Monday, April 13, 2009

David's 25th!

Here are a few pics from David's 25th birthday on April 6. :)

He had a few surprise gifts from afar thanks to some scheming by me and my Mom, as well as his parents.

We went out for dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant called "Taste of Galilee" (I think... something about Galilee, anyway) with our friends Chelsea and Chris. Chelsea pronounced the food "yumm-o", which is a Rachel Ray-ism. This prompted David to do his impression of Rachel Ray. Not pretty.

The birthday cupcakes were a near fiasco, as I dropped the bowl of batter on the floor while trying to secretly make them (how does one secretly make cupcakes in a one-room apartment, you ask? Well, dropping the batter on the floor doesn't help). The batter also found its way into the open dishwasher of clean dishes. And the bowl knocked the element dial on its way down and a plastic lid melted.

The cupcakes, however, were tasty. I swear.

In the morning David opened his gifts....

...then, a birthday Skype with G-ma and G-pa.

Topped with Smarties from Canada! With just a soup├žon of floor.

Happy 25th Birthday, David!

More Conducting

Here's a video of me doing my evaluation for the Mozart Requiem. I conducted the Confutatis and the Lacrimosa.

You might not want to turn your volume up too loud. Our accompanist really, really followed me on my forte indications. Ha ha.

Again, enjoy my male classmates supplying the soprano parts in places.

I also got to conduct and eight-piece brass ensemble at church on Easter Sunday (yesterday)! Plus timpani, cymbals, organ, choir and congregation. And just for good measure, handbells. That was really fun. It was the first hymn, a big pomp and circumstance arrangement of "Jesus Christ is Risen Today." I got to use my baton for real. I got a thumbs up on my conducting from the trumpet player! :)

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Okay, do we call ourselves "Jubellee", "Bell Canto" or "Ring around the Rosary"?

Things I Never In My Life Thought I Would Do, Before I Moved to Texas:

10. Play Zimbabwean marimbas
9. Conduct a Baroque orchestra
8. Visit Waxahachie, TX
7. Sing the hymns of John Wesley to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas"
6. ...accompanied by the accordion
5. ... in public
4. Learn to appreciate (if not to truly like!) the music of Olivier Messiaen
3. Sing a Bach motet entirely in German, in liturgical context (again... in Texas)
2. Eat fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, (deep-)fried okra, and cream gravy... in one meal

and notably:

1. attend a bona-fide all-wide handbell festival

Let's unpack that.

Yes, that's right – I am a ringer. This term, I am taking an elective course (ironic, isn't it?) called "Handbells in Worship," taught by admittedly expert handbell guru David Davidson. Now, I'm going to be honest here – I am really not into the handbells. I feel like they're a bit of an alternate universe. I just don't see the appeal. Interestingly, I'm finding that there are a number of American cultural phenomena that I feel lost in, and I realize it is because of their absolute lack of irony. There are some things Americans do that they are just going to take seriously, no matter how outrageous they may seem. The mystical rituals surrounding football, both college and professional. The overblown excesses of tailgating. The Academy Awards. Big-box worship and Christian Contemporary Music. And, English handbells. America is home to a panoply of un-self-referential, un-self-aware activities – and as I'm just a kid from Canada, I feel rather lost in most of them. I'm used to being an outsider, or at least being aware of what the majority of my pursuits would look like to an outsider. Not so in Texas, and not so in the case of handbells.

Now, you need to understand if you don't that they really, really, really like handbells here. Their use in worship is often taken for granted, and the presence of one if not multiple handbell groups in each church community is the norm rather than the exception.

Now, I am learning many valuable things in our course. David Davidson is a well-respected clinician and teacher. I now know a mart-lift from a mallet, a tower swing from a gyro, and that it's "damp," not "dampen." However, the epiphany as to why a group of otherwise intelligent people would want to line up and piece together a song two notes at a time (usually while sporting questionable fashion choices) is apparently still forthcoming. Oh, and to said individuals: Mickey Mouse called – he wants his gloves back.

Well, as part of our course we were required to attend a division-wide (they have divisions) meeting of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers ("uniting people through a musical art since 1954"). I snuck in as part of my friend Henry's high school-age ringing group and filled in for the person who renders middle C and the B below it. (And get this – every now and then, Bb and C#!) This is an event you need to see to believe. There were twenty choirs of handbells present, and we all played together. These choirs have captivating names such as the "Epiphany Ringers," the "New Life Ringers," the "Covenant Carillons," and my personal favourite, "Bellissimo." I lasted three of the programmed eight hours of this tintinabulating event, and fled home to study Bach.

Apologies if you detect an overtone of sarcasm.

Hymn tunes and chapel and Lent, oh my!

Time for an update! It's a busy term with Holy Week thrown in for good measure as we gear up for the final crunch. We were all energized (and exhausted) by our offering of "Jesu Meine Freude" in March, and the pace hasn't slowed since then!

One of our big projects in Church Music Colloquium this term, similar to last term, was to write a research paper on an assigned hymn text, delving into the history of the text itself, the life of the author and poetic and musical considerations. Last term my paper was on translator Catherine Winkworth, and her translation "If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee," originally by Georg Neumark. This term, I was assigned living poet and teacher Jean Janzen, who has contributed many beautiful hymn texts inspired by the writings of ancient mystics such as Mechthild of Magdeburg and Julian of Norwich. Julian's writings inspired the text I was assigned, "Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth." The catch with this time around was that we also had to write an original tune for our text, to be sung by the class and critiqued by composer and way-reputable hymnal editor and scholar Carlton R. Young. (People call him Sam. Not me, but – people.)

It was very interesting to learn about (Saskatchewan-born!) Mennonite poet Jean Janzen, and to have a chance to try my hand at hymn-tune writing. The fact that, in researching my paper, I turned to the hymnal companion for the United Methodist Hymnal only to find it was put together by none other than Carlton Young was not at all daunting. (In my classmate Henry's words, "Um, so I didn't realize that homeboy Carlton Young is, like, way legit!" Yes – we are master's students.)

My tune seemed to go over well when we sang through it – it's a natural minor tune in 6/8 with a couple of crunchy chords. I provided a harmonized version, but we also sang it melody-only with an open fifth drone, which also sounded very cool (ahem – if I do say so myself!) Dr. Young's comment was that my hymn was maybe on its way to being more of a hymn-anthem – which is better than "your hymn is on its way to my trash bin."

I was really impressed with everybody's tunes. You could really tell people's musical backgrounds from them – it was very interesting. Especially when Dr. Young would ask "what style were you going for with this tune" and the person would say "oh, no style in particular" when it clearly was in a very specific style. Clearly it's hard to pinpoint your own musical assumptions and leanings!

This was a really great exercise, and a chance for us to sing some of Carlton Young's compositions – a couple of which he was hearing for the first time! That was a pretty big honour. We also sang several of his compositions and a Eucharist setting the next day in a Lenten chapel service. I read scripture at that service, which is a passion, and it was the other MSM's first time to hear me do this. It was the reading where Jesus throws a fit in the Temple. A couple of people told me they liked it, and one of my classmates said "I want to see you act, now! We forget that you have a theatre degree!" Well, maybe there would be a part for a zealot activist in next year's Lessons and Carols service........

I feel really lucky to be here, having these experiences. My classmates are so great and we all challenge each other to keep learning and being better musicians. My friend Chelsea is on the committee for the future new PCUSA hymnal, and is encouraging us to submit our new tunes to the committee. So, watch for my fellow MSMs' names when you get your copy!
P.S.: I did well on the paper.