Monday, January 21, 2013

Inaugural Review, Camels, and the Grammy's

As much of the world spent today, the day of the 57th Presidential Inauguration, at work or if they are lucky, at home watching TV, I spent it trotting around like a horse in rehearsals for the premiere performance of "How the Camel Got His Hump", an opera for children based on the Rudyard Kipling story.  It is incredibly cute and I hope to get some funny pictures of us all: Camel, Ox, Dog, Genie, and a Man.  Of course the Man doesn't have much of a crazy costume, but everyone else is dressed up as their characters as if we are all kids pretending to be these animals.  We grab our props from a toy box and hopefully, our audience of kids will feel like we are pretending right along with them!

Likely the most impressive feat of our performance is that most of us have learned and memorized the opera within just a few days!  It's a little embarrassing to admit our collective (and personal) procrastination, but if you step back, that's pretty good work for a small group of singers and honestly, if there are any teenage singers out there who read this and can't memorize their 3.5 minute long piece after 2 months of practice - it's not that languages are difficult, it's probably because you are great at procrastination and haven't practiced memorizing lately.  I procrastinate more than I should (as do most teachers and singers), but it takes an efficient person to make a busy performing schedule work.  You better learn how to memorize quickly!

Anyway, stepping off my high horse and on to another much higher horse, four years ago we saw some incredibly influential musical moments in the Inauguration of the first African-American President of the United States.  First, Aretha Franklin sang "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" in a rather mediocre attempt, though important example of the influence of jazz on western music, further giving it to the British as this "American" tune is actually the tune to the National Anthem of the United Kingdom, " God Save the Queen."

Without the help of an awesome hat, Kelly Clarkson took the honor of singing this great American song and did so with great freedom.  The arrangement was somewhat bland, but Clarkson managed to sing the song without screaming too much...something that I often complain about when it comes to her recordings.  So, congratulations Kelly, and I was most thankful that she kept her embellishments simple.  It seems backward, but the simpler one sings in the non-dramatic sections, the more dramatic the high belting becomes.  Many people don't realize that there is a formula to get that "wow" factor...don't just sing, think and sing.

My biggest complaint was that of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" performed by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.  Perhaps President Obama enjoyed the piece, and while the singers displayed better vocal acuity and intelligence than the Mormon variety of tabernacle choirs, and even if I selectively forget their vomiting of "Hallelu-JUH" as most high school choir teachers would correct on the first day, the arrangement was corny and predictable - not unlike a routine from a Disney on Ice Spectacular from the late 1980s.  So, good job Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir but I give no props to the arranger of the piece.

And now to the best moments of the last two Inaugurals.  From 2009, John Williams' "Air and Simple Gifts" was performed by Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Gabriela Montero, and Anthony McGill.  Actually it was a fake performance since it was too cold to perform live - it was too risky for the stringed instruments.  Nevertheless, it was the first classical quartet ever to be performed at an Inauguration and it payed homage to the creator the "American" quartal harmonies and Shaker tune associated with Aaron Copland, one of the greatest Nationalist composers of Americana.

Believe it or not, I have not been drinking and I intend to give my biggest praise to someone singing the National Anthem NOT in the classical style, but in our crazy virtuosic pop/jazz style.  Beyonce provided a stellar performance at today's Inauguration.  Her version of the National Anthem exhibited great vocal technique and variety, showing great freedom at times, and most importantly demonstrating her vocal prowess.  Her voice is healthier than Whitney Houston's was and showed the virtuosity and musical intelligence of Ella Fitzgerald.  I can only hope that her delicate style would take the place of the belty screams of most female popular singers of today's recording artists.  I can assure you of this however, Beyonce's career will last longer than most because of her technique  I have a feeling that when I go to the Grammy's in a couple weeks that I will witness several singers who should take the time to learn a thing or two from her.

Lastly, my wife and I are gearing up for the Grammy's.  The Kansas City Chorale is up for two Grammy's, we have our tickets, and my wife bought her dress last weekend.  Her Ralph Lauren dress and my soon to be discovered suit will be seen here with my Grammy coverage beginning in two weeks as well as on any red carpet TV coverage if we are mistaken for someone famous.  We will be at a cocktail event on the eve of the Grammy's and we will attend all the award ceremonies on the day of the Grammy's.  The majority of the awards (including the classical categories) will be handed out during the first ceremony which you can watch online (I will provide you with a link later on) and the rest will be part of the larger ceremony at the Staples Center which you can watch live on CBS.  Afterward, we will attend Wolfgang Puck's after-party where many of the biggest celebrities in Hollywood and music will attend.  I am very excited, but my wife is VERY excited.

In the meantime, take a look at the Grammy Classical Music Nominees and view my updated performance schedule on the black bar above - I'll have more details to discuss in the future, including a job interview with the Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games next week!  Things couldn't get any more exciting...or adventurous...or stress inducing!

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