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“So flexible…

you can pick up a dime”, went the old TV ad for rubber gloves.  Well, this project in North Carolina, An Extra Penny, is showing me that I can be every more flexible every day.  Turns out, it’s not simply a show, it’s a workshop, and one with LOTS of changes every day.  And they are all good!  Not always easy, but the show keeps getting better.

 

The Hansen Family

“The Hansen Family”  with Emma Suzik and Eli Cole in  An Extra Penny

I was invited here to sing an opera.  Then someone said, “no, it’s a musical”.  Fine, I can speak in English.  And then the changes started coming fast and furious.  My favorite line from a colleague: “I thought I had the most recent obsolete script!” Each change brings a better and tighter show.  The producers from NY (Broadway folks) who came to the opening are interested in the project and have given it a green light to go to the next level.  Which means more workshops in the future. But first, our creative dynamo Cindy Lu Mancini will have another week to work it and we will have 4 more performances next weekend.

I’ve never been in a show like this–neither have anyone else in the cast or crew, but we are all into it completely.  The music is gorgeous and the locals could not be more welcoming.

Delete, re-stage, take out dialogue and replace with body language.  I’m having a ball and I’ve found out I’m a quicker study than I thought.  So flexible…

 

Creating a role

ticket_orig

I’m singing a wonderful character* in a brand new musical, An Extra Penny.  I love the music, the story and the chance to work with a whole new group of people.  I’m in North Carolina for the month, rehearsing every day, marking the changes to my script and counting in wild meters.  I will write more as rehearsals go on, but I am thrilled to have completed a week here, near Raleigh, where it is steamy as all get-out and the iced tea is sweet unless you ask for another kind.  And…I have never before been in a musical, always operas or concerts.  It’s really fun to get to SPEAK lines…in English!

*a mother, of course, because altos always play moms.

 

 

Happily singing alto at JP Porch Fest

Porchfest 

 

Porchfest JP Choral Singers                Led by Pam Kristan

Sat July 9,    1:30 – 3 pm

7 John Andrew Street, Jamaica Plainoff Newbern/Elm/Carolina/Sedgwick

Brahms ¯ Mozart ¯ Lauridsen ¯Goin’ to Boston, arr. Alice Parker ¯ Haydn ¯ Wm. Byrd ¯ Orlando di Lasso ¯Sacred Harp style piece

Join in on a hymn or madrigal

More info at http://jpporchfest.org/

What could be more fun than getting together with neighbors and making music?  I did this years ago in Berkeley on Saturday afternoons, and the easy camaraderie and sharing of duties (conducting, bringing snacks) is perfect.  What’s more, we’ll do Alice Parker’s arrangement of “Goin’ to Boston,” which I’ve been wanting to put together for quite a while now.  Since it’s Ms. Parker’s 90th birthday year, folks are posting videos of their performances of her many compositions and arrangements. Alice Parker is 90 We look forward to adding ours…I’m multitasking: conducting and singing some alto on this one, but also being a percussion section.  The other pieces I just get to sing…

Make Music on the Longest Day

Leonard Bernstein quote on violence

I was happy to find this quote, because I’ve been thinking about it.  Come on Tuesday evening to the Boston Common and do a Circle Sing with us–it’s Make Music Day–Fete de la Musique since it started in France…

Lots of places to hear music, but here is the link to MAKING music with others.  participatory events  Website for the whole shebang Make Music Boston 2016

If you don’t know what a Circle Sing is, just come and try–nothing required, just listen and let us play together while making beautiful, new sounds.  We learned it from Bobby McFerrin, and we take turns leading.  How about that?  Parkman Bandstand, Boston Common, 6-7:30pm on Tuesday June 21, 2016.  All free. Come any old time, drop by after work…

 

Counting on it

 

Inuksuit at ArboretumSingers are notorious for not being great at counting.  I will admit I spend more time correcting rhythms than notes in lessons and rehearsals with my groups.  I pride myself on being pretty good at rhythm.

Well, counting as a percussionist is really busting my chops.  John Luther Adams’ piece that I’ll be participating in next weekend is S-L-O-W and meditative.  Really a cool piece, and my little part (I’m one of 90+ folks) is interesting and challenging.  And I have to memorize it and count slowly.

I never thought of myself as a hummingbird type, but this is a challenge.  I practice by taking walks around my neighborhood, counting measures until I come in, breathing in and out instead of playing the siren or conch shell or clanging a small bell.  Just trying to count long phrases.  A kind of spiritual practice, if you will.

I’ve also been listening to his music.  After all, this guy recently won the Pulitzer Prize for composition, and we get to play his piece in our own tree park, aka the Arnold Arboretum.  His music is gorgeous and spacious as the land.  In addition,  I met my percussion teacher, Maria Finkelmeier, after a performance she did in said Arboretum a few years ago.  So I am doubly excited to be invited to be part of a great community of folks, each counting to their own inner rhythm.  Not quite improvised, but not scripted in the way each of us comes in at the same time.

When I was a pup, in the late 1970’s in the Bay Area, I sang with a cool new-music group called the Port Costa Players.  One concert we did in the University Art Museum included a piece that called for ceremonial walking and whistling by the singers, while two percussionists played large hand drums to give a beat.  We repeated the concert in the same museum two nights in a row.  After the first concert, the composer who had just come up from LA to hear the piece (was it Doug Leedy? not sure) told our conductor that we had done it WAY TOO FAST.  So the next night, when we arrived at our short pre-concert warm-up, we were told to just follow the beat of the drummers, which was now something like three times as slow.  That was one weird performance.  We could not adjust without a real rehearsal, and it was hard to follow the cues of the whistling and waiting for something like a minute in between each drum beat.

I know the Adams piece will be a different kind of space-time-continuum, and we get to rehearse at the proper speed.  But it brought up (nice) memories.

Anyway, come hear this cool piece next weekend.  You can sit and listen from one vantage point or walk around as we performers walk on our our paths and integrate with the sounds of the land.

Conduct

I was good in school, but bad at two things: penmanship and conduct. Got “Satisfactory” in both subjects–like a gentlewoman’s C.
I spent a lot of time in first grade in the hallway, mostly from talking. “Yes, I know the other children were talking, Liz, but we HEARD you.”

Well, I’m not sure I behave any better as an adult, but I am learning to conduct better. Conduct others, that is. Turns out, it’s a neat trick to be able to telegraph musical ideas in new ways. I’m used to singing, breathing, moving to give signals to colleagues when I’m performing. I’m accustomed to guiding the student(s) with my piano playing. Now, I am actually working with a pianist (a very good one–Megan Henderson is a singer, player and conductor herself) who will follow my gestures and take my tempi, all with a wave of a hand.

I had some great choral conductors in my life. Tom Fettke was my high school chorus teacher at Oakland High School. William F. Russell at Pomona College, Louis Magor in the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Roger Nelson in the Port Costa Players, and Craig Smith at Emmanuel Music in Boston. All these folks LET US SING, they let us BE MUSICAL. You have no idea how many conductors try to control a group of singers and get no music made at all. Others try but are ineffective at keeping a beat or showing what they want.

The leaders who inspire me clearly LOVE their players and the music. I once sat onstage to watch Bernard Haitink conduct the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Brahms 2nd Symphony (We called it the Tweedy symphony after that because of the Dutch spelling of 2nd: Tweede). He looked at his players with such warmth and respect, and wow, did he get a sound from them.

This past weekend I heard and saw Maria Schneider and her Orchestra perform in Boston. This woman attracts the very best jazz players, folks who ordinarily wouldn’t be playing with such a big group–they are all marvelous soloists on their own. And she not only writes such beautiful arrangements, but she clearly lets them do their musical thing. Not just on their solos,  but being musical partners to her tunes all through.

group of singers standing around a guitarist, having fun

So as I begin my new phase of conducting these voice classes of elder adults–away from the piano, just standing and waving and breathing–I am inspired by the marvelous models above. And others. So far, so good. We sang a dress rehearsal at a senior residence this morning, and I really enjoyed just being with the music and with my group. Listening, loving, not worrying about how I was doing, being in the moment.

What a gift.

JP Jubilee in concert tomorrow night, Jamaica Plain branch library, 7:00, free. Very short program.

Platinum singers begin their summer session May 7 at the Harriet Tubman House.

The chorus at the Simon Fireman Home in Randolph is making a couple of field trips in June (one to visit the Platinum Singers, their “cousins” through me, and the other to the “Mother Ship” of Hebrew Senior Life in Roslindale.)  We’re working on “Goin’ to Boston” and other tunes about Time and Place.

This Gleaming April

The Marathon anniversary has come and past and we’ve performed A View from Heartbreak Hill enough times that I cannot get one of the tunes out of my head.  “This, this gleaming April”, begins the song “Still”, speaks of the beauty all around us –“tulips beautiful”, “stroll to the park”, and then seeing the flags at half mast.  That’s how it is: this year as well as last.  So much beauty and so many reminders, all together.   Sad and wistful and poignant and so much beauty, so much new growth.

This month I’ve sung, taught, had a wonderful Passover Seder with friends and family, walked, rode my bike, gardened, and had terrible allergies.  The week of the last performance I had to cancel teaching in order to save my voice, and hide from the beckoning garden on the day of the concert.  I went swimming instead, letting the chlorine banish the tree pollen from my instrument, or respiratory passages anyway.  After so many years of taking care to avoid colds, not drink or eat certain foods before big concerts (for days or even weeks, in some circumstances), it is a relief to have fewer concerts for which to prepare, and more that simply fit the current me:  less travel on planes near concert dates, pieces that are written for me and that fit me perfectly.  That is a wonderful gift of being a mature singer who has paid my dues–I sang plenty of awkward music in my 20’s,  too high or too soft or uncountable.   I did enough premieres of “just okay” music, and many more of sublime music.

pink flowers in early spring

Today, this gleaming April day, the first flowers on my apricot tree opened.  Apricots bloom early, and often get hit by frost afterwards, but they seem to know what they are doing.  I’ve seen about 2 apricots ripen on that tree over the past 10+ years.  First the aphids and then the birds get them.  But it is a lovely sight, along with the daffodils, hyacinths and all the little green spouts of perennials coming back to life again (“I’m so glad to see you again,” I say to them in the mornings when I make my rounds, “Please remind me of your name.”)

April is also National Poetry Month, and I got a chance to hear Martha Collins read from her new books right down the street in Roslindale, where my JP Jubilee group sang for the seniors last semester.  Martha wrote “The Green House”, which Dana Maiben set so beautifully for me to sing last year.  So I was particularly pleased to hear poems about April–she writes a poem a day for a month and has a book with 6 months covered, all from different years.

April’s more

red than green,

              when I wrote at seven

the busy maple I didn’t know what

the maple was doing,

               but now I’m fixed

on magnolia: rose bullets on one side

of this tree and opening open-

ing open on the other

 

Martha Collins, Day Unto Day, ©2014