Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Messiah Marginalia

A philosopher at uToronto published a book called “Marginalia”. These are the notes scribbled in the margins of a text. In this marginalia you will find Words of Wisdom I have scribbled in my margins. Every conductor brings his/her particular style. What fun it has been to compare notes! All we like sheep manage to do as we are told. Having spent a lot of years listening to and appreciating wonderful music, I still listen and learn.

Firstly, I would like to set up the context of this piece. I started singing in a church choir in Toronto when I was 13 years old. We were the poorer relations in Toronto. We drove across town from the inner city to the Lawrence Park United church (LPUC) to sing. The church was fortunate to have an economic base strong enough to include 4 paid soloists. I learned much just listening to the way these professionals could create beautiful music in our sanctuary.
The choir was begun by my aunt; back when dinosaurs ruled the earth! She accompanied musicians at the Toronto Conservatory of Music when she was 16 years old. My parents have always sung in choirs - being adopted I only have this gift through osmosis. My father, a tenor in his time, never learned to read music, but both my parents put a lot of time in on Sunday mornings and Thursday nights at choir practice. They sang, in their later years, in the Elderberries, a senior’s choir in Muskoka. Dad participated in choirs, from 1940 until his brain tumour, in 2003, by listening, harmonizing and by using his ears. I have adopted his style! My mom has it in her genes.

Our church family often had superior musicians in our midst. At Easter time we had the Canadian Brass to accompany our choir. My aunt, long since dead, created a legacy of excellence. The choristers included members of the Mendelsohn choir, both the Mendelsohn and the Elmer Isler singers rehearsed, and often performed, in our church. I am honoured to sing with the professionals, being a lowly schoolmarm!

Some conductors, -many conductors- tell fabulous stories. They open up a part of themselves, reveal the inner person and help draw us into their mindset. The most wonderful leaders help us create a painting with the beauty of their metaphors and the analogies that mean the most to me are the most creative.

I begin with Messiah, and move to a couple of other pieces. Eventually, you get the picture. Each leader leads differently. It is wonderful to learn something new.

NOTES: The names have not been changed. Musicians, I have found, have a good sense of humour. We must. To spend the time and the energy that we expend in creating melifluous sounds, we must laugh. The dedication of the many members of the choir never ceases to amaze me. I laud those who have been here since the distant memory of time. Some of us have chronological giftedness, my grey hair and wrinkles being the proof! I would like to think that, like athletes, for singing is very physical, we improve by singing with the discipline and the dignity that results from succumbing to “the stick”!

No animals were harmed in the making of these notes! I have, however, sharpened a fair number of pencils – so trees are another story.

September, 2005 --Mathew Larkin
“I am deeply suspicious of that alto note!”

“I need you to sing closer to the fret. I think some of you have been listening to too many Middle Eastern records.”

“Cherish the notes like cognac.”

Messiah, 1984 --This was Brian Law.
[Whilst singing “For Unto Us a Child is Born”, pregnant with child #3, I did not take these words personally!]
“You don’t actively have to go through the whole birth process.” – of course this is an OLD joke, but then I am an old choir member!!!

Oct. 19th – new choir master... (Mathew Larkin)
“Moving on to the next chapter of our relationship – let us open up the Messiah!” (Mathew Larkin)

“Roll your R’s. I know it is an Anglican affectation…nevertheless” (Mathew Larkin)

“I need you to be resolutely in time.” We all resolve to be in time, reality is absolutely another matter.

As we participate in this new relationship, working with Dr. Julian Wachner, the NAC has thrown in a NEW perspective. (Check him out – quite impressive!) Perhaps this is an illicit relationship, seeing as we have one with Matthew Two-Two? [Do you notice we are told everything twice?! Did you notice that? The NAC usually hires a big gun for Messiah.

#4 is Madrigal dance: “anD the glahry, “ is to be light but not pompous. Because all will be reivealed. [anD ya gotta love the “D”s.] But the Flesh have got to be determined “L”s.

#7 For He shall purify, the P is not voiced.
We combine the old and new testament, i.e. Palestrina meets Handel’s vision of old and new. I CAN UNDERSTAND THAT!

This we sing “vesta voce”, [I was embarrassed to ask aloud, but went to Babelfish.com: “it dresses voice”. Who knew? 40-something schoolmarm. What do I know?!]

“Watch out for the hemiola.”
OK, I did go look THAT one up, too. ‘Tis better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt!”

Hemiola: “The word hemiola derives from the Greek hemiolios, meaning "one and a half". It was originally used in music to refer to the frequency ratio 3:2; that is, the interval of a justly tuned perfect fifth.

In early music, this term meant the ratio of 3:2, employed musically in two senses: the ratio of the perfect fifth, whose musical value is 3:2, and the rhythmic relation of three notes in the time of two, i.e., the triplet.”

#12 For Unto oahs (or euhs) is born - sing it with feeling, but not like the three tenors… Do use gudewill when singing. For His Yoke is Aysy, the Lamb weuld take away our sins. (I can hardly read the music for all these notes!)

Shoor-eh-ly, you will bring a HUGE He, to us and all our trahnsgresshawnes. Although we are wounded, with his strrrripes, and brighter shadow vowels, we shall be healid.

#26 All We Sheep are somber, as we wait for how we will deeleever him, Mathew says smile, at this point. You know, remember brighter vowels.

If He Delight in Him, we shall be nasty.
But don’t forget to Lift Up Yer ‘eads (Brian Law, 1984). Oops, that’s what he said NOT to do!

Sing the Hallelujah, Majestically, but a little less Christ, less s, more T – though not as if you are swearing…

Seence it is hopeful of the ressurrecshawn, for Worthy is the Lam, [no B!] and with all the glahry and ahnd cawst away your doubts, right, Jane?!

Once we make it to the Amen, we are in the “land of mezzopiano”, (I prefer the land of mezzoforte, meself! I like notes that stay on the bar lines!)

Those lovely -∆ ∆/ - ∆ ∆ / shalt unencumber us on page 25, help us dahnse through the piece!

p. 58 Prince of Peace, Try not to be too cute, i.e. don’t think of “Bunny Ears”. For Pete’s sake, when Dr. Wachter raises his baton DO NOT THINK OF MATTHEW’S BUNNY EARS analogy!


We move on to the Brucker, the sopranos were caught “with their pants down.” “Try to do something different, sops, whatever you are doing - it isn’t working!”

“Choir, choir!” cried Mathew 2:2 in despair, “I am conducting in half notes beats. Repeat after me, half-note beats.” [repeated: Half note beats.] Two times!

“In the Allelujah try not to be too defenseman line-ish.” Mathew does not suffer fools gladly.

“Choir, if it’s not blended by the 16th beat it’ll get tedious. Try blending a little earlier.”

p. 5 “We’ve had a G and an F#, try something in the middle, that’s all I want for Christmas!” (I can only hope we answer his prayer. Of course, has he been a good little boy?!)
“I want the forte to be a rich, full warm sound, especially compared to its little friend mezzopiano. Think of a Vancouver, West Coast mezzo-feeling. But do not dissolve into fuzziness.” (Right on, man!)

“Tenors, how nice it would be to see the whites of your eyes on those two little eighth notes!”

“If you are guessing in a performance it’s a distraction. Learn it between now and then!”

“The allargando: yes, please do slow down, but do not slam into reverse!”

P.10 “Go for saccharine, l think: John Rutteridge.”

Here is another story: I wrote it on page 12 of my score. It is a never to be forgotten story. (Bless you, Matthew for that one!) He was explaining how he'd been charged with being subfusc.

Subfusc: dusky drab; n. formal academic dress at Oxford University
\sub-FUHSK\, adjective: Dark or dull in color; drab, dusky.

P. 13 “Fecit potentiam - strength in his arm, it’s not in a sling!”

“Humiles –humbled, not dead. Sounds like you’ve flipping buried him, not like you are Mary, despondent at the news!”

p.21 poten /se-am/, “not /see-yam/, - those are vegetables, I think.”

p. 24 “Brighter, not girly. Mature, not wizened.” (Such pressure!)

p. 29 “I’m not convinced of the worthiness of this cadence, but you might convince me if you sing it in tune.” (One can only hope – another item for his Christmas list?)

p. 36 "Et in saeculorum". There is a key change. “This is where the elephant comes in, think of elephants - with plumage.” [Say what?]

On that splendidly delicious note, I leave you, dear readers/choristers.

Yours in harmony...


The Weaver of Grass said...

Hi Jennifer. Thank you for visiting my blog. Have just called and was spoilt for choiceas to which blog to view. This is a hurried call as I have got very behind with blogging over Christmas, but would love contact with anything Canadian. It is my favourite place in the world. Have visited Rockies, Maritime Canada, Anne of Green Gables Canada, Charlevoix coast, St Lawrence seaway, Great Lakes - have loved them all. Will put you on my blog list and call again.

penlan said...

Hi Jennifer,

Just popping in to wish you & yours a Happy & Peaceful New Year. :-)

The Weaver of Grass said...

Have just visited again and really enjoyed your comments - I too used to sing in choirs and the quote I have always remembered was made by an international conductor (can't remember his surname after all these years) who once conducted a choir I sang in. We were singing a Bach cantata, in German. I was on the front row of the altos. He said, "Altos - if the spit doesn't reach my face when you sing 'mein Gott!' you are not putting enough emphasis on the word.

Jenn Jilks said...

Weaver, that is a hoot! There must be a million of them. The wise and witty conductors are the best to sing with!

We would have 'translators' in to help us with various languages. German is so easy, in that you simply have to enunciate and explode with plausives and use your facial muscles.