Meme is not just a musical warm-up exercise

Kay at Kay's Thinking Cap tagged me with that meme. You know, the one that asks you to reveal all the sordid, mucky details you've swept under the rug about yourself. The one about your ex- that makes it to the top of Google rankings and gets you into a world of trouble.

Just kidding. I don't have secrets. I just have multiple lifetimes of juicy living. And no more than half are X-rated. Yet.

Back to the meme. I'll be tagging some folks, irritating the heck out of some of them, I'm sure. It's kinda like getting those "send this 'friends forever' cutesy poem to everyone in all your address books in the next ten minutes or your cat goes in the river" e-mails.

Memes do two things for me, though. They usually call for at least a brief moment of introspection, which is usually a good thing. They also alert me to blogs that I usually fall in love with. When you're an elderblogger, you tend to meet exceptional people with interesting experiences and decent writing skills, messing around in non-traditional media (for that age group).

When I wrote as The Good Musician, I posted some pearls of wisdom from Margaret Hillis, long-time conductor of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. The coolest thing happened. One of the comments was from a person who adjusted my faulty memory regarding the specific performance in the conversation. It was a thrill to correspond with someone else who had worked for her and appreciated her as much as I did. I savor the essence of music distilled by a lifetime of peak musical experiences. Then share that joy with other music lovers as often as possible. Doesn't have to be classical. I still get turned on by CSNY, tears my heart out. Standing 6 feet from Janis onstage at the Texas International Pop Festival (whole roll of photos--her gorgeous purple and blue outfit), begging me to take another little piece...

Geez, haven't even gotten into the meme yet. Guess I'm not s'posed to yet. Still sore from the concert last night, still have those tone clusters in my head, still awash in the ethos. Doing my own internal debriefing. Music reviews 'R Us.

There are several key components to a vocal chamber ensemble performance, beginning well before the actual concert. Preparedness--how successfully did the group organize and learn not only the material, but how to make an ensemble sound--how to listen and blend. How to present a musical experience the composer would love. How to relate what the composer intended to the listeners. What do the words mean? How does the composer use music to emphasize that meaning? Above all, has the group found the natural phrasing of the piece? The flow that the composer heard?

Professionality--how well did the group commit to making the best sound 100% of the time? Not wasting time in chit-chat or non-essentials while the group has a few precious hours together to get the ensemble sound in their ears, the transitions, the modulations to smoothly connect sections. How willing are the singers to blend rather than blast, use their ears as part of their voice--it's all connected--all the same physical mechanism. The vocal chords vibrate the whole body, and the ears are right next to the throat. Use those vibrations to inform your sound production to sing dynamically correctly and in tune. Critical skills for a professional ensemble singer--you have to be willing to match pitch and diction with every other singer in your group, which requires both ears all the time. That's just for openers.

Performance practice--I don't mean how you get up and down from the stage. I mean are you aware of how the Baroque sound differs from the Romantic. It's a little like role-playing. Baroque instruments sound like this, so their technique of playing them would be like this. The instrument couldn't sustain a sound like a modern one does, so there would have been more separation between the notes in general, a lighter, sparer sound. You can go fairly bombasto in the Romantic. Deep, lush, gigantic orchestras, hefty singing. A conductor friend once said that when performing in the Baroque style, think lace. When doing Romantic, think velvet. Your voice has to make that distinction as well.

Experience--if you prepare properly, you can improve your sound. You can build your skills and get better. Over time, the piece will viscerally become part of you. Those vibrations will have imprinted on your body as well as memory. As you work on a piece over the years, you learn what to listen or look out for. You've memorized it long before now, so that you can swim in the flow with your fellow singers and conductors to really enjoy the music and the experience. It never stops building. The music becomes an old friend, and as such, it's more and more satisfying.

The Music Is The Thing. Not you, not your ego, not your neighbor's annoying habit of humming their part when another section is rehearsing theirs. A rehearsal no-no. Destroys focus and concentration. Do that outside of rehearsal. The sounds need to be in your ears and head before they can be sung well. You might even say it disrupts the harmony of the group (pun intended). It isn't about you. It's about sharing what the composer wrote and felt with someone else as authentically as you can, using proper technique and musicianship. The difference between playing notes and making music is proper phrasing. You have to find where the arrival points are and the most musical way to get there.

Meanwhile, I'm sore from holding up music, breathing deeply, using lots of muscles to support a dimenuendo fading to niente, a four hour round trip by car to Round Top, an up til 3 a.m. visit with my best friend from Princeton Thursday evening and Friday morning, and incomplete recovery from the Thursday night concert. It's time to get a cup of tea, take a couple of anagesic, and take a nap!

Kay, apologies for the side-track--I really will do the meme!


Concert of Hope--AVAE performs 11/13/08

The Austin Vocal Arts Ensemble sings "Poetic Voices," settings by contemporary composers of Shakespeare, Donne, Spenser, and other greats tomorrow night at Hope Presbyterian Church 8:00 p.m. John McLean weaves the lush sounds of Vaughn Williams, dello Joio (who passed away this year after a long, productive life in music), Barber, and Whitaker, calling on the considerable talent in the ensemble. A big hug for Nick and Julie Boltz, music directors and fabbo singers/pianist. They hosted AVAE rehearsals as well, allowing the ensemble plenty of time to learn the music in a superb performance space.

This has been a lovely concert period, getting to know a new director and new singers. John (or Mac) is a musical dynamo, with a vast amount of knowledge, warm-up and rehearsal technique, and visceral understanding of the gestalt of music. His tempi are always intuitive, and he brings his singers into his aura to take particular care in their execution of the piece, on every level. We always have a comfortable, satisfying workout. Or at least I do, from how well the group sounds, I assume most everyone else does too.

There's a run-out concert at the Festival Institute at Round Top this Saturday. So if you don't catch the program here, you can take a nice drive in the country for the Choral Festival.

Now, to load up my black folder...


Recovering from PTSD

A few posts back I mentioned Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Iraq and US citizenry. Seems other minds are thinking the same way. I subscribe to OpEd News, and Rob Kall has an interesting take on what he calls PPPTSD, or political, partisan post traumatic stress and "learned helplessness" in the aftermath of the last eight years.

I've also written about PTSD as an all-too-frequent outcome for significant others in an alcoholic relationship. It's tough to live in balance when your president is behaving like an alcoholic bully. Unfortunately, this kind of scenario turns violent quickly, and can put a lot of people in harm's way for what is essentially an adolescent hissy-fit. Best get a lot of distance.

There are new estimates that 300,000 of our military suffer from PTSD, and 320,000 have traumatic brain injuries. We should be helping those men and women out. It's real, and it's the right thing to do. We're going to need lots 'o nurses, doctors, medical facilities, counselors, mental health professionals as well as physical. There's a good place to put money for education. Taking care of our wounded. What a concept.

There's a lot of work to be done. This time I think we have a chance to get some things right. Truth, justice, and the American Way, in the broadest sense. Traveling and living abroad gives one an entirely different perspective of home. We're all on this planet together, and we'd be vastly enriched if we joined the global community. Trade, yes, but broadening minds as well. We all have a lot to learn, and a huge stake in working together to fix this joint up right.

Does anybody know if Mitchell's Herb Acre still exists? I think they were in Oregon. Carried lots of unique things, like saffron bulbs, and quite reasonable. That's my dream. To grow and sell herbs for women. Black and blue cohosh, valerian, angelica root, all those earthy, Capricorn herbs. Good for every stage of life, menarche, pregnancy, childbirth, menopause and beyond--saved my life. Get an Australian Shepherd again. And a decent computer system that will accomodate all my RPGs. I've already run out of room on my current rig. Dontcha hate that?

Our mom lived in Chicago for nearly 35 years. When she died, we had a little ceremony at the end of a pier in the lake and scattered her ashes. It was stunning to watch them descend, the sunlight filtering through revealing curious fish attracted by the sparkles. To think that the cycle of life was complete.

And then on election night, watching the ocean of people in Grant Park, where I have been, with my mother, and know that she would have been on the Obama team from before his senate run. She would have been there to hear his first, historically and intellectually memorable speech that was the turning point in getting us up out of this muck.

A very long way to go, but I sure feel great about finding ways to help us all get back together again. Even to the point of considering...just maybe, you understand...actually attending my 50th h.s. reunion. Who knows?

The scary dude above is my character in Two Worlds. Insanely buffed in weaponry, armor, magic, and that certain savoir faire.


Chief Technical Officer

I read somewhere that Obama will install a CTO should he gain the White House. Extra special good idea. Seems most of government tech development is military. Fat lot of good that does us. I would assume such a position would collaborate with all branches of government to upgrade communications so that e-mail doesn't get "lost," as so much has in the present administration. Use it as a real information tool.

Are you as obsessed with keeping up with the election stats as I am? The Daily Kos has a wonderful little tool to watch change as it happens.

Lots of good advice out there about protecting your voting rights. Don't pull the handle for a straight party ticket. Keep your camera phone handy to document anomalies or events. Report any sign of irregularity to a poll official. Don't believe flyers that tell you that you can't vote, for any reason. Take a camp chair or stool with you. Bring reading material, crossword puzzles, or knitting.

Above all, just get out and vote.