Human

The Night Before

The night before Christmas was always a mini-celebration.  In my family we’d sometimes open up one present to whet our appetites.

The night before your birthday is often a good night, even if you can’t get to sleep so easily.  You fall asleep thinking about what a great day it’s going to be.

Or the night before your wedding.  Or the night before a big vacation.  Or the night before you start that new job.  All the possibilities of the next day, caught up in your visions of sugar plums dancing in your head as you envision success.

The night before is for visualizing the next day.  It’s for the same anticipation that you feel before you check to see if your lottery numbers won, except it’s the entire time falling asleep.

Always cherish the night before, and treat it with the respect it deserves for welcoming the happy tomorrow.

Musician, Son

Someone in the audience

No matter what stage you’re on, when you’re performing, there’s always a special joy if you know someone in the audience.  It makes everything more real.  Maybe because there’s a witness.  Someone there to hear the tree fall, so that the noise it makes matters.

A performance isn’t a performance without an audience anyways; otherwise, it’s a dress rehearsal.  Part of the energy generated when performing live is connecting with the audience.  But when you have a connection already–co-workers, classmates, family, those two random elderly ladies you met in the parking garage on the way to the concert–it turns the thrill of performing live up to an 11.  Even if it’s those two elderly ladies who dutifully wave at you from their seats as if they’ve known you for decades.

But having your parents in the audience is always a special treat.

Especially if they drove for 12 hours to get there.

Fan

Tom Cruise Is Jack Reacher

There’s something mesmerizing about an actor at the top of his game.

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series tells the story of a 6’5″ 250-pound muscular ex-military policeman who, after leaving his position, foils bad guy after bad guy as he hitchhikes his way across the country.  The character as envisioned in the books is an unstoppable force of nature, a chivalrous knight errant capable of outthinking, outlasting, or outgunning his opponents.  Whether it be his eidetic memory, his force of will, or his extensive combat training, Jack-None-Reacher gets it done.

Now put 5’7″ Tom Cruise in the role.  Fans of the book series howled.  Sure he’s an action hero, but how could tiny Tom Cruise, he of the slippery spy Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible, the smarmy Maverick in Top Gun, the earnest lawyer in A Few Good Men… how could he ever possibly play the unsentimental, determined Reacher?

Pretty damn well, it turns out.  It’s unclear whether it’s camera tricks or they just surround him with short people, but however they did it, when you watch either of the Jack Reacher movies, you forget it’s Tom Cruise in about 5 minutes, and feel a thrill every time you see a Reacher with both brains and brawn take down another opponent.  Cruise completely inhabits the character of Reacher, and becomes unmistakably him.

There’s a lot to like and dislike about Tom Cruise as a person.  But it’s hard to deny that he’s a phenomenal actor.  Would that we all could be that good at our craft.

Human, Marketer

Vacations, not quite unplugged

It’s really nice to take a vacation unplugged.  To leave it all behind… and to know that there’s nothing you can really do to help out with all those responsibilities you left behind.  (Like the responsibility of writing daily blog posts.)

And yet… there are advantages to a vacation that’s not quite unplugged.  When you’ve told everyone who depends on you that you’re available in emergencies, and will be checking just in case.  Then you’re not bottlenecking everyone while you’re gone.

A not-quite-unplugged vacation gives you the best of both worlds.  You’re aware of any work issues.  But you’re not on the hook to respond to each and every urgent incoming message demanding your attention.  Best of all, you can pick and choose the messages to respond to, at your vacation-enabled pace, so that when you do return, you’re not buried in rampant problems.

(As long as there’s not, like, an actual work emergency, because then you’re not enjoying the rest of that vacation…)

Musician

Finding Triumph in Lord Nelson’s Mass

Cross-posted from my blog about singing, Just Another Bass

Our final choral performance this weekend is Haydn’s Missa in Anguistiis, known more commonly as the Lord Nelson Mass.  Of the 14 different mass settings Haydn composed, this one is considered his greatest — in fact, his biographer calls it “arguably Haydn’s greatest single composition,” though my vote would be for The Creation, which he had just finished writing.

Haydn started writing the “Mass for Troubled Times” at a time of intense fear.  In 1789, the terrified public knew that Napoleon Bonaparte had defeated the Austrian army in four major battles, even crossing the Alps and threatening Vienna itself.  (One effect – his patrons stopped paying for wind players, so he was down to only strings and a few hired trumpets and timpani!)  The opening Kyrie, in a dark D minor, echoes this public mood.  By the time the piece was first performed, however, Britain’s Lord Nelson had dealt Napoleon a stunning defeat – and when the work was performed in Nelson’s honor during his visit in 1800.  Since then, the piece has been more about the triumphant victory over that menacing opening movement, as D minor becomes D major in the later, more celebratory movements.  And with the smaller orchestra, it means that our smaller roster is more than adequate for the sound – we’ve had double this chorus size for pieces like the Mozart Requiem before.

Our conductor for this piece is the 91 year old Herbert Blomstedt.  We can all only hope to be as active as Maestro Blomstedt at that age, given he’s conducting 90 concerts a year. in venues around the world.  His devout lifestyle is all well and good, but as a chorus we wondered coming into the week of on-site rehearsals at Tanglewood: would this be like Boston’s beloved Harry Ellis Dickson conducting Holiday Pops in the twilight of his career (i.e., “don’t watch him, watch the first violinist”) Any concerns we had were quickly abated when he took the podium and immediately began shaping our sound.

Maestro Blomstedt’s strong opinions ran counter to many of our initial musical instincts. For instance, he is vehemently against vibrato in the chorus, especially in the upper voices, making it vocally challenging for our sopranos to hit those high As and Bs. His rationale is that senza vibrato produces stronger harmonies, and allows the soloists to stand out over our tapestry of sound.  He also favors rhythmic intensity over natural melodic lines, urging us to add marcato stresses — for instance, we now heavily break up the syllabic Ky-ri-e-e-le-i-son motif in the first movement rather than the legato shaping we had been rehearsing.  I personally find it harder to maintain the lighter, cleverer sound that one expects with any Haydn classical-era piece when we’re pummeling the rhythm this way, but as basses we’ll continue to fight to be more about rhythmically intensity (and less about elephantine plodding).  Blomstedt has also created great things with special moments in the piece, like taking the chorus way down during the text of cum sancto spiritu so that “the spirit” (a flautist playing a lilting tune) is audible as if it were a flute concerto for about four measures.  He is always about driving the tempo forward, even barking at some BSO second violinists (“TEMPO! KEEP UP!”) at one point in the orchestra rehearsal.

It’s always tempting, for these well-known chestnut pieces that could be sight-read at a summer sing somewhere, to simply sit back, relax, and enjoy the musical ride.  Between conductor James Burton’s prep work, and Blomstedt’s urging, we have the luxury of not having that luxury.  That means we can take it off autopilot and really dig into the music, focus our concentration, bring to bear our copious notes scribbled in our scores, and shape its direction to create a performance that can make an audience sit up and listen.