Thursday, May 23, 2013

A musical weekend

I have been visiting my friend David in Northern Indiana and we have had an interesting musical weekend.

On Saturday evening we attended a wonderful church supper and concert at his Chicago church, St. Paul and the Redeemer. The music was provided by the Magnolia Singers, a Gullah choir from
Charleston, NC.  They represent a tradition of singing that came to this country with their slave ancestors. Gullah is a patois of English and African Creole. The five singers perform with great energy and involve the congregation in their music. They all have strong gospel voices.There is a little too much on the beat clapping for my taste, but then, I have always enjoyed syncopation. They sang again in the church service Sunday morning. The lead singer's voice reminded me of Sarah Vaughn, with it's deep contralto and wide range. The congregation got into the act with a vengence and clapped and sang along. For me this is too much like responsive readings where the reader makes a statement and the congregation answers with the same phrase over and over. However they were very effective in their performance.

Philip J. BaumanThen Sunday afternoon we attended a concert by the Northwest Indiana Symphony Youth Orchestra, Phillip Bauman, conductor. Mr. Bauman ably led the orchestra through a program that began with Slavonic Dance No. 1 in C Major, Op. 46, by Antonin Dvorak. This was followed by the Allegro movement of Symphonie Espanole in D minor, Op.21 of Edouard Lalo. Patrick Bieske was the young violin soloist.

The second half of the program began with Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, Op.30, No 1,  by Samuel Coleridge Taylor, a late 19th early 20th century composer from England.  As my friend, Dorothy Fee would have said, 'He was sunk on the text.' Iambic quatrameter grates on my nerves after a while. Taylor also had a limited melodic imagination. Already stuck with the Dump-di-dump-di-dump-di-dump rhythm of the poem, he seemed at a loss to conceive anything besides descending musical lines on the one hand, and repeating a phrase at a higher and higher pitch level.

Needless to say this will never replace Messiah, (which was the opinion of one critic in the early 20th century) or any other major choral and orchestra work.

The program ended with Music from Gladiator by Hans Zimmer, arr, by Wasson, which I hope never to hear again either.

At my age I am very aware of the sounds that are attacking my ear and brain. There are some I can live without.

Jane GloverOn Monday evening David and I hit the musical jackpot; the group. Music in the Baroque at the Harris Theatre. This fine choral and orchestral ensemble present a beautiful reading of Bach's St. John Passion. The exemplary conductor was Jane Glover, who has had a long career in Britain and this country. Her musical interpretation of the work went straight to the heart. It was honest, sincere, idiomatic, and exciting. I am so happy to get to know her work.

The soloists were Paul Agnew, Evangelist and tenor solos, Nathan Berg, Jesus and bass arias, Yulia van Doren, soprano arias, Kristina Szabo, alto arias, Todd von Felker, Pilate, Susan Nelson, maid, Klaus Georg, servant, and Ryan O'Mealey, Peter.

Mr. Agnew did a heroic job of the two tenor roles. His Evangelist was just fine. However, singing this role plus the tenor arias is too much for any one person. These are the two hardest tenor arias in the literature. It would be wiser to have a different tenor for the arias to have them come off well.

Nathan Berg, as Jesus, was a little under-powered at the beginning of the work but got into the swing of things as it progressed. Yulia Van Doren, was just not the voice for the soprano arias. In the first one her runs came and went vocally, and in the second she was
unable to float the high notes. If I remember correctly, Ms. Van Doren took one voice lesson with me a few years ago.

Kristine Szabo did a fine job with the alto solo and also grew in confidence as the work progresses. Todd von Felker was fine as Pilate and the three singers who took the smaller roles did their work very well.Photo by Bo Huang

Ms. Glover has a marvelous conducting technique that seems to embrace the chorus and orchestra inviting them, and the audience, to come share this wonderful work with her. She is top-notch.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


One of my voice students once told me, when we were preparing a recital, that I was a musical mid-wife. Coaching the pre-natal musical period and helping deliver the baby. The baby, in this case, being a recital.

I suppose, in a way, this is true. As teachers we begin the process of learning a program with one of our students, ab ova, as it were. We continue to guide the process for a period of time, and, on recital night, the baby/recital is born.

Well last night Katie Weiser and Jerry Noble delivered the goods!

It was Katie's second Senior recital of the school year. She sang a very fine program last November. Jane Bryden and I have been her mid-wives, coaching and encouraging her along the way.

Her program included two songs by Franz Josef Haydn, 'Shepherd on the Rock', by Franz Schubert, (assisted by a very fine clarinetist, Madeline Zehnder),  'Und ob die Wolke', from Der Freischutz, by Carl Maria von Weber, three songs by Rachmaninoff, 'The Silver Song' from Douglas Moore's Ballad of Baby Doe, and the amazing Songs about Spring by Dominick Argento, with poetry by e.e. cummings.

In each case Katie and Jerry went to the soul of the song and delivered a beautiful baby, indeed! The Argento brought down the house! Katie will be singing at the Smith graduation ceremonies in a week or so as well as appearing on the Third Annual Ferris Burtis Music Foundation benefit concert on June 9th.  for more details.

She will attend Syracuse University Graduate Music school in the fall and study with my dear friend and student, Janet Brown.

Bravi Katie and Jerry. Well done!