Monday, May 30, 2011

Remembering...


Last night, my wife and I went to Celebration at the Station in Kansas City.  And it was so incredibly awesome, that we have decided to make it an annual tradition.  Essentially it was a classical patriotic concert, with over 60,000 people packing a quarter-mile swath from the amazing Union Station, to the National WWI Museum.  Plus, the weather was nice!   I really can't describe it, or how big it was, but it was certainly the largest outdoor classical concert that I've ever been to.  And, it made me very proud to be in Kansas City.  The music culture of this place is great.  This was a huge event after all; I only see PBS specials like this from Vienna, New York, or Washington D.C.  The architecture is amazing; we visited Union Station for the first time and it's beautiful - certainly in the same kind of majesty as New York's or D.C.'s Grand Central Stations.  Plus the WWI monument is great as well.

As you watch this, you cannot really tell the distances between the stage and WWI monument because of a small cliff in the middle of the lawn, but they are a quarter-mile away from each other.  Below is the playing of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.  Some musicians think this piece is corny (the canon firings in this piece are actually written in the music) but I think it is incredibly exciting!  Oddly enough, it is a piece glorifying Napoleon's defeat to the Russians.  It has nothing to do with America.


It is of course Memorial Day.  Please sit up in your chairs, take your Brunhilde horned helmets off, and observe a caesura in remembrance of the opera stars who have been chosen by the Valkyries to spend the afterlife in Operatic Valahalla.

In chronological order beginning Memorial Day of 2010. (Age at death)

Giuseepe Taddei (93), Christine Johnson (98), Giacinto Prandelli (96), Maureen Forrester (79), Peter Sliker (86), Cesare Siepi (87), Luo Pinchao (98), Laszlo Polgar (63), Dolores Wilson (82), Ulrik Cold (71), Richard T. Gill (82), Shirley Verrett (79), Peter Hofmann (66), Gianna Galli (75), Armando Chin Yong (53), Antonin Svorc (77), Robert Tear (72), Donald Shanks (70), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (69), Dame Joan Sutherland (83), Roxana Briban (39), Hugues Cuenod (108), Frances Ginsberg (55), Solange Michel (98), Helen Boatwright (94), Dame Margaret Price (69), Sona Aslanova (86), Vincenzo La Scola (53), Alda Noni (95)

Deaths of note - how appropriate for opera

Roxana Briban (39) - Romanian opera singer, committed suicide.  She was a very famous soprano, who starred on many of the main stages in Europe.  Her death was also a world-famous tragedy that played out on facebook.  On the day of her suicide she posted to her facebook page a disturbing youtube clip of herself singing "Addio del passato" (so closes my sad story) from Traviata. It is Violetta's aria right before she dies from disease. Click Here to Watch.  But that's not the shocking part, her last facebook profile picture was a picture of her bloody hand (from an opera production I'm assuming). Click Here to See.  She died several hours after posting this by cutting her wrists.

Dame Joan Sutherland (83) - Australian soprano, died of heart failure. One of the most celebrated opera singers in history.


Hugues Cuenod (108) - Swiss tenor.  He was the oldest person to debut at the Metropolitan Opera when he sang the role of the Emporer in Turandot in 1987.

Vincenzo La Scola (53) - Italian tenor, died of a heart attack.  He was one of the world's leading operatic tenors who sang at most of the world's most prestigious houses including the Met and La Scala.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

TODAY IN OPERA HISTORY - May 29

Happy Birthday to little known opera composer, Isaac Albeniz, who was born in Spain on this day in 1860.

Today is also the birthday of one of the least known super-geniuses of music, Erich Korngold, who was born into a Jewish family in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1897.  His most famous opera, Die Tote Stadt, was written when he was only 20 years old!  It was his third opera!  Anyway, it is beautiful, just listen to the first few minutes of the opera, can you believe how gorgeous it is?  This opera (The Dead City) was very popular in Germany after WWI, as it captured the feelings of deep grief as Germany lost millions and millions of people during the war.



The first of the "Russian Five", Mily Balakirev, died on this day in 1910.  He didn't compose any operas but he had a major influence on the other four of "The Five": Cesar Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Alexander Borodin - all of whom were prolific opera composers.  Balakirev brought the group together to try to make a new "Russian sound", one that was authentically Russian.  Balakirev hand picked "the Five" who in their own right are some of the greatest composers in history; he did not include Glinka nor Tchaikovsky - who in many ways were more famous and important to music history.  Glinka wasn't included because he was almost dead, and Tchaikovsky wasn't included because he favored the more traditional of Glinka's operas.  "The Five" generally liked Glinka's more radical operas.  And if you didn't already know, many people attribute the bad blood between Tchaikovsky and The Five to Tchaikovsky being gay...but there's not much evidence to this.  Nevertheless, Tchaikovsky got the last laugh, as his Nutcracker ballet and the 1812 overture are certainly two of the most famous pieces of music in all of music history.

The prolific teacher and little known opera composer, George Rochberg, died on this day in 2005.

Happy Birthday to Wisconsin (1848) and Rhode Island (1790).  Rhode Island has the distinction of being the only state in the US that hasn't had someone visit my blog!  That will surely change after I post this (fingers crossed).

Stravinsky's ballet, "The Rite of Spring" made its debut on this day in 1913.  It is likely the most famous music debut in all of history.  The sounds were so radical at the time that the crowd booed and stormed the stage.  Stravinsky escaped the riot unharmed, but this piece ended up being one of the most important pieces of music in all of history.  It lead the way to all kinds of crazy stuff in the 20th century.  Take a listen to the iconic beginning, I'm sure you've heard it before.  This was made famous in popular culture by Disney's Fantasia - make sure you at least watch several minutes until the iconic dance begins (you'll know it when you hear it - it's the volcano part in the film).



"White Christmas" was recorded on this day in 1940 by Bing Crosby.  It is the best-selling single of all time, selling over 50 million records.  Here is a clip of him singing it in the film "Holiday Inn", the film that the song was written for.



Famous French composer, Iannis Xenakis, was born on this day in 1922.  He didn't write any operas, but he's so famous that I had to mention him.

Happy Oak Apple Day to all the English!  It's a day of thanksgiving celebrating when the future Charles II of England escaped an invading army by hiding in an oak tree.  I suggest you all go out and break off a branch of oak to wear, in remembrance of Charles II heroic flight up the tree to hide, because if you don't, tradition says that kids will "pelt you with birds' eggs or thrash you with nettles".

Saturday, May 28, 2011

TODAY IN OPERA HISTORY - May 28

Opera composer Friedrich Baumfelder was born on this day in 1836 in Dresden, Germany.  He studied under previously mentioned Ignaz Moscheles (what a cool name).

György Ligeti was born on this day in 1923.  Certainly one of the most prolific and heralded composers of the last 100 years, however he did not produce many operas...actually, just one, an absurdist opera Le Grand Macabre.  Simply, it's about the end of the world.  Amazingly, on youtube (which has rules regarding sexual things) I found a highlight real of this and it is likely the most risqué opera production I have ever seen. For the squeamish or for the Americans, you can watch the clip below instead, however there is still a little bit of fake nudity.  If you would like to see some explicit "European art", click here.



Leopold Mozart, father of one of the greatest opera composers of all time Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, died on this day in 1787.  We should all thank this great teacher for introducing music to his son at such an early age.  He helped to create one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time.



Happy Birthday to the Sierra Club (founded on this day in 1892), which helped to create the National Park system in the United States and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts - each with distinguished professional opera companies.



The Golden Gate Bridge was opened by President Franklin Roosevelt in Washington D.C. on this day in 1937.  If you're wondering, he pressed a button which turned on the traffic lights allowing the traffic to go across the bridge.  There is almost no opera connection here, besides San Fransisco having one of the most acclaimed opera companies in the world.



Happy Downfall of the Derg Day in Ethiopia!  It is actually Ethiopia's national day, equivalent to Independence Day in the U.S.  The name comes from the Derg junta, a military dictatorship, that was overthrown after years of famine and genocide.

Friday, May 27, 2011

TODAY IN OPERA HISTORY - May 27

Probably the least known of the famous French group of composers Les six, literally "the six", Louis Durey was born on this date in 1888.  Les six wrote their music in a reaction against neoromanticism and impressionism, in other words, they're angry about pretty music.  Some of the other composers became incredibly famous such as Honneger, Millaud, and Poulenc.  Their music is generally very beautiful, but according to Millaud, they were all incredibly different - they were grouped together only because they were friends and they appeared on several concerts together.  The other, "not so famous three" were Auric, Tailleferre, and obviously Durey.  Durey did write one opera L'occasion. A communist, Durey wrote his music against and about the wars of his lifetime from WWI to the Vietnam war.

Giovanni Legrenzi died on this date in 1690 from kidney stones (ouch!).  Most opera aficionados have no idea who this guy is, but he was probably the most famous opera composer in the world during the 1660s.  He was actually a priest but spent time at a monastery that was relatively uneducated, so he ended up just working on anything that he wanted.  So, he dabbled into opera, and ended up writing very elaborate productions with ideas from mythology - a new idea at the time, and especially shocking since he was a priest.  Who better to give you an idea of Legrenzi's music than Pav.  It's a double-billing...you should definitely listen to both...all of the opera singers out there are secretly excited to hear him sing Ingemisco from Verdi's Requiem.



One of the greatest violin virtuosos in history, Niccolo Paganini died on this date in 1840.  He has very little to do with opera history besides being the muse for Lehar's operetta Paganini, whose music inspired a Solo soda pop commercial from Norway.



"Solo - 60 years - Probably the only soda that does not help, other than against thirst."  If there are any Norwegians out there, let me know if there is another way to translate that.

Italian opera composer Luciano Berio died on this date in 2003.  I'll let you judge for yourself, but perhaps opera gets negative attention when composers create something rivaling the annoyance of Djibouti's national anthem.  Here's an excerpt from his 1970 opera eloquently titled, Opera.



Happy Birthday to St. Petersburg, Russia, founded on this date by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703.  St. Petersburg has been home to many of the greatest composers of all time including Anton Rubinstein, Aleksandr Borodin, Mikhail Glinka, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Andrei Petrov.

On this day in 1930, one of my favorite pieces of architecture on the planet, the Chrysler Building in New York (the nation's opera capital) became the tallest building in the world.  It was named after the car executive Walter Chrysler, who was born in Wamego, KS and was raised in Ellis, KS.  The Empire State Building was under construction at the time and took over the title several months later.


And finally, on this date in 1933, Disney released its Academy Award-winning short film, Three Little Pigs.  Evidently, there's a segment that has since been changed where the wolf dresses up like a Jewish peddler and speaks with a Yiddish accent.  Instead, it was re-animated as the wolf being a Yiddish Fuller Brush man.  It just so happens that the Fuller Brush plant resides in my hometown of Great Bend, KS.  Anyway, as far as music goes, the film is probably best known for its best-selling single, "Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"

Thursday, May 26, 2011

TODAY IN OPERA HISTORY - May 26

On this date in 1893, Eugene Goossens was born in London.  Goossens was a conductor and composer of operas, however he is mostly credited for being the major lobbyist for the creation of the Sydney Opera House, arguably the most famous opera house on the planet. (for opera singers, this certainly is not the highest echelon of opera houses like the Met or La Scala, but it is way up there)


In Alton, Illinois, on this date in 1926, the great Miles Davis was born.  He really doesn't have much of an opera connection, besides his recordings of tunes from Porgy and Bess (an opera by George Gershwin).  But his recording of the aria "Summertime" is very famous.  And if you have been paying attention, this is the second shout-out to Gershwin as South Carolina's pseudo birthday was on Tuesday.  South Carolina was the setting for Porgy and Bess.



Also on Tuesday, I mentioned William Bolcom - KCVI scholarship donor, Pulitzer Prize winner, and composer of an opera inspired by the Brooklyn Bridge (which also had its birthday this week).  Today is Mr. Bolcom's Birthday; he's 73.

Also on this day in 1938, the House Un-American Activities Committee, was established and started their psychotic witch-hunt of free thinkers. The opera, the Crucible, based on the play about the 17th century witch trials held in Salem, Massachusetts, in which innocent people were accused and hanged for being witches, was written in response to the committee's hearings. The play was written at a time when Sen. Joseph McCarthy was conducting these hearings into possible involvement of communists in all aspects of government and American life.  This is the beginning of the 2nd Act - listen to the beautiful quartal harmonies, Aaron Copeland-esque.



On this date in 1924, opera composer Victor Herbert died.  He composed only 2 operas (one premiered at the Met, Madeleine, but only ran for six nights - probably because it was double-billed and massively upstaged by Enrico Caruso singing the title role in Pagliacci. However, Mr. Herbert was a very prolific composer and wrote at least 43 operettas!

In 1868, on this day, President Andrew Johnson nearly became the first impeached President to be kicked out of office.  When I was growing up, he was the ONLY one to be impeached, but somehow you can be impeached for far less offenses these days than by attempting to violate the laws of the Constitution.  Amazingly, he survived three votes to kick him out of office each by 1 vote - all three times, the last person to cast their vote was Kansas Senator Edmund Ross.  So, at least for a short time, Ross was probably the most powerful person in America.  President Kennedy wrote in his memoirs that Ross should be credited for saving the Presidency.

And a little side-note, if he would have been kicked out, the next person to assume the presidency would have obviously been the Vice President, but Johnson never had a Vice President because Johnson became President after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  Back in those days, they didn't have the succession laws like we do today.  So, the next in line, would be the second highest official in the senate, the President pro tempore. (the first in line was the Vice President - who is also the President of the Senate)  Anyway, long story short, we almost had a President Benjamin Wade.

So what does this have to do with opera history? Not much.  Other than the reason for Johnson's impeachment really goes back to him being President, which wouldn't have happened if Lincoln wasn't assassinated by actor John Wilkes Boothe while watching Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater.  And, as fate would have it, that play and the story of the assassination was turned into an opera by Eric Sawyer.  I couldn't find too many great recordings of it, but the story sounds very interesting.  Here is a light-hearted clip of the "Possum Aria".



That's all for now, have a Happy National Paper Airplane Day and for the Aussies, have a happy(?) National Sorry Day...(it's a day for Australians to express regret over their mistreatment of the Aboriginal Peoples)..hmm, I guess have a regretful National Sorry Day?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TODAY IN OPERA HISTORY - May 25

On this date in 1878, the Gilbert and Sullivan opera H.M.S. Pinafore made its world premiere at the Opera Comique in London.  This was the first big hit for Gilbert and Sullivan and spurned the creation of more comic operas.  This style of music later developed into what we now know as the musical.



On this date last year, the South African tenor, Siphiwo Ntshebe died of meningitis just days before he was to sing his pop-opera single, Hope, in the opening ceremony for the 2010 World Cup.  I know pop-opera hits always send shivers up the spines of opera singers - and this one is no different - but his music was inspiring and certainly opened the ears of many to the art of the voice.



The great impressionist composer, Gustav Holst, died on this date in 1934.  His operas were certainly unique, as two are inspired by Hindu mysticism and Sanskrit texts. However, I cannot express how much I revere Holst.  Please, if you have some free time, listen to the following clip below.  It is the "Jupiter: the Bringer of Jollity" movement from his orchestral suite, The Planets.  It is one of the most exciting and emotional pieces of music that I know of.  Just watch how crazy the conductor gets...I would probably do the same.




On this date in 1953, KUHT in Houston became the first public television station to broadcast in the US.  Public TV exposed me to opera for the first time, as well as some awesome kids shows.  Anyone remember David the Gnome?



Did anyone notice that they spelled "medicine" wrong?

Today is the 50th Anniversary of President Kennedy announcing our intent to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade.  Believe it or not, there is an opera called Man on the Moon by Johnathan Dove.  I haven't looked at the music at all, but it is very obviously a Minimalist composition. (click here to read a past blog post describing Minimalism - skip to the "Nixon in China" part.) Here are some clips...it's actually pretty entertaining.







And on a similar note, on this day in 1977, Star Wars was released.  Its actual description is a "space opera" and on a special note, the composer who wrote the music to Star Wars, John Williams, sponsors a scholarship through the Kansas City Vocal Institute.  There is a currently a touring show called "Star Wars: In Concert", that is essentially an orchestral concert of the Star Wars music.  Watch the exciting opening "movement" of the concert.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

TODAY IN OPERA HISTORY - May 24

Happy Birthday to the late, great Duke Ellington.  Take a listen at one of my favorite recordings of his - the Duke is on the piano, but the bass is the best part.  It is simple and clean, but a lot more interesting (musically that is) than most of his Big Band stuff.



With that said, the Big Band stuff sure is a lot of fun though.  I'm sure everyone out there knows this piece.



But what does the Duke have to do with opera history?  Well, his father was an operatic singer.  And, relatively recently, opera houses have performed his unfinished opera Queenie Pie.  I couldn't find a recording of it, and I think only one is in existence, but I did find a flip video of the recording session of one of the movements, "New York, New York" (no, it's not the one you're thinking of).  I found it on a Turkish video site - CLICK HERE TO WATCH - but on the screen before you watch it, it asks some simple poll questions in Turkish.  Just randomly click an answer and it will play the video.

Today marks the 155th anniversary of the Pottawatomie Massacre.  If you have already forgotten your U.S. history from High School, this was when John Brown killed five settlers near Pottawatomie Creek in Kansas for participating in William Quantrill's burning of Lawrence.  John Brown was an abolitionist and tried to make "Bleeding Kansas" a free state when it entered the Union.  Of course all of this lead to the American Civil War.  But this has opera connections as well with Kirke Mechem's opera John Brown, which made its world premiere at the Kansas City Lyric Opera a few years ago.  This is a video of the Texas All-State Choir performing a rendition of one of the movements "Dan-u-el".  Beware, there are many annoying choral crescendos and sforzandos, where the choir begins loud, then immediately drops to a hush and follows by making a massive crescendo.  When will conductors realize that this sounds corny?



The first telegraph message was sent on this day in 1844, "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT" (quoting Numbers 23:23) from the old Supreme Court room at the US Capitol in Washington to the train depot in Baltimore.  Almost unrelated is the British news journal, the Telegraph, which has a great opera twitter feed http://twitter.com/#!/telegraphopera

The Brooklyn Bridge was opened on this day in 1883.  It was the muse for Arthur Miller's Play "A view from the Bridge", which was turned into an opera by William Bolcom - who is a donor and sponsor of several scholarships for my music organization, the Kansas City Vocal Institute.  The opera has played in many of the world's most acclaimed houses including the Chicago Lyric, the Metropolitan Opera, and Teatro dell'Opera di Roma.

And finally, continuing on a week honoring many great German singers, one of the greatest German sopranos, Anneliese Rothenberger, died on this day last year.

Monday, May 23, 2011

TODAY IN OPERA HISTORY - May 23

Last weekend, my wife and I took the opportunity to visit a Kansas City Symphony concert.  They are certainly excited for the upcoming opening of the Kauffman Center, billing it as one of the greatest performance halls in the entire world.  Oh, and the Symphony concert was great too:

1. Brahms Alto Rhapsody (he's probably my favorite composer)

2. Beethoven's 1st (so clean...the best live performance I've ever heard of this, however the audience showed their musical ignorance by clapping between the movements.  You may think that it is pretentious to critique this, but this poor etiquette is very rude to the orchestra and conductor who were obviously bothered by it.  If you are not a musician, think of it as if you are proposing to marry someone in four sentences.  However, after you finish each of the sentences, your future fiancée interrupts saying, "oh, I love that shirt! Is that the one I bought you?", "Your hands are really soft!", "Hold on, let's get someone to take a picture of us", etc.  See, it's pretty obvious that your fiancée is somewhat appreciating the situation, but isn't really paying attention to your expression of love in the proposal.  And you and the conductor and orchestra would probably ask yourself, "Why am I doing this, if they aren't caring as much as I am?")

3. Prokofiev Cantata Alexander Nevsky, written in the USSR's heyday (it's obviously propagandistic, but I couldn't help getting excited, especially with a full chorus).

If you're in town, make sure to go to the Symphony's Celebration at the Station concert at Union Station. A big fireworks show will follow!




I sang the National Anthem at the Royals vs. Rangers baseball game on Thursday.  It went ok I suppose.  I could have done better, but I received a nice ovation.  I really like doing these kinds of things - the "perks" are great.  After doing things like this so often, I almost have become too relaxed.  It seems that when I get really nervous, I perform better than when I do things "just for fun".

Last week, my mom, dad, and grandpa all had birthdays.  That got me to think about who they shared birthdays with, which also got me to think about what important events happened as well.  So, in that mindset, this next week, every day I will have a "Today in Opera History" post, sharing some of the important and very distantly related elements of Opera History.

TODAY IN OPERA HISTORY - MAY 23

Today in 1829, the Accordion, was patented by Cyrill Demian in Venia.  Amazingly, several composers have been able to put the accordion in their operas (Berg's Wozzeck; Weill's Threepenny Opera - I know, it's technically a musical).  I love the accordion, but it has that roughness that seem impossible to refine, like an old-timey bar piano, or the bagpipes.

Ignaz Moscheles was born on this date in 1794 in Prague.  He was a friend to Felix Mendelssohn (who, if you don't already know, is one of the most important composers in history).  His effect on opera history pretty much comes down to when he was chosen by Beethoven to write the piano reduction of his only opera, Fidelio. Moscheles was so ecstatic and proud of the score he produced, that he wrote, "Finished with God's help" on the top of the score. Beethoven approved Moscheles's version, but scratched out the words and wrote over it, "O Man, help thyself!."  Check out Ignaz' Ignazty facial hair...



Today is also the 99th birthday of French Opera Composer, Jean Françaix. His most famous opera was La Princesse de Cleves. Here is a clip from the non-musical film version. (skip forward to 17:00 to see an exciting racquetball contest in costumes and tights!)




Happy Birthday to the famous German soprano, Ingeborg Hallstein.  Since she is still living (and she's obviously a woman) I won't shout her age out all over the internet, but lean up to the screen and I'll whisper a hint...it's her dodranscentennial birthday.  Anyway, to spare her the embarrassment of knowing that a bunch of opera geeks around the world are going to learn the Latin duodecimal system to figure our her age, I will also post one of my favorite recordings of her timeless voice.



It is the 270th birthday of  Italian opera composer, Andrea Luchesi.  He wrote several operas, relatively unknown today, but his music was influential to both Mozart and Beethoven.

Happy 223rd Birthday to South Carolina, the setting for Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess. Actually, they were the first state to seceded from the Union during the Civil War, and they were readmitted when they adopted the 13th Amendment on November 13, 1865 - so I guess today is kind of a pseudo-birthday since they became a state twice.

Today in 1430, Joan of Arc was captured by the Burgundians, and later famously sold to the English, convicted, and burned to death at the stake.  Her story has been retold in many operas by many of History's greatest composers: Verdi, Duprez, Gounod, Tchaikovsky, Dello Joio (one of my favorites!), Bernstein (his is technically a play with accompaniment), and many others.

And finally, it's WORLD TURTLE DAY.  So, go out there and kiss a turtle.  And believe it or not, I Googled "turtle opera" and the Royal Opera across the pond actually sponsors an autism charity called The Turtle Opera Project.  Go check that out as well.


UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
  • 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

Monday, May 16, 2011

Things I Care About

I had an amazing week.  I sang at the Department of Energy's Small Business Conference with special dignitaries, Governors, and US Congressmen in the audience.  It went very well - and especially well for waking up at 5:30 am!  This weekend, my parents came up to visit Dusti and I, celebrating my mother's 50th birthday.  I specially made a Schwartzbeere Kuchen - a recipe that my Grandma and all of my mother's side makes to celebrate special occasions.  I was very proud of how it turned out!

Besides the great time that I had with my family, I was reminded of several things close to my heart and mind recently.  One of which is my childhood music teacher and mentor who was diagnosed with cancer just a couple of days before my wife and I were married.  She was to play the piano at our ceremony.  Since then she has battled cancer, and still is doing so.  She will be walking in the Barton County (KS) Relay for Life celebration on June 10.  They are selling luminaries to light the path for $10 and can be dedicated to a person battling or has battled cancer.  All of the proceeds go to the American Cancer Society.  If you are interested in making a donation to the ACS while celebrating someone's life with a luminary, please send a check payable to "BMI-Relay for Life" and mail it to: 

Denise Wilkens
Benefit Managment, Inc.
PO Box 1090
Great Bend, KS  67530

Also, I have another video comment on the recent news concerning the arts situation in Kansas.




I was just contacted today by the Kansas City Royals.  They have asked me to sing the National Anthem again!  This time, it will be against the Rangers - on Thursday, May 19 - that's this coming Thursday. If you are in the area, hopefully I'll see you there, and hopefully I won't have to use the earbuds this time!

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
  • National Anthem - Kansas City Royals vs. Texas Rangers - 5/19
  • 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

Monday, May 9, 2011

They didn't know I was listening...

Last week was graduation week at the University  I had the honor of singing the National Anthem and Alma Mater for eight commencement ceremonies: 1 on Thursday, 4 on Friday, and 3 on Saturday.  Now, this is a good thing for me, because I get paid for these, and it is quite a simple and stressless job.  Accompanying me was the Conservatory Brass Ensemble for seven of them and a string quartet for the other.  So, it was a time that I could sit, relax, listen to the same pieces of music - in the same order - while watching several thousand people who are wearing essentially the same black muumuu walk across a stage to a fairly regular tempo set by the calling of mostly exotic names, for many consecutive hours over consecutive days.   Yes, it was perhaps a religious experience, from the droll hypnotic state I was burrowing into out of the drone of names and repitious cycle of Pomp and Circumstance. 

For twelve straight hours on both Friday and Saturday, I sat in a very cold arena, waiting to sing for only a minute or so.  My eyes were heavy and swollen - the lights were bluewhite neon, tiring my brain even further.  And then there were the speakers.  The same script was followed for every ceremony, and the only change in prostration and dogmatic ritual came from the Commencement Speakers.

Rejoicing in my only escape from the monotany, I decided that the only way I could mentally get through twelve consecutive hours of this was to take notes and get my brain active.  I tried my hardest to notice anything out of the ordinary and to write down anything of interest the speakers had to say.  I know it probably appeared odd, that someone would be taking notes during the commencement address.  But as embarrassing as it was, it was the only way I could keep from sleeping (and thankfully, I didn't have to sit on stage with the rest of the Platform Party - that would be monumentally difficult to maintain my composure!)

Well, here are the strange quotes and notes I took:

(I won't tell which graduations they were from, to spare any embarrassment. My comments are in italics)

"In the future, you will have to overcome the problems and difficulties of artificial intelligence.  Computer intelligence increases exponentially and will soon exceed the capacity of the human brain.  You will have to deal with these superintelligent machines, including the moral, ethical, and political ramifications of their actions...Also, in your lifetime, we may become immortal, by living and interacting forever in a virtual and electrical cyberverse.  How will this effect your career decisions and ambitions?" What ambitions? If we were immortal, there would be no limit to procrastinating!

Five gradutates and two professors have tripped down the same three steps next to the stage.  They were all men; the graduates were all getting advanced degrees.  I will break one of my rules here, but besides these engineers, no one else of the thousands of graduates in the seven other graduations tripped. Go figure...

"I decided to change my speech, after listening to the inspiring speeches from several of your compatriots at this morning's graduation breakfast...I briefly wrote out my new speech on this card...I would like to ask you all to take out your phones, get on facebook and 'the twitter', and message the world about how excited you are." To the people watching me not applaud the speaker at the end of his speech, I already facebooked and 'the tweeted' my cheering.

Before the next ceremony began, I went to the bathroom, and forgot to zip up.  I was stopped by a security guard when I was going back stage at the same time that I noticed my fly was down.  I told him that I was the singer.  He looked at my fly, obviously noticing that it was down, and looked back up at me and said "ok" and let me through.  Thank you sir, for sparing me the momentary embarrassment, for your hope of a much more public one.

Osama Bin Laden was mentioned in three ceremonies.

Three people, trying to say the word "success", said the word "sex".

In the only commencement where the speaker began by saying "I will try to make this a short and memorable speech", four of the eight platform party members fell asleep.

My Favorite Quotes

"No one remembers me" (talking about the legacy of a commencement speaker)

"No one cares about talent.  Genius is unappreciated.  Success is only dependent upon your determination."

"There is no greater national security than a well-educated population."

"If you make your profession your job, you'll be unsatisfied."

"Find the courage to do the things you're not ready to do."

"Be a good person, don't roll your eyes."

And lastly, one of my favorite moments came in the final (and longest) ceremony, the School of Dentistry.  In the audience, were two giant toothbrushes and a giant dancing tooth. 



As for the near future, I will be singing the National Anthem for the Department of Energy's Small Business Conference on Tuesday.  And, I have applied to audition for the Kansas City Symphony for their next season.  Hopefully, I'll have some news to report there soon.

I enjoyed a quick trip to Salina, KS this last weekend to see an excellent organ concert and I always love seeing my grandparents and the folks at UUMC.  As to my other summer plans, I am learning my parts for a July/August gig in Chicago for Sugar Creek Opera.  Also, I will be working hard with the Kansas City Vocal Institute in trying to provide more locations, services, and scholarships.  We're offering guitar lessons now, and are working on sponsoring a "Battle of the Bands" type contest here in Kansas City.  We're also experimenting with other forms of media, and hopefully I'll have more news on that later next week.  And, I will be off to Manhattan, KS to help run the 33rd Summer Choral Institute, which I am very excited about as well.


UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
  • 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

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama, Food Porn, & the Royal Wedding

This morning I woke up to read the various opera blogs across the web all stating the same thing.  Obviously there are some "full time" bloggers that post several times a day and have tens of thousands of viewers.  But for the first time that I can remember, they all posted the same "non-operatic" story - that Osama Bin Laden had been killed after the President ordered a special operations mission to cross into Pakistan and invade Bin Laden's compound near Islamabad.

But, that will not be the big news of this blog - today's big news is: MY BIRTHDAY WAS LAST THURSDAY!!!


I would like to give my whole-hearted thanks to all those who sent me birthday wishes and messages.  I have never received so many - somewhere over 100!  I have a large love for so many people and I miss them too.  It feels great to hear from you all, at least for a day.

But back to the even bigger news - What exactly did I do for my birthday?  Well, I ate at a restaurant called Stroud's in Kansas City.  It was the first time that I've eaten there, and I probably would have died eating their sticky rolls if they would have let me.  I feel ashamed for eating them - they're that good!  Cue the sleazy music, dim the lights, and enjoy this food porn...



Naughty, naughty....

But that's not all, I also went miniature golfing with several of my friends in town and coincidentally, my birthday was also the last day of school for me for the semester.  I do want to share some of the odd gifts I received:  a basketball net hat, some "beer and smokes" (pretzels and root beer - a traditional birthday gift I share among my college friends), a KU mat (to wipe my feet on), and an ice cream scoop.  The ice cream scoop was given to me by my grandparents, who of anyone, understand my horrific addiction to iced creams. I was digging away a couple of weeks ago and broke our old scoop in half!  Sometimes, I am so pathetic, that I take a knife and just cut a huge brick of ice cream, because it takes so long to scoop the amount I want!

Now it just so happens that during the night after my birthday, the Royal Wedding took place.  I admit that I did stay up to watch it, and it was a very spectacular wedding.  However, all the know-it-alls out there (TV commentators, I'm speaking to you) seem to hype the event as the most elaborate in the world - and use "Pomp and Circumstance" when they just mean to say "pomp" (this phrase originates in Shakespeare's Othello:  "Farewell...pomp, and circumstance of glorious war").  Just wait until Charles' coronation as king.  I assure you that coronations are many many times more lavish.  But, with that said, it was a beautiful wedding.  I am one nerd who lives on big events like this.  I remember funerals of presidents, ceremonies of all kinds, weddings, inaugurations, etc.  And the most exciting part of these to me are the art and music of it all.



Obviously they put on a very artful production but I did have some comments on their music.  The choirs and chamber orchestra were great.  I certainly loved Ubi caritas et amor by Paul Mealor - it is a very modern sound (almost certainly inspired by Eric Whitacre's music).  Paul Mealor is a relatively unknown composer, but this ambiance/new age sound works very well with a modern and elegant celebration.  The entrance music was grandiose, the hymns were loud, and the British National Anthem was exciting.  However, the new composition by John Rutter, as lovely as it was, seemed pretty boring to me.  I know Rutter's music very well, and it had the Rutter touch of jazz cadences and pretty melodies, but it just wasn't interesting, and honestly could have been written in 1970.  It just had that odd flavor of corny choral contemporary Christian music of the 70s.  Also, I can't help but loathe the recessional music.  It is called Crown Imperial by William Walton and was written for the Coronation of George VI - this piece was also played at Diana and Charles' wedding.  To me, it is just not very majestic.  It reminds me of hokey 40s film orchestrations.  Why not recess to the glory of brass, choir, and organ, pumping a fist-full of sound into the gut of everyone in the abbey?  I don't want celebratory music to be dainty, I want it to be powerful - but that just might be the American in me.  Who doesn't love to blow things up on the 4th of July?


Ok, that's not really what I was going for - but you know what I mean.

In another exciting piece of history this week, the late Pope John Paul II was Beatified at the Vatican.  And what I found remarkable was that someone kept a vial of his blood.  They presented it to the Pope in the Beatification Mass.


I am still besides myself on the incredible news of the death of Osama Bin Laden.  I have had a lump in my throat and chills throughout the day, remembering how I felt on September 11.  I never thought I would feel that way ever again - a mix of pride and grief, determination and distress.  And as the story is unfolding, it appears that it was an incredibly heroic feat as well - it almost seems unbelievably heroic, even for Hollywood.  I hope that this will not cause any sudden acts of violence, but I have never felt this kind of relief before.  I know I am excited about the death of someone, but he was a very very evil person.  He alone is responsible for much of how the world has changed in my adult life.  His actions instigated the two longest wars in United States history.  And now, we have achieved at least one important goal - and for anyone who remembers September 11, we finally can release our collective anger.  So, I am rejoicing with everyone in the streets of New York, Washington D.C., and everywhere else who have spontaneously cheered throughout the night.  Maybe now, we can finally begin to put this part of history behind us - mentally and literally.

This week I have many performances at commencement ceremonies; that will certainly keep me busy.  I am also trying to plan a recital later this year marking the 70th anniversary of the Soviet genocide of the Volga Germans - the ethnic group of my mother's side.  It also appears that the Kansas City Lyric Opera will not be hiring me.  I have heard from those who were hired, and have heard of the information, emails, etc. that were sent to them.  I am certainly disappointed that the Lyric never contacted me one way or another.  Because I didn't hear from them, I tried to contact them regarding the status of my audition, yet received nothing except a short message in March from someone with a minor position with the company saying that they haven't decided yet.  I am not one to get too bitter, but it is disappointing when professionalism is not reciprocated.  I hope that this isn't the case.  Nevertheless, I will be contacting the Symphony and will be auditioning for them and for their exciting productions next season.  I am also excited at the chance to audition for the several events that the Conservatory will be putting on in the new Kauffman Center.

Lastly, thank you everyone who commented and enjoyed the whistling video.  To answer most of your questions - yes, I am definitely going to submit a recording for next year's championship, no matter how goofy and socially awkward it is, but I still need more song ideas, so if anyone has a song in mind, let me know!


UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
  • 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