James Jordan and JV
Friday morning began with Sabine’s final warm up of the week, as she had to return to Germany to play her Sunday church service. Mark Moliterno gave a short lecture on yoga practice, followed by an hour of yoga postures. It felt good to stretch after hours of sitting. We had two sessions of conducting in class to prepare for the master class in the afternoon. Lisa got to conduct the Saint-Saens Ave Verum a-cappella for James Jordan and Weston Noble. I got another opportunity to conduct Ubi caritas, and Robin concluded her beginning conducting class by conducting one verse of Randall Thompson’s ” The Road Not Taken” from Frostiana.
Lisa with Weston Noble
The master class began at 3:40 and lasted until 9:30 PM with an hour dinner break. That’s a lot of singing. The entire class and conductor comments were recorded for an upcoming DVD about the Conducting Institute. We were back at it Saturday morning at 9 AM and finished up at around 1:30 PM. The choir sounded great and as a bonus I got Jim Jordan to work with me on some of my conducting skills, most of which invloved breathing with the choir and clarifying gestures. Mary and Hurley arrived late Friday and got to hear lots of great singing.
This is one of the great music workshops in the country. It’s a gift to be able to attend. Look for lots of new and interesting repertoire in the fall.
After warm ups this morning, we had a yoga lecture by Mark Moliterno, creator of the YogaVoice Program, which uses yoga philosophy and practice to improve singing and overall health and well being. I had the pleasure of taking a five day YogaVoice Class with Mark while I was on sabbatical last summer, and felt the best I have in a long time. After a brief explanation of Yoga concepts, we spent some time with breathing techniques and a few stretches. Mark will be back tomorrow to introduce more postures and concepts.
Lisa conducted the Saint-Saens Ave Verum in its entirety today, and got some great feedback from Weston Noble. Robin had an epiphany in James Jordan’s class while he was explaining the Laban method. (Press, press, glide, float) Laban developed a system of movement analysis that is most helpful to conductors. I conducted “Ubi caritas” this morning and it went very well. I just spent several hours memorizing the piece and practicing in front of the mirror. The schedule tomorrow includes warm ups, yoga, two sessions of conducting class and the first session of the conducting master class, which will run until 9 PM. I won’t be conducting until afternoon on Saturday, and Lisa has decided to just sing and not conduct. It’s been a great week.
This will be a short post, as the editor has score study to do for conducting class tomorrow. Good thing my smart phone has a metronome…
A busy day at the institute today. Morning warm ups as usual, then a great lecture on diction by Charles Bruffy. It’s amazing how many ways there are to pronounce Lux. Charles is an expert at creating beauty by stretching the parts of a word and adding breath to the sound. All three of us got to conduct during class today, and ended the day with a reading of a new edition of a Brahms motet for four-part choir and one piano four hands. Sign ups for the Master Class are tomorrow morning. I expect to conduct on Saturday.
Robin with Weston Noble
“It’s impossible for the breath to escape the body without opinion.”
– Nova Thomas
Our second full day at the institute began with more vocal warm ups with Sabine. There followed a lecture on the breath as the inspiration for great singing by Nova Thomas, associate professor of voice at Westminster, and James Jordan’s collaborator on “The Musician’s Breath.” We were introduced to several breathing exercises and techniques for improving fluidity and movement of the breath. In addition, Nova spoke about the concept of inhalation as inspiration and exhalation as expression.
I got my first chance to conduct in class, a great setting of the Ubi caritas text by Paul Mealor that was featured at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. Our class is very supportive of each other and a pleasure to work with. I got some great constructive comments from Gary to add smoothness and expression to my conducting.
Lisa got to conduct for her class as well, and got some great feedback from Weston Noble on her technique. Robin also got to conduct in class for the first time, although she has a bruised arm after a piano jumped out in front of her.
This evening’s lecture was a two-part affair, beginning with James Jordan’s discussion of conducting observation as a learning tool, followed by Gary Graden’s workshop on choral improvisation. A 40 voice choir improvising melodies on a scale all at the same time is something to experience.
I came up the stairs from my classroom in the library earlier today to find Weston Noble sitting in the lobby. I took a moment to thank him personally for the wonderful comments he made after my conducting master class last year. His response was: “Moments like that are what keep me going.” I think they may keep all of us going.
Quotes of the day:
“I’m a Presbyterian. I’m happy to sit in the back pew and clap on 1 and 3.” – Bruce Chamberlain
“Coloratura sopranos are their own species. They’re the Chihuahuas of singing.” – Nova Thomas
What a day! Sight reading choral music for five or six hours is a challenge, but we have some great repertoire to show for it. Our day begins at 8:30 with a 30 minute choral warmup by Sabine Horstman, Children’s choir director and choral clinician from Germany.
“If your choir is in misery, they will do it their own way.”
After reading sessions with Charles Bruffy, Bruce Chamberlain, James Jordan, Vance George and Gary Graden, there was time for lunch with my best man Bill Bang the funk drummer, and additional reading. Lisa and I got our conducting small group assignments. Lisa is studying with a living legend, Weston Noble, former director of choirs and bands at Luther College in Minnesota, who has been a fixture at the Institute for many years. Weston critiqued my Master Class conducting last year and left me speechless. His love of the choral art, quiet energy and kindness is beyond belief. I drew Gary Graden as my small group instructor. Gary is an award winning American conductor currently working in Stockholm, Sweden. He is a brilliant conductor and did a great workshop on Choral Intonation this evening. I chatted with James Jordan about bringing the Williamson Voices to St. George’s for a premier of a new Requiem Mass. Dates are under discussion. More tomorrow.
It’s been over a year since my last post. In the interim, St George’s has revamped its website, so we are in the process of shifting audio and video clips to our Music Home Page. More on that later.
The Westminster Conducting Institute began this afternoon. Lisa Bogardus and I are both participating in this week-long intensive conducting workshop while Robin Roberson takes a beginning conducting class with James Jordan. Some highlights:
Lisa gets out of her comfort zone.
Conducting placement auditions took place this afternoon. Lisa and I had to get up and conduct the Saint-Saens Ave Verum for a 40 voice choir of other conductors. She did a great job and thought her ordeal was over… until James Jordan decided to do a standing arrangement for the choir based on vocal blend, which meant that we all had to sing the first line of “My Country tis of Thee” BY OURSELVES!!!. Lisa turned and gave me a look that would have peeled paint off a new Mercedes, but got up there and sounded great, as I knew she would.
Tonight’s lecture by Bruce Chamberlain on score prep and performance practice of the Mozart Kyrie was enlightening and informative. At the end of the lecture, Bruce encouraged us to get out of our comfort zone. Lisa commented that she’d already been out twice: conducting and singing solo in front of lots of strangers.
Robin’s class begins tomorrow morning, while Lisa and I dig in to the choral repertoire, meet the faculty for this year and begin to work with our small group conducting classes. My experience last year at the institute was a transformative one for me that I count as one of my most profound and life changing musical events. This is my third year at the institute, so I got to see a lot of old friends today, with more arriving tomorrow. I plan to publish a post daily about our journey to better conducting. In addition, look for more details on St. George’s choral and instrumental groups and new media on our website. It’s good to be back.