Saturday, October 6, 2012

I Heard the Bells.

Here are the Lyrics:
"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

I love this song for several reasons:

Every verse takes a different mood, as the author takes an emotional journey through observation, cogitation, rejection, recognition and revelation.   Henry felt real emotions when writing this on Christmas day 1863:  He still bore physical and emotional scars from a 1861 fire that killed his wife Frances, when he heard that his soldier son Charlie had been badly (possibly fatally) wounded in November 1863 in the US Civil war that Henry did not support
.  In reading or singing the words, every verse takes a different tone, speed and feeling while still repeating (like the bells) the words "Peace on Earth, good will to men".
Yule Tide Favorites Cover
Several very good composers have written melodies to the poem.   Johnny Marks has a version of it, written alongside the songs he wrote for the 1964 stop-motion "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer".  It it was not included in the TV production, but it is often recorded beautifully by solo singers from Bing Crosby above   to Rockapella. 

The melody and harmony in the "Yuletide Favorites" book (without all the lyrics, thus this post) was made in
1872 when the British church organist and composer John Baptiste Calkin discovered that a melody he'd written in 1848 named "Waltham" fit the poem flawlessly.  His music is found across England and back to the USA in many hymn-books.   Choirs and congregations still use Calkin's melody.

The Timberliner's Chorus  will add this song to their Yuletide repertoire for 2012.  We already own copies, the harmonies are well-suited to barbershop style, and I'm especially fond of the "mu" chord first heard on the word "wild".

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Short Bio

Assignment: write a quick 150 word short bio for "Mass" program. Here goes.

Gary Shannon is delighted to debut with Bravo! Vancouver in "Mass" At his age, it's fun to debut ANYTHING (or write this hundred-and-fifty word bio in third person). Like all working musicians, he does some of everything (lately more than ever), including performing vocally (with big or little groups on tenor, baritone, counter-tenor, or whatever), on piano and organ (lots at little churches), acting (usually a suicide, a butler, or both), writing (a concerto, some musicals, and an opera you've never heard of), arranging (that maybe you've heard of from the Portland Symphonic Choir or The Dickens Carolers), teaching (singing lessons online at, directing and conducting (Portland's beginner barbershop men's chorus that somehow makes a profit). Some nice awards made no huge or star career, but it's been loads of fun. Thanks to everyone, especially Janet, for a wonderful everything. You have a wonderful everything, too. There: 150.
oh, pics:

Leonard Bernstein's Mass

Performing once only with
Bravo! Vancouver Chorale and Orchestra
Feb. 12, 2012 •2:00 pm

Commissioned in 1971 by Jacqueline Kennedy for the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Leonard Bernstein's "Mass" blends sacred text, human emotions and musical styles - from Classical to Sacred, Rock, Blues and Jazz. Broadway baritone Douglas Webster produced the 30th Anniversary of Mass at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II, and will sing the lead role in our production. Join the Bravo! Chorale, guest soloists, and Chamber Orchestra for a 40th anniversary concert performance of this musical masterpiece.

I'm in the role of "Preacher". Here's a version of my jaunty song, "God Said", that won't give away the surprises in the lyrics.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Barbershop vs Opera

Letter in my inbox:

I'm having vocal difficulty while singing Barbershop Tenor or Lead. I sing flat sometimes, and it really bothers me just how fast that I can drop in pitch. I struggle with it constantly. It's one of the main things that we're working on in my vocal training. Also, my voice cracks a lot more than it use to. We're working on that too.

Should I go back to singing tenor? or Lead? or not at all? I'm told that I should not push at all in barbershop tenor. I'm not sure that style of singing is compatible with my classical training. I love classical singing, but I also love barbershop. My voice teachers think that my voice is better suited for classical. I want to make myself happy, but I love to make others happy as well.

Yours, T.

They are right: you do not push at all singing barbershop tenor... or any other part, either. It strains the muscles and sound, is not pleasant, and often under pitch. You hear singers doing that in both styles of music, and it's unpleasant in both.

Yes, I do sing both classical and barbershop, and do well at both. The "Do Not Strain" rule is true in both classical and barbershop. so is "Beauty At All Costs." You have to make them come true for yourself. No director or coach can MAKE you do it. They can remind you, yes, but you still, every note, have to do it yourself.

I see only a few reasons to choose one style over the other. One is what suits your personal voice best. Luciano Pavarotti is a fabulous opera tenor. That voice as barbershop tenor, or even lead would not be a good fit. There is also the matter of availability of opportunities and competition for performing spots in your area: If you have many opportunities to sing and perform in one role and few in another, that will be a factor on what to chose. Another reason is time. Every minute you are working on barbershop tenor, you are not learning classical or operatic literature and technique. You might only have the time to master one. Which do you chose? What fits best. If you have all the time you want, do both.

Yes, there are different techniques... you have to consciously shift back and forth - chest, head, heavy, light, full, falsetto - between styles and within styles. Do both? Sure. just realize it's two separate studies with much in common and some at odds. Keep them straight, you will do fine.

The last part - you need NOT make a permanent decision. Ever. Try both. Try one. Try neither. Change you mind. It's all good. What makes you happiest? What makes more of everyone else on the planet happiest? If you make a wrong choice, as long as you don't burn any bridges, all is well.

Yours, Gary Shannon
I teach online voice lessons! My passion: Your art.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


ALLREGRETTO: When you're 16 measures into the piece and realize you took too fast a tempo

ANGUS DEI: To play with a divinely beefy tone

A PATELLA: Accompanied by knee-slapping

APPOLOGGIATURA: A composition that you regret playing

APPROXIMATURA: A series of notes not intended by the composer, yet played with an "I meant to do that" attitude

APPROXIMENTO: A musical entrance that is somewhere in the vicinity of the correct pitch

DILL PICCOLINI: An exceedingly small wind instrument that plays only sour notes

FERMANTRA: A note held over and over and over and over and . . .

FIDDLER CRABS: Grumpy string players

FLUTE FLIES: Those tiny mosquitoes that bother musicians on outdoor gigs

FRUGALHORN: A sensible and inexpensive brass instrument

GAUL BLATTER: A French horn player

GREGORIAN CHAMP: The title bestowed upon the monk who can hold a note the longest


SPRITZICATO: An indication to string instruments to produce a bright and bubbly sound

TEMPO TANTRUM: What an elementary school orchestra is having when it's not following the conductor