Westminster Conducting Institute Day 5

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.

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Westminster Conducting Institute Day 4

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.

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Westminster Conducting Institute Day 3

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 

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Westminster Conducting Institute 2012 Day 2

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.

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Westminster Conducting Institute 2012 Update

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.

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The Portland Guitar Duo in Concert

The Portland Guitar duo brought their unique blend of music for two classical guitars to St. George’s sanctuary on April 15th.  The concert covered a broad repertoire of music from the 16th through the 20th century, including several transcriptions of works for other instruments.  The duo performed several selections from the Romantic Period on restored 19th century guitars, and offered background information on the music and the instruments.

Their playing was technically precise and sensitive, particularly in St. George’s warm acoustic.  The combination of low lighting and the duo’s intimate sound was truly moving. Audience members shared with me after the concert that they found the experience to be transformative.  Beautiful music in a beautiful space…


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Peter Gunn, Henry Mancini, and my Jazz Roots

People often ask me how I came to play Jazz.  For a long time I was at a loss to explain.  My mother was a classical pianist who played at home every day, but the closest she came to playing Jazz was a bit of Gershwin.  My late brother Charlie, a child of the 50’s, listened to Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and their ilk on the AM radio in his  ’51 Mercury with the suicide doors and a chrome gas pedal.  My dad the Buick mechanic’s favorite piece of music was the Nutcracker Ballet, which he listened to on old 78’s. We had no Jazz records, excepting a few Spike Jones novelty tunes.  (The standard “My Old Flame” narrated by a Peter Lorre impersonator was a favorite) One evening a week, however, Jazz played for 22 minutes while mom and dad watched the Peter Gunn detective series, which aired from 1958 through 1961.  I don’t remember being taken with the music at first hearing, as my four-year old self was by the Theme for “Highway Patrol” starring Broderick Crawford. (I would listen to the opening theme and wander off until the show was over, then come back and listen to the theme again.)

 The Peter Gunn theme of course has been in the public ear ever since the show first aired and won Mancini the first Grammy for Album of the Year.  I asked my mother to get the album, which I wore out on our three speed mono record player.  I began taking formal music lessons at age ten, and asked her to get some of the music for the show, so a few weeks later a piano version of the soundtrack album arrived. It has since been lost, but I remembered many of the tunes, “The Brother Go to Mothers”, “Fallout” , “Dreamsville” and “Sorta Blue”, which I eventually transcribed for the St. George Jazz Ensemble.  I picked up the original soundtrack on CD about ten years ago, and the music still sounds fresh.  There’s lots of space in the tunes and some great players, including the young John Williams.  Listening to it now, I still smile and snap on 2 and 4.

The complete series is out on DVD, and if you’re a fan of film noir and cool Jazz, it’s worth a look.  It’s a world of smoke-filled rooms populated by hipsters and sultry vocalists where it’s always sometime between midnight and dawn, audiences listen quietly and applaud for the band,  the romance is understated and Peter’s suit always looks great, no matter how many times he gets beaten up.

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