It appears we were good –

Here’s a review of our performance, Saturday, of the Verdi Requiem. Enough good cannot be said about our soloists; for the first time in mind, I’ve come from a concert not disappointed. The Mezzo, Christy Brown, particularly deserves praise – her range extended from a G below middle C all the way up to a high A, and she made it sound soooo easy –

Funny that the reviewer should mention the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” (“Va, Pensiero”) from Nabucco and”Lament of the Scottish Refugees” from MacBeth; we just sang both a mere two weeks ago! (Indeed, we did!)


He could be anywhere between the ages of 25 and 60, possessing a yuthful appearance but such incredible presence and power, not to mention expertise, that defies youth. And he, Maestro Francesco Maria Colombo, is conducting an opera Gala with the Opera Company of North Carolina this weekend.

It is my first experience singing opera.

Odd business, this. I’m the descendant of the Puritans, almost 100% English (a little Dutch thrown in a few generations back), with that stiff upper lip and deeply ingrained reserve the English are noted for – not to mention the traditions of self-denial and constraint of the females of the American South. And here I am singing opera choruses by Italian composers, being instructed by this Maestro to emote, to feel in the music as I’m not “supposed” to feel in real life.

“More sex!” he commanded for the women’s trio of the Triumphal March from Aida. “Ladies, put more sex into your voices – use hormones!” We laughed, a little nervously I noticed…. how does one put sex into the voice????? But we appear to have succeeded; maybe those among us who have sung opera before know what he meant.

He told us to put more soul into “Patria Oppressa” (the Lament of the Scottish Refugees from Verdi’s MacBeth) “It is the saddest thing Verdi ever wrote,” he told us (and I’ll take his word for it) – “the audience should be in tears!”

Emotion! Unaccustomed, a bit frightening –

We rehearsed … was it last night or is it still tonight? I got home at midnight, the cat woke me up at quarter til four… – here I am, posting – with the orchestra and soloists. Wonderful cast! (See here) Simply magic. I don’t know Italian, and I don’t know how a true proficient would rate these singers, but for my money (considerable with gas at nearly $3.30/gallon and that long drive to and from Raleigh) these men and women are outstanding – clear, impassioned, gifted…

The music touches something in me, and it’s a bit scary. I found my thoughts going places I didn’t want them to go, listening – places of such intense feeling that I am almost afraid of. I was taught to suppress feelings, to control them – but for me it’s gone too far, I’ve lost the ability to cry even when it is appropriate and needful. During the rehearsal I felt frighteningly close to tears several times. I’m a little (!) concerned that I might break over and shed tears during the performance –

and, once begun, not be able to stop.

It occurs to me that there is something cathartic and therefore therapeutic about this music – I only wish I had a mentor to teach me how to use it well.


We arrived at the Presbyterian church as we normally do, but instead of going into the large fellowship hall, we made our way to the sanctuary. Imagine 170 men and women crammed into a choir loft and pulpit area designed for less than a quarter so many people! Sopranos and baritones on the left, altos and tenors on the right (as you look from the back of the church)… we’re squeezed as tightly as we can into the choir pews, on steps, on the floor… I cannot resist quipping how lovely it is to see men strewn on the floor about my feet.
Trumpets, trombones, tuba, timpani, all warming up, then tuning with the organ…
Al steps to the box in the middle of the main aisle and raises his baton — The trumpets begin an introduction built around “Taps”…

“Here rests in honored glory….” we sing a tribute to fallen soldiers of America’s wars.

I am very very proud to announce the release of the CD, “Here Rests in Honored Glory,” from The Don and Mary Miller Foundation. The song, recorded by the North Carolina Master Chorale in October, 2005, was written by Don Miller, a well-known jazz musician and composer. Sales of the CD (which I am shamelessly promoting here!) will go to benefit TAPS – the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors – a charity to serve the families of men and women who have died for America.

Please visit the website and order one of these CDs. It’s a worthy cause, good music — and if I may be so brash, we do sound GOOD. Out of the purchase cost, Mary Miller informs me that $5 goes directly to TAPS. That’s a mighty good deal.

Hey – let ’em know I sent you, will you? I’d like to know how effective my marketing efforts are – wink.

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.

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.