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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Shrine of St. Cecilia*: reflections on the Pope's visit and the World Meeting of Families

I've been trying to think of something profound to say about the events of the last week.  I'll probably get to it some day but right now I'm still processing everything.  I think the best I can do is start by categorizing everything.

Logistics: People, 'fess up. You didn't leave your house soon enough to get in to see the Pope. Stop blaming the infrastructure. You had weeks and even months to prepare. Be assertive and plan ahead next time.

Restaurant owners and Mayor Nutter: Stop blaming the media.  The fact that you put out the information doesn't excuse you from the consequences of the quality of that information. Why else would most media outlets be reporting the same thing?

Being a musician in the Archdiocese: I can think of few places I would rather have been than in the musical portion of the proceedings. Singing to God accompanied by the Philadelphia Orchestra was truly a small preview of heaven. I do have things to say about the particulars of the three Masses we sang, which I'll do in another post.

World Meeting of Families: It looked like an impressive lineup of speakers. I wish I'd had the resources for our family to participate. What I did hear moved me.

People watching: Possibly one of the best parts of the week. I met people from dozens of countries, including Portugal, Argentina, Australia, Nigeria, and saw people in dazzling native dress from every continent.

No matter where you go: I grew up in Holland, Michigan, a small city on the shores of Lake Michigan. Imagine my surprise when I was boarding the train and discovered that I was riding with people from the nearby cities of Grand Rapids and Muskegon!  Reminds me of my honeymoon--Nancy and I were in Nova Scotia when I spotted a Vandenberg Buick sticker on a car. I asked the driver if they were from Holland. When they said yes, I responded that I'd grown up there. They seemed a little miffed. Oh well. Shout out to Petoskey, MI too.

No good deed goes unpunished: Word was that we were to get lunch.  The CEO of Wawa Inc., a devout Catholic and member of the local delegation that petitioned the Pope to come to the WMoF, donated 500 small box lunches to the musicians. Good thing I packed my lunch; by the time we got back from warmup, they were gone. Because I didn't see the alleged eager eaters do this, I won't say who was rumored to have made off with them.

The Dunham bus fiasco: I don't necessarily blame the bus company for the overly long waits to get to and from our destinations. People were getting pushy and ugly, and the longer the wait, the more agitated we got. After a group of people who hadn't waited on line forced their way onto a bus, I remarked to a nearby priest, "Does this mean we can be Philadelphians again?".

So I didn't see Fr. Groeschel...but I did see Anderson Cooper and Bill Hemmer (Fox News), both of whom acknowledged the choir when we waved and cheered like mad.

Lots of nuns whose habits I didn't recognize...I started making a point of asking what order they were, and among them were an order from New York called the Sisters of Life, founded in 1990.

Librarian opportunities? I wonder if they ever considered setting up tents as reading rooms, or setting up a reading room at the convention center. Maybe they did, I don't know.

This is going to be more than one post...
To be continued.
Onward.
*--Carroll Loveday, c. 1951.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Day in the Life #3: World Meeting of Families, Philadelphia

So we're singing at the convention center this afternoon. I walked in to last night's rehearsal and was struck by just how immense the space is.  Perhaps it was the sea of 20,000 chairs that were set up in anticipation of today's festivities.

I was struck by the focused, beautiful sound of the children's choir singing, yes, TRADITIONAL HYMNS. Mike Maresca, are you listening? If children are encouraged by exposing them to the best that church music has to offer, we don't have to do music that the "A Mighty Wind" gaggle likes to do on GEETARS and the future of hymnody will be more secure than it is now. I envied them their opportunity to sing "Rejoice, the Lord is King". What I wouldn't give to sing that or "Italian Hymn" or"St. Anne" or "Nun Danket Alle Gott" in my home parish more than almost never.

Well, off to shower, dress, pack, and head downtown.  Cheers!

Onward.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Day in the Life #2: World Meeting of Families, Philadelphia

Today's rehearsal will cover the music we're singing/chanting at tomorrow's opening Mass at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City.  I'm assuming the Archbishop will preside with numerous co-presiders.

The Music, you ask?

Parry: I was Glad (Prelude)
Gouin: Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom (commissioned for the 2015 WMOF)
     (This one reminds me of Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken by Haydn)
Gouin: Kyrie and Gloria from Mass of SS Peter and Paul
Alstott: Responsorial--Psalm 122
Chepponis: Good News Acclamation
Latona: Look up and Count the Stars on High (commissioned for the 2015 WMOF)
     (This one reminds me of Gordon Jacob's setting of the 23rd Psalm, commonly known as "Brother James' Air")
Proulx: Sanctus from A Community Mass
Kolar: Cordero de Dios from Misa Luna
St. Meinrad Archabbey: Communion Antiphon--Ps. 33
Janco: Draw Near!
Cruger/arr. Rutter: Now Thank We All Our God
Karg-Elert/arr. McChesney: Nun danket alle Gott (Postlude)

It's been quite a challenge preparing all the little bits here and there. Some bits are far more substantial (Parry) than others (Janco, Cruger/Rutter) but it's all good.  As I've been singing, I don't think that there's been a weak piece in the bunch, or one where I grit my teeth and smile till it's over. When it's over I'll let you know how it went.  Singing in the Convention Center will not be a challenge, but listening and hearing my fellow singers will be. Focus, Focus, Focus!!!

Saints Cecilia and Gregory, pray for us!

Onward.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom*--Philadelphia and the 2015 World Meeting of Families

I'm a member of the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Choir--a second tenor, to be precise.  Our numbers have swelled considerably since the powers that be announced auditions for singers to participate in the Papal Masses taking place later this week. We've been rehearsing weekly since the beginning of July, and this week we have a rehearsal or a service every day.

Today was rehearsal for the full 500-voice choir. This consisted of 100 members of the AD Choir, the Cathedral Basilica Choir and Schola, the AD Children's choir, and representative choirs from the Catholic high schools, and the Vietnamese, Spanish-speaking, and African American communities. Add to this another 125 singers auditioned from the parishes of our diocese and others surrounding, and you get the picture.

Our leader is a fine young choral conductor. How he's managed to do his job so well without totally losing his mind is beyond me. He's the choir director at St. Andrew parish in Newtown, Bucks County. They're lucky to have him, but I'm guessing that if he pulls off this week, it won't be long before he leaves for greener pastures.

Here's the schedule for the week:
Sunday--rehearsal for the Mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway
Monday--dress rehearsal for the WMOF opening Mass on:
Tuesday--Opening Mass for the WMOF, Pennsylvania Convention Center
Wednesday--Rehearsal for Saturday's Cathedral Mass
Thursday and Friday--rehearsals at Verizon hall for Mass on the Parkway
Saturday--Papal Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul (for clergy, religious, and "invited guests")
Sunday--Papal Mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway
Monday--consume mass quantities and sleep.

Onward!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Lisbon*

Welcome Portugal! You're the 32nd country to visit my blog since I started it in 2011.  Let's hope that you're talkative and have things to say about what I write. Please feel free to comment, even if you think that what I write is total rubbish.

Not much going on this week. Shooting a few applications out around the region. Archdiocesan Choir rehearses again tonight in anticipation of the papal visit. My daughter leaves for her school's biennial trip to Costa Rica. Yes, given the state of the world today, I'm worried. I wouldn't be a good dad if I wasn't. Trusting in God to keep her safe and healthy. Next summer she goes off to college along with her brother who will have completed two years at that point. Where did the time go?

I'm resigned to staying put in Norristown, at least through youngest daughter's high school graduation.  If I can't find a library job, I'll have to have something else, and soon. Trusting in God to give me a shove in the right direction for that. Bills/tuition/taxes getting downright oppressive.  I don't blame the current leadership though. I need to listen to God more and not worry about the dolts on the temporal plain.

Onward.
St. Jerome, patron of libraries, PRAY FOR US.

*--First movement of Lincolnshire Posy by Percy Grainger, 1937, from source materials collected in 1905-1906.

Friday, July 17, 2015

I Need a Library Job (no, really)

Tuesday: I apply for a job at a private college in Pennsylvania.
Wednesday: I receive an email from that college saying they received the requisite number of recommendations.
Thursday: I receive an email from that college saying the search has been completed.

I am asking, out loud,

WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE???

What's this life supposed to hold for me? I can't seem to get it right.

I'm good at what I do. Does no one value what I have to offer? Someone tell me. Please.

I'm a former career music educator who also worked in retail sales and management, and spent the last four years working in various library positions. I'm an expert multitasker--but when you're a family man and free-lance musician, you HAVE to be.

If you'd like to see my CV, email me at djdekok@yahoo.com. I'll be happy to talk to you at length about my life and work. Chaim Potok had it right: "It is nice to be rich and terrible to be poor--but the most terrible thing of all is to be useless (In The Beginning)".

Onward.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Alfie*

So much has happened in the last week, it's probably going to take several blogs to get thru it.
1) I'm finished at Rowan. My last day was Friday June 5. The library tekkie came over to unplug my terminal and return it to the main library.
2) Welcome Japan! You're country #35 to visit the blog. Enjoy! Don't forget to leave comments, good bad, indifferent...
3) UPDATE: It's six weeks out tomorrow, and I'm still looking for my next library job. Barely a nibble, but lots of rejections, including an interesting one from a school in Pittsburgh, who politely informed me that they were in the midst of interviewing finalists, and that a decision would be made soon. At least it wasn't the usual "you have an impressive profile but we decided to go with candidates who more closely fit our needs".

I was sitting at the computer last night struggling to fill out yet another application. I finally gave up and went to bed. I needed a night's sleep more than I needed to finish the application.

What's it all about, Alfie?
What's it going to take?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra*--my latest public performance.

Hey all, Daniel here.

I'm going to indulge in a little shameless self-promotion here:.

I'll be performing the Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra by Danish composer Launy Grondahl with the Warminster (PA) Symphony Orchestra at William Tennent High School, Warminster PA, on Saturday, March 14, 2015, at 8 pm. Tickets are available online and at the door.

The WSO will also perform Sibelius' Symphony no. 2, and short works by Halvorsen and Alfven.  I'm having a great time playing with the orchestra, and if you're a music teacher, I understand that there will be a tribute to you--it is, after all, Music In Our Schools Month.

*--Launy Grondahl, 1924.

Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night*

A colleague whom I've known since our undergrad days recently posted a Music In Our Schools Month meme, and added a few choice words in recognition of some issues he's having with the state of Music Education in his area. This was my response:

It's tempting to give an "Elevator Speech" answer to that question, but it deserves better, we both know that. From a music history standpoint, Jazz Band is as central to the music curriculum as American History is to the Social Studies folks. It may simply be a numbers game, Roger.  Band directors are putting their core ensemble, be it Marching band, concert band--whatever the largest number of kids is--in the class schedule in the hope of keeping it viable in the eyes of administrators.  

Academic demands have increased. More time and attention are being given to STEM and Language classes. The impression is that colleges want to see AP and Honors on those core classes. As a result, students, parents, and music educators are put in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between an arts class or no arts class.  When we were in high school in the 1970’s, we could take band and orchestra or band and choir during the same class week. There weren’t many of us who did, but we at least had that opportunity.  From a student body of 1000 at Holland (MI) High School, we had 150 in the marching band, well over 100 in four choirs, and 40-50 in the orchestra.  Some cross-over, but not a lot. As a music educator in 2015, you’re risking a lot to add to the curriculum, particularly at the secondary level. Adding Jazz Band to the class day could be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, your best players will become stronger musicians for the experience. On the other hand, you might not be able to stack that ensemble the way it should be because of class conflicts.  I had a 30-piece band at one of my last teaching assignments, playing well, doing right—only to have the principal say, well, these students can graduate early if they take this class, and kablooey, there goes half the group. My complaints fell on her deaf ears, and when I persisted I was reassigned.

Part of the problem here too, is that school administrations tend to have very narrow ideas of what a music program should be.  The biggest disaster is the concept that it should be all things to all people. It needs a central mission, a vision. Proverbs 29:18 says it best: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV). Band programs wither and die, too, and it’s sad.

In an ideal world, where the elementary and middle grade feeder program was solid and well-supported, I’d do this for my high schoolers:

1)      Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band would be classified as Honors classes, where there are prerequisites, auditions, and high expectations. Concert programs would be created “Collegium Musicum” style, whereby a different era, composer, or geographic area (or other criteria at the teacher’s discretion) would be studied in depth each semester, much like a school’s theater department concentrates on a certain play each semester or season. Administrators would have to understand that they couldn’t arbitrarily put student X in the group “because there’s room”.
2)      Concert Band would be the core of the wind band program, out of which comes
a.       Marching band, out of which comes
                                                               i.      Auxiliaries (flags, rifles, drumline) and winter guard, all meeting evenings and weekends
3)      Chamber Music would include Rock and Jazz combos, handled as group lessons taught on a “pull-out” basis and/or after school, with regularly scheduled performance opportunities.


Unfortunately, it’s not an ideal world, is it?

*--composition for Concert Band by Elliott Del Borgo, 1978; also scored for full orchestra.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Still Crazy After All These Years*

I watched the last hour and change of the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special. I knew it would be impossible for someone like me, who reveled in the antics of some of the minor characters--Dr. Jack Badofsky (Tim Kazurinsky) and Operaman (Adam Sandler) spring to mind--but there were palpable yawning gaps in what they presented.

I did enjoy the too-brief clips of actors breaking character, but they didn't show Debbie Downer at Disney World. Adding Jon Lovitz to the necrology was a weird but funny touch (He's not dead yet), and it reminded me that folks like Jan Hooks, Jon Belushi, and Phil Hartman were gone all too soon.

But the two moments that really gave me pause to reflect both involved Paul Simon, a performer who had graced the 8H stage at 30 Rockefeller Center many times over the years.  The first was Miley Cyrus singing "50 ways to leave your lover" sounding for all the world like Reba McEntire in her prime--but hardly my first choice to cover that song, especially given her stage antics of late.

The second, and far more poignant, was Simon himself, singing "Still Crazy After All These Years". Looking downright elderly--and I guess he's entitled, being 73 (but when do the pop stars of our youth gain the right to look their age?)--he creaked through the song, leaving out some of the high notes, but it was as though he had the presence of mind back in his early thirties to pen lyrics of such wisdom and strength that would serve as inspiration to the next generation of singers and songwriters. They've become timeless, along with Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages", Harry Chapin's "Taxi", and Dan Fogelberg's "Same old Auld Lang Syne". There are no doubt other songs like that, and I'll add them as I think of them--but I'm not the only one who knows song lyrics.  If you think of them, let me know.

Onward, SNL, to whatever the future holds.

Cheers.

*--Paul Simon, 1972

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Songs of Innocence and Experience"

I was advising a student this morning, and it reminded me of what a great opportunity music school can be. He was looking for Mozart piano sonatas, a typical enough request, in particular K. 331, which includes not only the well-known "rondo alla turca", but a delightful, lilting first movement. In some dusty corner of my brain I remembered an old promotional recording I'd received many years ago from the Eastman School of Music, on which was a piece by the late U-M composer William Albright, one Sleepwalker's Shuffle, the opening of which was based on the opening of that first movement.
My memory being what it is, I mistakenly told this young composition major that it had been composed by William Bolcom. He responded with the question I'd hoped for--'who's that?" So i took him through the story about how he'd won the Pulitzer for his first set of 12 etudes for piano, when in fact people were remembering his magnum opus from the year previous, "Songs of Innocence and Experience", a complete setting of the poems by William Blake, using everything from Reggae to 12-tone to (yes) cowboy waltz. If there was ever a 20th century musical version of "everything but the kitchen sink", this was it. (Bad joke alert). Bolcom was obviously saving the kitchen sink for Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise (no, really, this song really exists).
I was in Ann Arbor, and attended the North American premiere of the work, which featured Charles Holland, Leslie Guinn (cowboy music), and Richard Taylor(rock and reggae sections)--and that was just the baritone soloists! I attended the dress rehearsal, and I have a lot of stories, but I'll just make you suffer through one. Carl St. Clair, then associate director of bands, was sitting a couple of rows behind me, taking in everything.
This piece was a study in contrasts, and undoubtedly displayed Bolcom's dazzling talent in many different musical genres; There was a piece called "the shepherd", which started with rather noisy, menacing music, and just as suddenly stripped down to two violins playing ever so slightly off key, but unmistakeably a country waltz. I hear Professor St. Clair guffaw loudly, but the best was yet to come--as opera luminary Leslie Guinn steps up and, in his best semi-cowboy yodel, sings "How sweet is the shepherd's sweet lot, from the morn to the evening he strays". Gustav Meier (conductor/traffic cop for the performance) stopped to correct something, but the choir gave Prof. Guinn a rowdy cheer for decidedly stepping out of character.
I DO wish I didn't have to leave before the semester's over, but c'est le guerre..I've done good work while I was here, and I left a lasting, positive impression on nearly everyone I worked with. Yet. 
Onward...

*--William Blake, set to music by William Bolcom over the course of 25 years (1955-1980)..

Friday, January 16, 2015

Rebirth*

I'm in the third day of cleaning out a storage practice room/sorting through some of the personal effects of Dr. Hoyle Carpenter, late and esteemed Professor of Music at Rowan/Glassboro SU/STC.

I started to keep an excel file of the work I'd done, only to be told not to--making too much work for yourself, I was told.  So in the interim, I'm going to keep an informal record here, with the eventual intention of creating and publishing a paper or article.

So far--boxes and boxes of books.  You can tell a lot about a man by what he holds on to.

Dr. Carpenter studied organ music; Portugal; languages; organ construction; architecture; early music. Dr. Carpenter taught music theory, history, and perhaps composition.

FRIDAY: It's the end of the week, and I've processed a couple dozen boxes of materiel from his collection.  I'm feeling good about the amount I've done--and I hope the feeling is mutual. Time to bug out for  a long weekend.  Happy MLK Day, readers. I'll be taking my son back to college on Monday. Ordered his textbooks yesterday, not as big a hit as last time, which is good. Onward.