Sunday, October 21, 2012

Expand Your Mind:
Five Things about Placido Domingo

I heard an interview with Placido Domingo, world reknown artist and conductor, yesterday on NPR. I learned several things.

~Placido has a son, Placido,Jr., who also sings.

~Placido, at 71, continues to sing today. He stated, as only someone of his caliber can without appearly pompous, conceited, and arrogant, that he continues to sing because he knows that his appearances can fill concert halls aiding the financial stability of orchestras and operas around the world.

~Placido, known to the world as one of the leading tenors, now sings baritone roles. Not, as some may believe, because his range has lessened due to the aging process, but because he has sung all the tenor music and wants to challenge himself with new music. Imagine that: a man who has had such a career where he could be content to do what is easiest WORKING to LEARN new music.

~Placido has a new album coming out. It features him singing duets with other artists - in their style of singing. It demonstrates his prowess and ability to adapt to other styles. I will admit though - some "work", others don't. Remember the Julio Iglesias & Willie Nelson duet? That's how some sound to me. You can listen to several tracks here.

~The biggest surprise: Placido's family sings KARAOKE at family gatherings!!! This is the biggest shock to me. Most classically trained musicians shun those who sing Karaoke. Placido said he finds it humbling for when he sings it others tend to critique his performances. Imagine that: critiquing the singing ability of Placido Domingo! But he enjoys it and, well, it kind of makes me rethink the whole idea. I've never done it (Karaoke)...who knows what the future may bring?

Want to learn more about Placido?

I hope you enjoyed this musical sojourn.

Seek peace and may you be blessed....

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What a delightful way to spend one's time!

Earlier this month I attended a state conference for the Music Teacher National Association. This organization is made up of teachers who teach in studio settings. A studio setting is the typical private lesson setting. The majority of the members teach piano, but any who teach in the studio setting are encouraged to take part.

That's where I fit in. In the past 6 years I have taught voice, piano, trombone, flute, tuba, saxophone, trumpet, and...I think that's it.

I have found that I thoroughly enjoy the private studio setting. Working individually with students, guiding their progress, is encouraging to me as an instructor.

It is my goal to one day have my own private studio.

One day.

Yet another reason to attend this conference.

The headliner was Beth Klingenstein, an expert in guiding people with the logistics of running a private music studio as a business. She gave a lot of information in her three sessions. I took lots of notes. Despite having taught music for 23 years I learned a lot from her sessions. I have more of a foundation upon which to develop a music studio.

Jura Margulis

Besides the fact that Jura is a good looking Russian man. :)

He can also play the piano!

The highlight for me was getting to hear Jura Margulis perform on the piano in the evening then give a master class the next morning. He was amazing! He is a technical, yet expressive, performer. Often piano players are either one or the other. He is both. His fingers fairly flew across the piano.

I sat in the auditorium so that I could watch his fingers.


It is amusing to notice the seating of the audience when attending a recital or concert that features the piano. Most audience members sit so that they can see the the fingers of the pianist. Because of this the seating is often skewed towards the left of the auditorium. Those who can not see the pianist's fingers were either a) late getting to the performance and thus missed out on the *good* seats; or b) just didn't know any better.

Meals and receptions at these conferences are wonderful times to meeting new colleagues and make new friends or connecting with old friends. Both are so encouraging to me as a musician and as a teacher.

Can anything be better than...

~learning new things?

~hearing great music?

~meething up with friends?

I think not.

It's getting late and I'm getting tired, but I can't end this without mentioning my time spent at the music store. One hour + 50% + 20% discount = 22 voice, piano, and method books.

My time since the conference has been spent playing through every book.

What a delightful way to spend one's time!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Surprise! Music in Nashville, TN? Yes, indeed!

I've been to Nashville many times since moving to TN. I wasn't expecting it to be an inspiring trip. I knew I would enjoy the company and have very nice meals, but other than that I really did not know what to expect. No one in my party had an itinerary for the trip. I just knew I was going to Nashville.

I arrived.

I was settling in to my room when a friend brought my registration packet which included the schedule for the weekend.

I skimmed it: Tour an old building. Dinner at a mansion. Devotional. Breakfast at a building. Meeting. Lunch at the university president's home. Country Music Hall of Fame. Italian Dinner. Schermerhorn Symphony Hall.

Blah, Blah, Blah....


Back that up....

I rubbed my eyes.

Yes, I read it correctly.

Country Music Hall of Fame!?!

Schermerhorn Symphony Hall!?!


Ok. So perhaps this response is an exaggeration - those who know me know me know that I rarely get overly excited - but I was exceedingly pleased these two venues were on the schedule.

The Country Music Hall of Fame

Upon starting the tour we were ushered into waiting elevators which took us up to the third floor where we could begin our tour. We had an audio tour thing to accompany the tour, but I found it to be a nuisance so into the pocket it went.

There was music sounding everywhere. And the neat thing was that though there might be 5-10 songs going on in any given area, the museum is designed so that you only *heard* the song playing nearest to you. Though not a country fanatic, I found myself singing along to the tunes as I wandered through the displays.

The displays were of instruments, outfits, awards, and other memorbilia from the many stars who were featured. I took several pictures - mainly of the "oddities" (i.e., 3-necked guitars, blue suede shoes, etc.), famous/cool outfits (couldn't pass up the ornate Porter Waggoner suits!), and the Grammy Awards won by many artists.

The last thing I looked at was the actual hall of fame. Seeing the plaques of the artists brought back memories of those who were honored. While there were many that I did not know, I saw a lot that I recognized. As I looked at their plaque I could hear their music playing in my mind.

It was magical being here. I could almost feel the presence of each artist as I stood looking at their display and listening to the music.

Notice the architecture of the building - see the rendering of the piano keyboard?

The Nashville Symphony

Schermerhorn Symphony Center

I've been here before. It is a beautiful venue - newly repaired after the Nashville flood 2 years ago on May 1st.

I was eager to hear the symphony's performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. I had heard it recently in March with my local symphony, the Jackson Symphony Orchestra. I sang several parts of it whilst in high school so I am quite familiar with the music. It is a very powerful choral work.

At the LU president's home earlier in the day, when his wife mentioned the symphony concert that night, I made a point to strongly encourage those attending the conference to go to the concert. I explained what they would be hearing, mentioned the beauty of both the music and the hall, and told them they would be hearing a professional symphony. Until that point in the conference people had no idea what I did for a living. The secret was out! :)

We arrived at the venue and, noticing we had 18 minutes before the concert started and that everyone was just standing in a group waiting to see what they should do next, I suggested that they all enter the hall and find their seats since time was passing quickly. I became the chaperone/teacher in that moment. Sometimes it just presents itself!

As expected the music was glorious. I had to take care not to sing/hum along.

The first piece was Ralph Vaughn Williams' Serenade to Music. It was originally written for 16 vocal soloists and orchestra. This arrangement was for mixed chorus and orchestra. The music was beautiful and the words were perfect.

Carmina Burana was powerful. The voices. The orchestra. The soloists.

I enjoyed the concert, but not entirely because of the music.

I enjoyed the concert because for the majority of our group it was their first symphony experience.

I love being with people as they have their first experiences in music. I so wanted them to be as thrilled with the music as I was. Before, during intermission, and after the concert I answered their questions about the music, guided their listening, helped them find the orchestra instrument they played in high school, explained why the sax was not normally in the orchestra,and etc.

I told them when to clap - and when not to clap. It was amusing for I could see out of the corner of my eye that several heads would turn my way to see if it was the right time to clap. I would just clap with a knowing smile on my face.

The printed program for the concert was unlike others I have seen. It included information about all the concerts presented during the month of May. Musically, it was very educational. It included detailed program notes that gave a short bio about the composer, information about the first performance of the works, analysis of the piece, input from the composer about the piece (when available) and suggestions for listening to it.

I certainly enjoyed my musical surprise whilst in Nashville!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Recall.

Dick Clark died today. I'm not sure of the cause...I've just heard the news via family and blurbs online. I guess it's true.

I recall that...
Many call Clark the perennial teenager.
Many associate him with ABC's Rockin' New Year's Eve celebrations.
Many associate him with American Bandstand.

Me, I see him as the celebrity in my generation who gave popular performers and groups a national stage on which to play. (Those older than me would probably think of The Ed Sullivan show.) For rock musicians it was *the* show to be invited to perform on.

A person has to have an open mind to even imagine listening to, much less promoting all the musicians that took the stage of American Bandstand. Clark admitted to Larry King on CNN that he had to grow to like rock music - after all, he was of the big band generation.

I recall....

I recall American Bandstand as the TV show my parents wouldn't let me watch. Like all children when told they couldn't do something, I have since watched clips and shows about it. :)

I recall it as featuring the then young musicians. The clips we watch and laugh at now seeing how they once looked and/or sounded and realizing how the musicians have turned out. Some, like Madonna, are still going strong. Funny. There are many others we don't even miss.

I recall it as being the show that featured the the dance, fashion, and hairstyle trends that took over the United States. Who could ever forget the Hustle? the bell bottom pants and platform shoes? and the afro?

I recall it playing the top music of the nation.

In my mind's eye I can recall it like it was yesterday.

Thank you, Mr. Clark, for all that you did for America's popular musics.

Dick Clark is dead.
Hopefully we recall enough to give tribute to his legacy.
All we can do now is "recall."

Friday, March 23, 2012

Gospel Singing...Black Gospel, That Is!

I was personally invited to a concert by the choir of a primarily African-American two-year college in Texas, the Southwestern Christian College Choir. I was told that if I wanted to hear how music was really supposed to sound I wouldn't want to miss this concert.

I had visited the Black congregation where the concert would be held on several occasions and looked forward to seeing people I knew.

I understood the concert was to start at 2pm. The program showed a different line up. Congregational singing, a speaker, THEN the choir. That was ok I enjoy singing (obviously!) and looked forward to hearing the speaker.

My momma and I were the only whites in the assembly. This is significant only because there is a distinct difference in how southern whites worship in song (very proper, stoic, etc.) and how southern blacks worship in song. I would be out of my normal comfort zone as far as singing would be concerned. But I was very ok with that - I always enjoyed the freedom and expression that occurs during the singing at black congregations.

I attended the concert to hear the visiting choir. I did not realize that the congregational singing would be the highlight of my day.

One man would lead the majority of the songs. As I tried to harmonize with songs I'd never heard before OR songs I'd never heard sung that way before, I became comfortable with the style despite stumbling over the words. Nearly all of the songs were sung in the call & response style of singing. The leader would either introduce the phrase to be sung in echoed response by the congregation or else would sing a phrase that the congregation would respond to using the same lyrics/music.

During one song I heard clapping coming from the area where the college choir was sitting. Normally, in white congregations of churches of Christ, clapping is not permitted. I did not clap. But, I did sing along. The clapping "fit" the moment. (I will not go into a doctrinal discussion here. My response should give evidence to my view.)

Another man approached the pulpit to say a prayer. However, when he was done several in the congregation called out for him to sing THE song. Apparently he was known for leading a certain song. After a moment of feigned reluctance he took the microphone from the stand and began singing "God is Real" (I think this is the title). I recall this song from my youth but it was never sung in the manner with which it was sung on this day. He was soloist, he was leader, and the congregation responded and sang along with gusto.

The speaker was a vibrant Black man who traveled with the choir and would solicit funds for the college from those present. His lesson was dynamic. I frequently felt his intense stare as he spoke. I felt this was probably due to the fact that I was sitting as I would in a white congregation - stoic lacking expression or response - and he was wanting to elicit some sort of response. Sure, I was most definitely moved by his speaking, but after a while I was holding my stoicism to see how long I personally could hold out. Those around me were verbally encouraging him with "Amens" and "Preach it!" and the ever constant "mmHmmm" in agreement. Eventually I did feel a slow smile cross my face as he neared the end of his speech. So he did get a response though not as much as he perhaps wished for.

At 3:30 the choir took the front of the auditorium. (Remember, I thought the concert started at 2pm.)

It was a group of about 35 young people. They were dressed in jeans with choir T-shirts pulled over whatever top they might have been wearing on the trip to TN. After all, they had left TX at 4am in order to reach their destination in time. Their dress did not bother me. It fit the circumstances for many times I've traveled with students where they literally stepped off the bus in time to sing. I did find myself thinking, "Would our primarily white college chorus perform so casually to audiences?" (Our groups wear formal dresses and tuxes.)

After the 1.5 hrs of Black gospel singing I was ready for more from the choir. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a nice, though young, choral sound. Careful enunciation and pure vowel sounds. Their music was contemporary gospel (not the Black spirituals that our choruses keep as mainstays in their repertoire). My only criticism would be that it was difficulty, though not impossible, to hear the soloists who led the call & response songs the choir sang.

One thing SHOCKED me...something I've NEVER seen...something I would NEVER allow in one of my concerts: An audience member sent a note up to someone on the front row who gave it to the choral director. APPARENTLY, someone wanted the choir to sing a request AND the choral director complied! Before singing the next song a young man came from the group, found the song in the hymnal, asked the congregation to get a book, and proceeded to lead the song.

WHAT?!?!?!?! (Gives you an idea of the type of choral director I am.)

Then when that song was over the choir continued with their program.

*rolls eyes*

While some business was being taken care of there was more congregational singing with the same song leader as before. He lead a version of "All Night, All Day" that I had not heard before. The words were the ones I'd learned many years ago in elementary music class, but the melody was definitely a variant - even the repeated response. However, the verses were different in that they used the lyrics to "Amazing Grace" and the response was always "Angels watching over me, my Lord."

It was over at 4:45pm. I left that day feeling refreshed and uplifted. I felt that I had experienced something that many do not get to experience - and I was thankful I was able to attend. I can't wait until next year! :)

Orchid Ensemble...and Other Reflections

Made up of three musicians this ensemble performed East Asian music vocally and on instruments: the erhu (2-string stick fiddle [pictured on left]), zheng (16-25 stringed zither-type instrument [pictured on right]), marimba [center], and various percussion instruments (I liked the Chinese tone blocks and crotales). Their repertoire was folk - both traditional and composed.

This concert reminded me of the Stringalong I attended in Wisconsin where I learned how to play the Japanese koto (also in the zheng family). During those lessons I learned that Japanese music is read from right to left, top-to-bottom. The music was not standard notation, but Japanese characters for the numbers 1-13 - corresponding with the number of strings on the koto. My training as a music teacher was challenged during that class - especially since the teacher felt I should demonstrate for the class. Though I know music I was learning just as the others in the class were. I'm glad I had that experience.

Another memory this concert prompted was a workshop I attended at Indiana University in 2004. This was an amazing workshop. For four days I was immersed into East Asian music - every day was the music of a different country (Japan, China, Korea) taught by experts in the field. I am talking about people who had actually lived and studied in the countries they were talking about.

I did not get to play the koto at this workshop though my professor was extremely curious as to who had taught me for she and only one other person in the US taught the koto. Turns out my other teacher was the one other person. So I've been taught by the best!

I also got to learn about the shamisen (3-string instrument).

I got to play in a Chinese percussion ensemble luogu, which means “gongs and drums” and accompany and perform a lion dance.

I learned how to read Erhu music - written in a system of numbers with dots and lines indicating duration. While I did not play the erhu we did play this music on recorders. Challenging!

This was probably my favorite because I got to watch a Korean drum ensemble then we got to play in smaller drum ensembles. (Sadly, I can't find the pictures of these.)

This is running longer than I'd intended. I have not even touched upon the World Music Jam I attended in 2003 at Morningside College in Sioux City, IA. (The trip I almost got a speeding ticket driving my (then) new car. So glad the trooper was nice. 72mph in a 50mph zone usually does not bode well!) Then there is the Multicultural Symposium in 2008 at University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Then there are the state and national music conferences. It goes on...

Suffice it to say my life has been touched by (primarily East) Asian music. I've learned enough to know I love it. I look forward to learning more!

Ok, so this is more about my past experiences, but they are all prompted by the Orchid Ensemble concert.

Live music....

Like many people I have days worth of recorded music. Today people count the amount of music in their possession by the number of tunes on their iPod. I don't like to limit myself and also include the myriad number of CDs, cassette tapes, 8-track tapes, record albums (33s, 45s, 78s, and one Thomas Edison 16s). If I listened to everything I currently own I'd most likely fill every waking moment for a couple of years.

Perhaps that means I'm old. Nah!

The purpose of this missive is not that I have a lot of recorded music. (My record album collection deserves its own blog post!) It is meant to be about the importance of live music.

True, I am a music professor who is surrounded by live music all day long. After all, my office is surrounded by practice rooms and studio offices. At times the sounds coming forth from them is so varied creating a cacophony which causes visitors to my office to question how I can stand it as they firmly close the office door. I have learned to tune it out - until something particularly lovely reaches my ears, then I am distracted. :)

But like most people, once I leave the music building (one can hope!), I am listening to recorded music on the radio, on tv, etc. Music that is rehearsed and not put out in public until it is perfection.

Contrary to this is live music. Live music is put out there with the hopes of perfection though, as humans, perfection is rarely achieved.
In the past month I have been blessed by live music. During one weekend alone I attended four different live performances at different venues. The following blogs are an attempt to record and reflect upon the concerts.