Sunday, 2 July 2017

Choral Chameleon Institute: Day 8

Yaaaass Queen! Two very happy conductors! 
What an amazing end to the Choral Chameleon Institute! It's been a hell of a ride these last 8 days, all culminating in a final concert showcasing all the new works by the student composers, as well as four works conducted by the student conductors.

Even though it was concert day we still began our day with an Ear Training session, the institute ritual. One of the hugely interesting things which has come up from Ear Training is how different the British and American terms in music are. I've spoken in my blog before about how we use different words for note values (a crotchet for the UK is a quarter-note for the US etc), but during the Bach Chorale portion of our sessions we realised that the UK and US have entirely different words to describe cadences. For those of you who have no idea what a cadence is, it is essentially a melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of resolution in music. A harmonic cadence is a progression of (at least) two chords that concludes a phrase, section, or piece, and there are several types of harmonic progression - in the UK we have 'Perfect', 'Imperfect', 'Plagal' and 'Interrupted', whereas in the US they have 'Authentic', 'Half Cadence', 'Plagal' and 'Deceptive' respectively - interesting how 'Plagal' is the same! I'm also told that some of these cadences in the US system can be broken down further with other terms to describe the type (so I believe there is a type of 'deceptive' cadence called an 'eluded' cadence'). It just goes to show how many different ways as people we have come up with to talk about and describe music! But I guess, at the end of the day, music is the universal language, which everyone can understand regardless of how you yourself talk about it. 

Following out Ear Training was final session in choral analysis with Steve Smith, followed by Matt Oltman. Until now, Steve's sessions have been about studying scores with a view to understanding counterpoint and harmonic concepts - in this session, by his own admission, he decided to 'throw out his lesson plan' and talk about the way tuning systems have progressed over the course of musical history. In modern music we are most aware of Equal Temperament, which essentially means that the distance between each semi tone is 100 cents (which just happens to be the term, it's got nothing to do with American money), which means the distance of a perfect 5th, or seven semi-tones, is 700 cents. However, when tuning a 'pure' fifth, which just rings better due to the overtone series, the distance is in fact 702, which means by the time you circulate round the full circle of fifths there's a discrepancy of 24 cents, which is huge! We then got onto the concept of Meantone Temperament, which was developed in order to make the tuning of 3rds purer; essentially the fifth was dropped by 6 cents. What ends up happening here is that certain keys sound hideous to move between, and is the reason you can't jump from say, D major to Ab major. Steve then moved on to the tuning system developed by the composer Nicola Vincentino, who divided each full tone into five parts, creating a 31-note scale using a dotted system over certain letters to signify a slightly heightened tuning - I'll demonstrate using a * instead:   D - D* - D# - Eb - Eb* - E
..... It was at this point I became certain that Steve was trying to melt my brain and have it dribble out of my ears, because he then played a youtube clip of someone playing the Archicembalo, a musical instrument that Vincento designed to be able to play using this system - listening to this was the most tense I have ever been, and I can only describe the feeling that was happening in my ears and head a armageddon, as my perfect pitch went freaking nuts! If you want to torture yourself, by all means, watch the clip here:

- Matt Oltman continued the session by talking to us about the work of Franz Biebl, whom he has been researching for his Doctorate. I was hugely grateful for the recording of his most famous work, 'Ave Maria', as it allowed my ears to 'unclench'. Biebl is somewhat of a one-hit-wonder of the classical world, even though he has in fact written around 2,500 compositions in his lifetime! His 'Ave Maria' has been rearranged into various choral arrangements (the original being for male voice), meaning it has been performed frequently, and has become a staple in the American choral music culture. I myself was unfamiliar with this particular piece, but I love it, and can totally understand it's universal appeal and popularity. It's certainly one I want to sing!   

After an incredible lunch of fried chicken in one of the little hole-in-the-wall cafes in Brooklyn it was back into the church for an epic session of recording the pieces. What's wonderful about this institute is that they endeavour to make sure each composer has the best possible recording of their piece, and not only do they do a full recording session with Choral Chameleon's own sound engineer, they record the concert as well! Recording in a church does have some technical issues to consider: the odd siren going past, creaky church pews etc, but I think the worst part was the heat! It was 30C in New York and humid, and I have never known a church to be so hot! Maybe the Guernsey churches being made out of granite makes them able to stay cooler, but seriously - waaaaaaaarrrrrmmm!! However, the overall outcome of the recording sessions was fantastic, and we were able to finish up with a decent amount of time to relax before the concert. 

Matthew Oltman conducting the Choral Chameleon Singers
The concert itself was wonderful - all the compositions composed this week were of such a high standard, and the choir really pulled it out the bag for the big night. There was a few moment were I was worried we were going to have to battle the looming thunderstorm, but we only had to contend with a few distant rumbles, which, in some cases only added to the piece! From a conductor's point of view I am so pleased with the way my pieces turned out - if you asked me on Monday if I would have been this happy I probably would have cried and asked you why you were being so mean to me, but the outcome could not have been more different! One of the tenors approached me to tell me that the progress I've made in this week has been astonishing, and that I should be very proud of what I've achieved - and I really am! I have so much to explore as a choral director now, and I feel much less like a rabbit in the headlights! Huge thanks to Vince, Matt, my fellow student conductor Tegan, and a few of the composers who have conducting experience; you have all given me so much support and taught me so much. From a composer's point of view, I'm ecstatic - my piece was everything I hoped it would
Post-concert piccie with my fabulous tutor
Jeffrey Parola
be, and judging by the reaction it got from the audience and all the faculty, it was a huge hit! There is something really special about this piece, and I really hope it gets published and performed an insane amount of times! Personal highlights of the concert include Bryan Lin's 'I miss you', which is an incredibly humorous, but brave setting of social media texts (and certainly caused a few laughs and raised a few eyebrows), Yangfan Xu's piece 'Fu You', complete with choir choreography, and Michael T. Robert's delightful closing number 'A Prayer in Spring', which I'm pretty sure was stuck in everyone's heads for hours after the concert!

- Following the concert was a reception in the Parish Hall, with beers donated by Brooklyn Brewery, a sponsor of the Choral Chameleon Institute, before a bunch of us headed off to a bar nearer downtown Brooklyn for much need refreshments, discussing, and a great deal of hugging! It really has been the most warm and friendly experience, with, as Vince said on day one, everything coming from a place of love.

As always with my final blog about these musical experiences, I like to give a list of the people I have met, along with their professional website so that you can check them out for yourselves

Composers & Conductors:
- Evan Crawford: TBC
- Jared Field: 
- Bryan Lin: 
- Tegan Miller:
- Lydia Jane Pugh (aka, me!): 
- Michael T. Roberts:
- Brian M. Rosen:
- Joshua Saulle:
- Emily Joy Sullivan:
- Edward Thompson: TBC
- Nicholas Weininger:
- Yangfan Xu: TBC

List of Faculty and Guest Speakers:
Vince Peterson:
David Dabbon:
Mario Delollio:
Rex Isenberg:
Matthew Oltman:
Jeffery Parola:
Mark Shapiro:
Steve Smith: TBC 
Joseph Stillwell:

And of course, the institute website itself, for good measure, because more people need to know about this institute! 

It has been an absolutely incredible experience; a truly special endeavour, and I hope to return one day soon! Thanks Choral Cameleon Institute - #artisworkbutitstimetosleepfornow

Everything at this institute is done with love - and I very much needed that hug! Thanks for everything Vince! :D

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