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

 

 

picture of Darryl Settles and description of groups to perform--Platinum SIngers and Boston CHildren's Chorus“Come on up, I’ve got a lifeline…”

We’ve been singing the Harriet Tubman song for a few years now–you may have heard it sung by Holly Near with Ronnie Gilbert or by a grade school choir.  It’s a particular favorite of The Platinum Singers–a compelling story of  this strong woman who risked her life over and over to free more slaves.  We meet at the Harriet Tubman House, and there is a large portrait of Miss Tubman in the room where we rehearse every Wednesday.

This Saturday the United South End Settlements–the facility which sponsors our Singers– is honoring a wonderful community leader, and we get to sing with some teens from the Choral Union of the Boston Children’s Chorus.  We all got a lift when we met to rehearse last weekend, watching the kids do their body percussion as they sang, and working on an African folk song all together.

But best of all, I am now in contact with Walter Robinson, who wrote the iconic song which has become a kind of anthem for The Platinum Singers.  He now lives in the Philippines, where he does anti-slavery work.  He wrote about Harriet Tubman:  She literally removes the word “by-stander” and replaces it with “everyone can be an activist for the good and freedom of those oppressed.”

Sometimes I write a thank you letter and hope it reaches the teacher/composer/performer.  Because of one of those letters,  I have a new colleague.  Walter used to live around here, wrote Harriet Tubman in 1977, and has been writing more ever since.

We never know who and what will be that Lifeline, but it helps to pay attention and be ready to go with it.  The Platinum Singers have been Lifelines for each other and for me.

 

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.

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.

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