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( Jun. 22nd, 2012 03:17 pm)
June is nearly over. I'm not even sure when it started. I did say, before this month, that the choir more or less owned my soul for the month of June, and it appears that I was not wrong, except that they worked out a timeshare arrangement with a few proofreading clients. 

Forgiving Gustav
A long time ago, when I was a wee slip of a children's chorister, Sir Andrew Davis, the conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, retired. In order to mark the occasion, he decided to program Mahler's Behemothic  8th Symphony (aka the "Symphony of a Thousand," though I've never personally performed it with more than 700). I had a particular fondness for Maestro Davis, because he had conducted the symphony for the children's concerts that were my first exposure to real classical music, and because on the occasions that my choir sang with the orchestra, he treated us very seriously like musicians and not like toddlers. For these his final performances as the conductor fo the TSO, I sang in the Knabenchor, and was really very proud to be there.

I remember being captivated by the dramatic and spooky part  of the second movement at which the men start to sing, [the singing starts at about 3:30, but it's worth listening to the orchestral stuff beforehand for context and Mahlerian sound; in fact it's worth listening to the entire symphony. That's Leonard Bernstein conducting, btw.] and being sad that I would never be a tenor when I grew up, so I'd never get to sing that bit. Some consolation came from the thought that I'd very likely get to sing the pretty women's parts. Either that or I'd be an opera singer, which would be better, but much more difficult. 

The second time I sang Mahler's 8th was for the retirement of Dr. Elmer Iseler as the conductor of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. I guess I was sixteen. That time was even better, because despite his tendency to talk to the children's choir as though we were a bunch of six year olds who had never seen sheet music before ("Now, children, I would like you to make the singing louder, just bit by bit, a little bit at a time," he'd say to us from the podium. "You mean crescendo?" we would think (but never say) from up in the organ loft, where we could see only his pink head surrounded by white fluffy hair, looking like nothing so much as a bowl of strawberries and cream). That time, I was seated way up in the organ loft, with the great Roy Thompson Hall organ on one side of my head and a brass choir on the other. Some sixteen year olds lose their hearing at clubs or concerts; I lost mine to Gustav Mahler.

In any case, I didn't become an opera singer. 

So this year, my first in the Mendelssohn Choir, I was pretty gratified to see the 8th Symphony on the schedule, as a performance in celebration of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's 90th anniversary. Most choral singers don't get to do Mahler's 8th even once, here I was doing it for the third time, and yay, I'm a grownup now. Pretty women's parts, here I come!

Only not so much.

You see, Gustav Mahler wrote the 8th for two full adult choirs (SATB, with various of the voices split into higher and lower parts whenever he wanted even more notes in a chord). Being a second soprano, I was placed in Choir 2. 

I think Mahler must have hated Choir 2. Or maybe his Choir 2 sopranos sucked. Because there are a couple of really pretty women's parts in the 8th, and the Choir 1 ladies have them all. Basically, Choir 2 is like the tomato in a club sandwich: we fill in the flavours. 

Curse you Gustav Mahler! And curse you Mighty Conductor for making all second sopranos the Choir 2 sopranos! Twenty years I've waited to sing the part of one of the more holy angels, and now I am DENIED! 

I was pretty sad, I'll tell you. 

But then, at the performance, I had to forgive Mahler. Because the 8th is just so blessed amazing. It still takes my breath away. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube, of course, but that doesn't really do justice to the immensity of the sound of the first bombastic movement, nor to the chills that the changes in dynamics and the tension and release of the second movement bring. The Angelic Soprano always, always gives me warm chills. So Gustav Mahler, I forgive you for your strange dislike of Choir 2 sopranos. 

Also, I hummed along with Choir 1. 

Some other good things, for them as might be able to use a good thing or several:

Thing #1: Prayerful Trumpets
This past week, I got to hear this lady play this piece of music not once but three times. Sadly, I can't find a video or online recording that combines Alison Balsom's playing and Hovhaness's music, but both were a revelation to me. 

Thing #2: Tasty Greens
I made pasta with Kale and Garlic Scape Pesto last night, and may finally have found a delivery method for kale that is not only tolerable, but also actually yummy. So if you want to up your veggie-cred, but find yourself not thrilled with kale as a food, consider making it into pesto. 

zingerella: Capital letter "Z" decorated with twining blue and purple vegetation (Default)
( Mar. 21st, 2012 04:40 pm)
And you can come hear me and about 140 other people! If you're in Toronto, that is, or willing to travel. Also, given the nature of this concert, if you won't burst into flames entering a Catholic basilica on a big Christian holiday.

What's That About Christian Holidays? The concert is called Sacred Music for a Sacred Space. It's on Good Friday, April 6, in St. Paul's Basilica. So basically, it's about getting your liturgical music groove on in a venue that really works for this sort of thing. If churchiness isn't your thing, then this probably isn't the concert for you. If, however, you really can't get enough of modern mass settings, then prepare to be delighted.

Church Music is a Wide Field. What, Exactly, Will You Be Singing? The big works are Vaughan Williams Mass in G minor, Martin's Mass for Double Choir (in a lot of different keys. The mass, that is. The choir sings in one key at a time.). We'll also be singing some Willan, Morales, and Nystedt. You can see the full programme here.

So When, Where, and How Much?

Friday, April 6, 7:30 p.m.
St. Paul's Basilica, 83 Power St., Toronto

General Admission $50
Senior $45
VoxTix (25 and under) $20

Wait, Who Are You Singing With, Again? I'm a second soprano in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Toronto Mendelssohn Singers.

So If I Even Wanted to Spend $50 on a Concert Ticket for Something Other Than, Oh, I Don't Know, Placido Domingo and a Huge Muckin' Orchestra Including a Cat Organ, How Would I Do That? You could follow this convenient link!

Dude, You Know I Like You and Support Your Artistic Endeavours, But That's a Lot of Money! Also, I Don't Live In or Near Toronto. Yeah, I totally hear you. It's okay! 

If you really want to support me, but you don't want to come to this concert, maybe you can come to another concert! Or ask me to sing you a song sometime, and I will. If $10 or $15 is burning a hole in your pocket, you could make a donation in my name to the TMC Conductor's Challenge, which will stop me from feeling guilty at every choir rehearsal when they ask us if we've raised any money yet. If you don't want to donate, you can still ask me to sing you a song. 

 Well, that's over. 

Jesus was born, there were angels and shepherds, then there were unbelievers and the kings conspired against him, and he was mocked and he died. Bummer. Then he rose again, to much rejoicing, with trumpets. All done for another year. 

Tonight's audience featured a passel of nuns and priests up in the top balcony opposite me. They caused a minor ruckus.

Note to fellow choir members: it is not polite to point at people. Ever. Even if they are nuns in blue habits. Sheesh!

Okay, it was a really minor ruckus: one of the priests was on crutches for some sort of leg injury, so the nun seated beside him offered him her seat so that he could put his leg up. She then perched on the steps in one of the aisles until an usher asked her not to. Eventually the usher found the nun a spot to perch for the duration of the performance. 

The rest of the audience was unremarkable, if tubercular. There was a dear old thing in a red sequinned hat in near the front of the orchestra. Her sequins kept catching the light. 

The maestro seemed happy. So that's good. Me, I'm about ready for a long winter's nap. 

 Audience completely normal, and less tubercular than usual.  Handsome dude in the balcony made eye contact with me, then took me out for dinner. 

I'm so tired. Also, I know how this story ends now. Can we have a different oratorio, please? 

One more Messiah. 

ETA: I keep meaning to post this, but forgetting: I cannot get behind the current trend among male orchestral conductors to wear Nehru jackets instead of the traditional evening coat with tails. The gentlemen of the orchestra wear tails. The gentlemen of the choir wear tails. The male soloists wear tails and the ladies wear evening gowns. Why is it then appropriate for conductors to dress as though they were headed to a loft party in SoHo? Also, I think tails look much more impressive than short jackets, from behind, which is the way the audience sees the condutor, mostly. 
 Last night's audience was less tubercular, for a mercy, but gracious me did they wander! I mean they got up and wandered around the concert hall, re-seating themselves periodically. It was like the musical chairs Messiah. Except that because Maestro Kramer is relentless, they never really had time to get seated before the music started again. 

Cut for wandering audiences (gone astraaaaaaaay), and thoughts on deportment )

Last night's Messiah was strangely uneventful. The audience produced its usual counterpoint of catarrhitic coughing during "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth," but was otherwise unafflicted with distracting bodily emanations, at least as far as I could tell from the chorus. 

I did, however, get clarification on the Wednesday night's Front-row Fracas, via the time-honoured expedient of pumping one of the ushers. Turns out there was no cell phone at all. According to my source, the tall woman was talking loudly and carrying on in the front row, and generally behaving in a manner distracting to both audience and performers. So the cellist leaned over to tell her to cease her distracting behaviour. The man who was with her was so embarrassed that he left the performance, leaving his date to fidget and fuss in the front row, until finally (midway through the first half of the performance) she decided that she'd had enough. So she made a show of putting on her coat, made a rude gesture at the cellist, declared loudly that this thing was "too fucking long," and stalked out. 

Upon leaving, she found that her date had left $20.00 with one of the ushers for her and that he was not coming back, and kicked up a ruckus in the lobby of the concert hall, and security had to be called.

So that's the skinny on that.

I do kind of want to know what series of events led up to the disastrous date. Was the man a businessman travelling in Toronto, who received the tickets from a client? Did he not know anyone else in the city who might enjoy the concert and was free that night? Was he just a terrible judge of character? What happened next? 

Incidentally, the reason I get snippy about coughing is that it's clear to me that the coughing is, in part, the result of suggestion: outbreaks of coughing come in waves in audiences, frequently during slow or quiet parts. One person will experience a terrible tickle, and be unable to refrain from coughing. Someone on the other side of the hall, hearing the cough, will subconsciously notice the tickle or dryness in their own throat, and cough. The music isn't loud enough to mask the sound, or lively enough to keep the subconscious from noticing "hey, it's very dry in here, and I have phlegm," so another person coughs. Most of the time I don't think that people do this on purpose (I still have my doubts about Wednesday night). I think they're bored and easily influenced. I just wish they were more aware and more prepared, is all. Because even if they're bored, I'm probably not, and I, or someone else, might really enjoy hearing the (admittedly very long, slow) aria without additional counterpoint. 

Seriously Worst. Audience. Ever. 

I know the Messiah is an entry-level oratorio: it attracts audience members who don't typically attend concerts of classical (or Baroque, if we're being persnickety) music. People who cough during the recitatives. People who don't know about wax-paper wrapped cough drops, and crinkle their wrappers. People who bring fidgety children. People who haven't really steeled themselves for three hours of sitting still just listening. 

I'm grateful that lots of different people come to hear this oratorio, even if, like twice-a-year churchgoers, they go just to complete their seasonal experience. They've paid for their seats, and they have a right to the best performance I and my fellow musicians can provide.

What I don't understand, though, is how an entire audience can contract catarrh at the same time, and how they can all be afflicted with uncontrollable coughing during the recitatives and the quiet parts of the arias. 

And that was the least of the problems posed by this audience.

It started with an ill-timed, extremely loud hiccup during one of the rests on "Comfort Ye"** (the opening aria). The tenor sang "Cooooooooooooooomfort yeee my people," and an audience member went "HIC!" 

Such things happen. The soprano beside me and I shared a wry grin. 

But, as it turned out, that was just the beginning. 

Honestly, if this were another age, I'd think someone with a lot of money and connections had some sort of vendetta against one of the performers, and had paid a claque of some sort. 

There was the person in the front row, centre, orchestra, whom the first cellist asked to leave. Turns out the individual was using a cell phone during the performance. The cellist, who is seated at the edge of the orchestra, left his seat, and had the man ejected. 

About three movements later, the man's tall, rather revealingly clad date got up and made an elaborate production of putting on her coat and stalking out. Rumour has it that she said something or possibly gestured rudely at the audience before she made her exit, but I witnessed only the departure. 

And that was still not the worst the night had to offer.

Sometime during one of the baritone's solos, in the second half, the condition of one of the afflicted audience members seems to have worsened: the individual made a loud retching sound, clearly audible to the choir, orchestra, and soloists. Being a pro, the gorgeous rich-voiced, Andrew Foster-Williams continued and seemed unfazed. In the choir loft, I wondered if maybe someone had it in for him. I have never heard such a noise come out of an audience member (or a performer, for that matter!), and that includes the time that a young lady directly behind me was taken quite ill quite suddenly, and had to be pretty much carried out of the performance by her chaperon. 

I continued to wonder about the possibility of ill will, as it happened again during Mr. Foster-Williams' performance of "The Trumpet Shall Sound." The heads of the entire audience swivelled to locate the noisemaker; however, I did not see who it was. 

Apparently neither did anyone who could help the distressed audience member to someplace where they might perhaps receive medical assistance. If indeed someone had it in for Mr. Foster-Williams, they must have also had an animus against Susie LeBlanc, as we were treated to the same horrible sound during one of her solos (I think it was "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth," but I couldn't swear to it). This time, the entire audience heard it too. I dunno: maybe someone came to last year's modernized performance with Andrew Davis and really, really liked it, and now really, really resents this year's much smaller, more intimate, Baroque-inspired performance, and was determined to sabotage opening night? Or maybe the audience member was quite ill, but really desperately wanted to hear "Worthy Is the Lamb"? I do know that the other audience members were not entirely pleased with the un-scored additions to the performance. 

Once we sang the final Amen, the rest of the audience seemed determined to make up for their more vocal members. They applauded. They stood up. And one member, somewhere above me in one of the balconies, howled like the ghost of a sad werewolf, for about five minutes. This was a novel expression of appreciation, but at least it was well timed.

So that was the first (or possibly the third, if you count rehearsals) Messiah. I'm not sure how the next ones are really going to compare with that one for memorability. 

* or Possibly Seven, Depending on How You Count

** Links for reference to performances other than ours 

 Scene from today's voice lesson with the amazing [personal profile] sarcasma  (whom you can hear, incidentally, in this weekend's Essential Opera performance of Massenet's Chérubin. I highly recommend EO based on their last performance.):

We are working on "Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven?" which is one of Copland's settings of Dickenson. (Here's someone very competent singing it.) Sarcasma has been very patient while I grapple with the fact that Copland expected singers to just kind of pull notes out of chords that do not contain those notes and it's much more difficult than learning something by Mozart, darnit. 

Sarcasma: Now, because this is you, I don't have to worry about saying things like "What are these words about?" 

Me: Yeah. Patriarchy.

Sarcasma: *Sputter.* Yes. Okay, maybe I do have to worry. 

There ensued a fruitful discussion of the text and the interpretation thereof, during which we agreed that it really is about the patriarchy. So that is how I will sing it. 

Now, of course, I want to find more patriarchy-blaming soprano repertoire. Suggestions? 

And the Toronto Choral Society, in which both [personal profile] neeuqdrazil  and I sing, is performing Handel's Messiah. We don't suck this year,* so if you like listening to large choirs, or the Messiah, or large choirs singing the Messiah, and you have the evening of Wednesday, December 15, free, you should consider coming to hear us.

Here is a link, from which you may order tickets. Tell them I sent you, please.

If you do not like to buy tickets over the Internets, I will be happy to take your money, buy your tickets for you at choir practice, and leave them at the door on the night of the concert.

If you are very broke and cannot buy a ticket, you have my complete sympathy. If you still want to hear us perform the Messiah, let me know, and I'll put you in touch with the concert volunteer coordinator, and you can hand out programmes or do other front of house things, and hear the concert.

In other news entirely, Shouty Neighbour Man, the owner of STFU Charlie, spent about 10 minutes this morning singing to STFU Charlie, and crooning STFU Charlie's name. "Chaaaarrrliieee... Chaaarrrlieeeeee!" This caused STFU Charlie to bark (of course. Everything causes STFU Charlie to bark, as far as I can tell from this side of the shared wall. The subway rumbling underneath us. The wind. Invisible, inaudible alien presences or aetheric disturbances. And bugs.), whereupon he shouted (of course) "STFU CHARLIE!!!"

Okay, then.

*This? This is why I don't have a career writing marketing copy.



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