QTN™: Gnomegang

When I read that American brewer-in-the-Belgian-style Ommegang was collaborating with actual Belgian brewery L’achouffe on a beer, I was a little nonplussed. But then I saw the name of the collaboration: Gnomegang. And it all made sense.

This is a remarkably, even dangerously, easy drinking beer at 9.5%. A shade lighter than the classic Chimay gold but darker than Achouffe stablemate Duvel, only the slight sour on the tongue flavor tips off the uniquely enjoyable threat lurking within. There aren’t too many Belgian styles that are just right for sitting by the grill, but this is one.

I had to hunt to find a bottle of this collaboration, but it’s totally worth seeking out.

Grab bag: Secure and insecure

Grab bag: Criminals and hacktivists

Grab bag: Berlioz reviews

Tanglewood, 2011

I’ve been indulging myself at Tanglewood this week for the TFC’s opening weekend performance. I used to do several residencies a summer; with two young kids at home and a lot of other family vacation planned I’m limiting myself to one this year. It’s been a worthwhile residency, despite the compression, because I’ve actually had time to sit and think and read and digest.

Our repertoire for the run has consisted of one old friend, the Berlioz Requiem (which I last sang over ten years ago with the Cathedral Choral Society–man, how time flies), and a new one, Bellini’s Norma, from which we sang excerpts. The Bellini performance was last night as part of the opening night show. Musically the opera is not particularly complex, particularly compared to the Berlioz, but it has some beautiful moments, including of course the “Casta Diva” aria which we sang. (Opera newbie that I am, I didn’t realize until this run what that aria was, though I heard it often, including in sampled excerpt at the beginning of Shannon Worrell’s song “Witness.”)

The Berlioz is a whole different matter, in ambition, scope, and energy required from the singer. For this run the most taxing thing about it has been forcing the Latin text into my brain. I have the music fairly well internalized but the texts are, as always for me, a different story. When I sang it at age 25 it was taxing for a completely different reason: I simply didn’t know how to sing.

I’m envious of my friends in the chorus who have formal voice training. It took me about ten years of singing in amateur choruses to find the person who would set me on the road to vocal health–Christina Siemens. She finally taught me that sound is produced with the whole body and amplified through the facial mask, and that truly resonant vocal sound isn’t forced. It’s a lesson every singer should learn, that I hope Frank Albinder is teaching the current Virginia Glee Club, and that I learn over and over again under John Oliver’s tutelage. I need that lesson for just about every minute of the Berlioz. While as a second tenor I don’t have some of the most thrilling vocal lines of the work, there are plenty of cases where we’re called upon to provide power and volume in a high range. As long as I remember the words it works, as I can keep the vocal production forward and resonant. If I have a brain cramp and forget part of the text, oddly, the instrument has trouble working too; the vocal production falls back in the mouth and suddenly everything’s forced. It’s literally easier to sing correctly. I hope I can remember that tonight for the actual performance.

Securing freedom


On this Independence Day, I was looking for a photo of a flag when I came across this one. I shot it in Concord, Massachusetts in a cemetery that was full of graves like this one. And I realized there isn’t a better image for this holiday for me.

On July 4 I normally write about Thomas Jefferson, who took the work of a committee and turned it into a universal declaration of human rights (and who died 185 years ago today, along with his comrade in revolution John Adams). But on this day for celebrating freedom we should also remember those who gave nobly and without reservation, even to the ultimate sacrifice, to secure those freedoms.