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Friday, July 24, 2009

England Study Tour 1975 - 6

Thursday, June 19
Bob Scandrett must have given us a bit of a "talk" that morning! This was me, just short of age 25, rambling on about what was on my mind. I decided to put it here verbatim--there's a lot of youthful philosophizing, but it's a view to who I was at that point in time (and perhaps only interesting to me!). It's worth remembering how passionate I was at that stage in my life--something that luckily has survived, although it's waxed and waned a bit throughout my career.
Bob, your "sermon" this morning was much appreciated. It really is easy to become too critical. For the past two years or so I have been actively working at "revving up" my critical faculties, and it is hard to turn them off. It is also far too easy to compare yourself and your groups to others. I'm still in the midst of trying to push my standards higher and higher (and hopefully, my abilities). I'm constantly re-evaluating how I and my groups do things. Ideally, I want a performance both technically and emotionally perfect. Naturally, you never quite get there . . . and when you come close, your next few performances never seem quite so satisfying (or at least, so it seems). I know Roy mentioned once that after reaching a certain point or level of performance that the average performance didn't excite him much. The same things goes for the music we perform. Music by less than major composers can become much less interesting to us than the attention it really deserves. Of course every piece can't be a masterpiece and every performance can't be magnificent (I'm really diverging from your "sermon," but it feels good just to ramble on a bit).

"'Music for the people"--I really do believe that "good music" (if it really is good), well-programmed, and well-performed, can excite the average listener. I program my concerts very carefully (Gregg Smith--several years ago at that WWU summer workshop--really made me think about that) and that is fun for me to do. I can spend hours doodling out potential programs. I've had good success so far in terms of reaction to my programs--many people, hearing we were doing Bach's Mass in B Minor, said, 'But its sure long, isn't it?' I feel that the piece has such variety, connects dramatically so well, that it shouldn't seem long. We weren't as successful in sustaining the drama as I would have liked, but we came close. The reaction was very positive. Even my father, who's not especially sophisticated about music, said that the concert went very fast for him (I'm not quite sure why all of this came into my mind).

Thinking of Rilling also reminds me how lucky I am and have been in having many "teachers." Neil, of course, has been a tremendous influence. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be in music at all. When, during my junior year at Shorecrest HS, taking voice lessons from him, he suggested I might like to teach music, I was flabbergasted, I hadn't even considered it. He's been an influence all along, partly because of his own great curiosity. And of course, if it hadn't been for Neil, I wouldn't have met Bob Scandrett, which would also have impoverished me. Listening to Western's [WWU's] choirs has provided a helpful alternative to studying at the UW. I also owe a tremendous amount to Rod [Eichenberger], probably much more than I realize. Gregg Smith's workshop came at a time when I was semi-disgusted with music and thinking of dropping out. Smith really got me thinking--it was a tremendous influence at the time. It was also at this time I was considering transferring to Western--and most of the reason I didn't was that I got to know Rod much better at the party after the Gregg Smith workshop [Bob gave Rod and I the assignment to make the punch, which then became considerably more alcoholic!].

I'm glad in retrospect t hat I stayed at the UW. At the UW, I was still able to keep up with things going on at Western (because of Neil and people I knew attending Western). If I had gone to Western, however, I doubt that I would have kept up with things down in Seattle, and would have lost a lot. Also, I would have been "in competition" with Scott Andrews [Scott and I were in the same class, and had coincidentally gone to the same church in Seattle--see my profile of Helen Pedersen at Haller Lake Methodist] and probably (I being very non-aggressive then) would have backed off. Also, in Seattle I got church jobs very much easier.

The trip to Europe with the [UW] Chorale [in 1971] was also a huge learning experience, including the month and a half after the tour, seeing Ehmann, Rilling, Willcocks and others. The summer experience with Rilling in Eugene [Oregon Bach Festival in 1972] was a tremendous change. Rilling's approach to rehearsal, conducting techniques, etc., were almost the exact opposite of Rod's (and closer to what fits my personality best). [I've thought since then that the experience with Rilling was so positive, because I began to realize that I didn't have to be Rod to be successful--I could find a way within my own personality.] I also found that Rilling does not compromise his goals--he demands that things be the way he wants them and quietly, but persistently, he gradually gets what he wants, or close to it.

Nancy [Zylstra] also played a big role. She had developed a much more critical ear than I, which forced me to listen more, and more critically to my own and other's efforts. She also (as an instrumentalist) interested me in instrumental music and started my interest in learning how to get results out of orchestras. Listening to the University Symphony rehearsals [see an earlier post on Samuel Krachmalnick], I started to really enjoy and understand orchestral music.

Backing up a bit: after getting to know Rod better, I hung around his office a lot, mostly listening to the talk between him, Larry Marsh, Bruce Brown, Ted Ashizawa, and others. From this, I absorbed an incredible amount. Rod also had stack upon stack of sample copies, reference copies, etc., which had collected or sent to him by publishers. He asked me if I would file them, and in return, I could keep any duplicates he had. In doing this, I not only acquired the beginnings of a library of scores, but started learning the basic repertoire. Even if I didn't know the piece, I usually knew that it existed. [If, for example, I filed a piece by Hindemith, I'd look through the file to see what else Hindemith had written] . The various grad students were also a help in learning various things singing in their recital choirs, etc. [I think I sang in almost all the grad recitals at that time--it also taught me to sight-read].

I auditioned (after a quarter spent observing) for Sam Krachmalnick's graduate orchestral conducting class and have learned a tremendous amount from it. Working on Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms symphonies and Carmen [the recitatives] really opens up your viewpoint towards choral music.

The groups I have conducted: the two church choirs, the Thalia/Aeolian Singers [the two chamber choirs that became Seattle Pro Musica], and the Bach Ensemble have given me marvelous experiences. I've learned something from just about every rehearsal and performance and have kept Nancy up many a night analyzing why the rehearsal failed or succeeded.

Looking back, there has been an improvement since my first efforts. I hope, too, that this experience [in England] and others keep pushing me, that I never become too satisfied with what I do, that there's always something more to learn, something that can be done just a little bit better.
A few days later, after re-reading the above:
This is a few days later, reading this over. I don't really know why the tour or your "sermon" set all this off, but it's kind of interesting for me. Thinking further about the whole issue of criticism, however, I feel that when listening to others I particularly need to be developing my ear for flaws, comparing, listening as if I had to do the corrections. I don't think it's really spoiled my enjoyment of any of the concerts, or made me close my mind to what I might hear. There is such a fine line that you must ride--I hope I can "straddle the fence" so as to get the best of both and not the worst!
[Back to Thursday the 19th]
One of the things arranged for the day was a reading session at Novello. A number of evenings were free, so to a certain extent we could plan what we'd like most to do. London being London, there were always many choices! So a group of us went to Covent Garden that evening for a performance of Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten, with George Solti conducting.

In the first act I was bored stiff--simply couldn't get into the music or over the fact that we were at the very top of the opera house (upper slips)--in the second act I really started to enjoy it, however--the music really is marvelous and the singing was very good [the cast included James King, Heather Harper, Helga Dernesch, Donald McIntyre, and Robert Tear]--very large orchestra, including extra brass (in the upper stalls) and 10 french horns (4 doubling Wagner tubas)--music is interesting" sometimes sounds like Wagner, at others exactly like Mahler--watching Solti (which I did with the opera glasses all evening--we were right on top of him) was fascinating--he is very good--clear and expressive, perhaps sometimes too angular, but totally in command--he doesn't allow much time for stretching out a phrase, the motion is always forward--the drama and long line are foremost (particularly necessary in an opera this long: 6:30 to 10:30 PM with two half-hour intervals)--enjoyed the whole evening very much.

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