Posts Tagged ‘music’

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Holiday Clean Up

March 21, 2008

I’ve been meaning to post here as I like to have some consistency to this blog.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened for the past month or so.  There are several entries I want to write, but I want to do them justice, so I’ll take the time to work on them before I post.  Let’s just use this entry as a catch-all, general update.

 The musical:  Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods went rather well.  We performed the show March 13-16.  The music is difficult, but I had strong singers for most of the parts, and I also had a talented pit orchestra.  The show is a big reason I didn’t get to update as regularly as I’d like.  Rehearsals were up to 4 hours every evening, and more intense as opening night approached.  It’s rewarding to work with a talented group of singers/actors to produce a fine piece of entertainment;  rewarding, in the sense of gratifying emotionally, not monetarily.  Not many community theater productions exist for their ability to generate a profit.

The situation at church:  Things have improved.  I’ve made peace with “C” and while we may disagree on things, I think we both understand each other a little better.  I’ve also given some information to another person who holds the opinion that a person cannot be gay and christian.  He was receptive to the brochure I gave him, and came to me last night to say that he found it interesting, is continuing to study it and looking up scriptures.  He is looking forward to meeting with me for a discussion of the information.  Ah, another chance for me to hone my debating skills! 

I’ve still got a pet peeve about the discussion that took place at an Elders’ meeting.  You may recall that this is what brought about the stress I’ve had at church.  Last evening, for our Maundy Thursday service, half of our Elders and even fewer of our Deacons attended.  This really bothers me, given that they felt they needed to discuss whether my partner should be attending church with me.  At least we’re there!

Pennsylvania Government:  HB1400 which amends the PA Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, is still as far as I know, in committee.  This should be a no-brainer, and as I pointed out in an earlier post, my own State Representative, Deberah Kula, has promised her support of the bill.    

Unfortunately, SB1250 has been voted into the Appropriations Committee, which means this amendment to our state constitution has cleared another hurdle on its way to becoming law.  PA already has a DOMA law on the books.  This amendment would not only prevent same-sex marriages, but would also permanently prevent same-sex couples from participating in civil unions.  Read more at Equality Advocates Pennsylvania

Finally, it is time to wish you, my faithful handful of readers, a Blessed Resurrection Day!  In spite of all the teachings I’ve heard about Christ being all about “love”, it has taken some time to sink in, at least for me.  I believe that Jesus came to teach us a radical new way to love each other, and because his message was such an affront to the religious leaders of his day, the only logical outcome for him was death.  I have great trouble with the idea of substitutionary atonement theories.  I’ve discovered that others do too.  Want to take your head for a spin?  Read this article by S. Mark Heim.  As I write this, on Good Friday (one could ask good for whom?  certainly not Jesus) I am filled with thoughts about the use of the word “Easter” in connection with this celebration.  The word itself has pagan connections, and while I hold nothing against the pagans, I’m not sure Christians should be borrowing so heavily when presenting what is to be the most important event of the church year.  So, once more, let me wish you a Blessed Resurrection Day!

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Let the Music Begin

January 7, 2008

Being a musician and teacher, you’d think I’d talk more about this kind of thing here on the terrestrial ball.  I try to talk about the various aspects of my life here, and not limit it to one or two particular topics. 

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon at our small, local, theater.  I’ve done projects with our hometown theater for many years now.  Most of the time, I have the job of Music Director for our productions of Broadway musicals.   Our theater has even billed itself as Scottdale’s little Off-Broadway Theater because it really is just a few doors off of Broadway Avenue. 

I spent the afternoon there to listen to auditions for Into the Woods.  Tonight, I am returning for additional auditions.  We have some parts cast already and we’re looking to round out the company with strong singers and actors. 

Last year, I was the music director for High School Musical.  Our theater company was able to obtain the performance rights almost as soon as they became available.  After that production, which was trying, to say the least, we decided that we would retire from directing.  “We” includes Marlena, the Director, myself, and possibly Janet, the Stage Manager.  However, just like Cher’s Farewell Tour, we have returned for this production of a favorite musical.  We’ve already announced our retirement again, with this being our absolute last production.  We’ll see.

So in just a few minutes, I will leave here, and drive over to the theater and begin the process again.  I’ll listen, I watch, I’ll check vocal ranges.  The director, the stage manager, and I will discuss all the possibilities for casting, and soon we’ll hold a first rehearsal.  I promise, I’ll write more about this experience as we approach the performances in March. 

 Thoughtful insights for this blog entry?  Oh, yes, I’ve got one.  I’m amazed that the small town of Scottdale, with such a small population, is supportive of live community theater.  I’m grateful for the opportunities that this provides for our youth, as well as the adults here in our little borough.

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Melisma: Find the Pitch, Stay There

November 28, 2007

’tis the season…. fill in the blank with whatever season you like.  It could be baseball, football, opera, Spring, Duck Season (or Wabbit season, for you Daffy Duck fans) and if you’re in southwestern Pennsylvania right now, it’s hunting season!  For this installment of “this terrestrial ball”  I’d like to talk about the holiday season, Christmas in particular.  ‘Tis the season when radio stations play the worst renditions of Christmas songs recorded by shallow pop stars.

 Let’s look at two categories:  Good Songs/Bad Versions, and Bad Songs/No Cover could ever be good. 

 Good Songs/Bad Versions first:  The classic, and semi-classical song, O Holy Night.  This is a dead giveaway to anyone who has studied voice.  A singer breathes with the phrases, and the phrases in music tend to fall naturally with the way we speak.  When we speak, we do not take a breath between syllables.  When we sing, it is improper, and the sign of a poor singer, to breathe mid-word.  Destiny’s Child, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, take note:  Don’t breathe in the middle of a word.  If you need a breath at that point in the song, you need to do some more work.   The melody:  there are definite pitches in this song.  There were written down by Adolphe Adam in 1847.  Trained musicians expect to hear something relatively close to those pitches that Adolphe put on paper.  Singers who need to take a look at the music:  Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton, David Hasselhoff, LeAnn Rimes, Jessica Simpson, and others too numerous to mention.  One final piece of advice:  the word divine is sung with a short i sound in the first syllable in order to produce a pure vowel sound’  please do not sing “dee-vine.”

Anything said about “O Holy Night” can be said about the following list of songs and carols:

  • Silent Night
  • Joy to the World
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  • O Come All Ye Faithful
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem

I guess I should mention that I really do enjoy a good gospel song, and that I know that the gospel genre employs a liberal use of melodic ornamentation.  These songs do not need that kind of enhancement; the melodies are beautiful on their own.  If G.F. Handel had wanted more pitches on each syllable of Joy to the World he would have written it that way.  He was, afterall, a master of melisma ( a group of notes or tones sung on one syllable) but he didn’t write them into the melody of Joy to the World.  Find the pitches, stay there.  If you’ve got a decent voice, the song will be lovely. 

That is just a brief cover of the traditional/sacred holiday music.  Some secular songs suffer just as severely as the sacred ones.  The Christmas Song, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas come to mind.  White Christmas is reported to be the most recorded Christmas song, so we can imagine how many of them are just plain bad. Other versions are mediocre, and there are very few that are good. 

 On to the songs that are just bad and could never be good, no matter who attempts the cover.  Let’s start with Christmas Shoes.  What a blatant attempt to pull at the heart strings!   Here are a few more that just don’t do it for me:

  • Last Christmas
  • Celebrate Me Home  (this is a Christmas song???)
  • Same Old Lang Syne (again, it mentions Christmas Eve, so that makes it a Christmas song?  NO!)
  • All I Want for Christmas is You (put your sex drive aside for one night)
  • Snoopy’s Christmas (are we talking about the dog, or some WWI pilot?)
  • Wonderful Christmastime (we get it, you’re having a good time)
  • Where are You, Christmas?(pre-adolescent girls who think they are Faith Hill have murdered this song in countless middle school concerts.)

One last thing:  some pop stars just don’t seem to be able to pull off the Christmas album.  Sorry Carly Simon, I love you, but that holiday album is weak.  Neil Diamond, something just isn’t right about your cover of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.  Stevie Wonder, Twisted Sister, Britney Spears, I’m just not feeling the holiday spirit from your tunes.  Ella Fitzgerald, you’re a great crooner, but who arranged your charts for Jingle Bells and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  You’re worthy of better.  Babs, I love your Ave Maria, and have even been thrilled by your Jingle Bells? up to the point where you remind me that you don’t really care to celebrate Christmas the same way I do. It’s where the music pauses and you let out a nasally “upsought?”  Then I just feel patronized, which is the point of this rant;  it seems that most of these Christmas albums are more of an attempt to capitalize on a sacred holiday without considering the cost to the beautiful songs that are being sacrificed.