Monday, April 4, 2011

Doppelbock & Poppies

Paulaner monks in Munich began an interesting tradition in the 17th century.  During Lent, the Catholic season of penance before Easter, they would consume only water and a hefty beer called a Doppelbock.  In the Paulaner tradition, the monks would regularly fast during certain times of the year - the longest fast being the 46 days of Lent.  Paulaner monks also believe that liquids help to cleanse the soul and keep the body from gluttony.  So, they brewed their "liquid bread" and drank it in copious amounts.

Evidently, a man in Iowa is doing the same this Lent and has already lost 15 pounds.  When asked if this new diet has ever made him drunk, he said "when you walk in the rain, you're going to get wet".  And as you may have guessed, the Paulaner monks happen to have a long history of "dancing in the rain" or "drowning in the rain".

The pope heard of the public disturbances and decided to take action in the 18th century.  When the monks sent a barrel to Rome, it became overheated and spoiled.  The pope drank it and decided that if they were drinking such a foul and rotten drink for the entire Lenten season, they were truly serving a very harsh penance.  So, the pope allowed it to continue and the tradition continues today.

Beer happens to be an acquired taste for most people.  For those who "learn" about it, there are many flavors and styles of brews.  And if you think about it, to "intimately understand" a beer, you must drink it.  Until you get to that point, all you can do is look at the bottles, the label, find out where it's from or if it has something quirky about it, and blindly chose. Then you can get drunk!...I mean "passionately educate" yourself.

I've been reviewing some new operas recently.  I cannot hear them yet because they are so new that there are few recordings if any, so until I can get drunk, I'll just look at the bottle, the lable, etc.  This week I have found a particularly interesting opera.  It's about nothing.  This reminds me about something...

Seinfeld season 4, episode 3 - The Pitch (the Show about Nothing)

The opera is called "La machine de l'etre" (premiered at the New York City Opera last week) and is written for only a soprano and nothing else.  The name is based on some drawings by Anton Artaud in his last days living in an asylum.

The composer John Zorn describes his opera as "a monodrama because it is scored for only one singer…there is no text, no plot, and no stage directions predetermined whatsoever…the drama is contained in the music and the title…the visual interpretation of it is left up to the imagination and creativity of the director, stage designer, and singer to decide…it is my hope that the stage presentation somehow draws inspiration from the spirit of Artaud, his art, philosophy, and writings...but from there on the possibilities are wide open..."

I spoke to a very experienced opera director about this.  They were very intrigued about the possibilities.  It is a dream come true for a director because they can make it into whatever they want.  It could be a retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears or it can be something as crazy as the drawings the opera is named after.  It is only 10 minutes long - so whatever happens, it has to happen quickly.  And the music is evidently written in a new age style.  I tend to like a lot of new age music and at 10 minutes long, it may be like listening to a couple of Enya songs.

As for the rating - since it is about nothing, and certainly not long enough to be "too much", this opera has so much potential as it is only limited to a director's imagination. So, I will give it my highest score:

Two Pav Hankies
(anything beats no expectation)

Last week I went to the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City and had a great time.  Many people do not know much about the First World War, but the museum is a great interactive tour of the history they are missing.  It is also a great tool on learning from our mistakes.  For some reason, we forget what took the world to war - arrogant national pride and xenophobia (the hatred or fear of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture).  We still have fierce fights today involving these things and to my eyes, it is very easy to discern sides.  Education is important so we can learn from the mistakes we've already made.

There is a glass walkway above a field of poppies commemorating the poem "In Flanders Fields".  Each poppy represents 1,000 military deaths (9 million overall).  Over 65 million people died because of World War I - the second deadliest war in world history only behind the 72 million who died in World War II.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.
 - John McCrae, 1919

(By the way, my favorite opera of all time, Die Tote Stadt (the dead city) by Korngold, is a German reaction to the First World War)

Looking to this next week, I will be in Manhattan, KS for a meeting about the 33rd Summer Choral Institute. I am the Administrative Director for the Institute, and if you know of a high school student who loves choir - encourage them to apply at  It is free for all who are invited to attend.  I will also be part of an Oratorio performance on Sunday singing a couple of arias as "The Believer" in Handel's Passion of the Christ (information below).  Finally, I have yet another email address thanks to the magic of facebook:  And sadly, I still have not heard anything from the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.  (my "waiting with bated breath" has been going on for several weeks now - it's definitely "baited breath" - stinky, nasty-old fermented breath - like the beer the Pope drank.  And hopefully, just like that rotten beer, this will have a happy ending as well.)

  • The Believer in The Passion of the Christ by Handel - 10:45am St. John's United Methodist Church, Kansas City, MO - 4/10
  • World Premiere - "Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day" by Betty Liang - 5pm, Grant Recital Hall, Kansas City, MO - 4/17
  • National Anthem - Kansas City Royals vs. Cleveland Indians - 4/18
  • Conservatory Finale  - Poulenc Gloria (probably on my top 10 favorite pieces ever) featuring the Conservatory Choirs and Orchestra - 4/23
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Nursing Commencement - 5pm 5/5
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Computer & Engineering - 10am 5/6
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Arts & Sciences - 1pm & 4pm 5/6
  • National Anthem - Bloch School of Business and Public Administration - 7pm 5/6
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Education - 10am 5/7
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Pharmacy - 1pm 5/7
  • National Anthem - Kansas City School of Dentistry - 7pm 5/7
  • National Anthem - DOE Small Business Conference & Expo - Kansas City Convention Center - 5/10
  • Administrative Director of the 33rd Annual Summer Choral Institute - 6/5-11
  • National Anthem - Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps - 6/25
  • Sugar Creek Opera Festival (Chicago) - role: chorus/cover, opera: Daughter of the Regiment - 7/20-8/7
  • Kansas City Symphony Chorus Auditions - tba

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