Week in review, February 14-20

Turgid thought of the week: Ensuring quality results requires intentionality - in time and in focus as well as in the mechanics of practice. Several things reflected that reality this week in very different circumstances. 

I spent two evenings and Saturday afternoon accompanying high school band students for their regional solo contest. I'm always fascinated to see which students start at a high level, and maintain this focus throughout the two weeks I interact with them, and which students start at a lower level, and by sheer force of will and well-spent practice time reach a level similar to their more-gifted peers. Unfortunately some students also start at a low level and never progress at all...In this case it's a particular measure of a student's determination, since the high school in our area has few regular instrumental teachers other than the band directors, and so the students are limited in the amount of detailed technical instruction they receive outside ensemble rehearsals. They may get a few minutes each week with a clarinet teacher or a tuba teacher, but to really excel in these circumstances requires intentional application of time and focus outside normal "learning" hours.

In my own work, I experienced the necessity of time and focus while preparing a chamber recital with two of my colleagues. We are performing Dominick Argento's "To Be Sung Upon the Water," a homage to Schubert with text by Wordsworth, scored for soprano, bass clarinet, and piano. Argento's language in this work is extremely precise, but frequently difficult to parse. A semiotics analysis would be a good dissertation... What makes it so powerful, however, is Argento's use of triadic (but not common-practice) tonality in opposition to twelve-tone rows, augmented triads, mirror effects, and other devices as he illuminates the text. Added to all that, the work is quite difficult for all three performers individually and as an ensemble. We spent five hours together last week, and we'll have a dress rehearsal tonight before Tuesday's performance. This is one of those pieces that gets more profound the more you work on it, though, and we're very excited to share it with our audience. 

All of this "extra" business meant that it wasn't a very good week for my family - with a six-year-old and a four-year-old at home and baby number three due in three weeks, being out ten to twelve hours each day doesn't sit well politically. Thankfully my wife and I have learned over the years to communicate early and often about schedules and expectations! It doesn't mean we're happy and content all the time (what?! you're leaving for ten days when the baby isn't even a month old?!), but it helps me stay in touch with reality and think hard before accepting or pursuing that next out-of-town "opportunity." The nature of relying on performing and teaching for a living results in periods of rather intense weeks with almost no time at home alternating with relatively quiet weeks where I might be home more than normal. We're continually trying to plan for a good balance (e.g., not being gone three weekends in a row), but trying to remain patient (her) and humble (me) during the busy times. 

My practice concerto for the week was Beethoven's Choral Fantasy. Aside from the eternal joy of working on Beethoven, my thoughts ran something like "nice piece to have around, but who is ever going to program it??". Such an odd logistical puzzle for a symphony board to consider, since the choir and soloists really don't have much to do. You'd be paying a lot for not much stage time. The only time I've been involved in a performance was at my undergraduate school, where the local symphony used two college choirs and faculty soloists. Maybe if you put Chichester Psalms opposite the Choral Fantasy it would make more programming sense...

Enough rambling for this week! Sincere thanks and best wishes to those of you brave/bored enough to read my thoughts! Hey, there's much worse stuff out there you could be doing, right?