Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas and Happy Festivus

Today, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I'd like to wish my students a Merry Christmas and Happy Festivus.

I heard on the radio that Festivus was celebrated on December 23 . . . so I'm sorry that I missed it. There is a quick internet movie about Festivus here. For those of you who didn't see the Seinfeld show that featured the holiday, here are a couple of the highlights:

The Festivus Pole
The tradition begins with a bare aluminum pole, which Frank praises for its "very high strength-to-weight ratio." During Festivus, an unadorned aluminum pole is displayed, apparently in opposition to the commercialization of highly decorated Christmas trees, and because the holiday's creator, Frank Costanza, "find[s] tinsel distracting." Local customs vary and you may be able to decorate your pole with non-threatening plain decorations, or ordinary green garland.

The Airing of Grievances
At the Festivus dinner, each participant tells friends and family all of the instances where they disappointed him or her that year. I also found a worksheet for people to use in developing their grievances. I'm already working on next year's sheet.

The Feats of Strength

The head of the family tests his or her strength against one participant of the head's choosing. Festivus is not considered over until the head of the family has been pinned to the ground. A participant is allowed to decline to attempt to pin the head of the family only if they have something better to do instead.

I've selected Caroline for the test of strength. Of course, I had to chase Caroline down first. She has recently taken to nakedness . . . she frequently removes all of her clothes and diaper and runs around very happily.

I hope your Christmas is special to you!

Monday, December 19, 2005


As time passes, the blog gets updates:

1. Breaking news: MBV's anti-Messiah wall shows a crack.
2. I officially reconsidered my resignation at SHPC. That means I still work there and the resignation is officially withdrawn.
3. Dilbert blog is hilarious. A sample:
Recently I quit caffeine. My doctor seems to think that 17 Diet Cokes per day is too much. In case you ever consider getting off caffeine yourself, let me explain the process. You begin by sitting motionlessly in a desk chair. Then you just keep doing that forever because life has no meaning.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Review of the Review

Here is the "official review" of last night's concert from Birmingham music critic, Michael Huebner. My casual observations on the performance follow.

Mr. Huebner's main point was that the concert was "anything but routine," making the point that Messiah during the Christmas season has become predictable and boring.

I thought he was right on with this observation:
Scott kept the adrenaline flowing by propelling the action at a good clip, rarely allowing more than a second or two between numbers.
Mr. Scott had a great pace with tempos and pauses between movements, I certainly agree. About our performance, he says this:
At times it was exhilarating, at others it glossed over the liturgical message. Still other moments yielded uneven showings from the chorus and soloists.
Uneven from the chorus? What the heck? He explains the comment with this, his only other comment on the chorus:
The combined choirs had female voices outnumbering males two to one, making for a strong soprano section that often overwhelmed the tenors. Choral numbers were big and full, but Handel's intricate counterpoint often fell into a murky fog.
Interesting comment, and it may be true--I can't tell from where I was in the chorus. I don't remember attention from the conductor towards the dynamics during the concert--do you? I don't remember too many rehearsal instructions like: "TENORS, you must be loud here--and Sopranos, for Heaven's sake, you are too loud in that section!" So . . . although I thought that we did a fantastic job, this point of improvement may be true.

I view the interpretation of counterpoint like this:
1. Bring out all entrances
2. After your entrance, back away from your line when other parts are entering--they are more important. (At that point, your line is accompaniment to them--it should be present and support what the subjects are doing, but never dominate).
3. It's not something that naturally happens for a singer--we come in loud and we stay loud unless someone tells us to back off. Think about the "And cast away . . . " section . . . did you consciously get softer when you came in with your part?

Although it is tempting to resent critical comments, we can certainly learn from them if they are accurate.

Here's what the reviewer meant by uneven showings from the soloists:
Among the soloists, bass Jason Hardy was the clear standout. His recitative, "Thus saith the Lord," brimmed with expression. The aria, "Why do the nations so furiously rage," was a fierce dramatic depiction. Tenor Bradley Howard sang lyrically, but came up shy of Hardy's viscerality. Mezzo-soprano Angela Horn possesses strength in her upper register, but many of the low notes were lost. Soprano Elizabeth Andrews Roberts missed the intonation mark too often to make her singing palatable.
So he liked the bass best; I liked the mezzo, followed by the bass. To me, A. Horn was just fine in her low notes--I certainly heard them clearly. I don't disagree with his opinion of the tenor and soprano.

And this was certainly a treat:
A spontaneous standing ovation from the packed Jemison Concert Hall followed the "Amen" chorus . . .

Charles, at one point, said to me: I'd sure like to have a crowd like that at one of our concerts!

So would I, Charles, so would I.

One more comment . . . there was the presumption from the reviewer and also from some members of the chorus that this was "just another performance of the Messiah." Perhaps it is "cool" in some circles to look down on performing a work so well known; I can understand something of the sentiment. However, one must remember that there are very few opportunities in life to experience singing in an outstanding 160-member chorus with a professional orchestra to a packed house of paying guests. It is very possible that you will never have the experience again. You may get out of singing entirely, drop out of school, or, God forbid, have an accident or sickness that renders you incapable of ever performing again. Don't forget it.

As for me, here is my thought:
"Last night I got to sing Handel's Messiah, and it was incredible. Thank you, God, for giving me moments like that."

Messiah Finished, Very Successful Performance

Fall 2005 for UAB Choirs is now officially over. Grades have been turned in, the Messiah has been learned, at times despised, loved, and performed very well for a huge audience of our family, the Birmingham music loving community, and others.

Personally, I had a fantastic time sitting under Mr. Scott's leadership. I also had a great time sitting beside choir leader Charles Henry, who never missed a note or an opportunity to explode a consonant. Superb job, Charles. Charles was also in my conducting class this semester; he promises to be a dynamic music professional one day. I have no doubt that i will be proud to call him a student of mine. Great students bring honor to their teacher. (and poor students bring dishonor).

It was a very interesting night and day, to say the least. Some random thoughts:

1. The tenor walking back to his seat after "Comfort Ye" was quite bizarre. I wondered if he would realize his mistake and get back in time--and he did, barely. Wow.

2. I found that I had a little trouble singing "And the Glory" because I was still surprised at the tenor. Did anyone else have trouble getting back on track?

3. The chorus was magnificent, due primarily to the hard work of Dale Reynolds, Mark Ridings, and the fine singers. The careful attention to marking the scores, stand/sit information, black covers, and overall detail work produced a very prepared chorus. I take myself out of that equation because I only prepared you to be prepared by them. My greatest contribution to the successful performance was getting great singers to UAB. You, and they, did the rest of the work--I was just some guy in a black turtleneck.

4. Someone in the tenor section that I really like made the funniest comment about the beauty of the young soloists. It strikes me as a bit inappropriate to communicate it to you in this forum, but maybe later!

I had a brief time with some friends after the event and they had some great insights:

1. Mezzo soloist, Angela Horn, was superb; stood head and shoulder above the others. Although it was difficult to appreciate them fully from the chorus, it seemed to me that the bass (Jason Hardy) did an outstanding job as well. Great pics on his website.

2. The chorus sang with far more precision than they received from the conductor. Most of his attention was directed towards the orchestra, even at crucial entrances. We came in strongly because we were prepared well.

3. Overall, I thought Mr. Scott did a great job with interpretations, tempos, and orchestra management.

4. I was very pleased with the experience, both for myself and my students. Congratulations to all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Found: Another student blog from my choir

This time, it is someone in Women's Chorale. Love the quote that pulled me to her blog:

I am having to miss the biggest Christmas concert UAB's choir has had in years, so I am having to go do ^*#$@ work for Copeland so that I won't get a bad grade in choir. Ha, who fails choir.

Ha, and what professor reads blogs? Kind Warning to student bloggers: If you blog about me, it's likely I'll find you.

And . . . as far as failing choir . . you'd be surprised. Some people do. It happens, more than I'd like, that's for sure.

It's going well

Messiah rehearsals are going well and I think it is going to be an outstanding performance on Friday. I've been impressed with Mr. Scott as both a musician and a rehearsal technician. I hear strong singers around me and the orchestra sounds great.

I know some don't like rehearsing Messiah and I'm a bit mystified by that. However, to each his/her own, I guess. I'm having a great time singing with a great choir.

And now, for a very important announcement. Make sure that you are there at exactly 6:30 on Thursday night. Be early, in fact. It matters. Don't call me with an excuse--and I mean it. Just be there. On time. Acting like the incredible young adult that you are.

There may be serious consequences for your tardiness. Your absence will earn its own reward. Ontime attendance, of course, will be greatly appreciated.
Choir directors have the kind of power that I reference above. Especially college choral directors.
Our performance with the BCC and ASO is important for the school and choral program.

Monday, December 12, 2005

New York Rooming

New York folks,

Take a look at this grid and alert me to problems. If you don't have your payment in yet, you are quite late!

UPDATE: Adobe Reader Download. Goodness, Tommy! You don't have Adobe Reader yet?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Birmingham Concert Chorale

I should have mentioned the rehearsal last night with Birmingham Concert Chorale: I thought it was a great beginning. For such a large group, I thought it was a very cohesive sound--at least what I could tell from the bass section.

Congrats on your hard work, and for your work to come.

Claire and peanut butter

Originally uploaded by philipco.
It was a great night in the Copeland house tonight: Santa hats and Peanut Butter. I thought this one captured Claire pretty well.

What does it have to do with choir? Nothing directly for sure, just me sharing my family with my students.

Best of luck on exams. See you next Monday night.

The Obvious

Is discovering the obvious really a discovery?

Friday, December 02, 2005