I like this title…you can make what you’d like out of it. One thing for sure: our concerts are fun, free and short!
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…
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…
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…
Getting back to regular exercise after colliding with an upright piano (don’t ask, and please do not try this at home*), I find myself torn between pushing and holding back. Yeah, that old conundrum. No pain, no gain and all that. Well, at a certain point we all have to listen to our bodies and heed what they say or they yell louder (“That HURTS, you IDIOT–can you hear me now?”).
I’ve always been a get-back-on the-horse as quickly as possible kind of person, so I’ve been walking and stretching. Today I tried an exercise class. I couldn’t do everything, but at least I went. I listened to my body intently as I moved, and feel pretty good now. It took a few years (okay, decades) to get the hang of how to garden for a short time and then stand up and walk around or do something different with my body. So now i have another reminder.
And so it is with singing. We push for the high notes, lift our shoulders, tighten our necks and jaws. We have all sung without warming up, pushed through vocal fatigue and colds and done a thousand other little things. My favorite is how we lean towards the audience as we sing to show we really care…
I was singing a recital with my wise colleague Francie Fitch after a bout with bronchitis. I was frustrated that I couldn’t get from 0-60mph as soon as I resumed singing. She reminded me that in the 19th century novels, heroines often had a “long convalescence.” How lovely, to give oneself such a gentle recuperative period. We don’t. I know. It’s even faster paced now than when I was a pup. I was anxious to be a good employee at every gig I landed, always showing up and singing full voice, never being a troublesome colleague. When I had vocal problems, I ignored them and the results were not pretty.
We are told not to listen to ourselves when we sing. I know how hard that is. But we can listen to our bodies–in a loving and respectful way. They tell us to take a sip of water, to rest the voice for a while, to take a nap or have a meal. There is an art to living in a body, and an art to having your instrument in your body. It takes patience. And practice.
*okay,I was trying to prevent a small upright from tipping over. I was moving said piano–as I have every week at the Harriet Tubman House for 6 years, mind you–to use it to teach my lovely class and the wheels froze (kind of like shopping carts, it felt like) and my helper gave that extra push…since I was holding the handle and I desperately wanted to right the piano, I held on too long. It had lost its balance on occasion before, but had never fallen on its back. The piano lived and only one note sticks–the low Eb that is the tonic for our Bach aria, by the way. I have bruises all the way from elbow to tip of fingers. The full mechanisms are slow to get back and to strengthen again. But it could have been much worse.
John came back to voice lessons after a break of several years. He said he wanted to sing to “keep the black dog” away. I figured he meant some kind of depression. He told me after a few weeks that he had recently been diagnosed with aphasia – the Greeks said it was “speechless”– and he was already having trouble remembering words.
I do my best to not furnish words for him, but instead let him describe around the word or just nod patiently and wait. But when it comes to singing lyrics of songs, he sometimes gets frustrated and shuts down. His normal lyric tenor sounds tight as he closes his mouth, tightens his jaw and sings a half-hearted “luh luh” instead of the words to the art song.
His love of music has remained, and he brings in familiar songs he knows, in German, Italian, French and English — Renaissance and 19th century — and some family songs from his childhood (He rarely gets the words wrong for those).
At first I encouraged him to sing a nice open Italian “ah” or some other open neutral sound when he forgot the words, but he really wanted to do as many lyrics as possible.
Late this summer, John wrote me an email saying he wanted to learn how to “read music better.” I knew what he meant. He had always learned a few things wrong in each song, even before the aphasia. And once we learn a mistake, it’s hard to correct. But now the musical notation was feeling less decipherable. I wrote back that he reads music fine, but his rhythm has always needed work, so we should focus on keeping the beat, which has always given him confidence that he’s singing what’s on the page.
I don’t know why this works, incidentally, but in my years of working with singers I have witnessed again and again a great improvement in everything—words, rhythm and melody—when a student taps the beat with their hand, or even marches. John and I have done a lot of walking in lessons, when he wasn’t slapping his thigh loudly.
One day I was speaking with my friend Daniel Kempler, a professor of speech pathology whose specialty happens to be aphasia. He told me that perhaps there is too much going on in printed music, and maybe just reading the words would be easier. He told me that we “overlearn reading” so that it stays as a skill, even when someone might not understand the meaning of the words. I agreed. Writing the words is helpful to me, as I learn and memorize my songs. Indeed, I give an assignment to all my students before their first lesson to write down the words of their song. It’s a great way of getting in touch with the poetry without the tyranny of a notational representation of what the composer heard in his/her head.
John was unsure if this was the way he wanted to go. After all, he is hoping to retain these musical skills. But he wrote down the words of his Purcell songs and in the lessons, we worked out a way to handle repeats.
He reads great! We stayed with English for quite a while.
One odd thing: he keeps reading as if in a sentence, even if the melody expands on a single syllable (many notes on one word). So we are working on a system that he can devise (and remember) that will make sense to him. “Come, co-ome a-way-ay-ay-ay” might end up sounding like “Aye, Aye,” if one loses the context, which he can do.
In the early Fall, he told me he wanted to sing with his wife playing piano. I consult with her teacher, a colleague at the Cambridge Music Consortium, about a good piece for the pianist, and I am delighted we all love a Schubert song, “Gute Nacht”, the first song in the long cycle, Winterreise.
John used to sing pretty well in German, but there are many long verses in “Gute Nacht.” I suggest we look for an English translation he can sing and maybe cut some of the repeats.
John comes back the next week with his lyrics and a decent translation, not singable but at least we know what each word means. He tries to sing it, but of course it does not scan–I tell him that singable translations rarely get the total gist of the original.
The next week he comes back with several verses for which he has made his OWN translation. And a lot of it really scans well and even has some of the alliteration and vowel sounds. This excites me to no end. We work on the awkward spots, and still, he sometimes just keeps reading the words. We still get to work on the “good ni-i-ight”.
But it is coming.
I know John was a journalist. He was the Washington correspondent for a major newspaper during the Watergate era. It is a thrill to witness the tenacity and inventiveness in his preparation for the lessons. To me, he is a Noble Member of the “Enemies List” of a certain president of the United States. And a really fun student to teach.
I’ve been hearing from friends and former students this past while, and it is such a delight to hear that folks are continuing to sing and create. One has had a TV pilot accepted by CBS in Hollywood, another is singing in Germany, others are continuing their pursuits in Tokyo, Cleveland, and the Bay Area.
What a delight to be part of these lives and to remember how my teachers influenced me–all the voice teachers, choir conductors, English teachers and my yoga instructor, who said “You think you know your limitations but I can see your potential.”
I learn so much from my students, sometimes I think I should pay them!
Enjoying the quiet time by exercising while memorizing the Bunnies opera. Such beautiful music and fun–I so rarely get to be funny onstage.
This character is a hoot and I am having a blast learning about her as I try out her lines on my walks, It also keeps strangers from approaching me, because I am reacting to the music in my head.
So, our set designer, Lisa French, has asked for help with sewing bunnies. We don’t need 334 of them but could use some help. Anyone out there handy with a needle? I’ll send you a patter and you can have a close-up on some rehearsals and our eternal thanks.
334 Bunnies, the opera
Thursday January 26, 8pm Longy School, Harvard Square
Saturday February 4, 4:00 St. John’s in Jamaica Plain