Practicing to be Paul, Vol. IV

Yup. Hard to imagine. As of Tuesday I finally had the first one of all my classes.
And this past weekend I experienced two of the infamous “Oh, by the way” incidences that some of you have heard me joke about. The first one was in an email Saturday night. “Oh, by the way…..” 
The First one: The diction teacher, a very nice and amusing lady by the name of Pam Dellal, emailed me asking if I could sing one of my songs in Italian for the class on Tuesday. Now you have to understand, I have been avoiding Italian for most of the 7 years I’ve been doing lessons. I have no idea why, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. So that meant that I had to dig up one of the things that I did WWWWAAAAAAAYAYYYYYYYY back when I first started lessons back in ’05 or so. I had a chance to practice twice with the pianist. It went fairly well. Well, mostly it went fairly well. The first thing she did was tell me how much she enjoys the way I sing. Then the hammer fell. That makes it sound worse than it was. She gave me hints and exercises to better pronounce some things, like double consonants, which is everyone’s buggaboo. She asked me how comfortable or not I felt singing in Italian, so I told her that it was okay, but I know my Italian sounds very Gallo-hispanic. Since French and Spanish are the other two languages I speak that is no surprise. So, we went from there and she really helped me fix things up a  bit. A good class all around. Then was the email Sunday night.
The second one: Sunday night I received an email from Dean Karyl (think Carol) Ryczyk. She asked if I would be willing to be in the Brahms Liebeslieder project. It seemed like an interesting idea. Then the catch to it all…..I was the only bass available (actually, I am the ONLY bass in the whole damned student body!!) and if I was willing to do it, they would be able to do, fir the FIRST time in the history of the school, both opus of the thing, the Liebeslieder Waltzes and the Neue Liebeslieder Waltzes. Imagine that… all hinged on me. It was SO tempting to write back to her, “How much is it worth to you?” but then good sense took over. After all, I am a first semester student and I don’t want to get too brassy for my own good. I emailed the head of the voice department and my voice teacher, and they both okayed the project. I just hope that I haven’t made that one extra time commitment that gets me in trouble. I waited until Wednesday night to email that it was a go. So now, heeheehee, she OWES me!!!! Yeah, like that’s going to make a big difference for anything. I am really looking forward to doing this. When I was in the Holyoke Civic Chorale back in the early 70’s we did a few of them and it was loads of fun. Looking forward to doing it with a group of real pro’s, SATB and piano four hands. That’s one on a part SATB, by the way.
So, now to the not-so-quick review of the first classes:
Tuesday: EEP. This is the thing that really sold me ongoing to Longy. This semester is all about planning, the how to’s etc. of interactive concerts. By the time Granados was done, I looked at the folks around me and said, “Just like Teaching and Learning back in 1973!” They had no idea,I’m sure, about what the heck I was talking about,since none of them was born yet! T&L is the course that one takes in education majors to discover how to get kids to participate better in class by pulling together a better presentation in the first place. So, the first class was all about reminiscing about a really engaging event and talking about what made it so. That was fairly easy. So in the group of four of us, we had two concerts, a class and a church event (me, of course). In my mind was the year Assunta and I sang Amazing Grace and there was no dry eye in the house by the time we were done with them. Yeah…it has stayed with me all these years. The afternoon is Diction class, basically learning how to use the IPA, International Phonetic Alphabet. It is quite interesting and irritating as all get out. When one applies that thing thoroughly, there is no leeway about how to say things. It does help in clearing up questions about, for example in Italian, is it an open “e” or open “o” or a closed one. Exactly how does one treat this particular double consonant? And all those kinds of things. She, Pam, also gave examples of being able to sing in a language one doesn’t know simply by getting the IPA version of the text! This is such a cool thing. So by the time the first class was done, I was convinced that IPA really is a very handy thing to know.
Wednesday: a fairly easy day. All I have is 17th Century Concerted Vocal Music: Mostly Monteverdi. This is a really cool class, and the only one I have in the Early Music Department. We are doing a setting of Tota Pulchra Es by Rognoni Taeggio, for two choirs. The first is 2 violins and 2 bass viols, and the second is sort of SATB. It really should be ATTB, as so many things at that were, but THERE ARE NO ALTOS IN THE WHOLE DAMNED SCHOOL!!!!! So we have a few mezzos who make a brave go of it. There is also basso continuo, so we have one harpsichord, accompanies the strings, and one continuo organ, accompanies the singers. A very good sound. Then this week we started another piece, this time by Claudio M. It is a setting of Beatus Vir, for ssaa and ttb. Each choir has its own harpsichord, and then the continuo organ is used for everything. I don’t remember what its called….I think its basso siguente or some such thing. Just means that he plays ALL the time. So when we are all in, the 7 voices, two violins, bass viol and 3 claviers it makes one hell of a lot of noise!! Good noise, but a lot of it. In the meantime, of course, we have readings to do, and repertoire to pick out. We are all supposed to suggest solo stuff for ourselves, and find ensemble stuff for different combinations of voices and instruments. Now, we have two keyboard players who don’t sing, two gamba players, one of whom also plays clavier, 2 violins, 4 sopranos of different stripes, one of whom also plays cello and bass viol, two tenors, one of whom is all but a counter tenor who also plays gamba and cello, one tenor and me, the ONLY bass in the whole school who also plays gamba and recorder. By the time you finish counting all the different ways we can combine, there is almost nothing we can’t do! So cool, yes? After class we have a 90 minute period in which we can work on either the class music, or the stuff we are working on for solo music or ensemble stuff. Then its my voice lesson. So in that short time I go from singing High Renaissance/early baroque to training an opera voice! So, form Monteverdi et al to Mozart’s Die Zauberflote. As you can probably imagine, we, voice teacher Robert Honeysucker and I, are working on Sarastro. Specifically, the aria, O Isis und Osiris. Its goign well enough. I think.
Thursday: Today’s class is Opera Workshop. This is going to be, with Friday’s class in Art Song, a really big challenge. For both of these classes we have to memorize things. This is something that I haven’t really worked on, so I need to figure out how to do this without stressing out. Yeah. These first few weeks we perform one thing from our repertoire (I am working on Les Berceaux) and in the following weeks we fill out this really curious three page form that details all kinds of things about our character, age, motivations, adjectives that describe this person,….essentially we have to figure out a biography on this person. For my song, it still applies, or at least most of it does, since the song is from somebody’s viewpoint, etc. It was a challenging exercise that I enjoyed, I have to admit. It really made me think WHY I do this thing the way I do. I like it. Oh, I almost forgot. After we are all done having our turn at this, we are going to be assigned a character/scene from an opera to work on to give in concert at the end of the semester. By the way, this is to be completely acted, with costumes, etc. What the heck did I get myself into!!!! I hope it turns out to be more fun than work. But really….costumes!?!?!?!?
Friday: another one class day, Art Song Repertoire. I have no idea what we are going to do besides memorize. We are going to be working on the French Melodies. These next two weeks we are all assigned a specific composer to research. Mine is Camille Saint-Saens. The first thing that I found interesting about him is that he, as well as a number of his contemporaries in music, were members of the French National Guard during the Franco-Prussian War! Imagine that. Saint-Saens a soldier. Then, at age 40 he got married to a 20 year old. Apparently he never heard the old adage, to be perfectly crass, “Twenty goes into 40 more than 40 goes into 20.” They had 2 sons who died. This miserable man blamed his wife and ran away from home, deserting her! Not a nice person. He then befriended Gabriel Faure and his family. Mme. Saint-Saens outlived her husband by a long time. She died in 1950, at age 95 or so. Never to see her husband in all those years.
Monday: Another one class day. Voice Department Seminar. This is more like a long, dragged out master class. The first two weeks we are hearing a few of the folks sing, and then they are critiqued a la master class. Interesting. The thing I enjoy about it the most is that this is all aimed at helping us audition better. Great stuff. After these two weeks, we are going to break into smaller groups for similar work, and then get together again for large group work. One thing that I am going to have to do is pick up a sport coat or two and some ties and shirts! It simply would not look right if I showed up in my Roman Collar.
So that is my week. It looks easy enough, but when one starts to add in all the library time (yes, I actually go to the school library!) practice, rehearsals and whatever all else needs to be done, there isn’t a whole lot of time left over. So far weekends are still pretty much my own time. For now. I STILL have to find a little part time job for spending money. There are a few things available to us through the school, and I am hoping that the job I applied for there comes through….working in Pitman Hall, our concert hall. Can you imagine me as an usher? Or a stage hand??? Yeah…..there are  few other things that are open as well, and I may yet apply for them. Deadline is tomorrow. I MAY apply for another job, but I have to look up the openings again.
As the days have been going on, I have to be honest and tell you that I am really happy that I made this choice. As many of you know, I’ve been thinking about studying music on and off for a long time. Finally, after having made the decision 2 years ago and doing the research on schools and all, at this point in time this is the place for me.
Yesterday I had a really interesting incident. Samantha walked up to me and said, “I heard a rumor about you, and I want to know if its true.”
Holy crap says I to myself, what in the world can it be? Out loud I said to her, “Go ahead. What is it?”
“Is it true that you are a priest, or were a priest?”
“Yup. Its true.”
Then ensued a conversation about getting the time off, etc. And of course the follow up question at some point is always, “So does this mean you are going to leave?” My answer is always the same, “I don’t know.” Truth to tell, only God knows, and I’m not going to ask him the question. I don’t need to know the answer, because there are two academic years to go before I need to know. Plenty of time.
And then, in 17th century class, as we started to work on the Tota Pulchra es, Dana Maiben, our lovely teacher, when she was asked about the text, looked at me and said, “Paul can tell us about it, I’m sure. Isn’t that right, Paul?” They all looked at me. Yeah, then the Scripture lesson began. What is text about? What does it mean for them? How can we interpret it for today? Just exactly how erotic is this book, the Song of Songs? Etc. etc., and so forth and so on. So, for those who may have wondered about it, wonder no longer. There is no way for me to get away from the church thing! Yesterday in 17th cent. class, not only did we once again discuss the text, but, are you ready for this, we discussed the split between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, the consubstantial nature of the Trinity, the Maternity of Mary (Mother of God? Mother of only Jesus the Man?), the place of Mary in the Communion of Saints, the Filioque (the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father AND THE SON [Latin, Filioque] in the Creed) and its role int eh division between East and West, celibacy in the Western Church vs celibacy in the Eastern Church. the problems of reunion between East and West, the Primacy and infalability of the Pope/Bishop of Rome,…….mind you, I thought that I was going to be able to get away from all this stuff!! HA! says God to me. HA! When we got to the end of all this, I started to protest, in my own way of course, and we all had a good laugh about it. By next week I think I might as well just wear my collar to school, what the heck.
I’m sure there are other things that I could write to you for your amusement, but I figure this should keep you going for a while. Please remember, this is all in one week, seven days!
OH YEAH….last week in Opera Workshop class Carol, the drama coach for the class, made a comment about “you kids,” and followed it up with a remark about her age and that of Dr. Dudas, who is the musical coach for the class. So I emailed her about MY age, and said that at 59 I understood exactly what she meant, especially since I was more than likely older than one or the other or BOTH of them. Honestly……….
That really is it for now. I’m not sure when I will be writing next, but I have a feeling that this may be a regular thing every week or 10 days. There are so many things going on and happening………
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One Response to Practicing to be Paul, Vol. IV

  1. Katherine Walsh says:

    Dear Father Paul:

    I’ve read your writings from school with interest and more often pleasurable ammusement . Sounds like, on the whole, you are having a great time of it! Getting into music or art like I do is really quite a rewarding venture. Though taxing at times too.. I remember when I went to Mass College of Art and was the only nun in the classes. Yes, I had a former life before the one I have now. I can empathize with many things you write about. The best part is you are really funny and that’s what makes your letters so enjoyable.

    Very happy to see you are progressing well and excited about your studies. Music will light up your life and that in turn will light up your soul. But all is transitory and depending too much upon anything of this earth is not neccessarily an end in itself. But …withthat said…milk it for all its worth while you are there.

    You mentioned the beginnings of having “the kids” see you as a priest. If I can recall tha’s precisly what I said to you one day outside St. John’s Colrain when I found out you were going back to school. What an “opportunity for indirect evangelization” I sense God may be using you aleady….ha..haand hee..hee…hee. Anyways good luck in the coming months ahead. We are proud of you.

    Please forward to Father Paul.
    Katherine Walsh

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