Depression season arrives again

I was driving home from Raleigh after Tuesday’s Lord of the Rings rehearsal (yep! We’re singing it this summer with the NC Symphony — check out this site! — and I wasn’t feeling my usual euphoria after a rehearsal.

Then it hit me: depression season. It always gets me this time of year, don’t know why, some anniversaries in more than a month, but can’t put my finger on why it starts in mid-May.

The body knows what the mind chooses to forget, and when we haven’t allowed ourselves to adequately grieve, or address a sorrow, the body repeats it for us until we’ve done.

Now until mid-July, though, with the anniversary of my dad’s death on July 10, I’m in the dumps.

I was diagnosed in ’91, not many weeks after Dad died (only four months after Mother). Mom’s old doctor knew the family history well enough that, when I went to see him for vague infection-type symptoms, he knew the questions to ask; he answered the riddle of years’ worth of suffering for me. He gave me a prescription for a fairly popular antidepressant.

I hated taking the pills. It was nice to be able to get out of the morning and to get through the day without wanting to retreat back to my bed at every opportunity, but I also felt rather flat and incomplete. Things I had enjoyed before were meaningless to me while under the influence of the meds. I felt as if I’d lost the emotional equivalent of depth perception.

It’s odd to think of depression carrying gifts and graces with it, but it does. A mockingbird’s song is exquisitely beautiful any spring, but even more so when it becomes God’s voice in cheer and encouragement during dark days. Colors of the sunset have more vividness, greater brilliance during the bad times. Poetry is wiser, deeper — music more eternal.

I stay out of bed, days, taking nutritional therapies. It’s not perfect, but it gets me through the hard times without robbing me of important, valued parts of myself.

This year I’m going to make a more concerted effort to develop some of my “melancholy” gifts and abilities during this season. Be prepared to have some of my attempts at poetry inflicted upon you — and maybe more prose essays and short stories.

Ya just never know what I’m going to come up with, around here.

Thanks for the prayers.

What CAN we do with a drunken sailor?

Make him sing Samuel Adler’s “Rogues and Lovers”?

Okay, I am relieved none of my fellow choristers read this blog, because I’m about to make an embarrassing confession:


Mostly. It would have been more fun if some of our sopranos didn’t sing so much like white women or divas (Imagine a heavy soprano vibrato singing “Limbo, Limbo, Limbo Limbooooo”) and if there hadn’t been so much bitching and moaning among the ranks… but by and large, it was just good fun.

This is a piece that really showcased the North Carolina Wind Orchestra, but it offered some stretch for the imagination for the chorale, also. It begins with some wild percussion work (yeah, even wind ensembles use percussion) — then we joined in a rolicking rendition of “Drunken Sailor,” followed by the English folk ballad, “He’s Gone Away,” “Limbo,” Banuwa,” “Valencienita” and finally “Gypsum Davy” — all folks songs about loves or rogues.

It was a little schizophrenic-feeling at times, but what the hey — so is life.

I also enjoyed the Holiday Pops concert pieces with the NC Symphony, last November. Music doesn’t have to always be stodgy and highbrow in order to be fun to sing. Boogers! to the naysayers and whiners.

Man, am I TIRED!

It’s been a glorious but grueling two weeks. On Friday and Saturday, May 12 and 13, the North Carolina Master Chorale performed with the NC Symphony in Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, the “Resurrection” Symphony. There were two nights of rehearsals with the symphony prior to the performances, and a nearly 200-mile round-trip drive for me for each… although I shouldn’t whine because I skipped the second symphony rehearsal so I wouldn’t have to drive, and another soprano very kindly offered me hospitality on Friday night, so I only made two trips in all.

You can read a lovely but incomplete review here.

What I mean by “incomplete” is that I wish he’d had more to say about our performance. I’ve written to him c/o the website with these comments:

I think it needs to be said that Grant Llewellyn is a joy for a
vocalist to work with. He knew exactly what he wanted from us for the
Mahler, and he knew how to ask us for it. He was easy to follow in his
direction, and the transition of working with two different conductors
(Al for rehearsals, Grant for performance) was as nearly seamless as I
suppose it is possible to achieve.

I think, based on Mr. Rossman’s praise of our performance, that the
joy we felt in performing this work had to have been transmitted to
the audience. By the time our final phrase — “zu Gott, zu Gott wird
es dich tragen!” — dissolved into echoes, I think if I had stepped
off the loft railing, gravity would have had no power over me.

Rossman also didn’t mention that both nights, before Llewellyn could even drop his baton after the final chord, the packed house was on its feet cheering. He and the soloists were called back to the stage no less than four times, and each time he lifted his hand toward the loft to acknowledge us, the cheering only swelled louder. I’ve never experienced anything so exhilerating, and I’m told by people who’ve all but lived in that auditorium that they’d never seen anything to equal it.

The concert will be broadcast on WCPE on October 2 as part of their North Carolina Symphony Concert Series. Their signal can be streamed over the internet, and I’m sure I’ll be putting reminders in regularly between now and then so you won’t be likely to miss it, come October.

Then this past Saturday night was the Master Chorale’s own subscription concert, reviewed here. We met on Saturday morning for our dress rehearsal with the North Carolina Wind Ensemble, then had our performance that night.

I like Ken Hoover, who also hosts WCPE’s wonderful sacred music broadcast on Sunday mornings. But, again, he missed some things I want the world to know. We sang the religious selections of this concert in mixed octets rather than straight voice part arrangements. I was between a baritone and a bass, which I liked quite well; I find it easier by far to blend my voice against the tembre of another voice part than against another soprano. Of course, one feels rather naked hitting high A’s and B-flats without another soprano standing by one’s side. I have had nightmares since Saturday of being off-key ever so slightly or blasting my gentleman friends’ ears with those high notes.

Standing in mixed groups as we did gives the piece a stereophonic quality that can’t be achieved when voice parts are standing together. It really is a lovely effect for those listening from the audience.

The “Kyrie,” the opening movement of the Mass, begins with the women singing in four-part harmonies, a capella, a theme repeated by the men. It is tender and sorrowful, but it swells to a grand sweeping chord — a chord that echoed and re-echoed off the walls, waves of sound pouring back upon us after for glorious seconds after we had broken our sound. There is supposed to be only a very brief pause after this “Elieson” to take a solid breath before continuing; Al had to sustain the pause until the echoes had died away. It was splendid from the choir loft; I wonder how it sounded from the balconies and the orchestra level.

I had not sung the Gloria nor the Credo in Latin before this piece, so I had copied my English translation over the Latin words in my score. I was able to “pray” the piece as well as perform it. Bruckner does a wonderful job in translating the religious themes to a musical setting. The “Et ascendit in caeli” is even whimsical, traversing a C major scale, graced by a little sixteenth note “bounce” to “in caeli” (“He ascended into Heaven”). At “et mortuos” (“He will come again in Glory to judge the Living… and the dead”) we suddenly drop in volume to what feels like an over-the-shoulder-glancing sort of caution.

The Gloria had a fugal “amen” that is the most complicated part of the entire Mass, so far as I am concerned. I struggled and struggled with it in rehearsal – it’s not hard at all when you’re sitting at home alone at the piano! but combined with other voice parts and instrumentation, it can be a right booger! — then, as a gift of grace, during the performance I just sailed right through it as if I’d been born singing it.

My favorite part of the entire Mass — in the liturgy as well as in the concert piece — is the “Agnus Dei,” “Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world”. This piece was tender, and awe-filled, and beautiful. It begins in unison then divides — the second sopranos actually sing above the first sopranos for part of this, and it’s required of us to hit high G’s softly — a very difficult task. Yet it works.

The Bruckner was over so quickly! It seems a shame that something so beautiful, that we worked so diligently over, should only receive one performance to a very small audience.

I’ll save my comments on the Samuel Adler “Rogues and Lovers” for tomorrow or Friday.

Sweet dreams, everyone, and God bless you.

In Search of Femininity

I recently raised the question on one of the forums I participate on, “What is Femininity?” and I got some very interesting answers.

Please understand, I asked this question because I’ve not been quite sure what it is, myself. It certainly is not something I grew up with, having a mother who suffered frequent debilitating migraines, spent her days with a nose in a book and was dead in spirit before she turned forty. I needed an answer!

Well, as might be expected, the men and the women saw femininity in very different ways. Without exception, the women were focused on “girly” things like perfume, clothing, make-up, jewelry, and so on. They were concerned with what made them feel “pretty” and womanly.

The men, on the other hand, were concerned with moral and emotional differences in the sexes. Domesticity played a large part in the answers I received — particularly cooking (I wish it were so simple! I love to cook!)Men associate femininity with those qualities of moral virtue, kindness, gentleness, and a sense of sanctuary from a difficult world.

Thoughts? Post ’em here, please.

Master Chorale ROCKS!

Friday and Saturday the NC Master Chorale performed with the NC Symphony in Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “The Resurrection.” This is a strong complex work with three fully symphonic movements, a fourth movement featuring a contralto soloist, and a fifth movement featuring soprano and contralto soloists and a full chorus.

We’ve worked and worked on this piece — and I’ve worked particularly hard because it’s the first time I’ve done anything in German before. Those German vowel sounds bear no relation whatsoever to vowels as I’ve known them all my life! “Hor” is pronounced like “Her” and there’s this “u” that fits somewhere in the palate between “You” and “yih” and “Yeah!”

Working with Grant Llewellen and the NC Symphony was a huge charge of energy. He’s a wonderful conductor, and unlike most instrumental conductors (band or symphony) he understands and appreciates vocalists (he’s formerly from the Handel and Hayden Society). His directions were sensible, coherent, and do-able.

Meymandi Hall in Raleigh was quite full for both performances, even the Friday night one. And both nights, almost before Grant could lower his baton after the final, great, thunderous chord, the crowd was on its feet, cheering. Four calls back to the stage each night — thunderous applause that only swelled louder when the Master Chorale was acknowledged…

It’s hard to return to the real world after something like that.

You can hear this performance in October, when the Symphony Concert series aired on WCPE is broadcast. It’s scheduled for October 2. You can stream WCPE through your computer, so I hope you’ll tune in.

UPDATE: 5:00 p.m., 5/15 — and here’s a review you might enjoy reading.

Why can’t a man…

… be more like a man?

If there’s anything the world does not need more of, it’s sensitive New Age guys, men who want to abdicate their leadership roles in home and society to women, who’ve become more like women than women themselves.

I just sat in on a conference with the father of one of my students who has been suspended because of disruptive behavior. When she copped a haughty, defiant attitude, her dad tried to sweet-talk her into being nice.

Now, if that had been me with my dad… let’s just say there would have been no question whatsoever who was the boss in that situation — and it must be said that Daddy wouldn’t have had to have raised a hand to me, either. He would simply have been in my face, letting me know in no uncertain terms, that I WOULD behave with respect toward my elders and my betters, OR ELSE… and he wouldn’t have been the least concerned who was looking on to the display.

And you know what? My dad would have been absolutely right in doing it. It’s not the administrator’s job to correct that sort of behavior, although the two I was with certainly would. But it should be the parent, who has been raising the child and has to have the child go home with him at the end of the day. If the parents, especially fathers, abdicate their leadership roles with their children, then who can possibly compensate?

No one can. The child loses.

The dope on tropes

It’s almost impossible to find a new, English-language setting for the Mass that doesn’t have a series of tropes for the Agnus Dei.

Agnus Dei, for you non-Catholics, is Latin for “Lamb of God.” At the end of the liturgical prayers, before the distribution of Communion, we sing/pray: “Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”

Well, these modern settings — Marty Haugen’s Mass of Creation, Christopher Walker’s Celtic Mass, for instance, just to name two (and both of which, by the way, sound so perky and 60s Rock Opera that I’m not sure how they wound up in a Mass instead of on a stage somewhere)– offer a series of “verses,” presumably to keep the faithful occupied while all the hordes of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (NOT “Eucharistic Ministers!”) are piling forward and being served Communion themselves:

Lamb of God…
Bread of Heaven…
Tree of Life…
Prince of Peace…

The problem with these tropes, as they are called (a literary device, words conveying imagery, subsituting for the literal thing they are depicting) is that they competely detract from what is going on in the Mass at that point in time.

We have observed the Birth of Christ on the altar with the Consecration; now we are at Calvary. The common misconception is that we Catholics attempt to re-sacrifice Christ at every Mass; perhaps it is better to think of this moment in the Mass as a bringing out of eternity (kyros) and into our own time (chronos) the once-for-all Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Here we, through the Mass, are transported to that moment when the spotless Lamb of God was lifted up for my sins, and yours, those of the whole world, prefigured from the earliest pages of Scripture, through Abel’s sacrifice, the ram that took the place of Abraham’s beloved son Isaac on the altar, to the Passover Lamb… in the New Testament John the Baptist identified Jesus as “The Lamb of God” (see image above) and finally to the cry of the Church in Heaven in the Book of Revelations, “Lamb of God!”

The Latin, therefore, is restricted to identifying Him with the words consistent with the Scriptures: “Lamb of God!” Not, you will observe, “panis caelestis” or “arbor vitae,” but “agnus Dei” — Lamb of God. It is through the gory shedding of His blood that we have hope of salvation, forgiveness from sins, victory over sin and death. Only the image of the Lamb is acceptable here.

My first happy act as the new Music Director of Our Lady of the Americas Catholic Church has been to abolish the use of those distracting tropes and to begin a return to our full recognition of Christ as the Spotless Lamb of God.

Pray for me and my new parish.

I’m a Mandarin! What are you?

I’m a Mandarin!

You’re an intellectual, and you’ve worked hard to get where you are now. You’re a strong believer in education, and you think many of the world’s problems could be solved if people were more informed and more rational. You have no tolerance for sloppy or lazy thinking. It frustrates you when people who are ignorant or dishonest rise to positions of power. You believe that people can make a difference in the world, and you’re determined to try.

Talent: 54%
Lifer: 31%
Mandarin: 56%

Take the Talent, Lifer, or Mandarin quiz.

One of only 16% according to the test. I’m ridiculously pleased, for what it’s worth!