Culture Magazine

Saints for Our Time

By Pinkall @pinkall
Way to go Egypt!!  What an exciting thing to witness a peaceful revolution.  I felt so happy for them watching the celebration in the streets of Cairo.  I followed the events every day and was drawn to their sacrifice and intelligent, peaceful protests.  What a great range of emotions from the stubbornness of Mubarak holding on to power and the rapture of his abrupt exit.  I can only hope that this event will help change the world for the better.
To everyone else (and especially my wife) Happy St. Valentine's Day!!!  I love you all!
Thank you Catholic Church for instigating this lovely ritual.  I went scavenging to find some unglorified Catholic saints to see what other days could be commercialized.  First, there are the cocelebrators of St. Valentine - St. Drogo (Patron Saint of Unattractive People - for his sudden physical deformation that kept him in literally a "holy cell" for 40 years eating only the eucharist), St. Fiacre (Patron Saint of Venereal Diseases - for his miraculous curing of such diseases - oddly enough he is also the patron saint of taxi drivers), and to comfort the companionlessness afflicted, there are sixteen patron saints of Bachelorhood.
Of the days that I think should be generously adorned with classic American commercialization (in celebration and reverence of course) I would like to lobby for the following to become commonplace:
August 11 - St. Claire's Day - let's spend all day watching TV to honor the patron saint of the television
December 4 - St. Barbara's Day - the patron saint of fireworks!!! (she earned this honor after her executor was struck by lightning and died after she was beheaded - evidently fireworks reminded them of the "boom")
November 22 - St. Cecilia's Day - patron saint of singing (obviously we would have to combine this with St. Bernadine of Siena.  Just as Valentine's Day has its detractors bound in singleness, St. Celcilia's Day will obviously be a painful reminder for those who produce more noise than consonance - for them we will also celebrate St. Bernadine of Siena, patron saint of hoarseness, who also is the patron saint of gambling addictions, which would definitely make for a very "joyous" and "commercially friendly" holiday).
But back to the week at hand, Don Giovanni is going very well and we are in full staging mode.  What I love most about all of this is how professional everyone is taking this production.  It may seem like a lot, but at the Conservatory, we are expected to have the whole opera memorized before we even begin staging.  Amazingly, everyone has the opera memorized with incredible detail.  All of the singers can translate to English any part of what they are singing on the spot.  I find this the most impressive.  It is also the most useful, because there are so many small details to the character, facial reactions, and other small linguistic details like irony or sarcasm that we try to put across.  The normal opera-goer may not recognize these things, but that is part of the art of opera.  It is a combination of the finest art in poetry, language, music, staging, costuming, and singing.
I can only speak of what I do to prepare for these things, because everyone works differently, but I have a photographic memory of the music.  When I sing, I visually reproduce the page that I learn the music from, so when I make notes in my score, I make them in different colors, and I memorize them that way.  So, it is not too difficult to memorize the words in the end, because I just read them from my mind.  The hardest parts are the details of the language, but I also find this the most fun.  There are so many intricacies in English, and it is fun to figure these things out in Italian (jokes, innuendo, irony).
Another aspect of learning to perform is acting.  This is also really interesting because as singers we have to find ways to move specific muscles in our forehead, cheeks, arm and leg gestures, etc. to express very specific emotions.  We cannot immerse ourselves into an emotion because that will translate into vocal stress (e.g. we can't cry when something is sad because it will effect our voices negatively by causing tension).  So there are many techniques to learn "how to be sad", "how to be stabbed", "how to appear sheepish" (a near infinite number of possibilities).  These are the small details that we work on.
Unfortunately, opera gets a bad reputation for being too bombastic and undeserving of fine details, but this is definitely not the case.  The fact is that we are trying to deliver very minute details to an enormous space with thousands of people using the purest forms of art and the purest and most perfect style of singing.  We don't get the luxury of amplification or electronic manipulation of the voice like pop singers do.  We have to produce these sounds on our own, without the forgiveness of a karaoke machine.  Whatever you may think, this IS the Olympics of singing.
On a related note, the Grammy Awards were last night and graciously, St. Cecilia looked down upon me and graced the world with the immaculate entertainer Lady Gaga.  You may be shocked that I would show so much Valentine's love for the Madonna-like belty and screamy superstar, but she won Best Pop Vocal Album beating the rhaspy Justin Bieber, growly John Mayer, nasal Katy Perry, and the utterly angelic and ineffably dazzling Susan Boyle.  Oh yes, the world is now at ease.  Thankfully, they do present Grammy Awards for classical music, so my hat is off to following underappreciated yet vastly talented (yes, even compared to the stratospheric talent pantheon of Susan Boyle and Justin Bieber) classical music Grammy winners: Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Nashville Symphony, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, The Cleveland Orchestra, Paul Jacobs, The Parker Quartet, Hesperion XXI, Michael Daugherty, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the lovely Cecilia Bartoli.
As far as the Arts situation in Kansas is concerned.  There was a march on Topeka this past week to voice the concerns of Kansans who support the arts and public arts media.  Many people and politicians showed up to make their concerns known.  Unfortunately, Governor Brownback passed an executive order to abolish the commission, however it appears that there is strong support within the Senate to repeal the order.  Even though this is good news, we still need your help to voice your concern until the measure is finally repealed. Please click here to see what you can do to help the public arts in Kansas.  And as always, please attend concerts and enjoy your local arts scene.  It is there to be appreciated, and who knows, you might learn something as well.  I am learning all the time - it's my favorite part of life.
To leave you in a Valentine's mood, I'll leave you with an aria from one of my favorite operas, La Boheme, and from one of my favorite singers, Luciano Pavarotti, here is one of my all-time favorite arias, Che gelida manina.

  • Conservatory Singers Concert of Bach Cantata No. 4 "Christ lag in Todesbanden" and the World Premiere of An American Requiem by William Averitt - 2/22
  • Kansas City Lyric Opera Auditions - 2/26
  • Tenor Soloist - Lord Nelson Mass by Haydn - Operation Breakthrough Benefit Concert at the Community of Christ Temple in Independence (where Jan Kraybill is the Principal Musician - she's one of my favorite people in the whole world) - 3/5
  • Don Giovanni - Conservatory Opera - 3/17-20
  • Wichita Symphony Orchestra Naftzger Young Artist Auditions - 4/2-3
  • Conservatory Finale  - Poulenc Gloria (probably on my top 10 favorite pieces ever) featuring the Conservatory Choirs and Orchestra - 4/23
  • Administrative Director of the 33rd Annual Summer Choral Institute - 6/5-11
  • Sugar Creek Opera Festival (Chicago) - role: tba, opera: Daughter of the Regiment, maybe Little Women as well - 7/20-8/7
  • Kansas City Symphony Chorus Auditions - tba

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