Posted on February 20, 2013 by Michael
I just listened to a story on NPR called “Can You Learn to Like Music You Hate?” It reported findings from an Australian study in which was suggested that the more dissonance (described as “perceived roughness, harshness, unpleasantness, or difficulty in listening to the sound”) we hear in music, the less we enjoy the music. While that would seem obvious, there were a couple of other observations that were interesting to me. One was that “when listeners hadn’t previously encountered a certain chord, they found it nearly impossible to hear the individul notes that comprise it.” It wasn’t that they didn’t like the chord, but that they couldn’t understand it, just like hearing a word in a foreign language and perceiving it simply as noise rather than a specific meaning. The other thing which caught my interest was the finding that as the participants in the study understood more about the music’s structure, the more they enjoyed what they were hearing.
All this led me to consider choral pieces I once despised, and later learned to love. Note my use of the word “despise.” I’m not talking about rating a piece as merely unenjoyable – I’m suggesting a piece I really didn’t like at first, yet ultimately learned to enjoy at a very deep level, both intellectually and emotionally.
My earliest example of moving from “hate to love” is Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms.” I first heard the piece at the age of twenty, a time in which I was totally immersed in beautiful, flowing melodies, and rich, luxurious harmonies. My favorite composers were Brahms, Debussy, Verdi and Puccini. With my twenty year old ears, I’m afraid Stravinsky didn’t have a chance! However, I’m glad to admit that after being strongly encouraged to learn the piece (since my college chorus was to sing it in an upcoming concert) I found that the dissonant chords, jarring rhythms, and short melodic fragments really began to grow on me. By the time we performed the piece it was one of my favorites – and I had begun a lifelong love of Stravinsky’s music.
What I learned from that experience so many years ago (and it has served me well ever since) was that I have to give new sounds a chance. I need to listen enough to new music so it can become “familiar” to me. I need to study the structure of the music in order to better understand what the composer is trying to say. In short, I need to be open to new possibilities in musical sound and expression. I’m certainly not suggesting that I always end up enjoying every piece I initially do not enjoy, but I can honestly say there have been countless pieces of music over the years that I was ready to discard after my first exposure to them and that these pieces later become some of my favorites. I shared my “Symphony of Psalms” experience. What piece did you originally hate and then learn to love?
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Brahms, Debussy, Puccini, Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms, Verdi | Leave a Comment »
Posted on June 7, 2011 by Michael
The Michael O’Neal Summer Singers began its 7th Season last night with about 155 voices joining together in selections by such composers as Bach, Haydn, Brahms, Verdi, Bernstein, and others. It was a glorious evening as these folks, representing a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, came together for the shared purpose of making beautiful music. It was exciting for me to feel the energy in the room as we began our two and half hour rehearsal, and although I was a little tired at its conclusion, I was also at the same time invigorated by what we had accomplished. The enthusiasm of volunteer singers is a wondrous thing to witness and I look forward to our summer of music!
At the end of yesterday’s rehearsal, I mentioned a blog I wrote in March 2010 entitled Why We Sing. In that blog I had listed reasons singers had shared with me in the past about why they sang in choruses and I invited new responses to that question. I’m doing the same thing today. We all have an enormous range of possible activities in which we can engage. To sing in a volunteer chorus is a choice from among all those activities. So, why do you choose to sing?
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Bach, Bernstein, Brahms, Haydn, Michael O'Neal, Michael O'Neal Summer, Verdi, Why We Sing | 2 Comments »
Posted on May 31, 2011 by Michael
We’re about to begin the seventh season of The Michael O’Neal Summer Singers and our program this year is entitled Bach to Broadway. Selections by Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Verdi, and Parry will comprise the first part of the concert, followed by songs from Man of La Mancha, West Side Story, The Phantom of the Opera, and Les Misérables. The variety of musical pieces in this concert in some ways reminds me of the great variety of singers we have in Summer Singers.
The Summer Singers (MOSS), unlike the regular season MOS, is a completely non-auditioned chorus, and open to all interested singers. The wide range of experience found in the individual singers in each summer’s chorus helps make the entire effort very gratifying to me. I love taking people of various backgrounds and skill levels and helping them become a unified and sensitive musical ensemble. In just a few days we’ll have over 150 singers joining together in the shared purpose of making music! I can hardly wait!
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Bach, Bach to Broadway, Brahms, Handel, Haydn, Les Miserables, Man of La Mancha, Mendelssohn, Michael O'Neal, MOSS, Parry, The Michael O'Neal Summer Singers, The Phantom of the Opera, Verdi, West Side Story | Leave a Comment »
Posted on March 25, 2011 by Michael
My chorus recently completed a memorable performance of A German Requiem by Johannes Brahms. An amazing 125 voice chorus, two exceptional vocal soloists, and an excellent 43 piece orchestra (comprised primarily of members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra) combined in performing one of the greatest musical compositions ever created. So, one might say, where do we go from there? Since The Michael O’Neal Singers is an ensemble which prides itself on performing a wide repertoire, perhaps it should not come as a surprise that we transitioned rather smoothly the next week into rehearsals of music from “The Great American Songbook,” otherwise known as popular or jazz standards, especially from the decades of the 30s, 40s. and 50s.
So, after weeks of concentrating on the sublime and challenging qualities of Brahms, we now find ourselves immersed in the songs of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Richard Rodgers and others. While I enjoy the change of pace this music offers, I do think it is important to approach these composers with a serious appreciation and respect for what they have added to the American musical landscape. Popular music can touch lives in profound ways and it is the insensitive serious musician who fails to recognize that fact. Therefore, it is my hope that our May 13 performance of Ballads, Blues, and Broadway will remind us of music’s enormous capacity to enrich lives.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: A German Requiem, and Broadway, atlanta symphony orchestra, Ballads, Blues, Brahms, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, MOS, The Great American Songbook | Leave a Comment »
Posted on March 13, 2011 by Michael
For those of us involved in the recent preparation and performance of A German Requiem by Johannes Brahms, I think it is safe to say it was a remarkable experience. If for no other reason, just immersing ourselves for two months in something of such “greatness” is bound to have a positive effect.
I’m always gratified when I hear stories of how music has touched lives, and I know there must be some interesting stories from the people who just took part in this Brahms Requiem. Of course, I don’t want to restrict the comments only to people who performed this performance; I’d also like to hear any Brahms Requiem “experiences” you may have. I have been involved with this masterpiece, in one way or another, for nearly forty years, and I always discover something new and meaningful in it upon each visit.
I’ll get you started with a couple of stories. One orchestra member told me the anticipation of this performance held great significance to her because her mother died just three weeks ago, and she had been looking forward to the opportunity to play this great music as a tribute to her. One singer explained to me that he had been going through some difficult personal times recently, and the rehearsal and preparation of the Requiem had provided support and consolation that had been available no where else.
Do you have a Brahms Requiem experience you’d be willing to share?
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: A German Requiem, Brahms, Michael O'Neal, The Michael O'Neal Singers | 6 Comments »
Posted on February 23, 2011 by Michael
A German Requiem by Johannes Brahms is one of the great masterpieces of choral/orchestral literature. Composed to texts selected by the composer, A German Requiem is both a deeply personal statement by Brahms, as well as an offering of consolation and comfort to the living. The name A German Requiem (Ein deutches Requiem) was never the first choice of the composer, who actually preferred ‘Human’ Requiem. However, the fact that he used a text chosen from Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible instead of the traditional Latin text of the Roman Catholic liturgy became an important characteristic of the work.
Two deaths are considered to have had considerable influence on Brahms in the writing of his Requiem. The first was the death of his dear friend and mentor, composer Robert Schumann, in 1856. It is widely assumed that the death of his mother in 1865 eventually led Brahms to add a seventh movement to what had been premiered in 1868 as a six movement work. This additional movement incorporates a moving soprano solo, probably memorializing his mother, and is placed as movement five in the now seven movement composition, premiered in 1869.
After completion of his monumental masterpiece—by far the largest work he ever composed—Brahms eloquently expressed his deep satisfaction: “Now I am consoled. I have surmounted obstacles that I thought I would never overcome and I feel like an eagle, soaring ever higher and higher.” His Requiem has provided similar consolation for countless performers and listeners in the nearly century and a half of its existence. What a gift to all humanity is this masterpiece by Johannes Brahms.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: A German Requiem, Brahms, choral, ein deutches requiem, luther bible, Michael O'Neal, Schumann | Leave a Comment »