Last Friday evening, I sang the premiere of my new settings of Sara Teasdale poetry for baritone and oboe. My colleague Carla Colletti joined me in the performance. The impetus for writing these? An invitation to appear on a Webster University Faculty Composers Concert. Ten different composers were represented, each of them artist/teachers in the Department of Music.
Here is the premiere performance:
To friends around the world –
The year 2011 is nearly over. Somewhere, it’s snowing. I hit my 50th birthday anniversary this year. Two dear friends threw me a big party, and then the actual day passed quietly with a movie and some Mexican food and an episode of Mad Men.
A few weeks before my birthday, though, I had a health scare with a very minor heart attack. The doctors didn’t confirm that diagnosis, but my mother came to me in a dream a week before my birthday (only the second time in 13 years that she has done so) and told me to trust what I knew to be true, and to make some changes. So I’ve dropped a bit of weight, and continue to work slowly at that. I’ve changed a few things in my daily life too.
The year has been filled with travel. In the last three months alone, I have traveled on business to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Interlochen, Michigan. I hit New York City twice this year. Most recently, I spent ten days in Europe on Webster University business.
Along the way this year, I especially enjoyed visiting the UN Headquarters in NYC, Frank Lloyd Wright’s western getaway in Scottsdale, and FDR’s home at Hyde Park. And Bratislava, Slovakia, a city that will beckon me again.
One of my themes this year has been musical theatre. I continue to explore the riches of Saint Louis theatre, but this year I added to that a return to the stage in She Loves Me at one of our local pro companies. The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch had some nice things to say about me. I was gratified, of course, as I felt pretty rusty after 19 years away from the stage. Several others reviewers also gave me compliments. The fun of doing the show was enhanced by being on stage with two of my college voice students and several Webster University Conservatory kids.
A few weeks later, I debuted as music consultant for a production of Red at the Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis and a playhouse in Cincinnati.
During my NYC trips this year, I saw
I have added to my portfolio of citizen activities a 2012 spot as voting panelist for the Kevin Kline Awards, a Saint Louis version of the Tony Awards. I continue to serve as a panelist for the Regional Arts Commission, and as an international board member for the Conductors Guild, Inc., where I chair the Publications Committee.
We had some successes at Webster University this year, including a major external refurbishment of the venerable old Thompson House, some hefty changes to our departmental curriculum, and the addition of a new faculty line, increasing the size of our faculty. I am co-chair of a major university committee this year. And I received word this week that my initial review is successful, so I am now a permanent faculty member. As last year ended we moved in a number of new Steinway pianos, a fact we continue to celebrate.
June found me leading my final concerts as Artistic Director of the Gateway Men’s Chorus. A few weeks later the group released the second CD recording of my three-year tenure with them. I’m proud of this product, and delighted with the artistic successes we experienced during my leadership. Our last concert together featured my friend Christine Brewer as guest soloist.
The University of Central Missouri named me their 2011 Department of Music Distinguished Alumnus this year.
On the home front, Samson the Feist continues to be a delightful and boon companion. (He is snuggled next to me as I write this evening.) I am contemplating some minor home renovations for 2012, but otherwise all remains copacetic.
My Uncle Edwin, Mom’s brother, died a few months ago. All that is left now of that line of the family is Aunt Esther, still going strong at 99.5 years, and my sisters and I. The family in Lee’s Summit and Kansas City are all well and hale. Karen’s two kids are still in college; Beth’s are in high school and elementary school. I love being a doting uncle.
Here are some of my favorite blog posts of the year:
- The bird
- Vance Riffie
- Dr. Brummett
- Alumnus honor
- Willow Springs
- Westminster Abbey
- In the midst
- Random musings
- My blog entries about auditions and what to do and not to do
This is a joyous time in the midst of a broken and not-yet-contrite world. My prayer for this season and the new year is for peace, honesty, justice, and truth to prevail in our land and our society, and in my own relationships with those who inhabit my daily life and my larger world.
As I sign off from this annual tradition, I share this wonderful show closer from the 2010 Gateway Men’s Chorus holiday show. Enjoy!
And if you need one more sugary Christmas fix, check this out.
Grace and peace,
Don’t be the bunny.
~Caldwell B. Cladwell in Urinetown
As I sat today in the final round of the NATS competition at UCM, I began thinking that I’ve not updated by long-form bio in almost two years.
So tonight, with Pop and Jo both zonked out in their chairs, I took a few minutes to do the update. Here’s the latest!
The current issue of Podium Notes (from the Conductors Guild, Inc.) includes this great primer for people seeking a job in front of an orchestra. Much of what’s included is applicable to any of us who wish to conduct any ensemble, and some of it is also immediately transportable to anyone applying for any job.
I add this great article to my list of audition appearance tips from this summer.
Here’s some video of what I was doing on Sunday. The venue is Blessed Sacrament Church in Kansas City, KS. The piece is Melissa Dunphy’s What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach.
The Simon Carrington Chamber Singers perform Saturday in Kansas City and Lawrence. BE THERE!
Here’s an article about the premiere performance the group is presenting.
This weekend+ is one of arts performances.
Wednesday evening found me in Chicago for a certain activity on stage at the Chicago Theatre, leading members of the Gateway Men’s Chorus.
I took the last flight home on Wednesday and spent Thursday at the office doing make-up lessons, catching up on email and messages, and generally doing the things an academic administrator does.
My students Jared and Kyle performed in The Wedding Singer at the Webster Conservatory Thursday evening. Check out http://www.musicchair.wordpress.com for my thoughts on seeing students in this performance, and on growth and success in the studio.
Misha and I joined his mother and D for Avenue Q at the Fox last evening. I laughed a lot, and loved the show just as much as I thought I would.
Tonight finds me at Kathy Bowers’ final concert as a Webster University faculty members. We have Bach (both J.S. and P.D.Q.) on the program.
And tomorrow, after a business luncheon, I’ll attend the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra all-Wagner concert with Christine Brewer as soloist. Glorious sounds are certain.
The members of the orchestra are divided into four sections. These are
woodwinds, the strings, the brass, and the percussion. There’s also
someone standing in front of all these other folks playing no instrument
at all. This would be the conductor. It is generally required that the
conductor is required to make musical decisions and to hold all of the
instruments together in a cohesive interpretation of any given work. Not
so. Rather, the conductor is necessary because the four groups would
rather eat Velveeta than have anything to do with someone from another
section. And, as we know, musicians are quite serious about their food.
Why all the animosity? Before I begin my explanation, let me set the record
straight in plain English about some of the characteristics which typify
the four groups.
Woodwind players have IQs in the low- to mid-genius range. Nerds with
coke-bottle glasses and big egos, blowers tend to be extremely quiet,
cowering behind bizarre-looking contraptions — their instruments — so
nobody will notice them. It is often difficult to discern whether a wind
player is male or female.
String players are neurotic prima donnas who won’t even shake your hand for
fear of permanent injury. A string player will never look you directly in
the eye and they never bathe carefully … or often.
Brass players are loud-mouthed drunkards who bully everyone with the
possible and occasional exception of a stray percussionist. They like to
slick their hair back. Nobody knows why.
Percussionists are insensitive oafs who constantly make tasteless jokes at
the expense of the strings and woodwinds. They look very good in concert
attire but have the worst table manners of all musicians. They are always
male, or close enough.
Now, is it any wonder orchestra members have little to do with anyone
outside of their own section? For the answer to this and other pertinent
questions we will need to examine the individual instrument and the
respective — if not respected — players within each section.
Oboe players are seriously nuts. They usually develop brain tumors from
the extreme air pressure built up over the years of playing this rather silly
instrument. Oboists suffer from a serious Santa Claus complex, spending
all their waking hours carving little wooden toys for imaginary children,
although they will tell you they are putting the finishing touches on the
world’s greatest reed. Oboists can’t drive and always wear clothes one
size too small. They all wear berets and have special eating requirements
which are endlessly annoying and which are intended to make them seem
English horn players are losers although they dress better then oboists.
They cry at the drop of a beret.
Bassoon players are downright sinister. They are your worst enemy, but
they come on so sweet that it’s really hard to catch them at their game.
Here’s an instrument that’s better seen than heard. Bassoon players like
to give the impression that theirs is a very hard instrument to play, but
the truth is that the bassoon only plays one or two notes per piece
and is therefore only heard for a minute in any given evening. However, in
order to keep their jobs — their only real concern — they act up a storm
doing their very best to look busy.
It takes more brawn, and slightly less brain, to play contrabassoon. They
are available at pawnshops in large numbers — the instruments as well as
the players — and play the same three or four numbers as the tuba,
although not quite as loud or beautiful.
Okay, now we come to the flute. Oversexed and undernourished is the ticket
here. The flute player has no easier time of getting along with the rest
of the orchestra than anyone else, but that won’t stop them from sleeping
with everyone. Man and woman alike, makes no difference. The bass flute
is not even worth mentioning. Piccolos, on the other hand, belong mainly
on the fifty yard line of a football field where the unfortunate audience
can maintain a safe distance..
The clarinet is, without a doubt, the easiest of all orchestral instruments
to play. Clarinets are cheap, and the reeds are literally a dime a dozen.
Clarinetists have lots of time and money for the finest wines, oriental
rugs, and exotic sports cars. They mostly have no education, interest, or
talent in music, but fortunately for them they don’t need much. Clarinets
come in various sizes and keys — nobody knows why. Don’t ask a
clarinetist for a loan, as they are stingy and mean. Some of the more
talented clarinets can learn to play the saxophone. Big deal.
Let’s continue now with the real truth about … the strings. We begin
with the string family’s smallest member: the violin. The violin is a
high-pitched, high-tension instrument. It’s not an easy instrument to
play. Lots of hard music is written for this instrument. Important things
for a violinist to keep in mind are: Number one — the door to your
studio should be left slightly open so that everyone can hear your
brilliant practice sessions. Number two: you should make disparaging
remarks about the other violinists whenever possible, which is most of the
time. And number three: you should tell everyone how terribly valuable
your instrument is until they drool.
The viola is a large and awkward instrument, which when played, sounds
downright disgusting. Violists are the most insecure members of the
string section. Nothing can be done about this. Violists don’t like to be
made fun of and therefore find ways of making people feel sorry for them.
They were shabby clothes so that they’ll look as if they’ve just been
dragged under a train. It works quite well.
People who play the cello are simply not good looking. They have generally
chosen their instrument because, while in use, the cello hides 80% of its
player’s considerable bulk. Most cellists are in analysis which won’t end
until they can play a scale in tune or, in other words, never. Cellists
wear sensible shoes and always bring their own lunch.
Double bass players are almost completely harmless. Most have worked their
way up through the ranks of a large moving company and are happy to have a
secure job in a symphony orchestra or anywhere. The fact that it takes at
least ten basses to make an audible sound tends to make these
simple-minded folks disappear into their woodwork, but why do they drive
such small cars?
Harpists are gorgeous. And they always know it. They often look good into
their late eighties. Although rare as hen’s teeth, male harpists are
equally beautiful. Harpists spend their time perfecting their
eye-batting, little-lost-lamb look so they can snare unsuspecting wind
players into carrying their heavy gilded furniture around. Debussy
was right — harpists spend half their life tuning and the other half
playing out of tune.
Pianists in the symphony orchestra work the least and complain the most.
They have unusually large egos and, because they can only play seated,
also have the biggest butts. When they make mistakes, which is more often
than not, their excuse is that they have never played on that particular
piano before. Oh, the poor darlings.
Trumpet players are the scum of the earth. I’ll admit, though,
they do look good when they’re all cleaned up. They’ll promise you the
world, but they lie like a cheap rug. Sure, they can play soft and pretty
during rehearsal, but watch out come concert time! They’re worse than
lawyers, feeding off the poor, defenseless, weaker members of the
orchestra and loving every minute of it. Perhaps the conductor could
intercede? Oh, I don’t think so.
Trombone players are generally the nicest brass players. However, they do
tend to drink quite heavily and perhaps don’t shine the brightest
headlights on the highway, but they wouldn’t hurt you and are the folks to
call with all your pharmaceutical questions. They don’t count well, but
stay pretty much out of the way anyway. Probably because they
know just how stupid they look when they play. It’s a little-known fact
that trombone players are unusually good bowlers. This is true.
The French horn. I only have two words of advice: stay away. Horn
players are piranhas. They’ll steal your wallet, lunch, boyfriend, or wife or all
the above given half a chance or no chance at all. They have nothing to
live for and aren’t afraid of ruining your life. The pressure is high for
them. If they miss a note, they get fired. If they don’t miss a note,
they rub your nose in it and it doesn’t smell so sweet.
The kind-hearted folks who play the tuba are good-looking and smart.
They’d give you the shirt off their back. The tuba is one of the most
interesting to take in the bath with you. It’s a crying shame that
there’s only one per orchestra. Would that it could be different.
These standoffish fools who get paid perfectly good money for blowing whistles and hitting things that don’t deserve the considerable space they are allotted on the stage. Aside from the strange coincidence that all percussionists hail from the Deep South, another little known, but rather revealing fact, is there are no written percussion parts in the standard orchestral repertory. Percussion players do have music stands and they do use them — to look at girlie magazines. Percussionists play whatever and whenever they damn well feel like it and it’s always too loud! The ones with a spark of decency and
intelligence play timpani, or kettle drums.
Most percussionists are deaf, but those who play kettle drums pretend to
tune their instruments for the sake of the ignorant and easily duped
The guy with the short nose who plays the cymbals is no Einstein, but he’s
also one of the best guys to share a room with on tour. Cymbal players
don’t practice — I guess they figure it’s bad enough to have to listen to
those things at the concert.
Percussionists pretend to have lots of kids whos toys can be seen quite
often shaken, dropped, or manhandled to great effect. Whole percussion
sections can be seen and now and then on various forms of public
transportation, where they practice getting up and down as a group. This
represents the only significant challenge to a percussionist.
And that just about does it. I trust that this little tour has enlightened
you just a little bit to the mysterious inner world of the symphony
orchestra. This world, one which is marked by the terrible strain of
simple day-to-day survival, is indeed not an easy one. Perhaps now you
will be a bit more understanding of the difficulties which face a
modern-day concert artist. And so the next time you find yourself at the
symphony, take a moment to look deeply into the faces of the performers on
the stage and imagine how much more difficult their lives are than yours.
This is surely what’s on their minds … if anything.