Monday, May 10, 2010


Hey, this blog isn't here anymore. It's at

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Learn about Learning Chant

Great multimedia slideshow here at the about learning chant.

"The first thing that strikes you is that the notes are square."

"When you can't hit the high notes, sing so quietly that only your guardian angels can hear."

"When a man loves, he sings . . . When a man loves God he wants to sing to God . . . Chant allows you to sing to God and it gives you beautiful music to sing."

More here.
Hat tip - The Recovering Choir Director

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Helix of Choral Music

Dr. Leonard Ratzlaff, Director of Choral Activities at University of Alberta (my Alma Mater) in Edmonton Alberta Canada has recently embarked into the world of blogging on Choral Music.

Here is a sample of a recent post:

Learning to communicate with every phrase one sings - what a concept! It might seem so basic as to be obvious, but I am sure we have all experienced the mundane as well as the refreshing and inspiring, both in our own singing and the singing we have heard from others, so we do recognize the difference immediately. The powerful effect of such engaged and enlivened performances can shake one to the core if one is lucky enough to be present when it happens! This was most aptly demonstrated for me by a number of university choirs at this year's national convention of the American Choral Directors Association in Oklahoma City. Many of the best performances were delivered for memory, enabling visual communication and highly refined ensemble awareness within the group, but there were also some groups whose use of music (the British Early Music group Alamire comes to mind) did not compromise their ability to communicate their passion for the music they were presenting. The key in all of these performances was surely that the group, through the leadership provided from the podium, had considered the potential communicative impact of every line and phrase - a process that can take great amounts of time but can nevertheless be life-changing for our singers if we ourselves take the time to deliver the message in a cogent and well-thought out plan of attack.

Welcome to the Blogeshere Len, I think we will all enjoy what you have to offer to our expanding network of Choral Blogs.

Hidden in Len's blog URL is the title "Choral Helix", bringing to mind the imagery of choral music as an organic growth, compared to that of the "double helix" known in the sciences as the building blocks of our DNA. A lovely metaphor to choral music, and singing.

Monday, April 13, 2009

See the light

I'm not the biggest fan of Conspirare but I like this video and I'm looking forward to the PBS special:

"Light of a Clear Blue Morning" by Conspirare from KLRU / Conspirare on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Seraphic Fire - Miami Choral Project

A fantastic mission in Miami--a little league organization for choirs:
Shawn Crouch wants to bring the magic of music to needy youngsters as the newly appointed foundation director of Seraphic Fire's Miami Choral Project.

The newly started Miami Choral Project is funded by a $684,500 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It is a tuition-free program that creates a "little league-type" network of choral ensembles for children in low-income areas in Miami-Dade.

"We want to better low-income communities through participation in choral singing," Crouch said. "Children who sing together are taught important life skills: how to listen to one another, how to work as a team and how to strive for their personal best, adding their voice for the benefit of the choir as a whole. We will nurture these life skills through music and help foster them outside of rehearsal into the child's community."

Read the whole article here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Pathological Handel

Read this interesting article on Handel's eating disorder. A portion of it here:

David Hunter, a Handel specialist and curator at the Fine Arts Library of the University of Texas in Houston, is more sympathetic. George Frideric Handel, celebrated not only for his glorious Baroque music but also as an interpreter of human character, was, he says, not a moral reprobate but the victim of a pathological condition - a compulsion to eat. That in turn resulted in chronic lead poisoning - chiefly from the quantity of wine he imbibed - which influenced the course of his musical development.

For many years until his death he was blind, suffered paralytic attacks, severe gout and difficulties with speaking and thinking. He was also severely overweight, a rarity among 18th-century musicians.

What was the cause? From a study of the portraits and contemporary descriptions of the composer, Dr Hunter believes he was suffering from binge-eating disorder.

He said: "Handel became obese and it is likely that he could not control his appetite. During his travels in Europe he incurred huge food bills and his first biographer noted that he was 'habituated to an uncommon portion of food and nourishment'. The evidence suggests he suffered from what we would now call a binge-eating disorder, defined in his day as an 'extraordinary appetite' and an 'inordinate extravagant hunger'.

Read the whole article here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday: Les Allegri Miserables

British conductor Peter Philips wonders why so many choirs attempt the Allegri Miserere:
Now that the Allegri Miserere season is fully launched — the text is suitable for Lent — it seems fitting to ask why every choir in the land thinks it incumbent on them to sing this piece of music, for 150 years only ever sung within the walls of the Sistine Chapel. It never used to be so. The local cathedral choir might periodically have had a go at it — and St John’s Cambridge always broadcast it on Ash Wednesday — but nowadays performances by secular and liturgical choirs alike have reached epidemic proportions, a kind of top C fever. This is all the stranger when one reflects that most of these choirs will sing much worse than usual in attempting it. Why bother?

The trouble is that five solo top Cs in 12 minutes is a test of nerves which very few people, especially children, are equal to. The result is often an embarrassment — the pitch sinking, the chant wretched — in which people nonetheless still manage to hear enough traces of a famed beauty to perpetuate the need to hear it again.

More here.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

New Associate Director of Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Jeff Collier of Minico High School in Idaho sent this in:

RYAN T. MURPHY named as Associate Music Director of Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Mormon Tabernacle Choir announced today that Ryan T. Murphy has been named associate music director. Murphy will assume the associate music director position formerly occupied by Mack J. Wilberg, who was appointed music director in March 2008. The appointment concludes a world-wide search that began in August of 2008.

Murphy has extensive choral conducting and professional musical theater experience. He currently conducts six choirs in the Boston area, including two choirs at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music. He serves as the choral director at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, an internationally recognized secondary school affiliated with the New England Conservatory.

He has served as the music director for the Tuacahn theatre in the St. George, Utah, area and prior to that as the music director for five seasons at the Sundance Institute in Provo, Utah. He has maintained an active performing schedule, including recent collaborations at the Tanglewood Summer Festival outside of Boston.

Speaking about his appointment, Murphy said: "It is a dream come true to work with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and to be associated with the caliber of musicians here serving the Church. It will be an honor to assist Dr. Mack Wilberg, and I look forward to working with him to touch the hearts of a wide variety of people, cultures, ages and beliefs."

Look here for more.

Full press release here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Voca People

Another a cappella phenom group. I'm not too certain about the costuming though - looks a bit like a spin off of the Blue Man Group, without the blue paint.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Free: The Tenors

Although I disagree with the basic premise of this article, I think it is fabulous and very creative advertising. (It's real basses that I think are vanishing). This article hit the front page of the Vancouver Sun on Friday, March 27.

That the tenor is slowly vanishing from the world was evidenced Wednesday morning when members of Vancouver's Jubilate Chamber Choir risked hypothermia by standing for more than an hour at the south end of the Burrard Bridge, trying to lure a tenor or two.

Choir president Jim Colbert and three others, all in tuxedos, were waving signs saying "Free, the tenors" to passing buses and rush-hour motorists.

It wasn't an appeal to let some Pavarotti-beautiful voices out of jail, but shorthand for telling tenors they wouldn't be charged the usual $250 in annual fees if they joined the choir.

Colbert is hoping the demonstration will bring one of these scarce voices into the fold.

"We stayed out there as long as we could. We left before hypothermia set in," said Colbert, whose 24-member choir was formed in 1994 and is now down to its last two tenors.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Organ stops

Saw this on the lists and decided to make a blog post:

GK: Why don't we go to concerts anymore?

SS: We have children.

GK: We could get a babysitter.

SS: Wouldn't help. We're too tired. Every night around eight thirty I'm ready to go to bed. And every week they bring home a new virus. They get over it in about twenty-four hours and we're sick as dogs for ten days.

GK: Johann Sebastian Bach had 20 children. Think of that. His organ had no stops.

SS: Amazing. That someone with 20 kids wrote something this peaceful.

See the whole skit here.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sudden death

It's a classic dilemma for a conductor, which most of us have faced at one time or another: something goes drastically wrong in a piece; do you go on and hope it recovers and no one notices, or do you start over? What if it's in the middle? It might be an instrumentalist who gets off by a bar, or just a tempo which never gels. 

In my case (this happened to me last weekend) a soloist missed an entrance, someone who's usually rock solid. And it was a fast Baroque piece, 3/4 conducted in one. Would she find her place before her line ended? Would the tenor (who came in next) be able to find his entrance if she didn't? You've got seconds to decide. In sports they call this sudden death.

I decided to stop. I tapped my stand with the baton to stop everyone, said "measure 58" to the orchestra, and off we went. The soloist knew she'd screwed up and was ready to jump. 

Did the audience notice? I'm often surprised how things that we performers think of as major disasters sometimes go over their heads. Of course everyone was too polite to mention it so I'll never know, but it's also true that if I'd gone on for the next twenty measures without any singing, it might have seemed a bit bland.

No deep philosophy here, just a chance to vent. I suspect most of us have been there.

P.S. the piece was Magnificat, by the composer I call "pseudo-Buxtehude" since it's often published under Buxtehude's name, having been discovered along with a bunch of his music, but scholars doubt it's by him. But since we have no other name (there's no name on the manuscript) his name has kind of stuck. Pseudo-Buxtehude, kind of makes sense, sort of like PDQ Bach, I guess. 

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Rose by Any Other Name

Can Bass 1, a blogger from a cathedral choir in England, sure has a way with words. Having grown up in a cathedral men and boys' choir myself, I find his posts extremely amusing to read, and I always look forward to the next one.

A recent post speaks about the addition of girls to the cathedral choir (to replace the dwindling boy choir situation, a problem that plagues most cathedral choir school programs outside of the untouchable Kings' College, and the like).

here's a short excerpt from his post:

Anyone still following this erratic nonsense will recall that - last November - we admitted female choristers through our ancient portals for the first time. The boys choir continues to decline, both numerically and musically; the distaff side were forever burning their bras and banging on about equality of opportunity, and the choir school recently went co-ed. It was only a matter of time.


But. But. If truth be told (and where else if not here?) these gels are rather good. They can actually sing. And they are an awful lot more fragrant than the farting boys. And is it, reader, a coincidence that their names are so... exotic? Here is but a small selection: Roxanna-Libby; Constanza; Emilina-Daisy; Clarissa; Grace-Olivia; Justinia and - my own personal favourite - Abigail-Louise, or Abi-Lou. What lovely, sophisticated monikas. What wonderfully evocative labels. No wonder Roger cannot keep his hands off them, with names like that to whisper ticklishly in adolescent ears.

Read the entire post here.

Picture Credit, Ely Cathedral Girls Choir (Note: Can Bass 1 is not associated with Ely Cathedral).

Thursday, April 2, 2009

CBC Orchestra gets new life, but how soon?

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has been under a lot of fire in the past few years for their sweeping changes to the national radio station (Radio 2), which saw the removal of a large percentage of its classical programming, relegating it to a four and a half hour time slot in the middle of the day and removing it from any prime-time exposure (The popular weekend shows "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera" and Sunday Morning's "Choral Concert" have been saved for the time being).

One of the most controversial decisions was to scrub North America's only national broadcast orchestra (which follows many European models), and they played their last notes in November 2008. However, A revival of the orchestra, under the name of "National Broadcast Orchestra" was announced, and a fund raising concert was planned for this spring. An announcement was just made to cancel that concert due to the difficult global economic crisis, however, plans are still scheduled to resume in the fall.

More information about this announcement can be found here.

The grass roots organization Stand On Guard For CBC continues to provide a most informative and up to date webpage and blog on these matters.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Happy 136th, Sergei Rachmaninoff

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff
April 1, 1873 - March 28, 1943

We celebrate with a movement of the Rachmaninoff Vespers featuring Canadian Tenor Robert King and the Da Camera Singers of Edmonton, Canada under the direction of Dr. John Brough.

Νυν απολύεις τον δούλον σου, Δέσποτα, κατά το ρήμα σου εν ειρήνη,
ότι είδον οι οφθαλμοί μου το σωτήριόν σου,
ο ητοίμασας κατά πρόσωπον πάντων των λαών,
φως εις αποκάλυψιν εθνών και δόξαν λαού σου Ισραήλ.
Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace;
Because my eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples:
A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The trouble with "You"

A hymnal editor struggles with "you." It's a great post here.

A sample:

It seems to me that modern English is entirely too flexible. Or to put it another way, we have achieved a flexibility in English at the expense of both accuracy and nuance. Examples:

* "you" - singular or plural? And why do we not have a way to tell at a glance? I'm all for context, but sometimes, you know, you just want to know.

* "you" - familiar or formal? Have we lost something by not making this distinction in speech and writing?

I understand (see "ignorance alert" above) that in modern languages where this distinction still exists, actual usage tends toward the familiar anyway. That's apparently the way of the world, whether in the U.S. or Italy or Germany. My nascent monarchist (or is it just elitism?) mourns that in common usage. But especially in hymn singing and prayers.

This is why I still stumble over changing all the "Thee" and "Thou" language in older hymns. (I won't even address here how our democratic orthography has lowered the case on these words when used for the Divine.) "Thee" is changed to "you" and "Thou" is changed to "you." So we miss several aspects of language -- grammar: object or subject? number: are we addressing the One or the many? address: formal or familiar? And we can end up with a hymn full of the word "you" with many applications . . . and that may sound goofy to sing over and over again.

Read the whole article here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Orchestra blog takes on NASM accreditation

Ron Speigleman from Sticks and Drones talks about NASM accreditation in this blog post:
The National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) is in the business of accrediting Music schools. I have read through pages and pages on their site and have yet to find the word audience. They accredit music schools who stick to their own autonomous missions. Creative freedom in how to educate is important because of the differing opinions and methods in addition to the strengths of faculties, but there’s one big problem that lies at the heart of this body which is that it focuses solely on the institution as a bubble and not on the successful advocacy of the art form, or the success rate of the students in finding employment after graduation. They basically will accredit an institution for coming up with a curriculum and sticking to it!
His bottom line:
Music schools have to burst their own bubbles and participate in society to help create more demand for the art form so that students have a greater chance at finding employment.
It's a great, thought-provoking post. Read the whole thing!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, William Walton

William Walton
March 29, 1902 - March 8, 1983

We celebrate with the beginning of one of his most famous works below.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Jonathan Miller finds Charles d'Orleans

Here's a great post from Jonathan Miller about Debussy's poet, Charles d'Orleans:

In preparing program notes for our upcoming Chicago a cappella program, April in Paris, I learned something surprising. I had already known that the justly famous Trois Chansons by Debussy are settings of texts by Charles d'Orleans. Who was this Charles? Well, I have blissfully assumed for about 25 years that, because so many of the texts set by the Impressionist composers were written by their contemporaries, such as Paul Verlaine and Mallarme', then of course this Charles would have been just another one of the guys on the Parisian scene, albeit one who called himself by a rather lofty name.

Boy, was I wrong! As it turns out, this Charles was not a Parisian bohemian at all, but Charles (1394-1465), Duke of Orleans, a nobleman. He was wounded at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and imprisoned in England for the next 24 years, during which he wrote most of the poems--numbering more than five hundred--for which he is now famous. The imagery in Charles's poems is vivid, strongly visual, and not at all what I expected from a poet of more than 500 years' distance. So much medieval French poetry is rather stilted stuff about courtly love... what a refreshing change Charles is! I can see why Debussy was attracted to these old poems.

Read the whole post here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Downloadable Choral Parts

Tom Carter told me about "Downloadable Choral Parts."

It looks like they will create MP3's for you with voice overs.

Check it out! 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Eric Whitacre on MPR

We posted a negative opinion on Whitacre's music earlier this week. Here's a different take on Whitacre - an interview with Eric by John Birge. It's a great interview and I encourage you to listen.

MPR describes it this way:
Eric Whitacre is a phenomenon. He couldn't read music when he started college, but within a few years he was composing music that was performed and recorded by professional choirs around the world. He is that rare composer whose music is simultaneously deep and accessible, heavenly and earthy.

He is in demand all over the world, but Whitacre will be conducting VocalEssence, the St. Olaf Choir, and a Minnesota High School Honor choir at Orchestra Hall in a sold-out concert on March 21, 2009 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

Classical Minnesota Public Radio's John Birge talked with Eric Whitacre about his new world-premiere piece "Nox Aurumque," how Whitacre is energized by working with young students, and how Whitacre made the teenage transition from '80s hair band to choral superstar.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Naturally 7 on Leno

I might have to start watching TV again:

Hat tip: A Cappella News.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sitting in the bathtub for eight hours

It's always interesting to find someone with a strong opinion. In this post, the blogger who calls himself Osbert Parsley evicerates the choral music of Eric Whitacre:

Regular readers know how I feel about the "modern choral style", with its declamatory, homorhythmic style, unresolved suspensions, bassploitation, and naive exploration of vertical sonorities at the expense of all other musical elements.

Whitacre gets points for avoiding the worst tricks of the style (the incidents of bassploitation all occur near the beginning of the piece, and it's not completely homophonic). Yet in his harmonic audacity, Whitacre goes one step further than most of his contemporaries, embracing a style where dissonance has absolutely no syntactical meaning whatsoever.

Added notes can be inserted into any chord at any pitch level, approached by any interval, and never have to be resolved. Because the structure has no soundness or logic to it whatsoever, the result is a voyage of unending, merciless prettiness. To say that listening to the piece is like taking an aural bath is an understatement - it's the aural equivalent of sitting in the bathtub for eight hours, playing with the bubbles while eating ice cream straight out of the pail with a spoon.

More here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Choir for the deaf

Seems contradictory, you think? Not to the choir Expressions of Silence from the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind, shown below performing in American Sign Language with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

More videos here.