Monday, February 21, 2011

Top 10 Musical American Presidents (and other stuff)

Well, if I'm counting correctly, I'm in the middle of my twenty-first consecutive year in public school, and I am completely ashamed that I missed one the few sacred opportunities to sleep in on a school day.  After over 200 college credit hours, I still fail to read the syllabus to see that we do not have class on President's Day.  Oh, what could have been!

When life gives you lemons (or when ineptitude gives you lemons) make lemonade! And so in that spirit, last week we celebrated the historical anomalies of the canonized, and this week, I would like to celebrate our greatest Presidents, but this list will be configured not by their historical importance, but purely based on their musical taste and talents.

OUR GREATEST PRESIDENTS (based purely on musical talent)
10. Dwight Eisenhower - Although not necessarily musically talented, he had an ear for the divine.  He released an album during his last term in office that was filled with the music he loved including pieces by Bach, Strauss, Verdi, and Gershwin.
9. John Quincy Adams - He would have been higher on the list if he played anything other than the flute.  Guys just don't look good playing the flute - how embarrassing!
8. Bill Clinton - He also released two albums featuring the music he loves most - albeit less intellectual than Eisenhower - but he moves up the list because he plays the saxophone.
7. Chester Arthur - Even though he was president for only a few months after the assassination of President Garfield, Arthur should be considered one of the greatest presidents, because he played the most "American" of instruments - the banjo.
6. Woodrow Wilson - What can top the banjo?  Well, a more difficult instrument.  Wilson played the violin.
5. Harry Truman - Now we are getting to the true cream of the crop of presidents.  Truman was an accomplished pianist and frequently played Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin for visiting heads of state.
4. Richard Nixon - Now keep an open mind here, but Nixon was certainly one of the greatest presidents for two reasons: (1) He was an accomplished pianist and composer and (2) he played the accordion.  He would have been a perfect guest artist for The Lawrence Welk Show.
3. Thomas Jefferson - A true musician, Jefferson played the cello, violin, and clavichord, loved the up-and-coming Haydn, and declared that music "is the favorite passion of my soul".
2. Warren Harding - Harding was said to have played every instrument besides the trombone and clarinet.  Obviously, he or his historian is being very cocky, so I cannot give him the top spot, and realistically, there is no way that he could have played EVERY instrument and somehow miss the incredibly common trombone and clarinet (which are incredibly similar to many other instruments).  So, Harding is dropped to #2 for lying.
1. Franklin Roosevelt - Certainly the greatest president of all time, not for his courageous leadership through the Great Depression or World War II, but because he could play the organ.  I have awarded him the #1 spot based purely on intrigue.  As we all know, Roosevelt suffered from polio, which left him paralyzed from the waste down.  And we all know that to play the organ, you have to use your feet to play the pedal keyboard.  So, until I hear otherwise, I find this EXTRAORDINARY and he's certainly worthy of being our greatest president.

Abraham Lincoln - He enjoyed opera and the new American music of Gottschalk, but his favorite tune was "Dixie".  I don't understand how this was not a conflict of interest, plus "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is MUCH better than Dixie.  Can you imagine Lincoln singing "I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray!"?
Barack Obama - He has opera on his ipod, but has much more rap.  And since I'm making this list, there's a substantial penalty for liking rap.

John F. Kennedy - He was not a music lover, even though his wife was.  In an interview, Jackie answered for her husband saying that his favorite song was "Greensleeves".  Once again, I cannot take you seriously if your favorite song is Greensleeves, Pachelbel's Canon, rap, or anything requiring you to say that the best part is the "beat".
George H.W. Bush - Frankly, this comment is wrong in many ways:  "When I need a little advice about Saddam Hussein, I turn to Country Music." - George H.W. Bush from 1991


This week should be very exciting!  Tomorrow evening I will be singing in the Conservatory Singers choir concert at a beautiful church in town (more information at the end of the blog).  We will be preforming a Bach cantata among other liturgical pieces, including one of the most difficult pieces I've ever had to sing: Arvo Paart's De profundis.  I have sung his music before, but he is a modern Minimalist composer.  His music is very chant-like, slow, and meditative - but this piece is substantially difficult because of virtually 10 minutes of singing a high E to high B (this is the very top of my range - and to do it for so long is incredibly difficult).  It should be a great concert for any liturgical choral music lover.  And, by the way, can you imagine what Bach's church must have been like?  The music is so intellectual, his musicians were probably some of the best musicians of their day.  There is something very gratifying about singing Bach because it does require so much of my mind to determine what is going on and how I am part of the mix.  There are so many details, that just performing to the best of my ability, I feel very accomplished.  To me, and to most classical musicians I think, this is much more fulfilling than plugging in the electric guitar and belting away, because the music itself rewards perfection.

Also, this Saturday I will be auditioning for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.  Their next season is their first in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, and I would do just about anything to be a part of their season. I will be auditioning for the apprentice program, comprimario roles, and the chorus.  I am so excited!!

Also, I found out this week that the Lord Nelson Mass by Haydn that I will be singing the tenor solos in will be performed with choir AND orchestra.  So, if you like loud sounds and/or appreciate Thomas Jefferson's taste in music, you should plan on attending (more information at the end of the blog).

Opera rehearsals are still in full swing.  I'm learning the art of being a weak man (go ahead, laugh)...  Very honestly, it has been very difficult (again, I'll wait until you're done laughing).  But, even though being a man that sings the very highest parts, who is also a little too skinny and still looks like a boy, I have a difficult time not getting emotionally involved (ugh, I'm not saying I need to cry or anything like that).  Oh goodness, this is a very self-degrading and emasculating paragraph, but my role in the opera is to play a weak young man (Don Ottavio) who is going after a powerful woman (Donna Anna) who is being wooed by a murderer and rapist (Don Giovanni).  Giovanni kills Donna Anna's father at the beginning of the opera, and Donna Anna wants my character, Don Ottavio, to seek revenge and kill Giovanni.  I of course am scared and actually in disbelief that Giovanni actually killed her father.  Anyway, throughout the opera, I have to let Donna Anna be more controlling in the relationship, and as an actor, I have to keep myself from being mad.  I am REALLY good at being mad - thanks to my relationship with sports - so it is hard to suppress this.  Not to mention the difficulty of relaxing my wrists when I'm using my sword in my arias (believe it or not, it actually is very difficult). --What an embarrassing paragraph! Let's just stop right here.  Here is a link to a Washington Post article someone just sent to me describing the oddities and challenges of acting in opera. If you have the time, it is a great read especially for aspiring singers and performers.

Finally, to give you an update on the arts situation in Kansas, a House sub-committee voted to repeal the Governor's order to abolish the state's public arts organization the Kansas Arts Commission, but the full committee voted to retail it.  Hopefully the Senate will abolish the act for good, but there are still many people out there, even arts enthusiasts, who are misinformed and politically motivated.  Please visit the Kansas Art's Commission site to find out how you can help, and as always please visit and attend your local arts and music events.  This week I visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and spent two and a half hours just on the first floor!  I saw paintings by Picasso, Degas, Monet, Dali, and almost every famous painter you can think of.  They also had an Ancient Egypt exhibit with a mummy!  I will definitely be going back to see the second floor and their modern art galleries. But the coolest things are the giant shuttlecocks on the lawn.

  • Conservatory Singers Concert of Bach Cantata No. 4 "Christ lag in Todesbanden" - 2/22 7:30pm Village Presbyterian Church, Prairie Village, KS
  • Kansas City Lyric Opera Auditions - 2/26
  • Tenor Soloist - Lord Nelson Mass by Haydn - Operation Breakthrough Benefit Concert at the Community of Christ Temple in Independence (where Jan Kraybill is the Principal Musician - she's one of my favorite people in the whole world) - 3/5 7:30pm
  • Don Giovanni - Conservatory Opera - 3/17-20
  • Wichita Symphony Orchestra Naftzger Young Artist Auditions - 4/2-3
  • Conservatory Finale  - Poulenc Gloria (probably on my top 10 favorite pieces ever) featuring the Conservatory Choirs and Orchestra - 4/23
  • Administrative Director of the 33rd Annual Summer Choral Institute - 6/5-11
  • Sugar Creek Opera Festival (Chicago) - role: tba, opera: Daughter of the Regiment, maybe Little Women as well - 7/20-8/7
  • Kansas City Symphony Chorus Auditions - tba

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