Monday, May 18, 2009

End of Year One!

Dear Colloquium classmates,

Attached please find my handout for Ulston's and my presentation of J.S. Bach's "St. Matthew Passion," BWV 244.

Noted conductor Helmuth Rilling, in his conductor's analysis of the Passion, denounces the practice of shortening it in performance by stating the following:

"It must be said... that one cannot condense a work of three and one-half hours duration to two and one-half hours and then claim to have performed the St. Matthew Passion."

Well, on Tuesday, Ulston and I will be attempting to condense it into sixty minutes. Ahem... kindly do read this handout ahead of time!



I am sitting in the now-deserted basement of Bridwell Library, and can happily report that I am all done my first year of grad school!

Except for summer school... dang.

The end of term was packed, hectic, challenging and, for the most part, a lot of fun. The beginning of the end came with a presentation in Church Music Colloquium on the St. Matthew Passion. Ulston and I were responsible for presenting on the reception history, performance practice, issues of performance, notation, theology, liturgical context, form, libretto and historical context of this masterwork of Bach in a one-hour seminar presentation. In approaching the novel-sized full score, Ulston and I were not bitter at all that other groups in our class were assigned works of fifteen or twenty pages. We were also not at all daunted by the fact that our prof Dr. Anderson, who you will remember was a fountain of Bach knowledge during our preparation of Jesu, Meine Freude, informed me that the St. Matthew Passion is his favouritest piece of music ever.

Well, in preparing for such a giant presentation, I did what any sensible student in my position would do – I convinced David to format my handout and slide presentation for me. Ahhh... you have no idea how good it looked. The presentation itself went very well, and both profs told me later that they wouldn't have assigned this work to any other pair (go us).

After that, the end of term came very fast. I'm of course very happy to have the final crunch time over with, but it all got done and – you will be relieved to know – I passed all my courses. Now I am enjoying a bit of a slower couple of weeks before launching into Dr. Anderson's intensive summer analysis course. Yeah... wish me luck.

David and I got to sing with the Seminary Singers at this year's graduation ceremony for Perkins. In a very surprising turn of events, (while I'm bragging about how cool I am,) I was also informed that I would be receiving an award during the ceremony - the Roger Deschner Prize in Sacred Music. It was fun to be a part of the graduation and see what it will be like when it's my turn, in only a year! The time has gone by fast.

Us at graduation!

Current and graduating MSMs!

It has been an amazing first year here at Perkins. I think I am creating a niche for myself at First Pres, and I have some really exciting opportunities coming in my second year. This programme has turned out to be all I hoped it would be and much more, and I am really excited at the academic and practical skills I am developing.

And don't worry, I don`t plan to get soft over the summer:

Dear Hilary:

On behalf of the Executive Committee, it is my great pleasure to advise you that you have been awarded a Lovelace Scholarship for The Hymn Society's annual conference at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, 12-16 July 2009.

This year's group of nine Lovelace Scholars includes students from eight institutions, who are pursuing a wide range of studies from a bachelor's degree to a Ph.D. We hope you will find it stimulating to be part of such an exciting group.


Carl Daw

Brahms and other related things...

Last conducting assignment of the year! Here is me tackling Movement 2 of the Brahms Requiem, "Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Grass". I'll just post the first half... the second half has all of those tempo changes and let's just say it all got a little frantic up in the choral hall. You can see my maestro stylings here.

In related news, Dr. Elrod let me know that I got in to the Meadows Chorale for next year, the high-level choir which she leads. (Not unlike being let into Mrs. Kopulos's prestigious Williamson Road Chorale??) I'm very excited, but I'll have to keep on top of everything as the group practices four times a week! First off in the fall is "Carmina Burana" at the downtown Meyerson Symphony Centre. Er, Center.

I'm also going to be assistant conducting Dr. Hawn's Seminary Singers next year, a position which he offered me last month! It's all going to be very exciting and I'll get lots of good experience. This means I'll get to conduct a piece at the big Christmas Lessons and Carols service in Perkins Chapel, and conduct a song at my own graduation ceremony! Go me.

Remember this, everybody? Ten points if you can correctly identify the ensemble.


Okay, so I know Easter was, like, so last month, but I'm a bit behind on the whole blog thing!

The week leading up to Easter Sunday is a busy time for any church musician, so you can imagine the class atmosphere of a group of students composed entirely of church musicians! It was a hectic week for all of us, but also interesting to watch and participate as the Holy Week observations went by, as we've been learning in-depth about the theological and liturgical background of this time. Specifically, we've had many discussions about the extended service known as the Triduum, which most people think of as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. The vigil is a service that many Protestants are not familiar with. It takes place late on Saturday evening and is an extended service meant to go late into the night, the accompanying sleep deprivation being a part of the penitent observance. The service is comprised of four major parts: the Service of Light, in which the Paschal candle is lit and the light shared; the Service of the Word, in which a series of Old and New Testament readings are read, tracing the salvation story through our spiritual history and culminating in the Gospel reading; the sacrament of baptism, and the sacrament of Holy Communion. We all attended different Easter Vigils on the Saturday night, participating in rapt attention, as we each had to plan our own (fake) vigil service as a portion of our final project!

On Easter Sunday I had the great pleasure of getting to conduct the opening processional hymn at First Presbyterian, which by longstanding tradition is always "Jesus Christ is Risen Today." As the choir processed in I conducted a six-piece brass ensemble, timpani, cymbals, handbells (of course!) choir, and congregation. Whew! Ken had somewhat sprung this on me in the evening after the Maundy Thursday service (his exact words were "are you up for a challenge?") – RenĂ©e Boone, my predecessor as music intern, had warned me to be prepared for surprises on Easter Sunday! I got to have two shots at it, once at the early service and at the larger 11am service. I even got to use my $5 baton, purchased on for conducting class, for the first time in an actual performance. You go, little cork baton!

David came to participate in worship and be there for me conducting, after having attended an early service at Highland Park United Methodist Church, the biggest Methodist church in the universe. This was less a profession of personal piety than it was a bid to catch a glimpse of our new neighbour, former president George W. Bush. Dubya was there, but David didn't get to see him! He was miffed.

Remember how I said Easter is busy for musicians? Well, all my stranded MSM buddies, who couldn't take Easter break to go be with our families, got together at Chelsea and Chris's apartment for an extended Easter lunch and blowing-off-steam party. There was a whole crowd of us there – Darnell and Darrell, Ulston, me and David, Suzi Byrd and family, and Andrew. I calculated that, by noon that day, we had covered about 17 Easter morning services between us.

Each of us brought something of our Easter traditions to the party! David and I (with David mostly taking the lead) tackled our first-ever Easter lamb roast. I had spent every non-church moment that holiday weekend poring over articles and notes on J. S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion, in preparation for Ulston's and my 1-hour seminar presentation on the work that following Tuesday. So, to David's extreme annoyance, I was telling everyone who would listen that we were preparing "das Osterlamm." I was probably more delirious than hilarious, but you needed to cut me some slack. The twins brought real Louisiana gumbo which their mom makes in great big batches for them and puts in their freezer. It was wicked good, with crab and sausage and other spicy things, served over rice with a dollop of potato salad on top.

Watch out - twins in the kitchen!
Ulston made Carribbean "rice and peas", the peas being what we would call beans, but they always call any beans "peas". Chelsea was having a great time using all their nice plates and special things for guests. The delicious roast lamm.
Homemade iced tea is so ubiquitous here that people refer to regular tea as "hot tea."
A bunch of Easter treats and toys sent to us by the wonderful O'Briens made a big hit with Suzi's daughters. And... with some of the big kids, too. As per tradition, David and I made red Greek Easter eggs, for cracking with a friend. Our MSM companions, who had never done this good-luck tradition before, were taking the game very seriously and anyone who got the cracked egg got very dismayed. Maybe next year they'll loosen up a bit.

We were low on energy but had lots of fun and I loved sharing Easter with my new colleagues and friends.