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…
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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/

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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?”
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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/

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The Summons

Church yesterday was unexpectedly difficult.

Our younger daughter Trinity was with me, which is a rare occurrence in the last year as she has been away from home for grad school and a summer internship. She pointed out that we were singing some of our favorite hymns, including “The Summons” which we were singing for entrance. (Text is at link; other sources list the author as John Bell.)

I love “The Summons.”  I love its message and its challenge. I love Kelvingrove, the lilting Scottish tune to which it is usually sung. I loved singing it. I loved conducting it during the years that I volunteered as accompanist with our youth and junior choirs.  (I usually accompanied anthems, but conducted hymns.) “The Summons” was an important part of an ordination and first Mass weekend for a member of our parish ten years ago last June.

And that is the problem.

That momentous celebration weekend was also our last with that parish, which had been my church home for over twenty years, where our daughters were baptized and made their first Eucharist, where I volunteered extensively with the music ministry and liturgy committee, where our daughters sang and cantored and rang handbells, where “The Summons” was an important call to mission, where I felt called to serve.

And it all fell apart.

The gospel reading yesterday spoke to what had happened. Someone in authority had fallen victim to an obsessive and slavish regard for the “laws of men” at the expense of love, justice, mercy, and compassion.  I believe that this person suffered from mental illness, but our bishop, to whom we had appealed, would not protect us.

After the ordination/first Mass weekend, we left the parish in solidarity with a staff member who had been unjustly terminated after decades of service.

Ten summers ago, Trinity was transitioning from 9th to 10th grade, which meant that she was in the middle of a two year sequence to prepare for the sacrament of confirmation.  In order to continue, we joined a parish near her school, so that she would already know some of the other students in her confirmation class. The circumstances surrounding our departure from our former parish had been soul-crushing for all of us, but she was in the most vulnerable position. She considered not being confirmed at all.  In the end, she did decide to request confirmation, which involved writing a personal letter to the very bishop who had refused us his protection.   The parish confirmation director told me the letter was honest and powerfully expressed Trinity’s feelings about what had happened.

I’m sure it did. I never saw it. I think that Trinity wanted to spare me any additional pain.

“The Summons” became a painful reminder of what we had all lost. Whenever it came up at Mass during the first six years, I would cry through it, unable to sing. Gradually, as some healing occurred, I found that I could sing it again, especially once Trinity had graduated from college and was singing with the choir at Holy Family.

I thought I was finally over attaching pain to hymn.

Until yesterday.

I was thinking  – it’s ten years. Trinity is beside me, she is strong spiritually, and she is singing this beautiful song of mission which we both love.

And I started crying. Not enough that I wasn’t able to still sing, albeit tremulously and missing a phrase here and there.

Some tears of loss and pain. Some tears of gratitude.

And some tears right now, while writing this…

Corpus Christi in Honolulu

Flowers and cross

Aloha! Today, Catholic churches celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, still often called by its Latin name Corpus Christi. This celebration is close to my heart because for the many years that I belonged to Blessed Sacrament parish, we celebrated it as our parish name day. Even though that is no longer my parish, I still feel a special connection to the day.

This year was special because I got to attend mass at St. Patrick Church in Honolulu, where my daughter E and her husband were married and where they serve in the music ministry. My son-in-law is away doing research for his doctoral dissertation, but I attended the 8:30 mass at which their choir sings. The assigned cantor wasn’t able to make it, so E stepped in to do it, which was a lovely bonus for me.

One of the things that drew my attention today was the crucifix, which is carved wood. I was thinking about how appropriate that the corpus on the cross is brown, because Jesus’s skin would have been brown. So often, Jesus is depicted with light skin, which a Jewish man living in the sun-drenched Mediterranean would not have had. I also noticed, as always, the colorful floral arrangement. One of the brothers at the monastery arranges the flowers from their garden every week.

Father C, who presided at E and L’s wedding, presided and preached today. I love how he can say so much with so few words. He used the image of an open hand receiving the host at communion to explain how we should be open to God’s love.

Father C has a tremor disorder, which causes his hands, especially his right hand, to shake markedly when they are outstretched. Yet, when he was praying the Eucharistic prayer and raising the host and the cup, he was able to still his hands.

I appreciated the opportunity to be there to celebrate this special day, with Beth leading us in song. I especially enjoyed singing “Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether,” a favorite hymn which I have not had the occasion to sing for several years.  The third stanza of the poem by Percy Dreamer begins:

All our meals and all our living
make as sacraments of you,
that by caring, helping, giving,
we may be disciples true.

Amen!

SoCS: putting in “put”

My Saturday is going to be busy, so I am writing this Friday night – late after everyone else is in bed.

Ironically, I spent a lot of time today with the word “put.” The Binghamton University Chorus, in which I have sung for 33 seasons, is preparing Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang for our concert in May, but we are singing it in English rather than the original German.

In movement seven, our scores used the following text, “let us gird on the armour of light,” over and over and over. Unfortunately, the word “gird” is very difficult to sing prettily, especially when the notes are high in our ranges, as they are in this movement. So the hunt was on for a different translation that used less difficult sounds.

After comparing several Biblical translations, our director chose to change “let us gird on” to “and put on us” which is easier to sing and to understand from the audience’s perspective.  So, I spent a bunch of time today writing the text change into my score.

I admit that I only wrote it in for the soprano part, which is the part I sing. Fingers crossed that the other parts write their own changes!

The tricky part comes on Monday – when my mind needs to forget the weeks of singing “gird” and put “put” in there instead.

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This is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Join us!  Find the prompt and the rules here:   http://lindaghill.com/2015/03/13/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-1415/

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Fall-ing

As some of you know, this fall has been rough, as we deal with myriad health issues with one of the family elders.  (In truth, the fall had a bit of a rough run-up as we dealt with both of my parents having their own medical issues, but things are going much better with them now.)

I have been doing much to-ing and fro-ing and have needed to grab little snatches of consolation, comfort, and beauty as I can find them. I was grateful for the unusually vibrant fall foliage this year, beginning early with the first peaks of gold among the green of the hillsides and ending with our neighbors vivid red Japanese maple.

 Even after all the leaves had fallen, I continued to marvel at the white chrysanthemum on our front porch. I had originally bought the plant from the grocery store to clip some blossoms to fill in for some wilted flowers in a Christmas centerpiece almost three years ago. I had managed to keep it alive indoors and it offered a blossom here and there, but this spring, I asked my husband to re-pot it and put it outdoors.  To my surprise, it flourished and offered hardy white blossoms that withstood several hard frosts until the snows came.

With the cold weather, we started to put out birdseed and suet in our feeders and I delight in catching glimpses of chickadees, jays, finches, woodpeckers, juncos,  tufted titmouse, cardinals, and nuthatches enjoying the food.

The best gift of the fall was the visit of both of our daughters and our son-in-law for Thanksgiving.  I am still holding in my mind the picture of us around the Thanksgiving table with the three grandparents.  We were too busy eating and enjoying each others’ company for photo ops, but here is a photo our older daughter took of her spouse and sister tending to the birdfeeders in the snow. Larry, who grew up in London, was relishing in the eight inches of snow we received. Now living in Hawai’i, he was not used to that much snow at once!

Still, despite my best efforts, I have recently had a bit of a crash. Last Friday, I spent hours working on a letter that I plan to send in lieu of holiday cards this year. I needed to recap the year and finally cried over a lot of the difficulties that I had been powering through because I had to keep going for those who were depending on me.

I thought I had gotten the melancholy out of my system until I was sitting next to my parents in church Sunday morning. The handbell choir and adult choir were both participating, which was emotional for reasons I wrote about here.  The First Sunday of Advent, I had been in church with my daughters and son-in-law all singing beside me. On this Second Sunday, the handbell choir was processing and the choir and assembly were singing “Christ, Circle Round Us”, a setting of the “O” antiphons by Dan Schutte, and my daughters weren’t there to join in. I started crying and barely sang the hymn, even though I love it. I had my face turned away from my mom, hoping she wouldn’t see my tears. I found out later, she was also emotional, thinking back to all the years she had heard her granddaughters singing and ringing in church.

Like the autumn leaves, sometimes tears need to fall, too.

Alice Parker

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This is the first of what I hope will be several followups to the Smith College Alumnae Chorus celebration of Alice Parker ’47 which took place on September 21.  I thought it best to begin with a post concentrating on Alice Parker and her music.

The Alumnae Chorus sang two sets of Miss Parker’s compositions, Three Seas, with three poems by Emily Dickinson as texts, and Incantations, with four poems by Elinor Wylie. We also sang a Parker arrangement of the spiritual “Come On Up.” Miss Parker conducted her pieces in the concert, although we were able to rehearse with her only on Friday afternoon and Sunday morning.

The music was challenging, especially under the circumstances, with each member of the chorus learning the pieces on her own before coming together to have everything performance ready in under 48 hours.  (We also prepared three Ralph Vaughan Williams settings of English folk songs, which were conducted by Jonathan Hirsh, the current Smith Glee Club director.)  I knew there would be mistakes in the concert, but the performance was successful because we were able to communicate the poetry, music, and mood to the audience.  We were relieved to hear Miss Parker reminds us several times during rehearsal that there is no such thing as a perfect performance.

The best part of the experience of working with Miss Parker was hearing her talk about poetry, her process as a composer, and her life.  She read the poems to us in rehearsal – and to the audience in the concert, relishing not only the meaning conveyed but also the sounds of the vowels and consonants tumbling along one after the other.  She talked about how poems in English fall into rhythms in groups of twos and threes, which results in so much of her music being written in 5 or 7 (3+2 or 3+2+2) to follow the word rhythm.  Miss Parker works only on commission, so she always has a specific group for which she is writing and a deadline to deliver the score.  She explained that once she has chosen the texts, she reads them aloud over and over and, as she begins to compose the melody for the text, sings and dances the poems, filling in the harmony and counterpoint in her head. She wants the music to be fluid and alive as long as possible, only committing it to paper when the deadline is looming. She said, “The page is nothing but a prison for music.”  I was so struck by that statement that I hurriedly wrote it down.  It will always remind me that music is alive and not the static black-on-white notation that we struggle to replicate.

Miss Parker also told us stories from her life, especially her famous association with Robert Shaw, with whom she collaborated on many arrangements before taking on solo assignments from him.  The director of the Binghamton University Chorus, with which I have sung for years, also worked with Mr. Shaw and loves to tell stories about him, so it was fun to hear stories about him from a different perspective.

What was most heartening was seeing a woman born in 1925, still engaged in creative work and still engaged with family, friends, community, and her alma mater.  Should we all be so blessed.

 

Smith College Alumnae Chorus

Early tomorrow morning, I leave for Northampton to participate with the Smith College Alumnae Chorus (SCAC) and the Smith College Chorus and Glee Club in a tribute concert to fellow alumna Alice Parker ’47.  We will be singing some of her compositions and arrangements and she will be conducting some of the performance herself, at the age of 89! Here is a link to the campus press article about it:  http://www.smith.edu/news/the-power-of-womens-song-alumnae-chorus-to-honor-composer-alice-parker-47/

Because the members of the SCAC are spread out across the country, we have been learning our parts on our own and have an intensive rehearsal schedule from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning to be ready for the concert Sunday afternoon.  Of course, I am looking forward to the music itself, because I love to sing.  I have sung a number of Alice Parker’s works over the years, beginning when I was on campus as an student, including a premiere written for the 25th anniversary of Helen Hills Hills chapel during my sophomore year.  (Yes, for those who aren’t familiar with Smith, Helen Hills Hills is correct; Ms. Hills married a cousin.)

Helen Hills Hills Chapel Smith College Northampton MA
Helen Hills Hills Chapel
Smith College
Northampton MA

I am also looking forward to being back on Smith’s beautiful campus as summer turns to fall.  Paradise Pond and Island, the gardens, and the arboretum, which is located throughout campus, will be just beginning to show their fall colors.

I am very excited to see my SCAC friends, especially my college roommate Mary, with whom I will be sharing a hotel room. She lives a couple thousand miles away from me, so it is always an event when we can get together!  I’m proud to say that our class of ’82 will have five members in the chorus this time around, among the other singers who will range from class of 1958 through class of 2011.

Besides the alumnae from my era that I know, I am also looking forward to seeing some of the women I met when SCAC did its first international tour to Sicily in 2011.  We sang Mozart Requiem in three fabulous cathedrals and had amazing sightseeing tours and some of the most delicious food ever!  It was my first – and so far only – trip to Europe and memorable in so many ways.  Here are links to Facebook photo albums from that trip:
In and near Palermo:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1886246721373.2096968.1397554070&type=1&l=1cec6fc201
On the road and Agrigento:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1888024885826.2097042.1397554070&type=1&l=3750b71abbCatania/third concert:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1889498042654.2097145.1397554070&type=1&l=c4bb1ef847
Mount Etna:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1889812410513.2097161.1397554070&type=1&l=0fcd144dab
Taormina:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1902946218850.2097804.1397554070&type=1&l=7e109ce0b2
Giardini di Naxos and the first two concert churches:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1904778064645.2097873.1397554070&type=1&l=510431c641
Thankfully, there are no photos of the goose egg I got on my head after I walked full-tilt into a glass wall!

Reunited with my luggage in Catania
Reunited with my luggage in Catania

This shot is included in one of the albums, but I had to share it here, too, as I know it is a favorite of some friends.  My luggage had gotten lost and it didn’t catch up to me until we were in our second destination.  I was very happy to have it back!  This is currently the photo posted on my Top of JC’s Mind Facebook page, which you are invited to visit and like. (Hint, hint.)

I had to miss the second tour, so this will be my first opportunity to re-connect with the SCAC members I met in Sicily.  One of them, Anne Harding Woodworth ’65, is a poet, which I hadn’t realized when we were traipsing about in Sicily.  We have communicated by email a bit and she has graciously agreed to look at my first attempt at assembling a chapbook.

So many threads coming together!  I don’t know if I will get any posts in while I am gone, but wish everyone a fabulous weekend. I fully intend to be having one myself!

End of an era

This June marks the end of an era for me. Since my older daughter began singing in the youth choir at church when she was in third grade, one or both of my daughters have been singing in choir, cantoring, and/or ringing handbells nearly all the years that they were living at home. With my younger daughter scheduled to move away to begin graduate school in August and no likelihood of her or her sister living in our hometown again, after this month, I will not hear them singing or ringing on a regular basis.

Of course, I have heard them sing in other places: elementary, middle, and high schools; Gettysburg College; Cornell University; even Carnegie Hall in NYC. I’ve heard my older daughter sing at her now home parish in Honolulu. My younger daughter is hoping to find a chorus in which to sing while she is in grad school, which is only about a 90 minute drive, definitely close enough for concert attendance.

I’ve actually extended the era of hearing them sing in our church longer than anticipated, with my younger daughter living at home for two years while doing volunteer work and preparing for grad school, affording her the opportunity to sing for the first time with an adult, rather than youth or teen, church choir, and to join the new handbell choir at our current parish. She and her sister had both rung in the parish where they were baptized, which is now closed; she had missed ringing, so the new bell choir was a tremendous blessing for her personally, as well as for the parish.

While I don’t foresee a circumstance where our daughters would live here, it is possible that at some future point – after we are retired, perhaps – we might live near one or both of them and again get to hear their voices raised in song at church on a regular basis. I don’t know what the future holds, but I will try to cherish these last few times, hearing my daughter ring and sing, helping us all to lift our hearts and minds to God in prayer.