Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Polka Band & a Goat's Head

Finally, I have some time to relax.  These last two and a half months have been two and a half of the busiest months of my life.  I went to Dallas twice, just returned from Chicago, sang the National Anthem at the NAIA National Championship Game last week, played Don Jose in an opera, saw Yo-Yo Ma, prepared and sang a Doctoral Recital, performed Carmina Burana and Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, auditioned for the KC Symphony, KC Lyric Opera, and Union Ave. Opera, competed in KC NATS, sang 3 Bach cantatas, and sadly had two deaths in my life.

As I mentioned, I sang on National TV, sort of, last Tuesday.  I sang the National Anthem at the NAIA Men's Division I National Championship basketball game.  It was a lot of fun, the game was exciting, and it was in Kansas City - my favorite city!  Immediately before I sang, a man walked up to me to inform me that two "wounded warriors" would be standing behind me when I sang.  Then he said, "make sure to honor them".  I thought that was one of the oddest things someone has told me.  I don't know what he was expecting, but evidently I give off the vibe that I don't honor all veterans, especially wounded ones.  I assume by the loud "hoo ah!" behind me, after I finished, that I did well.

Then I went to Chicago to compete in the Divisional Finals of the NATSAA competition.  As is my custom, I lost once again to the same singer, a soprano - who is a great person and singer, I do not feel bad at all that I lost to her - but it is a little funny.  I felt that I sang very well, so I don't have a lot to complain about.

While I was in Chicago, I was able to see some of my friends who were spending their Spring Break along the white, blistering beaches of lake Michigan, in March - it was in the mid 80s.  (insert global warming joke here)

German bar with live polka band, singing patrons,
and steins swinging in the air - AWESOME
first visit to Wrigley Field - not impressed
Self Portrait at "the bean"
Partially eaten veal - yum!
If you don't know me, I love eating.  I must say that I have never been so excited about eating as I was last week in Chicago.  I had the above, veal covered with crab (seriously!? - I'm laughing, it's so exciting), and tried a variety of other foods like a crab cake that felt so good, some creamy key lime pie, the best shellfish I've ever had, and a couple glasses of wine.  I also ordered an entire goat's head, but they were out - shocking, since the only person I would ever expect wanting something as weird as a goat's head is my Grandpa.
awesome live blues
waiting to compete at NATSAA - very foggy

I had a great time in Chicago, but missed Joyce DiDonato's performance at the Kauffman Center in Kansas City over the weekend.  It will be broadcast nationally on PBS, but it serves as a great testament to this new golden age of Kansas City.  Joyce talked about it on NPR, but there is more happening in Kansas City right now than in most major metropolises on earth.  The greatest musicians are flooding in to perform at the new Kauffman Center, universally acknowledged as one of the greatest performing venues in the world.  One of the world's leading art museums is in Kansas City, the town is bustling with many other artistic events, and I just found out that chef Anthony Bourdain is airing a show next month in his new season of No Reservations, highlighting Kansas City.  That is likely my favorite television show. It is so rewarding to be in Kansas City right now.  It has made me incredibly busy, but the opportunities are incredible - I wouldn't be able to do what I am doing any other place.

This week, I will be working on a paper and heading to Manhattan, KS for a meeting about this year's Summer Choral Institute - something I'm very proud of.  Then I will be singing in a masterclass on Saturday with a professor at the Cincinnati Conservatory and will be performing Brahms' German Requiem in English on Sunday.  Believe it or not, that's a relaxing week for me!

For the next several weeks, I will be posting some recordings of mine, one each week.  The next three weeks, I will post the premiere performance of John Mueter's Three Volga German Songs.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mary Magdalene Wars

Life is back to normal, for at least two days.  My Doctoral Recital was a couple of weeks ago, and I will be posting more about that next week, hopefully with recordings.  Now that the opera is finished, I enjoyed a nice evening with some of my family and after they left, my wife and I opened a bottle of wine and watched the Discovery Channel's new show "Frozen Planet".  It's pretty incredible by the way.

Tomorrow, I have the honor of singing the Star Spangled Banner at the National Championship game of the NAIA Men's Division I tournament. If you read this and want to go, let me know. I have an extra guest pass!  The game will be played tomorrow (Tuesday) at 8pm at Municipal Auditorium featuring the winners of Shorter vs. Concordia and Oklahoma Baptist vs. Mountain State.  Those games are played tonight.  As a side note, Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium has hosted more NCAA final fours than any other site - 9.  Second is Madison Square Garden with 7.

Then on Wednesday, I'm off to Chicago.  I will be competing in the NATSAA (National Association of Teachers of Singing Artist Awards) District and Regional Finals.  It is a prestigious competition, but it is incredibly difficult for several reasons.  

1.) All the singers are ridiculously good  

2.) Men must compete against Women

3.) We must submit a horrendously specific conglomeration of songs:

1 Operatic Aria
1 Aria from a mass, oratorio, requiem, or cantata
3 American, Canadian, or British art songs in English
songs or arias but no more than 2 arias that were composed before 1800
2 German Lieder or French Melodies
2 National art songs that are not German, French, American, Canadian, or British
AND an additional 3 songs or arias that fit within any of the previous four categories
AND 1 of these must have been written after 1950, and it cannot be an arrangement of a folk song

So, I have a collection of 14 songs - an entire recital of music (memorized of course).  If I were to sing the entirety of it, it would take me about an hour.  But in this competition, we are given 15 minutes, and the judges keep selecting songs that they would like to hear until I run out of time.  Only one person from our region of several states advances to the finals.

In case this is new - art songs are classically sung songs that aren't a part of a larger work (like an opera).  If they are from a larger classical work like an opera or an oratorio, they are generally called arias.  There are exceptions, but musical theater (broadway tunes) aren't a part of this competition.  Needless to say, in the world of "cultivated music", this is one of the biggest competitions.

By far the most annoying part of it all isn't the memorizing, but finding original scores for everything.  Even if it is something 400 years old and it is in public domain, you can't simply print it off.  All this means is that instead of fitting everything in a small black folder, I have to carry around a red Radio Flyer wagon with fifty pounds of music instead.

This brings me to an exciting topic.  It is almost April!  That means that it is almost time to begin one of my most disturbing and most ridiculed parts of my blog.  In April, I start looking at the upcoming opera season, since most companies are winding down for the summer.  I get really excited about World Premieres and rate them from worst (2 Susan Boyles) to best (2 Pavarottis).  I get excited about it just as most get excited about movie trailers.

Of course, there are certain types of movies that you would always love to see, and then there are the chick flicks that are just a waste of time.  So too is the world of opera.  There are some concepts that I flat out love, and then there are some that don't get me excited at all.  That doesn't mean they're not good - chick flicks regularly win at the Golden Globes (not the Oscars though) - it just means that I get to post some funny pictures of Susan Boyle.

But the big story this year is all about Mary Magdalene.  Two of the most famous composers on earth are producing pieces in a war of Marys (Maries?).

John Adams' Oratorio "The Gospel According to the Other Mary" being premiered by Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil 
Mark Adamo's "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene" being premiered by San Francisco Opera

I'll be tackling that Goliath in a couple of weeks, but until then, here's a short video on what the Gospel of Mary Magdalene is:

Monday, March 12, 2012


Pop some popcorn! Find a nice comfy chair and enjoy some music and videos.

Finally, life is getting back to normal...and I am so excited for the Conservatory's production of La Tragedie de Carmen this week!  If you think something seems a little out of place, your suspicions are correct - it is different than the famous opera, Carmen.  Peter Brook compiled the music for La Tragedie by taking all of the most famous musical segments from Carmen and splicing them together, making a shorter and more dramatic version of the opera for Broadway.  I can tell you right off that it is very sexy and very violent...it's perfect!

I play Don Jose who is the tenor lead (with an awesome aria - and tons of high notes).  He is an ax murderer who finds his "freedom" by being in the army.  As one may suspect, he slowly grows more and more insane as the piece unfolds, and more and more people are killed in increasingly violent fashion.  This rage stems from his love for Carmen and his jealousy for all the other "loves" of her life including a bull fighter and her Gypsy husband.  And, as all great operas go, I kill her in the end!

For the opera purists out there, keep an open mind, it's not too much different than the original; for the American audience, it is full of quick flowing drama and the beautiful music of Carmen.

For those out there who haven't seen Carmen - I GUARANTEE that you know the music from it...let's see if you find any of these familiar: (in fact if you have never heard these before, I would not believe you...as for #2 if you don't recognize it - just skip to 1:20)

How do I know that you have heard these before?  Well...Carmen is completely saturated in our popular culture.  Some of the first Disney cartoons were about Carmen, and even today many of our commercials and TV shows feature music from it as well...here's a brief showing of how popular Carmen is in our world:

The Habanera, Toreador song, and overture are certainly the most famous excerpts from Carmen, but there are three more tunes that Carmen sings that are EXTREMELY catchy as well!

AND THAT'S NOT ALL!!!!  Don Jose also has one of the most heartbreakingly lovey-dovey pieces ever...take a listen:

I didn't even include the fights, stranglings, and stabbings...it will be a wonderful night at the opera for everyone.  If you are in Kansas City this week, I hope you can come.  I will be singing on Friday and Sunday - it's only 1.5 hours long!

La Tragedie de Carmen
White Recital Hall
Conservatory of Music and Dance
University of Missouri - Kansas City
7:30 PM March 15-17, 2012
2:30 PM March 18, 2012


Last week, I had another successful performance of a Bach Cantata that featured some ridiculous coloratura - fortunately, it is one of the funnest things that I get to do and it went really well!

Next week, I will be singing the National Anthem at the NAIA National Championship Game and I will be going to Chicago to compete in the District and Regional Finals of the National Association of Teachers of Singing Artist Awards.  They require us to submit 18 pieces and they choose 10 minutes of music for us to
sing.  It is one of the biggest song competitions in the US, and I am very excited!


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Snow White Passion

In August of 2009, four days before my wedding, one of the most influential and beautiful persons in my life learned that she had very aggressive cancer.  Connie Schneweis continued this battle until last Friday.  She quoted J.S. Bach as to what she wished to be said in her funeral homily: "To God be the Glory".

Bach wrote oratorios based on the biblical stories of Jesus' death called "Passions".  It so happens that I am preparing a production of a modern "passion" called "The Little Match Girl Passion" based on the fairy tale.  So, in the same, I would like for you to know about my friend and our experiences and my sorrow.  Given her name, this Snow White Passion contains several stories as flashbacks separated by short poems taken from the Book of Matthew, Picander, and Hans Christian Anderson used in the Match Girl passion.

Snow White Passion

"Come, daughter
Help me, daughter
Help me cry
Guiltless daughter
Patient daughter

I walked up to the house along the drive, making sure to not walk through the grass.  Holding on to my red canvas bag with black cloth handles, filled with piano music, I hesitantly enter the front door and sit as quietly as I can on the couch waiting for a student to finish playing their piano piece.  The student ends and packs up their things.  Turning around on a black swivel chair next to the piano bench, she smiles and calmly says, "Bryan!".  I walk past the Christmas Tree, smell dinner being cooked in the neighboring kitchen, and sit on the piano bench upon which lies a white thinly-padded cushion.  We talk about the problems that being a mature fifth grader brings; I play through an arrangement of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" memorized...barely.  I need more practice - opening my note book, she writes "S M T W T F S"; below it, my prescription for what I should practice in the coming week.  It is time to go, and at the front door, with a huge loving smile, she says almost musically, "goodbye, Bryan"...I know her inflection so well, speaking on the pitches of B flat, rising to E flat, and settling on C.

"Penance and remorse
Tear my sinful heart in two
My teardrops
May they fall down like rain

Here, daughter, here I am
I should be bound as you were bound
All that I deserve is 
What you have endured"

I learned much from her. Music - Kindermusik lessons, the glockenspiel, bouncing basketballs in the Parochial School hall.  Admiration - sitting patiently while I destroy Beethoven on the piano  Joy - cantoring mass, cantoring Christmas Eve mass especially, watching her teach her children's choir.  Dedication - going with her to conventions in Chicago and Indianapolis, playing songs that I composed for us, the large nativity set she gave me, encouraging me to do music even after I quit piano lessons in 8th grade.  Pride - being my confirmation sponsor, awarding me my first college scholarship, playing a piano/organ duet of Bach/Gounod's "Ave Maria" (her favorite version) with me at church after I started lessons again, playing a piano duet with me on a recital.  Love - traveling to see me in a choir concert, in an opera; myself traveling back home from college on Mondays to rehearse for Christmas Eve mass; sending me old pictures of us, fully appreciating every moment together.  THE LOVE OF LIVING - fighting cancer


On the day that the new microphones were set up in the sanctuary, I got to test them out.  I was only 13, and had a great urge to be ornery.  "This is God!", I said in the lowest part of my male-soprano voice - echoing throughout the sanctuary.  She was not amused...in fact she was really upset.  "At least father didn't hear", she whispered with stress.  Not many got to see that side of her...I was lucky - lucky, that she hates being angry.

"Dearest heart
What did you do that was so wrong?
Why is your sentence so hard?"

A phone call can usher a storm of pain.  As if she were the calm mother in Forrest Gump, I hear the weakness of her voice, the sadness, and the serenity that life has changed.  She has cancer, and cannot play "Thaxted" at the wedding.  Surgery is imminent.  There is no time to mourn, she must act.  She is tired and sick, but there is hope.  She chose to speak to me - not a message - but in her own voice, to tell me the news of what life has dealt her, taking courage to make sure I was calm and emotionally understanding of the situation, apologizing for my sake as if she were taking the guilt...never mentioning a selfish thought of which most of us would wail, "why me?"

"My eyes are crying.
My heart is crying.
See my tears fall."

Many do not know my past, my troubles, my pranks, my joys.  Through all the happy and sad times, I nearly never cry.  I just haven't had to - I never fight to hold it back; it just didn't happen.  After a double overtime loss in a football game in 1998, I cried.  I cried while throwing-up a couple of years ago.  I have teared up twice too - seeing my bride walk down the aisle and holding my puppy on the last night at home before I moved to college.  But in the last 14 years that was it, until the lonely drive back from Dallas last weekend, until hugging Father Warren walking into the church for the vigil, until approaching her, until hugging her family, until exhaustively relaxing after cantoring the vigil in the arms of my wife, until listening to "Thaxted" at the funeral (which was a wonderful gift), until her children's choir sang "How Can I Keep from Singing".  It was great relief.

"We sit and cry
And call to you
Rest soft, daughter, rest soft

You closed your eyes.
I closed my eyes.

Rest soft"

I sent a letter to her to tell her what I have been up to - and what she has inspired me to be - including things that no one knows about still (unless she bragged about it to someone!).  I received a phone call.  She was so proud.  There are only a few people on earth in which it is always ok to brag to.  For me, she was one of the few - I was proud that she inspired me to keep going.  She knew it, and I knew that these proud moments made her happy.  I was always happy for her and her stories and her family as well - she always shared about them.  She taught me that it is ok to live your passion passionately.  And of course, being passionate people, we had a great time being happy - especially when it comes to music.  She told me calmly that she was planning for her funeral and asked me to cantor her services.  "It makes me sick to think about that", I said very nervously.  She said not to worry, that she was at peace with it all and quickly reminded me that she couldn't help but plan the music.  She asked me if I thought I would be able to make it when the time came - still not knowing how far in the future it may be.  I quickly replied, "There is no greater honor.  I would go to the end of the Earth to be there, do not worry about that...I owe everything to you it seems, it's so great to be able to live what I love to do."  She said, "We are fortunate; we ARE the luckiest people on earth after all!"

Sensing the end of the phone call, I casually went through the normal cadence, assuring her that I would be back in town after the opera in March and that I would see her soon.  I didn't get that opportunity, but I did get the greatest memory of her.  I said "I love you" as if I were to end the phone call on a sharp, happy note.  There was a pause.  She very slowly said, "Bryan"..."I love you, Bryan".  Those words said in a perfectly calming inflection - musically, first on B flat, rising to E flat, and settling on C.  Calm and beautiful.


I will miss Connie very much.  I hope that I can be as influential as she has been.  Hundreds attended her funeral.  It was beautiful.

("Thaxted" is the name of the Chorale in the middle of this piece)

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