end of an era

On April first, Dr. Bruce Borton conducted his last concert with the Binghamton University Chorus, the town/gown group with which I have sung since 1982. Bruce has been our director for the last twenty-nine years. Fittingly, the featured piece on the program was the Fauré Requiem, a piece that Bruce had known since high school and that had appeared throughout his career but that he had never conducted with our Chorus.

Last night, we gathered for a retirement party at the University. There were many community members from University Chorus and/or the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton, as well as faculty, staff, and alumni from the University. There were reminiscences with Bruce and his wife Nan, who has sung with us and taught piano in the community over the years, as well as among ourselves.

After dinner, there was a program of tributes from colleagues and alumni of the master’s program in choral conducting, some in-person and some recorded. (While the party was not a surprise to Bruce, the contents of the program was, which made it all the more fun.)

Of course, there were musical tributes as well. The Madrigal Choir, who welcomed Bruce as their director several years ago and whom he will continue to direct in his retirement, sang a favorite piece of Bruce’s which had been written as a tribute to his college choral director. They then favored us with the Thomas Morley madrigal “Now is the Month of Maying” – with some special added humorous verses honoring Bruce, his music-making, and even his hobby, woodworking.

The women of Harpur Chorale, the select student ensemble, called Bruce up for a rendition of “Chili con Carne” during which they gifted him with the makings for chili, tortilla chips, beer, sunglasses, and a sombrero.

The pièce de résistance, though, was an audio recording of Bruce singing “Howdy There” from PDQ Bach’s Oedipus Tex, which members of the faculty had performed for an April Fool’s Day concert years ago. I had seen the concert and remembered it with fond affection and giggles, so it was fun to hear it again, although the ovation after it caused Bruce to cover his face with his newly-acquired sombrero!

The evening was a wonderful tribute to Bruce and a lot of fun, but, for me, it was also bittersweet. It marks the end of working with a choral director who knew me in my younger years when I was still also active in church music. It was also a reminder of people who were not there to celebrate with us, especially Peter Browne. In a slideshow that was playing during dinner, there was a photo of Bruce and Peter. Peter was the accompanist for University Chorus for many years, as well as music director of Trinity Episcopal in Binghamton. When Bruce’s administrative duties at the music department necessitated his cutting back on the number of choral groups he could conduct, Peter became an adjunct to conduct Harpur Chorale. Peter died unexpectedly two years ago.

Singing our last concert with Bruce was difficult for me. Besides it being my last concert with Bruce conducting, it was just after the first anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death, which made the Requiem especially poignant. On the program, we also sang the stunningly gorgeous Fauré “Cantique de Jean Racine”. It was a piece that I first learned from Peter when I worked for him at Trinity. When I hear the introduction, my mind and heart return to singing it at Trinity Church, with a harpist accompanying and Peter conducting.

Memories are the only connection now to that era.

 

the solace of music

2016 has been stressful, hectic, and, at times, overwhelming. If anything, the last few weeks have seem an acceleration of these trends.

One of the things that has kept me from total meltdown has been music.

My personal background is strongest in church music and it continues to bring solace.  One recent example is watching daughter T cantor for Mass on All Saints’ Day. Her singing truly touched my heart.

One of the things for which I am most grateful is that University Chorus, with whom I am in my 35th year as a singer, is preparing Brahms’ Requiem this semester. Of all the masterworks I have sung over the decades, this is my favorite to sing. Brahms’ selection of texts is thoughtful and the music is crafted exquisitely to its meaning.

Our director notes that Brahms chose to set texts that bring comfort to the living. I need comfort now, not only as we continue to navigate the loss of Grandma but also as we deal with family health issues and the upheaval, dissension, and trauma caused by the recent campaign and election.

I have prepared and performed the Requiem several times in years past. I have sung it before when I was mourning a loss, but this time my emotions are so raw that I wonder if I will get through the December third performance without tearing up. A few weeks ago, when I was having a particularly difficult day, we were rehearsing the central movement of the work, which, translated into English, is called “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place.” I started crying and couldn’t stop myself. I managed to keep singing; at least, I know that if it happens in the performance, I will be able to keep going.

If I am still living here when I die, I would like members of University Chorus to come sing that movement at my funeral, in German, of course. I apologize if that sounds morbid, but it is a thing that church musicians tend to do – plan their funeral music…

I do wish that each of you find solace somewhere, whether in music or nature or silence or fellowship or some other means.

We all need it.

Brahms, Beethoven, and Binghamton

On April 16, I sang with the Binghamton University Chorus in the final concert with Josè-Luis Novo as director of the Binghamton Philharmonic.

He is an amazingly talented conductor who not only knows orchestral instruments well but also understands vocal technique. His conducting is clear and expressive. And, what is even rarer among orchestral conductors, he is encouraging and personable in rehearsal. I truly appreciated the opportunity to work with him several times over the thirteen years he has been in Binghamton and will miss him. The orchestra members will miss him even more.

The week leading up to the Saturday evening concert was intense. The chorus rehearsed Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings to prepare. (We had been rehearsing weekly for twelve weeks prior, lest you think we learned our music in a week!) For me, this week coincided with the final week of cleaning out Grandma’s cottage to turn it back over to her retirement community, so it was especially exhausting. Unfortunately, singing all evening makes it difficult to fall asleep afterward, increasing the fatigue.

Still, adrenaline does take over for the performance. It’s hard not to be excited when there is a full house in front of you.

The first piece on the program was Gesang der Parzen (Song of the Fates),a setting by Johannes Brahms of a Goethe poem. It is dark and dramatic and difficult. I had struggled with it throughout the semester; our scores had only vocal parts, which made it difficult to anticipate our entrances, and I was singing the first alto part in the six-part setting, which did not lay well in my voice. (I usually sing second soprano.) Still, we managed a compelling and nuanced performance. The piece was dedicated to one of the cellists who had recently lost his battle with cancer. He was only fifty.

Next on the program was Beethoven’s Meeresstille und  glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Journey). It is also a Goethe setting. The first part is about a ship becalmed at sea and is soft and subtle. In the second part, the wind returns and things really move! It’s great fun to sing – once you get the German in the your head.

Next, we had a presentation to Maestro Novo with tributes and a gift, a framed program from his first concert with the Philharmonic and his last. Have I mentioned how sorry we all are to see him go?

After intermission, we settled in for the evening’s main event, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. One of the great things about being in the chorus for the Ninth is that you get to sit and enjoy the first three movements. I especially enjoyed watching Maestro Novo conduct. It’s frustrating when one is in the audience because you are looking at the conductor’s back and cannot fully appreciate his artistry and skill, but a chorus member with nothing to do for three movements has the best viewpoint possible.

Of course, the trick is that, when it is finally time to sing, you haven’t vocalized at all for over an hour and you suddenly have to sing some very high, fast passages…

The truth is that Beethoven did not write especially well for chorus. It’s very difficult for the choral parts to be heard over the large orchestra – and the hall and its acoustics were not helping us.

Have I mentioned adrenaline?

In our excitement, we sang at least 20% louder than we ever had in rehearsal, also helped by the fact that, unlike being in rehearsal, you know you only have to sing it once.

At the final cadence, there was an immediate standing ovation, which lasted through at least half a dozen sets of bows for the soloists, chorus, orchestra, and conductors, including Bruce Borton, the longtime director of the Binghamton University Chorus.

We saved our loudest ovations for Maestro Novo.

We miss him already.

 

SoCS: The Sound of Music

One of the first movies I can remember seeing in a theater was The Sound of Music. I was probably four or five at the time. The movie had an overture and an intermission. The intermission happened right after the wedding scene and my Dad thought the movie was over. Fortunately, there was music for the intermission and we did stay for the rest of the movie.

We had the cast album – on 33 1/3 rpm vinyl, of course – and could sing all the songs. When I was a senior in high school, our school play was The Sound of Music and I was Sister Sophia, one of the “Big 4” nuns who sings “How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?” I only had a couple of spoken lines, but we got to wear habits borrowed from a convent, which apparently had kept some of the pre-Vatican II habits around. Because I was Catholic, I also got to coach some of the chorus of nuns on things like how to cross yourself and genuflect. It was also interesting because we used the original Broadway script and score, so some of the songs were new to me. For instance, “Something Good” was written for the movie; I actually prefer “An Ordinary Couple” which was the Broadway song for that scene.

The sound of music is also pertinent to my own life. I have been singing since I was young. I am in my 34th season singing with the Binghamton University Chorus, which I joined after singing my way through elementary, high school, and college. I can’t imagine giving it up.

I also played piano from the time I was seven, then studied organ so that I could play at my tiny Catholic parish. I subbed for three years and then took over as organist when our prior organist went to college. My last three years of high school were spent playing organ every weekend at church, along with holidays and often a couple of weeknight masses.

I played organ and sang throughout college and worked in the church music field before my children were born, continuing on a volunteer basis as they got older. Unfortunately, an orthopedic problem intervened so I no longer play on a regular basis, but I do still sing.

It is odd, though, that I don’t like to have music playing in the background. I find it too distracting. If there is the sound of music, I want to be either making it or listening attentively.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays! The prompt this week was…ummm…complicated and involves using a movie title. You can read about it here:  http://lindaghill.com/2016/01/08/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-jan-916/

SoCS badge 2015

This is also part of Linda’s Just Jot It January!  http://lindaghill.com/2016/01/09/just-jot-it-january-9th-title-socs/

JJJ 2016

To find the rules for Just Jot It January, click here and join in today.

Radio segment on Alice Parker

In September of 2014, The Smith College Alumnae Chorus (SCAC) had a choral homecoming event with composer/conductor/choral arranger/champion of choral singing Alice Parker ’47.

I was pleased to take part and to blog about it here and here, with related posts here and here.

Yesterday, the SCAC posted this link: http://nepr.net/news/2015/12/15/at-90-its-still-all-about-the-melody-for-hawleys-famed-alice-parker/ on Facebook from the local NPR affiliate, featuring interviews with Parker and other musicians and clips of her work, all in under five minutes.

Alice will soon turn 90 and the celebration is on!

SoCS: concerts

I’m going to miss my daughter’s concert tomorrow. She is singing with the Hendrick’s Chapel Choir at Syracuse University, although she attends SUNY-ESF. They are allowed to take classes and participate in activities on either campus. When she was home for Thanksgiving, she showed me what they would be singing. I’m sure it will be a lovely concert, but it’s too difficult to attend an evening event in Syracuse, drive home for an hour and a half, and then be up early the next morning. B has a 6 AM conference call most weekdays and it seems especially early when daylight hours are so short as they are in our latitude in December.

It seems to be a weekend for missing concerts. I sang this afternoon with the University Chorus and Orchestra at the Anderson Center at SUNY-Binghamton. We sang Orff’s Carmina Burana and it went really well! Unfortunately, no one in my family was able to come hear it.

I hope next semester there will be less missing of concerts…
*****
Linda’s prompt for this week’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday is”miss.” Come join us!  Find out how here: http://lindaghill.com/2015/12/04/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-dec-515/

SoCS badge 2015

 

SoCS: Singing

Singing has been a constant in my life. As a child I sang at school and at church. In high school, I sang in the mixed chorus and in my final year made the Girls’ Ensemble. I could sing, do (simple) choreography, and smile all at the same time! I also was in a few musicals, nearly always in the chorus.

I really learned to be a good choral singer in college. At Smith, I finally learned to sing classical music, everything from Gregorian chant up through newly composed work. Granted, in those days, we sang Western music only. Today, I would probably get to do some world music as well. I also got used to singing in different languages. While I had sang mostly in English, with a bit of Latin, before college, I sang frequently in Latin and German, with some Hebrew and French.

For the past 33 seasons, I have sung with the Binghamton University Chorus, which is a town-gown group, meaning we have students, faculty and staff from the university, and community members participating. Some of our members are in their 80s; I know of at least one who has reached her 90s!

I hope that I will still be singing, if I am blessed enough to reach that age.

As the hymn says, “How can I keep from singing?”
*****
This post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. The prompt this week was to begin the post with a word ending in -ing. Please join us! Find out how here: http://lindaghill.com/2015/10/09/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-oct-1015/

SoCS badge 2015