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Reflections on our Lessons & Carols Service

December 18, 2012 2 Comments

Loyola High School Choir and Orchestra, Lessons & Carols 2012

Thursday, December 13th, I conducted our annual Lessons & Carols service at St. John’s Cathedral, Los Angeles. This year, I used my previous model from when the choir sang school liturgies. I taught my academic music students to sing and included them in the service.

It was very successful in so many ways. After the service, I invited the students to reflect on the experience. I am reprinting some of their quotes in this post. The overwhelmingly positive reaction really reminds me how powerful music can be when it is conscientiously taught and prepared. Sometimes, being in the trenches of music-making can obscure the original reasons for becoming a musician in the first place.

When I started singing I never thought it would be so fun but so serious at the same time. This experience has made me more interested in music and kind of makes me want to join the choir. Kenneth An

This was much more than I had ever expected it to be. It will be one of the most memorable parts of my high school career. Jack Dunn

The Loyola Choir

It took a lot of hard work but it payed off in the end. If I had this opportunity again, I would definitely do it! Kevin Fraher

It was really intense but super fun at the same time. I was happy that my parents were able to watch me be a part of something great. Raphael Mercurio

It was amazing singing with everyone. It gave me a sense of euphoria. Paul Ostrick

I did not expect it to be as powerful as it was. Sam Ostrin

I must say that this was one of the greatest experiences so far…of my life. My parents said that it looked like I was really enjoying myself- and I was! Matthew Gorski

Loyola music appreciation students

The actual performance was unbelievable and overwhelming. This was truly a once-in-a lifetime opportunity and I am so grateful. It was truly a memorable night. Chase Matherly

This concert was a big deal. Everyone should be able to participate and realize anyone can sing.
Before the performance I didn’t expect as much as what I received from this experience. Dominique Royall

This experience was actually really surprising for me. Coming into this concert, I was dreading it, but I actually had a ton of fun.
Lastly, this entire experience and class has made me appreciate music much more. Mostly because I i have realized how difficult it is to sing properly and to play music. I now look at singers and musicians as people who put a ton of work into their careers. Luke Nassif

This performance, at first, was something I was not looking forward to. At first, I thought it would not be fun and I would just go through the motions of practice.
Once I got to the cathedral, I realized this would actually be a really fun experience. Once the concert started, I was nervous, but I actually had a really good time.
Although at first I was not looking forward to the concert, I now know it was actually a really fun experience. Riley Renick

In this concert, I realized how good all the classes could be if we tried hard and set our minds to doing well. I also faced a fear of getting on stage and performing in front of a crowd.
The concert also created unity and a bond between me and the rest of the performers. It felt good to be a part of something big like the concert.
The concert also created a memory that will always last for me and my parents. Owen O’Brien

For the Lessons & Carols, I would honestly say it was an amazing experience. At first I was thinking: “Wow…singing?” But at Loyola, the singing skills I have obtained has probably taught me significantly more than the 8 years at my old school. Just the experience and singing with an orchestra had a life-changing effect on me. Matt Fang

Music space at St. John’s Cathedral

The overall concert was a whole new experience for me. I have never done something so incredibly awesome as that. The energy in there was simply amazing. I hope we do something similar to this second semester. My first time doing something like this was a little scary, but when you’re up there, you just get going and remember your technique and it is just natural.
It is very similar to playing basketball in front of a thousand people. You don’t wanna mess up, but the people around you are there with you ready to help. Spencer Bailey

I really didn’t expect so many people to go and see us perform. It was really awesome that so many people wanted to hear us sing.
Overall, it was a fun night. We played perfectly as planned and doing it with all my friends made it a memorable experience. Thomas Zetino

The whole experience was awesome. I expected it to be a little boring when I first heard about it. As it came closer to the event, I began to get excited for it.
The performance was really cool and a lot of fun. It was also nice to learn a new skill such as singing. I had a blast and will remember this experience the rest of my life. Josef Topete


Kyrie from the Messe Cum Jubilo by Durufle

October 28, 2011

Maurice Durufle (1902-1986)

From Wikipedia:

    Duruflé was born in Louviers, Eure.
    In 1912, he became chorister at the Rouen Cathedral Choir School, where he studied piano and organ with Jules Haelling. At age 17, upon moving to Paris, he took private organ lessons with Charles Tournemire, whom he assisted at Basilique Ste-Clotilde, Paris until 1927. In 1920 Duruflé entered the Conservatoire de Paris, eventually graduating with first prizes in organ, harmony, piano accompaniment, and composition. His harmony professor was Jean Gallon.
    In 1927, Louis Vierne nominated him as his assistant at Notre-Dame. Duruflé became titular organist of St-Étienne-du-Mont in Paris in 1929, a position he held for the rest of his life. In 1936, he won the Prix Blumenthal.[1] In 1939, he premiered Francis Poulenc’s Organ Concerto (the Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani in G minor); he had advised Poulenc on the registrations of the organ part. In 1943 he became Professor of Harmony at the Conservatoire de Paris, where he worked until 1970. In 1947, Duruflé wrote what is probably the most famous of his few pieces: the Requiem op. 9, for soloists, choir, organ, and orchestra. The same year, Marie-Madeleine Chevalier became his assistant at St-Étienne-du-Mont. They married on 15 September 1953.[2] (Duruflé’s first marriage to Lucette Bousquet, contracted in 1932, ended in civil divorce in 1947 and was declared null by the Vatican on 23 June 1953.) The couple became a famous and popular organ duo, going on tour together several times throughout the sixties and early seventies.
    Duruflé suffered severe injuries in a car accident on 29 May 1975,[2] and as a result he gave up performing; indeed he was largely confined to his apartment, leaving the service at St-Étienne-du-Mont to his wife Marie-Madeleine (who was also injured in the accident). He died in Louveciennes (near Paris) in 1986, aged 84.

The Messe ‘Cum jubilo’, a setting of the Latin Mass without Credo, was composed in 1966. The vocal part is for solo baritone or unison male chorus. It is based on the plainchant Missa Cum Jubilo. The organ part is replete with a variety of textures and elaborate figures, mirroring its origins in orchestration. The music goes beyond the limits of tonal and modal harmonies with some notable dissonances.

A Preview of All Saints’ Day and the Centennary of Jehan Alain (1911-1940)

October 17, 2011

Jehan Alain 1938

    All Saints’ Day is coming soon. We will celebrate it on the first Sunday of November with the music of Jehan Alain (1911-1940). Our marvellous organist, Duane Steadman, will play a prelude and postlude by Alain, and the choir will sing the Requiem, a set of choral variations on the Gregorian chant Sacris Solemnis, and a wordless choral piece as a post-communion meditation. This also happens to be the centennial year of Alain’s birth.

A Biographical sketch of Jehan Alain, (1911-1940) edited from Wikipedia.

Alain was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye in the western suburbs of Paris, into a family of musicians. His father, Albert Alain was an enthusiastic organist, composer and organ-builder who had studied with Alexandre Guilmant and Louis Vierne.
His younger brother was the composer, organist and pianist Olivier Alain (1918–1994), his youngest sister the organist Marie-Claire Alain (b. 1926).

Jehan received his initial training in the piano from Augustin Pierson, the organist of Saint-Louis at Versailles, and in the organ from his father, who had built a four-manual instrument in the family sitting room.

By the age of 11, Jehan was substituting at St. Germain-en-Laye.
Between 1927 and 1939, he attended the Paris Conservatoire and achieved First Prize in Harmony and First Prize in Fugue.
He studied the organ with Marcel Dupré, under whose direction he took first prize for Organ and Improvisation in 1939.

His short career as a composer began in 1929, when Alain was 18, and lasted 10 years. His output was influenced by Claude Debussy, Olivier Messiaen, and an interest in the music, dance and philosophies of the far east.
Alain is best known for his organ music.
Interested in mechanics, Alain was a skilled motorcyclist and became a dispatch rider in the Eighth Motorised Armour Division of the French Army.
On 20 June 1940, he was assigned to reconnoitre the German advance on the eastern side of Saumur, and encountered a group of German soldiers. Coming around a curve, he dropped his motorcycle and engaged the enemy troops with his carbine, killing 16 of them before being killed himself.

He was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery, and according to Nicolas Slonimsky, was buried, by the Germans, with full military honors.

Quote of the Week: John Cage and some Fiskabur Thoughts

October 15, 2011

by Lars Ploughman Creative Commons

    Ideas are one thing and what happens is another.

    -John Cage

Within the RJDJ scene creation software, RJC-1000, I can make four pages for my iPhone, each hosting samples or Pure Data patches. I am reconsidering exactly what to assign my students to compose for each of their pages. At first, I gave them free reign to compose whatever they wanted. After some consideration, I think there is more artistic and pedagogical value to stipulating an exact structure for each section while leaving the subject of the composition open to interpretation.

I have decided to do more work with them with metaphor, Cagean-aesthetics of chance, and some of the music-installation work of David Tudor. Perhaps we will go to the Getty to see David Tudor’s “Sea Tails”, which was on permanent display. I believe in this kind of intermedia work when teaching this kind of abstraction because there are multiple opportunities for my students to enter into the aesthetic.

    My current plan for the pages is as follows:

    Page 1- Close view of a sea creature. Through-composed soundtrack sample in MIDI inspired by animal locomotion and/or behavior.

    Page 2- Sonic-portrait of the animal created entirely from samples recorded and digitally manipulated by the students using homemade piezo microphones, digital recorders, and computers.

    Page 3- General portrait of the entire display including plant life, rocks, light, etc… Students may use MIDI, samples, anything at the student’s disposal. Especially want them to search for metaphor in their expression.

    Page 4- Student’s choice. Students may express anything they like about the creature in sound.

    For each of the pages, the level of interactivity or augmented reality is left to the student, as long as they can explain their choice.

I am excited to see the results of their work. Next, I will meet with the student-filmakers to explain the project and develop some ideas with them for a documentary about the process and art films.

A quote by authors Ted Bayles and Ted Orland from their book “Art and fear” by blogger Wesley Fryer.

Control, apparently, is not the answer. People who need certainty in their lives are less likely to make art that is risky, subversive, complicated, iffy, suggestive or spontaneous. What’s really needed is nothing more than a broad sense of what you are looking for, some strategy for how to find it, and an overriding willingness to embrace mistakes and surprises along the way. Simply put, making art is chancy– it doesn’t mix well with predictability. Uncertainly is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the pre-requisite to succeeding.

A great quote about art-making and John Cage’s “Water Walk”

September 7, 2011 1 Comment

Quote of the Week: Kaija Saariaho

August 5, 2011

Indeed, listeners experience her music as an overwhelming primal event, a mystical encounter providing glimpses of a deeper reality that escapes the regulated, linear consciousness of everyday life.

-Zoran Minderovic

Born on October 14, 1952, in Helsinki, Finland, Saariaho studied visual art at the Helsinki University of Art and Design. From 1976 to 1981, she studied composition at the Sibelius Academy. As a student, she was one of the leading members of Korvat auki (Ears Open), a group of young Finnish composers who rejected contemporary music fashions and sought new musical expressions.

In 1982 Saariaho moved to Paris. She studied electronic music at the Institut de Récherche et de Coordination Acoustique-Musique (IRCAM). Here Saariaho formed her aesthetic; in particular, the idea that the essentially mysterious nature of sound can never be completely encompassed by knowledge (Minderovic).

I find Saariaho’s music enchanting. Her use of electronics is holistic. The programs she writes in Max, a graphic object-oriented multimedia language, are sensual components of the sound-worlds she creates. Lohn, for soprano and electronics, is one of my favorites.

Quote of the Week: Arvo Pärt’s comfort in the moment of silence

July 26, 2011

From Mostly Noise Cach

“I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me.”
-Arvo Pärt

One of my favorite composers is Arvo Pärt. Born in 1935, he is perhaps the best known Estonian composer and the most prominent living composer of sacred music.

Since the 1970’s, Pärt has been a “recovering-serialist” (my words) composing with the self-invented-technique “tintinabuli”. Tintinnabular music is built from two voices: the first, the “tintinnabular voice” arpeggiates a tonic triad, and the second moves diatonically in stepwise motion.

These works often have a slow and meditative tempo, and the effect is of suspended time.

The track embedded above is Pärt’s “Beatitudes”. The core of the piece is an ascending diatonic scale around which the tintinabuli voice is built. Consequently, consonance and dissonance reside side by side as a symbol of good and evil. There is a tonal center at all times, but the traditional harmonic relationships are unprepared.

Each statement of the choir Begins with “Blessed”, creating a structure in the text that is inextricably married to the structure of the music. This is the expression! In some ways, the act of singing this work is to express it.

Quote of the Week: It’s Biber Fever!

July 22, 2011

“At the heart of Biber’s music is unpredictability. His constant inventiveness produces music which, but for the fact that it exists on the printed page, might have been improvised straight into a baroque tape-recorder.”
-Andrew Manze, baroque violinist

During his lifetime Biber certainly acquired a very thorough knowledge of what was be composed for and experimented on the violin by composers north of the Alps, where a distinctive style of composition was being developed, a style very different from their Italian counterparts. The innovations and characteristics of this style were: the progressive sliding upward to the 7th position, special bowing (bariolage, arpeggio, bow vibrato, staccato), the use of descriptive effect, scordaturas, double notes, the extensive use of the form of variation with many passaggi, runs, fast arpeggios, to mention a few.
-Gunar Letzbor

Heinrich Biber (1644-1704) was a bohemian composer of the early Baroque. Biber is one of the most important violin composers. His playing technique allowed him to easily reach the 6th and 7th positions, employ multiple stops in intricate polyphonic passages, and explore the various possibilities of scordatura tuning. He also wrote one of the earliest solo violin works: the passacaglia from the Mystery Sonatas as seen in the above YouTube video.

Biber’s music is intensely personal, virtuosic, and poetic. While the example I have posted here is intimate, he was capable of extraordinary extravagance. His Missa Salzburgenesis, a polychoral mass, was written for some seven choirs of singers and instruments in fifty-three parts!

Requisiat in pacem Ketzel Cotel

July 19, 2011

Ketzel obituary in the New York Times

“The rabbis speak of kavanah, a state of mental concentration,” he said. “Any commonplace event in our day can be transformed and seen in a heightened sense of reality. We are surrounded by miracles if you can only perceive them.”
-Moshe Cotel, rabbi, composer, and transcriber for Ketzel the cat

Few have heard of the composer Ketzel Cotel, who passed away yesterday at the age of 19. A one-hit-wonder, she was the recipient of the Honorable Mention prize in a 1997 piano composition competition. Ketzel is a cat, the cat of former Peabody conservatory chair of composition, Moshe Cotel.

One morning as the maestro sat at his piano playing a Bach Prelude and Fugue, Ketzel jumped up on the keyboard and played a descending series of notes. Maestro Cotel was struck by the “structural elegance” of what he heard, grabbed a pencil, and transcribed what he heard.

After receiving a notice by the Paris Revue of New Music about a competition for piano music less than sixty-seconds long, Cotel, not having any other compositions that fit the bill, sent in the composition by the cat.

Far from a cynical joke, Cotel’s transcription had a spiritual motivation. “The rabbis speak of kavanah, a state of mental concentration,” he (Cotel) said. “Any commonplace event in our day can be transformed and seen in a heightened sense of reality. We are surrounded by miracles if you can only perceive them.” (Cotel as quoted by Aaron Levin)