28 December 2006

Christmas with the Chieftains

From the 1991 recording "The Bells of Dublin" (keep a lookout for a whole row of harpers).

P.S. Happy Birthday to me! It's hard to believe I'm 22.

26 December 2006

New Jersey High Schoolers to Perform for Pope

Here's a clip from CBS news. Fr. Brian Muzas and his high school choir have been working hard to prepare for their trip to Rome. I know they would appreciate your prayers that their voices will be sweet and their travels safe.
St. Stephen's Day

Today is the feast of St. Stephen--happy feast day to all the Stephens and Stephanies out there!

There is a tradition of hunting the wren on St. Stephen's day in the British Isles. Here are a song, a parody of that song, and another song.

Also, here's a wren:

21 December 2006

A Little Christmas Cheer from Steeleye Span

15 December 2006

Education and the Lack Thereof

As I corrected exams this week, I came across some amazingly bad grammar and spelling, in addition to the usual mistakes that students make. Varèse became "Verez," "minimalism" was re-spelled as "minimalizm," and a different student wrote "boltz." There were some sentences that made little sense: I think one said something like "Ruth Crawford her husband promoted total serialism for the time then they turned to doing folk music." A couple of our students are from foreign countries, but these particular offenders are native English speakers.

What is going on in our schools?

I knew it was bad, and I knew that students could graduate from high school and still barely be able to read or write. I didn't know that they'd make it as far as being juniors at a relatively prestigious university and still not be able to spell a plural word or write coherent complex sentences. I begin to understand why the profs I had as an undergrad thought I was a pretty good student: I come to class, pay attention, and can spell. Not only can I spell English words, I can even spell the names of French composers!

One of the professors at the grading party pointed out that these students are admitted because they can play their instruments well, not because they can write. I said, "But they're juniors! Didn't anyone make them take English Composition 101, or Logic 101 for that matter?" To which said professor replied, "You're thinking like a student from a liberal arts school. You're in the school of music now." People, send your kids to liberal arts schools if you can. If you're sending them to a school of music or something like that, make sure that they can read and write before you send them, because they won't learn it there. Music history teachers are going to try and teach performance students how to write, but ultimately, our subject is a hard sell and there's only so much we can do beyond saying, "Learn to spell, because someday you'll be writing your own program notes. Your computer's spellcheck will tell you that 'serialism' is spelled wrong, and you're going to need to know that it's right."

Also, you're going to be writing a cover letter when you apply for a job.

03 December 2006

Too Much Organ

When I began singing with the Gregorian Schola at Gonzaga, I realized that my life in sacred music was changed forever--I could never go back.

Well, in some ways I have gone back--my mind and heart may be chanting, but my voice is once again singing "Mass of Creation." I put up with the schlock because the choir sings lovely things too--pieces of genuinely good choral literature appear at the offertory and communion--but today I felt that the "lovely music" was extraordinarily out of place. Often we sing Renaissance motets that are unaccompanied, which would have been perfect. But today we sang J.S. Bach's Wachet Auf (in English translation) and H. H. Parry's I Was Glad, both of which involve long organ interludes. The organ part in the Parry (well, the whole piece, really) is positively bombastic. It would have been great last week, for Christ the King, but was totally inappropriate for what should have been the quiet solemnity of the First Sunday of Advent.

I know that in places with professional organists, the budget committees would balk at paying them full rates for not working during Advent and Lent, and it wouldn't exactly be fair to the organists to tell them to buzz off for a month without pay. Also, many choirs and cantors are not as well-trained as we could wish and not capable of singing well without accompaniment (which, to be fair, is difficult even for well-trained singers). Still, if we must have organ music during Lent, it should be in the background, quietly supporting the singing, and not showing off and nearly blasting us out of our seats (save that for Easter, maybe?).

I'm more than usually disappointed in my choir director's choice of music today. But at least there is a politic route open to me to prevent this happening in future: the choir director has asked me to bring any music from my past repertoire that I really liked to him, and that he would consider it for the choir. I've already started planning for Lent--I'm going to mention the Anerio Christus factus est, Distler's From Depths of Woe, and at least one of the Palestrina offertories. Yes, I know the text of From Depths of Woe is proper to a Sunday late in Ordinary time and not to Lent, but the sentiment seems appropriate and since he doesn't care one iota about proper texts, we can at least get the most apt alius cantus aptus that we can.

Further suggestions of good a cappella Lenten repertoire would be welcome.