Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Simon Says...

I have certainly had the most amazing week so far.  Last Saturday, I began singing with the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers - for most of the world, that's a big "so what!"

Well, it has been one of the most interesting music experiences of my life.  First, this is a small professional choir.  Its purpose is to record an album this week with singers from all over the nation and world.  Boy am I lucky, they just happen to record in Kansas City - the group is as diverse as possible, but the sound is incredible.  It certainly is amazing.

From the get go, it is clearly apparent that this recording is ultimately important - I expect that they will want to submit it for recording awards and such.  But, Simon Carrington is a sweet genius.  He is an amazing person with a great attitude and bright English accent, but he is to the point - his rehearsals are premeditated and intense in all the best ways.  We begin with careful but difficult warm-ups challenging perfect intervals - to any Joe Schmo, most wouldn't be able to tell the difference between perfect and horrible, but pitch accuracy is vital and just the slightest problems will be noticed in a group like this.

Our rehearsals are long, and frankly, I was not in the least bit pleased with myself after the first rehearsal.  It was apparent that the other singers, all super-professional singers and choristers, were better prepared for the situation than I was - I spent hours Saturday night practicing; ironing out my problems.  Yesterday and today have been a blast however and I don't think many singers would believe the detail that has been discussed such as:

A group of perfectly tuned 4ths and 5ths descending and ascending in parallel motion were not staying in tune with a held high G by the sopranos in a John Corigliano piece.  The problem is that descending perfectly tuned 4ths and 5ths will be flatter than equal temperament because of physics - so we have to purposefully tweak the 4ths and 5ths in very precise ways to make it sound correct.  One person described the problem as "we're singing a B sharp instead of a C" - let that screw with your mind.

Other problematic details include finding your note in a piece opening in a cluster chord, without an opening pitch; which ethnic dialect of Latin to use; the precise length and intensity of a breath, the letter "f", a crescendo, the glottal mechanism for beginning on a vowel, and even our facial reactions (which effect the brightness of the sound).  All of these are controlled to a precise detail and it is incredible to work with such amazing musicians who can pull off the most impressive tasks.

We even have sound technicians in the room yelling at us, even personally at times, what we did wrong and why, all to a very small detail.  If you are a singer, these experiences will teach you so much about discipline in making art - if perfection is ideal, it takes people like this to at least attempt it convincingly.  So, with that said, we will soon have an album to release, and we will have a concert on Friday at the beautiful Episcopal Cathedral in KC (at 7:30) as well as a concert on Saturday at Corpus Christi Church in Lawrence (at 7:30).  We are also recording for NPR today, and Simon will be in a live interview on Kansas Public Radio at 11:00am on Thursday.  I hope you are able to hear us live!

On a different topic, I was able to get a private hearing of the organ at Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center from a good friend, Jan Kraybill, who is its caretaker.  It was amazing, an elevator takes you right up into the middle of the organ pipes.  You must walk through the pipes and wood planks winding their way out to the console which overlooks the beautiful hall.  And the sound was startling - I was so excited I laughed uncontrollably through Saint-Saens.  Thank you Jan for the amazing opportunity!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Celebration at the Station LIVE

Watch the outdoor concert at Union Station in Kansas City tonight (Sunday, May 27) at 7:30pm CT.  Tens of thousands of people gather for this special Symphony concert of Americana, fireworks, and cannons.  This PBS broadcast will be shown nationally on July 4th.  WATCH LIVE TONIGHT 7:30!

Monday, May 21, 2012


If you missed it last night, there was a magnificent solar eclipse across much of the US.  My wife and I went out to watch it at sunset and it was amazing.  My dad captured some of these amazing images.  Pictures are incredible, but it is such an amazing sight in person!

Since my last update - I have been "vacationing" at home, learning TONS of music.  Some of it will be amazing music, and some of it is really frustrating and annoying to learn, but that is the life of a musician.

But before I get to that I must first mention that last week one of the most significant classical singers in history died: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. He was a baritone who is universally recognized as the greatest lieder singer in history. For those who don't know, "lied" is German for "song", and in classical music, lieder are German art songs. Here is one of the most glorious songs in music history - Der Erlkönig - music by Schubert, poem by Goethe about a sick boy being carried by his father on horseback as they race home. During the ride, the boy sees and experiences images and sounds that the father does not. In the end the boy screams that he's being attacked by an Elf King.  When the father reaches home he finds that the boy is dead. The song is very exciting, you hear the horse galloping in the piano, and the singer must play the part of the boy, father, and narrator - at times quickly going between the three.

This week, as I have mentioned, I have a lot of music to learn! I am preparing to make a recording with the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers next week, and we will have several live performances in the area as well. If you don't know, Simon Carrington is one of the most influential choral conductors in the world, and I am THRILLED to be part of his professional choir - a handful of singers have flown in from all across the US to do this, and we have high hopes for the recording!

I am also planning the 34th Summer Choral Institute which begins June 3 at Kansas State University. It will certainly be the best Institute ever, and the students and staff are absolutely incredible. SCI is a summer program for gifted high school Sophomore and Junior singers. They come from across the US to make music, sing in concerts and recitals, and train at the highest professional level for one week every summer. Students who were accepted received a full scholarship to attend, courtesy of K-State and The Master Teacher Institute for the Arts. It is one of the most amazing weeks of my year!

I am also learning my role for an opera in Pennsylvania late next month. I will have much more about that as the time nears, however this weekend is the annual Celebration at the Station here in KC. Last year, I was SHOCKED that 60,000 people attended this outdoor symphony concert of Americana, fireworks, canons, etc. in the area between the National World War I Memorial and Union Station in KC. If you are in the area and decide to come, you will find me and wife and some friends on the lawn with a cooler full of beer, watching the events - classical music would be more popular if tailgating were a vital part of its tradition.

Finally, last week I surprised my mom for Mother's Day by driving 4.5 hours to their home. They were renovating their house, so I helped move all kinds of furniture. While I was there, I filmed my puppy Kiah doing her tricks.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mouth Shapes

Life has been a bit crazy lately.  Last week, I sang with Washburn University Choir and Topeka Symphony as a soloist in Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass.  It went very well, but the most disturbing event was that my tuxedo pants came unhemmed at some point.  Thankfully, I don't believe I looked too much like Charlie Chaplin with my slightly too long tux pants.  By the way, this isn't the first time that I've had a fashion emergency.  In the first voice competition that I have ever won, I was without my glasses or contacts and wore two right foot shoes (I had a friend hastily buy shoes for me from a tux shop hours before a concert on a day that I was busy, and sure enough, he bought two right foot shoes).  I also had an unzipped zipper moment in 2010 during my Master's conducting recital and in 1999 when I played a crow in The Wizard of Oz, wearing full body tights in a dress rehearsal, I didn't understand that when you wear tights, they stretch and people could see my tighty whities underneath my featherless legs - it could have been worse; at least I wore underwear.  Nevertheless, I had a great time in Topeka with a wonderful conductor and I enjoyed learning about the careers of the Washburn Professors whom I shared the stage with.  Oh, and the choir sounded veraciously exciting!

Guess what vowels we are singing...I hope we aren't all singing the same word! My wife pointed out the by making an "oo" sound with these mouth shapes it sounds like a seal's mating call.  Photo courtesy of the Topeka Capital Journal
Of course I made my rounds with the Spring Commencement exercises this weekend singing the National Anthem.  It went very well of course, but my excitement at the moment is with the Kansas City Symphony.

Today, I had a very long dress rehearsal with the Symphony who is performing several sold-out concerts for their Education Series.  It is an amazing event, where the students, who have been learning about music all year in a curriculum funded by Carnegie Hall and the KC Symphony, have come to join the Symphony to learn and participate in a concert in the world renown Helzberg Hall.

I showed up early, and while I was sitting in the performers entrance in the "cleavage" of the two theaters at the Kauffman Center, in walked a group of folks with ACDA (American Choral Directors Association).  They were touring the center as they were selecting a venue to host their National Conference, which is pretty much the Super Bowl of choral music.  Of course, I was really excited when I overheard their conversation, so I jumped in - rudely - but hey, I really think that Helzberg is the greatest venue for choral or symphonic music; greater than any other place that I've experienced on earth.

Well, the ACDA folks (Dr. Tim Sharp among others) picked a great day to visit.  They first heard Aretha Franklin do her bit and they somehow got through the army of secure fences and border police.  Literally, the workers cleared out the entire area and put up a restraining fence to keep anyone in the building from bothering or listening to Her Highness practice.  I love Aretha, but it would have been fun if they were a little more lax on the secret service side of things; she even had guys dressed in black suits with glasses and ear pieces and all!  There were very few people in the place, so it seemed like they went a little overboard with the security - and unfortunately, I was unable to meet the Queen herself, but maybe I'll get another opportunity.  

The Symphony played portions of Beethoven 5, Le nozze di Figaro Overture, and I sang with the Symphony as well...however, some of the songs, are a little less than classical in nature.  I sang a catchy Brazilian dance song in Portuguese (no, I have never studied Portuguese, but I had some coaching) and other pop tunes created for the event and even moments from Carmen, with my friend Chris Carr as the awesome toreador Escamillo, and for all the music nerds out there, we are even performing an Arvo Pärt piece for the elementary kids - how crazy is that!?  I'll let you know if it effective or not, but I think it will be shockingly cool.

In the end, I am really excited for our concerts with the kids - they get to "accompany" with their recorders on one song...literally, 1200 kids playing recorders to Blue Danube - who can't smile (or laugh) thinking about that!

Also, I got an awesome private dressing room!  I even enjoyed a catered meal in my room - it was a sandwich lunch of turkey on rye with wine-soaked onions, spinach, and a raspberry cream dressing with Swiss cheese, a salad of mushrooms (which I loved!), and a pear!

Lastly, I must mention the passing of Maurice Sendak.  He had an impact in the world of opera in a rather interesting way, by making the opera Brundibar into a picture book in 2003.  I will make a special post about it later this week, but the opera was written at the concentration camp that I visited three years ago in Terezin, Czech Republic - I think it is a very important story to tell.  If you do not know about it, here is a short wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brundib%C3%A1r

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

May Days

Oh beautiful May!  For two decades you have ushered in the highest levels of anxiety, looming ever so devilishly amid a procrastinated school work-load; But this year, I will relax!

School ended for me on April 30!  This is the first time in my life that I have not had school into May, and not just any school - May is a time that teachers and students alike procrastinate the biggest assignments and tests, making one last push to cram-memorize/cram-teach all that one physically can with as minimal sleep as possible.

Amazingly, my schedule in May consists of teaching voice lessons and a few awesome gigs.  First, I will be a tenor soloist with Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass at Washburn University in Topeka.  If you are in the area, you should definitely come - large choir, orchestra, awesome soloists!  Downbeat is 7:30 on Friday at White Hall on the campus of Washburn University in Topeka.

Also, I will be singing the National Anthem and Alma Mater for a graduation on Saturday, but my Sporting KC gig has been moved to June 16 - right before I leave for Pennsylvania.  If you don't know, I will be singing the Canadian National Anthem at that televised soccer match.

Next week, I will be singing with the Kansas City Symphony at Helzberg Hall in their Education Series concerts.  I am a very lucky person in that my first day (May 8), Aretha Franklin and I, share the same practice time at the Kauffman Center, so I am very excited to see if I can get an autograph, hug, photo, anything...

Then, I will be singing with the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers at the end of May.  We will be recording an album and we are hoping to submit it for some awards (possibly a Grammy!).  I've never been a part of a process like that, so I am very curious to see the workings of a professional choir and a professional recording.

Last weekend, I was able to sing a recital in Salina, KS at the grand opening of the new sanctuary at the church I used to work at.  I was met with great memories and the smiles from many friends.  I miss those folks very much, and I was honored and excited to sing for them all in their incredible new sanctuary.  In fact, if you are in Salina, KS and you are a musician, you must find a time to make some music in the sanctuary of University United Methodist Church.  It is certainly the best music venue in town - I truly mean that.  It is live but doesn't dampen the resonance, and even with a domed ceiling, performs very clean.

Also, last week, the 2012 Kansas City Vocal Institute Celebrity Auction ended.  It was very successful, and I want to publicly thank my mother for all of her help, and thank all of the bidders as well.  We are now able to provide over 100 more free lessons this year for underprivileged children and families in the Kansas City metro area!

Next time, I will be posting some pictures of the various events of this week as well as give you more info on the KC Symphony gig!


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