Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dan Perjovschi - Temporary, Timely Art at MOMA

I happened upon a curious scene on the 2nd floor of New York's Museum of Modern Art yesterday. A worker on a crane was painting over a huge art installation that had been created directly on the wall. In the corner, a young man stood guard over a camera on a tripod, documenting the artwork's disappearance with time lapse photography. Curious, I approached and asked him whose art this was.

The mural was painted by Dan Perjovschi, an artist from Bucharest, Romania. Although this is his first American solo show, he is known the world over for his witty and incisive social and political images, which he creates in response to current events. Hence the fleeting nature of the art. When it ceases to be timely, it is gone.

I particularly loved these two images - one of a man peeking through the stripes of the American flag to see what is behind, and next to it a shadow casting a man (as opposed to a man casting a shadow). His work, at first glance, is simple and funny. On further observation, it is uniquely thought provoking.

There is a clip on YouTube of the artist describing his work on this piece. Click on the link below to see Perjovschi at work and hear him talk about creating this piece in front of an international audience in New York.

YouTube - Dan Perjovschi at MoMA

Friday, August 10, 2007


Dateline: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
The Orange County Rage celebrate after beating the Pennsylvania Hurricanes 6-1 to advance to the Final Eight in the Class-A Softball World Series.

The Orange County Rage, a 16 & Under Fastpitch Softball Travel team, overcame relatively poor initial seeding (20th out of 22 teams), and blisteringly hot weather conditions today, playing their way through the “loser’s bracket” to advance to the Final Eight of the 2007 Softball World Series. The prestigious Myrtle Beach tournament has drawn teams from all up and down the East Coast, as well as a number of premier Midwest teams.

Four of our local Cornwall girls are playing for the Rage: 2nd baseman Amy Lindland (Cornwall H.S. JV), 3rd baseman Erin Miller (Cornwall H.S. JV), pitcher/first baseman Kelsey Hand (Cornwall H.S. Varsity), and left fielder Jules Kelly (Cornwall H.S. JV). The rest of the team is composed of players from all over the county (Goshen, Burke, Tuxedo, Chester, Monroe/Woodbury, Minisink, and Otisville).

The temperature was 104 and the heat index was at 120 degrees at game time on Friday – Myrtle Beach’s hottest recorded temperature since 1953. The Rage had already lost one game in the double elimination semifinals, so they needed to win both games today to stay in the tournament. They easily won their first game, 7-2 over the South Carolina Fusion. The second game was closer, with the Rage clinging to a slim 2-1 lead through the first four innings. Jules Kelly capped a four-run rally in the fifth inning with a 2 RBI single, and the Rage beat the Pennsylvania Hurricanes 6-1.

Manager Jim Lloyd feels good about the team’s chances in the final, and says they have played much better than their 3-3-1 tournament record indicates. “This team is as good as any team down here. The games that we have won have been by wide margins, and our losses have been one run games.”

The scrappy Rage team faces a new challenge as they look ahead to tomorrow’s final. They will need to play (and win) four straight games to win the tournament, and they are down to just nine players. They had already lost their regular first baseman to mononucleosis and the second catcher has a shoulder injury that has left her unable to throw. In today’s opener, centerfielder Rebecca Monteith dove for a fly ball and broke her collarbone, taking her out of the lineup. The nine remaining players include the two pitchers, who alternate playing first when they are not pitching.

Despite the heat, the Cornwall girls feel they are up for the challenge.

“We’re playing really well. If we stick together and continue to hit the way we have been, we can do it,” said Kelsey Hand. Erin Miller chimed in. “And if we all stay hydrated, we can do it.” The Rage play their first game Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Dateline: Seattle. Tallis Scholars Summer School
We're wrapping up - checking out of rooms, returning music, exchanging addresses. It is going to be very hard to go back to my regular choir. I have loved working with such an accomplished group of singers...and what a joy to rehearse without all the parts being banged out on the piano.

I know it sounds crazy, but I loved the precision of the diction. The air was full of spittle as we enunciated the concentrated words of the Miserere....and 59 singers articulated two precisely placed "t"s in the phrase "et tibi dabo" from Tu Es Petrus.

After the concert last night, we walked back to the chapel to sing Compline for the last time. At the end, Andrew asked us to sing the 8-part Crucifixus again. It was far better than what we did in the concert - powerful and charged with emotion. Omar and I talked about it later, and he put it best: I left my heart there, with the Crucifixus.

I think we all did.

Tallis Scholars Summer School Gala Concert

Dateline: Seattle. Tallis Scholars Summer School
It's hard to give an actual review, since I was one of the performers. But I can say that the concert was very well received, we felt as though we did very well, and our tutors were smiling. It was actually easier to sing the new music that we've learned in the last few days than it was to sing the Mass, which we hadn't sung since Tuesday. It was solid, but I will admit to having a few "where are we again?" moments!

Paula (one of the sopranos who sang with us on "In Pace In Idipsum") and I were talking this morning about coming back next year. The best way to describe this remarkable week is that it's a once in a lifetime experience that you can repeat over again. I can't wait.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Pilgrim's Progress

Dateline: Seattle. Tallis Tutors Summer School
At the beginning of the week, I was counting madly to find my entrances, just trying to stay alive in the flood of polyphonic sight singing. By mid- week, I was a better reader and counter than I’ve ever been before. Now, at the end of the week, I’m working on doing less counting and more listening. I am familiar with these compositions now, and if I listen to the singers around me and watch the conductor, I should know where to come in as part of the musical line moving forward.

This means, ironically, that I’m making more mistakes now than I was a few days ago, when I was counting every bar very precisely. But, I know that I am singing more musically. I’ll try to keep the mistakes to a minimum tonight!

Final Concert Tonight

Dateline: Seattle. Tallis Scholars Summer School
We've all been remarking that our sense of time is completely off this week. Often, when you're doing something really pleasurable, time just flies by. This is different. Although we all are certainly enjoying the experience, time moves very, very slowly. Perhaps because the days are so full, things that happened in the morning feel like days ago by the time we reach Compline in the evening.

So, as we come to Friday evening and our final performance, we're all feeling as though we have been here forever. And, although it seems impossible that we would have learned that huge folder full of music, we have. I am really looking forward to singing tonight.

Notes from Rehearsal

Dateline: Seattle. Tallis Scholars Summer School
We've been working on a second arrangment of the Lotti piece, Crucifixus à 10 (ten separate voice parts). Peter Phillips was very excited - well, excited is not quite the word for this very measured and thoughtful man - but he was eager to hear us read through it. He had just found this version, had never heard it performed nor found a recording of it. So we sang it aloud, allowing everyone to hear it for the first time. Phillips decided that it is interesting enough to perform along with the 8-part version. "I think Lotti was having fun when he wrote this - it sounds like an experimental piece."

Yesterday, as we rehearsed it, Peter was conducting and tutor David Woodcock was observing and listening from a seat behind him. Finally, his face like a storm cloud, David strode to the podium and whispered furiously to Peter. Phillips turned to us and said "He's really cross. He doesn't like the crescendo/decrescendos in the brackets, nor the ritard marked at the cadence." Woodcock retorted "It goes against everything we have been saying all week. Where's the phrase going?!" Peter said plaintively, "Well, it's the only edition I could find, anywhere in the world."

I had not understood, before working with them, why this group calls themselves the Tallis Scholars. In fact, these kinds of passionate but good-hearted debates go on all the time, as they struggle to determine what is truly an "authentic" score as the composer would have written it, and which are "unauthentic" markings that have been added later, by editors. Several of the pieces we will be singing in the concert are editions edited by Peter Phillips or Andrew Carwood, who have researched the pieces and reached a determination of how they believe the score should read.

Twice today, Peter said "Well done." High praise. We're getting there.

The Sharing

Dateline: Seattle. Tallis Scholars Summer School

I had been feeling very nervous about the Sharing, where we all gathered in the Chapel and sang the "small group" pieces that we have been rehearsing on our own this week. I was worried that our two pieces were imperfect, not musical enough, not "ready for primetime."

In fact, there was a wide range of pieces, some much more difficult than others, some more polished than others. The room was unfailingly supportive. It truly was a non-judgmental "sharing" among people who have worked together all week and who appreciated each piece for the accomplishment it represented.

And "Duo Seraphim," which we just started rehearsing this afternoon, was very well-received. Click on this link to hear the performance. Duo Seraphim

I've had very different experiences in the past. The classical music world can be very competitive and terribly unkind, and this is a roomful of high achievers. I shouldn't have worried. The warm acceptance of all of us, warts and all, was wonderful.

I really hope that I can come back next year (and ideally, for years to come). This is a rare musical experience.

Random Bits Part 3

Dateline: Seattle. Tallis Scholars Summer School
• A Palestrina discussion, after a question from the 2nd Altos about whether they could move the syllable “num” to a different note, putting them in synch with the rest of the choir. Peter Phillips finally said, “Feel free to ignore that because I’m here now……” His voice trailed away as we all mentally finished the sentence, “….and he’s not.”

The printed music comes with little or no dynamic markings, and the performance notes I’ve marked in my copies say things like “gentle,” “suppressed excitement,” “very, very spacious,” or at one particularly big moment, “pile in like a rugby scrum.” This is something that Peter Phillips feels quite strongly about. In his words: I don’t like the rigid thinking that goes along with dynamics. You go suddenly into a 19th century sound world when you start thinking about the music that way.

• On our struggle to maintain the pitch as three separate units (the 5-part choir, the 4-part small group, and the men doing the chant) rehearsed the Miserere: I’m sorry about the pitch crisis that just infects this piece. When Mendelssohn heard it performed at the Vatican, he recorded the fact that the soprano was singing high “C”s, and he also noted that it sank a minor third – so we’re in good company.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Desert Island Disks

Dateline: Seattle. Tallis Scholars Summer School
We've had an informative lecture each afternoon from one of our tutors. Today was something different. Andrew Carwood and Janet Coxwell did a live version of the venerable BBC 4 Radio programme, Desert Island Disks. The format of the program is simple - the interviewer (played by Jan) asked the guest (played by Andrew) to imagine that they are going to be left on a desert island. The guest plays excerpts from the ten recordings he must have with him, as well as naming the book he would take (in addition to the Bible and complete works of Shakespeare, which are already magically on the island!), and a single inanimate, totally useless item.

We learned a lot about Andrew and his journey to where he is today, and the end was quite bittersweet, as he is leaving the group to take the post at St. Paul's.

Andrew Carwood addresses the group. (Photo by Bill Pannill)
The exercise got me thinking about my own choices. My ten disks would be:

1. Monserrat Caballé 's recording of Puccini's Tosca, so that I'd have the heartbreaking aria "Visi D'arte."

2. The Fauré Requiem. The imploring lines of "In Paradisum" are so powerful. Can't sing it without crying.

3. Traffic’s 1972 album John Barleycorn Must Die so that I can dance to “Glad.”

4. The Who: The Ultimate Collection so that I can sing “Who Are You?” when I want to get my circulation going.

5. Benjamin Britten The Ceremony of Carols. I love the mix of Medieval and Contemporary in this cycle.

6. Mendelssohn Elijah. What great drama in this oratorio! And, I love to sing the a cappella SSA trio “Lift Thine Eyes.” Guess I'll have to do one part at a time on the desert island.

7. Stravinsky Oedipus Rex. I know this isn’t his most brilliant work, but what a dark, moody, brooding choral piece. Love it.

8. Chopin Nocturnes, as recorded by Artur Rubenstein. Sometimes you just need to weep, and this will do it.

9. Leonard Bernstein’s Chicester Psalms. For me, Bernstein is the quintessential American sound (and will endure better than Aaron Copland, whom I also love, on my desert island).

10. The Theme from Peter Gunn, by Henri Mancini. Absolutely killer. One of my favorite pieces of music to drive by. This masterpiece was our inspiration for the theme song of The Upside Down Show, a preschool television series that just won the Emmy for best title sequence.

My Book: Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. This remarkable book has been described a transcendent novel about fathers and sons, loneliness and love, faith and family. I see it as an exploration of what it means to be in a state of grace. Every word is chosen with care – worth reading and re-reading.

An inanimate, absolutely useless object: A tiny Miraculous Medal, given to me by my grandmother. The edges are beveled in alternating directions so that the metal glints in the light. When I was little, I thought the Blessed Virgin was surrounded by jewels.

A Gathering of Different Lights

Dateline: Seattle. Tallis Scholars Summer School
When we gather to sing Compline at the end of each evening, we sing in the Chapel of St. Ignatius, a unique space designed by architect Steven Holl. His guiding idea for the design of the chapel was “A gathering of different lights."

He has also described it as “seven bottles of light in a stone box.” Fortunately, it sounds as good as it looks.

Small Groups and "The Sharing"

Dateline: Seattle. Tallis Scholars Summer School
Tonight is the “Sharing,” in which all the small ensembles which have been forming all week will sing for each other. I am in two of these groups, one a mixed (SATB) group doing ‘s “Ave Regina Coelorum,” and I also formed an all-female, SSA group (that’s my passion – I sing a cappella with two good friends back at home). The SSA group is doing Orlando di Lasso’s “In Pace In Idipsum” (In Peace I will Sleep) and because the text is about sleeping peacefully knowing that the Lord protects us, we’ve been invited to sing at Compline (the chanted Evensong) tonight. Jan coached us last evening, and was a tremendous help in shaping the lines of this hushed, gentle piece.

At the last moment this afternoon, our SSA group was asked to join another group of four women who had been working on Victoria's "Duo Seraphim," and felt they needed more voices. So, with just two rehearsals before and after dinner, we will sing that, too.

Last evening, a tenor came up to me and said “If I come back next year, I’d like to sing in one of your small groups.” Flattered, I thought that perhaps he liked my singing, or had heard that we are making beautiful music. Instead, he added, “I hear your groups are really well-organized.” Ah, well. Props for being a good producer.

Janet Coxwell: Bright Vowels, “Brighter” Warm-Ups!

Dateline: Seattle. Tallis Scholars Summer School
Jan has started us off at 9:00 every morning with a warm-up that includes not only stretching and vocalizing, but also dancing….this morning we were grooving to the Scissor Sisters. Nothing like a little disco to get your body into gear! Her energy and enthusiasm are infectious, and since she’s a singer who clearly knows what shes doing, it seems crazy not to jump in and dance along.

She has been giving individual voice lessons all week, and also has been coaching the choir as a whole. Her particular challenge has been to get us to sing “bright vowels.” We’re getting better, though shaking off years of American training in "proper" vowels sounds is quite a task.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

More Random Bits

Dateline: Seattle. Tallis Scholars Summer School
• Peter Phillips conducted the rehearsals this morning, as we worked on new music including Palestrina's "Tu est Petris" ("You are Peter and upon this rock....."). We were reading through and he stopped us, saying "Basses, you are leading us into a new section of the text and I can't understand you. The words here are important - et portae inferi non praevalebunt (and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it). Cheerful voice from the bass section: "Gates of Hell coming right up, sir."

• (Pleadingly) "Sopranos, there was a sound in the middle of my daylight moment....."

Minor Regret

Dateline:Seattle. Tallis Scholars Summer School
I had hoped there would be more interaction between the “young” (under 25) students and the rest of us. When I’ve been able to grab one-on-one moments I’ve enjoyed each of them, and they are certainly holding their own as members of the choir. I understand how difficult it is - they’re feeling the hip peer pressure – that they’ll somehow be uncool if they’re seen consorting with us old folks. And, I think we (the older ones) could have reached out more.

It’s a missed opportunity, because there are some fascinating people here this week – a Law Professor from Columbia University, an astrophysicist who just spent 2.5 months living at the South Pole installing a new telescope, a physician who specializes in high risk pregnancies, an engineer who is filing for a patent on a wind turbine that he has invented…..the list goes on and on, through all sorts of fascinating people at the top of their professions.

It’s not surprising, when you think about it. I mean, how many people would choose to spend 13 hours a day sight reading 8-part, polyphonic, sacred music, in Latin? It’s a unique group of people who seek out intense creative challenges, not only for this “vacation,” but also in the work that they do.

Special Moments from the Palestrina Mass

Dateline: Seattle. Tallis Scholars Summer School
The day that we sang Palestrina's Missa Laudate Dominum was the Feast Day of St. Ignatius Loyola. The Priest declined to give a homily, saying that he would let the music of Palestrina speak instead. He told us briefly that St. Ignatius traveled to Rome shortly after his ordination, and said Mass in the Sistine Chapel. One of the choir boys would have been Palestrina, who was 10 or 12 years old at the time. And in subsequent decades, Loyola certainly would have known and heard the work of the great polyphonic composer, Palestrina.

Knowing this made singing the work, in this beautiful cathedral and on this specific day, even more special.

One of my fellow altos, Joseph Adam, is also the organist at the cathedral. He played a spectacular postlude, Widor's "Allegro maestoso" from his Symphony #6 in G Minor. Dark, rolling fireworks....a fantastic ending to the evening.

Singing at the Cathedral

Dateline: Seattle. Tallis Scholars Summer School
Oh my goodness – what a building to sing in! Our sixty voices, a cappella, ringing out in that space were simply breathtaking, if I do say so myself. ☺

We did very well last night. Not perfect, of course, but we did a good job considering that we’ve only been singing this Mass for 3 days, and we performed Palestrina’s Motet on the same theme after having first seen it yesterday morning!

I am a believer in singing out, doing everything you can to make the words come alive in performance. This is a little scary when you don't know the music terribly well, but I decided to just go for it. I missed some spots, but nothing major. Walking back from the cathedral, I was talking with Denise, a soprano who is doing this workshop for the fourth time. She concurred. "Even the best singers around you are going to miss an entrance. You need to be brave and sing that entrance, even if others around you are not." She's right - although sometimes the people around you are not singing because you are coming in at the wrong place!

The alto section propels the drive to the climax in the Benedictus with a series of running quavers (the British term for eighth notes). If I do say so, we kicked butt on our quavers - solid as a rock.

David Woodcock conducted tonight (I was surprised – I guess Peter Phillips will do the “big” concert on Friday). He was very good, and inspired confidence – all we had to do was keep your eyes on him to know we were in the right place. He made a bold move, changing the tempo and picking up speed during the “Hosannas” at the end of the Sanctus, and we were right with him.

Our tutors had smiles on their faces, and that’s what meant the most to me.