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Three score and ten or more

Monday, December 13, 2010

From the anticipatory to the realization

The last few days have been very rich.  Besides doing some good Christmas shopping and stuff like that,  we went; first, to the Camas High School Band Christmas Concert. 

The small group section was  very good.  They have two Jazz ensembles, and, for high school bands, in fact for bands playing locally in clubs or restaurants the quality was right up there.   The first ensemble had a baritone sax player who  could do union work tomorrow, and the second has a trumpet soloist who was a little guy who looked about twelve years old who just blew the heck right out of his horn.  He did an intricate solo that went from low register to high register and was very polished.  When the whole band started playing, I was impressed that they had an enthusiastic band with over one hundred thirty players.   With the advent of “No child left behind” and a general  budget crunch in secondary education, it was a thrill just to see that the school hadn’t given up on music altogether.

Having said that, the final concert section of the evening got off to a slow start.  Anderson’s Sleigh ride was a bit disturbing.  The percussion was the best part of the number but the low brass, in particular was muddy.  I began to wish them well and just hope it improved.  I had heard this band last year, and they were very impressive, but I was concerned after that first number.  The third number on the program was The Nightmare Before Christmas and it was wonderful and the rest of the program got better each number that was played  The band set up as a marching band with the percussion in front of the stage and the members of the band marching up the aisles to positions alll through the audience for the next to last number.  Even if it had been marginally played it would have been entertaining, but it was played very impressively, and the finale was a complete and pleasant surprise when the band members put their instruments aside and sang, very well in at least four parts, in acapella, Silent Night in German.  It was a wonderful finale.

Then, last evening, we went to the Grotto, a very nice and spiritual site, where the Catholic Church has a beautiful shrine in the woods, almost in downtown Portland.  I had been there before, and loved it, but this was their annual festival of lights.  The scenes and  designs covered many acres and were very impressive, but we had come to hear a choir in which my daughter in law was a participant.  As  we entered the area, the cars parked by the hundreds,  It was impossible to judge without a ticket count how many thousand people were in attendance but I am sure it was in the multiples,   As I picked up the program, I realized that the choir we went to see was just a small part of the overall program.  From Thanksgiving to Christmas, every night at least five choirs do a one hour program each.  The evenings start at about five P.M. most days and go to ten P.M. or so with a new choir each hour singing in the Chapel of Mary, a wonderful place seating bout four hundred with the acoustic sound of a Cathedral.  It is a wonderful place to listen, and to sing.  I’m afraid that if I had known sooner what was going on, or if I lived in the area and had the finances for a new admission each night, I might spend (or have spent) many nights listening to choir after choir.

At the same time there is a live nativity, nativities of patterned program lights, and two or three other program venues where they have at least two quartets, called the grotto carolers, who wander around singing, drop in at the beginning of each choir concert, to warm up the audience (which changes with each performance)   We heard the last part of a Youth Choir which was excellent, then listened to the one we came for (callled the Metro Arts Ensemble) which was also very good.

We also stopped to watch the carolers, a puppet show, (which the children loved, but, as a long time puppeteer, I found a little disappointing), and part of a living nativity as well as stopping to chat with a Santa dressed as a Medieval Bishop.

From there went to another church to walk through an exhibition of nativities brought by the church members.  It was well set up and lighted and had nativity scenes from almost every nation and culture that recognized the nativity.  I appreciated it very much, in part because my wife, and one of my sons collect nativities.  We have so many at our house that we have to sort through them to decide which ones to display in hour house each year.  (Janet talks occasionally about how nice it would be to ad a room to the house just to hold the nativities.

All things considered, I seem to have ventured from the Sublime almost to another form of the Sublime.  If we had the opportunity to go sing at a community Messiah concert (one of my favorite Christmas activities, even though I have given up most choir singing)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

From the sublime to the anticipatory

I went to the wonderful Christmas concert of the Memphis Symphony and Chorus the other day, and this evening I went to watch the Christmas Concert at the Middle School in Camas Washington where my granddaughter plays in the sixth grade band.  Some might have seen the contrast as unpleasant, but, having spent my entire life as teacher in the arts, I found the sincere struggles of beginning artists wonderfully enriching.   Most of the tunes were truncated, only a few bars of each tune, but the Good King Wenceslaus was played three times and transposed each time which is always a challenge for beginners.  I congratulate the sixth grade band.   Each of the grades showed improvement though my interest was mostly in the band in which my granddaughter played.  Tomorrow we go to the high school band concert in which one of my grandsons plays both the trumpet and the baritone horn, and this will be interesting as well.  We always enjoy our trips to Washington to visit the children and grandchildren.  My son and his family are civil war re-enactors and they have a civil war Christmas party Saturday which we will attend but hopefully not re-enact.  Getting away from home at this time was very important for us and the time in both Mississippi, Tennessee and now in Washington has been very healing.  The flight in from Memphis was a physical strain for Janet, but was reasonably care free thanks to some folks in Dallas who got us from one plane to another within the hour allotted, but it was one time I was a little grateful that we both fall into the handicapped category because if we had tried to make our connections afoot and healthy I fear that we might still be in Dallas. 

On the other hand, when I tried to connect her laptop this morning  bent over to plug in the power supply and just continued to bend till I hit the floor with a bang and took her computer with me to the floor, and I fear that I caused terminal damage to the computer.  Of course everyone in the family was more concerned about my fate than the computers.  I came up without even a bruise, just a red face from embarrassment.  “Handicapped” has results less sanguine than making your airline connection on time.

At any rate from the Memphis Symphony  to the Sky ridge Middle School band to the Camas High School band to the Civil War Christmas Party my soul is richer for the trip.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

good morning

It is almost two o’clock in the morning, and I am exhausted, but it is a good morning. 

I went to Columbia, S.C. for Thanksgiving with my daughter and two sons, then Janet and I  went up to Memphis to stay with another son and go to a concert where he sings with the Memphis Symphony Choir.  They sang a Christmas Concert with the Memphis Symphony this evening and it was one of the best evenings of my life.

I shave had the pleasure of listening to some of the best symphonies in the world, but I have to say that the Memphis Symphony Orchestra is one of the best orchestras in the medium sized cities of this country.  The choir was also wondrful.  I have directed two choirs, and counting church choirs, I have sung in forty or fifty different choirs.  Having said that, I was so jealous of my son being able to sing in this group with this choir.  It was an exceptional musical experience.  I can only think of one choir, of all those in which I have sung that was anywhere near the quality of this one. 

Their first accapella number had a blend and precision that was about perfect.  

The symphony was  wonderful and it was what I, for one, needed desperately right now.  My own choral work has become sloppy in old age, so much so that I have given up choir singing.   I can’t hear the parts well in the accompaniment, and my sight reading is no longer precise, but as long as I can hear a choir like this one from time to time, I will be satisfied to sit in the audience.