Posted on March 24, 2009 by Michael
The Michael O’Neal Singers recently performed a concert entitled Celebrate Musical Genius. The program included selections by two undisputed geniuses: Kleine Orgelmesse by F.J. Haydn and Requiem by W.A. Mozart. In comments made to the audience prior to the Requiem I mentioned that in conducting this work numerous times over the years I have never failed to find in it something “new.” That’s the way it is with works of musical genius – there are degrees of understanding and appreciation that can only be fully reached with a serious commitment by the performer and/or listener, and there is always something new to be discovered.
I sensed this “serious commitment” by both the audience and the performers (chorus, soloists and orchestra) this past Sunday afternoon. And because of the “commitment” made by all the parties mentioned above there was an environment created that encouraged a “communication” between all the parties. This communication took many paths, paths which included all the possibilities inherent between and among audience, chorus, soloists, orchestra AND composer. That’s right, I said composer, even though Haydn has been dead for 200 years and Mozart for 218. So, how do we communicate with someone long since departed? It is my contention that a musical genius leaves something of his or her soul in a composition. That collection of dots, dashes and squiggles on a piece of paper, when made into sound by sensitive and intelligent musicians, forms a conduit by which the composer “lives” again. What a mystery, and what a responsibility to those of us who desire to perform the music of these geniuses!
Concerts such as we experienced on Sunday are as good an explanation as any as to why I am so thankful to have a career in music, and why I am so appreciative to those who make it possible. The comments I’ve already heard from audience members and performers would suggest that I am not the only one who experienced something special. I’d love to hear from you. What did you feel? How were you affected? Through this blog it is my hope that our Sunday “communication” can continue.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: audience, choral concert, genius, Haydn, Kleine Orgelmesse, Michael O'Neal, MOS, Mozart, Mozart requiem, performers, The Michael O'Neal Singers | 6 Comments »
Posted on February 12, 2009 by Michael
I’ve spoken about the power of words before, and the subject is on my mind again today. The current issue of The New Yorker includes a retrospective of fifty years of John Updike’s contributions to that magazine. In reading the words of this recently deceased American icon, I was struck again and again with the eloquence and beauty of his language, and was reminded that I have always loved words. In fact, had I not dedicated my life to choral music I suspect I might have naturally gravitated toward a career of teaching English and American literature.
All that being said, I spend a lot of time reading (much of it admittedly in audio form as I spend two hours daily in my car), and the bulk of what I’m reading these days consists of university level courses from The Teaching Company, Inc. and various nonfiction works, most recently Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I very much believe that the “workout” my mind receives from all that reading/listening helps prepare me to better understand and be attentive to the words that are such an integral ingredient of choral music.
In recent rehearsals of Mozart’s Requiem I have spent a fair amount of time talking about the meaning of the words we are singing, not just general translations of the Latin phrases, but in many cases even actual word for word translations. It is my firm belief that the more we really understand the text we are singing, the more we are able to impart to the audience, and also to ourselves.
What are your thoughts about the importance of words in choral music? Do you have any stories about how a certain text in a choral piece has spoken in a profound way to you? I’m interested in hearing from you.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: choral music, language, Mozart requiem, power of words | 7 Comments »
Posted on November 10, 2008 by Michael
This past Tuesday evening (Election Day) I was struck with the eloquence of the words spoken by Senators McCain and Obama. Senator McCain exhibited grace and dignity in his concession remarks and in his acceptance speech Senator Obama expressed a sense of confidence and hope for the future. I was impressed by the way each of these gentlemen used words that seemed to heal and unify. Their words, combined with the historic importance of the moment, brought tears to my eyes.
Words are indeed powerful, and in choral music we are given the opportunity to join the power and beauty of text with the equal power and beauty of music. Yet, I wonder how often we take this remarkable opportunity for granted? Consider some of the words we have sung in the past couple of years. In the Holocaust Cantata we recalled the atrocities enacted upon humanity seventy years ago and were led to consider that genocide still exists today. In Mass of the Children and Prayer of the Children we were given the opportunity to consider both our blessings and responsibilities as we care for the defenseless among us. In every Requiem we sing (Duruflé this past August and Mozart this coming March) I have encouraged you to think about those individuals from your past who have touched your lives in some profound way, and who continue to do so long after their earthly existence has ended.
Just as the words shared by Senators McCain and Obama on Tuesday elevated and enriched us all, we are given the chance on a weekly basis to enrich and elevate both ourselves and others through the blending of our voices in words and music. It has been suggested that the Fine Arts can sometimes offer us a “glimpse of the Divine,” and I have found that for me choral music is the most natural of all the arts to accomplish this.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: choral music, durufle requiem, mccain, Michael O'Neal, MOS, Mozart requiem, obama, power of words, The Michael O'Neal Singers, unity | 1 Comment »