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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Learning from Eric Ericson VI - Watch!

There aren't many examples of Eric conducting on the net, but here's one with him recording with the Real Group (all the original singers sang as students with him--when he came to Pacific Lutheran University in the mid-80s with his Conservatory Chamber Choir they'd been working together for a while and all were members of that choir).

Monday, April 28, 2014

First of what will be several remembrances of Peter Hallock

Here. In a blog post at the Seattle P.I. by Joel Connelly.

Peter Hallock remembered: Seattle’s world-renowned choral musician

Peter Hallock, a world-renowned church musician who made beautiful music in Seattle for 63 years, died Sunday afternoon at his home in Fall City. He was 89.

As choir director at St. Mark’s Cathedral for 40 years, from 1951 to 1991, Hallock is best known as the musician who revived the ancient monastic rite of Compline, which became a Sunday night magnet for generations of Seattle-area young people.

“What an amazing thing he created,” said Austin Rickel, a senior at Center School who did a video on Compline last year.  “Here was a service that you could experience, a spiritual experience that you could appreciate even if you did not fully understand.

“The experience is going to live on: One of the greatest things a person can do, what you should live for, is to create something that goes beyond yourself.  As long as St. Mark’s is in existence, Compline will be in existence with a wealth of participation in something deeply spiritual.”

James Savage, music director at St. James Cathedral, described Hallock as “a giant” and added:  “For me, he was the one who made it possible for me to do what I do here.  He saw a cathedral as a citizen of the community.  He invited people to come for more than worship (services), for annual performances of the Messiah, for organ concerts, for times of grief and celebration.”

Savage was a master’s degree student at the University of Oregon when, in 1974, he was invited to sing at St. Mark’s.  “I had a job waiting for me somewhere else, but I fell in love with Seattle.”
Hallock conducted the Compline Choir until 2003 when he was succeeded by Jason Anderson, who wrote his dissertation on Hallock’s music.  Hallock believed, said Anderson, that “God could be experienced in beauty, in song, in the communal experience as well as the contemplative.”

The Compline service at St. Mark’s, begun in the 1950′s, led to a rediscovery of the late-night monastic prayer tradition in the Episcopal and Anglican churches.  Anderson estimates that, at one time or another, there have been 50 groups across North America modeled on the St. Mark’s Compline Choir.  Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver has a Compline service.
“He was instrumental in enabling St. Mark’s and the Pacific Northwest to make a critical contribution to sacred music generally, and to music in the Episcopal-Anglican tradition,” said the Rev. Steve Thomason, dean of the cathedral.

Hallock thought big.  He was the person who caused the Flentrop Organ — usually called “the mighty Flentrop” — to St. Mark’s in 1965.  He authored a three-year cycle of psalm settings for choir, with antiphons for congregational singing, that is widely used in the Episcopal and Lutheran churches.

Hallock was still composing at the time of his death.  One of his last works, a setting of the Victimae Paschali, had its premier during Easter services at St. Mark’s in 2013.

“On Easter, I am not not always thankful of having to listen to everything twice, but with this piece I was most thankful,” said the  Rev. Greg Rickel (father of Austin), Episcopal bishop of Olympia.

Bishop Rickel noted that Hallock stayed at the “Holy Box” on Capitol Hill for 40 years, conducted the Compline Choir for a half century . . . even as he won national and even international recognition.
Hallock was  honored across the pond by the Royal College of Music and was awarded  an honorary degree from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.  He was the first lay musician in the Episcopal Church to be given the title of canon precentor.

“There is nothing normal about that anyplace in the church,” said the bishop.  “He gave his life to St. Mark’s.  He brought so many, many people who had never crossed the doors of a church into a church.”

It’s likely that not one of the hundreds of young people who fill St. Mark’s at 9:30 on Sunday nights knows what a “canon precentor” is.  Yet, generations of college and high school students have come to witness one of Christianity’s most ancient rituals.
Hours after his death, the Compline Choir processed to Hallock’s setting of the Easter canticle Pascha Nostrum (Christ our Passover) and remembered him simply at the beginning of the service.  
Arrangements for Hallock’s funeral service are pending.
Peter Hallock made Compline happen, in Seattle and elsewhere. It is his living legacy.

A moving account of Peter Hallock's last trip home


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Peter Hallock dies

See the announcement here--I'm sure there will be obituaries coming soon and I'll link to them here.

I've known Peter for a long time. I never worked with him directly (sang in the Compline Choir or the Cathedral Choir), but attended the Compline services at St. Mark's in Seattle on and off from the time I was an undergraduate. And of course, many of my friends worked regularly with Peter. And I managed to work with him on a number of occasions.

I was honored to be asked to conduct the Tallis 40-part motet, Spem in alium, for Peter's 40th Anniversary at St. Mark's. And I also conducted a concert celebrating his 70th birthday at St. Mark's with Choral Arts, which was followed by a recording of the works on that program.

It was great fun to look through piles of Peter's music in order to choose repertoire. And the process of speaking with Peter about his music and rehearsing, performing, and recording was fun as well. Peter wrote most of the big pieces on the program for Easter (Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem, The Song of Moses, and Exsultate Deo, as well as Phoenix), and they were usually finished at the last moment, ink barely dry on the page. Peter enjoyed the opportunity to look again at these scores and do some minor revisions. It wasn't surprising to find him, just before one of the recording sessions, pasting in a change in a trombone part!

I've continued to perform Peter's music, including a performance of Song of Moses a year ago with one of my choirs at UNT, which you can find on YouTube. And at Highland Park UMC we did his Wash me Through and Through for Ash Wednesday--a beautiful and moving setting for that service. If you are looking for wonderful service music or a number of medium length pieces for various combinations of instruments, explore the many works published by Ionian Arts. You won't regret it.

Peter will be greatly missed. He was a marvelous musician and composer and a friend to many. I'm grateful to have known him.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Learning from Eric Ericson V - Conducting Technique II

This continues my notes from several sessions on conducting by Eric Ericson done for the Haystack Workshop in Oregon.
Ericson - Day 2
1) “caress” the air as if through water, then make attacks (not in a pattern) gradually more marked , then back to caressing motion - check to see that your shoulder muscles stay relaxed as you beat more marcato
2) he then does other exercises to show changes in the size of the beat:
  • 5/8
  • 7/8
  • 6/8
3) more exercises for "co-ordination of opposites" conduct 3 (3/4), but count 2 (6/8)
("now walk around - not in tempo - just gentle")
4) conduct 2 (6/8) count 3 (3/4)
5) do both exercises 3 and 4, counting legatissimo, beating marcato (and vice versa)
6) more exercises for left hand independence:
  • 4/4 giving cues
  • one conductor is in front of class, conducts 4, cues with l.h. at his or her choice - group responds with “bop” ( if short), "bah" (if conductor indicates long)
(E. says you could also try to cue one side of the chorus with a nod from the head , the other with the l.h.)
7) E. improvises, asks everyone to change character with the music
then speeds up, asks to go into 2, slows back down, go into 4 again - "lighter ... heavy ... marcato ... leggiero ... light with your faces ... darker again"
8) Conduct hemiolas
9) plays Bach “Der Geisthilft” (one of the rep pieces) while we conduct
10) Then we conduct in 3 while he plays a minuet, then a Swedish “Hambo” (which has a very heavy downbeat), then in 1 a Kreisler waltz.
11) "try to give a preparatory beat with just your breathing . . . try it different ways ... feel the difference in the quality of sound . .. remember to give a deep breath with your preparations, use time (but not too quick)"
Day 3
reminders about posture
1) “take a breath, hum on ‘m’ . . . deeper breath ... move your head a little ... lift your arms as you breathe ... relax, no strange things, very natural ... do it again, but prepare from diaphragm
... now do it the wrong way"
2) conduct a small, but intense 4, while the left hand is out in front, still
3) count 2, conduct 4 (and vice versa); then do same counting 2, conducting 6; counting one, conducting 3 (more of “exercise in opposites”)
"move around"
4) more of the cuing exercise from previous day:
"right hand very intense ... l.h. stop dead with cue"
5) plays while alternating 6/8s (in two and six) and 3/4 - calls out changes while playing
“make the beat bigger . . .  smaller"
6) conduct 3, count 2 (3 vs. 2)
"move around ... move your left hand freely, out of tempo ... pick up imaginary music"
same, conduct 2 , count 3
7) Conduct 12/8 while E. plays:
"swinging beats, friction against the air"
"it's like playing the violin: too much tension (bow against the string)=scratchy sound, too little tension=airy sound - get just the right tension)"
8) E wants the sound to be characterized in the body as a whole "be friends with your body"
9) uses 12/8 for a sense of flow from beat to beat - E. improvises as we conduct: he starts with jazz -  then moves into the opening chorus from the St. Matthew Passion - impressionistic - jazz again - then “heavier, darker”
10) conduct fast, small 4 with r.h. only:
"emphasize the down, don't rebound so fast with your left hand:
  • now while you conduct, arrange your hair . . .  walk in 2, conduct in 4 . . .  walk in 4, conduct in 2 . . . conduct in 6, but walk in a free tempo . . . continue to conduct in 6 and turn enormous score pages constantly and slowly . . .  now speak very dramatically some common text"
"the goals of this are to relax, and to think and do different things"

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Learning from Eric Ericson IV - Conducting Technique I

These notes are from several sessions (hence I've abbreviated in some places) that Eric Ericson did on basic conducting technique. This took place at the Haystack Workshop in Astoria, Oregon. I was singing in the 16-voice chamber choir that did a concert as well as providing the workshop choir. These are exercises to practice, or which are useful in teaching conducting (I've used them regularly). I'll spread this over two posts, corresponding to the two days Eric did this. (Sorry for any formatting "oddities" -- I had to scan and old typed version to pdf and then convert to MS Word, which made for some challenges) It's difficult, of course, to write about something that is physical and visual, but I've done my best!
1) Posture - find a balanced posture - now rotate your body side to side—relax your arms and let them follow your body - note that the arms follow in a circular way - "you need to find a natural way for your body to conduct"
2) Put your thumb and forefinger together and press intensely, so intensely that your fingertips become white - but localize the tension so that it's only in your fingers, not your arm - move your arms freely, tension only in the fingers - "too much muscle can kill the music"
3) Now bring your hand up to a 'normal' position - feel attachments that lift your arm
  • lift , then relax - just let your arm drop - now close your eyes, lift and relax - now move your arm out to the side, lift and relax
  • have a partner lift your arm with no tension then let go - it should fall naturally
  • now feel as if your arm is being lifted only by an attachment at the finger - then from the wrist , elbow, shoulder
4) Now clasp your hands together and press them together hard - feel the intensity, but no tension in your shoulder
  • shake hands with your partner, very firmly - check with the other hand to see that there is no tension in the shoulder of your partner
5) To find the position of the hand while conducting, simply lift up from by your side - find a natural position - avoid the elbow out or in, just ''natural”
6) what the conductor does must help vocal production (E. doesn't want baton for this reason)
7) the focus of the beat is the entire hand (not the fingers—too tense/ not the wrist—too floppy)
  • the hand is where the choir reads the main information - the whole body gives 'resonance' (supports, is in agreement with) with the hand
8) conduct in 1 (Eric plays the piano) - "feel the magnetic pull towards the rebound spot" (ictus)
  • now try with both hands ("don't go too high - work in the center of the body")
  • feel contact with the breath and the level of the hands
9) bounce the beat off of the left hand, held at belly level
  • now bounce it off the left hand at the top, the hand at the top of the beat
  • now move the hand with no destination (like painting a wall)
(Eric plays a waltz - "you want a clear one that provokes what follows"}
10) now conduct with the whole arm - now focus in the elbow - see how awkward and inefficient
11) now conduct in a four pattern - E. watches and says: "don't let your elbow go out for beat 2" "don't put beat 1 in front of the body - it makes for an unnatural position"
  • "don't think beat as in "beating” (schlag), use the positive aspect of heartbeat"
12) (continue conducting in 4) - feel the hand leading the beat , the arm follows
(comments to class while conducting) "relax your shoulder" "concentrate the beat in the hand" "walk around a little bit" "smaller beat , very small"
13) E. has class alternate bars conducting 4 while counting 2 and vice-versa
  • then beat 3, count 1 (E. says onnne, going immediately to the 'n') beat 1 , count "1-2-3
  • then beat 6, count 2
  • beat 2, count 6
  • (exercises of the "least common denominator")
14} "The size of the beat is related to the tempo, not the dynamic”
  • he does an exercise to help feel this: change tempo with the beats the same size - doesn't work
  • (he also notes that generally he doesn't want beat going above the eye level)
  • now he alternates randomly, playing the piano and calling out the changes one bar ahead
  • then improvises freely - conductors now keep that pattern against his rhythms
15) Independence of hands: r.h./1.h.
  • r.h. conducts four, l.h. goes up and down while you sing a scale:
  • then, do the opposite (the 1.h. goes the opposite direction of the scale)
16) Articulation: alternate:
  • make sure the articulation of the hand coincides with what the voice does
  • marcato calls for a faster rebound , contraction of muscle (E: "In America I generally feel there is too fast a rebound. This loses the possibility of sonority between beats .")
  • Eric uses 12/8 for developing a legato beat - plays the opening of the St. Matthew Passion while conductors conduct ("feel the pull of the beat" )
17) now conduct 12/8, but sing only the first 8th note of every beat on the syllable “pom”
  • Now on the 2nd eighth note
  • now on the 3rd eighth note
  • (you must think all the of the eighths and show the consequences of each beat
  • the class keeps up this pattern while E improvises jazz

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Learning from Eric Ericson III - Robert Sund

As you read the thoughts of various musicians who worked with Eric, you’ll discover commonalities—which is only natural—but each from a slightly different perspective.
For me, one of the best things about doing this series is giving me the excuse to get in touch with my Swedish friends. This week it’s Robert Sund. I met Robert in 1989, on my first trip to Sweden. But I really got to know Robert when we were judges that same year at the first Marktoberdorf competition. Since the judges’ deliberations were all done in German he helped me find the right word as we discussed the performances. I’ve had many meetings with Robert over the years, but I learned still more during this conversation.
Robert has a background that is out of the ordinary compared to Swedish choral conductors. He took piano lessons for 6 years (until he was 14) but his real love was jazz. He played piano, trumpet, trombone, and other instruments, listening to a lot of music (Swedish Radio had a big band in those days), formed his own band and did arrangements for them. When he went to Uppsala in 1963 to attend the famous university there (the oldest in Sweden, founded in 1477), he went to study English and his intention all along was to be an English teacher and for music to be an avocation. He hadn’t even sung at that point.
He auditioned for the orchestra at Uppsala on trombone, but was told that they rarely used trombones and he ought to sing. He quickly met a group of singers who heard him play jazz and they formed the Olsson Quintet, an all-male group singing jazz and other light music. He auditioned for the great men’s chorus, Orphei Drängar, conducted by Eric, in 1964, but didn’t get in that year, so sang in Allmänna Sången (one of the oldest choirs in Uppsala—formed in 1830, but had just become a mixed choir in 1963) and took voice lessons. The next year he was accepted into OD—Eric had already heard of the Olsson Quintet—and began his long association with Ericson. He says he’d never even heard of Eric when he arrived at Uppsala!
Robert and the Quintet became involved in the famed “Caprice” concerts which were held every December and were programs with fun, funny, and surprising elements (and usually a special, surprise guest—if you want to hear more—you can order CDs containing music from different Caprice years: here or here). Because of Robert’s skills as an arranger (again, self-taught) he was on the program committee and very involved with OD early on.
You should know that Eric loved jazz, so this was something he and Robert very much shared. And if you were around Eric very much or heard him sitting and improvising at the piano, you’d inevitably hear some jazz.
As time went on, Robert did his master’s degree in psychology (as well as musicology) at Uppsala and later worked briefly as a psychologist. However he gradually realized that music needed to be more than an avocation, so he began studies at the College of Music in 1971. He was Eric’s assistant with OD from 1968 (taking rehearsals when Eric couldn’t be there) and became conductor of Allmänna Sången in 1970. His conducting debut with OD was in 1969 when Eric was ill and he also took the choir on tour.
During the time he was at the College of Music (1972-75), he sang in the school’s chamber choir (which he said was fantastic in those days with many fine singers and conductors who’d later become well-known) and also in Eric’s Chamber Choir from 1973-77. From 1985 to 1991 he and Eric were co-conductors of OD and he took over totally in 1991, retiring in 2008.
So now, to let Robert speak about his experiences with Eric:
I was always very close with Eric – always with him, making programs, discussing OD. He was interested in my family and children, even up until the very end. The Olsson Quintet had dinner with him and Monica every first of May, which also lasted until very near the end.
In terms of programming he was always very careful, wanted other opinions, and delayed making decisions – the program committee for OD had to push him a bit. He always wanted to hear what other people were thinking. In this sense he was very open to questions from choir, patient (perhaps even when he might not have been) and his manner was gentle. This way of working with people (as opposed to conductors who get angry) was one of the things I admired and learned from him.
His workload was amazing, especially in those days. [Sparks: during this time he rehearsed OD one night, the Chamber Choir on another, had the choir at St. Jacobs in Stockholm (with whom he did all the major works with orchestra) on another, the Radio Choir three days a week, the Chamber Choir at the College of Music, and teaching at the College of Music—and remember all of these groups toured at different times of the year as well]. He loved to rehearse and could easily and happily spend 10 minutes balancing one chord and getting it in tune. If there were two minutes left at the end of rehearsal he wouldn’t end early, but start another piece. OD were often astonished if a guest conductor came in and stopped rehearsal early. As an example, OD was on tour one year and they had a dinner together at a restaurant. Eric asked everyone to bring their music to the restaurant and then rehearsed (in the restaurant) until shortly before the concert.
He used the piano frequently in rehearsal (although lots of a cappella singing as well, of course) and relied on it to show what he wanted. He was a marvelous pianist and would either demonstrate how he conceived the music or use it to help with tuning, difficult harmonies, or other aspects of the music. I also use the piano as a tool in my rehearsals.
Very early on Eric began recording not only concerts but rehearsals. You’d always see him with his headphones on, humming along as he listened to the last rehearsal. This was very much part of his routine. I’d imagine this began at the Radio where he had access to recording equipment. He loved technology and as soon as portable recorders were available he brought them to all his rehearsals and concerts. This allowed him to hear what the choir was doing from a different perspective.
Uppsala was a place where he totally relaxed and where many of his close friends were. With OD he was one of the guys. When I went to Stockholm to study I was surprised to see the awe with which he was regarded. People would say, “Do you know him already?”
You asked about his sound: if you’ve heard the recording of Swedish songs he did with the Real Group it shows that Eric loved a light, clear sound with fantastic intonation. He always spent time with phrasing. In some ways he was reluctant for the choir to go to the extremes of forte, because he could lose that lightness, balance and intonation. In the same way, he emphasized vowels for their effect on tuning and color and de-emphasized consonants. He rarely went for drama, but beauty of sound and wonderful intonation.
He had a great sense of humor and used it to relax the choir. The worse things went, the more funny he’d become.
Eric has been my only teacher. Not only during my studies at the College of Music, but also during 20 years of close cooperation in different choirs I have learnt almost everything I know by watching him work. Of course I have studied other famous conductors and picked up details here and there, but I am most lucky to have had the opportunity to have been so close to the greatest master of them all.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Paul Salamunovich dies

Paul Salamunovich died on April 3 at age 86.

I got to know him when he was a clinician (twice) at our Pacific Lutheran University summer choral workshops.

He was a wonderful man, devoted to his family, to St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church which he served so well, to Gregorian chant, and was beloved by everyone I know who'd worked with him. He conducted countless all-state, all region choirs over the years.

He sang with Roger Wagner from the time he was a boy, sang and conducted for Hollywood movies, and had a memorable 10-year tenure with the LA Master Chorale, a choir Wagner founded.

To learn more, follow the link above to the LA Times obituary.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Learning from Eric Ericson II - Eva Wedin

Eva Wedin is our guest-blogger this week. Eva began singing with Eric as a student at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm (1973-78). She sang as an alto in the Radio Choir from 1979-2012, when she "retired" . . . and still occasionally subs with the choir (imagine all the music she's sung with high level choirs!). She also has her own choirs, including Engelbrekts Vokalensemble. I first met Eva when I first worked with the Radio Choir in 2002 and we became fast friends. When I came back to work with the Radio Choir in 2007 and 2008 she was also the choir's librarian, so we worked together on getting scores. She's also visited with us in the US. Here's her guest blog post:
Eric Ericson – my Musical Father! I can without a doubt say that 90% of all that I've learned about music during the 40 years that have passed since I began my studies at the Royal College of Music, I've learned directly from him or through him as a choir singer. I feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to have him as my teacher and conductor for an intense period of more than ten years and at numerous occasions after that.
The first word that comes to mind when I think of Eric's approach to music is ENTHUSIASM. He looked like a child in a toy store every time he sat down in front of the choir ready to rehearse. Whether a simple folk tune or a brand new score by Ligeti or Lidholm. It was always a joy for him to tackle whatever obstacles to reach the perfect performance.
He worked very much like a CONSTRUCTION WORKER building a house. Harmonies and rhythms became the frame work of the house, intonation the paint work and the sound the shiny clean glass windows. Dynamics became beautiful stair cases and terraces. The house was furnished with lyrics, words and syllables. Finally he built a playground in the garden with his wonderful sense of humor.  (A childish metaphor, I know, but these thoughts just pop up when I think of him.)
He was a fantastic PIANIST who could play in a way that demonstrated how he wanted you to sing. He could almost create a choir sound with the piano.
His CURIOSITY was huge, especially when it came to new music. He loved to explore a new score, preferably with the composer by his side, so he could ask questions and get as close to the composers intentions as possible. I don't think he ever said that a piece was impossible to do, no matter how difficult it was. He DEMANDED A LOT from the choir, but he never demanded more than what he gave himself. He was the hardest worker of all. I remember a tour with the Radio Choir to the US in 1983, when we traveled and had concerts pretty much every day for three weeks. If there was any possibility for him to go ahead to the next place, he did and by the time we got there, he had already done a couple of master classes in the afternoon.
He knew that everyone expected the most from him and his choirs which of course inspired him, but I think also sometimes weighed him down.  He felt that every concert had to reach world class level, whether it was in a small church in the Swedish countryside or the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. But that also gave room for small miracles to happen. The Radio Choir had sung Ligeti's Lux Aeterna in a small Sami church [the Sami are an indigenous people in the north of Sweden and Norway] in the very north of Sweden and after the concert an old Sami woman came up with tears in her eyes and thanked Eric and the singers for Ligeti, that made her see stars she had never seen before. And that little story makes you wonder how many more such stories there are all around the world, that we don't know anything about. All thanks to Eric and his curiosity…
…and COURAGE. It must have taken a lot of guts many times to dare to tackle all those extremely difficult pieces that landed on his music stand. Pieces that today are performed by every other choir in the world, but back then took a year to learn. I'm obviously thinking of Lidholm's Laudi, or Canto LXXXI for that matter. All the pieces that Eric performed for the first time that later became door openers into a new era in choir music, available for all.
VERSATILITY is another quality in Eric. He did all kinds of music. Had a composer written a choir piece, Eric did it. From renaissance to jazz and all in between. And he was just as THOROUGH and DILIGENT whether he worked with a jazz piece together with Bengt Hallberg or the Matthew Passion with the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble.
He was a TEACHER not only to his students, but he also turned every rehearsal into a lesson. And that's what I mean when I say that everything I've learned, I've learned from him. Music theory – when he explained the harmonic and rhythmic structures in a piece. Music history – from singing all kinds of music from all the different periods. Musical interpretation – how he shaped and performed the piece.
Conducting technique – his hands could, just like the way he played the piano, show how you needed to sing in order to produce the sound he wanted. He could with just a slight elbow movement get the whole choir to breathe and phrase together. Knowledge of repertoire, of composers, conductors, of other singers, orchestras, concert venues, places around the world I would have never visited other than on a choir tour. People I've met, friends I've made…
This may sound very personal, and it is. But the thing is, I'm only one out of probably a thousand that would say the same thing. What Eric has meant for all of us is unfathomable and I will forever be grateful for everything he has given me.
NEVER has one choir conductor meant so much for so many!