Newton Public Library 3-2-14Beautiful new songs and favorites from our Mockingbird Trio “archives” including texts by Robert Frost, May Sarton and others.  Songs about animals, nature, awe, and wonder.  We’ve been rehearsing this program and delight in the beauty…as well as a few misty moments.

Beautiful drawing of a mockingbird, nestled in a blooming almond tree, with the words "Mockingbird Trio, Music of the 21st Century below"
Mockingbird Trio logo by Lisa French

We’ll be performing a new work by our esteemed colleague Francine Trester in the coming months.

Here’s how Fran describes it:

“A View from Heartbreak Hill, a cycle of six songs whose themes stem from the events of last year’s Boston Marathon attack.
The songs, scored for contralto, viola, and piano are reflections on the tragedy, a memorial to the victims, and an offering of hope.
“I wrote the words and music to the cycle – more of my work can be found at: www.francinetrester.com.
The performers are the Mockingbird Trio
along with pianist Lois Shapiro and violist Melissa Howe 
I think we have an interesting story to tell.
And we will be presenting it through three performances this year:
  • Berklee College of Music on Thursday February 20 (7:30 pm),
  • Newton Free Library on Sunday March 2 (2:00 pm), and
  • Harvard Business School on Thursday  April 10 (6:00 pm–private concert, limited availability for guests)

All performances are free.  
The March 2 event at the Newton Free Library will be a full concert by The Mockingbird Trio.

More news to come about this special cycle and its premiere.

I hesitate to call my elder singers “cute.”  But that keeps coming to mind.  My mom used that word plenty and I’ve used it from everything to describe shoes, food, people and especially animals.   Can’t help it.  But what is NOT cute about:

  • folks who have already proven themselves as capable, competent,  distinguished and all the other adjectives that describe adult behavior AND
  • are willing to be silly and playful in order to find creative expression.

It’s not that we try to act silly in class or onstage.  It’s just that we are willing to let go of those carefully crafted personas we developed as we grew into adulthood.  We let go of having to be in charge and set an example to the kids, the bosses, the clients.

I teach all ages and learn from them all.  That’s the fun of teaching, continuing to learn.  What I notice is how LITTLE my older students complain about what they cannot do or what ails them.  They go on, move forward and keep growing.  It inspires me to be a better conductor and pianist.  So, come to one of the class concerts I’m conducting in the next few weeks.  JP Jubilee is the new name for Singing for Seniors at The Boston Public Library. Our concert will be short, free and full of fun.  Thursday December 5 at 7:30 pm in Jamaica Plain, see full info below.a group of energetic senior singers with their mouths open in song

…And The Platinum Singers are performing at the Harriet Tubman House on Wednesday, December 18 at 2:30 in the afternoon.  An in-house concert of an hour with these sweeties.  We just had a grand pre-Thanksgiving lunch with a terrific group called “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren”.  They sang along with us and told us their stories (if we asked).  Directions to the Tubman House:  www.uses.org  Flyer to follow shortly…

Liz standing in front of the small chorus, all wearing Platinum Singers/USES banners around their necks

So, is there a better word than cute?  Let me know and I’ll try to incorporate it…

colorful piano keyboard

During an exercise class  I was moving in the wrong direction, as the teacher was keeping us on our toes by mixing things up. It reminded me to “find my feet”, a comment that helps in all sorts of situations.

Well, in music it helps to find middle C. Working with a 12-year old student, we kept finding C in songs and exercises (her clever teacher knows the material).

And I am learning a Handel role that is in alto clef. Nice to have our own clef, but it requires finding middle C and adjusting, after years of treble and bass clef. It is certainly familiar; after all, I have sung Baroque pieces in this clef and I am in a trio with a viola, who also uses this clef. But even a seasoned contralto needs to “find her feet” by finding Middle C, just to stay balanced.

Middle C is a great way to get grounded, and also to remember what is truly important.  As I prepare to sing a benefit for a cure for folks with MS, I am aware that health is a huge middle C for us all.

alto clef with description of where middle C is locatedMy back in hurting tonight, so I’m keeping things simple and not attending the social event that was planned.  Staying home and keeping quiet is a good balance for a gregarious performer.  We need quiet time and time to get centered before performances.   I don’t usually listen to recordings of works I’m preparing, but since I’ve known “Schlummert Ein” for about 30 years, I figured it might be nice to check out my shelf of CDs.  I knew I had Lorraine Hunt and Will Parker, both lovely colleagues who died at the height of their careers.  I also found Max von Egmond, the Dutch baritone with whom I studied and later sang a Christmas Oratorio with here in Boston.  What a delight to hear such beautiful performances, and such memories of all of them.   Each brings their special interpretation and character to this piece. I used to feel intimidated by recordings, especially someone as close in age to me as Lorraine.  But something changes as we age–the sense of unworthiness, frustration at not being perfect, or sheer ambition simply shifts.  I look forward to ours tomorrow.

Appreciation has many rewards.  Being able to keep singing and doing what I love is the best.   I get to teach a master class this coming Tuesday at NEC on Baroque ornamentation.  I’m no huge expert, but I’ve been doing this long enough and I love to mentor less experienced singers.  Introducing them to the joys and thrills of making up their own improvisations.  I found out some of my colleagues who are more expert than me are quite reluctant to put themselves out there.   What have we to lose?  Let’s share what we know and encourage others.

When I write exercises on a classroom board, I usually say:

I’m writing this in C major, but life is not in C major.”

Thanks to a student named Virginia, who made me this button

Yellow button with "Life is not in C major"

15 singers in white shirts and red choir stoles gathered outdoors at the Boston Common to sing for peace
What the World Needs Now is Love, and other delights by Platinum Singers and Friends, conducted by Yours Truly

Ah, New England in the Fall…

The Platinum Singers sang at the International Day of Peace gathering on Boston Common, September 21, 2013. I conduct/direct this fabulous group, and we had some guest singers from the Singing for Seniors at our neighborhood branch library. There were liturgical dancers, the Raging Grannies and speakers at this beautiful event. Thanks to Ghanda DiFiglia who invited us to sing here.

I learned a lot, and especially about leaning on a portable keyboard–sometimes a drum set starts up at the oddest times! And I am also learning about placing singers in front of microphones. Okay! Some of us are pretty shy about those mics.

Last night I sang at a retirement party for a faculty member at Tufts–John McDonald asked if I’d sing “Death and the Maiden”, a famous Schubert song, before a string quartet played the movement of the same name. What a great, intense and dramatic piece, all rolled into 1 1/2 minutes! I should make a career of these memorable cameos. Very satisfying. Singing about death is nothing new to this contralto. We get the sad songs all the time. Next month, I’ll be singing Bach’s take on welcoming death, Schlummert Ein (from Cantata #82, Ich Habe Genug) at a benefit for MS research. http://singtocurems.org/support/poster11-2013Q.pdf

Moody seascape with three small figures in the lower left corner, including Professor Janet Schmalfeldt, and Weird Al Yankovic
Honoring Janet Schmalfeldt, “the Monk by the Sea” has been joined by Professor S and Weird Al Yankovic

PlatinumSingers1Happy New Year! I am delighted to be starting a new season with a new studio, a new job, new music written for me, and the return of many beloved students.

I inaugurate my new studio on Monday September 16–I have a good number of folks sign up for weekly lessons and still have room for the “occasional” student who wants a lesson every other week or every so often.  Address:  11A Medford Street, Arlington, at Mass Ave, just between The Regent Theater and The Book Rack.  Easy parking and a Starbucks on the corner.   I continue to see students at my Jamaica Plain studio as well.  Contact me if you’re interested in lessons at either location.

Two classes begin the week of  September 16th. Here are some flyers for the classes for seniors: BPL Fall 2013 flyer

Platinum Singers Fall 2013

At the New England Conservatory, we begin the Handel for Singers and Instrumentalists on September 25.

I am in that happy place of having sung Rosh Hashanah services with the Havurah on the Cape, been hosted and fed exquisite soul food (Challah, honey cake, matzoh balls, chopped liver, yum) and ready to do the even Bigger Sing, Yom Kippur. Cape Cod is a gorgeous place this time of the year, and the congregation is both traditional and modern, as they say, “Cape Coddish”. I sing old melodies and some of Bob Snyder’s from my Sudbury days, a couple of tunes from my students, Rabbi Minna Bromberg and Cantor Elana Rozenfeld, and even one of my own originals, entitled, “Song of the Sea.” It is an appropriate title for a havurah that is called Am HaYam (people of the sea).

I was recently hired to teach a class at the Simon Fireman Communityin Randolph for the Fall–more seniors singing–the best of Creative Aging!

Finally, I just received the score to a new song cycle for our Mockingbird Trio.  Francine Trester has written “A View from Heartbreak Hill,” for contralto, viola and piano.  Fran wrote words and music, and these six short songs are in response to the Marathon bombings of April 2013.  They are not all sad or morose–Fran is more skillful at conveying complicated emotions than just that.  She takes some of the commonly heard lines:  “if you see something, say something” and “look for the helpers” and brings us into the grand and mundane.  We plan to present these songs before the anniversary of the bombings.

Oh, yes, I joined Facebook.  Please “like” me on my page and something good will come of it.

in his retirement, Mr. Longy pictured with his rabbits
in his retirement, Mr. Longy pictured with his rabbits

Last week, nine of my private students came and sang a recital in Pickman Hall at the Longy School of Music, where I have taught for 26 years.  It was a bittersweet event, but more sweet than bitter.  The students sang beautifully, we had duets and improvisations in addition to classical solos.  I invited two alumnae of the Longy Continuing Education program to sing, and both singers have  blossomed into a master teachers and performers.

I made a flyer from my favorite picture of Georges Longy, seen here, in his retirement from the Boston Symphony Orchestra (he was principal oboe for many years).  Of course the bunnies theme has predominated a lot of my attention since Fran Trester wrote her wonderful opera for us.  I keep spotting bunnies at dusk, and on the grounds of the Longy school as well.

Our audience included several former students in my classes and private studio, including one woman who was visiting from Cairo!  We all sang the Beatles’ “In My Life” together after Louise Grasmere and I had put our marks on it, as well as some improv and “Bye Bye Love”.  It was a love fest, and it was a terrific way for me to honor the spirit of the school that I enjoyed so much all these years.

COZZOLANI!  This magnificent composer–a 17th century nun–has been a labor of love and delight for my colleagues on the West Coast for many years–stretching back for me to 1999.  I just received my copy of the final CD in the set of her complete works, performed as she heard them, with women’s voices.  I must admit I forgot about some of the chamber works I recorded in 2002 and even some in 2010, shortly before my mom died.  But hearing these again brings me such joy, and I am giving a small sample here.  I’m not on every track, but the funniest part is sometimes I do not recognize myself!  My wife does, though.  “Honey, that’s you.”  Oh yeah.  I was just grooving on the music.

I am also happy to read Warren Stewart’s dedication to Judith Nelson, who died last year.  It was Judy who brought Chiara Margarita Cozzolani to Warren’s attention, and I sang my first concert of her works with Judy; she on top soprano and me on the very bottom of the 8-woman ensemble.  Judy had me over to tea in 1985, before I went to study in Europe, and said to me “Don’t let anybody tell you can’t use your vibrato.  You can quote me.”  A wonderful artist who pioneered early music singing style.

NEW STUDIO!  I have a new teaching studio in Arlington Center, starting in September.  Lessons will be offered on Mondays all day and Thursday evenings.  Of course the Jamaica Plain studio is going strong (Tuesdays and Fridays), as is the New England Conservatory (Wednesdays).  I’m offering an adult education class on Handel this fall at NEC on Wednesday nights.     http://necmusic.edu/ce/voice-opera

If you want to discuss lessons or classes with me for the fall, press the contact button!

Fruits of many seasons continue to ripen.  May yours do the same.