Saturday, February 27, 2010

February/March: Focus on Education - Matt Oltman reports from Cincinnati

On Friday, Chanticleer was artist in residence at the American Choral Directors Association Central Division conference in Cincinnati.  Music Director Matt Oltman reports on that day and others.
 As you can see from following Ben's activities in the Bay Area,  we are focusing heavily on education this spring (I use the word spring lightly considering the weather we are having!)  Last Wednesday evening, I worked with the Arlington HS chamber choir in Ft. Worth, TX for some 4 hours! This group meets entirely outside of school hours for no credit! These kids have some serious dedication and love for choral singing! I flew to Cincinnati on Thursday for the start of the Central division ACDA conference. I immediately ran into  Jay White, a former member of Chanticleer as well as members of the Central ACDA committee and several familiar faces of presenters and audience members from this pocket of the country.  By Friday morning, the ensemble had arrived and we were off and running! First on the list was an "interest session" attended by about 250 convention-goers.  We let them in on the inner workings of our rehearsal process as we demonstrated our preparation of a new piece written for us by Chanticleer favorite, Steven Sametz (composer of "I have had singing"). Attendees reported how enlightening it was to see a professional ensemble like ours struggle with the same issues they do in their school, church and community choruses- issues such as: vowel uniformity, text considerations, blend, breath, dynamics and rhythmic integrity.  After a series of "power lunches" (a lot of connections are made at conferences like this!) I held a second "interest session" to answer questions about life in Chanticleer posed by moderator Richard Ingram and people in the audience--a little like "Oprah for choral nuts". From there, Jace and I grabbed Jay White and the three of us visited the middle and high school men's honor choirs. This was a closed session...just us and the 100 or so young men (i'm sure they'd object to the word "boys"!).  We talked about our own singing experiences in childhood, adolescence and adulthood and strongly encouraged them to make personal vows to keep music and strong and vital part of the lives. Many great questions were posed by these remarkable young men and inspiration and love for singing was felt by all.  The day culminated in a concert by us at St. Peter in Chains (one of our very favorite church venues) attended by choral directors, composers, publishers, and students.  Every seat was full and it was a distinguished crowd.!  On Saturday Ben will be rehearsing the Lab Choir for our National Youth Choral Festival. Then he will be giving clinics in Southern California, and the ensemble and I will be at another ACDA conference - in Tuscon.

Friday, February 26, 2010

February/March: Focus on Education -Ben goes to Piedmont High School

In this post, Education Director Ben Johns talks about his visit on Thursday to the 45 member Piedmont High School A Cappella Choir directed by Joe Piazza which is coming to the National Youth Choral Festival next 

Yesterday I went to see the Piedmont High School Acappella Choir (they're going to be at our festival).  The school is undergoing major construction - earthquake retrofitting.  But thankfully, the choir room is far down the hill from all the noise.

We worked on some songs they're learning for the festival - songs they will sing at the Monday morning individual choir concert.  The two pieces are "A Basque Lullaby" by Dan Forrest and "Voice Dance II" by Greg Jaspers.  For Basque Lullaby, we worked on tone and interpretation mostly.  It's a new piece, so there was a certain amount of note-learning.  We talked about the Basque language (even though this is in English) and I gave them homework - to google the Basque culture and see if they discover anything to help interpret the music differently.  When they show up to the festival, I'll ask if anyone actually did it (intriguing that the composer would choose to specify that culture, in light of their sometimes violent struggles to become independent).  I gave the adage "Sing soft, listen loud" when learning a new piece.  And we worked on word stress and phrasing ("the" is not an important word, and should not normally be stressed; breathing is generally acceptable at commas).  For Voice Dance, which is pure vocal jazz, we imitated trumpets in a few different ways and worked on rhythmic precision.  There's a challenging key change and I was asked how Chanticleer approaches such difficult things.  My answer was that Chanticleer knows how to read music, and when there are difficulties, we practice slowly.  I added that sometimes we make things harder than they really are: if we pretend it's easy or identify the easy elements, but still work at it, then issues seem to dissolve.

Monday, February 22, 2010

February/March: Focus on education

Hi - Ben Johns, Education Director, here. Chanticleer's education program is practically year round - so far this year - half way - we've seen 5000 students in our various programs here at home and around the country. While the ensemble was in Europe, I did 9 clinics in schools around the Bay Area. For the next couple of months our education program will be in more than full swing, encompassing ACDA appearances in Cincinnati and Tuscon, clinics, and rehearsals of our Lab Choir in the Bay Area. The really big event is the National Youth Choral Festival in March - over 400 high schools singers from 12 choirs from all over the country.

Today at Lick Wilmerding High School, we tried something new. This is me welcoming elementary school students and their teachers, and some parents for a concert/demonstration.

A total of 757 students got to hear Chanticleer live in the first ever day of Youth Concerts at Lick-Wilmerding.  Back in the Fall I paid a visit to Lick-Wilmerding's choir.  I dropped the idea of doing youth concerts, their choir director, Tim Erickson, offered use of the theater on campus, and the rest is history.  Three one-hour lecture concerts targeted each of the three general school levels, Elementary, Middle, and High School.  Among the schools who came: Alvarado Elementary, West Portal Elementary, Bayshore Elementary, Garnet J. Robertson Intermediate, North Shoreview Montessori, Hoover Middle, Pacific Boychoir Academy, Mission High, International Studies High, El Camino High, Galileo Academy, and (of course) Lick-Wilmerding High School.

Each concert was tailored to fit the age and ability of the students.  Since all of the elementary school students take music classes and they seemed eager to sing along, we had the students at the morning session sing something for us.  It's so great to see bright eyes of kids from our neighborhood as we share in singing!  We left time for questions (there were some really good ones!) and we mixed a little at the end of the concert.

The first group were 1st through 5th graders.
who were interested to hear about each of our voices

The second group to arrive were High School students who sing in school. [As you can see, we're pretty spoiled by what passes for winter in San Francisco...]

After this session with the high school groups, we had lunch and then the 4th through 8th graders came. It was a very successful day, and we'll do it again next year, hopefully in more schools around our area. The ensemble will now fly to Ohio for Cincinnati to be guest artists at the American Choral Directors Association regional conference, perform some concerts in Ohio, go onto Tuscon for ACDA and then to Connecticut for our annual concert in New Canaan and Youth Choral Festival in Darien. Meanwhile I will continue visiting schools here in the Bay Area and planning for the our national festival.

Friday, February 12, 2010

February: Siegen, Germany- the Apollo Theater

The Apollo Theater in Siegen was the newest setting we performed in on this European tour - the oldest being the Oratoire du Louvre in Paris. The Apollo was once the Apollo cinema, which was refurbished and reopened in 2007 as a concert hall. Our performance was sold out a while ago to the most vociferous audience we've had on this tour. You should have heard the whistling, hollering and stamping which went on throughout! A fantastic way to end the tour - we think we rose to the occasion, and were happy to respond in kind to all that energy coming at us with three encores.

The Apollo has a very contemporary and relevant feel to it. It is part of a shopping mall - which probably grew up around the old movie theater. You can see into the building from the outside which makes it look very inviting. Before the concert previews of coming attractions are projected on a screen. Good idea!

The theater has a dog named Lila, one of whose important jobs is to accompany children on their tours of the theater. She also greets arriving artists. She was quite fascinated with Gregory, but then she barked at one of his warmup vocalises and was removed from our rehearsal. Too bad - we would have been happy for her to stay.

Eric gave a pre-concert interview - in German- to a group which included a lot of choral people.

Our last warm up for this tour. We warm up before every performance and there is always work we want to do based on our experience of the previous performance. We briefly considered the comment made by a woman in Vilnius who said to Dylan after the concert (without so much as a howdy-do) "your chant is too syllabic." Then we discussed some tempos which had shifted. Warmup is when we assess the acoustic- we found this one to be very live and very nice.

CD sales were brisk which was good; we hoped to have very few to drag back home tomorrow. The scene in the lobby after the concert rivaled Shanghai last May in its intensity. We signed autographs and talked to people for almost an hour.

As we said, we sang three encores and the response kept growing until it was downright rowdy!

We all got kissed with our flowers this evening!!
A long and memorable tour draws to a close. If all goes like clockwork tomorrow on our Siegen-Frankfurt-Munich-San Francisco journey, we'll be touching down at 7pm tomorrow night (Saturday.) Just as a warning to those waiting for us -- like members of lengthy expeditions - to the South Pole and such, we return with hair where there didn't use to be when we left, more hair, higher hair...

Of course we did things other than grow hair during our copious airport lounge, bus and plane time. To see our list of the song titles we came up with to accompany our trip, click on Comment on this post.
We've performed 14 concerts in 11 countries on this tour. We have to say we're proud of the consistency we think we achieved over all these concerts in very different settings, proud of the reaction we got from audiences of so many different nationalities, and proud to have represented our country. So perhaps we can be forgiven for leaving you with this, which Michael saw in a shop in Paris oh so long ago.

Thanks for coming along. In the next month - among other things - we will appear at ACDA conferences in Cincinnati and Tuscon, have our own Youth Choral Festival in Darien, Connecticut, and have our first ever National Youth Choral Festival (12 choirs, 400 kids from around the country) in San Francisco. See you then!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

February: Vilnius to Siegen

We arrive in Frankfurt in the snow.

We had thought the day would include nothing to report - a short flight from Vilnius to Frankfurt and a bus to Siegen in time for Eric to meet his in-laws who were waiting at the hotel for an early dinner and for the rest of us to have an evening at leisure.
Well - there was a 'weather situation' (snow) in Frankfurt which kept most flights during the day grounded and delayed our plane getting to us in Vilnius. We spent several not unpleasant hours availing ourselves of the amenities in the Business Class Lounge, then we finally flew on to Frankfurt. As we were just about on the runway to land, we took one of those sudden turns upward. Turns out our runway was occupied. With snow beating on the windows we went around again, and landed not so long afterwards. The snow was pretty heavy on the ground but our bus was waiting and sped us (one forgets how fast they drive here) to Siegen in an hour and a half.
The whole day was about two and a half hours behind schedule; it felt like 20 and was more excitement than we had in mind. Again we must reflect on our luck - it wasn't obvious that we would be able to get into Frankfurt today, but we did. AND, we didn't have to connect.
So - just to let you know we're here. Eric did have dinner with his in-laws. Our 14th and last concert of this tour is tomorrow night at the Apollo Theater here in Siegen, and - hard to imagine- 48 hours from now we'll be home!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

February: Vilnius, the National Philharmonic Hall

It's a love fest between us and Vilnius! This is our third time here. We love the vaulted primrose colored Philharmonic Hall which holds about 700 and is a perfect place for us to sing. The audience was highly enthusiastic before we even opened our mouths, and that just carried on throughout the performance. The U.S. Embassy had supported the concert. The CD tables, as before on our previous two visits, were wildly active. We even added on extra hands (Brian volunteered,) but the second half of the program still had to start late because we couldn't stop the sales.
The only sad thing is that we have so little time in this beautiful city. We left Riga this morning at 10am in a light snow for the four and a half hour drive.

The snow ceased, and the drive to Vilnius went by pretty quickly. Our hotel is on the left. It has that feature we've found in every hotel we've ever had here, but we always forget, and not all of us have been here before. A delicious surprise to put your feet on the bathroom floor and find it heated! Eric and Gabe headed right out for their favorite tea shop in the world, but it was closed today due to 'technical difficulties.' They were extremely disappointed.

Here's the view from some of our rooms. It won't impress you poor Eastern Seaboard people, but it's pretty exotic to adopted San Franciscans.

Looking right out our door we see Philharmonic Hall. This is probably the shortest distance between hotel and hall yet!

So close that some of us dressed in the hotel - including Adam, on merch duty tonight.

The concert was taped for radio broadcast, so warm up involved the radio engineers.
There was a lot of demand for autographs. Alan signs an arm.

A warm and wonderful second to last concert on this tour. Tomorrow we fly to Frankfurt for our final performance in Siegen on Friday night.

February: Cesis: Cesu2.parmatskala

During this very Grand Tour of Europe, we have had rewarding evenings in many of Europe's most celebrated concert halls, 3 opera houses, and a historic chapel. Last night in Cesis, Latvia
we had an equally rewarding experience, in a different way. The auditorium of the Cesis elementary school was packed with 450 citizens of Cesis, and their mayor, and people who had come from other towns and even from Riga. It is probably safe to say that nobody there had ever heard us live or even perhaps heard anything quite like us live. And as one person said -it was a rare occasion to be able to see American artists in person. The sound in the hall was actually very nice, they gave us a rapturous welcome and response, and one of the cutest things ever happened (keep reading.)
We had set out from Riga at about 2pm, and rode for about an hour and a half looking at snowy trees. There have been posters for our concerts all over - including by the side of the road to Cesis.

The bus put us down beside the 800 year old castle, which is the site of a week long opera festival in the summer. It is very pretty here in the summer - the most desirable time to visit - people kept telling us.

We then set out across a snowy park (also especially beautiful in the summer...) towards our 4pm lunch-dinner.

A delicious meal featuring lots of vegetables had been prepared for us. On our winter big-city tours we don't usually have collective dining. That's more common on our European summer festival tours to out of the way places. This was the first time this trip that we had all sat down together to eat.

Happy with our meal, we walked back across the park to the bus.

which took us to the elementary school, whose auditorium is often used for concerts.

As we said, the place was packed with people of all ages, including about 50 students from the music school.

The CD stand was busy.

The audience was on its feet, and the nice lady with a rose for each of us started down the line from the left. Just as she did so, this self-possessed little tyke flew up onto the stage (you can see him in front of Eric) and started down the line from the right, firmly shaking every hand, until he got to Dylan who gave him a high-5.

It wouldn't have happened in any of your great concert halls, and it made this evening even more intimate and memorable.

While people were initially shy about talking to us, eventually they did and we autographed a lot of programs.