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A blog following my musical activities

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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

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St. Andrew’s Sings Rheinberger Stabat Mater in g-minor Op. 138

April 2, 2012 2 Comments


For the 2012 Palm Sunday Liturgy, we sang the complete Josef Rheinberger Stabat Mater in g-minor Op. 138. I have excerpted some excellent program notes below:

The name of Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901) is not well known to American concert goers, yet his music is so well loved by influential German and Austrian musicians that there now exists a 50-volume critical edition of his complete works in score. One of the editors of that edition gives us a glimpse of Rheinberger’s style by suggesting that rather than regarding the composer as “a lesser Brahms,” we should think of him as “a South German Fauré.”

A child prodigy who began playing organ publicly at the age of seven, Rheinberger began studies at the Munich Conservatory in 1851, eventually mastering counterpoint and fugue, as well as composing over a hundred works by 1859, when he finally deemed one good enough to be published as his Opus 1.

At the end of his studies, he stayed on at the Conservatory, growing into one of its most legendary teachers. Hans von Bülow said “Rheinberger is a truly ideal teacher of composition, unrivalled in the whole of Germany and beyond in skill, refinement and devotion to his subject; in short, one of the worthiest musicians and human beings in the world.” Among Rheinberger’s students were Humperdinck, Wolf-Ferrari, Furtwängler, and the Americans Horatio Parker and George Chadwick.

As a composer, Rheinberger is best known today by organists and Catholic choirmasters. However, his output of secular songs and ballads for solo voices and/or choir is at least as large as his body of work for the church. And for his texts, Rheinberger turned to some of the same German poets whose verse had been set by Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. The poem Die Nacht by Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857) attracted Rheinberger’s attention in 1859, when he set it as a simple strophic song for voice and piano. Twelve years later, the composer revisited that setting, transforming it in nearly every respect: harmonically, formally, and in terms of scoring and overall length. The solo voice became a four-part choir, and the accompaniment was rescored for a chamber ensemble of violin, viola, ‘cello, and piano, whose delicate figurations evoke the hushed sounds of the nocturnal forest. The later version of Die Nacht is also harmonically resourceful: though a composition in D-flat major, it modulates to E major just before the fourth stanza’s reference to the dawn (“the stars rise up and descend, when shalt thou come, morning wind”).

As part of his duties at the Court Church of All Saints in Munich, in 1881 Rheinberger composed eleven motets, including the four which were published as Op. 133. Like many of his Catholic colleagues (Anton Bruckner among them), Rheinberger’s instinct in composing for the church called for the harmonic language of his instrumental and secular vocal works. Nevertheless, from his earliest days inunich he was aware of the Cecilian movement, which advocated reformation of Catholic liturgical music after the “excesses” of the Viennese classical composers. The Palestrina style of 16th-century
counterpoint was held up as an ideal; understandably, creative musicians of the 19th century regarded that model as an artistic straitjacket. So Rheinberger sought a middle ground, remaining mindful of liturgical requirements, while subtly manifesting his stylistic individuality. With the six-voice motets of Op. 133, Rheinberger clearly had the Palestrina model in mind (perhaps most notably in the second motet, Meditabor), yet each motet is–as wrote Theodor Kroyer–“a paragon of six-voice composition, nurtured in utmost freedom.”

The Stabat Mater Op. 138 originated in a detail of Rheinberger’s generally poor health throughout most of his adult life. For many years, he suffered a disability of his right hand, making composition increasingly difficult. His hand broke out with an open ulcer in the first half of 1884. Then in the summer he received therapy at the Wildbad Kreuth, greatly easing the pain in his hand. Rheinberger revealed to his wife that he had made a vow to the Mother of God that if his health improved, he would compose a Stabat Mater (his second). Of this setting, Sebastian Hammelsbeck has written that the second setting is essentially a liturgical work, which does not draw undue attention to itself either by excessive length or by highly decorative features. Instead of the virtuosic combination of modern and ancient musical styles it is in a purified sacred idiom which has incorporated elements of all these styles, and which only the harmony of the day kept distantly in touch with the events outside the church….

Perhaps with a glance over his shoulder toward the Cecilians, Rheinberger composed an entirely unsentimental devotional work, which by its very restraint conveys an expression of the utmost reverence.

John Shepard
Head of the Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library – University of California, Berkeley

The Graphic Score as Instrument

March 31, 2012

Sound Art project 2012, Loyola High School Music Appreciation

Because music is ephemeral, invisible, and abstract, it is peculiarly difficult to talk or write about it. These complexities are never more apparent than when trying to compose. Devising a way to efficiently and explicitly communicate sonic intention to another person borders on being a black art! In my music appreciation classes, we examined how scores convey the invisible abstractions of music. We also examined the limitations of traditional notation and studied other composer’s graphic solutions for unique compositional problems.

We spent a week doing some “Deep Listening” exercises as crafted by Pauline Oliveros, reading Michel Chion’s essay on the nature of sound, and examining the notion of soundscape as defined by R. Murray Schafer.

To synthesize these concepts, I had the students make graphic scores of one of their “Deep Listening” experiences. Creating these scores was an opportunity for them to consider compositional issues. They asked themselves questions like “What sounds are demanding my attention and what sounds are in the background?” “How do I notate the Doppler effect of a city bus driving by?” “What sounds are analogs to the musical notion of key?”

As we proceed, the kids blog about their experiences and expressive processes. The projects in this post’s embedded videos represent an important leap: the move from perception to intention. I asked them to score a piece for pencil theremin and electronics where the graphic score is also the instrument.

A small circuit board with a battery and speaker is attached to a regular wooden pencil. Copper tape is attached to one end of the pencil and wrapped around the pencil where it is grasped. More tape connects the tope end of the board to the top of the pencil. A metal pushpin is stuck through the tape and into the pencil lead itself. Therefore, when one draws with the pencil and touches the graphite on the paper, the circuit is completed and a sound is emitted from the speaker. The greater the distance between the contact points, the lower the pitch!

Using the Pure Data patch host provided by the folks at RJDJ, a reactive sound app company, the students composed reactive recorder/distorters to augment the variety of sounds as well as the reality of the live performance.

In spite of the limitations imposed by the pencil Theremin’s limited sonic palette, some students devised interesting modes of interaction with their scores and apps.

One of the interesting challenges this project presented was the video creation. The composers could choose whether they would play their own piece or be one of two cameramen filming the performance. If they played, the nature of the movie was left in someone else’s hands, and vice versa. They had to abandon complete control of their piece one way or another.

A Chopin Nocturne and an Animated Walpurgisnacht by Ladislaw Starewicz

January 14, 2012

The footage is excerpted from one of my favorite animators, Vladislav Starevich (August 8, 1882 – February 26, 1965). Born Władysław Starewicz (Russian: Владисла́в Алекса́ндрович Старе́вич), was a Russian and Frenchstop-motion animator who used insects and other animals as his protagonists. (His name can also be spelled Starevitch, Starewich and Starewitch.)

This particular film is from “The Mascot”. Vladislav Starevich died on 26 February 1965, while working on Comme chien et chat (Like Dog and Cat). It was left unfinished out of respect. He was one of the few European animators to be known by name in America before the 1960s, largely on account of La Voix du rossignol and Fétiche Mascotte (The Tale of the Fox was not widely distributed in the US)

His Russian films were known for their dark humor, probably an inevitable consequence of the choice of dead beetles and grasshoppers as subjects. Once he switched to using more ordinary puppets for his French films, his work became more lyrical. However, the fact that he was working independently had the negative effect that the films are sometimes considered too long, too lyrical, and too uncommercial. The films are united, however, by their wild imagination.- from Wikipedia

Heyókȟa Te Deum: A collision of Native American and Catholic Spirituality by James MacMillan

January 13, 2012

By Sioux Chief Black Hawk (born 1832)


I recently found an old recording I made with my former high school choir of the Heyoka Te Deum by James MacMillan. I am not sure how this piece slipped my mind because it is unusual and terrific!

A Heyoka, or Heyókȟa, is a “sacred clown” of the Lakota.

Heyókȟa are thought of as being backwards-forwards, upside-down, or contrary in nature. This spirit is often manifest by doing things backwards or unconventionally—riding a horse backwards, wearing clothes inside-out, or speaking in a backwards language. For example, if food were scarce, a Heyókȟa would sit around and complain about how full he was; during a baking hot heat wave a Heyókȟa would shiver with cold and put on gloves and cover himself with a thick blanket. Similarly, when it is 40 degrees below freezing he will wander around naked for hours complaining that it is too hot.

– from Wikipedia

The Heyókȟa are chosen in dreams. Part clown, part shaman, they symbolize the sacred, the Wakȟáŋ, by satirizing society. They ask the difficult questions by saying things others might be afraid to say so that the community might consider topics not usually thought about, or look at things in a different way.

Heyókȟa are both mirrors and teachers. They provoke laughter in times of despair or stir up chaos when people are too comfortable to avoid the dangers of complacency.

MacMillan’s setting is clever and typical of his style. The Lakota text is set with complex rhythmic cells and coloratura connecting more stable homophonic sections in the trebles. The interval and cell patterns are consistent, despite key and texture changes. This way, MacMillan achieves expressive variety while remaining technically approachable for beginning choirs. The Te Deum is sung in unison to a Gregorian chant-like melody. The Te Deum sections link verses of the Lakota Chant, only intertwining with the Lakota in the coda. The overall effect alternates the florid, swirling visions of the Lakota with the equally visionary solemnity of the Te Deum.

Christmas Music from Midnight Mass 2011

December 25, 2011

Seraphim - Petites Heures de Jean de Berry

Two thoughts about programming for music in the middle of the night: 1) Plan something easy. I have never made so many mistakes as when I planned overly ambitious music so late in the evening. 2) The Sewanee Composers Project is a great sacred music resource!

The SJMP is also an interesting business model. By purchasing an annual license, you have access to their entire library online including unlimited reproduction rights. Many of the pieces have sample recordings, too.

From their website:

A new way to think about church anthems
Since 1992 St. James Music Press has been publishing some of the finest church anthems being written today. THE FINEST! And we’re not just bragging. Anthems from SJMP have been heard on national broadcasts, performed at cathedrals and churches throughout the world, and premiered at major music conferences throughout the country. Our catalog does not contain praise-songs, choruses or renewal music. It is, however, filled with new traditional anthems and fresh arrangements of varying difficulty which have been tried and tested by many fine church choirs.
We want you to photocopy our music!
Unlike many publishers, we are committed to each and every anthem that we publish. You won’t like or use them all and that’s fine. We all have different tastes. But if your choir sings traditional anthems on a regular basis, you won’t find a better resource than St. James Music Press. And now – our entire catalog is on-line and searchable. Need an anthem for the third Sunday after Epiphany when your entire alto section has decided to go on a “spiritual makeover” weekend hosted by Noylene Fabergé, the Christian Beautician? No problem. It’s only a couple of mouse-clicks away.
Find the Sunday in our Liturgical calendar, look for the voicing you need, listen to a few, and print out some that you like. Or print them all. Then photocopy enough for your choir (permission granted!) and they’ll sound like a waffle-house full of angels with Gabriel serving pancakes!
Eight thousand churches can’t be wrong. Join the St. James Music Press family.
Anthems by some of the the finest composers and musicians in the business. Cantatas, Psalm settings for congregation, masses and service music, childrens’ choir music (our award-winning Viva Voce! program), organ music, handbell music, music for brass and organ, organ solo, musicals, anthems for small choirs (our Ten Panicked Singers series), descants and harmonizations, evening services, introits, benedictions…the list goes on and on. And NEW pieces being added each and every month. We’ll send you a monthly email alerting you to new offerings as well as suggesting some pieces you may have forgotten about. All instrumental parts included, of course!
Listen to everything. Download whatever you want.
Or download everything! MP3s for making choir CDs, PDFs for printing, ZIP files containing the congregational files you’ll need for your bulletins.
Wow! Want to give it a look?
It’s free… No, we’re not kidding.
Okay, you can’t print anything out, but you can look at and listen to everything in the catalog. Not just a couple of pages…the whole thing! Our recordings are, in many cases, live recordings from church services and performed by church choirs (large and small) across the country. Most are not professional, but they’ll give you a very good idea as to how the anthem sounds.

Media Files for Loyola Lessons & Carols 2011

December 23, 2011

The Playlist

When I conduct concerts or services, I make a special effort to record and publish the results. Technology has made these tools very accessible. This service was recorded with a Sony PCM-D50, a simple $500 handheld recorder. I edited it in Apple’s Soundtrack Pro, posted audio files to Soundcloud, and made videos in Final Cut Pro to post to YouTube, all within 2 days of the service itself.

A Bouquet of Lessons & Carols

December 19, 2011

Photo by Steven Speciale


Each year as Christmas nears, my high school choir offers a Lessons & Carols service to the community. Notice, I didn’t write “concert”. I do my best to provide the choir “performance” opportunities with a service context. It gives the work we do an extra layer of meaning and purpose that is harder to convey in a concert setting. I also think the cathedral context for this music, as well as the magnificent pipe organ, makes this an unparalleled experience for them.

I will post selections from the service in bite-sized bits over the next few days. Merry Christmas!

Before our final dress rehearsal, we always take an hour to have dinner at Papa Cristos, a local family-owned Greek restaurant that has been in the neighborhood for over fifty years!


An Unwitting Collaboration: Props from Video Artist David Montgomery

December 13, 2011

While checking my email this morning, I found a nice note and blogpost from artist David Montgomery. He wrote about a video on which he unknowingly collaborated with me. I took audio from a concert where I played John Cage’s “In A Landscape” and by applying “Cagean” procedures to David’s Dandelion loops, created a music video.

I sent the short film to David. He was very complementary!

Steven Speciale is an inspired music teacher and choir director at Loyola High School in Los Angeles. When I post my work to the Internet Archive I think of it being used for VJing or video remix though I always hold out hope that it could be used in education. Steven Speciale managed to combine all of the above in brilliant fashion. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that someone from LA, home to LAVA (one of the most established video art coalitions in the US), who is a mainstay at SoundWalk in Long Beach would make the most innovative use of the Dandelion Free Culture video loops to date.

Personally, it is very satisfying and validating to have one’s work acknowledged by colleagues. The reality is that none of this would have happened without the culture of sharing promoted by the open-source movement, and by extension, social media. David Montgomery would appear to live in Florida; I live in California. Our paths only crossed in this virtual realm. Because they did, we both have benefited, and because we benefit, my students benefit.

Fiskabur 2011: A Milestone for Collaboration

December 7, 2011 2 Comments

Fiskabur 2011

With the export of Movement of Jellyfish by Loyola High School student Leopoldo Magana, Fiskabur 2011 has fulfilled my original intent: to create and execute a cross-curricular project where students across disciplines contribute to the final product, and the final product has “legs” as its existence furthers other educational objectives.

Fiskabur Ontogenesis

After a lecture to both the music classes and physics classes on the Physics of Music, the music students constructed piezoelectric microphones while some of the Physics students built musical instruments.

The music students borrowed the newly-made instruments, sampled them with their homebrewed-microphones, and composed loops. A small-group of the music students went to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and filmed many exhibits which I put on our YouTube channel.

Drawing inspiration from these videos, the music students composed soundscapes and music with their composed loops. These loops were loaded onto reactive apps of their design through the RJC-1000 software. Along with still pictures of the fish that inspired the compositions, the music was given a layer of sonic augmented reality.

The apps were loaded onto iPhones, iPads, and iPods, taken back to the Aquarium of the Pacific, and “performed” and recorded in front of the fish that inspired the music. A team of student filmmakers accompanied the composers to gather footage of the project and the creatures themselves.

All of the resulting loops, videos, samples, and RJDJ-pieces were posted on the internet with Creative Commons licenses so all of the musicians and filmakers could share resources.

The Movement of Jellyfish video embedded above is the first all-student product to emerge from Fiskabur. It will be hosted on our YouTube channel, a website dedicated to Fiskabur 2011, and offered to the AP Biology classes as a resource for animal locomotion, one of the curricular points for the course.

Special thanks to my Loyola colleagues: Lance Oschner, Fr. John Quinn, & Craig Bouma for their participation and support. Thanks to the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, and Marilyn Padilla, in particular, for their permission and support of our filming and recording on the premises.

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