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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Great interview with Rod Eichenberger by Josh Bronfman

Joshua Bronfman's Choral History podcast is quickly becoming "must listening" and his recent interview with Rod Eichenberger brought back great memories from me. I'd urge you to listen to these. It takes time, but is definitely worth it!

I've posted about Rod before (you can find the posts here) but answered Josh's podcast listing on Facebook. Here it is, my further appreciation of Rod and all he's meant to my life:

Fantastic interview, Josh! I enjoyed it immensely, learned a few new things, but could also add a few!

I began as an undergrad at the University of Washington in 1968, right at the same time that the DMA program was starting up, so during the same tim
e that Bruce Brown, Larry Marsh and others started (I think those two began in 1969).

I came out of Shorecrest HS, north of Seattle, where I'd worked with Leonard Moore (interesting person, deserving of another post--he was also my JH teacher in 8th and 9th grade), and Neil Lieurance, who student taught at Shorecrest my sophomore year. Neil was accompanist my junior year and took over the program my senior year, and would become a major influence and died too young last year at 70. You can find more about Neil (and a number of these things) on my blog.

I had a good voice and good ear, but had never learned to read. In the summer before my freshman year, Weston Noble was doing a couple workshops in the Seattle area. I went to the first one, which was largely about the voice matching he did. Weston liked how I sang well enough that he asked if I could come to the second workshop as well, which I did. Weston did ask if I was interested in Luther, but knew that I was planning to go to the UW. I didn't know this until a number of years later, but Weston called Rod and told him the, "perfect blending baritone" was coming to the UW. If it weren't for that I doubt I would have made the UW Chorale (the top choir) my freshman year. At my audition I remember Rod asked me if I could sing the opening of the Kyrie from the Mozart Missa Brevis in F (K. 192, which we did that fall). I replied, "No, but I can probably sing it if you play it for me first." Well, I got in.

Rod put me next to an organist (Greg Vancil) who was, of course, a superb reader and told Greg to make sure I got the right notes (which wasn't too difficult) and knew that my voice would work well with Greg's. On the other side of me was Dennis Coleman, who became the long-time and *very* successful conductor of the Seattle Men's Chorus (just now retiring). 

Of course, I learned an enormous amount from Rod. At that time he taught the undergraduate conducting class as well, so he was also my undergrad conducting teacher (his load at that time was ridiculous--teaching undergrad and grad conducting, supervising the work of his MM and DMA students, and conducting both the UW Chorale and Oratorio Chorus (the next big choir--there was also an unauditioned choir--University Singers--which he was able to give to a grad student). 

Along about my sophomore year I was enormously shy and was feeling a bit left out at UW (only my fault through shyness). I'd also gotten to know Bob Scandrett at Western Washington University (who also died this past year) through Neil, who was doing an MM during the summers at Western. I went to Bob's summer workshops, and that summer I went up for a workshop with Gregg Smith and stayed with Neil at his dorm. Rod came up for the final concert and afterwards we all went to Bob's for the post-concert party. Bob asked if we'd make the punch and Rod and I proceeded to make an incredibly potent punch and gradually got pretty well tipsy. Leaving late we discovered that the dorm was locked and I couldn't get back in. So Rod said, hey, come stay with me and we'll look through the new music I'm doing with my church choir (he was then at Blessed Sacrament Church with a great choir) and we sightread through a lot of the rep he'd chosen (by that time I *could* sightread!).

So, starting my junior year I now became a mostly silent member of the gang and started hanging around Rod's office with the other grad students (at that time, Bruce Browne, Larry Marsh, and Ted Ashizawa--I may be leaving out others). I still remember listening to them arguing about the proportional relationship in a Gabrieli motet. I learned an enormous amount by being the fly on the wall and also got other benefits. I sang in virtually every one of their graduate recitals, learning repertoire, improving my musicianship, gaining new ideas for rehearsal technique, etc. Rod also had large stacks of complimentary scores he'd received from publishers and told me if I'd file them for him I could keep any duplicates. I did this and gained the beginnings of my own choral library, but would also, if filing a piece by Hindemith, look at what else Hindemith had written and started to get an overview of the repertoire. 

Rod turned 40 that year, the same year I turned 20, so it's always been easy to remember how old he is (and since that's 1930 and 1950 it's also been pretty easy to calculate our ages!), which makes me 65--very hard to believe--and Rod 85 (almost impossible to believe, given his vitality and energy).

I was learning an enormous amount during this time. Rod mentions the Australian tour as a huge impact on his career (I wasn't able to go on that one, unfortunately), but it was an earlier tour in 1971 that was a huge impact on me (after my junior year) to Vienna for two weeks for a big symposium with 7 other American university choirs (including Maurice Casey and his choir from Ohio State). We also toured after that to Venice, Verona, Lake Cuomo, Zurich, Andermatt, Dijon, and finished in Paris. I stayed in Europe afterward and spent time visiting at Wilhelm Ehmann's Westfälische Landeskirchenmusikschule, a week with Greg Vancil and then finance Nancy in Salzburg (who were studying at the Mozarteum that year), a couple weekends bookending that visit observing Helmuth Rilling in Stuttgart, and then about 10 days in Cambridge going to evensong services at King's and St. John's (David Willcocks allowed me to attend a rehearsal for evensong at King's--George Guest kicked me out of his rehearsal!).


Both the experience in Vienna, which included each American choir doing a full program in different churches in Vienna, all of use combining for Mahler's 8th Symphony in the Konzertverein with the Vienna Boychoir and Bratislava Radio Orchestra conducted by Günther Teuring, Kodaly's Psalmus Hungaricus in an outdoor performance at the Rathaus, and a quartet from each choir (I wasn't one of them) doing the Stravinsky Mass at Stefansdom in a Sunday service. It was, quite simply, an inspiring experience, as was my time in Europe afterwards.

I missed the fall quarter because of that, but when I got back asked Rod if I could participate in his graduate conducting class. He allowed me to do that, so I learned even more. He spoke in the interview about doing experiments with conducting gesture, but he also developed some ideas when he was office-mate with David Shrader (Schrader?), who was the percussion teacher at the time. I think Shrader helped him with ideas of certain kinds of motion (pick-ups, which Rod called "into", for example) which he then associated with certain gestures. There are others who will have a much better idea of Rod's development of those ideas, which continued after he left UW and, as he mentioned, during his many workshops in Australia and New Zealand and also at USC. 

I also had the job at University Methodist which Rod mentioned (although not following Rod directly, there was another person there for 3 years before I came--I was there 8 years). The UW organ teacher that Rod mentions, Walter Eichinger, was still there and yes, an enormously nice and supportive person--and a wonderful musician, too. Rod advised me NOT to take the job, but I did anyway (when do students always listen to their mentors?!).

After the Australia tour I don't think I sang in the Chorale anymore and probably was mostly done with my degree. So I was less involved with Rod after that, particularly when he left for USC.

But when I took the job at Pacific Lutheran University in 1983, following Maurice Skones, Rod immediately got in touch with me and said, "I know something about following legends and if you ever need to talk, just call," and gave me his number. From that time we kept in touch when we could and if my PLU choir was touring to Southern California (which in those days we did about every third year), we always had a day off and I'd go visit Rod at USC, have lunch or dinner together, and if he could, he'd come to my concert.

Since that time (or at least when he left for FSU) we've kept occasionally in touch and have seen each other primarily at conferences. A summer ago he did a workshop for Alan McClung at UNT and we got him over for dinner at our house. It's always incredibly fun to talk with him, as *anyone* who's experienced his presence knows!

Rod was an enormous influence in so many ways. One of the things I noticed from the beginning is that every time we've met he always had some new ideas--he's always exploring and learning, a true "lifelong learner." I hope I've picked up much of that from him. 

I've always felt that among my musical debts to him are a sense of rhythm and phrasing that I know started directly with singing with him. And I'm sure there are many others as well, some I may not recognize.

His speaking about collegiality and how to treat people (or ignore the bitching that always goes on) has also been an influence on my approach.

Rod in rehearsal was always fun, volatile, and extroverted. This was difficult for me at the time because that's *not* my natural personality (although I've come a long ways since that time). In this, I learned a lot from my (relatively brief) experience with Helmuth Rilling at the Oregon Bach Festival in 1972. Rilling was conducting the B Minor Mass and this was long before the professionalization of the chorus. Rilling was almost mechanical in rehearsal ("recover to a MF in b 42, the crescendo to F in b. 44, downbeat"), just concentrating on getting the dynamics, articulations, ensemble, etc. correct. But then in one of our last piano rehearsals, during the build up from Et incarnatus through Crucifixus to Et Resurrexit, he started to conduct in a totally different manner, just exploding on the Et Resurrexit (and then calmed back to his usual way of leading the rehearsal). From then on through the orchestra rehearsals to performance he got increasingly intense and expressive, showing things, changing things, and using gestures we'd never seen before. It was a great lesson for me that to be successful, I didn't have to have Rod's personality.

But then, it's always been one of the great things about Rod that he's enormously supportive of all his students. We talked about the Rilling experience and he never (as some people might) talked down my experience. And he's been a true supporter for all of my professional life.

This is a very long way of saying thanks to you for doing this interview (and capturing some of our choral history before it disappears--although Rod's videos will keep alive much of what he did, as will his students). But it's also my way of thanking Rod for the huge and important influence he's been in my life.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

An Interesting Year

As I mentioned, I'm leaving ChoralNet blog posting in another week. Next year will be interesting, to say the least.
 
l'll be taking over Jerry McCoy's Director of Choral Studies duties in an interim year at UNT, so conducting the A Cappella Choir, being the primary teacher of conducting for our graduate choral conducting students, being primary in creating their comprehensive exams and advising on dissertations (and four to six will be doing them this year!), and administering the choral program. I'll still be conducting the Collegium Singers (who will sing at the Boston Early Music Festival in June and at the NCCO conference in Portland, OR in November), and will remain chair of the Division of Conducting & Ensembles at the College of Music.
 
For A Cappella, I'm still planning much of the repertoire, but know I'll do Stravinsky's Les Noces in the spring. And I'll conduct the Grand Chorus (the three UNT mixed choirs) and Symphony Orchestra in Haydn's The Creation at the end of the year. This is part of the score study work to be done this summer. But that's one of the processes I really enjoy.
 
I've conducted Les Noces before, but one of the nice things is there's a very good new edition out. Any time I do this kind of work again, I usually want to completely re-study, but the new edition makes it even more important.
 
And with The Creation there are lots of things to decide. We'll do it in English and the libretto by Van Swieten has "issues," to say the least! There are other versions, including the Shaw/Parker translation, one by Nicholas Temperley and another by Neil Jenkins, who has several wonderful articles (1, 2, and 3), plus his own translation. This is the kind of research I love doing and I'll ultimately make individual decisions (collaborating with my soloists) on choices, but probably staying closely with the original text.
 
Peter Brown's book about the early performances of The Creation is wonderful and leads to all sorts of questions to answer, particularly about the size and disposition of the orchestra. In most of Haydn's performances with large forces, he had three sets of woodwinds (Harmonie), 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassons, and two horns. In addition his trumpets (2) were doubled, as well as the 2 trombones (he usually also had two sets of timpani). And he scored for contrabassoon and bass trombone (not doubled). The set of parts that Haydn used (and which have markings in his hand) also had extra parts for the contrabassoon and bass trombone, which I'll certainly use. All three of the Harmonie were not used all the time, but surviving evidence shows that it was likely that Harmonie 1 played everything (meaning some solos in the arias), Harmonie 2 on most big tuttis (even in arias), and Harmonie 3 in choruses and at other special places ("Let there be LIGHT").
 
If I can manage to use the triple Harmonie, it changes the balances and color . . . and in some moments, such as the "roar" of the lion, it will mean that the low Ab will be played by all cellos and basses, six bassoons and contrabassoons, plus bass trombone. A mighty roar, indeed!
 
It's these kinds of things that come from research that I enjoy doing. And hopefully it all comes together in an interpretation that is not just about being "historically correct," but gets to what Haydn wanted to express and how he expressed it. For me, that's part of all performance practice—figuring out how better to express the emotion and ideas of the composer.
 
Wish me luck!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Lessons from Daniel Coyle

As you know if you've read many of my posts, I enjoy reading in other areas, from psychology to sports/coaching, and trying to learn things from them I can apply to music and conducting.
 
I think that the biggest thing I've taken from Daniel Coyle's two books has been the idea of gradually building the "white matter," or myelin, in the brain. If you've read much about the brain over at least 50 years or so, some of the structures (neurons, axons, dendrites, the synapses, etc.) have been understood to some extent for a long time. The idea of the insulating properties of myelin, which is much more recent, which gets put down only as a connection is fired, and builds gradually, is a great help to understanding how practice works. It tells how important it is to practice the correct things in the correct way (because you don't want to lay down myelin—or reinforce—the wrong things). And it also tells us about the patience needed as our brains repeat the correct actions many times and gradually build stronger and stronger connections as the correct skills are ingrained and gradually become more automatic, more unconscious . . . so your conscious brain can do what only it can do in leading the whole show.
 
It changes the nature of how we practice our own skills (conducting & rehearsal technique), but also, how we teach our singers to sing better, to be better musicians, better ensemble singers, better expressive singers. I know I will think much more about my own skills and these processes because of this.
 
And on to an announcement that I'll finish up being a ChoralNet blogger soon. For one thing, I've written a lot and need to work on some other things. But primarily, my life will be especially busy next year. Now, all of us are busy—I'm not special in that way, given the lives we all lead as conductors and teachers! But next year, with Jerry McCoy's retirement at the quickly-approaching end of this  school year, I'll be taking on his role for the 2015-16 academic year, administering the choral program, conducting the A Cappella Choir, and teaching all our graduate students in conducting (including writing and running their exams and supervising quite a few final papers). At the same time, I'll keep conducting the Collegium Singers (our ensemble that sings with our period-instrument orchestra) and remain chair of the Division of Conducting & Ensembles.
 
It'll be busy, but a great challenge and great fun at the same time—Jerry set very high standards. I'm looking forward to it . . . but trying to keep up with writing a weekly blog is a bit much.
 
I'll say more later, but it's been a great privilege to be able to share with (and learn from) you over the past several years. Thanks to Scott Dorsey and Phillip Copeland for asking me to do this—it's been fun!

Building Skills 25

More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #52 - Think like a Gardener, Work like a Carpenter
 
". . . the truth is, talent grows slowly. You would not criticize a seedling because it was not yet a tall oak tree; nor should you get upset because your skill circuitry is in the growth stage. Instead, build it with daily deep practice."
 
Coyle mentions hearing the phrase, "Think like a gardener, work like a carpenter," at Spartek, the Russian tennis training center that's shown enormous success.
 
Whether it's our own skills or those of our singers, we have to understand that, like gardens,  we take tending and only grow and develop over time.

Building Skills 24

More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #50 - Cultivate Your Grit
 
"Grit is that mix of passion, perserverance, and self-discipline that keeps us moving forward in spite of obstacles. It's not flashy and that's precisely the point. In a world in which we're frequentlly distracted by sparkly displays of skill, grit makes the difference in the long run."
 
There's been a lot written in the past few years about the concept of "grit" and it's importance—much of this comes from research by Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania (and a winner of one of the McArthur "genius grants)," who studied what made a difference in cadets doing well in or just surviving the famed "Beast Barracks" training at West Point. Beforehand, a brief test was given (you can find a version of it here),  "questions that asked them to rate their own ability to stick to goals, to be motivated by failure, and to persist in the face of obstacles." Grit proved extraordinarily successful in predicting success (much more so than intelligence and many other measures) and has also done well predicing success in many other areas.
 
As Coyle says, "Grit isn't inborn. It's developed, like a muscle. . ." and it's a muscle that's important to develop in ourselves and in our singers. The ability to persevere through learning challenging music, complicated musical and vocal skills, to persist in what Coyle calls, "deep practice," is what brings success.
 
If you find this interesting, a longer interview with Angela Duckworth is here. For a look at an opposing opinion, however, writer Alfie Kohn has a very good article questioning the concept of grit here.
 
What do you think? How important is it to success? If you believe it is, how do you cultivate grit—perseverance to reach difficult goals—in your singers/students?

Building Skills 23

More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #42 "Six ways to be a better teacher or coach"
 
More than one tip, but six for improving our skills!
  1. "Use the first few seconds to communicate on an emotional level - Effective teaching is built on trust . . . . There are lots of tools for making this connection—eye contact, body language, empathy, and humor being some of the most effective—but whatever you use, make sure you prioritize that connection above all else. Before you can teach, you have to show that you care." I won't add anything to that—we can all see the connection to what we do as conductors.
  2. "Avoid giving long speeches—instead, deliver vivid chunks of information." Coyle talks about the inspiring speeches we see in movies . . . but which rarely work. He says, "When you're coaching [teaching, leading a rehearsal], picture the person's brain lighting up . . . reaching to make new connections. The question is not what big important message you can deliver. The question is, what vivid, concise message can you deliver right now that will guide her [them] towards the right reach?"
  3. "Be allergic to mushy language." We all can be guilty of this. Our instructions need to be clear and concrete. Specific, not general.
  4. "Make a scorecard for learning." Make sure that the "scorecard," however you are measuring the performance of your choir, is measuring the things you want. Think of process (means), not ends. Think about how many of them are physically, visually involved in the rehearsal, how many are using the posture you've modeled for when singing, etc. It's the processes that will lead towards great performances—and your goals (and praise) should be for meeting those means towards better performance.
  5. "Maximise 'reachfulness'. Reachfulness is the essence of learning. It happens when the learner is leaning foward, stretching, struggling, and improving." Make sure your singers are actively involved, singing, trying, thinking, helping each other with feedback. As Coyle asks, "How can you replace moments of passivity with moments of active learning."
  6. "Aim to create independent learners." Work to teach skills, both of technique and of listening, so they can eventually make lots of corrections themselves, can begin to phrase musically themselves. Someday they'll be the ones preparing and performing without you, and perhaps teaching themselves. What have you given them to set them free to make music when you're no longer there?

Building Skills 22

More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #37 - To choose the best practice method, use the R.E.P.S. gauge. (as always, consider reading the book yourself!)
 
Coyle says to find the best practice strategy, measure the options with the following gauge, remembering the elements with an acronym:
R: Reaching and Repeating
E: Engagement
P: Purposefulness
S: Strong, Speedy Feedback
 
Coyle gives great examples of each:
 
Reaching and Repeating: "Does the practice have you operating on the edge of your ability, reaching and repeating?" For us, we have to find ways to keep our choir members working hard on things that are possible for them, but outside their current ability. There's always something to strive for, not only the difficulty of the music—we can push them to sing with more beautiful sound, more musically and expressively. But it should be rare that we don't demand the singers do something at least a bit outside their current comfort zone. And, of course, repetition or practice (if done correctly) is the way we improve.
 
Engagement: "Is the practice immersive? Does it command your attention? Does it use emotion to propel you towards a goal?" He uses the example of two trumpet players practicing an excerpt, one just running through it 20 times, the other setting a goal of playing it five times perfectly . . . and if she makes a mistake, she starts the count over again. I know many stories of athletes who do this kind of practice—that they have to make so many shots in a row before they can finish practice, for example. But we also have to find ways to involve his last question about whether it uses emotion or not. If our rehearsal is only technical (even though that may be a part—perhaps even a large part some days—of our practice time) it's unlikely to engage the singers fully. What is the composer trying to express? How is the text expressed through the music? How can the singers express emotion? These are important questions for us and, if we're successful in answering them, we'll engage our singers much more effectively.
 
Purposefulness: "Does the task directly connect with the skill you want to build?" Coyle uses the example of practicing free throws: one team waits until the end of practice and each player shoots 50 shots—the other scatters free throws throughout the scrimmage so the player has to shoot "tired and under pressure, as in a game." The second is more successful because it has the players practice what they'll actually do in a game (they won't shoot 50 free throws in a row!). I've talked before about finding ways to do intense, short drills to improve what the choir does (related to my series on coach John Wooden), but also  that you also have to find ways to scrimmage/run through music so the choir has the ability to do what they'll need to do at the concert. Right now (as I write this, it's March 26 and our concert is April 14) I'm working with Jan Sandström's challenging (but fun!) Biegga Luohte with my University Singers. There's much that needs to be drilled over and over in short chunks to make the piece work (and for them to master the tricky rhythms and clusters)—but it's also necessary for them to be able to put it all together. So today we rehearsed a few difficult transitions and then ran it for the first time. I will need to continue to mix the two types of practice, gradually moving towards more and more runs of all the repertoire on the concert, so when we get there, we can sing it all confidently, musically, and expressively.
 
Strong, Speedy Feedback: "Does the learner receive a stream of accurate information about his performance—where he succeeded and where he made his mistakes?" Most of us are used to doing this, of course. It's a major part of what we do in rehearsal. But we need to be reminded that the feedback (to be speedy!) needs to be concise and clear. Don't use more words than necessary. Sometimes it can be general: "You're not together—better ensemble!" At other times it needs to be much more specific: "You're dragging behind because consonants are late--put the vowels on the pulse," or "Altos, you're late after the dot." You have to decide quickly why it isn't right, determine what the necessary feedback is, tell them (or show them) in the fewest words possible (speedy!), and get them singing it again . . . either correctly, or better (after which you might need to refine your feedback so it can be correct).
 
So for better rehearsals, remember your R.E.P.S.

Building Skills 21

More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #35: Use the 3x10 technique.
 
This is an interesting idea, coming from a neurologist, Dr. Douglas Fields, "who researches memory and learning. He discovered that our brains make stronger connections when they're stimulated three times with a rest period of ten minutes between each stimulation. . . . 'I apply this to learning all the time in my own life,' Fields says. 'For example, in mastering a difficult piece of music on the guitar, I practice, then I do something else for ten minutes, then I practice again."
 
I've used something similar in my rehearsals with a tough passage, working on it, then putting it aside and working on something else, then coming back to it in the same rehearsal. I've done this primarily with relatively short passages, but it has worked well. I think it'll be interesting to try it in a more organized way, working three repetitions and spacing close to 10 minutes apart.
 
I've mentioned this in the past, but when I conduct the St. Matthew Passion the sudden and dramatic "Barrabam" (Barrabas) chord is a challenge for the choir. After I've worked on it a bit, I tell the choir that whenever they hear the recitative lead-in, they have to be ready to sing it . . . and I sprinkle it throughout the rehearsals here and there. It becomes almost an automatic conditioned response. By the time of performance there's no fear and the entrance can be confident and dramatic.
 
The idea of enhancing learning by spacing repetitions has been researched extensively, with the quickest and most thorough learning coming from timing each review so it happens just before one would be about to forget (i.e., just before it passes out of short-term memory). This particularly works well with individual facts, vocabulary, etc., with the timing of review periods (gradually getting further and further apart) the quickest way to put them into long-term memory. There are systems for spacing repetitions of material and one of the best is available for free through Anki (essentially it's a computerized—and scientifically spaced—version of flash cards). If you're learning a language or anything that involves this kind of knowledge, try it out.
 
I think the same idea might be interesting to experiment with when learning scores (not Anki! the 3x10 idea). As you practice or work on a particular passage or section of music and try to get it clearly in your mind, after an intense study period, put it aside, work on something else for 10 minutes or so, work on it again, and do it one more time. I suspect it will get it into your mind more quickly and efficiently. Something to try!

Building Skills 20

More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #32 Make positive reaches
 
"There's a moment just before every rep when you are faced with a choice: You can either focus your attention on the target (what you want to do) or you can focus on the possible mistake (what you want to avoid). This tip is simple: Always focus on the positive move, not the negative one. . . .
 
A violinist faced with a difficult passage should tell himself, 'Nail that A-flat,' not 'Oh boy, I hope I don't miss that A-flat.' Psychologists call this 'positive framing,' and provide plentiful theories of how framing affects our subconscious mind."
 
So, do we ask our choirs to focus on the positive, on the goal? Or do we say, "Watch that pitch, it's a little under?" Demonstrate (play or sing) the correct pitch and make that the focus.
 
When the ensemble isn't precise, have them count-sing and focus on singing precisely together, then (when the count-singing is together) have every other one count-sing and and the other half sing the text, making sure that the consonants are line up exactly with the count-singing members of the ensemble. Then switch it around.
 
What are other ways you can make sure your ensemble focuses on the goal, not avoiding a mistake?

Building Skills 19

More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #31 To learn a new move, exaggerate it.
 
"Going too far helps us understand where the boundaries are. . . . Don't be halfhearted. You can always dial back later. Go too far so you can feel the outer edges of the move, and then work on building the skill with precision."
 
This has multiple uses:
  • Many things a choir does need exaggeration at first—dynamic shapes and all kinds of expression. Then they can be brought back to the desired level of subtlety.
  • In teaching a new concept to your choir (let's say the difference between bright and dark sound), an exaggerated example will make the concept clearer—not intellectually, but in concrete terms—faster than anything else. Royal Stanton used a great example: asking your choir to sing a passage as if they were a country western singer . . . then as an operatic basso. It's a quick way to fully understand what you mean. After that the concept can be made more subtle, to the point that your choir knows exactly what you mean when you ask them for a little brighter or darker tone quality.
  • Much as mentioned in the earlier post on slowing things down, exaggerating slowness can make certain things much clearer to the choir.
  • And in conducting, for yourself or for a student of yours, a new move can be exaggerated until it becomes natural. If you have a particular habit you'd like to change, practice the opposite in an exaggerated way—the new habit (the way you'd like to do it) will feel quite natural fairly soon.
Think of other ways you can exaggerate . . . to get to where you or your choir need to be.

Building Skills 18

More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #29 - When you get it right, mark the spot
 
Coyle: "One of the most fulfilling moments of a practice session is when you have your first perfect rep. When this happens, freeze. Rewind the mental tape and play the move again in your mind. . . . The point is to mark the moment—this is the spot where you want to go again and again."
 
We can look at this in two ways. When we as a conductor, get something right—a conducting gesture, a tempo, a particular rehearsal technique—we need to do exactly as Coyle says, "Rewind the mental tape and play the move again in your mind." It's one of the ways that we improve, that we incorporate something new into our repertoire of skills.
 
But it's also true for our choirs. I know when my choirs have accomplished something very difficult that they've struggled with, they need that moment of marking and remembering . . . but it is also something else—the feeling of accomplishment and pride—that I want them to remember. If it's singing a chord beautifully in tune, make sure they realize how wonderful it is, and feels, and help them want to go back to that sensation again and again. My colleague at PLU, Richard Nance, and I used to joke that we should have electrodes implanted in our students' brains, and when they sang in tune, we could push the button to stimulate the pleasure center and say, "Oooh, see how good that feels!"
 
But the truth is, it's already built into our brains. If we make our singers aware of the pleasure of an in-tune chord, or a beautifully turned phrase, or singing in perfect ensemble—we should freeze it for them, rewind and sing it again, and help them mark that moment so they can go there again . . . and again.
 
Coyle finishes by quoting Kimberly Meier-Sims of the Sato Center for Suzuki Studies: "Practice begins when you get it right."
 
And that's something we all have to remember.

Building Skills 17

More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #27 Close Your Eyes
 
As Coyle explains, "One of the quickest ways to deepen practice is also one of the simplest: Close your eyes. . . It sweeps away distraction and engages your other senses to provide new feedback. It helps you engrave the blueprint of a task on your brain by making even a familar skill seem strange and fresh."
 
I realized while reading this that I've asked my choir to close their eyes and sing in the past, but I haven't done it for quite a while. This does several things: as Coyle mentions, it "sweeps away distraction" and makes "even a familiar skill seem strange and fresh." But it also forces the choir to listen much more intensely. They have to listen and use other skills (maintaining an inner sense of pulse) to stay together as an ensemble without watching you conduct (and perhaps you realize you aren't as necessary as you thought! Or better, you can use your gesture more for shape and direction than keeping time).
 
I do sometimes stop conducting and ask my ensemble to sing without me—I want them to shape phrases independently, to concentrate on subtle details of ensemble, even learning to feel ritards together.
 
But I'll remember to ask them to close their eyes now and then

Building Skills 16

More from Daniel Coyle: Tip #26 Slow It Down (Even Slower Than You Think).
 
Coyle: "This urge for speed makes perfect sense, but it can also create sloppiness, particularly when it comes to hard skills (see Tip #8). We trade precision—and long-term performance—for a temporary thrill. So slow down. Super-slow practice works like a magnifying glass; It lets us sense our errors more clearly, and thus fix them."
 
Coyle also has a nice post on his blog about called, "Slow is Beautiful," which includes video of golf great Ben Hogan showing how he uses slow practice.
 
This is a critical rehearsal tool for the conductor, but there are various ways to use it. And surprisingly, I see it used infrequently by too many conductors.
 
In a fast passage, at a certain speed some members of the choir will never perceive the pitches (or patterns) accurately. You can practice the passage 20 times at a fast tempo and it'll still be sloppy. But a fewer number of repetitions at a slower speed can allow the singers to absorb the pitches and build them in correctly. The same thing is true for instrumentalists. When I rehearse strings, for example, if the music has awkward string crossings, difficult bowings, or simply calls for extreme speed, the only way to make it better is to slow it down. For both singers and instrumentalists, "muscle memory" must be developed that allows passage work that can be done accurately without consciously thinking of every individual note.
 
With a choir, it also makes it even easier if you take away another variable (text) and sing on a neutral syllable or count-sing (if your choir does that regularly). Since I do lots of baroque music with my chamber choir that specializes in early music, this is always the first tool of choice with a fast melismatic passage or fugue: take away the text and slow it down.
 
It's the same when performing (or learning) an unfamiliar language. I'll usually do a "repeat after me" session when first going through an unfamiliar text in another language. My going too fast only means that the choir can't even perceive the sounds correctly, much less repeat them accurately—and it will waste time, rather than saving it.
 
And sometimes to shape a phrase with subtlety, a slower rehearsal speed allows the ensemble to feel and shape phrases together in a way they can't at a faster speed.
 
Slower can be faster. And slower can much more quickly get the ensemble to a fast, yet clean performance.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Building Skills 15

More from Daniel Coyle: Tip #24, Visualize the Wires of Your Brain Getting Faster.
 
In this tip, Coyle is referencing his earlier book, The Talent Code. In it he looks at research into the way the brain works with particular reference to myelin (you may have read about the "myelin sheath") that surrounds the axon of a neuron in the brain. It is an electrical insulator and as you repeat actions, the myelin sheath grows (myelination) and increases the speed with which electrical impules flow from one neuron to another. In essence, it's the way practice—repetition—makes those repeated actions easier, more automatic, and better. In the appendix of The Little Book of Talent Coyle quotes Dr. George Bartzokis, a scientist at UCLA: "What do good athletes do when they train? They send precise impulses along wires that give the signal to myelate that wire. They end up, after all that training, with a super-duper wire—lots of bandwidth, a T-3 line. That's what makes them different from the rest of us."
 
To get back to Tip #24, Coyle suggests, "When you practice, it's useful and motivating to visualize the pathways of your brain being transformed from simple copper wires to high-speed broadband, because that's what's really happening."
 
In much the same way as telling my choir about the difference between "drill" and "scrimmage," and increasing what I've called the "density" of their rehearsals, I suspect that their understanding of myelination and what's really happening in their brains as we practice (or they practice individually in the practice room) could also increase the focus and effectiveness of their work.
 
Something to think about—and also useful for us individually as we work to improve our own rehearsal and conducting skills.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Building Skills 14

More from Daniel Coyle: Tip #22 - Pay Attention Immediately After You Make a Mistake.
 
Coyle notes that, "Most of us are allergic to mistakes. . . Brain scan studies reveal a vital instant, .025 seconds after a mistake is made, in which people do one of two things—they look hard at the mistake or they ignore it. People who pay deeper attention to an error learn significantly more than those who ignore it."
 
This reminds me of the practice in many British choirs (and many influenced by the practice here in the US) where the choir member raises their hand immediately after they make a mistake. I've always thought of this as a way for the chorister to let the conductor know they acknowledge the mistake, meaning it'll be corrected and no need to stop the rehearsal.
 
But this makes me think that perhaps there's another reason for this practice: it could literally help the singer learn more quickly from their mistake—and repeat a mistake fewer times (or not at all).
 
If some of you use this practice regularly in your choir, let us know in a comment if it's made a difference in the number of times a mistake is made before it's corrected.
 
An intriguing idea! And perhaps a good reason for me to ask my singers to do this, too!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Building Skills 13

More from Daniel Coyle: Tip #17 Embrace the Struggle
 
Coyle:
In all of the talent hotbeds, from Moscow to Dallas to Brazil to New York, I saw the same facial expression: eyes narrow, jaws tight, nostrils flared, the face of someone intently reaching for something, falling short, then reaching again. This is not a coincidence. Deep practice has a telltale emotional flavor, a feeling that can be summed up in one word, "struggle."
Well, I don't want my singers having tight jaws (!), but I do understand the image—one of individuals or a group focusing on doing something they can't yet do.
 
Much like teaching your choir to embrace drill—not as something to avoid, but as a way to internalize and make automatic music or a skill—we need to teach them to embrace that which is truly difficult for them. Coyle again,
Most of us instinctively avoid struggle, because it's uncomfortable. It feels like failure. However, when it comes to developing your talent, stuggle isn't an option, it's a biological necessity. . . The struggle and frustration you feel at the edge of your abilities—that uncomfortable burn of "almost, almost"—is the sensation of constructing new neural connections.
I remember working with a voice student years ago and sensing his growing frustration in the lesson. I finally asked him what was bothering him. He replied by asking why I was so negative and spent so much time working on the things he couldn't do instead of praising him for the things he could. I answered that I did recognize (and told him) all those things he did well, but if we spent most of our time on things that were easy for him, he wouldn't make progress. We then worked together to find ways for him to feel good about his accomplishments, but also to put up with spending most of his time practicing those things that weren't easy—which were, in fact, a struggle.
 
In the same way, we need to find ways to teach our singers to embrace struggle. This is a great lesson for them not only in the choir, but in the rest of their lives as well. And of course, it's a lesson to us, too—not to be content with those things or the repertoire which we already know and do well. We need to explore, to push boundaries, to try new things—to live with uncertainty and the possibility of failure. Those things that are worthwhile do take struggle, but that's the only way we grow.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Building Skills 12

More from Daniel Coyle: Tip #16 - Each Day, Try to Build One Perfect Chunk
 
Coyle notes, "In our busy lives, it's sometimes tempting to regard merely practicing as success. . . But the real goal isn't practice, it's progress. As John Wooden put it, 'Never mistake mere activity for accomplishment.'"

He then goes on, "One method is to set a daily SAP: smallest achievable perfection. In this technique, you choose a single chunk that you can perfect—not just improve, not just "work on," but get 100% consistently correct.

I think that's a useful thing to remember in our rehearsals. Find something in the music that you can get the choir to do as you want to hear it in the concert. It doesn't have to be much, but something that gives them a vision of what they can (and should) sound like. By perfection, I'm not talking about making your high school choir sound like whatever university choir you love, or making your university choir sound like the Swedish Radio Choir . . . but in terms of what they're capable of doing, get them there, even if it's for a chord or a phrase.

This serves two purposes: it gives them an idea of what the goal is and it builds a skill they haven't yet achieved. 

We've had classes for less than a week at UNT (classes started Tuesday last week, after MLK Day) and my University Singers rehearse MW from 2-3:20 and Th from 2-2:50. So we're in the early stages, just two rehearsals. Thursday, among other things, I was working on Javier Busto's Ave Maria and the first short section is gorgeous with beautiful harmonies and asking for a pianissimo dynamic. So Thursday I spent time on just that opening section, working for the sound I wanted, for the balances in the chords, on tuning, and on beautiful phrasing. We spent most of that time at about a mezzo piano level—when they're learning, I don't want them trying to sing too soft and get off the voice—and near the end of that part of the rehearsal I asked the sopranos to sing senza vibrato (which they can do quite well). Then I asked the whole choir to sing a true pianissimo, but to try to stay on the voice. It took several tries, but they did it beautifully. I think this is important because it does give them a sense of how they can sing the whole piece, and it also builds a skill (which will need more practice and reinforcement) of how to sing a beautiful pianissimo. That can be transferred to other music, most particularly for the women, who will sing the offstage chorus for the Neptune movement of Holst's Planets in less than two weeks on Feb. 4 with our Symphony Orchestra.

We have lots of music to learn this semester: besides the Holst, my TA, Robert Ward, is preparing the choir for Mozart's Coronation Mass for a performance with the Concert Orchestra, our 2nd orchestra at UNT, under their conductor Clay Couturiaux. Robert will not only prepare it, but will get to conduct a 2nd performance with the orchestra himself as well, with soloists from the choir (for the other performance it will be faculty soloists). Later we have a concert, shared with the Concert Choir (so we only have half a program to learn) with three contemporary motets: James MacMillan's Sedebit Dominus Rex, Busto's Ave Maria, and a Crucifixus setting by one of our undergraduate composers, Ronald Harris, who sings in the choir; Jan Sandström's Biegga Luothe, a wonderful piece based on a Sami Yoik (the Sami are the indigenous people near the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia—when I grew up I knew of this as Lappland); then, for the 50th Anniversary of Professor Peter Schickele's "rediscovery" of P.D.Q. Bach, the Liebeslieder Polkas. If that isn't enough, we also combine with all three mixed choirs at the end of the year as the "Grand Chorus" to sing Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs and Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

So it's important for us to know that in every rehearsal that we're singing something at concert level, no matter how small. Most of our rehearsals will deal with lots of note-learning, but as I've stated before, even at that stage we need to start making music very early. And I'll try to remember Coyle's tip to make sure every rehearsal sees something that we perfect.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Guest post - Bruce Sellers on working with Ward Swingle

Bruce Sellers is an American tenor and conductor with a rather extraordinary background as an ensemble singer. After studying at the University of Georgia he went to Indiana University where he studied with the American Heldentenor James King. He also studied with Marcia Baldwin and Margaret Harshaw. At the same time he became involved in the Early Music Institute there. From 1985 to 1988 he sang with the wonderful all-male ensemble, Chanticleer. In 1988 he went to Amsterdam to study with Dutch baritone Max van Egmont (I was lucky enough to work with Max for 6 years at the Pacific Northwest Bach Festival in Spokane, WA from 1979-1985 when I was conductor, and again in 2009 leading a Messiah performance when my colleagues from Allegro Baroque got some of us back together, along with the Seattle Baroque Orchestra led by Stanley Ritchie, to celebrate their anniversary with the first complete performance of Messiah with period instruments in Spokane. Max, in his late 70's, still sang fantastically!). Bruce worked regularly as a soloist and free-lance singer, beginning to sing with the Netherlands Chamber Choir as a freelancer immediately. He then became a full-time member of the Chamber Choir in 1990, singing with them until 2005, when he returned to the US.

This choir, much like a number of other professional European choirs, worked more as an orchestra would do in the US, meaning an extraordinary number of concerts each year, some with the current music director, but many with guest conductors, meaning that Bruce sang with many (all?) of the outstanding conductors in Europe during this period (for example, Eric Ericson was long a regular guest conductor with this choir). Singers also had to be flexible and be able to adapt to many different styles, from early music to the latest avant-garde music. Frankly, I'm jealous of this incredible experience!

Following the my post on the recent death of Ward Swingle, which I also posted on Facebook, Bruce replied about working with Ward when he was with the Netherlands Chamber Choir. I asked for permission to post it here as a guest blog and Bruce agreed. Thanks so much, Bruce! Here it is:

I sometimes have to pinch myself to realize how blessed I've been in my life! Ward could be demanding and wasn't always diplomatic, in fact at times he was downright unpleasant, but it was always in pursuit of making things as good as they could be.

For us the challenges were that of the 8 singers he had to work with, 4 of us were native English-speakers who were also a bit familiar with the style he wanted. The others were Dutch and maybe not quite as at home in the style, but they were quick studies. We had to learn to sing with mikes, which is an art unto itself, especially mikes of the hand-held variety, plus the program had to be done totally off book, something else we weren't as familiar with doing (though in Chanticleer I had to memorize TONS of music!). Our rehearsal periods per project tended to be only about 2 weeks tops (about 10 3-hour rehearsals), but I think for this program we had maybe 3 weeks since it had to be from memory. At the same time, Ward was rehearsing 8 other singers from the choir for the other half of the program, which featured Berio's A-Ronne, which Berio had written for the Swingle Singers (it's a crazy piece and VERY hard).

It seemed to me that part of the reason that Ward was rather bitter at this time was that this was not long after the big court battle he had waged for the rights to his name. The New Swingle Singers wanted to disassociate themselves from him, but wanted to keep the name. He sued in order to retain control. From what little he said about it at the time one could tell it was a VERY sore point with him. What he particularly resented was that people would use his editions of his arrangements and then decide to arbitrarily to just change things here and there as they wanted. It really cheesed him off. Everything was to be done essentially "come scritto", as far as he was concerned, no exceptions!

A colleague in Holland just mentioned to me that she saw the Swingle Singers recently over there and that it appeared Ward had reconciled with the group, which is wonderful news. I remember his contention at the time was that the group (based in England, and calling itself "The New Swingle Singers"--Chanticleer performed with them in a festival in Holland in 1988) were using his name and doing his arrangements, but were changing the arrangements here and there at their whim, which greatly aggravated him. 

I can't remember exactly what was on our part of the program, but I remember Ward wrote a Cole Porter Medley specially for us that was quite difficult, but really lovely. We also did stuff like the Bach G minor Fugue, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Agincourt Song, When I'm 64, Ward's setting of "Roadside Fire", "All the Things You Are", and a thing called "Music History 101" that featured "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" as done in various periods of music history (Mediaeval, Renaissance, Baroque, etc.), right down to a "rap" version, which featured yours truly. I was the only one who dared to do it (or who was stupid enough, take your pick!), but I had fun with it--yep, I came out in reversed ball-cap, sunglasses, and lots of bling necklaces--it WAS the mid-90s, y'know. Anyway, Ward loved it and relished telling me that I really was nothing but a "big ol' slice of pure Georgia ham", which is just what was needed!! Somewhere I actually have a cassette tape (remember those?!?) of one of those concerts, and I think on one of our compilation CDs of various choir performances Ward's version of "Roadside Fire" shows up (it's a lovely piece).

Pardon me for being so long-winded.....the memories tend to come flooding back all of a sudden!! Long & short of it: he was a brilliant man.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Building Skills 11

More from Daniel Coyle: Tip #14 "Break Every Move Down into Chunks."
 
This is something that most conductors know how to do, whether or not they know this terminology.
 
As Coyle says, "From the time we're small, we hear this good advice from our parents and teachers: Take it a little bit at a time. This advice works because it accurately reflects the way our brains learn. Every skill is built out of smaller pieces, what scientists call chunks."
 
His advice in terms of skills is to, "first engrave the blueprint of the skill on your mind." (see the post on Tip #2 "Then ask yourself:
  1. What is the smallest single element of this skill that I can master?
  2. What other chunks link to that chunk?
"Practice one chunk by itself until you've mastered it—then connect more chunks, one by one, exactly as you would combine letters to form a word. Then combine those chunks into still bigger chunks. And so on."
 
This is, of course, what we do when we rehearse. But I would also stress rehearsing the transitions from one chunk into another. That way you don't have chunks the choir can do easily, but can't string together. It doesn't take much time. Practicing one section or one phrase, just make the transition into the next one and then go back to practice again.
 
I remember that Lloyd Pfautsch, in his chapter on rehearsing in the Decker and Herford's Choral Conducting—A Symposium, suggests ranking the sections of a larger work by difficulty, then learning the toughest portions first to make sure they get more rehearsal time, rather than mindlessly starting at the beginning and working your way through in order. So, if there are 10 sections of a work and numbers 3, 6, and 9 are the most difficult, you'd begin by working on them, then gradually work on the others, connecting as you learn adjacent sections. Seems like common sense, but it's really a brilliant statement about how to approach larger pieces (this doesn't only mean major works, but any work which is multi-sectional).
 
Of course, you can also do that with your whole program, even if it's all shorter pieces: rank them in terms of which ones will take the most rehearsal time and plan accordingly. This is probably what most conductors do, but somehow in rehearsing larger works it can be forgotten.
 
Skills, not just rehearsals can (and should) be taught in this way, too. This analogy comes from a short article on coaching Lacrosse: "Think about how small children become mobile. First they crawl, then they learn to stand and eventually they take those first steps. Once they have mastered walking, the pace increases and they’re off and running."
 
In teaching young singers to sing properly you have to start with fundamental skills and master them (which also means constant reinforcement): first posture, then breath, then learning to use the breath to phonate, etc. Steps are taken gradually to build up the skill of making a good vocal (and choral) sound.
 
Look to see if some of the things you're trying to teach your choir have been broken down into small enough chunks for the choir to learn them properly. It's the way skills (and music) are built, from the ground up, one chunk at a time.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ward Swingle dies (age 87)—Another significant passing in the choral world

Another significant passing from our choral world—Ward Swingle, who helped create and maintain a new melding of classical music and jazz.

You can read more about his life in the brief Wikipedia article linked above (which comes primarily from his website).



Ward was an amazing musician, pianist, and singer whose Swingle Singers, currently called The Swingles, went through numerous versions from their founding in Paris, then a number of versions in London, both with Ward and post-Ward.

Besides their jazz, they became known in the orchestral world for Luciano Berio's Sinfonia in a part that was sung by them around the world.

The Swingle Singers will be singing at TMEA (Texas Music Educators Association) on Feb. 11. If you haven't heard them before, might be a good time to go (and TMEA is always fabulous!).

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Building Skills 10

Hi all—hope you've had a great break and are ready to get back to work! This skills series continues:
 
More from Daniel Coyle: Tip#14 "Take Off Your Watch"
 
This has to do with our own preparation and practice.
 
Coyle says, "Deep practice is not measured in minutes or hours, but in the number of high-quality reaches and repetitions you make—basically, how many new connections you form in your brain."
 
He's saying to ignore the clock and focus on the sweet spot (see the last post) when you work, concentrating on depth of work, or repetitions practicing, not on time. I've written earlier about Thomas Sterner's book, "The Practicing Mind—Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Mind," and it has great ideas about this as well.
 
Slow, thorough, focused work—on score study, on improving your rehearsal or conducting technique—this is the work we need to do. Finding the time to do this work is often the challenge, but as Sterner points out, the kind of slow, deliberate work he describes (read his description in the blog post of tuning two pianos with that mindset), your work will often be more, not less, effective and efficient.
 
As much as anything, it's about your own mindset and approach. Try it.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Seattle Pro Musica - History/Repertoire 1973-1980

As I've often stated, my work with the many musicians that made up Seattle Pro Musica in the first part of my career was my real graduate education (nothing against either my work at the UW for an MM or at CCM for my DMA!).

I started the groups that became SPM because I had repertoire I really wanted to do and starting my own group was the way to get there.

Eric Ericson has stated that repertoire is how a choir and conductor grow and I certainly agree. It was through the combination of learning, rehearsing, and conducting this repertoire with the wonderful people who sang and played with me that I was able to learn as much as I did during those seven years from age 23 to 30.

Season One - 1973-74

In 1973 I started a chamber choir, but it was under the auspices of the Thalia organization (which is still going strong as an orchestra). In reality, they didn't supply much—I did all the organization, auditions, found rehearsal and performance spaces, etc. They did help with players for our first concert, which included the Vivaldi Magnificat. I don't have programs for the first season (with one exception), just the posters, and all dates aren't clear. But this was the beginning:

Dec. 9, 1973
Mendelssohn Aus tiefer Not (with David DiFiore, organist)
Vivaldi - Magnificat

I don't have a date for the second program, but it was done in the Spring at the Seattle Art Museum's concert hall with Gary Hatle, pianist:
Schumann - Zigeunerleben
Schubert - Der Gondelfahrer
Schubert - Spanisches Liederspiel
Brahms - Zigeunerlieder

May 26, 1974 - The third program was advertised as "Three Early Baroque Magnificats by Heinrich Schütz & Claudio Monteverdi. I know one of the Schütz settings was the so-called Uppsala Magnificat, the only setting of his in Latin. We likely did one of the German settings as well. And it's very likely that we did the Monteverdi setting with organ from the 1610 Vespers—the edition I would have used then was . . . interesting . . . with an intricately written out ornamented organ part. Wouldn't think of it today!

Season Two - 1974-75

Since we weren't getting real support from Thalia, we struck out on our own, renaming the group the Aeolian Singers (a name which stuck for several seasons). I also began a group called the Seattle Bach Ensemble that fall (it became just the Bach Ensemble in 1978, when we started performances in Bellevue as well). It was modeled after Helmuth Rilling's Kantat-Fest programs at the Gedächtniskirche in Stuttgart (I'd attended rehearsals for one in 1972). Essentially, anyone who wanted could come on Saturday and rehearse a Bach cantata and then sing in the service on Sunday, which they did once a month. My idea was to do something similar, but have an auditioned group to sing and to do the performances Sunday evening, which we did at University Baptist Church the first year, afterwards at Central Lutheran Church. We auditioned for both singers and instrumentalists (a number of singers sang in both choirs) and got a very good response. The choir rehearsed Saturday morning and then overlapped with the orchestra, so we could run the choruses and chorale with everyone. I then rehearsed the orchestra and soloists. Our dress rehearsal was before the program Sunday evening. Arias with one or two obbligato instruments or just continuo were often rehearsed beforehand, usually at the home of Howard Hoyt, who was our regular continuo player.

I was crazy enough to think of doing two cantatas each month, which was far too much. It only lasted that season. However, I was beginning to think of what I was doing as something long-term, not just as something to do as a student. So we changed course and combined both groups late in the season for the Bach Mass in B Minor . . . and then incorporated in the summer of 1975 as a non-profit organization as Seattle Pro Musica—that being the umbrella organization under which these two ensembles would fit.

Unfortunately, I don't have all programs from that time period, so can't identify all repertoire. The Aeolian Singers program for January 26 is very challenging, so perhaps that was the first of the season. But here goes:

Nov. 3, 1974 - Bach Ensemble - Cantata #129 Gelobet sei der Herr

Nov. 17, 1974 - Cantata #93 Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten

Dec. 1, 1974 - Cantata #36 Schwingt Freudig euch empor

Dec. 15, 1974 - Cantata #110 Unser Mund sei voll Lachens

Jan. 19, 1975 - Bach Ensemble - Cantata #143 Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele & 51 (Nancy Zylstra, soloist for Jauchzet Gott)

January 26, 1975 - Aeolian Singers (also at University Baptist)
Clemens non Papa - Dona nobis pacem
Stravinsky - Ave Maria
Palestrina - Sicut cervus
Purcell - Rejoice in the Lord Alway (with strings)
Mozart -  Ave verum
Vivaldi - Domine, ad adjuvandum me (double string orchestra)
- intermission-
Britten - Choral Dances from 'Gloriana'
Poulenc - Un soir de neige
Copland - Long Time Ago & Ching-a-ring Chaw

Feb. 2 - Bach Ensemble
Cantata #177 - Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ

Feb. 16 - Bach Ensemble
Cantata #46 - Schauet doch und Sehet

June 6, 1975 - Mass in B Minor - University Presbyterian Church
Soloists were Diane Christopherson and Nancy Zylstra, sopranos; Margaret Russell, alto; Horace Beasley, tenor; and Gene Lysinger, bass.

Season Three - 1975-76

The third season was the first where we were fully incorporated and operated a board. It's also the first for which we had a season brochure, rather than individual flyers for concerts or groups of concerts. And . . . it was much more ambitious. The Aeolian Singers had a full program of five concerts, the Bach Ensemble a full season as well, plus a new group called the Pro Musica Singers (a smaller ensemble—that lasted only this one season), and a Bach Festival planned for the summer with the B Minor Mass at the center.

Some of the ambition came because of a study tour I'd done with Bob Scandrett to England in the summer of 1975. Watching English groups (who worked incredibly quickly) I wanted my singers (and me) to be able to work more quickly. I also had the sense that whether we had 5 rehearsals or 10 (this is an exaggeration, of course) we'd accomplish much the same—if pressure was on, we'd work fast . . . if we had more time, we'd take more time. Not entirely true, but the group learned to work much faster.

Oct. 5, 1975 - Bach Ensemble (now at Central Lutheran Church) Cantata #80 Ein Feste Burg
After this program I got the following letter from composer Alan Hovaness, who attended:
Nov. 2, 1975 - Bach Ensemble - Cantata #106 Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit, along with Telemann's Locke nur, Erde for soprano (Nancy Zylstra), recorder (James West) and continuo (we started doing other works on the programs in addition to the cantata)

Nov. 9, 1975 - Aeolian Singers - St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
C.P.E. Bach Magnnificat
Handel - Dixit Dominus
(soloists Zylstra, Christopherson, Russell, and Beasley)

Nov. 23 - Pro Musica Singers
Byrd - Mass for four voices (12 singers)
Bernstein - Choruses from 'The Lark' (sung with 7 solo voices)

Dec. 7, 1975 - Bach Ensemble
Bach Magnificat

Dec. 19 - Aeolian Singers - University Methodist Temple
Jean Langlais The Nativity (solo organ - David DiFiore)
Tippett - Magnificat (choir & organ)
Distler - Singet Frisch und Wohlgemut
Marcel Dupre  - Sketch in B-flat Minor (solo organ)
Poulenc - Four Christmas Motets

Jan. 4, 1976 - Bach Ensemble - Cantata #147 Herz und Mund und That und Leben

Feb. 1, 1976 - Bach Ensemble - Cantata #8 Liebster Gott and a recorder sonata by Telemann


Feb 20, 1976 - Aeolian Singers with Anita Rodin, pianist - University Methodist Temple
Mendelssohn - Psalm 100 Jauchzet dem Herrn; Die Nachtigall; Richte mich, Gott
Schubert - Der Gondelfahrer
Schumann - Zigeunerleben
-intermission-
Brahms - Motet, Op. 29 #1 -Es ist das Heil
             - Motet, Op. 29 #2 - Schaffe in mir, Gott
Wolf - Sechs Geistliche Lider

March 7, 1976 - Bach Ensemble
Fiocco (arr. Harry Schulman) - Adagio for Oboe and Strings (Ivan Schulman, oboe)
Marcello - Cello Sonata in C Major (Germaine Morgan, cello)
Bach - Sinfonia to Cantata #156 (Ivan Schulman, oboe)
Bach - Cantata #112 - Der Herr is mein getreuer Hirt

March 9, 1976 - an essentially orchestral program with singers from the Aeolian Singers for the Vaughan Williams
Telemann - Concerto for Four Violins
Rossini - String Sonata #3 in G
Vaughan Williams - Flos Campi (Janet Lynch, viola solo)

March 12, 1976 - we presented the Gallery Singers, conductor Frederick Carter, at Central Lutheran Church

April 4, 1976 - Bach Ensemble - Bach - Easter Oratorio

Somewhere in here a a recital of Baroque solo and chamber music (Bach, Telemann, Pepusch, Quantz, and Handel)


April 13, 1976 - Aeolian Singers
Monteverdi - 1610 Vespers (my first performance of this great piece)

May 2, 1976 - Bach Ensemble - Cantata #146 Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal

June 6, 1976 - Bach Ensemble - Cantata#172 Erschallet ihr Lieder

June 11, 1976 - Aeolian Singers - St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
Purcell - Come, Ye Sons of Art
Bach - Lobet den Herrn
Debussy - Trois Chansons de Charles D'Orleans
Holst - I Love My Love
Vaughan Williams - The Dark-eyed Sailor
P.D.Q. Bach - The Queen to Me a Royal Pain Doth Give and My Bonnie Lass She Smellelth

Then the summer Bach Festival with 3 concerts:
July 21, 1976 - chamber music by La Chantarelle: music by Rameau, Bach, Couperin, and Marais
July 22, 1976 - an organ recital by Howard Hoyt at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Mercer Island
August 3, 1976 - Bach Mass in B Minor at Meany Hall, University of Washington

Season Four - 1976-77

Still a few missing (or undated) programs. I also had to change cantatas a couple times because music didn't arrive in time. Not so many Bach cantatas published with parts and easy to get! We sometimes used handwritten parts from the Drinker Library in Philadelphia, which was often interesting since there were frequent mistakes.

Oct. 3, 1976 - Bach Ensemble
Schütz - Fili mi, Absalon with the Seattle Trombone Quartet and Peter Ashbaugh, bass
Cantata #20 had to be substituted, as music for Cantata 43 didn't arrive

Nov. 9, 1976 - Aeolian Singers - Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church
Mozart - Epistle Sonata in C (K. 336) for organ and strings
Mozart - Requiem, ed. Beyer

Nov. 14, 1976 - Bach Ensemble - at the German Church on Capital Hill
Handel - Organ concerto, Op. 4, #2 (Randall Jay McCarty, soloist)
Bach - Cantata #43 (finally!) Gott fähret auf mit Jachzen

Dec. 5, 1976  - Bach Ensemble (back at Central Lutheran)
Corelli - Christmas Concerto Grosso
Bach - Magnificat

Jan. 9, 1977 - Bach Ensemble
Mozart - Exsultate, Jubilate (Nancy Zylstra, soloist)
Bach - Cantata #105 Herr, gehe nicht ins Gerichts

Jan. 25, 1977 - Aeolian Singers
Bach - Cantata #106 - Gottes Zeit ist die Allerbeste Zeit
Haydn - Part Songs (Rick Asher, pianist)
Hindemith - Six Chansons
P.D.Q. Bach - Two Madrigals from "The Triumphs of Thusnelda"

Feb. 6, 1977 - Bach Ensemble
Telemann - Concerto for Four Violins alone
Schütz - Der Zwölfjährige Jesus im Tempel
Cantata #41 Jesu, nun sei gepreiset

April 5, 1977 - Aeolian Singers + Bach Ensemble - First Presbyterian Church
Bach - St. Matthew Passion

May 1, 1977 - Bach Ensemble
Telemann - Solo cantata #28 from Der Harmonische Gottesdienst
Bach - Cantata #8 - Liebster Gott, wann werd' ich sterben

May 31, 1977 - Aeolian Singers, University Methodist Temple - In Memoriam Benjamin Britten
Antiphon
A Hymn of St. Columba
Jubilate Deo
Festival Te Deum
Choral Dances from 'Gloriana'
Simple Symphony
Rejoice in the Lamb

June 5, 1977 - Bach Ensemble
Telemann - Concerto in G for Four Violins
Cantata #27 - Herr Jesu Christ, wahr'r Mensch und Gott

Season Five - 1977-78

Season Five saw a new ensemble, Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra, which was made up of most of the same players that had played for the Bach Ensemble or for the major works I did with the Aeolian Singers, but wanted to do chamber orchestral literature on their own (I did, too, of course!). The Aeolian Singers entered their last season of going by that (not great) name—after this season they became the Pro Musica Singers. We also sponsored a recital series, primarily with Nancy Zylstra this season.

Oct. 2, 1977 - Bach Ensemble
Schütz - Freuet euch des Herrn
J.C. Bach - Arsinda (concert area for soprano—Nancy Zylstra—and solo flute, oboe, and violin with orchestra)
Bach - Cantata #11 - The Ascension Oratorio

Oct. 21- Recital Series - Seattle Concert Theatre
A complete performance of Wolf's Italienische Liederbuch with Nancy Zylstra, soprano; Michael Deviny (now Delos), baritone; and Christopher Arpin, piano

Nov. 6, 1977 - Bach Ensemble (we also did a run-out of this program on Nov. 30 to Mercer Island)
Schütz - Die mit tränen säen, Saul
Alessandro Scarlatti - Su le sponde del Tebro
Bach - Cantata #18 - Gleich wie der Regen

Nov. 20, 1977 - Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra - Seattle Concert Theatre
Poulenc - Deux marches et un Intermede
Handel - Concerto Grosso, op. 3, #1 in B-Flat
Rossini - String Sonata #3 in C Major
Mozart - Piano Concerto in D Minor (K. 466) - Margaret Irwin-Brandon, fortepiano

Dec. 4, 1977 - Guest program of chamber music by Fiori Musicali (a recorder/harpsichord duo—Philip Dickey and Mary Ann Hagen—with guest violinist, recorder, and gamba)
Music by Cima, Frescobaldi, Scarlatti, Handel, Vivaldi, and Telemann

Dec. 9 & 10, 1977 - Aeolian Singers & Chamber Orchestra - Meany Hall, University of Washington
Handel - Messiah (complete)

Jan. 8, 1978 - Bach Ensemble
Schütz - Singet dem Herrn
Telemann - Concerto in E Minor for recorder and traverso
Bach - Cantata #39 Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot

Jan. 28, 1978 - Recital series program with Nancy Zylstra

Feb. 5, 1978 - Bach Ensemble
Telemann - 3 arias from Harmonisches Gottesdienst (Zylstra, Philip Dickey on recorder, and Stephen Stubbs on lute)
Schütz - Musikalische Exequien, part III
Bach - Cantata #8 - Liebster Gott

Feb. 19, 1978 - Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra
Bartok - Rumanian Folk Dances
Elgar - Serenade for Strings
Mozart - Symphony #29 in A Major
Vivaldi - Laudate Pueri (solo cantata with Zylstra)

March 22, 1978 - Aeolian Singers, Bach Ensemble, Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra
Bach - St. John Passion

April 2, 1978 - Bach Ensemble
Telemann - Suite in A minor
Schütz - Herr, unser Herrscher
Bach - Cantata #182 - Himmelskönig, sei willkommen

May 7, 1978 - Bach Ensemble
Schütz - Deus Misereatur Nostri
Vivaldi - Concerto in G minor for two mandolins
Bach - Cantata #26 - Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig

May 21, 1978 - Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra
Vivaldi - Concerto for four Violins, op. 3, #10
Rossini - Sonata for Strings, #6, in D Major
Mozart - Serenade #12 in C minor (K. 388)
Haydn - Cello Concerto in C (Ron Wilson, soloist)

June 4, 1978 - Bach Ensemble
Bach - Cantata #76 - Die Himmel erzählen
Fiocco - Lamentations
Telemann - Trauer-Kantate Du aber, Daniel, gehe hin

June 25, 1978 - Aeolian Singers - St. Mark's Cathedral
Monteverdi - Vespers of 1610
This was a much better performance than in 1976, done as a pre-convention event for the National Convention of the American Guild of Organists.

Season Six - 1978-79
This season saw the Bach Ensemble move to period instruments and do concerts twice, once in Seattle and once in Bellevue. This was a major change and we started paying both singers (we went to 12) and players. The recital series was much more varied, with different musicians on each recital. I also began work on my MM in conducting at the University of Washington in this year.

Oct. 1, 1978 - Bach Ensemble
J.C. Bach - Arsinda
Telemann - Laudate Jehova, omnes gentes
Handel - fourth "Halle" trio sonata in F
Bach - Cantata #66 - Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen

Oct. 15, 1978 - Recital Series
Michael Deviny, baritone with Robert DeCeunynck, piano - Lieder

Oct. 29, 1978 - Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra
Haydn - Octet in F for winds
J.N. Gayer - Symphony in E-flat
Sibelius - Romanza in C for Strings
Stravinsky - Eight Instrumental Miniatures

Nov. 6, 1978 - Bach Ensemble
Bach - Lobet den Herrn
Corelli - Trio Sonata XII in D
Vivaldi - Concerto in G Major for two mandolins
Bach - Cantata #33 Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ

Nov. 17, 1978 - Recital Series
Gregg Carder, tenor - baroque repertoire with Ken Peterson and Vern Nicodemus

Dec. 3, 1978 - Bach Ensemble
Corelli - Fatto per la notte di natale
Bach - Magnificat (in the Eb version with the Christmas interpolations)

Dec. 16 & 17, 1978 - Pro Musica Singers & Chamber Orchestra - Meany Hall, UW 
Bach - Christmas Oratorio 

Jan. 7, 1979 - Bach Ensemble with Duo Geminiani (Stanley Ritchie & Elisabeth Wright)
All-Bach program:
Lobet den Herrn
Brandenburg Concerto #4 in G
Harpsichord Concerto in E
Sonata in b minor (Duo Geminiani)
Cantata # 196 -  Der Herr denket an uns

Feb. 4, 1979 - Bach Ensemble
Cantata #199 - Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (Nancy Zylstra)
Telemann  - Sonata in e minor for two transverse flutes (Janet See and Sand Dalton)
Bach - Jesu, meine Freude

Feb. 23, 1979 - Recital Series
Carter Enyeart, cello
Bach unaccompanied suites, numbers 2, 3, and 6

Feb. 25, 1979 - Pro Musica Singers & Chamber Orchestra - First Presbyterian Church
Mozart - Mass in C Minor

March 4, 1979 - Bach Ensemble
Vivaldi - Concerto in C Minor for recorder (David Ohannesian)
Frescobaldi - Four Correnti & Toccata in F (Margret Cornell, now Gries, harpsichord)
Bach - Cantata #78 - Jesu, der du meine Seele

March 23, 1979 - Recital Series
Nancy Zylstra & Stephen Stubbs

April 1, 1979 - Bach Ensemble
Telemann - Du aber, Daniel, gehe hin
Loeillet - Quartet in B Minor for two flutes, two recorders & continuo
Cantata #182 - Himmelskönig, sei willkommen

April 8, 1979 - Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra
Salieri - Symhony #19 in D
Not really sure of this program–I don't have one and the brochure lists Mozart's g minor, but it's on the June 3 program . . . perhaps this one was cancelled.

May 4, 1979 - Recital Series
Ronald Wilson, cello
Works by Boccherini, Beethoven, Ginastera & Rachmaninoff

May 6, 1979 - Bach Ensemble
Telemann - Erhalte mich, O Herr, in deinem Werke (I sang this one)
Frescobaldi - Canzona #2 in C & #5 in g minor
Bach - Cantata #75 - Die Elenden sollen essen 

June 3, 1979 - Pro Musica Singers & Chamber Orchestra
Mozart - Symphony #40 in g minor
Britten - Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings (Howard Fankhauser, tenor; James Weaver, horn)
Mendelssohn - Richte mich, Gott & Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt
Brahms - Vier Ziegeunerlieder, op. 112
Ravel - Trois Chansons
Stallcop - Concerto for Double Bass (premiere), James Biedel, bass

Season Seven - 1979-80
This was to be my final season with Seattle Pro Musica. I was finishing up my MM at the University of Washington, had begun conducting for the Pacific Northwest Bach Festival in Spokane, WA in January (a period-instrument festival with instrumentalists from all over the US and, from 1980, the Dutch baritone Max van Egmond was a regular soloist—I would conduct at this festival through 1985), and ended up taking a position at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts starting in the fall of 1980. We didn't have a recital series this season. The Bach Ensemble did fewer concerts (expensive when all musicians are paid), but we brought in Carlo Novi to lead the strings and Stanley Ritchie as well for one concert.

Oct. 18, 1979 - Pro Musica Singers & Chamber Orchestra (First Presbyterian Church)
Beethoven - Symphony #1 in C
Haydn - Harmoniemesse

Nov. 4, 1979 -  Bach Ensemble, with Carlo Novi, concertmaster
J.C. Bach - Symphony in G Minor (op. VI, #6)
Carissimi - Jephte
Haydn - Partita in F (Hob. II, #23)
Bach - Cantata #1 - Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern

Dec. 7, 8, 9, 1979 - Pro Musica Singers & Chamber Orchestra
Handel - Organ Concerto #5 in F Major (David DiFiore)
Handel - Messiah (Christmas portion)

Jan. 12, 13, 1980 - Bach Ensemble with the Duo Geminiani & Janet See (baroque flute)
All-Bach
E Major Sonata for Traverso & continuo
G Major Sonata for Violin & continuo
Cantata #12 - Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen
Jesu, meine Freude
Brandenburg Concerto #5


Feb. 24, 1980 - Pro Musica Singers & Chamber Orchestra
Wolf - Italian Serenade
Clemens non Papa - Dona nobis pacem
Palestrina - Sicut cervus
Hassler - Ad Dominum cum tribularer
Mendelssohn - Four part-songs from op. 48
Poulenc - Salve Regina & Exultate Deo
Schubert - Symphony #5 in B-Flat

Apr. 20 1980 - Bach Ensemble, with Carlo Novi, concertmaster
Cantata #39 - Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot
(sorry, don't have this program, so only know the cantata that was performed)


May 17,18, 1980 - Pro Musica Singers & Chamber Orchestra
Bach - Mass in B Minor
A fitting way to conclude 7 seasons of wonderful music with great people!