that he often sings in my range), the fact that his average fan is probably younger than me, the driving beat, the European-ness of it all? Anyways, that’s what’s been going through my head tonight. I’ve finally bought more than the one single track off of iTunes. I wanted to buy a physical cd, but then I decided that was stupid (and would take too long).
The King’s Singers sang their gig with Mika tonight, so I’m hoping that now that they’ll stop talking about preparations on their blog, I’ll be able to ween myself off the music… worst case scenario, I’ll have some new boppy music, good for workouts and when I need to wake myself up. The other good thing is that it has been really productive music for me to work to, so that’s something. I just can’t help feeling like I’m pretending to be 13 when I listen to the music.

King’s Singers

If you know me, chances are that sooner or later you’ll hear about the King’s Singers. They’re a British (check) primarily classical (check) men’s (check) a capella (check) sextet. In other words they’re one of the most ideal forms of music ever! I discovered them in 1998 after my family learned about the world of a capella music through the E.D.L.O.S. I didn’t meet them until a year later. Now I’ve seen them in 22 concerts in four countries. I’ve gotten to concerts by train, car, foot, and bicycle. I’ve sold cds, gone to dinner with them, and stayed overnight with another fan because the youth hostel was locked. They know my family by name, tease me when appropriate (when is it not appropriate?), and have insisted that I be brought my dessert by a negligent waiter. And yes, they haven’t been to Minneapolis since I’ve been here, but they insist they aren’t avoiding me.
In Danville in 2001 with Paul Phoenix. He’d just made a crack about my height. He never ceases to crack me up, but is also capable of being quite serious. He also has a stunningly gorgeous voice. (Not a big surprise, but should be mentioned…)
In Danville in 2001 with Stephen Connolly. I think that Steve is the official prankster of the group and he’s now in charge of the YouTube channel and the podcast as well. He’s a fisherman, so Dad tied him some flies and this is the picture of Steve “with his flies open” HAR HAR HAR. Two years later we saw them again in Danville and he said he remembered nothing about the venue, then he walked into the lobby and remembered the flies. After the concert he told me I should contact him to see about getting tickets for concerts in Germany over my Easter holidays (I was at the University of York the coming semester), which led to some of the craziest travel adventures I’ve ever had!
In March 2002, my friend Stefanie and I drove up to New Albany, IN with my dad to see the group again. Dad made the most fantastic dinner ever (which he usually does, only now he gives some of the food to the guys too). We managed to get a group picture, but with a side of funny. I am doubled over laughing in the middle picture because Gabriel is about to fall over. Stefanie cracks me up, cause she’s just standing there beaming in all three pictures, not moving. Obviously, the three of us on the right were having issues.
As previously mentioned, in spring 2004, I was in Europe and I had a month “off” to study for exams/travel around Europe. I did a bit of both. The King’s Singer were touring around Germany and Austria for the first week of my vacation, so that’s where I started. I logged a total of 1750 km (according to Google Maps). My first day was a bit of a disaster, since my Eurorail pass wasn’t validated and the people in the station didn’t know what to do with it. I ended up arriving in Waldsassen Germany (pop. 7500) about 5 minutes before the show at Waldsassen Abbey. The next day I walked for an hour before someone gave me a lift to Shirnding. A completely UNSOLICITED lift I will add for the sake of my mother. That they had decided to offer before they could have possibly known my gender… I will say though, that despite bahn.de lying to me about the bus service to Waldsassen, I did sleep in one of the most comfortable beds in my life there. The next day my camera died, but I went to Klagenfurt, Austria, then back to Germany to Munich, Darmstadt, Karlsruhe, and Brackenheim.

I hadn’t planned to go to Karlsruhe or Brackenheim and had no accommodations lined up. (Steve had talked me into it in Darmstadt…) Karlsruhe is a large university town, so I was fine, but Brackenheim is a village. At one point I planned to sleep in the cemetery. I was sitting in the parking lot of the church when the guys arrived. They invited me to sit in on their rehearsal and Robin Tyson handed me his camera and asked if I could take some pictures. Christopher Gabbitas had just joined the group (less than a month earlier) and they had no pictures of the group with Chris in them. So I took these pictures, which Robin graciously emailed to me a few weeks later as well.

This was my favorite and appeared on the group’s homepage for quite some time. I can’t find it there now, sadly. Dad used to tease me that I should have asked for credit…but I think I’ve gotten enough else though.
If you were wondering, this post’s been in my head because the guys are doing a concert on Wednesday with Mika, who I’d never heard of before. (Mika is apparently a pop singer. Here he talks to Liane Hansen.) In one of his blogs, though, Paul mentioned some of the lyrics of a Mika song they were learning. I am now officially addicted to the song Rain. Thanks Paul 🙂

Obsessions

I’m a strange person. For many reasons, but one of them is the way I treat new things. If I download some new music on iTunes, say the semester of choir music, I almost instantly become very attached to one of the pieces. I listen to it multiple times in a row, multiple times a day, for a few weeks. Then I’ve worn it out and go on to a new thing.

The thing could be a book, a piece of music, a musical artist or composer, a food, a blog, or a tv show. Recently some of these obsessions have been the song Popular from Wicked (music), Unicornis Captivatur by Ola Gjeilo (music), chocolate milkshakes, Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton (book – but his blog Roots and Grubs is a previous obsession), and The Girl Who Ate Everything by Robyn Lee (blog).

The music obsessions are the easiest and are usually cured with $.99 on iTunes and about 4-8 listens per day, usually on the bus. The blogs are the hardest because I can spend whole weekends going through archived posts. The book obsessions are odd, because usually I’ll only read the book once, but then I’ll reference it a lot and tell other people about it. Or, in the case of Hungry Monkey, I read it, then cook from it, tell people about it, AND watch all the press about it. (Tonight I made Yeasted Waffles with candied bacon a la Joy the Baker)

But one of the interesting side effects of this is that encountering the obsession at a later date brings back strong memories of the time of the obsession. Hearing Stan Rogers or Da Vinci’s Notebook brings me back to my dorm room in college, Gordon Lightfoot and the Cambridge Singers remind me of my parents’ house, and Kate Rusby of spring break in 2004 wandering around Europe. Nachos and ice cream sundaes are spring semester Senior year of college. Madeleine L’Engle with the spring of Junior year of High School when I read 30 of her books in a month for a “research project” at school.

So that’s a little insight into me…

The Magical Interwebs

So the internet is this cool thing. You can talk to people online, or as my mom would say “talk” to people online, and write letters, and download music, and record the minutiae of your life. Pretty fast and advanced and you can save shipping costs on purchases, right?

Wrong. I decided to buy the Eric Whitacre Concert Download. It’s an online download. I didn’t buy it on Friday or Sunday cause I hadn’t decided if I wanted to buy it yet. It’s $15, I’m a soon-to-be-poor grad student. I went online yesterday to buy it and noticed something strange. The price was listed as $15 plus shipping and handling. That’s odd, I thought to myself, why would they charge shipping on an online download.

The total cost for me will be $18.98. $3 shipping and $.98 tax. So. There are people that will address an envelope (at my church) and then mail it to me with a card in it. The card will have a code that I have to go type in on a website to get my download.

I told this to Ben and he came up with a good analogy: “It’s like I respond to an email with a paper letter, that I mail, and then they respond via email.” WHAT? Bizarre. I think I’ll call them tomorrow and see if I can stop by the office with $16 in hand in exchange for a magic code…

A scattered musical post

This weekend I went to several musical events around town. I went to the VocalEssence Community Sing with Eric Whitacre, the English Soireé by soloists at church, and the open rehearsal for the Eric Whitacre Extravaganza.

Usually if I love listening to a piece, I love singing a piece. The opposite is not always true. There are a number of pieces that I love singing, but they aren’t great listening pieces. I love music. Being surrounded by it and participating in the joy it provides. In my singing days I’ve enjoyed singing pieces from Pachelbel, Bach, Britten, Tavener, Duruflé, Schwartz, Swayne, etc. Whitacre is different (in a good way). Here’s what the Pioneer Press had to say “Teenagers are shouting from the balconies. The sellout crowd is on its feet, roaring its approval. The handsome young star stands center stage, pumping his fist, caught up in the excitement. You’re at … a choral concert at Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall.”

For those of you who are more visual, here’s the image. I described him to my dad as looking “kindof like a surfer dude.” Let’s just say there’s a reason why many of the women at the Friday event had brought their cameras. (A reason he also plays to by expressing that there’s a reason he writes for SATB and not TTBB, etc. He is married and has a son though…in case you wondered.)

Image from vocalessence


Whitacre burst onto the music scene in the 90s. By the time I encountered his music in 2002, he had made a name for himself in both the choral and band worlds. His music has a unique sound. He uses tonal clusters liberally and enjoys very textured lines. His work is mostly not-sacred, but conveys feelings that many sacred pieces convey.

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I just got off the phone with my dad and I think I’ve figured out how to word this. There are two primary types of music that give me goosebumps. (I’ll reserve the right to get goosebumps to other music as well.)

First is perfectly harmonious and resolved sections of pieces. The most recent example that I can think of is the last page of Hymn to the Creator of Light by John Rutter. (It’s the only Rutter piece I’ve ever heard that doesn’t sound like Rutter.) This is also the vibe I get from She’s Always a Woman or Down to the River to Pray by the King’s Singers. Exquisitely executed simple harmonies that appeal to the “pretty music” side of me. As I write I think of more examples: Ubi Caritas by Duruflé.

Second is music that conveys power and commands respect. My dad brought up the example of the countertenor in the top line of Henryk Góreck’s Totus Tuus, about 2.5 minutes in. This is the raw power that is conveyed in much of Whitacre’s work, be it a piece talking about love, Leonardo da Vinci, or the death of a child. The tonal clusters and clashing sound waves help to build the angst within the power and portray conviction.

I don’t feel as if I am really able to explain this in words. If there’s enough interest, I could make a cd that I think would be able to write my post much better than me.
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One of the really fun things in getting to sing with Whitacre at the Friday event and watching him at the open rehearsal was seeing him conduct his own music. I’d sung it before, but with other conductors. As Philip mentioned, it’s unusual these days for a composer to be able to conduct and Whitacre does it with ease and elegence. On Friday we started off with Lux Aurumque and sang the firs two measures without music about ten times before he stopped us and laughed, saying that he should have brought more than the 4 songs he’d planned for the 1.5 hours. I love the talent in this town. He’s very expressive and conducts almost all his pieces without music. His movements are like those of a dancer. My dad picked up on this by just looking at the still photos.

Images from vocalessence

Enough eye candy folks!
Some music is available on his myspace page and he also has a facebook page with most of the music from his techno-opera based on manga featuring kickboxing angels.
In summary: Eric Whitacre rocks and goosebump music is awesome.

A bonus prize for making it to the end of this scrambled post. Maria Jette sings in my church choir. She was one of the soloists on Saturday night, having rushed over from the Prairie Home Companion taping in downtown Minneapolis, where she sang Air on a G String. Not exactly your grandmother’s Bach.