Friday, April 22, 2016

Moving into May with a Concert on the 22nd

The famous lentils of Le Puy
Cantorae St. Augustine, which I direct, will be singing a mixed-media concert in honor of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine on Sunday, May 22nd. There will be readings from the early sisters' letters, photos of life in the 19th century town of St. Augustine, and music ranging from chant to Stephen Foster.

This is taking a lot of time - but that's nothing compared to the 150 years that the sisters, originally from Le Puy, France, have been working in Florida.

The concert will be at 3 p.m. at the St. Augustine Art Association.  And no, lentils will not be served.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

People Enjoy Hearing (and Probably Singing) Music That Is Familiar to Them

This post is inspired by an article by harpist Anne Roos that appeared in Folk Harp Journal.  However, I believe it is applicable to all types of music - instrumental, vocal, sacred, and secular.  Anne noted that when she was playing the Ren Fair circuit, people stopped and listened (and threw money in her hat) when she played Greensleeves and Scarborough Fair.  Her other charming but obscure Renaissance pieces just kept them moving on.  She developed a million ways to play those two tunes so that she could keep coming back to them.

I had a similar experience playing an assortment of Irish and Scottish tunes mixed with early Spanish harp music.  My violinist and I noticed smiles and nods for the Celtic. We weren't playing for money that time, but boy, if I want to put out the hat next time, we know what to play at 80% of the time.

Well, how does this apply to everyone else?  Gosh, folks, give them some familiar tunes, hymns, chants, whatever!  Mix these in with your new stuff and let some of the new work move with repetition into the familiar category.

Hey, ya ever hear of a "cover band"?  There's a reason people like them.  And yes, that's me behind the harp.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Don't Be a Musical Chicken Little in Your Head

Image courtesy of
If you remember the story of Chicken Little (also known as Henny Penny), an acorn falls on her head and she determines that the sky is falling and begins to run back and forth, proclaiming the upcoming disaster to the rest of the animals.

How often do we do this when we play, sing, or conduct?

Something goes wrong - a dynamic, a missed note, a straying alto.  And suddenly we think, "it's all going to be downhill from here."  We stay with the error, real or imagined, while the music continues. Maybe more mistakes follow; maybe not.

When there's a break in the music - end of a movement, end of a piece - we tell ourselves and others (if available) that there's danger ahead.  If one mistake or miscue has happened, won't there be more?  Ack!  The Sky is Falling!

Don't do that.  You'll just wear yourself and/or your singers out. We're just talking about acorns here.

Play on!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Rolling Into Roland Land

Image from Roland Corporation
I am the happy owner of a new Roland HP506 digital piano.  After several years without anything more than a work station keyboard, it's thrilling!

Yes, I do wish I had the space and the cash to add a Steinway 5'4.  However, I can't believe how good my Roland is.  I've run through Bach, Mozart, Schumann, torch songs - everything works.  Nice too is the fact that it will never need tuning in the humidity of Florida and it weighs 100 lbs (not 475 lbs like its predecessor).  Both the keyboard and the pedal system are responsive and the weighting of the keys is right.

I haven't even played around with the other sounds because I'm happy right now in piano-land.

I have no business relationship with Roland or with the dealer from whom I purchased the instrument.  I just want to let folks know that it's time to give instruments like this a second look.  It's a long way from the older keyboards that made you wonder when the rest of the band was going to show up!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Musical Notation as Reminder Rather Than Prescription

One of the puzzles of early chant notation is its lack of precision.  The modern musician cries out, "Where are the pitches?  How can I determine note duration?"

Interestingly (to me anyway) is the similarity I saw the other evening in the documentary, "Geisha: Twilight of the Flowers." One of the women was at her lesson for traditional Japanese singing. Of course, it's primarily an oral tradition and she was singing along with an older woman teacher who sang while accompanying herself on shamisen.  (Another instrumentalist was playing behind the student, so that she could concentrate on her singing. Perhaps this was a student of the shamisen?)

Her book contained only text in the vertical format used for Japanese.  However, she held in her hand a red pencil with which she could make "reminder" notations alongside the words.

Image taken from "Grand Master guides novices
Japanese musical tradition,"

While what you see here is music for shakuhachi, the effect is the same. You may have difficulty seeing the notation because of the contrast, but the caption on the original article points out that the notation is an outline rather than a prescription.

In the modern Western tradition, we want all the rules of the game spelled out.  And we want them spelled out consistently - from one piece to another. (Have you ever tried to get a novice chorus to "swing the eights"?)

Obviously, we believe that this lets us carry forward the composer's intention from one century to the next, from one performance to the next.  And that can be good.  However, it also means that we can speed up the learning process compared to learning from an oral tradition taught by someone more expert than we and that we are not particularly interested in the skill and interpretation of the teacher (not until you get way up the food chain of faculty, that is).

Is one way better than the other?  Not necessarily.  Do we regard music that is learned through oral traditions as less valuable or less difficult?  I hope not.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Pretty Mundane, But Worth Remembering

I'm making this point more for myself than others.

Image courtesy of amenic181 at

Before you begin to play:

  1. Look at the key signature.
  2. Look at the time signature.
  3. Note the tempo indication.
  4.  Make sure your fingers are on the proper strings, keys, valves, frets, etc.
The first and last are the ones I seem to overlook most often, making for a less-inspired beginning, not to mention interesting harmonies. 

But don't worry - I almost always catch up with myself and vow never to make this mistake again.

Maybe It's Time...

I've blogged off and on for years - Sacred Miscellany was my longest outing in that electronic universe. Almost always on sacred music and liturgical issues.

It's time for something new - just music.  It may be secular or sacred, vocal or instrumental, solo or choral, classical or otherwise.  YouTubes and recommendations. Observations and opinions.

Just what I like (and some of what I don't like, of course).

So stayed tuned and visit when you wish.  The door will always be open!