Well, nine music rehearsals and a table-read are finished. We start blocking tomorrow.
Jerrry Springer: the Musical is taking shape. We’ve had loads of laughter, some moments of frustration, and a lot of moments of vocal and choral beauty in this insanely brilliant show. These 18 actors have climbed a mountain indeed.
From what I can tell, we have few voices in the cast who have classical operatic experience. That Scott Miller has programmed an honest-to-god opera was an insane, inspired move on his part.
That we are tackling it with gusto is brave indeed!
I’m so proud of these singer/actors. Let the next step begin.
Today is Christmas Eve. My annual holiday letter is late in arriving, but with Christmastide just a few hours away, this still makes the mark.
I am listening today to the international broadcast of Lessons & Carols from King’s College Cambridge, and I find myself thinking about how much I miss conducting choral music. Perhaps a change is in order? A new group here in Saint Louis? We shall see.
Meanwhile, life continues to be full and rich and sometimes overwhelming. Last week, I completed my 25th year of university teaching. What began in January 1990 as a one-class gig plus choir at the community college in Blue Springs has led me through a half-dozen other institutions, numerous choral groups, international-level volunteering, and a life’s work. I am in my 7th year as Chair of the Department of Music at Webster University. We go from strength to strength, with a significant focus on excellence amongst our current students and growth in capacity and focus as we move forward. Generational shift is happening too: we have hired a new faculty member for next year as we fill a hole left by the retirement of a 42-year member of our faculty, and we have a search going on right now for another faculty member in a new line. These are positive signs of growth and life!
I have composed a bit less this year than in past years, focusing instead on reading a great deal of music that is new to me. But I did make my first stab at a popular-style song (musical theatre style) in January, and I’m very happy with this year’s Christmas carol. These next few weeks should bring a burst of compositional activity, as I have a song cycle to work on, plus an anthem for the local Episcopal cathedral.
My life includes a new gig this year: I am resident music director for New Line Theatre in Saint Louis. We have our first show of the three-show season down, with the next one starting just into the new year.
Travel this year included a couple of NYC trips, one of them with my niece Anna in tow for her first-ever experience in the city; a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona; a quick trip to Chicago in May to see Christine Brewer in The Sound of Music; a summer vacation with the Johnsons in Portland, Oregon; and a few short business trips including San Antonio. I’m excited about the next big trip, to Amsterdam, Berlin, and Prague this next July.
Ingrid the Volvo retired in May, and I now lease Birgit the Volvo, a 2015 S-60 with way too much power under the hood. She’s exactly the kind of sedan that is right for a middle-aged man who has broken his leg twice in the last two years.
Perhaps the two big newsy items this year are the death of my beloved great-aunt Esther Summers in April, just a few days shy of her 102nd birthday; and my broken leg and surgery a few weeks prior to that. I spent the latter part of February and March learning how to walk with a titanium rod in my right tibia!
Aunt Esther’s funeral happened on the same day that I was inducted in the Lee’s Summit High School Hall of Fame on a day filled with contrasts and emotion.
Saint Louis has been rocked in the past few months with overt and clear indications that sin continues to wrack our world. I do what I can to support important local institutions that are working to facilitate change. My parish family at Christ Church Cathedral is on the forefront of some of these efforts.
The family continues to live in Lee’s Summit and other points in western Missouri. I shall join them tomorrow for a holiday meal and to give some presents to the wee ones. Samson, newly slimmed down and in fighting shape at age 14, will remain here in Saint Louis with a dear friend.
The year 2014 closes with economic hope but civil uncertainty, with questions all around. But people of good will can and will overcome and bring about the world we wish to see . . . of this I am certain. Justice and mercy and grace shall prevail.
The rounds of holiday concerts and end-of-semester tasks are over. Now silence, and peace, and growing light and hope. A blessed Christmastide to all!
I’m doing a gig this evening for a private party, playing for two Webster University seniors to entertain with Christmas songs.
So we needed to rehearse, and we all needed to eat.
Therefore Friday evening became an impromptu dinner of homemade chicken and noodles, fresh sourdough bread, and a salad. And then we sang.
Friday evenings at home are rarely more fun.
I have for years had a love/hate relationship with December. Mostly love, I suppose . . . .
For a musician, December is that month of hell. It’s worse than Holy Week. The concerts just don’t seem to end. Last year I was singing with Bach Society and SLSO Symphony Chorus. In previous years I’ve had school concerts, professional singing gigs, choruses of my own to conduct, and of course extra church events.
The arrival of Christmas Eve morning where I gather with others to listen to the King’s College, Cambridge Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols marks the peaceful end of what is usually a hectic month.
And so this year I am amazed to realize that I have no official singing duties in December. Instead, I will attend many concerts!, to whit —
- December 1, Webster University Wind Ensemble
- December 3, Webster University student chamber ensembles
- December 6, SLSO subscription concert
- December 6, Saint Louis Children’s Choruses holiday concert
- December 7, Webster University’s A Gift to the City
- December 7, Orchestrating Diversity holiday concert
- December 8, Webster University Jazz Singers
- December 11, Straight No Chaser holiday concert at Fox
- December 13, Circus Flora with SLSO holiday concert
- December 19, A Christmas Story (Pasek & Paul) at the Fox
- December 20, SLSO Holiday Pops concert
- December 21, Saint Louis Chamber Choir holiday concert (featuring Howells)
- December 23, Bach Society of Saint Louis annual candlelight concert
And then a few hours after that final concert ends, I will listen to the sounds from England as the King’s College Choir (including at least one chorister I know from Gloucester last year) beckons in the joyful season of Christmastide.
Friday. Drive to Kirksville and back (which when you think of the time/distance is just like driving to Lee’s Summit and back) for a National Association of Teachers of Singing adjudication. Attend Ken Haller’s cabaret show at the Gaslight, in celebration of Ken’s 60th birthday.
Saturday. Up early for a morning sing at the College Music Society annual conference, this year in Clayton, Missouri. I led the assembled conventioners in music by Palestrina, Bach, Mendelssohn, Hensel, Rachmaninoff, Stanford. Then visit with Dr. Lori Rhoden. And attend a couple of sessions on technology in teaching. Home for an early lunch. Work on putting my sleeping and studying floor at home back in order after the whirlwind of October. To school to teach make-up lessons. Make a cottage pie and salad for dinner, and then dine with K. Attend the Webster Conservatory cabaret show at the Gaslight, and cheer on three of my favorite kids, including my own student Eden Eernissee. Jean the Magnificent and Ron join us. Set the clocks back an hour.
Sunday. Church. A voice lesson at home. Missouri History Museum, just because I want to. Attend Evensong for All Saints and All Souls Days at St. Peter’s, Ladue (where Howells is being sung!). To school for a concert, and then a make-up lesson.
I have unpacked the new shredder, and finished three loads of laundry. And I’ve organized a ton of files, papers, and personal records. That’s enough for any one weekend.
About Dr. Rhoden: when I was at Ball State University, Lori and I would grab 30 minutes at the close of the day, about once a month, and visit in her office or in mine. I’ve not seen her in 6.5 years. Today we sat down in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton and acted like we did when I was in Muncie. What a delight this catch-up was!
After years away from the pit, I’m delighted to return to the theatre scene as musical director of this outstanding production. And I’m so happy to be working with Scott and the gang at New Line Theatre in Saint Louis.
We put things together on Sunday with the band. Among the group is a Webster University student and a Webster alum. I understand that I’ll have another alum and another student subbing during the run of the show.
Sunday’s rehearsal was delightful. We made it through the the first-read with the orchestra and first-sing-with-orchestra (called a sitzprobe in theatre and opera terminology) in less than three hours. I worked a few details with the orchestra, and from long experience know that the rest of the finicky stuff will be taken care of during the three dress rehearsals this week.
Having the band and the singers together for the first time is always an electrifying experience. The music comes alive. I hear and see different things. Of course we have timing issues, but these are happy problems as we ask the actors to let the music breathe a bit (and let that guitar get in that lick, and let the drums fill for an instant, and let the fiddle simply fiddle). I love that I get to play a bit less and quit trying to fill in all the gaps. And I love the whole concept and reality of the intense collaboration that takes place in the orchestra pit. The bottom line for all of us who have been present rehearsal after rehearsal: everything sounds different . . . full . . . alive . . . whole . . . and this leads to much happiness.
That I’m surrounded by pros in the pit (actually, packed in like sardines with pros in a tight space) makes my life easy. We made quick work of problem spots. I have a great rhythm section that instinctively knows what to do. The color is provided by a woodwind player and a fiddle/violin player and a second keyboard player, all knowledgeable and experienced. Monday’s run was a quantum leap over Sunday’s very fine sitz.
So one run is down, and two more will bring us to a preview night and then the official opening of Bonnie & Clyde on Friday.
What fun this is!!
Who thinks theatre is glamorous?
We are getting close, though, and in another ten days the glamour will be real with costumes and props and lights and stuff. And the band. Definitely the band.
Bonnie & Clyde at New Line Theatre is in great shape right now!
Here are two impromptu shots from before rehearsal Thursday evening:
And without giving away the set, here’s a teaser: