Monday, January 30, 2012

Fun with Flags

Hello, my name is Bryan Pinkall.  Welcome to the One Hundred Fifty-Second episode of Bryan Pinkall's World of Opera.  Weekly, I have inundated the internet with many of my more abstruse passions.

This week, I will dissertate a topic that captured my liking at an early age - FLAGS.

I originally didn't watch the Big Bang Theory because I thought it was too corny.  I believe after only one episode, it was clearly apparent that what my wife was laughing at, wasn't necessarily the corny jokes about the Higgs Boson, but at Sheldon Cooper - who makes jokes about the Higgs Boson.  Why? Well, my poor wife has to deal with his social unawareness, his stubborn arrogance, his unrelenting certitude, and most annoyingly his ability to speak without end on the world's least interesting subject in real life.  Unfortunately for her sake, I am her Sheldon Cooper.

And, as fate would have it, I have had all of the national flags of the world memorized since I was 7.  Why? Well, I had a primitive CD that played the national anthems of each country while a little picture of the flag was raised.  Since then, and as with much of what I do, I became obsessed.   And with that knowledge, I cannot help but critique this hilarious yet somewhat misinformed portion of The Big Bang Theory.  Even while it was airing live, I talked ceaselessly through it to my wife who was laughing hysterically at me on the couch.  She was laughing because I was correcting all of the "truthiness":

1) Even though Oregon is the only state flag that has two different sides, there are many other flags that have different obverse sides.  Obviously all flags have two sides, but I'm assuming that's not what they were arguing.  Paraguay has two different seals on the front and back of their flag.  Most notably, the Soviet Union had nothing on the back side of their flag - the hammer and sickle only appeared on one side. Obviously there are flags that must reverse the picture so words would read correctly, like Saudi Arabia

2.)  There are many non-rectangular flags - most notably, the state of Ohio and Nepal.

3.) The Hoist is most accurately described as the entire half of the flag that is closest to the flag pole

4.) Just a little tidbit - Germans call "Bavaria" Bayern - but, to correct their flag choice, they are showing you a flag that has the correct field (background) with the Bavarian Coast of Arms.  However, this is not the official flag of Bavaria.  Bavaria has two official flags seen below.

All of this has reminded me that I need to get "on the ball" with my whistling.  So, hopefully by next week, I will have a new whistling video that I will submit to the world whistling championships!


This past week was quite busy and interesting.  I auditioned for Union Avenue Opera from St. Louis on Tuesday.  It really didn't go that well in all honesty.  My voice sounded tired, perhaps because I have been practicing too much recently, but it was a struggle to get through both Lenski's Aria and Dalla sua pace.  It also wasn't the smartest that I have ever sang either.  Unfortunately, when one thing goes wrong, it is easy to start a chain of wrong events.  Nevertheless, that is just part of being a singer.

I was also invited to sing at Kansas State University for their Vocal Arts Day.  I was very honored to be invited and I had a great time with my friends.  I sang Verborgenheit by Wolf and Torna a Surriento.  It was quite interesting mainly because my voice had some pretty thick low resonance - thanks to the mold fairy.  Unfortunately, it was one of those times that I would have been much more assured if the situation was a little different, but like my audition on Tuesday, it's all in the past now and there's nothing that can be done to change it.  So, I am forced to be content!

This week, I will be singing with the Kansas City Symphony in Mahler's Resurrection Symphony.  It is one of my favorite pieces, and since I'm a singer I rarely have a chance to connect with these large orchestral pieces. The first movement is a violent funeral march based on the Dies Irae chant, the second movement remembers the happier times of the deceased person's life, the third movement has the famous "death cry", the fourth movement includes a mezzo soloist who longs to be in heaven, and the fifth movement is the famous resurrection - "with wings I have won for myself, I shall soar upwards".  The coolest part, besides the end is when the chorus comes in for the first time, they sing pianissississimo, almost at a whisper, "auferstehen" - which calls the soul to is so freaky and cool.  Here is Bernstein conducting the finale, unfortunately it is after the auferstehen part, however in this clip, Mahler wrote for the chorus to sing "with maximum force"!!

Also, I will be a soloist for a Bach cantata on friday.  Here is the most famous portion of it (beginning at 3:57)

Finally, I will be competing in the Kansas City NATS competition on Super Bowl Sunday - by the way, I have the Patriots winning...not that I care too much, since the Browns came up just short of glory once again.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Last Thursday was a special day for me. I began my day sitting-in on a lecture by an applicant from the Peabody school to be a new musicology professor at the Conservatory. We talked about John Dunstable. It was certainly difficult to maintain my concentration, enough so that I originally wrote this confusing him with John Dowland.  In any case, here's a great John Dowland lute song:

After that was over at around 10:45, I drove over to Visitation Catholic Church near the Conservatory.  It is a beautiful space - a modern church that was built in an old Spanish Mission style.  It is quite beautiful.  Here, I sang a lunchtime performance of Bach's Cantata 196 with a chamber string ensemble and three other soloists.  It went splendidly!

Bach continues to be "my thing".  I am really considering putting more time into finding opportunities in Bach performances than opera at the moment, precisely because I know that voices for Bach are a rarity and I think that I fit the mold just perfect.  And as luck would have it, I received a couple new Bach gigs as of late.  I have two different cantata performances within the next 2 months here in KC, but next April - that's April 2013 - I will be performing the Evangelist in St. John's Passion and be the tenor soloist for Bach B Minor Mass with symphony and chorus at the Kauffman Center, on my birthday no less.  I am super excited for that opportunity.

I am very excited for the Evangelist role, because it is one of the most demanding baroque tenor roles that I know of.  I am very honored to be asked to perform that.

So after my cantata was finished, I headed back to the Conservatory to talk about early American music.  We talked about a technique called "lined out".  This is a technique that Puritan churches used in the 1600s - see if this sounds familiar - where the congregation follows a leader in singing a song where they, at most, have only the words to read from, without the use of written music.  When the pilgrims came to America, they read music from hymnals.  Over a few decades, people weren't taught how to read the music in hymnals and it eventually lead to this call and response type of singing with a song leader singing each verse and the congregation joining in every phrase.  After a many years without following written music, the music inadvertently evolved so much so that the same hymn may sound completely different at the church down the street.  The music got so bad that some churches split from the Puritans to form singing schools (the puritans thought most music was sinful).  As you may of guessed, the singing schools caught on and luckily, music education became an important part of the early American church.  Here are two clips - one of lining out and one of a modern congregation.  Are there any similarities?

I hope we enter a new era of music education.  Singing from a screen doesn't help anyone.  Think if your congregation could make music, read parts, sight sing...I'd be out of a job - the music would be so beautiful!

After my class was over, I went downtown.  The Symphony gave me a special invitation to audition for them. They were filling their concert schedule for next year and asked to hear me sing several excerpts of things.  I arrived pretty early, so I was left sitting next to the security guard in the performers entrance lobby for quite some time.  After a while, I saw several symphony players leave for the day before a lady came to escort me down to my dressing room.

I went down the elevator - an elevator that speaks the floor names in an Australian accent no less - and arrived at the backstage area.  As I turned the corner to pass behind the Helzberg Hall entrance, there was a group of people that I had to move around to continue down the hallway.  As I got closer, I realized why there were so many people crowded in that area.  Yo-Yo Ma was there, practicing with the symphony, immediately before my audition.  The lady that escorted me slowed and then stopped at Yo-Yo Ma's dressing room, waiting for people to clear the way.  Once a few people excused themselves, she made, oh, three more steps and said, "here's your dressing room! We'll give you a seven minute warning before you're on."

My dressing room was right next to Yo-Yo Ma's.

Now, if you didn't already know, I am an opportunist.  I set my leather bag down and checked out my dressing room for a few minutes.  It had a shower, large bathroom, flat screen TV, lighted mirror, some furniture - certainly the nicest dressing room that I've ever been in, however it was pretty gray and black.  Nonetheless, I opened the door to see if I could get in on the Yo-Yo Ma action next door.  Unfortunately, the crowd of people were making their way down the hall and on their way out.  I missed my chance.

I indeed got a seven minute warning - what an awkward time increment - and then was sent out to the Helzberg stage.  The hallway was in a "T" shape.  A left turn at the end of the hall would take me on to the Helzberg stage, a right turn led to the elevators and lobby.   As I was rounding the left turn to get on stage, immediately in the hallway on the right was the crowd of folks and Yo-Yo Ma.  What a way to freak a guy out right before you go on stage.  In my head, I knew he could hear everything I was doing, even though in reality he probably paid no attention to me.  Nevertheless, I went out to center stage and sang.

The hall is impeccably pristine.  It is very live and enormous.  Unlike most large halls, there was no awkward sound escape; I felt as if I was in a practice room.  As for the audition, it went well, except for the end of one of the excerpts - I lost some resonance there unfortunately making the high notes sound pushed.  The Symphony maestro, Michael Stern, had me repeat some portions, changing the musicality to fit what he had in mind.  And five or six minutes later, I was finished.  As I exited, the crowd of people next to the stage door had left, and the auditions coordinator said "Congratulations" even though I wasn't too ecstatic about how I did.  Then, I quickly left to see if I could see Yo-Yo Ma as he was leaving, but he was long gone.

In the end, it was an afternoon of misses.  I missed Yo-Yo Ma and unfortunately, I missed the ending of one of my excerpts.  That always bugs me.

The following day, I sang at the Conservatory as they filmed some promotional videos for their production of Carmina Burana on February 20 at the Kauffman Center.  I believe it is already sold out, so I'm sorry if you wanted tickets.  I do have a couple of tickets to the Symphony's dress rehearsal of Mahler's Ressurrection Symphony on Feb. 2.  If you are interested, let me know!

Tomorrow, I have an audition for Union Avenue Opera in St. Louis and on Friday and Saturday, I'll be a guest artist at Kansas State University's Vocal Arts Day.  I'm super excited for that as well!

Finally, it wouldn't be my blog if there wasn't a bad national anthem video, and thankfully, American Idol judge Steven Tyler demonstrates why real singers should be asked to sing the Star-Spangled Banner.  I wonder how he is taking the criticism?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cell Phone vs. New York Phil

I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  It is warm and windy here in Kansas City, and I have enjoyed my day away from school playing golf.

This week, I began work on several different projects.  I am preparing for many musical events coming up, and I have tried not to be overwhelmed.  I do have a new schedule change - my recital commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Soviet genocide of the Volga Germans has been moved to February 21 at White Recital Hall at the Conservatory.

I have some exciting events within the next month, including an audition with the Kansas City Symphony and Union Opera (St. Louis), two different Bach Cantata soloist gigs, a performance at K-State's Vocal Arts Day, Kansas City NATS competition, KC Symphony - Mahler's 2nd, and Carmina Burana at the Kauffman Center.  It will be a crazy, but exciting start to the year. To see my full schedule CLICK HERE

This week, as I have taken breaks from learning all kinds of music, I found a couple of youtube videos that were popular among my opera friends.  They are very funny, mainly because a lot of it is true!

Also this week, this happened:

I find it very interesting that people get so upset about this.  I would of course be upset if I were there, but is it ok that we are programmed this way?  Should it really make us upset?  We generally have music playing very often as we go about the day, multitasking.  Why is it ok to play and sing music while driving, but not listening and talking on a phone?  Why can you yell at a basketball game, but not at a tennis match?  All are distracting, but for some reason, it is only appropriate in specific situations and not in others.

I think that our western culture has decided that "art music" should be performed by professionals and that we should be silent during its performances because it likes propriety.  Western music is typically rigid and unchanging - heck we write it down so we can perform it exactly the same way for centuries on end.  So, it's a formal event with rules of etiquette.  Believe it or not, some cultures do not view music this way.  Some just start playing drums and people improvise the beats with dances and songs - everyone participates.  That seems more natural to me than what is "proper etiquette".

No wonder why people get all fussy about going to classical music concerts.  There are crazy rules to obey, like clapping after a jazz solo or opera aria but not between the movements of a symphony, of course you may not make any involuntary noises, whispers, cough drop wrapper crinkles, or bring your baby, and the ubiquitous "standing ovation" typically reserved for exceptional performances, is now just about the only way to tell the curtain dropper that: "We the audience have enjoyed the performance as demonstrated by our applause, but we are about to stop.  So, we will stand in order to get our coats back on and you have about 20-30 seconds before we make a mad dash for the exit."

Fortunately, there's an easy way to stop a cell phone from going off in a concert.  What I hope to discover is a way to keep that old man behind me from percolating a gallon of phlegm.  I'm pretty sure that in any musical tradition, he would be inappropriately gross. "Gag a maggot", as my mother would say.

Last week, we finished several of the auctions for the Kansas City Vocal Institute.  This week, we will be auctioning four more!

4 Infield Tickets to a Kansas City Royals Game
Stephen Flaherty autographed New York Pops CD
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor autographed Polo's Mother book
Rebecca Stead autographed When You Reach Me (Newbery Award Winner)


These private auction items generally are won at a very inexpensive price compared to our ebay items.  You should check them out and put out a bid if you are interested!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Death Knell for Opera? & The Cotton Bowl

"Fighting ever fighting", my Alma Mater lost the Cotton Bowl but I had a great time with my wife and family (pictures of our time are at the end of this post).   We went to the Cotton Bowl Classic at Cowboys Stadium, the JFK "6th Floor" museum from where JFK was assassinated, the "grassy knoll" outside the museum, the old Cotton Bowl stadium at the state fair - where we discovered and reported a gas leak, shopping malls, and in the end had a great time with my family.

My wife is sure to give me a hard time about this, but if you see "New Year's Eve", I am acting in a supporting role (as a crowd member) as it was filmed when I was in New York last year for the ball drop.  Beware, it has a 7% approval rating on  In one of the final scenes, you see the ball drop and when it hits zero, the numbers light up "2011".  Then the movie cuts to show two of the film's characters for a split second and when it cuts back to show Times Square with confetti and fireworks, the numbers say "2012".  I was surprised that in a movie about New Year's Eve in New York that they would forget to fix something like that!

I still have yet to see Tower Heist, where my wife and I play supporting roles as crowd members in the Macy's parade.  If anyone has seen it, let me know if you think it is worth watching or not.

In opera news, I am usually a very optimistic person about the medium that I love.  Recently, the music world has suffered several huge disappointments.  After seeing the stock market crash of 2008 and the subsequent Great Recession, the arts have held on, but last month was particularly difficult.

After staging the Pulitzer Prize-winning composition last year, composed by UMKC composer Zhou Long, Opera Boston has closed it's doors because of a budget deficit.

New York City Opera has recently had a tumultuous history and has barely stayed afloat.  Now they are suffering a musicians' lockout.  Part of the problem is that some of the musicians, who would earn around $40,000 for two productions, were offered only $5,000.  City Opera, previously one of the world's most prestigious operas, now looks like it will fold.  Ticket sales dropped from $12 million to just under $200,000. The general director has cut his own pay by 10% while cutting 90% of the musicians' pay.

Putting doubt on any future recovery, one of the greatest conductors on earth, James Levine, has withdrawn from all his scheduled conducting performances through May, 2013 after he is still suffering complications from an August surgery after he injured his spinal chord while on vacation.

In Kansas City, after building the world-famous Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, both the symphony and opera companies have left the old Lyric Opera house.  That performance venue, once deemed as a premiere spot for a downtown move by the UMKC Conservatory, now has its fate in the hands of a zoning committee as it decides whether an FAA training center should be built on the site.  Are these historic performance venues worth destroying for few jobs?  Sadly, this could be the case.

Kansas is now selling license plates saying "State of the Arts" (instead of the more appropriate "The State That Won't Fund the Arts" as the Manhattan Mercury put it) in order to provide money for grants through the Kansas Arts Commission.  Last year, Kansas Governor, Sam Brownback vetoed the continuation of the previous commission, for to him it cost the state too much money - .00005% of the state's budget or five-one-hundred-thousandths of a percent.  The National Endowment of the Arts has determined that Kansas does not meet the requirements to receive any funds, therefore organizations in the state cannot receive any federal artistic grants.  Here is one story about how Kansas is suffering from such dereliction.

I listened to an interview of a famous ballet dancer on NPR where she pronounced that her medium of ballet is effectively dead.  Here, one of the most passionate lovers of ballet mourns the popular loss of the art.  Her argument was that popular culture demonizes elitism and intelligence.  People only "dance what they feel" in her opinion, and the education required to understand artistic dance is shunned because ignorance is preferred when learning would be a struggle.  She has given up on the artistic and cultural future, and has left it to be determined by "corporate marketing."

I for one, completely understand how painful this argument is, because it is true in some respects.  There are many more Grammy Award categories for entertainment music than for artistic music.  People unknowingly make me feel insulted when they argue the artistic genius of their favorite pop singer while bashing the classical tradition, as if being "highbrow" is a negative thing.    I love that music is such an enormous part of our popular culture and I always hope that is the case.  But, for most people, including myself, there is so much more to learn and listen to.  As long as I am on this earth, there will be passionate people for opera and dance and the arts, because I am passionate for them.  And, there are many millions of others who are also passionate.

So, if you are depressed about where the arts are going, just remember that everything changes in time.  Change isn't necessarily a bad thing unless you wish to only live in the past.  Live passionately, teach others your passion, and be a motivator for something new in the world!

I'm still excited to see what lies ahead...


To view my upcoming schedule CLICK HERE

To bid on items for the KCVI charity auction CLICK HERE


Cotton Bowl pictures! 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Auction, "Imagine", and Proper Hat Etiquette

Happy New Year to you all!

Yesterday, was the first day of the KCVI Charity Auction.  We just started our silent auction and every two weeks we will have 4 more items up for bid.  This silent auction is a great way to get items for cheaper than what our more public, ebay auction, will run.  Also, it will feature some very unique items.  It is very easy to bid: go to, click the auction button, click on the item, give your bid and contact info, and you will get an email if someone has outbid you.

Our first four items are:
Lyric Opera of Kansas City Ticket Package - bid starting at $20
Stephen Flaherty Autographed CD "Seussical" - bid starting at $1
Gregory Porter Autographed CD "Water" - bid starting at $1
Eric Whitacre Handwritten & Autographed Score - bid starting at $100

The item from Eric Whitacre is very unique in that the winning bidder can select any of his pieces and he will hand-write the piece or a segment of it, dedicate it to whomever they choose, and autograph it.


All of the proceeds will go to the items' respective scholarship fund.  Also, I will always update on this blog with more information about any new items.  Other items will be up for auction on eBay beginning in the middle of the month.

As to the New Year, I can't help myself from commenting on Cee Lo Green's version of John Lennon's immortal song "Imagine" at Times Square on New Year's Eve.  If you missed it, just listen.

I only have two thoughts for everyone on this, (1) he messed up the words and (2) listen to it again with your eyes closed and tell me that he isn't related to Roseanne Barr!  Seriously Cee Lo, it's a simple song. You didn't have to sing the last half up an octave.

Oddly enough, bad performances don't just bother me alone.  Evidently, the State of Indiana has some issues with people singing the National Anthem all crazy-like.  They are introducing a bill making specific performance standards for performing the National Anthem, which will be decided by their State Board of Education.  They will also enforce a $25 fine on any performer who violates the law.  I know I love to critique public National Anthem gaffes, but even I think that laws like this go a little too far.  It's certainly our American culture to have artistic freedom with such things; I don't think a law will change that.

Amazingly, other states have passed similar laws.  Little did I know that Michigan has made it illegal to sing the National Anthem with embellishments - good luck attracting the Super Bowl to Ford Field again!  Igor Stravinsky was warned not to play his arrangement of the Star-Spangled Banner while in Massachusetts in 1940 when a police officer told him that he would be arrested for playing an embellished version of it within the state.  Stravinsky didn't perform the piece.  And on a further note, I found out that it is a Federal Law for men who aren't in the military to remove their hats and place it over their left shoulder during the National Anthem.  

Perhaps I'm a nut, but isn't it quite strange that only men are required to do this?  And why do we do it in the first place?  Obviously, anyone would say that it is the right thing to do because of "respect".  In all seriousness, does anyone really know why that is respectful?  "It's respectful because it's respectful" as one internet source so logically put it.  Circular arguments are not good enough for me, so I found a very interesting article on the history of donning and doffing (putting-on and taking-off) one's hat.  Evidently it extends to a Dark Age ritual of Knights lifting their visors to show that they were friendly.  If people have the freedom to scream the National Anthem any way they want, shouldn't men be able to don and doff their hats during the National Anthem with freedom?


So, if you get angry when people wear their hat during the National Anthem, I fully expect you to take your hat off when speaking about your late great-grandparents, leave your hat on while eating at a diner or cafe, and tip your hat when asking an elderly man for directions as any respectful person would do. As for women, from what I have "researched", they have the freedom to wear a hat in almost any situation!  Good grief!

That's all for now, I'm off to Dallas this week to watch my Alma Mater in the Cotton Bowl.  Go State!!

KCVI Charity Auction - Gregory Porter Autographed CD "Water"

KCVI Charity Auction - Stephen Flaherty Autographed CD "Seussical: The Musical"

KCVI Charity Auction - Lyric Opera of Kansas City Ticket Package

KCVI Charity Auction - Eric Whitacre Handwritten & Autographed Score

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