Learning each and every day

My quest to edify myself a bit every day

Archive for the category “Music”

Day 154 – May 24

Wow, I”m on a roll . . . .FOUR days in a row! And today, I learned TWO things! lol

I found a recipe for a cucumber mint drink, and though I’d give it a try. The recipe comes from simplyrecipes.com and you can also find it on my drinks and desserts board on pinterest. I’ll be honest, mine did not look nice and green like that. It was more like a milky green color . . .not sure why! I have to say that this was pretty much a failure. I only sort of liked it and the babes just sipped it. If they would’ve like it, they would’ve chugged away. DH’s reaction was pretty hilarious. Apparently he’s mowed alot of yards in his life that have mint plants in them. So when he picked it up to take a drink, all he could think of was mowing. ROTFL! Oh well! I’m going to add some more sugar and maybe some coconut extract to see if that improves the flavor. Or maybe I’ll forgo the sugar and extract and just mix it with some Fresca . . we’ll see.

My other lesson was a music lesson. I’m the biggest choir nerd everywhere. I’ve been singing in choirs since I was maybe 8, when I joined the church choir. Since then, I think the only time I wasn’t in a choir was the 3 years we lived in Maryland. I’ve had lots of different directors with equally as many different conducting styles. Most of the time, warm-ups were very basic, not very involved. The exception to that was my college choral director, Bruce Rasmussen. Although he did have many basic warm-ups, we also did plenty of more interesting things. We’d spend time singing bizarre chords to try and get intonation correct (or at least I’m assuming that was the purpose). Or he would take some really tricky chords from a piece we were learning and incorporate that into the warm-ups. I always appreciated his creativity in the warm-up realm.

Robert Shaw was really an amazing choral director. Well, I guess I’m just making that assumption, (having never actually seen him conduct), based on the wonderful results he’d get from his singers in all of his recordings. To this day, I have yet to hear a Robert Shaw Chorale recording that I didn’t like. I never really thought too much about what caused such excellent performances. I figured it was amazing singers who actually listened to their director. A former colleauge of mine, John Stafford, posted this article on facebook today, and I found it fascinating. I must’ve spent the better part of 30 minutes listening to all of the examples. In all of my years of choral singing, I’m not sure that we’ve done any of these exercises, at least not with intent of accomplishing the same goal laid out by Robert Shaw. I need to sit and process the information a bit more, but I can see how these exercises could easily take a choir to the next level. Actually, I think some of these exercises would be very good for solo singers as well. Sometimes I think that singers don’t spend much time trying to stay in tune on their own accord, relying only on the piano or other accompanying instrument to lead them along. I think doing some of these exercises would really challenge many solo singers to actually listen to themselves and be more responsible for their intonation.

Anyway, if music is your thing, or if you’re a choir nerd, or even just somewhat interested in music, you might want to check out this article.

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Day 137 – May 7

As a result of my last post about counter tenors, I learned about male sopranos, thanks to a good friend from grad school. I hadn’t really heard of male sopranos before today. My voice teacher in college was a tenor, who also happened to be able to sing most of the notes in my soprano music. He was often able to demonstrate how to produce a note, even though he was a male. I suppose it was a bit strange, but very useful at times, too. So, in retrospect, I suspect he may also have been a male soprano?

Anyway, the person I listed to on youtube was Michael Maniaci. To be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed upon the first hearing. I listed to his version of Mozart’s “Alleluia”, which apparently was originally written for male soprano . . . who knew? The sound was different from the countertenor sound and it bothered me, but I’m not really sure why. Maybe I’m just used to hearing the counter tenor sound. No, that can’t be it. As I said before, my voice teacher in college would often sing phrases from my music, and I never thought “Ick”. I’m thinking maybe it was less the male soprano sound that bothered me and more his execution of the music. The notes lacked a nice round, warmth, the vibrato was too crazy for my likings, he attacked some of the phrases in a less-than-musical way, and the way he moved his mouth was just weird with lots of unnecessary movement. (Although, that last thing really isn’t a problem specific to male sopranos, per se.) Oh, and let’s talk for a moment about his melismas. I seriously wanted to poke him with a cattle prod and say, “dude, don’t get so bogged down and keep up with the beat!”

But, not wanting to write him off after only one experience, I listened to another recording, this one an aria by Handel. I wasn’t really bothered by this performance. Maybe his voice was better suited to Handel than Mozart? Maybe he was having a better performance day? Who knows, but I didn’t mind this much. His vibrato still bothered me, but there are really great female sopranos that have bothersome vibrato, but who still give a great performance. (Maria Callas comes to mind.) I’m interested enough now that I’ll be hunting down other recordings to see what else he has to offer.

I also listened to a bit of an interview between Maniaci and a counter tenor in which the discussed the differences between the two voices. The main difference is that male sopranos aren’t singing in their falsetto, which means that they are able to actually add color and nuance to their sound and also have dynamic variety. How did I not know that counter tenors (or men who sing in their falsetto) have no dynamic variation?

So that’s TWO things I learned today! Thanks, Deb!

Day 135 – May 5

Farinelli is one of the more famous castrati. Maybe it was his powerful voice or the fact that he came from an affluent rather than a poor family. In any case he was famous. As far as I know, there are no modern day castrati, but there are counter tenors . . .. the main difference, of course, being the castration part.

Counter tenors, or male altos, are often used in early music, especially that of the Baroque era. I can always tell when I hear a choral work that has a counter tenor singing the solos as opposed to a mezzo soprano. Their sound is just very different from that of an alto or a mezzo-soprano. There’s something about the timbre of counter tenors that cuts through more and is less round and warm, if you will. Whenever I hear a counter tenor sing, I wonder how their sound differs from that of the castrati, and wonder if it’s possible for counter tenors to have the power that some castrati, like Farinelli, were known for.

I don’t know the answer to that, but today I DID discover that yes, counter tenors actually do have a more powerful sound than mezzos. I was at choir rehearsal, and we were working on a Purcell piece. As the altos and tenors were singing through their part together I thought, “Hmmm . . .there’s ALOT more sound coming from the alto section, and it’s a different quality than I’m used to. There must be a countertenor over there.” Sure enough, a male alto had joined the section. I was really surprised at what a big difference it made to have him singing. Just one person was able to produce almost more sound than the whole alto section. To be fair, he’s a trained singer, whereas many of the female altos are not. So it’s not exactly an even comparison. But, I’m pretty confident in saying that were the mezzos all trained singers, I still would have picked out the male alto. I was thinking about this all day. (Yes, yes I AM a music nerd!) I decided that it had to do with the fact that the male alto is singing in the upper part of his voice while the female altos are singing in the lower part of their voices. I won’t bore you with a complete discussion of how vocal sounds are produced, but suffice it to say that the male altos sound is going to carry farther than that of his female counterpart due to where the notes sit in their range.

Now, this isn’t to say that I think counter tenors should be filling all of the seats in alto sections across the country. As I said before, the male altos lack a sense of warmth and roundness that is more likely to be present in the alto or mezzo sound. Really, I’m just saying that the performance of Baroque music is definitely enhanced by having male altos supplement the alto section.

Okay, now that your eyes have glazed over, I’ll stop=)

Days 108-115 — April 8-April 15

Wowza! It’s been over a week since I’ve posted anything! It’s not for lack of learning, it’s really for lack of time. This past week was VERY busy for me as I was helping out a friend with her middle school’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” I’d been accompanying the rehearsals, but last week was the dress rehearsals, which meant every night was taken up with that. I barely had time to do my regular homemakers stuff, let along, compose witty (or not) blog posts! So, rather than post seven individuals posts, I’m just going to lump all of the missed days into one giant post. Here we go!

April 8 – Our lawn is horrid. Really, it should just be covered with ground cover and the grass should be non-existent. What am I saying, the grass IS non-existent! It’s a VERY shaded lots, with sections only getting 3-4 hours of sunlight per day. Not exactly conducive to having a luscious lawn. Mrs. Landlady thinks otherwise. She is certain that we killed her lawn. (Insert giant eyeroll here.) We decided to plant grass not because we thought we killed the lawn, but because we wanted out children to have a nice place to play this summer. The grass has been coming up nicely.

And I’m sure Mrs. Landlady would say, “Thank you for fixing my already established lawn.” (Insert raucous laughter.) Somehow I don’t think that this


qualifies as established lawn. See the nice fluffy patch of grass? That is only present in about 1/3 of the lawn. The other 1/3 is somewhat patchy, and the rest has little tufs of grass with lots of mud in between. And the only reason those tufts are there? Right, we planted the grass. Anyway, so what did I learn today? It takes TONS of grass seed to get a good looking lawn. The first picture above is how we want the lawn to look. That’s the one spot where the babes dumped a TON of seed. The other pics are where we used the spreader to methodically spread the grass. So, if we want a lush lawn, we are going to need alot of seed. But, since this isn’t our house, it just doesn’t make sense to spend tons of money improving the lawn. So, for now, we’ll be happy with patchy grass.

April 9 – This was the first dress rehearsal for “Joseph”. Prior to this, I’d been playing from the full score, and my keyboard part I would be playing in the show was slightly different from that. I played this show about 5 years ago, but I used the full score. So, there were a few sections in the actual keyboard I part that required a wee bit of practice. My discovery for the day was that rhythms practice really does work. It’s a little hard to explain without actual music, and to be honest, I’m too lazy to write something up. So, a verbal description will have to do!

When you have a passage that has constant 8th notes or 16th notes, it can be tricky to get all of the notes correct. You could just play it over and over, but a more efficient use of your time is to do rhythms practice. Let’s take one measure as an example. You have 8 eighth notes. Rather than playing them evenly, you’d play: long short long short long short long short (or a series of dotted 8ths and 16th). Then you’d flip it around: short long short long short long short (or a seris of 16th and dotted 8th). You start out slowly and do the rhythms until you get all the notes right. Then you slowly increase your speed. At some point, it’s good to stop and try the passage as written in tempo to see how you’ve done.

So I did this with two particular passages. I wasn’t playing them perfectly, but between being a homemaker and spending time with the babes, I ran out of time to do more rhythm practice. Well, apparently the practice wasn’t all for naught. As I was playing Monday night, I would get distracted trying to watch the students. Most of the time, I’d have to drop out for a measure or two until I figured out where I was. This wasn’t the case with the two passages that were treated with rhythms practice. Even when I got distracted, it was like my fingers just knew what to do, and it worked almost flawlessly. I was amazed! I should mention that I’m really, at heart, not a pianist. Sure, I”ve been playing piano since I was 5, but what I really love (and what my degree is in) is singing. That’s what I’m really good at. Playing the piano is just an added benefit. In college I’d always hear my piano and organ major friends talking about rhythms practice, but never had occasion to try it out. I’m pleased to know that it actually works!

April 10 – The show “Joseph” has a keyboard I and a keyboard II part. We both were playing on keyboards (not actual pianos) that were connected to an amp. My keyboard was such that I could still hear myself even when amped. The other keyboard was not. So the other lady couldn’t hear herself at all (she was sitting farther away from the amp). It got me to thinking that hearing is so very important when it comes to making music. Regardless of your instrument, you use the information gleaned through your hearing to make adjustments to your speed, volume, texture of sound, etc. Without this feedback, the result is often times less than optimal. Have you ever heard someone singing along with an iPod? Generally, they don’t sounds all that great because they can only hear the music and not themselves.

So back to the other keyboardist . . . once she got a set of headphones so that she could hear herself, she was much more relaxed and was able to give a more accurate performance. It made me appreciate Beethoven and his music even more. How he managed to compose and perform music without the ability to hear is truly amazing.

April 12 – The local JoAnn’s closed up shop and re-opened in a new, larger location. For the past 2 or so months, they’ve been liquidating their merchandise. Today was supposed to be their last day of business, at least that what I had been told a few weeks ago. I took the babes there to show them how different the store looked with much of the shelving gone, and I was going to see what else I could score at a 90% discount. (On Sunday, I bought $200 worth of fabric to $20!) Well, when we arrived, I was told by a less-than-kind lady, who incidentally didn’t work there, that they were closed. We just stepped inside to take a look and one of the employees said it was fine for us to stay so long as we didn’t get in the way. As we watched, we saw them throwing lots of trim and other left over merchandise into the trash. I was totally shocked! So apparently, anything that didn’t get purchased got thrown away. Perfectly good merchandise, junking up the landfills. I asked if it could be donated somewhere, and they said, “No.” Really? So appalling. It seems like instead of paying their employees to unwind the trim and throw it away, they could pay them to load up the merchandise and drive it two miles to the new store. Really, I was speechless.

So on Thursday I learned that we really ARE a wasteful society. What a shame!

April 13 – Today, I learned beyond a shadow of a doubt that punctuality is not my thing. I’ve been trying to be punctual since I started college, and I”m almost always 1-4 minutes late. According to Dr. Phil (the purveyor of all truth -haha), people who are perpetually late do so because they don’t feel that that particular appointment is important enough to merit an on time arrival. I suppose this is somewhat true, but for me, there is a much simpler reason for my tardiness.

Let’s go back to grade school and high school. I’m pretty sure I got places on time. “Well, that’s because your parents drove you.” Yes, that’s partly true, but in high school, I was on my own since I was at a boarding school, and I made it to class on time most of the time. Then, I got to college, and life suddenly got MUCH busier. It wasn’t that I thought that class was unimportant (well, sometimes I did!), I had so many things to do. Generally, I was doing something important, like homework or practicing or something, and I would try and do it for as long as possible before dashing off to class or my next apppointment. Grad school was no different as I was working while going to school. Then I entered the work world, and had two, sometimes three jobs. So, again, every second of my day was filled with important tasks. I wasn’t late because I was kicking back watching TV or taking a bubble bath. I was late because I was trying to get as much done in a 24-hour period as possible. Now that I have children, much of the time I”m late becuase, well, you can lead a horse to water, but you just can’t force them to drink. It can be quite tricky to motivate 2 preschoolers and a toddler to get out the door.

So, this all came to a head on Friday, opening night of “Joseph”. I had, of course, been several minutes late to the rehearsals, and I told myself it was because of the time, right before supper time. This meant that I was trying to get supper ready and on the table, wolf down some food, and get to rehearsal by 5:30. Well, Friday’s call was 6:30 and I was still late. Granted, part of that was because I forgot to factor in extra time to find parking. But, I was still late, as in, I was the last orchestra person to show up. This held true for the Saturday and Sunday performances as well.

So today, I’ve decided to quit beating myself up over this. Clearly, this is not going to change, given that it’s been an issue for, oh, 15 years. I’ll continue to apologize for my tardiness when necessary. I’m sure I’ll continue to be tardy, and, I’m okay with that.

April 15 – I always type out directions for myself when I’m doing a biggish sewing project. At first it was my way of thinking through the project to make sure I knew what I was doing before launching in. Then, with things like baby carriers and clothing (i.e. things that I make often-ish), I needed the directions because I was always changing things, and it was good to have the changes on paper. There have been times when I didn’t write down directions. DD’s birthday dress is an example. That turned out okay, but it was definitely a brain strain.

Today I continued working on my newest baby carrier project, a meitai with wrap-style straps. I’ve made many, many meitais in the past, but this is the first time doing one with wrap-style straps and without a hidden layer in the body. I wanted to add padding for the legs. Generally, I would sew this directly onto the hidden layer. Since there was none, I would need to secure it to one of the outer layers. I’d thought about this on Saturday, and realized that I’d need to stack my layers thus: outer layer right side up, inner layer right side down, leg padding. I knew this and had it all figured out. I didn’t get a chance to actually work on that part of the carrier until Sunday. By that point, I was distracted with the usual “being a mom” things, the “Joseph” performance, and other things. Alas, I did it wrong: I placed the padding in between the layers. This meant that the padding was visible on the outside, not at all the result I was looking for. I’m quite certain that this could have been avoided if I would have just written down the directions. Even jotting a little note to myself would have been sufficient.

So today’s lesson: I’m lead much too distracted of a life to trust my brain. In the future, I’ll just take the time to jot down some notes and save myself having to spend quality time with my seam ripper!!

Phew! We made it through the week. I’m hoping this week will be less busy so that I can post my “usual” daily posts!

Day 85 – March 16

I discovered today that my knowledge of how the voice works, which comes from having a degree in vocal performance, and the knowledge of a speech and language pathologist (SLP) overlap nicely. Granted, there are plenty of things related to how people learn to create certain types of sounds and how to fix speech problems that are beyond me. But as far as phonation and articulation go, vocalists and SLP’s have very similar knowledge.

I took our preschooler to a SLP today because he has vocal nodules. I wasn’t at all surprised when he was diagnosed as I’d been telling him since he was about 2.5 that he needed to stop making certain sounds as they were terrible for his voice. He, of course, didn’t listen to me, and now he has nodules. It was interesting talking with the SLP. Once she figured out that I was quite knowledgeable in how the voice worked, we were able to have an interesting conversation about my son’s vocal problems. At one point, she was listening to him talk and pointed out that he phonates when he inhales . . . not really a good thing. I had noticed it before, but hadn’t really thought about it as I’d just gotten accustomed to hearing it. Once she pointed it out, I was hearing it all. the. time. And since returning from the appointment, I’ve been hearing all sort of bad vocal habits.

It will be interesting to see how his therapy goes. The SLP was pretty convinced that I would be able to do all of the work with him myself, but I thought it would be best to have the info coming from someone else so that he would actually take it to heart. I’m looking forward to seeing how else I can use my vocal knowledge to help DS improve the use of his voice!

Day 42 – February 11

Sight-singing has always been my nemesis. I’m just not that good at it . . . .and I blame my ear-training teacher from Theory 1 in college. Ostensibly, we were supposed to meet with her twice a week to do ear-training and sight-singing. For whatever reason, we only met once a week, and sight-singing practice/training just didn’t happen. When I hit Theory II the next year, I was the only vocal major, so the expectation was that I was great at sight-singing and it was easy for me. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth! Add that to the pressure I felt to be amazing, and it was awful. I remember some sight-singing tests that were just flops. One in particular was an atonal thing (so not exactly easy). I knew I had messed up, and knew where, but couldn’t figure out how to get back on track, because frankly, there was no track, it was atonal. Anyway, it was so terrible I actually had to tell the prof that I was finished. AWFUL!!

Anyway, so what does that have to do with today’s lesson? Well, I’m not as terrible as I tell myself that I am. But, my cause is definitely helped or hindered depending on who I’m sitting next to in choir rehearsal. Last week, I was next to a very young singer (read: not yet able to read all the musical road signs at the same time, hence, the volume was always LOUD!), and I was so thrown off when she’d be singing the wrong notes. I knew I was right, but it sure was hard to hang on when there was so much sound in my ear.

Contrast that with today, when I was sitting next to another soprano who was not at all loud. I’m not sure if she was not well or just not confident, but she didn’t sing very loud. My ability to “hang on” to the correct notes was greatly improved. I should add that we were reading slightly easier music this week than last. Last week is was a Bach motet that was VERY busy and lots of little black notes, so pretty easy to get all tangled up and lost. This week it was Mozart and Lasso, not as busy and slower. So I guess that probably had something to do with it as well. In any case, I learned that I’m not a horrid sight-reader, just not as good as I should be given my degree in vocal performance=) But I also realized that it’s high time I quit beating myself up over it. Singing is my gift, sight-singing is not. I’m finally okay with that.

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