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November 27, 2005

Why Do I Sing?

Last night's Advent Procession was very special. As a member of the congregation for many years, I always found it an opportunity to have a place of reflection, quiet, and anticipation during an increasingly busy time of year. Last year, in my first season singing with the Gregorians, my focus was just on making it through the service without dropping a bell or setting my music on fire with my candle! (neither of which happened, thankfully). But this year was different. I thought a lot about why I sing as a member of a such a group.

When serious singers work together, the effort is totally focused on producing the most beautiful sound. And the most beautiful sound comes when each person is able to contribute his or her best effort as an individual while simultaneously coordinating that effort with, and sometimes subordinating that effort to, the ensemble as a whole. It's a huge responsibility, but the outcome is something no individual could accomplish on his or her own. It demands total focus and energy, but the reward is immediate and sometimes stunning, although the sound vanishes as quickly as it is produced.

Choral singing also feeds the idealist in me. It's so easy to be cynical about the many institutions we are bound up with: the government, the university, the institutional church, professional organizations, you name it.... But the kind of singing that feeds me isn't tied up in politics, jockeying for position, or manipulation.

That's why I'm glad to be a volunteer singer. At different times, I've thought about an alternative life as a professional musician. But I think that might take the fun and the passion out of it. As a volunteer, I don't have to worry about music as a livelihood - it can just be a way of feeding my soul.

And while it feeds my soul, I hope it feeds the souls of others as well. One never knows. It's a bit like what happens in the process of teaching - one never know the impact that any particular statement or lecture might have. Sometimes students tell me (sometimes many years later) that a particular thing I said or wrote made a difference for them. But there are many unknown impacts. Same with choral performance - the performers rarely know the full, personal impact of their offering on those who heard it. I like the mystery!

Peter Sellars, professor of world arts and culture at UCLA, had this to say about singing. (Read a fascinating interview with him from a PBS series called "The Question of God" here.)

"Vocal music is an attempt to take the whole human being and project it into space. It is the ultimate gesture of getting out of yourself. You take a part of you that is most private, most personal, most inward, and you hurl it out into space - you project is as far as you can. That gesture of opening the whole body results in an enormous spiritual release, and is felt by other people with tremendous impact."

Posted by hgroteva at 10:49 AM

November 20, 2005

Gregorian Singers - Advent Procession


Candlelight Advent Procession
The Gregorian Singers
Saturday, November 26, 2005 — 4:00 p.m.
St. Paul’s Church on the Hill (Episcopal)
1524 Summit Avenue in St. Paul (one block east of Snelling Avenue)

Open to the public, free of charge. A free-will offering will be taken.

The 28th annual Candlelight Advent Procession will be presented by The Gregorian Singers at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 26, at St. Paul’s Church on the Hill (Episcopal), 1524 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, one block east of Snelling Avenue. Monte Mason, founding director of The Gregorian Singers, will direct.

For many years, The Gregorian Singers’ annual Candlelight Advent Procession has been one of the Twin Cities’ most popular events for people to begin their official Advent observance. The Advent Procession is an amazing visual feast of darkness and candlelight that engages the congregation in singing, prayer, and movement.

The choir enters the church in darkness and traces the sign of the cross throughout the nave while singing Advent carols and motets at a variety of stops (stations) along the way. At each station, scripture lessons are read from the Old Testament prophets, foretelling the coming of the Messiah, as well as New Testament readings that reflect the Advent season.

It is through this annual liturgy that The Gregorian Singers have received much
acclaim, especially since the recent national re-release of their popular CD recording Advent, portions of which have been heard over the years on numerous Minnesota Public Radio, American Public Media, and National Public Radio broadcasts.

Musical selections during the Advent Procession will include choral works by Francis Jackson, Arthur Maud, Peter Hallock, and Pierre de la Rue, as well as selections from Gregorian chant. Come early for a good seat. Doors open at 3:00.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:58 PM

November 18, 2005

Travels - National Museum of the American Indian

A recent trip took me to Washington, DC, where I had the privilege of visiting the new National Museum of the American Indian, on the National Mall across from the Museum of Fine Arts. It's a spectacular building, filled with interesting exhibits and a mellow ambience.

The entrance to the museum is reminiscent of the Anasazi cliff dwellings - there is a protective outcropping over the entry area.

NMAI exterior2-b.jpg

Going into the building is like entering the sacred kiva, the beehive shaped enclosure in which significant religious ceremonies took place. The center of the atrium is a large space with a skylight above, reminiscent of the hole where the smoke from the fire would escape. The light coming through the windows played on the walls and made beautiful rainbows.

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The inside of the museum is full of stories - about cultures, peoples, beliefs, practices, losses, pride, sorrow -- the gamut of human experiences and emotions. The diversity of Indian cultures is honored - there are many viewpoints and perspectives expressed. Here's what one person said about stories...

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The curved surfaces of the building conveyed a sense of peace and harmony with nature alongside an impression of movement.

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This photo reminds me of the stylized jaguar symbol used by the Aztecs of central Mexico.

NMAI exterior 7-b.jpg

Then amazing serendipities happened...

We were on our way to hear a concert at the Kennedy Center (more to come about that) when, walking down the Mall, we discovered that a simulcast of Porgy and Bess was beginning! The simulcast was a gift to the City of Washington from the Washington National Opera and Placido Domingo, its director. Even though it was early November, it felt like a late summer day (well, for Minnesota!). The Mall was full of people - one reporter estimated 7,000 - replete with folding chairs, food, drink, blankets, and a relaxed atmosphere. We stayed as long as we dared so that we wouldn't miss our concert -- but it was a great happenstance -- one of those things you could never plan and make work out. We heard a powerful, lyrical rendition of "Summertime."

Porgy Bess on mall-b.jpg

Porgy Bess on mall2-b.jpg

We made it to the Kennedy Center and climbed into our seats with (literally) less than one minute before the performance began. (phew!) We were there to hear Orff's "Carmina Burana," performed by the 200-member Washington Chorus, and its orchestra and children's choir. Although I had heard parts of it before, I had never heard the entire piece, and never live. We were sitting in the 4th row, which was perfect by me - I love to be able to see the musician's faces. We were near the percussion - many fantastic percussion parts in Carmina! The gong players were in heaven - how often do they get to show off the gong, cymbals, tympani, snare drums, etc. in one performance? Ya gotta hand it to Washington - it's quite a special place.

Posted by hgroteva at 8:28 PM

November 16, 2005

Winter Arrived

Winter arrived last night. You say it's not due until December 21? Well, take my word for it, it's here. The snow, the sleet, the wind, the boots, the windshield scraping, the parka ... the whole nine yards.

Even though I've lived here over 15 years, I have never looked forward to winter. Maybe you have to grow up here, learn to ski and skate when you're just old enough to walk, learn to stand at a cold bus stop because that's all you know. But I know better, and I don't like it.

I still remember hearing Eric Friesen (then of MPR, now of the CBC) once saying that the only way to survive in Minnesota is to "embrace the winter." I just can't wrap my head around it. I had an interesting conversation with a colleague last week - she grew up in these parts and lives for winter. Her favorite kind of day is snowy and very cold. I described my favorite kind of day: 75 degrees, balmy, windows open, sunroof down on the car, wearing shorts, not having to change clothes for indoors / outdoors transitions - feeling at equilibrium with the temperature outside. Maybe I'm really adapted for San Diego. My ancestry is mixed northern European - and not awfully far north - they have a lot of 75 degree days there.

Anyway, winter is not my happy time of the year. The days are too short, the layers of clothes are too many, and I'm always having to figure out how to stay warm enough. (Consequently I eat too much and put on weight, and then feel bad about that.... but that's another story.)

The one good thing about winter is that the classical music scene in the Twin Cities is at its peak. We had a great rehearsal last night for the Advent Procession we (Gregorian Singers) are doing on Saturday, November 26. You are warmly invited: St. Paul's Church on the Hill, 1524 Summit Ave (just east of Snelling); 4:00 pm. Open to the public, free of charge (a freewill offering will be taken.) That's one of the good things about Minnesota winter.

Thus endeth my rant against winter. Now that I've got it off my chest, I can get back to work.

Posted by hgroteva at 4:11 PM