Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Two Choral Groups Walk into a Bar…

I’m currently learning Ave Maria by Franz Biebl with my choir.  I was looking for videos, found the one below, and had to share it with you.

No joke here:  two vocal ensembles, Cantus and Chanticleer, walked into a bar one night and decided to sing Biebl’s Ave MariaListen.  This is magical.

 

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Concert Etiquette Poll

Stick figure asleep at concert


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Thrift Shop Score!

Literally and figuratively.  Found this classic Edition Peters score of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio on a bottom shelf.  Paid 99 cents!

Photograph of score of Bach's Christmas Oratorio

Want to hear what it sounds like?  Follow the links to a fine performance conducted by John Eliot Gardiner: Part 1, Part 2.

Need a score?  Find one here (no thrift shop runs required).


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Plein Chant: The Challenges of Open-Air Singing

Choir singing in open air being menaced by sun, bugs

I haven’t been posting much lately because it has been a busy choir season.  Recently, we had the privilege of singing at an open-air event.  It was wonderful, with several choirs and soloists performing, fine speakers, overall, a truly memorable event.

However, there were certain aspects of open-air singing that I was not prepared for, so, as a public service, I thought I would alert you to some of the hazards that you might have to confront, and provide you with some helpful tips.

The Sun

The venue in which we were performing had a roof, but all four sides were open.  The sun, which at first was a pleasant, cheerful presence, over time became the blindingly bright, searing ball of flame that it is.  The highly reflective white music pages became hard to see, a situation made worse by burning, salty sweat dripping inevitably into the eyes.  It would have looked weird to don sunglasses, even if we had them, so that was not an option.  Or, for that matter, a sweatband, never elegant under any circumstances.  In addition to the threat of heatstroke, some of us were treated to the musical equivalent of a trucker’s tan.  I’ll call it a tenor’s tan, the sunward arm bronzed from the tip of one’s short sleeve to the wrist, the hand remaining ghostly due to its sheltered position beneath the music binder.

Note: bring water.  Long sleeves, while counterintuitive in hot weather, are not necessarily a bad thing, and are useful for mopping the sweat out of one’s eyes.

Bugs

Thankfully, no one inhaled a bug while prepping for a dramatic forte note.  I’m sure it has happened.  Instead, we were visited by the occasional wandering insect of the stinging variety.  On-stage decorum precluded frantic arm waving (or running away, or wildly swinging one’s music binder).  Instead, I mentally intoned the mantra I typically use when encountering snakes while hiking, “I’m a tree, I’m a tree…”, hoping they’ll somehow get the message that I am not something to bite.

Note: forget bug spray; singers would rather inhale a bug than smell that all afternoon.  Be brave.

Risers

We were seated (thankfully) on risers, standing when it was our turn to perform.  But there were no railings behind the back row.  There was a fear that some poor bass would fall off, into the deep end you might say.  A basso profundo indeed.  I am happy to report there were no incidents.

Note: be aware of your surroundings at all times.  Especially edges.

No feedback

When you sing inside, you always have some sort of reflection of your sound, either from a wall behind you, or across from you, and it helps to evaluate your sound in comparison to others.  But outside, with no walls, the sound escapes from your lips…and keeps going.  You might be able to hear the person next to you, maybe the person behind you, but, if you’re toward the back, everything in front of you is inaudible.  Typically, a monitoring speaker is placed facing a choir so they can hear themselves, but this was not the case this day, or if it was, it was so quiet we couldn’t hear it.  More frighteningly, we could not hear our pianist, which meant watching the conductor was no longer optional (note: conductors will tell you it is never optional).  Probably ok, since it was pointless to look down at the music, because we couldn’t see it in the blinding sun anyway.

Note: keep time, read lips when necessary.  And do no harm (drop out if you’re not sure, come back in when you’ve found your place).

I’d like to point you toward a video at this point, or at least audio, but apparently there was a recording problem, and the sound that was captured from anyone who was not wearing a mike (i.e., the choirs) was a weak, feeble whisper not at all representative of what was being produced or transmitted to the live audience.  I think the bees clustering on a microphone would have made a louder sound, though I suspect it would be less four-part harmony, and more George Crumb’s Black Angels.

So, I hope this will help you get ready should you have the opportunity to sing outside.  Be prepared as well for:  thunderstorms, darkness, cold weather, high winds, dust blown by said high winds, audio feedback of the ear-piercing variety, earthquakes…you get the idea.

Just remember to have fun!

 


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Haiku Wednesday: Small is Beautiful; Palestrina’s Missa Brevis

lavender plant with tiny flowerslavender plant

Look closely; you’ll find
Hidden beauty sometimes in
The smallest places.

It had been quite a day.  An ugly day.

It was the kind of day that, for me, only the exquisite beauty of Renaissance polyphony would wash away.  And who better than Palestrina?

So I settled into my favorite chair, started some music, and closed my eyes.  Beautiful.

Except…

I noticed that the movements were going by a lot quicker than I expected.   Palestrina was moving at quite a clip.  Before I knew it, the piece was over.  Wait, what?  Already?  Which Palestrina had I selected?

It turned out I had selected an album containing Palestrina’s Missa Brevis, from his Third Book of Masses of 1570.  It is a complete mass, no movements omitted, as can be the case in some masses.  But it seemed noticeably shorter than some of his other masses.  How much shorter?  I did the only thing I could think of to verify my impression.

Selected Palestrina Masses performed by The Tallis Scholars conducted by Peter Phillips
Title Kyrie Gloria Credo Sanctus Benedic-tus Agnus Dei I Agnus Dei II
Missa Benedic-tus es 5:59 7:10 10:59 10:22 6:45
Missa Nasce La Gioja Mia 3:06 4:33 7:25 4:52 4:25
Missa Assump-ta Est Maria 4:42 5:41 8:06 5:31 5:50
Missa Sicut Lilium Inter Spinas 3:42 6:12 9:01 5:19 5:02 n/a
Missa Papae Marcelli 4:02 5:37 8:56 6:40 6:40
Missa Brevis 2:52 3:07 5:24 4:34 5:33

You can see from the table that a) I’m a nerd; b) most of the movements of the Missa Brevis are half the length of those in the Missa Benedictus es, and for the most part are noticeably shorter than those of other masses.

While the work is short, Palestrina more than makes up for it in the beauty of his composition.  This could be the most peaceful 2:52 of your day: here is the Kyrie from the Missa Brevis.

You can watch a performance of the entire piece (23 minutes) here.

If you will be performing this work with a choir and need some help learning your part, you can visit the CyberBass page for the Missa Brevis, where you can hear and download your part for each movement.  Scores are available at the Choral Public Domain Library, or at the Petrucci Music Library (IMSLP).

May you find beauty in unexpected places.
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Image attributions: Photos of lavender plant and flower by C. Gallant, 2017.


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“No Bach today, pet cat please”

I ran into some difficulty while studying a Bach piece today.

Cat paw on sheet music for Bach Invention 1

 

Cat paws on sheet music for Bach Invention 1

 

Cat lying on sheet music for Bach Invention 1

Apparently, I no can has Bach.¹

References

  1. It’s not that I can’t grammar today, it’s a reference to the I Can Has Cheezburger meme.  A sampling of images can be found here.  Good thing it’s Caturday, I may have just wasted your afternoon, if you start looking at them.


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To Sing on the Water

Photograph of the rippling, shimmering water of a lake as seen from a kayak

Sometimes, you have to get out of the office. Way out of the office.  Or just away.  To a place where there are no computers, no connectivity, no cell phone coverage.  No chargers, no chatter, no cable.

The middle of a large body of water is optimal.

Sunshine and breezes on a beautiful day can go a long way toward recharging your own battery, and the shimmer of a beautiful lake, the splash of water as your boat travels along are incomparable antidotes for the noise and bustle of a busy life.  And we’re all busy, too busy, always aware of the ticking clock, the march of time.

All this hustle and bustle might seem to be a modern phenomenon, but really it’s not.  People have been escaping to nature for a very long time.

Schubert, ah Schubert!  He knew; of course, he knew.  In his song Auf dem Wasser zu singen. Schubert sets to music a poem of Friedrich Leopold zu Stolberg-Stolberg that describes a boat trip at evening and reflects on the passage of time.  The piano ripples like the water, and the play of light and shadow at evening is reflected in Schubert’s characteristic shifts between major and minor keys.  The poet also notes the passage of time: each day time escapes, flying away.  But he is not disturbed, as he says that he will take wing and escape from time someday.

Here is Schubert’s Auf dem Wasser zu singen, performed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore.

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Image attribution:  Photograph by C. Gallant, 2015.