Tag Archives: choir

Case Study: adapting music for amateur choir

A trained soprano approached me recently about adapting a famous Buddhist song, arranged for four-part voice, for a 45-person amateur choir, pianist, cello, and saxophone. Continue reading

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Dome Church Sunday Service Domkerk Utrecht

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Spatial music: movement and sound in Nicolaikerk

Years ago, as a composition student, I was asked to write music to make use of the huge space in St Nicolas Church in Utrecht. Pressed for time, I adapted a piece for baroque recorders and baroque violin. Only at the premiere did I see the greater possibilities of space and movement.

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Mozart’s Requiem to mourn a loss

Can anyone tell me the name of the movie in which a man and a woman date, get into a relationship, and split — the man listens to Mozart’s Requiem to cope with the break-up? The woman can read minds, so he is never private?

I watched that movie a long time ago — and developed a habit of listening to Mozart’s Requiem whenever I wanted to feel the sadness and tragedy of a situation.

When I returned to Maui recently, I came upon such an occasion. But my CD of Herbert von Karajan’s conducting Mozart’s Requiem was no longer with me. It’s probably among the entire collection of CDs that have vanished from my life — in Utrecht.

That in itself is cause for mourning.

Thanks to the Internet, I googled “Mozart’s Requiem” and listened to a version on Youtube. Much to my dissatisfaction at the slower pace and thinner texture, I searched for “Mozart’s Requiem Karajan” to find that particular version I knew and yearned.

Not only was I able to listen to the entire Requiem but also see the performers on Youtube. This nearly beats listening to the CD, except I have no stereo system. That too is gone.

What am I mourning? The loss of what is meaningful because the situation dictates it. What is meaningful comes from intention, be it a gift or purposeful acquisition. Over time, even that which was not intentionally and deliberately acquired could become meaningful if dwelled upon and appreciated.

Two weeks ago, I returned to London and took out what I had stored in suitcases, photo albums, and boxes — everything that I had wanted to keep and preserve in the secret loft. I was like a child again, returning home, surrounding myself with everything familiar and nearly forgotten in the years I’ve been away.

Sadly, after reducing my possessions by half, I had to store the remaining half away, boxed up and sealed. I don’t know when I will return again.

In the 10 hour flight to San Francisco, I bid farewell via two onboard movies and a nap. Flying westbound was a journey of goodbye, mourning of a reluctant loss.

Listen to Mozart’s Requiem on full blast — and you will experience a great tragedy.

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Maui College Chorus: Earth Songs

First I met the conductor, Celia Canty. Then I saw the college choir perform. Next I wrote reviews.

Now I accompany the singers, arrange for them to perform, and blog about their upcoming performances.

Maui College Chorus, April 2012. Photo: Lloyd Canty

Maui College Chorus, April 2012. Photo: Lloyd Canty

I asked Celia about her choice of songs for the Spring 2012 concert. “They all have to do with the earth,” she replied in a recent interview. “The songs are from all over the world, and the choir sings them in original language. But ‘earth’ also has another meaning, too — as in planting trees, jasmine flower, etc.”

In the beginning, the choir was a collection of  individuals with separate voices and universes. After weeks of rehearsing, they blend into one single sound. It requires hearing oneself and hearing others. Celia Canty, who has perfect pitch, can hear if someone sings out of tune. She says it’s both a blessing and a curse to have this ability to hear absolute pitch, as it’s sometimes called.

When we arranged to have the college cable TV crew film the singers, it was intended as a concert performance with no audience. I would have preferred a video of a rehearsal, for that’s far more interesting than a concert. At a rehearsal, one gets to learn. One gets to see how the raw material becomes refined into something beautiful. See the video below of a rehearsal of the popular Chinese folk song — Jasmine Flower, which Puccini used in the opera Turandot and which I once arranged for harp (PDF) because I loved it so much and wanted to play it.

Watch short video clip: Celia Canty rehearses Maui College Chorus on harp

Maui College Chorus, Spring 2012. Photo: Lloyd Canty

Maui College Chorus, Spring 2012. Photo: Lloyd Canty

Performances (all free):

  • 13 April 2012 @2:45 pm Preview for Academic Senate Meeting, UHMC
  • 19 April 2012 @3:45 pm Roselani Place, Kahului
  • 27 April 2012 @7 pm Iao Congregational Church, Wailuku
  • 3 May 2012 @4 pm Kalama Heights, Kihei
Maui College Chorus Concert Program, Spring 2012

Maui College Chorus Concert Program, Spring 2012

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Rehearsals and work-in-progress as previews (trailers)

Watching a rehearsal of a choir or the behind-the-scenes of a film production makes me want to go see the real thing (when it’s ready). Like watching a chef prepare a meal, I start to get hungry.

Not the concert itself, Utrecht Conservatory June 2008. Photo: F. vd Meer

Not the concert itself, Utrecht Conservatory June 2008. Photo: F. vd Meer

Twitter led me to watch the work-in-progress of The Hobbit which will come out next here. The youtube video is not short by any means, but you grow to love the people working on the set and film.

On Facebook, I played a video of the rehearsal of the 88-member student choir of the New England Conservatory. So much goes on in a rehearsal that is not obvious. For the bystander like myself, I see beauty that is being created. I am reminded of my days as a conservatory student, singing in two choirs per year to improve my solfege. For others, it’s the awe of the director — how he manages to get the choir to produce an impressive sound.

The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam offers free lunch concerts each Wednesday. I remember queuing 45 minutes before one such event, shoulder to shoulder in the reception area, standing like sardines in anticipation of a 45 minute concert. When the doors finally opened about 10 minutes before the concert, we rushed in and exclaimed a unison “wow!”  It was the stendhalismo effect of arriving at a historically important place, feeling the special feng shui and grandiose atmosphere, and all of that we normally don’t get to experience in daily life. Once we sat down, I realized that it was just a rehearsal. Not even a dress rehearsal. But it was the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. They were rehearsing a Brahms violin concerto. All musicians were informally dressed, despite being on stage and in front of a full-house of eager listeners. We fell silent when the conductor raised his stick. I closed my eyes. This could easily be the concert itself. The conductor brought the violinist into his solo. After leading the orchestra to join him in a mesmerizing passage, he stopped at a beautiful chord. I opened my eyes to another unison sigh from the audience — an “Ah!”

The free lunch rehearsal concert ended 15 minutes earlier than I had expected. Yet we all felt satisfied — as though we’ve had our lunch.

That was a live trailer of the concert that evening.

All in all, I’d say that rehearsals, work in progress, behind the scenes and pre-production all lead us to anticipate. When we anticipate, we expect. It makes us look forward to the real thing.

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Pure acoustics unamplified

One of the reasons why I so enjoyed the choral concert I attended two days ago was that it was not amplified. Even the conductors abandoned the microphones to speak directly to the audience. Now you might exclaim, what’s the big deal? Of course it should not be amplified.

Neither were the Hawaiian Youth Symphony (HYS) concert and the Maui Pops Orchestra & San Francisco Pocket Opera production of “The Elixir of Love” amplified at the Castle Theatre in Maui. Except for the soloists in the HYS (which I did not think needed it), nothing was amplified. But the sound engineer could not wait to flip on background (amplified) music before and between the performances. I preferred to hear the sound of the audience rather than recorded music to fill the void.

The unamplified sound of a rehearsal of Handel’s Water Music in the big concert hall of the Utrecht Conservatory in the Netherlands was infinitely better than the live performance outdoors on the canal the next day. Why? Because the latter was amplified. [For more, visit the 10th paragraph in this blog post.]

Something I notice in Maui and elsewhere in the USA, there is constant background music filling the air space in hotel lobbies, shopping malls, department stores, restaurants and other places. Even when there is no music, an eternal fountain of noise is stifling the silence.

I daresay from years of working with classical musicians that they prefer to have pure silence when they are not making music. The ears need a rest. The ears need recharging.

I get annoyed when told by the guitarist to close the lid on the piano because it’s too loud. Equally, he gets annoyed when he has to use amplification to bring out the sound of the guitar. We as a piano guitar duo prefer not to use any amplification. We adapt to the acoustics, just as any classical music performer would, not with amplification or filter.

No, I don’t have a portable electric keyboard. No, Robert Bekkers does not have an amplifier for his acoustic guitar. We produce music the way we hear it for you to hear it —- pure and unamplified. Of course, it won’t sound the same outdoors. The instruments have to be amplified outdoors as we experienced it in Cape Town and Provence.

Below, amplified background music of slide guitar as audiences leave the Castle Theatre for the Yokouchi Pavillion in the Maui Arts and Cultural Centre.

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