Sunday, January 31, 2010

Classical Grammys: The Winners

The winners of the GRAMMY Awards in the Classical Music Division were announced tonight along with everybody else: I am delighted to announce that Jennifer Higdon won the Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Composition for her Percussion Concerto, a work I had heard live at its world premiere in Philadelphia and which had been performed by the Harrisburg Symphony in March, 2008, with conductor Stuart Malina and the orchestra's principal percussionist Chris Rose, the soloist.

For a complete list of all the nominees in the various categories of the Classical Music Division, click here.

Here is the complete list of winners in the Classical Division:

Best Classical Producer:
Steve Epstein - for Adams: Doctor Atomic Symphony (David Robertson and Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra) - Bernstein: Mass (Marin Alsop, Jubilant Sykes, Asher Edward Wulfman, Morgan State University Choir, Peabody Children's Chorus and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra) - Corigliano: A Dylan Thomas Trilogy (Leonard Slatkin, George Mabry, Sir Thomas Allen, Nashville Symphony Chorus and Nashville Symphony Orchestra) - Fauré: Piano Quintets (Fine Arts Quartet and Cristina Oritz) - Yo-Yo Ma and Friends: Songs Of Joy And Peace (Yo-Yo Ma and Various Artists)
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Best Classical Album (Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s) if other than the Artist.) and also Best Engineered Album:

Mahler: Symphony No. 8; Adagio From Symphony No. 10 - Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor; Ragnar Bohlin, Kevin Fox and Susan McMane, choir directors; Andreas Neubronner, producer; Peter Laenger, engineer/mixer; Andreas Neubronner, mastering engineer (Laura Claycomb, Anthony Dean Griffey, Katarina Karnéus, Quinn Kelsey, James Morris, Yvonne Naef, Elza van den Heever and Erin Wall; San Francisco Symphony; Pacific Boychoir, San Francisco Girls Chorus and San Francisco Symphony Chorus) [SFS Media]
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Best Orchestral Performance (Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra.)

Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé - James Levine, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra; Tanglewood Festival Chorus) [BSO Classics]
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Best Opera Recording (Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.)

Britten: Billy Budd - Daniel Harding, conductor; Ian Bostridge, Neal Davies, Nathan Gunn, Jonathan Lemalu, Matthew Rose and Gidon Saks; John Fraser, producer (London Symphony Orchestra; Gentlemen Of The London Symphony Chorus) [Virgin Classics]
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Best Choral Performance (Award to the Choral Conductor, and to the Orchestra Conductor if an Orchestra is on the recording, and to the Choral Director or Chorus Master if applicable.)

Mahler: Symphony No. 8 - Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor; Ragnar Bohlin, Kevin Fox and Susan McMane, choir directors (Laura Claycomb, Anthony Dean Griffey, Elza van den Heever, Katarina Karnéus, Quinn Kelsey, James Morris, Yvonne Naef and Erin Wall; San Francisco Symphony; Pacific Boychoir, San Francisco Symphony Chorus and San Francisco Girls Chorus) [SFS Media]
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Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance (with Orchestra) (Award to the Instrumental Soloist(s) and to the Conductor.)

Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 - Evgeny Kissin, piano; Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor (Philharmonia Orchestra) [EMI Classics]
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Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without Orchestra) (Award to the Instrumental Soloist.)

Journey To The New World - Sharon Isbin (Joan Baez and Mark O'Connor) [Sony Classical]
- - - - - - -
Best Chamber Music Performance (Award to the Artists.)

Intimate Letters - Emerson String Quartet [Deutsche Grammophon]
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Best Small Ensemble Performance (Award to the Ensemble (and to the Conductor.)

Lang, David: The Little Match Girl Passion - Paul Hillier, conductor; Ars Nova Copenhagen and Theatre Of Voices [Harmonia Mundi]
- - - - - - -
Best Classical Vocal Performance (Award to the Vocal Soloist(s).)

Verismo - Renée Fleming (Marco Armiliato; Jonas Kaufmann; Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppi Verdi; Coro Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppi Verdi) [Decca]
- - - - - - -
Best Classical Contemporary Composition - (A Composer's Award. (For a contemporary classical composition composed within the last 25 years, and released for the first time during the Eligibility Year.) Award to the librettist, if applicable.)

Higdon, Jennifer: Percussion Concerto - Jennifer Higdon (Marin Alsop)
Track from: Alsop Conducts MacMillan, Adès, and Higdon [London Philharmonic Orchestra]
- - - - - - -
Best Classical Crossover Album - (Award to the Artist(s) and/or to the Conductor.)

Yo-Yo Ma and Friends: Songs Of Joy And Peace - Yo-Yo Ma (Odair Assad, Sergio Assad, Chris Botti, Dave Brubeck, Matt Brubeck, John Clayton, Paquito d'Rivera, Renée Fleming, Diana Krall, Alison Krauss, Natalie McMaster, Edgar Meyer, Cristina Pato, Joshua Redman, Jake Shimabukuro, Silk Road Ensemble, James Taylor, Chris Thile, Wu Tong, Alon Yavnai and Amelia Zirin-Brown)
[Sony Classical]
 - - - - - - -
Best Surround Sound Disc (not necessarily a Classical category but the winner is an album of classical music!):

Transmigration - Michael Bishop, surround mix engineer; Michael Bishop, surround mastering engineer; Elaine Martone, surround producer (Robert Spano, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Choruses) with John Adams' "On the Transmigration of Souls," Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" and "Agnus Dei,"  John Corigliano's "Elegy," and Jennifer Higdon's "Dooryard Bloom" for voice and orchestra. [Telarc]

- Dr. Dick

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Little Blogging Here & There

This weekend, I hope to begin teaching a class at the State Street Academy in beautiful downtown Harrisburg, an “Introduction to Theory and History” for the music students there. It's kind of an experiment, beginning it mid-year: it meets only 8 times, due to scheduling issues, so it's not much of a “course” and I have no idea how varied the levels of the students, however many may sign up for it, will be.

But the important thing is getting some background information in front of them as they take lessons on their instruments, information that will make them better musicians as well as better-informed listeners. So we'll see how it goes: if it's a success, there may be enough students to warrant a regular two-semester class starting in the fall.

- - - - - - -
UPDATE: So far, there are 11 students signed up for the class!
- - - - - - -

This weekend - Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 3pm - also marks the “Winterscapes” concert with the Harrisburg Symphony, featuring Jennifer Higdon's “SkyLine” (the opening of “CityScape”), the Symphonic Dances of Sergei Rachmaninoff and Beethoven's Violin Concerto with Augustin Hadelich returning to the Forum as the soloist.

You can hear the podcast Stuart Malina and I recorded about the program – he describes the orchestra's reaction to hearing Hadelich play Mozart's “Turkish” Concerto a few seasons ago and how excited he is to be bringing him back to do the Beethoven concerto which he views as an extension of the Mozart tradition rather than a precursor of the traditional 19th Century virtuosic concerto most listeners are familiar with.

There are also two posts in the “Up Close and Personal” series on the concerto – the first is more about the circumstances of its composition and the impact of Beethoven's impending deafness on his life at this time in his career; the second focuses on one structural facet of the first movement – a seemingly insignificant drum-beat in the first measure – and the concerto's context within the other works Beethoven was writing that year and what Viennese concertgoers were listening to at the time.

Last week, the Cypress Quartet and composer Jennifer Higdon were in town for a concert with Market Square Concerts which I blogged about here. I really do want to come back to this in a subsequent post, but I've been kind of in the writing doldrums, trying to get back in the mood to compose after a week spent following the earthquake in Haiti and then figuring out what to say about a work as familiar as Beethoven's Violin Concerto (then cutting it down to around 3,000 words).

And this Sunday evening, the winners of the Grammys will be announced. Not that I intend to sit through the TV broadcast – I'll check on line where they'll eventually post the winners of the Classical Division. Jennifer Higdon's Percussion Concerto is nominated for Best Contemporary Composition. You can read about all the nominees here – and then stay tuned: I'll be posting the list of winners here as soon as I can!

Meanwhile, it's going to get cold again here in Central Pennsylvania as winter returns after a couple weeks of “above-average” temperatures. Monday, it was in the 60s – hardly enjoyable, though, given the 1.5” of rain and the 40-50 mph winds. Friday and Saturday, the forecast highs are to be in the mid-20s with the possibility of “some snow.” Appropriate for a concert called “Winterscapes.”

52 Days till Spring, regardless of what the groundhog says next Tuesday...

- Dr. Dick

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Haiti, Part 6: CONTACT!

(Continued from Part 5...)

Finally! Nine days after the earthquake, we've had confirmation from somebody who talked with Jeanne Pocius directly. Not that other reports weren't valuable but this seems like the confirmation of many prayers and much hope from her family and friends all over the country - in fact, judging from the number of hits Thoughts on a Train's received from Europe, googling "Jeanne+Pocius+Haiti", I would say "and the world."

Steven Huang, a university professor in Ohio who's taught at Ste. Trinite in Port-au-Prince and is one of the administrators for Facebook's “Haiti Music Schools Earthquake Info Sharing” page, found that Jeanne was now staying in a suburban area of Port-au-Prince which, they assumed, meant she was staying with someone there they knew had a working phone number – so he arranged to call her this evening.

This is what Steve posted on Facebook shortly after 9pm tonight:

- - - - - - -
Just got off the phone with Jeanne. She is indeed okay, with nothing more serious than soft tissue damage. She seemed eager to share her experiences and info with me.

Jeanne confirms many of the survivors, including Nadine and Michee from the National Palace band, and Luca (tuba). The guest house at Ste. Trinite seems to have survived the earthquakes. She reports that in Leogane, the guest house is down, but the hospital, school, and bandshell are up (I know this is contradicted from other reports). She also says that she was able to save a cello, a damaged French horn, and some trumpets. She says that Carlot's girl friend is okay as well.

I asked her when she was thinking of coming back--she says she honestly doesn't know. She said that she believed it is her ministry to stay now and help the survivors. (I did try to convince her to come back for a while, but did not push it--you can't push Jeanne around!)

Finally, she said that she was able to borrow a Californian doctor's phone to make a single phone call to her pastor, who is supposed to get messages out to her family that she is indeed fine.

I am overjoyed to hear her voice, Boston accent and all.

Jeanne, please do God's work and hurry back to us soon!

[Added later] She was in Salle Ste. Cecile [the school's auditorium and the only real concert hall in the country] when the earthquake occurred. I think this is what she said (the connection was not great): The cement ceiling came down, crushing the piano where she was at only moments ago. At the area in front of the stage, a "volcano" pushed up through the ground. She made special note that Skander Desrosiers (horn) was an absolute hero – not only lifting columns of cement to save her and others, but repeatedly returning to the hall to rescue others.
- - - - - - -

To say I am relieved and delighted is an understatement!

In the past week, I've seen many names mentioned in Facebook posts, reports from PaP about survivors - with survivors posting news of other survivors for those of us “state-side” wondering and worrying.

I want to say a special word of thanks to Skander who I'm sure probably didn't think at all about becoming a hero, absolute or otherwise, that he was doing what he had to do because these were his friends and they needed his help. One thing that is obvious from so many of these posts and from so many of the pre-earthquake pictures that have been posted here is the joy they all share in celebrating this life and the love they share for each other.

A school is more than just a building. A building can be replaced. The most important part of that school has survived so the work that has gone on there for generations past may continue long into the future.

Here is a link to a website that is setting the groundwork for a fund we can contribute to to help rebuild that physical building of Ste. Trinite. Please keep it in mind for the very near future. Right now, food and medicine are the most important things – please contribute as you can, now. But later, please consider a contribution to the school or donating musical instruments as they begin the long, hard process of rebuilding.

Thank you.

(continued: Concert in Haiti, Feb 5th, 2010.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Haiti, Part 5: An Aftershock and an Update

Continued from Part 4...

There was a strong aftershock registering 6.1 on the Richter Scale at 6:03am this morning centered about 35 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The town of Leogane – where the Ste. Trinite School has a summer music camp – is about 29 miles west of the capital. So far, I've seen nothing about further damage though it could certainly have done nothing to ease the minds and spirits of the survivors still waiting for help.

This article in yesterday's Washington Post is a reminder that while the much needed aid effort is focused on Port-au-Prince, destruction is spread over a much wider area: in Leogane, a popular tourist destination in Haiti, five hundred nuns, priests and students were crushed to death when the Ste Rose de Lima School there collapsed. What new damage and new sorrow may this new quake, this largest aftershock so far, have brought to this town?

According to this map, showing the epicenter of this latest aftershock, Leogane is in the “violently” affected area hit by the new quake; Port-au-Prince and, to the south the coastal town of Jacmel, in the “very strongly” affected area.

The director of the Ste. Trinite Music School, Pere David Cesar, was quoted on the “Haiti Music Schools Earthquake” page at Facebook earlier today:

“Our staff and students with the exception of two losses are alive by a miracle. Jean Francois Alzinor, age 21, principal Alto of Les Petits Chanteurs died at the University he attended. ‘Alzinor’ participated in the tours of 2006, 2007 and 2008. Mdm Lahens, recently hired to be in charge of discipline, also died, but not at Holy Trinity. Nicole St Victor was dizzy and in shock but she was not injured. Many students and staff from the Trade School died when the destruction came. We lost all of our instruments. Salle St. Cecile, the only Concert Hall in the country, was also destroyed.

“If we are alive, we believe God has a special mission for us. We do not know why and how we are alive because how were we able to get out of the building when we were on the third floor when the entire building collapsed? Now the time is to rebuild the Music School and Concert Hall and get music back to life in order to show the future of Haiti. Thank you for all your prayers and thoughts of us. May God bless us all.”

Tonight, one of the organizers of that page, Janet Anthony, who has worked tirelessly to inform us of the events and the aftermath of last week's earthquake in Haiti, is involved in a “Concert for Haiti” at Lawrence University where she teaches in Appleton WI. The two hour program will be streamed on-line here, beginning at 7pm CST.

I hope you will be able to join them in spirit and in support.

And this word from one of the students from Ste. Trinite: Eder let us know "For those who worry about Jeanne, don't worry she ok. I cannot give you more info but i know she is fine."

Continued - with a report of good news!

- Dr. Dick

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti, Part 4: A Week After the Earthquake

Continued from Part 3...

This afternoon, it will be one week since the earthquake struck Haiti. And yet, this past midnight, someone posted that a woman was still sending signals out from under the rubble of a school – Universite Caraïbe – on the edge of Port-au-Prince. She's still alive and there are others there still trapped with her! 6½ days – that is all at once amazing, miraculous and horrifying to contemplate! But they're alive. Let's hope someone can get to them and rescue them soon!

Meanwhile, it was reported in today's New York Times that the Red Cross has collected about $103,000,000 worth of pledges, $22,000,000 coming through the text-messaging program alone (sending the text "Haiti" to 90999 to contribute $10 to Haitian relief). After the National Football League's promotion during the game this past weekend, contributions were “coming in at the rate of $500,000 an hour.” That, too, is amazing.

The work, of course, is far from over. I know after I had found out that my friend, Jeanne Pocius, who had been teaching that afternoon at the music school at Ste. Trinite, had been found and was alive, the urgency was in danger of wearing off. A week later, the situation is still dire – getting food and medical aid to the survivors has been hampered with the logistical nightmare of reality on the ground.

Someone from College St. Pierre, where Jeanne and many of the survivors from Ste. Trinite are staying – hundreds of people living on a soccer field – said Sunday night that food and water had still not reached them. Then later, someone else posted that they had received water “directly” on Sunday and food was expected to arrive sometime the next day – six days after the quake!

Phillippe Qualo sent photographs he had taken of various locations around Port-au-Prince which Olivier Vasquez posted on Facebook. Two of them I've posted here: Olivier was unable to reach Phillippe to ask him if he'd permit me to post them, so he suggested I go ahead but credit the photographer.

The first photo (top, left), found at a website about a nursing school in Port-au-Prince, is of the cathedral's main entrance taken before the quake. The second photo (on the right, above), taken by Phillippe, shows a view from the street of what is left of the Cathedral Ste. Trinite. (Other photos have been posted on Part 3 of this series of posts.)

Just to give you an idea of the extent of some of the damage – you've no doubt seen the miles and miles of indescribable destruction across the city in the TV news footage – consider the Catholic cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Notre Dame, a large, beautifully tropical-looking building of pink and cream with slender towers and a huge rosette of stained glass. This uncredited before shot (left) was found on-line. Phillippe's photo (below, right) shows what is left of the cathedral today.

The next photo (below, left) is cropped from an Air Force Global Hawk unmanned aircraft photograph taken on Thursday, Jan. 14th, showing an aerial view of the cathedral's remains. There is also an interior shot of the cathedral posted at the Los Angeles Times which you can see here.

And there is much more to this earthquake than a few buildings being demolished and searching for a few friends. I have heard an estimated “body-count” of possibly 140,000 to 200,000 dead though an exact number will never be known, considering the numbers that are being quickly buried in mass graves without documentation or last rites. Families will never know for sure where their loved ones are buried: how many died without being able to say farewell? How many have died since then without the comfort of knowing their children will survive? What of the children who, unable to comprehend the horror of this event, will grow up with these memories such a major part of their lives?

It is easy to sit back and smirk that – oh yeah – President George W. Bush who did such a fine job handling the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is helping to spearhead the relief effort for Haiti, along with President Bill Clinton.

And of course, who could resist the “Pat Robertson Voodoo Doll” available on eBay as a fund-raiser for Haitian relief?

But every dollar is crucial, every person involved in contributing even a small amount is important.

If you haven't already, please consider using your cell-phone and texting “Haiti” to 90999 to give $10 to the Red Cross.

Or donate through the Catholic Relief Services.

There may have been controversies in the past with the Red Cross but, as people in the news have pointed out, this is a different time with a different administration, but they mention, somewhat disconcertingly, that they know they have to “prove themselves with this one” (as long as they've been around, why is there this need, today?!). There are several organizations that one could consider and you can find lists of them at many local news media websites. Or you can check out this link from "Charity Navigator."

It is not as important where you contribute but THAT you contribute!

Though be careful whom you're giving your money to. As always, there are those unscrupulous vermin who will prey on people's good intentions for their own gain.

Since I've been spending most of my time since hearing about the quake on Facebook -  Jeanne has a whole network of friends there and the people with the Haiti Music Schools Earthquake Info Sharing page have been incredible - several friends there have recommended contributing through “Food for the Poor” which is what I've decided to do. You can check out their web-site, or send a check to this land address:

Food for the Poor
6401 Lyons Road
Coconut Creek, FL 33073

People on Facebook have also been contributing "minutes" to cell-phones of the students at Ste. Trinite who are then calling locally to find out information about friends and family there. Word has gotten back to the page this way about many people that way, in fact surprisingly much good news about survivors, considering the devastation.

Still unable to hear from Jeanne directly, we've been relying on such reports:

On the day of the quake, Felix, one of the students there, told us that Jeanne's Big Band rehearsal was supposed to start at 5pm, just moments after the quake struck. Not everyone had arrived by then - those who were still outside were fine.

A few said they had seen her and another had talked to her: one mentioned her leg was "a lil bit fractured," which made us wonder if she had a broken leg or what?

Skander, a horn student at the school, mentioned "that she had given out all of her medicine" (typical!).

Another student reported that the school Dessaix-Baptiste in Jacmel on the southern coast of Haiti had received only minimal damage (this is the school where we originally thought Jeanne was at the time of the quake). He was able to chat on Facebook because the school had solar panels!

Another report mentioned that Jeanne had a band rehearsal Sunday night at the College St. Pierre! Now THERE'S a video I would love to see and hear posted on-line! In the midst of all this tragedy and misery with all the uncertainty of the situation, there is the healing power of music – both in the making of it and in the listening to it. Perhaps it IS an important aspect of sustenance for the survivors: not as critical as medicine, food and water as well as shelter, but for many something important and helpful.

In the near future, once the worst has passed, the rebuilding will begin – of lives and of the community but of the buildings as well, the schools and churches that have had such an important role in the life there. There will be a specific fund set up to rebuild Ste. Trinite – I'm thinking also how Jeanne used to ask for donations of musical instruments she could take down for the students there – and I will keep readers posted here about that in the future.

Though I know little about this school or its operations, I know that Jeanne is not the only teacher there. She is, however, the one I know. If all the other teachers there have the same kind of passion and dedication to their art and their students as she does, then it is a very lucky place indeed.

You can read more about the school and its history here, from fellow blogger Matthew Guerrieri in Boston. As he points out, "the Ecole Ste. Trinité became Haiti’s leading conservatory, the Orchestre Philharmonique Sainte Trinité the country’s de facto national symphony, and, upon its construction in 1979, the school’s Salle Ste. Cecile the city’s main concert hall."

Right now, all of this is physically gone.

The other night, I was sitting in my living room, feeling helpless after a newscast, watching the parade of faces looking out to the world for help, when I started thinking (beyond “where do you even begin?!”) how will they manage this when I remembered that performance of the Haydn trumpet concerto with Jeanne conducting the orchestra and Carlot Dorve playing the trumpet (it's on Facebook but I haven't been able to re-post it here: read Part 1 of these posts). It was held in Salle Ste. Cecile, the auditorium of the school named after the patron saint of music whose feast-day is November 22nd. The Haydn was recorded at the St. Cecilia Concert on Nov. 22nd, 2009.

In my mind, I heard the students of Ste. Trinite singing and playing an arrangement of the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven's 9th Symphony – with its plea for Universal Brotherhood – if not before, at least on Nov. 22nd, 2010, whether they'd have a completed building by then, or not. Who knows, maybe before.

With your help and prayers, it can happen.


- Dr. Dick

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti, Part 3: Ste. Trinite, Before & After

Continued from Part 2...

These are some photographs of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where my friend Jeanne Pocius was at the time of Tuesday's earthquake (see Part 1 and Part 2 for more details). This exterior shot (the 'before') I found on Flickr through Google-Images. The same view is seen (the 'after') below.

Here is some information about the school from the website: "Holy Trinity School, adjacent to the Cathedral, was originally founded as a school for girls in 1913. Today, there are 1200 boys and girls. There is also a Trade School with 800 students and a music School. Since the music program was begun in 1970, a philharmonic orchestra and a boys choir have been formed; and concerts are given frequently in Salle Sainte Cecile at the school."

The video in Part 1 featured the school's orchestra - the Facebook video (which I couldn't figure out how to post here) with the performance of the finale of Haydn's Trumpet Concerto was from a concert on St. Cecilia's Day (November 22nd) last year in the school's auditorium, the St. Cecilia Hall. St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music.

This (right) is a photograph of the main entrance (see above for 'before') taken after the earthquake, one of a series of photos posted at the Music Schools Earthquake Info Sharing page at Facebook. I don't know who took them: they were posted state-side.

It is more than just a church. In addition to the school and its music school there is also "St. Vincent's School for Handicapped Children, started in 1945, now cares for some 1500 children a month in the school section and in the specialized medical, orthopeidic and neurological clinics. There are also surgical facilities one day a week. Music, art, and literature are included along with the academic curriculum. There are boarding places for 200 children."

This photograph (left), which I found at a website for an Episcopal mission's website from Alabama, shows the area behind the altar, one of the many paintings in the classic Haitian "primitive" style that made the cathedral a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The interior of the church can be seen through the collapsed walls in the photo below (right).

"College St. Pierre, the Church's secondary school in Port-au-Prince, is located at the southeast corner of the Champs-de-mars. Opened in 1957, it now has an enrollment of 700. This school and the diocese have taken an important role in preserving and propagating the artistic heritage of Haiti. A museum, constructed across the street from the school, houses a permanent collection of Haitian art."

College St. Pierre (below), adjacent to the school and cathedral, is where Jeanne and most of the other survivors are staying, now, living on the soccer field. It is near the French embassy.

Here is a story posted at CNN about a woman hoping to find her only child, a student at the cathedral's school. He is a violinist and also a singer in the choral ensemble, Les petits chanteurs.

- - - -
UPDATE (1-16-2010): her son, Marc, has been located: he was with another member of Les petits chanteurs at the time of the quake and is with another family, trying to locate his mom! He is safe!
- - - - -

"Armand St. Louis, 30, says his 8-year-old cousin and a 19-year-old girl are still trapped. He has talked with them, St. Louis said. He is digging his way down from the computer room, which collapsed onto the music room.'It's dark, and she's scared,' St. Louis says."

Here is a link to a video posted at CNN as rescuers - the victim's own family members - work to pull a young man pinned beneath the five-story structure of the Trade School (see below) at Ste. Trinite. The woman in the next scene is the mother of the young violinist and singer mentioned above, looking for her son at the music school, not knowing if he was there or not at the time of the quake. The final scene is another anxious mother looking for her child.

This photograph (right) is of the Trade School that is part of the Ste Trinite Campus.

I am assuming the Hospital Ste. Croix is in the vicinity, also [see CORRECTION below]. It has not collapsed (as apparently had been reported earlier) but it is badly damaged. Only one person associated with the hospital had died, though another one is unaccounted for. Suzi (I am guessing the administrator for the hospital) describes the situation: I assume this is the soccer field at College Ste. Pierre where the Trinite students and Jeanne are staying, now.

"At night we sleep in the yard behind the hospital where the bandstand was. It has fallen, as has the Episcopal school. There are 2-300 people who sleep in that field at night. Thy sing hymns until almost midnight, and we wake up to a church service, with hymns, a morning prayer, and the apostle's creed. The evening sky is glorious.  In the field there is a real sense of community."

- - - - - - -
CORRECTION (1-16-2010): Since I'm directionally challenged even in places I'm already familiar with, it shouldn't be surprising I am mistaken, here, piecing things together from different posts. Facebook friends tell me the Hospital Ste. Croix is in the town of Leogane which is quite some distance from Port-au-Prince (see map here). Part of the confusion is the mention of a bandstand which, yes, is part of Ste. Trinite's summer music camp but that's in Leogane, not at the cathedral complex in PaP! There is another Episcopal school associated with Ste. Croix which is what Suzi is referring to in her report. My apologies.
- - - - - - -

This does not mean all is idyllic. She describes trying to care for the wounded. A wall collapsed, opening the room where the drugs were kept and she has to fend off looters ("I shouted down about 20 looters in the guesthouse. Righteous indignation works wonders"). While supplies are stuck at the airport and relief workers seem to be unable to distribute food and water, much less medicine, to the desperate survivors fast enough - or, it would seem from reports seen in the news on TV, at all - Suzi also mentions some folks from a nearby mission who "have some money so they went out and bought rice, etc, and we will eat tonight." Some people have gone without food since the quake three days ago.

As reports of the possible loss of life ranges from 50,000 to 140,000 deaths, I will close this post with two photographs taken from Jeanne's Facebook profile. If I could contact her, I would ask her permission, though I doubt she would mind (I hope). For the one on the left, someone added the caption "Jeanne found Rodney out on the street looking in and matched him with the tuba we brought down from Massachusetts. Playing an instrument could change his life. Jeanne is wonderful about turning kids on to music and giving them a purpose in life." We hear a lot about Venezuela's "El Sistema," but it is not the only program like it in the world with the same goals though it may have more money and more government backing and, of course, more world-wide press. Could one of these children be the next Gustavo Dudamel?

Here, Jeanne beams and claps while a boy dances at one of the summer camp music festivals there. The boy is not named, but the girl is Bernadette, a name I've also seen in the queries and reports: she, too, is safe.

Given the magnitude of the tragedy and the immensity of the challenge before the people of Haiti as they try to put their world back together, I would hope perhaps Jeanne will be conducting another concert in a renovated Ste. Trinite school on St. Cecilia's Day 2010. When you look at the joy in these faces, one can only hope for a happy ending.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti, Part 2: Hoping & Waiting - Some Good News Among the Tragic

Continued from Part 1...

When I saw an online report around 6:15 this past Tuesday that there had been a “devastating earthquake” in Haiti, my first thought was “Jeanne!”

Though I haven't seen Jeanne Pocius since the '80s, most likely, and have had only a little e-mail communication with her between then and, more recently, catching up as a friend on Facebook, I knew – according to her last Facebook status – that she was leaving for Haiti on a 5:30am flight from Boston that past Thursday, unhappy about needing to be at the airport two or three hours ahead of the flight but happy, at least, to be avoiding another weekend blizzard and cold snap: she would be in Haiti for five weeks, this time.

Where she was in Haiti, I had no idea. It's a small country and it was a huge quake: how far out did the impact of the quake strike? I knew she had been in other cities in Haiti: I prayed she was not in Port-au-Prince at the time – those pictures on the news were too horrible to imagine!

So I turned to Facebook. By the next morning, I found someone had set up a page there called “Haiti Music Schools – Earthquake Info Sharing” where people were posting questions about friends and family or reporting what they had heard and whom they'd heard news about. Meanwhile, on Jeanne's profile – she has over 2,000 friends there – questions, thoughts and prayers about her whereabouts and her well-being were being posted on what is called her "wall" one after the other.

The music school page was being organized by people in the United States who'd long been involved in these schools in Haiti – Janet Anthony at Lawrence University in Wisconsin and Steven Huang at Ohio University – but it was difficult for me sometimes, being an outsider with no ties to the people there or knowledge of the local geography, to know who was who when they would mention first names only or names that might be a church, a school or a town, for all I knew. Many of the posts were in a mix of French and Creole; slips in English could be forgiven whether it was a 2nd (or 3rd) language or not. Jeanne - who is actually Jeannemarie Gabriel Pocius - is of French-Canadian heritage, by the way, and Jeanne could be a fairly common name in Haiti. This would lead to a good deal of confusion, not just for me.

Consequently, I ended up spending a good deal of time googling this information, trying to get my cyberbearings: it turned out Jeanne was in Jacmel, a provincial capital almost due south of Port-au-Prince. As the country includes a long narrow peninsula jutting out from the main bulk of the island, the southern boundary to a central bay, the capital is in the southeast corner of this bay and Jacmel is on the southernmost coast of Haiti, facing the Caribbean but not that far south from Port-au-Prince (which I found was usually abbreviated, conveniently, as PaP) but who knew what the mountains in between were like? Would Jacmel have been far enough away to escape the brunt of the quake?

Then one map in the news showed the concentric rings emanating from the epicenter just west of Port-au-Prince. Jacmel was located on one of those rings. I found the Wikipedia entry for Jacmel announcing on January 11th, the day before the quake, Jacmel announced Comfort Inn was going to be opening a new beachfront hotel there.

The next day, all that changed.

One of the first posts I saw at the Music Schools page mentioned how someone's daughter had survived at an orphanage in Jacmel, though many of her classmates had been killed: they “watched the mountain above the orphanage split.”

In the frantic quest for information and the number of posts from people in the States and those who may have been in Haiti, I can't remember exactly, now, what order they came in or what all information may have been included.

One bit of good news: two of the names mentioned I knew from Jeanne's friend-list. Carlot Dorve, whom she listed as her son, and Mackelder Saintilus (I later found a photograph - see right - of him playing principal clarinet in the band Jeanne was conducting) were in Flint, Michigan, where I gathered, they were going to be teachers themselves. Mackelder said he had arrived about a week before the quake, Carlot and two or three others a few days later. One could say they had gotten out in the knick-of-time but now they were sitting in the Frozen North worried about the state of their family, their friends, their homes, their town, their country. While I felt happy for them for being safe, I felt great empathy for their frustration in being so far away.

Given the issues-on-the-ground with basic services like electricity, water, telephones and so on, it was not hard to imagine what the internet and cell-phone service would be like. Some people were on Twitter or sending photos and video out, shot from cell-phones. Others had no service and could not. Janet and Steven posted phone numbers they had for certain people at the schools there, hoping that someone might have the time to keep calling and hoping for a response.

Some reported no service, others that they left voice-mail.

What were the chances, under the circumstances, someone's cell-phone would be functional (would they even know where it was?), that they'd have access to a computer even if they had internet service?

Then, someone – Mackelder, I believe – reported he'd talked to Pere David and that “Jeanne was in alive” but that “Ste Trinite complex is gone. No school no cathedral.” The context implied Jeanne Pocius who I thought was in Jacmel? I took “was in alive” as a typo for “was alive” - but could it mean “was in [hospital but] alive” or “in[jured but] alive”? And was this Jeanne “Jeanne Pocius” or some other Jeanne – good news, either way, but better for me if I'd known it was my friend. I asked for a clarification: was this Jeanne, Jeanne Pocius the trumpet teacher?

It took about 43 minutes before Steven Huang responded “Yes.”

For most of those 43 minutes, I think I was hitting the refresh button every 30 seconds or so to see if anybody posted an update between reading other posts and sifting through names and locations unknown to me.

It took quite some time to realize that “Ste Trinite” (Holy Trinity) was not in Jacmel: it was in Port-au-Prince. She was at the school at Dessaix-Baptiste there and it was apparently okay, still standing. THAT was good news.

So I assumed Jeanne was okay – or at least alive, which was pretty good news considering how easy the alternative could've been the case, when they're talking about a death toll in the thousands with people unaccounted for under the rubble of collapsed buildings. I mean, if large well-built banks and even the Presidential Palace could practically collapse into rubble, what chances did the poor shanty towns on the hills in and around the capital have?

At some point during the morning, I had been contacted by Diana Fishlock, a Facebook friend who is a reporter for the Harrisburg Patriot-News, looking for people in the area with connections to Haiti. After seeing my status updates about trying to find Jeanne, she contacted me. Mostly, we connected through Facebook e-mail. By the time I had heard that Jeanne was apparently alive, even though there'd been no direct confirmation from her, I wrote up some information about it and sent it to Diana, there not being enough time for a phone call and interview: she asked me a few follow-up questions (it hadn't even occurred to me that if Jeanne was a freshman student in 1976 or so, she'd be 52 now!). I had been dancing around the house at the news Jeanne was okay but I felt guilty that others were not getting such good news or were still waiting. I returned to the computer and continued to click on this site or that update, hoping to find more information.

After all, there had been no direct confirmation from her: everything was second-hand. Was that not good enough, I wondered?

Most of the day had been spent at the computer – hours went by unnoticed even more fluidly than usual. My whole day had been spent, ironically, with Facebook and on Google – and a couple of e-mails to friends of mine on Yahoo who, believe it or not, have not actually succumbed to joining Facebook! Both had known Jeanne when we were all at UConn.

I watched the news and saw more and more coverage from Haiti, relieved that I, at least, knew my one friend there was safe. But seeing so much destruction, so much misery and death, the rest of the reality there – beyond the idea of rescue – was horrifying. How could one possibly face such a thing? Suddenly, my life's problems seemed to vanish by comparison. I sat and prayed and wept and hoped.

The next morning, I was met by seeing Diana's article from the Patriot-News posted from one of Jeanne's friends on her Facebook profile. Most of the article was about families from Haiti in the area who were trying to connect with other members of their family, still there, or with people who'd served in missionary projects there in the past. At the end was my little story, finding that Jeanne was alive, the one bit of good news in the report.

There was e-mail from one of Jeanne's sisters, Marci. I had already connected through comments with her brother Jimi – I had not known either of them, before – but Marci was asking if I'd heard anything directly from Jeanne to prove she was alive.

But... but...

It had only been second-hand: there was nothing directly confirming it from Jeanne herself. And then I saw the post from someone who implied the “Jeanne” that had been reported with Pere David was possibly someone else, Jean-Bernard. Perhaps all our hopes had been built on this one misconception. Perhaps the person who had talked to Pere David had assumed it was Jeanne Pocius and not Jean-Bernard he had been talking about?

Suddenly, I was back on the ground, starting over.

Worse came the news that, no, Jeanne was not in Jacmel that day, where the school was still standing: she was scheduled to be in Port-au-Prince, at Ste. Trinite, that afternoon, the place that no longer existed...

And no one could reach Jeanne's cell-phone or other numbers that people had supplied for her. No one could reach Pere David, either, any more.

More hours trying to confirm anything, to sort out the confusion, meant more frustration spent waiting.

Meanwhile, I googled: like the information-overload commercials for Bing, I could start spewing off all kind of facts without understanding their context – about Jacmel which had a music-festival there, about the school there and in Port-au-Prince and about Ste. Trinite Cathedral.

A reporter had posted over 50 photographs from Port-au-Prince, very few of them labeled, very few of them needing labels. The ones of dead bodies under the rubble or covered by sheets – including the city's bishop – were difficult to look at. I kept searching for Jeanne, afraid to find her at all.

But there were two pictures there labeled “Ste Trinity Cathedral.” It was in very bad shape but not leveled. One of the stateside teachers who'd been there many times said that was the “catholic cathedral,” not Ste. Trinite. Confused, I tried to find out what the difference was: I didn't even know most of these people were associated with the Episcopal mission in Haiti and that it was “Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral” in Port-au-Prince, not that it mattered all that much in terms of people's lives unless you were trying to pin point with some accuracy where somebody may have been at the time of the quake!

I found that Pere David was Pere David Cesar who was the director of the school at Ste. Trinite and was also a conductor of the orchestra there: one of the posts I found was a report from Jeanne Pocius about her performance with the Ste. Trinite orchestra which included one of the most calming pieces of music I could think in times of stress like this, “The Prayer of Saint Gregory” by Alan Hovhaness (on September 11th, 2001, my colleague Cary Burkett had selected this as the music WITF would use throughout that awful day: coincidentally, it had been the performance recorded by another student of mine, Chris Gekker, who'd been in my freshman theory class when I was a teaching assistant at Eastman!). I couldn't find a performance Jeanne had made of it so I posted one I'd found at You-Tube (with organ) on my Facebook page and hers as a prayer to send out to help calm our friends who were following the news that day.

There was a report from one of the ministers in Les Cayes, a seaport further west on that narrow peninsula across the south of Haiti. It turned out the convent at Ste. Trinite had collapsed but the sisters were alright. Then he mentioned a building I later found was in Les Cayes. I asked if there was a Ste. Trinite in Les Cayes, too, or was this the one in Port-au-Prince? Someone said “In Haiti, when you talk about 'Ste. Trinite,' it's the one in PaP.” So even though the buildings there were severely damaged, people had survived. Maybe there was still hope?

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In a time when so many people are focused on Haiti, so much mental energy, so many thoughts of love and prayers of hope have been sent there to help find information about family and friends, sending a little bit of money to help in something where we all feel, no doubt, powerless. Looking at the news photos from there, where does one even begin? It is easy to become numb: in fact, given the ubiquity of news coverage and disasters around the world – whether it was September 11th or the Christmas Tsunami in South Asia a few years ago or the earthquakes in China and, now, Haiti – it is easy to sigh and switch the channel, to focus more on the weekend's football game or the fate of Late Night TV shows. It's far away and remote from our experience, sitting comfortably in our homes not having to worry about food or having a bed to sleep in, so we don't want to spend too much attention to it because it's such a bummer.

And then, with all the needs our good Christian leaders urge us to remember – to love one another, to show compassion for our fellow men – there are thoughts sent out into the world by the likes of Pat Robertson or Rush Limbaugh whose words I find almost as unbelievable as the quake itself.

You can credit or discredit them on your own according to your beliefs, religious or political, as easily as you can change the channel to avoid the uncomfortable news you feel powerless to do anything about. That doesn't mean they no longer exist, they no longer have power to wound and destroy.

Robertson finds blame for the quake – he's always seems to be fixing blame, rather than just looking ahead to hope and to help when he says things like this, regardless of what the rest of his ministry may accomplish – in Haiti's “pact with the devil” to overthrow their French colonial rulers (“true story”). True or not (and it doesn't matter to him whether it is or isn't), he'd been saying stupid things like this long before Hurricane Katrina, finding reasons for natural disasters like this. And “smiting” is so Old-Testament, really: doesn't the New Testament talk about forgiveness of sins more than finding blame for the cause of it? Anyway, as for him and Rush Limbaugh, I can only respond by posting Keith Olbermann's response.

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By late afternoon, I had to leave for a meeting downtown. After running some errands, I came back to find I was having trouble with the computer: trying to get back into the Haiti Music Schools' page, one of the cats stepped on the keyboard and before I knew it, there were 25 tabs opening up for Firefox HELP which I could neither stop nor close down. I was even having trouble trying to close down the browser. So I shut down the computer – even that took a while – and I just walked away from it: how many hours had I spent on it the past two days, anyway? I needed a break and I needed to get dinner.

I had missed the news on TV but I sat down to watch Jeopardy and then Bones (one of my guilty pleasures) before getting back to the computer.

When I did, I found things on Jeanne's 'wall' that could have been wishful thinking -- “she apparently lost her cell phone” (well, yes, I had figured that was very likely, under the circumstances: was this a reason why we might not be hearing from her? Sure!). But then I started seeing other positive posts like these: since I was scrolling around trying to find something specific, I don't know what order these were originally in and it's a little difficult trying to distinguish whose posts I'm looking for, considering so many of us have changed our profile picture to the Haitian Flag (left) in support of the people there.

“Phillipe the trumpetist was pull out the rubble”

“Arianne is fine . Fritz the violist is fine . most of the sainte trinite musicians are in College st Pierre soccer field near the French ambassy.”

Oh??? And finally, I found:

“Jeanne Pontius is located at St Pierre . Near French Embassy”

I saw Jeanne's brother Jimi had posted a frustrated clarification for “Jeanne Pocius or Jeanne Pontious?” and the person responded “Pontious the trumpet-player.”


Another post I had overlooked earlier: “Fabrice said that Frito Leroy ran innto Jeanne in PAP - she has lost her phone. Pierre spoke with her as did Fabrice. Don't knwo where she is staying or how to contact her.”

“Have just learned from Fabrice Lafond that Frito LeRoy spoke with Jeanne in PAP - she is fine he says”

Then, Jimi posted: “jeannie is alive and i PAP, she lost her phone, best f****n' news i've had in years!!!!!!!!”

At 9:45, I changed my formerly uneasy status to: “{{{DANCING!!!}}} Her brother said Jeanne's in Port-au-Prince - two people have talked to her and she is OKAY! She lost her phone, has no internet access... but from what I'm seeing on her profile and from other posts at the Haitian Music Schools/Earthquake page, SHE ***IS*** ALIVE! [insert performance of "Hallelujah Chorus" here!]”

There were comments to post, celebratory e-mails to send, thanks to give and – oh yes – update my yahoo friends since they're not seeing all this stuff on Facebook ;-)

Looking back at some of these posts today, though, I'm confused that some of them are time-stamped after 11pm EST: I know I had seen them between 9:15 and 9:45. Doesn't matter, all I needed to know was she was alive. I didn't know if “being alive” equated with “being okay,” but Jeanne is a strong person: even if she weren't “okay,” her primary role would be to help the people around her. That's Jeanne. I knew that thirty years ago and it was confirmed time and time again reading the thoughts and prayers posted for her on her wall.

Today, three days after the quake, the posts continue: “Just read from the status of the Quisqueya Christian School Alumni Coordinator Els Vorvloet that people are being brought out ALIVE from Holy Trinity!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Praise GOD!”

“Skander Desrosiers just called me! He said that he is ok, in Carrefour now, he was at Ste Trinite with Jeanne, Phillippe and Mejeun when it happened. It was hard to hear...” (Phillippe “the trumpetist” had been pulled from the rubble, according to an earlier post.)

Mackelder, one of the former students now in Michigan, just got word that his family is okay – his father was injured but alive – but it is not all good news: he says he heard his university had collapsed and many students and teachers are dead.

Other people continue to wait and hope.

And the rest of the world joins with them.

To be continued: Part 3 - some before/after photographs & updates...

The Power of Music, the Strength of Love: Haiti, Part 1

Two quotes immediately come to mind as I start this post: “If Music be the food of love, play on!” and “Music soothes the savage breast” (or beast, as it's usually misquoted). The first is from Shakespeare's “Twelfth Night,” the second though well known is from the relatively little known 17th Century dramatist William Congreve and his probably otherwise unknown play “The Mourning Bride.”

Music is capable of doing so many things: while for some, it is a luxury or something frivolous to be cut from budgets to save a few bucks, for others, it comes not far after the need for food, clothing and shelter.

In this post, I'm focusing on the power of music to transform lives. I'm thinking specifically of a former student of mine who has dedicated so much of her life to bringing music to the young students of Haiti, usually described (and dismissed) as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

With the earthquake there (usually described as devastating when no words exist to express the immensity of its impact on so poor a nation), survivors there have more immediate need of food, clothing and shelter – not to mention medicine – but they have music: people tweeting from the horrific scenes in Port-au-Prince, the capital, described people gathered in streets and squares singing in the night, mostly in prayer but also in comfort, singing of hope and banding together in an expression of the soul, both personal and communal.

Another favorite quote of mine, more recent than the Classics, comes from the acting teacher, Stella Adler:

“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.”

So I want you to listen to this video clip before you continue to read.

I had wanted to post the last movement of Haydn's Trumpet Concerto, a performance recorded on St. Cecelia's Day (the patron saint of music) this past November 22nd, 2009, at Ste. Trinite Cathedral of Port-au-Prince, a UNECO World Heritage site for its beautiful paintings of biblical scenes done in a classic Haitian primitive style (see image, left).

But it's only available on Jeanne's Facebook Profile/Videos: here is the link, if you'd have access to it.

Instead, I found this YouTube video of a rehearsal of the 1st Movement of the Haydn (better video, not as polished a performance and recorded in January, 2009, ten months before the other video) but it will still give you an idea of the importance of music in these students' lives! (Unfortunately, it cuts off about half-way through the movement...)

No, maybe it's not the most perfect performance I've ever heard but it's one of the most amazing and uplifting I've heard, when you consider everything going into it, if not just the joy these young students put into playing music by a White European composer who died 200 years ago.
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The orchestra is conducted by a former student of mine, Jeanne Pocius, a trumpet player who'd been in my freshman theory class when I taught at the University of Connecticut back in the mid-70s. Her life has not been an easy one so it comes as no surprise to me the greater part of her life has been spent bringing the joy of music if not just the music itself to young people who've also led lives that are far from easy.

She spends much of her time recently teaching in Haiti. When not in Haiti, she is traveling around the country performing and teaching in brass clinics with schools and bands – and always raising money, calling for instruments to be donated to the schools in Haiti and above all raising awareness of the needs of these students and how important music is in bringing something positive to their lives.

Take the soloist in this performance. You will notice that he has lost an arm. Now, you can still play a trumpet with one arm: my grandfather, in fact, was well known in the area as “The One-Armed Trumpet Player,” not playing on the sympathy of the accident but for overcoming an adversity (my dad used to say his father had a closet full of band uniforms for different town bands all over the area; the story goes that, one year, he subbed in the Sousa Band, though I never remember my grandfather talking much less bragging about it).

The young man's name is either Dorve Carlot or Carlot Dorve (I've seen it in both orders, but his Facebook profile lists him as Dorve Carlot). He became an orphan during one of the many periods of civil strife that continue to plague Haiti almost as often as disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes have. I don't know if Jeanne adopted him or merely took him in, but she lists him as one of her children and he lists her as his parent on their profiles.

So you can see this young man's life has not been, shall we say, an easy one.

The orchestra consists of students from the school's music program associated with the Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (or Ste. Trinite) in Port-au-Prince.

This (right) is the exterior of the cathedral (not to be confused with the Catholic cathedral as has happened with news photos being dispatched from the scene), taken before the quake.

The whole Ste. Trinite complex – cathedral, convent and school – no longer exists beyond piles of rubble, following the quake. Who knows how many of these students are even alive?

This (below) is the image from Google Earth of what, like much of Port-au-Prince, remains of Ste Trinite.

Now, go back and listen to that clip again – it's only five minutes long – and think about it from THAT context.

To be continued: hoping, waiting for good news among the tragic...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Other Side of Air: Rilke, Strauss & Me

Last Saturday afternoon, I listened to the Met broadcast of Richard Strauss' opera, Der Rosenkavalier, a major work for some reason I have never seen nor even listened to all the way through. In fact, it occurred to me, no matter how much I've heard the orchestral suites or that heavenly trio and final duet that concludes the opera, there was a great deal of music I had never heard before, especially the extended opening of Act III. And following it with the full score, I also was amazed how incredibly complex it really is, especially during much of the activity in Act I, something more easy to see than hear. And all this from a work that, completed 100 years ago (the final page of the score indicates it was completed on 26th September, 1910), was considered by many to be a step backward from the complexity of Modernism.

I was also amused how one of my cats, unused to hearing music in the house (since I rarely listen to music during times I'm composing), would walk around crying until I noticed that nothing really seemed to be bothering him: it was just as if he were singing along for his own enjoyment of it (perhaps like this ass's response to a passing trumpet player).

But Strauss's music has been on my mind – and in my mind's ear – a lot the past two weeks.

Granted, the only resolutions I've been dealing with during this time concern the harmonic direction of chords in the latest song I've been composing, my setting of Rilke's “To Music” which I began on New Year's Eve (you can read more about starting the process here).

Perhaps the big news, though, is this song cycle, rather than being called “Seven Songs About Inspiration and Creativity for Mezzo-Soprano and Piano,” now has a title. The other day, working on the final segment of the song, it occurred to me I still didn't have a functioning name for this piece when I looked down at my sketches and saw the word “air” which was supposed to coincide with a resolution to a shimmering D Major chord:

“Holiest farewell: / where the innermost surrounds us,
like the most practiced distance, / the other side of air.”

Arching an eyebrow in surprise, I realized that would make a great title.

And so now the song cycle is entitled “The Other Side of Air.”

The Rilke is the last of the songs to be composed though it's the fourth out of seven songs, the climactic mid-point (or keystone) of the cycle (or arch). It felt kind of weird, then, putting the double bar at the end of this final song yesterday, knowing not only is it not the last song (that was completed in October), but that I still have to write the first two-thirds of it (and, I should mention, realize the sketches for most of the other songs, too).

In writing most of the other songs, I rarely started working on them at the beginning: after making some kind of graph of the over-all structure, I usually started at the end and worked backwards, more or less, since I needed to know where things would be going rather than starting off and finding myself headed if not in the wrong direction, not in the best one (painting myself into a musical corner). Sometimes I wrote the piano accompaniment first or at least its harmonic structure before going back and overlaying the rest of it, working from the bottom up. A couple of them were written with the “lower” part backwards, phrase by phrase, and then the “top” part forwards.

But this one I knew was going to be a little unusual and for some reason, I began in the middle.

First of all, it started out as a “pastiche,” meaning something in imitation of something else. As I've mentioned before, from the very beginning I knew this song would be “like” the Composer's Aria in the prologue of Richard Strauss' opera Ariadne auf Naxos, his next project after Der Rosenkavalier. Not that I wanted it to sound like Strauss but I wanted it to do, for me, what many of the emotional things Strauss' ecstatic prayer to the power of music does for me. It's like saying, “I like that: how can I do it my way?”

The more I looked at the score – you can hear the aria here and download the vocal score here – the more I realized why not be a little more obvious in my imitation? If I'm using triads prolonged over several beats or measures – something I don't normally do in my typical style – why not use the same kind of accompanimental patterns Strauss (and other composers like Schubert) had used for generations?

The curious thing about Strauss' music – at least at this time in his career – is the chromatic flexibility of his lines even though the overall sound is far more “classical” than the operas he'd written before (notably Salome and Elektra, two scores in the vanguard of 20th Century dissonance and the dissolution of traditional tonality). But that classicism is often more in its texture and its dissonance is usually subsumed in the way his chords fluidly move from one to another.

After deleting over 850 words of technical detail for this post, I'll just say I saw more similarities between Strauss' sound and my own than I would have expected. And yet anyone listening to, say, the Violin Sonata I finished last year, or the rest of these songs I've been working on since then, would not likely think there's any similarity between what I'm writing now and what Richard Strauss had written a hundred years ago.

The biggest laugh of recognition – whether a “eureka” moment or LOL – happened when I discovered the first phrase of a flexible melodic line I'd improvised over a pulsating F major triad (what was to become the actual ending of the song) was made out of the same set of seven notes Strauss used at the beginning of the Composer's Aria which happened to include, as a subset, the same 6-notes that is my standard harmonic and melodic source. Not the same pitches (a different transposition), not in the same order and not even in the same relationship to Strauss' pulsating C Major triad: but the fact I had quite arbitrarily come up with something that close to Strauss – and in something that some people would say was an “atonal” context (the F Major triad aside) – just tickled the hell out of me!

Now, Strauss' aria is not quite three minutes of powerful, ecstatic singing. My song, with its longer text and structural proportions within the whole cycle, ends up being a little more than twice that long, so I didn't want to try running this musical homage full bore from beginning to end (considering the singer's as well as the listener's stamina).

The climax of the song (which also happens to be the climax of the entire song cycle) happens before the line “Holiest Farewell,” very similar to Strauss' line “Music is a holy art,” a moment of spiritual revelation. After experimenting with the ending, I decided to start at this climax whether my “hommage to Strauss' aria” would begin there or not: frankly, if I couldn't get this to work, there was no sense starting at the beginning, then reaching this point only to realize, “oh, snap! (scratch scratch scratch)”...

Since the tonal scheme of the whole song cycle – regardless of its chordal and harmonic structures – begins in D Minor and ends in D Major, the climax would be in A-flat (instead of tonic/dominant chords in traditional tonality, my triads tend to move either by whole steps or tritones: if one chord is tonic, its “dominant” is a tritone away; stepwise motion is reserved for half-cadences and the subdominant). While the other songs are “closed” in their tonality (beginning and ending in the same tonal area like most traditionally tonal works), this one, I'd decided, would be “progressive,” much the way Mahler or Nielsen had been doing with (or “to”) tonality in the late 19th Century, beginning in one key and ending in another. Subsidiary tonalities (like subdominant or mediant relations in 19th Century Romanticism or relative major or minor ones in the 18th Century) would be related by thirds: so my tonal scheme, over all, is d - F - A-flat - b - D (instead of D-G-A-D with maybe a side-step to b minor) – anyway, here I go again with the technical mumbo-jumbo. So I begin this song in B Minor, climax it in A-flat Major and end it in F Major (a tritone relation to the opening). In between, two important cadences are on D major and minor chords, so the whole scheme in this one song is b - d - A-flat - D - F which, in addition to being a smaller version of the whole cycle, is also a progression from “dark” to “light,” a tonal trick going back long before Mozart and Haydn.

So now I'm done with the song's ending but still have the first two-thirds of it to sort out: the ending gives me material I can use in the opening sections and chord progressions I can replicate leading toward the climax knowing it works, pushing it onward to the end. It's like having half the effort already done for me: just go back and fill it in (which, granted, is a very simplistic way of looking at it, but it saves me time sitting there, thinking, “oh, what would be nice, here?”).

It's interesting that each of the seven songs also “sounds” different – not so much in style but on its surface, the Rilke setting being the emotional high point of the cycle that begins with a fairly abstract Shakespeare sonnet (which is, really, a chaconne – how old-fashioned is that?) and ends with a rush of almost non-harmonic energy and urgency in Rumi's “Say 'Yes' Quickly!” The “Lazy Poet” is a barcarolle with its triadic arpeggios in the accompaniment but the call to Inspiration by Li-Po is crunchy, dissonant and almost completely non-triadic, an extreme contrast after the lushly emotional Rilke “To Music.” And yet the basic language behind it all is exactly the same – the same 6-note basis just used in different ways. Which is not very different, when you think about it, from how composers worked in the past two or three centuries to create a great deal of variety out of very similar material.

But meanwhile, the cats have begun chasing each other from one end of the house to the other, so perhaps in the midst of this chaos – if the news from the outside world isn't unnerving enough – I can find a little bit of peace to contemplate “the breathing of statues.”

Dr. Dick