Monthly Archives: May 2012

Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd has long been my favorite Sondheim show, in part because of the inexorable story line, and in part because of the wealth of hummable melodies, to which we add memorably drawn characters.

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is presenting Sweeney Todd in repertory for another three weeks.  I saw a preview performance last week, and had great seats for tonight’s second live performance.

Rod Gilfry is a triumph in this role.  Other principals are powerful actors and singers too.

Critics are raving.  And I went to see it a second time, as did a colleague of mine tonight.

Here’s an interview with several cast members.

To all near Saint Louis: beg, borrow, buy, steal a ticket to see this show!


Last week was a church-ish week for me.  I was serving on an ad hoc search committee at the Church of Saint Michael and Saint George in Clayton (my local home parish) as we interview and audition prospective assistant staff musicians.  And I was on task on Wednesday for eight hours, and again on Thursday for eight hours, and again on Friday for four.

And then on Friday evening, we consecrated the expanded Page Garden columbarium to the west of the narthex.  The choir sang two of Croft’s burial sentences from our perch in the choir room, with the windows open.

Choir rehearsals are now complete for the year.  We commence a new choir year in September.


Memorial Day 2012

Anatomy of a day:

6.30 – alarm goes off

7.15 – I’m finally out of bed after listening to NPR and cuddling with Samson

7.40 – breakfast of toast and blackberries, and some cold tea

8.10 – hop on a bike for a trip around Forest Park with K

9.20 – return home, winded and weary, and settle on the patio for long drink of cool water and some holiday conversation

10.10  – eat more toast and finish the berries; broil two chicken breasts; decide NOT to give Sam a bath (he’ll go to the grooming shop tomorrow)

10.40 – clean piano; take music to the basement shelves; generally tidy up the entry ahll

11.00 – answer emails; pay bills; change bedsheets; and so on

Noon – make an almond cake; lunch of ham salad, some cheese, and a bit of leftover dessert from last evening

[a portion of the almond cake recipe is here, on p 587]

12.30 – clean the fridge, including shelves, drawers, and sliders

1.00 – cake is finished; tidy room and closet

[note to self — when baking a cake in the new convection oven, stay close, or the cake may overcook.]

[another note to self – spring-form pans take extra greasing. Oops.]

1.15 – shower etc.

2.00 – to grocers for fresh vegetables and fruit and some chipotle mayo for dinner’s sandwiches; run into a professor colleague and chat for a few, and then talk with one of the priests from church for a bit

2.45 – make cucumber & onion salad; pay bills; buy tix for Sweeney Todd at OTSL this week

4.00 – nap

5.30 – pack picnic hamper for this evening; feed and water and exercise Samson

6.30 – at Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park for Othello, with one of my students in the cast; run into a new Webster music major in the Shakespeare teen troupe; visit with a couple of adjunct faculty members; enjoy time with D; eat chipotle chicken sandwiches on fresh homemade bread, with sides of salad, and dessert of almond cake; kill two bottles of wine

11.15 – home; unpack picnic hamper; quick shower to wash off the bug spray

11.30 – bed

And so begins Summer 2012!

Choral conducting

After several interviews and auditions (wherein I was an observer) during the past two years, I offer these random thoughts to conductors on the general topic of choral conducting.

  • Only stop the choir in rehearsal when you have something germane and/or pertinent to offer, and then offer it immediately without hesitation.
  • Less is more.  Learn this simple premise in your study of gesture, and use it generously, or should I say succinctly?
  • Speak clearly when addressing the choir.  And speak with authority and weight.
  • Mumbling is for when you grill or clean the house by yourself.  Mumbling to yourself has no place in the choral rehearsal, because it weakens your authority and weight.
  • Rehearsals are for the choristers.  Work out choral conducting gestures and music interpretation decisions in advance.
  • Inasmuch as is possible, rehearse the whole choir, rather than a small subset or a section.  If rehearsing a section is unavoidable, try a) also rehearsing a complementary section at the same time, so that both groups will become more secure, and also hear harmony rather than melody; or b) having the remainder of the choir sing a homing pitch around which the offending section can warble.
  • Give specific instructions.  “Watch that pitch” tells the choristers nothing.  “That pitch is flat in the altos,” or “The E in ‘end’ needs to be brighter in all three lower parts” gets a specific result.  Better yet is to tell us what is wrong and how to fix it.
  • Do not subdivide.  Subdividing only slows down the whole choral enterprise.  Save the subdivisions for the key moments when that little trick is absolutely necessary.
  • Show the breath and tempo indicator at exactly the same plane where you will place the entrance.  If you do not, we will not be perfectly together on our entrance, and you will likely blame us for following your lack of clarity.
  • We choristers appreciate a smile, and love being looked in the eye.  Most humans do.  So please do that.
  • Listen to us first.  Let us sing as much as we can without stopping us.  Then respond and guide.
  • When possible, say “We need to . . .” or “The music needs . . .” rather than “I want you to . . .”.  This is about the music, and the group of people who are making it together, not about you as a conductor.

These are all lessons that I have attempted to impart to my own students along the way, whether in a basic conducting class or in advanced doctoral-level conducting lessons and rehearsals.  I do my best to live out these simple rules in my own conducting and rehearsing, so I offer them without hesitation.