Monthly Archives: September 2009

Apple butter 2

Some of my students asked me today what was my fixation with canning.

I don’t have a fixation.  I do enjoy the cooking, and the laying up of provisions for another year, and the connection to something that my mother and grandmother did.  And I enjoy being able to give gifts of homemade sustenance and sugary goodness to others as host gifts or holiday gifts.

Last night was apple butter night.  I bought the apples and provided the sugar.  D made supper of pork roast and broccoli.  I added apples cooked in butter and sugar.  Yum.

By the time he arrived, the apples for the the apple butter were on the stove.  You can follow some of the progress above, from whole apples to apple pulp to removal of seeds and skin to oven to jars.  While the apple butter was the oven we canned four quarts of apples in a light syrup.  This reminds me of G-ma so much.

T joined us for a while, taking some pictures, playing with Sam, and enjoying company.  The kitchen was a very happy place to be last evening!

The whole evening finished with some bubbly and the final canning at about 11.15 p.m.

This weekend = more canned apples.  I think I’m done with the apple butter for this year.  I do need to make an apple pie, though.

Apple butter

After a long day Sunday of church and engagements, I came home, piled into the flannels and t-shirt, and made apple butter.  While the apple butter was in the oven, I canned three pints of Jonathan apples.  Grandma Blocher used to do so, and I remember well how yummy they were.  They’ll be great in February on a cold winter night.

More canning is set for Tuesday.  Last night’s product:


Keeping the conductor

A Choristers’ Guide To Keeping Their Conductor In Line

The basic training of every singer should, of coarse, include myriad types of practical and theoretical emphases.  One important area which is often neglected, however, is the art of one-upmanship. The following rules are  intended as guides to the development of habits which will promote the proper type of relationship between the singer and their conductor.

  1. Never be satisfied with the starting pitch. Make known your preferences for pitches from the piano.
  2. Complain about the temperature of the rehearsal room, the lighting, crowded space, and of a draft. It’s best to do this when the conductor is under pressure.
  3. Bury your head in your music just before cues.
  4. Loudly clear your throat during pauses (tenors are trained to do this from birth). Pauses and instrumental interludes are a good chance to blow your nose.
  5. Long after a passage has gone by, ask the conductor if your C# was in tune. This is especially effective if you had no C# or were not singing at the time.
  6. Wait until well into the rehearsal before letting the conductor know you forgot your music.
  7. When possible, sing your part either an octave higher or lower than what is written. This is excellent ear-training for the conductor. If she/he hears the pitch, deny it and claim it must have been the combination tone.
  8. Exclaim : “I can’t find the beat” while looking in your music.
  9. If you are singing in a different language, ask the conductor as many questions as possible about the meaning of individual words. If this fails, ask about the pronunciation of the most difficult words. Occasionally say the word in question twice and ask his/her preference, making to say the word exactly the same way both times. If he/she remarks on their similarity, give him/her a look of disdain and mumble under your breath about the “subtleties of inflection”.
  10. If your articulation of a phrase differs from that of others singing the same phrase, stick to your guns! Do not ask the conductor which is correct until backstage just before the concert.
  11. Find an excuse to leave rehearsal 15 minutes early so that the others will become restless and start to fidget.

In other words, make every effort to take the attention away from the podium and put it on you where it belongs!

Samson & storms

Samson the Feist really truly doesn’t like thunder or lightning, and he’s not that fond of the sound of rain.

As the rain was falling yesterday, and the lightning flashing from time to time, he was as close to me as he could be, spending most of his time curled up under my desk, ON my feet, as I was doing some GMC work.  I’d brought in a pillow and put it by the desk, but he had none of that.  Physical safety was paramount for this little dog.

I finally had enough, so we both did what any sensible person/dog does when the rain is falling.  We napped.  Every time I moved a bit, he scooted closer so that his back was always touching me.  I guess he feels safer that way.  I know that I feel better when he’s by my side too.


I’m trying hard to protect my Tuesday evenings this year so that I start every week knowing that I have at least one night at home.

This week, though, I already had a meeting set.  The 2010 international choral festival here in Saint Louis is off and running.  I’m on the steering committee.  John Romeri from the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis is the Artistic Director.  My friend and colleague Charlie Robin is on the steering committee too.

Representatives of ACDA and Interkultur presented the announcement to the choral community on Tuesday evening at the Regional Arts Commission office. Here are Tim Sharp, ACDA Executive Director, and his counterpart from Interkultur:


On Wednesday evening, Christine Brewer gave a master class at Webster University.  Here’s my student Daniel Geigerman leading off the singers, with Christine coaching him:


Thursday night was Paul Davis’ welcome reception.  Last night was opening night at the Symphony.  Tonight is a GMC gig.  Tomorrow night, blissfully at home, is apple butter time.

Mahler, again

My friend Adam is convinced (and rightly so) that no composer speaks to him, or moves him, or engenders life in him like Gustav Mahler does.

Now I have zero ability to determine who is my most beloved composer.  Howells stands at the front, but other composers feed me too: Ockeghem, Palestrina, Handel, Mozart, Tchaikowsky, Rachmaninoff, Strauss, Vaughan Williams, Elgar.  And Bach.  Always Bach.

Last night, though, as I heard the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra play the Mahler fifth symphony, I was reminded again why Mahler is so dear.

While I wished for a bit more frenzy in the final bars, and a bit more emotional tug in the second movement, I witnessed last evening a powerful performance, led by music director David Robertson.  The brass were in glorious form, with a new principal horn and, at the top of her impeccable game as she nears retirement, principal trumpet Susan Slaughter leading the charge.  Seated as I was on the right side of the balcony, the basses and cellos also seemed especially impassioned last evening.

I took a score with me last evening, and I read much of the music as it was being played on stage.  Mahler is genius.  Pure genius.  His scoring tricks are well-known, but they still stun.  How a muted trumpet gives way to a piccolo, and they both sound alike, is a wonder of his imagination, and also of reality when played well.  And how he combines three or four melodies at once is a glorious mystery.

The ovation this band received last evening, which was opening night for the new season, was well-deserved.

Opening the concert was a newer work for solo cello, large orchestra, world percussion, and hyper-accordion.  I enjoyed it, and would hear it again . . . and watch it again, since the percussion were so fun to watch, as was the extended cadenza.  But my money piece last night was Mr. Mahler’s Fifth. And what money it was.

Rainy Sunday

At 2.30 p.m. today, the sky is starting to lighten just a bit.  We’ve been gray all day though.  I awoke to the sound of a gentle rain, one that came down off and on all morning.

My butterscotch chip cookies didn’t work.  I used WAY too much shortening, so the batter was more like pancakes than cookies.  I added flour, then put the whole mess in a baking dish and turned it into butterscotch pecan bars.  They’re tasty indeed, but gooey, which isn’t necessarily bad.

I finished a chart for the Gateway Men’s Chorus today and sent it out to all the guys.

Later today I’m feeding several of my voice students.  The menu is simply burgers, chips, baked beans, butterscotch bars.  First, though, I’m off to campus in a while for a recital.

Oh yes . . . I talked with Kevin Smith in Fort Wayne today for the better part of an hour.  We had a lot of catching up to do!

Plum jam

I had no space last summer and autumn to do any canning.  And quite frankly, at least in the autumn, no time.

This year is blessedly different.  I’m making time, and I have space.

The quarts and quarts of pickles have already appeared on this blog.  This week’s project: plum jam.  D has decided that he’s into canning too, so he joined me (and brought the plums, already washed!) on Tuesday.  After dinner of pasta, we went to work.  Plum jam is really quite easy.  Cut the plums in quarters, then pulverize them in a food processor.  Use pretty much equal parts sugar and plum pulp, add a bit of lemon juice to aide shelf life, season as desired (cloves and nutmeg this time), and cook to 220 degrees.  Can, then process in a hot water bath for a bit.

And voilà!  Seven and 1/4 quarts of plum jam!!

Last weekend

As I traveled across Missouri last weekend on the Missouri River Runner Amtrak line, I blogged a bit.

The rest of the weekend included time with family and loads of laughter.  I conducted a piece by Howells on Sunday morning at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral.  The Simon Carrington Chamber Singers board meeting took one hour.  By a few minutes past 4 on Sunday, I was back at the Amtrak kiosk in Lee’s Summit.  Beth’s family drove the few blocks over to see me off.  Joseph wasn’t happy that he couldn’t come along, as you’ll note from his tears in the photo.

Christine Brewer at Webster

Christine Brewer, one of the world’s reigning dramatic sopranos, is Visiting Artist in Residence at Webster University.

She gave a talk tonight for our students.  Hers is one of a series of seminars we’ve front-loaded into the beginning of the semester; earlier today Sarah Bryan Miller of the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch spoke about journalism and music.

Christine talked about her career for 45 minutes, with an emphasis on taking chances, reaching for something more, and not being afraid.  This is sage advice from a one-time public school teacher!  She then took questions for a while.

And then she sang for us.

Christine has performed the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss over 70 times since 1993.  She sang one of them tonight.  I had the joy and privilege of accompanying her at the piano.  (Sadly, the picture of that is blurry, but it’s still recognizable.)

To hear one of the world’s greatest sopranos sing is unalloyed joy.  To play for her is heaven.