Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Why are you passionate...

This question in a Learnivore job application via ZipRecruiter stumped me for a while:
3.  Why are you passionate about this field?   
My gut answer is
  • Because I can't help it.  I've always been passionate about music and everything to do with it.  Playing instruments, freely singing, composing and arranging new harmonies and melodies, working with ensembles, staging and presentation, and connecting to composers and players and audiences thrill me.  I always am eager for more.  Even when I'd best be resting, sometimes I am awake all night and day enjoying and creating ways to make music.  I have no idea why I'm made this way."
As true as that is, it didn't satisfy the question WHY.  It seems obsessed,  emotional. and unreasonable.  I had to dig deeper to find why an intelligent, balanced, thoughtful man would foster this consuming obsession in himself.  What I sent more answers the question:  "Why should EVERYONE be passionate about this field?"

  • I'm passionate about music because it makes everybody involved better people. It's art, communication, teamwork, beauty, improvement, cooperation, learning, enjoyment, and even love, all in one experience.

Yes, that's true and I'm happy.  Is that a good answer for you?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Brahms' German Requiem expressions translated.

As done before, here are translations for

Brahms' German and Italian Expressions in English.

Ein Deutches: A German (Brahms would have gladly called it "Human" ref.)

Requiem: [from Latin requiem, "rest"] Service for the time of death.

Ziemlich langsam:  quite slow

und mit Ausdruck: and with expression

legato:  smoothly
dim.: diminuendo  softening

espress.:  espressivo:  expressively  
dolce:  sweetly

Langsam:  Slowly
marschmäßig:  March moderately

Etwas bewegter:  Somewhat moving

un poco sostenuto:  a little sustained.

Allegro non troppo:   moderately fast.

tranquillo:  tranquil

Andante moderato:  moderately slow.

Mäßig  bewegt:  Moderately animated (in tempo)

Langsam:  Slowly.
m.v.:  (mezza voce: half voice) quiet, retrained

Andante:  Walking tempo.  Slow  
sotto voce:  whispered.  Literally "under the voice"
Vivace: lively tempo

Allegro:  happy tempo.

Feierlich:  Solemnly.

Monday, March 25, 2019

O Susanna

 "Something so old no one knows it", 

quotes "Oxford American, a Magazine of the South" in 2012.  The article inspects recent recordings and the political, historical, and racial nuances of the old song.   I'm more practical as a musician:  I want to know "How does the song actually go so we can sing it as the author intended and the audience will like it?"  Well, they're right:  nobody quite knows how it goes.

Steven Foster wrote the words and tune in the late 1840's, but the sheet music publications of 1848 don't agree on the details of O Susanna's exact words or rhythms.  Two sheets claim "oldest publication" in 1948. New York's C. Hold Jr. publication displays "Christy Minstrels" and "G.N. Christy" prominently.  Baltimore's F.D. Benteen credits "The Ethiopian Serenaders" and "Wells" for singing and writing it.     Music Publisher W.C. Peters of Cincinnati had known and worked with Stephen Foster before.
Stephen Foster isn't credited on any of them, so none gets preference.  

Gosh, his manuscript would be priceless, but it's nowhere to be found yet. "Beautiful Dreamer" and "Old Black Joe", we've got the mss copied online, if you care to pay to peek at them.
Where the written versions differ, I can use original recordings, but not for O Susanna.  The first well-known recording, made in 1925 by vaudeville performer Arthur Fields, sounds familiar  with skipping rhythms and a bright bounce.   He doesn't sing the rhythms consistently, but he includes all four disaster-riddled verses with cheery delivery.   So it does serve as an early popular example of how at least one fellow sung it and sold a lot of copies, but decades after Stephens death in 1864 doesn't really tell us why the song was so popular in the first place

But this isn't 1848,  it's 2019.  So the question becomes, "How do people like to hear and sing it now".   To answer that, you do a survey of regular folks and what they recall of the song.   After interviewing a half-dozen folks, I learned this:

~ Almost everyone knows of "Oh, Susanna" and heard it in elementary school.
~ Almost everyone sings it in a lively tempo and snappy rhythmms

~ Everybody sings the words "Oh!, Susanna" on the notes fa fa la la, ...
~ Nobody has heard it sung fa fa fa la (as most early editions write it.)

~ Almost everyone fumbles the words.

~ Almost everyone remembers "banjo on my knee"
~ But are unsure if it's "a banjo" or "my banjo".   (It's "my" in the sheet music.)
~ A few mention the word isn't "going", it's "gwine" and important to keep.
~ Most know about "come from", "Lou'siana", and "Alabama"...
~ but not exactly where "I come from" or "I'm gwine to".

~ Early editions start "I come", but a few singers start with "Oh, I come..."

~ Most know about a verse about "It rained" "the weather".  Many can sing parts it.
~ Some know about a verse about a "dream the other night".  Few can sing parts of it.
~ Few heard of a verse about New Orleans, maybe.  None could sing any of it.
~ No one knows anything about a verse "riding a telegraph".

Those tell what's familiar and wanted in a sing-along:

I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee. 
I'm gwine to Lou'siäna my true love for to see.
It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry,
The sun so hot I froze to death.  Suzanna, don't you cry.

Oh, Suzanna, Oh don't you cry for me.
I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee.

I had a dream the other night when ev'ry thing was still.
I though I saw Suzänna a-comin' down the hill.
The buckwheat cake was in her mouth, a tear was in her eye.
I said "I'm comin' from the South.  Suzanna, don't you cry."

Oh, Suzanna, Oh don't you cry for me.
I come from Alabama with my banjo on my...
 And I bet, if  the singers stop right there, the audience will still sing:
                                                                          ... knee.

Monday, March 18, 2019

What singers are thinking.

 Claudia Freelander blogged in 2018.

While Thom King’s iconic cartoon, “What They Think About When They Sing,” has entertained our community for some thirty years, I am honored to have created the first publication to reprint it with his permission and offer him my heartfelt thanks for the clean copy.

Bass Fishing, Soprano ovation, Baritone technique, Mezzo the baritone, Tenor money.
What they think about when they sing.

I admit to singing Tenor.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Flute advice.

I just enjoyed the honor of accompanying a talented teen in a flute contest.  Here is a summary of the judge's instant feedback, a nice lesson in itself:

Never breathe during a trill.   To prepare, find a place to breathe where you'll have plenty of air to do the notes leading up to and away from the trill, the alternating trill notes, the termination notes, and all the way to the end of the last note.
Trills match the tempo of the music around them, faster in fast tempos and slower in slow movements,
Nerves take the breath out of you.  Flute takes a lot of breath;  trills are especially inefficient.  In practice, give yourself more than enough breaths so you're ready for nerves in performance or competition, and still have plenty of breath.

Tune long notes, especially octave leaps, carefully.  Why do composers do that to us?   It easy for anyone to hear tuning issues when the note lasts a long time.

New skills, say you've just learned double-tonguing, won't be consistent.  Even so, don't give up on them, keep practicing, and use them.  If you don't use it, you lose it.

Exaggerate  dynamics.  You are doing them, but they should be more.  In a large hall, for an adjudicator who is far away, you'd need to shoot for far to much variation.   Practice doing far too much dynamic variation.   If you wonder if you're driving the audience crazy with your volume changes, it's probably just right.

Overall, it was a lovely performance.

I agreed.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Bocelli Backstage

From a colleague after hearing  23 June 2018 Concert with Andrea Bocelli, Oregon Festival Orchestra and Portland Symphonic Choir:
Hi Gary:
I sure enjoyed seeing you at the concert last night! 
I LOVED it!  I was blown away by the "back up band" being a full symphony, and choir!   I'm not an opera buff, and would have preferred a few more super-text lyrics, but my, what sound!  He can be a difficult performer to watch, since he does not use his body as sighted people do, but if you close your eyes, you find he puts everything he has into the song, great sensitivity and a purity of emotion.  I imagine even non musical folks connect with him at that aesthetic level. Of course, all the "encores" were rehearsed, but so satisfying for his fans.  I'm assuming the little girl on the edge of the stage was his daughter.  
It was fun to run through the choir with my field glasses and be surprised to see someone I know.  Inquiring minds want to know:
-- How long did you have the music?
-- How many rehearsals with the choir did you have?
-- How many with the orchestra?
-- How many with the talent?  Was it the same day as the concert?

-- Did you enjoy working with Andrea Bocelli? What was that like?

Well, just had to write and tell you how much I enjoyed the wonderful concert.   Well Done!
Kudos, V.
Hi, V,

I'm glad you had a great time.   Here are some answers you may certainly share:

Portland Symphonic Choir accepted the contract to provide 60 singers for the June concert in mid-April after negotiating since March.  As PSC's tenor section leader, I appointed the choral tenors and helped my colleagues in the other sections chose theirs.  There were a few substitute choristers on standby, and we needed them due to unexpected illnesses and such at the last minute.

We first had access to our music as online scans on May 29 and got paper copies during our first choral rehearsal on Monday, June 11.  We had one more choral rehearsal on June 18.  We learned some details about the conducting and tempi  from Doug Schneider, PSC's usual accompanist, who ran our rehearsals:  he'd been to their first rehearsal playing keyboards for the orchestra on June 17.

Our only rehearsal with the orchestra, conductor, and guest performers was at 4:00 on the day of the concert.  Andrea himself wasn't there as expected because his flight from Las Vegas had been delayed due to the president's flight commandeering the LV airport that day.  We only could only press on Andrea-less and hope he'd arrive on time for the show.  

The conductor had already toured with Bocelli and knew precisely how to predict his tempi and rubati.  I myself was asked to fill in for A in rehearsal, but I declined the nomination: Italian opera isn't my forte, I don't know A's typical nuances, and I had to practice my own job in the show.  The conductor wheezed some of the tenor phrases when they mattered for timing.    For us choristers, though, it was the usual game of FOLLOW-THE-STICK,  since the hall was so large, amplified and wet that we couldn't trust our ears for the beat. (Actually, we followed his right wrist - his stick technique is unusually florid.)   Rehearsal ended at 6:00  with no sign of Andrea.

Andrea arrived at the MODA center slightly after 7pm in a cortege of limousines, had a supper in his dressing room (we all got a catered a meal of cannoli and chicken piccata), and you saw what happened after that.
It's uplifting and inspiring to witness humans doing such remarkably difficult and and exacting artistry, even when you cannot hear clearly, cannot see their faces, and have your own part to play in the production.  Andrea's mezza-di-voce above the staff is well known and regarded, but hearing it done in real time is breathtaking.  I can do that sort of thing well about one time out of every ten tries:  he got it perfectly every time.   In the hundreds of notes he sang, I heard only two that were less than perfect - they they only proved that the fellow was human and doing this live. 

I kept (stole?) my music and backstage pass as memorabilia.

Yours, Gary Shannon
( 8-{D} balding, bespectacled, bearded happy guy, usually open mouthed.
I teach voice lessons online:  My Passion:  Your Art.