Quick tasting notes: St. Bernardus Abt

Lots of good stuff tonight. In fact, I was going to post two tasting notes, but I can’t taste the Saison de Silly right now. I have tasted the St. Bernardus Abt and I can’t taste anything else at present.

Oh my God, what a beer. Dark, malty, slightly syrupy. Smooth. Deep flavors. Nose like freshly baked bread like so many Belgian ales. Aftertaste like a fruit—apples, maybe.

This is my first beer in my long delayed membership in the RealBeer club. (I bought it in September at the Seattle Beer Festival but they lost their Seattle distributor, and just started a new contract.) I think I’m in love.

Performance Report 2: Cascadian Chorale, Illuminatio

The Cascadian performance yesterday was too long to do a detailed movement by movement analysis, but here are some highlights. We began the program in the balcony of the church, which we shared with a bunch of evergreens. The first piece, Tavener’s “O Do Not Move,” is brief but timeless. The tenors repeat the title three times, in three different modalities (minor, major, major with a diminished second), moving from conventional harmony to a more Byzantine sound. The whole choir then joins in, holding a minor chord while the sopranos sing the word “listen” in a descending Dorian scale; the piece then closes as it began. The text, O do not move/Listen/to the gentle beginning, calls the listener to move into a more contemplative and meditative frame of mind.

The second piece, Pärt’s “Magnificat,” also went well. Like most of Pärt’s vocal works, “Magnificat,” is constructed of alternating chant and triadic singing in relatively free meters and different voicings. The biggest challenges for the singer are paying attention and telling a unified story from beginning to end. Here I felt we could have better told the story; the Magnificat, after all, is Mary’s song of praise upon finding out she has been chosen to bear Christ. But the performance was generally good.

The third and fourth pieces, Tavener’s “Today the Virgin” and Górecki’s “Totus Tuus,” were both outstandingly performed. I had done the Tavener in the Cathedral Choral Society several years ago, and here the text was cleaner, crisper, and more expressive while losing none of the punch. (This is probably because the Cascadian Chorale has only 1/4 the members of CCS.) The Górecki was flawless and soaring, better than quite a few performances I’ve heard on CD, and raised goosebumps.

The Pärt Te Deum now ranks as the most challenging choral work I’ve ever sung. Like the “Magnificat,” Te Deum contains contrasting chant and triadic parts; it ups the ante with three antiphonal choirs, an orchestra that responds to each of the triadic sections, and a really long text (the piece clocks in at around 35 minutes). There were a few difficulties owing to the antiphonal arrangement, mostly sloppy entrances to chants, but overall I thought the piece went magnificently well.

The second half was the Christmas portion of the Messiah, which we performed at ludicrous speed. The music didn’t suffer at that tempo—the speed seemed to bring out the dancelike qualities of the early movements.

All in all it was a really satisfying concert to sing, and bodes well for the rest of the season.

Performance report 1: Liquid Lounge, 14 Dec 2002

Craig reminds me that I didn’t actually say anything about how the debut went, just that it happened.

Both arrangements were done by me and George Bullock, a jazz guitarist who works at my company and plays with the Charisa Martin Cairn Quartet. We started out trying “Accidents Will Happen” at Elvis’s tempo, but thankfully Charisa suggested that we take it slower after one run through where I mangled half the words. On the next run through, George played spare chords underneath while I straightened out some of the vocal melismas I had borrowed from Elvis. The resulting sound was a lot more subtle than the recording on Armed Forces and allowed me to bring out some of the anger and confusion in the lyrics while still staying melodic. I knew we had done well when we finished the last chorus before the “I know, I know” fadeout and the audience started applauding—even the ones who didn’t work with me. 🙂

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was really more of a showcase for George, since it’s a little low in my range, but I did my part by keeping the lyrics coming, playing a little with the phrasing and timing, and making the most of the few high notes in the song.

It was a great session. We’re already talking about trying to find ways to keep doing the music together.

Monday morning

I like the way other people write about their weekends. Take Esta, for instance: I feel as though I were there.

There is a lot I could write about the concert yesterday, my Liquid Lounge debut Saturday, our dinner with Arvind and Kim afterward, even the experience of programming the remote. At the moment, though, I have to pull some things together for a 10 am meeting. And since I’m on vacation starting Wednesday, there is a lot I need to do in the next few days. Maybe later this afternoon I can do a proper update. In the meantime go read Justin’s adventures in Tokyo, and send him a note every time he says “lively.” Happy 28, Justin; I keep forgetting you’re younger than me.

Seattle scene debut

So I just got back from a gig at the Liquid Lounge at Seattle’s Experience Music Project, where I made my solo stage debut.

Okay, okay, so it was my group’s holiday party. But it was the Liquid Lounge, and I did sing some Elvis Costello (“Accidents Will Happen,” as promised) and some Bing Crosby (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”).

It was a fun time. Tomorrow is serious: the Cascadian Chorale’s Illuminatio concert. But it was fun to get up and sing music that was a little more relaxed.

Merry Christmas/Birthday to me

One of the drawbacks of being a music fiend is storage. Periodically, I have to cull my CDs to get rid of the chaff so that they can all fit in the Ikea cabinet where they now reside. The discarded CDs go into temporary storage in a box, until I have enough to take them to a used CD store that might buy them.

With our move, I had a ton of CDs, probably about 75, and no idea where to take them. I finally found Love Music in Redmond, which bought about a third of the CDs on Tuesday for a decent sum. (The rest will go to family members who want them or to the library.)

With the money from the sale of the CDs in hand, plus some birthday swag and a rebate gift card, I went to Best Buy to pick up what Lisa happily calls my “new toy,” the Sony RM-AV3000 universal remote. The purchasing experience was a little unnerving. After the clerk went to the back to pick one out, he apologetically said, “They told me I have to walk this to the front with you.” Apparently the little beggars have been flying off the shelves in more ways than one.

I got it home, and within fifteen minutes had all our components programmed into the device. I’ve since figured out how to do “punchthrough” for the volume keys (since all our gear is run through the amplifier, I don’t want the DVD, VCR, or TV remote signal sending volume commands to the TV, which is actually silent). Next step: programming macros.

The impetus for this remote, and the need for macros, was the set of steps required to switch from watching cable to watching a DVD:

  1. Turn on the DVD player (DVD remote).
  2. Change the TV to the component video inputs (TV remote).
  3. Change the amplifier to use DVD inputs and outputs (amplifier remote).
  4. Navigate the menu and play the DVD (DVD remote).
  5. Do any in-movie volume adjustments (amplifier remote).

Five tasks, three remotes. Needless to say, it’s comparably painful switching back to cable, programming the VCR, or playing CDs or LPs. The macro capability of the RM-AV3000 promises to help me automate some of these tasks (reduce number of button clicks) as well as reduce the number of remote controls involved. Just the thing to keep me occupied over the winter holiday!

Useful time waster

Dejavu.org is a web application that claims to emulate different browsers from the original line mode browser from 1991, through NCSA Mosaic, beta Netscape, Netscape 1.0, IE 2.0, and HotJava. I’m pleased to report that my page is quite readable and almost looks like it was designed for all those browsers—if you ignore the fact that all my navigation links show up at the bottom of the page.

Esta gets better comments

I will say nothing more about how the conversations between me and the anti-Win Without War folks are going save to note that the fine art of the ad hominem attack is alive and well.

Esta seems to be luckier. Her post about same-sex marriages attracted a thoughtful and responsibly articulated opposing view, in her comments rather than in email so it could be easily publicly shared. And so she started a real dialogue. This just goes to show that her language skills are more advanced than mine, I suppose…

BTW, happy belated BlogBirthday® to Estaminet. When I lost a guest blogger over a year ago I gained a keiretsu. Not a bad tradeoff.

My loving readers, warring without win

True confession: posting the “win without war” petition link has gotten me a ton of traffic over the next two days; mostly because I’m the number 2 hit for that search on Google and the number one hit exceeded his ISP’s traffic quota. So far there has been a minimal amount of feedback on the piece, though: no comments, two emails, one for and one against.

The one that didn’t like what I was doing—well, I hesitate to say this reader opposed the petition because it’s not apparent that the reader read it.

It is amazing to me how this was not a petition when Clinton went on his “little” bombing runs.  It would do you and the people that think like you to realize that President Bush doesn’t want to go to war.  We are dealing with a man that is providing weapons and funding to people that don’t want to hug us.  They want us dead.  Have faith in this President and believe he has evidence to support his position.  He will release prior to any war action.

I have a brother, brother-in-law, and many friends that are active military and would definitely be called up.  I would rather not go to war.  However, they all volunteered are proud and willing to do what it takes to support their country.  The victims and families of the WTC didn’t have that choice.  Thank goodness our fore-fathers had a stronger backbone then you and the people like you.  Thank goodness there was no Hollywood when this great country you live in and benefit from was founded!

Hmm. Last time I checked there wasn’t a reference to Hollywood in either the petition or in anything I wrote. Last time I checked, I didn’t suggest anything more radical than that President Bush let due process take its course. If I, and the signers of this petition, display a little cynicism about whether Bush has sufficient evidence to go to war and are reluctant to trust him without seeing it, I would argue it’s only a natural consequence of this administration’s reluctance to trust the American public with other information about its workings, such as the records of meetings with energy industry executives while creating the Bush energy plan. Or why Cheney is blasting big holes in the grounds of the Naval Observatory, in a residential and ambassadorial neighborhood.

Finally, my reader claims higher privilege by invoking friends and relatives on active duty. I have friends on active duty too, and I don’t presume to speak for them. But you might want to have a gander at the words of Lawrence Kida (son of a twice wounded WWII Marine) in the Seattle Times editorial page, who points out: “Can someone please explain to me why I am being told there is distinct proof of Iraqi involvement in ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ yet when the State Department is queried as to specifics, the reply is that the burden of proof rests on the government of Iraq?”

Esta updates

Esta hits two topics this morning that are near and dear to my heart: Trent Lott’s retraction of his idiotic statement saying the country would have been better off with a segregationist president and churches that are supportive of gay and lesbian rights.

The latter is particularly close to my mind right now, as we are in the process of trying to find a church home out here in Seattle. Lisa and I didn’t find too many Presbyterian churches in Boston and went Congregationalist there. Trying to find a Presbyterian church out here, I’m butting up against the growing divide in the denomination over gay rights. (There’s a really good history of the church’s positions on gays in ministry here; it doesn’t cover an amendment to the PCUSA constitution from last summer that is in the process of being considered by all the churches in the denomination.) I have too many gay and lesbian friends who are better Christians than I to consider membership in a church that would not accept them as a minister, elder, or deacon. Accordingly, I’m having to scrutinize each church’s website and weed out the ones that have taken actions such as joining the Confessing Church Movement.

I feel a little sick having to go through and do this, and tired of having to use this issue as a litmus test. But I feel I’ve been given little choice. These churches don’t represent the same faith I grew up in.

About the Te Deum

I’ve referred to the Pärt Te Deum a few times but haven’t written much detail about it yet. It’s a difficult piece to write about. Almost a half hour long, much of it consists, as Steve Schwartz writes, of variations on D modality—major to minor and back. Many of the individual vocal parts do little more than oscillate around the notes of a ringing triad, from the third to the octave to the fifth and so on. But the music as a whole is a magnificent statement of faith. How does Pärt arrive from such simple materials at such a high spiritual peak?

The answer is partly structural, partly tonal, partly something else. The entire piece hovers around D, and Pärt makes it explicit with a D drone that begins in a low organ (or wind harp!) note, moves up to the basses and cellos, disappears in the middle, then returns in the violins and moves back down the octaves. Pärt’s deep faith is well documented, and my reading of the D drone is that it functions as a reminder of eternity, that regardless of the iterations of voicings and time, there are eternal truths.

The voicing tells the story of faith against this background. The entire piece is a colloquoy among plainchant, orchestra, and triadic singing. I read the melodic plainchant, which is ever changing, as humanity, and the triadic voicings (the third, antiphonal choir), which weave a more static melody from D major and D minor triads, as a choir of angels. One conductor I’ve sung under reads the orchestra as a kind of Greek chorus that comments on the interaction between the two.

With this framework, the piece can be read as a long striving of humanity to reach the perfection of the angels. So the first Sanctus, uttered in a unison D minor plainchant by the tenors and basses, is echoed in a D minor triadic Sanctus by the antiphonal choir. The entire piece is built on groupings of three: three choirs, three contributions of three part phrases from the orchestra, building blocks of chant + triadic song + orchestra, and so on, that Pärt varies for dramatic effect. Accordingly, there are three dramatic moments of unison between the plainchant choirs and the antiphonal choir. The first two are followed immediately by plainchant advancing the argument of humanity, while the third is followed by a chanted Amen and an echo of the Sanctus by the antiphonal choir that fades into infinity.

I may find more to write about in the Te Deum as we continue to work on it. I continue to learn more about the piece each time I sing it or listen to it.

Brightening the corners

I feel inexplicably good this morning. Rain came last night and scrubbed the fog out of the corners of the fields and valleys. And we had a great rehearsal.

To my Seattle area readers: you owe it to yourself to check out the Cascadian Chorale concert this Sunday. We rehearsed the Pärt Te Deum last night with the string orchestra for the first time and it’s sounding really really really good. I can’t wait to hear how the Górecki sounds on Wednesday.

My euphoria probably started around the second runthrough of the piece and was capped when, after rehearsal, one of the sopranos started playing “Autumn Leaves” on piano. I was moved to contribute a vocal walking bass line, someone else joined in on vocal percussion, and we improvised our way through the whole thing. I haven’t done anything that musically spontaneous in a long time. There’s something about just playing or singing from the top of the head that reaffirms my faith in the power of music.