Tag Archive | John McDonald

Too much [good] information

blue bran with lots of arrows coming into and out of itSometimes my brain gets full. This “information age” can be quite exhausting at times. So when I attended 4 days of wonderful concerts, master classes and workshops here in Boston at the National NATS conference last week, I felt I needed a nap every day.

Actually, I felt like that in school after lunch.

But I digress. Or not. How do we absorb all this wonderful new stuff?

I find it seeps down. Sneaky deep, as my friend Cerridwen puts it.

Coming back to teaching summer lessons and classes, I found myself trying new things, on the fly, with students.  Just simple things, like closing your eyes and feeling the sound, or placing your hands gently on your cheeks to feel the gentle opening of the jaw.  Just stuff.  And I felt excited again about my students’ progress.  And they discovered new things themselves.  It wasn’t all new information, but hearing it from a different teacher (or student), gave me a new look.

A new look.  So I was looking for some French mélodies (that’s art song, the French equivalent of German Lied) and thought of an old book I was given by one of my teachers, Woody Thornton, before he moved to Europe to sing opera in the 1980’s.   Sergius Kagan’s Music for the Voice.  Still in print, and at your local library.  Chock-full of great information on songs, their range and tessitura, suitability for high or low voices, how hard the piano part is, etc.  And Mr. Kagan edited most of the International Editions I bought over the years.  So, despite databases and new books on repertoire, here was this marvelous book right next to the piano, on the shelf with dictionaries and encyclopedias.

There are 2 anthologies of French songs in my very library, edited by Mr. Kagan, with so many composers– BUT NOT Fauré and Debussy, because everybody sings a lot of those two wonderful guys.

And that’s how it goes. Hearing D’Anna Fortunato sing a short recital of Boston composers (with the Marvelous John McDonald) reminded me of how long this great legacy is.  (I’m also a booster on West Coast composers, being bi-coastal).  And hearing 2 marvelous baritone recitals of mostly American music, more great repertoire and new composers.  Hearing the scientific basis of what we intuitively know after years of using our voices and teaching others to do so, is very cool.  It seems that body-based learning is all the rage.  Who knew our style would finally become fashionable?

So, my takeaway from all this is that a nap is a good thing.  I once heard that Pavarotti said “90% of my practicing is done in bed.”  Before you get snarky and lewd, think about this: we used look at the vocabulary list before bed and be better able to give those definitions on the next day’s test.  We absorb, and the knowledge filters down, sneaky deep.

 

 

 

A concert of hope and remembrance

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.

A view

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.

Autumn Songs

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

APPRECIATION

I have a lot to be thankful for these days.

photo credit (c) Charlotte Fiorito Photography 2012, All Rights Reserved

In no particular order:

I recently sang and taught at an amazing  event in San Jose, CA.  The Tech Awards give innovative folks who are doing great works to benefit humanity  a chance to be seen and heard and to get monetary awards.  I got to give a workshop for these engineers and scientists, to aid them in presenting their projects in public.

From a Distance, video of The Tech Awards ceremony with my new friend Dolores

Bonus: Did you hear the embedded melody in the piano?  Our arrangement.

That weekend I also had a visit with my wonderful 89-year old voice teacher in Berkeley, Lilian Loran.  She gave me the confidence to pursue solo singing and to “sing classical music the way you sing your Carole King songs.”  Well, I now give the same advice to my students.  I met my colleague from long ago, Susie Morris, at Lilian’s, and we sang “Sound the Trumpets” of Purcell for her.  I believe we last sang that duet in 1979, and it was like we had never parted!

Eleanor Cohen and I visited that weekend.  Although she was never my piano nor voice teacher, she was a mentor to me: she told my dad I had one of the few true contralto voices and he should stop bugging me to stop doing music and try for medical school.  She’s “only” 86 and still stands on her head every day.  Thanks, Ellie!

We’ll be recording John McDonald’s The Budbill Seasons in December, Elizabeth Bennett and I.  Elizabeth is a Shakuhashi player, and the poet, David Budbill was a student of hers.   In Winter: Tonight: Sunset, the speaker expresses appreciation:

“…I pause in this moment  at the beginning of my old age and I say a prayer of gratitude for getting to this evening…”

www.davidbudbill.com

Once home in Boston, I saw Ann Moss, a delightful colleague who took my graduate level classes once upon a time at Longy.  She is launching her own solo CD project and we were there to encourage her. You can check out her project of new works (and Joni Mitchell songs–I’m glad she learned that lesson well to combine art songs of all genres) at http://annmosssoprano.tumblr.com/currents

Dana Maiben is writing a piece for our Mockingbird Trio, The Green House, to be premiered on February 3 at Brandeis University, and the early drafts look wonderful.  Story by Martha Collins.

We have been awarded another grant to teach Singing to senior citizens–in my home branch of the Boston Public Library.  It will begin on Fridays in March.
Hooray for MetLife and Creative Aging!  Platinum Singers continue as well…

And finally, I’ll be performing a set at the Lily Pad in Cambridge, MA  on Sunday February 24.  Special guests to be announced.  Improvisation and original songs are sure to be part of this mix.