The Voice of Music: The Studio of John Murelle

IMG_1905Written by Anne Ierardi

In the village of East Sandwich is a place where singers, young and old, are learning music from a man who has devoted his life to singing and teaching voice. John Murelle is the real deal. He hosted an Open House last weekend at his studio, a cozy, inviting room on the second floor in East Sandwich on Route 6A.

John extended a warm greeting to his many visitors, who were entertained by John Salerno playing lively tunes on the piano. At one point, pianist Lucy Banner joined him for an impromptu duet. A drawing for two private voice lessons was offered along with homemade cookies.

Several years ago I met John through the New Church in Yarmouth Port, where we led summer services for the Swedenborg Church that were arranged by Walter Chapin. John sang solo baritone and sometimes a duet with soprano Joan Kirchner. The magic of their music remains in my memory, though sadly these summer services are no longer held. Later I heard his students sing at First Night in Chatham and was impressed by the caliber of their voices and the variety of music they sang.

John’s passion for teaching comes through in his words that illuminate the process of developing vocal proficiency. He bills his studio as “Vocal Instruction for the Serious Student.” “It’s not that we don’t laugh or have fun during a lesson,” John explained, “but that I believe whether they are children, young adults or retirees, that there is a lot to study and to learn. For the first 30 minutes we practice breathing and vocal exercises to create volume. My students learn to project their natural voices without a microphone. I also teach ear training, sight reading and all the key signatures, major and minor.”
John showed a picture of his students, posed in formal black dress, naming each one and speaking proudly of their futures as they pursue musical careers and training in conservatories and universities. Not only does he keep in touch with his students in their continued studies and professional careers in places ranging from New York to California, he also maintains relationships with potential schools, many of which look forward to hearing his students audition.

The Voice Studio’s students sing in numerous venues on Cape Cod including Falmouth Chorale, Cape Cod Chorale, Chatham Chorale, The Academy Playhouse in Orleans, Falmouth Theatre Guild, Cotuit Center for the Arts, Barnstable Comedy Club and Cape Cod Opera, as well as high school theater productions, local churches and nursing homes.

John’s philosophy of teaching is a balance between enjoyment and commitment. “Everyone has a right to sing. Everyone comes with a unique personality so I teach to the person, focusing on what they need to grow as a singer and which pieces of music will help them improve. I believe in giving them an aesthetic feel for what is good. There is an audience for every voice. You don’t need to copy or recreate another’s voice. You must find your own, whether you are singing jazz, classical or Broadway.”

There are many opportunities to hear John perform on the Cape. He is on the staff at St. Mary’s Church in Barnstable where he sings at the 10 a.m. Sunday liturgy. He has been performing for 20 years and has a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Michigan, a master’s in vocal performance from Boston Conservatory and a diploma from the Opera Institute at Boston University.

“We are all on the same road. I am just further down the road.”

Upcoming Performances: A Night of Jazz, First Night Sandwich, 5 p.m. Dec. 31.

First Church of Christ, Sandwich, All-Italian Recital, 3 p.m. Jan. 18, First Church of Christ, Sandwich.

The Voice Studio of John Murelle can be reached at 774-313-9012 or at www.jmurelle.com.

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A colorful ‘Carmina Burana’

Written by Anne Ierardi

Anne Azéma and Joel Cohen of Boston Camerata. Photo by Simone Poltrionieri

Anne Azéma and Joel Cohen of Boston Camerata. Photo by Simone Poltrionieri

Imagine an orchestral pageant with 70 musicians, two dueling grand pianos, three soloists, 80 singers from the Chatham Chorale and the Cape Conservatory’s Children’s Chorus! Imagine a colorful “Carmina Burana” with Early Music vocals and instruments by the acclaimed Boston Camerata. Imagine something daring, wild, and even hilarious with Jung-Ho Pak and the Cape Symphony’s metamorphosis of “Carmina Burana” into a colorful spectacle of courtly drama, ribaldry and amazing sound. 

Jung-Ho Pak, artistic director and conductor of the Cape Symphony, described “Carmina Burana” as “the most recognizable piece of classical music that audiences don’t know where it came from.” We often hear “O Fortuna” in movies and television, as in “The Doors,” Oliver Stone’s biographical film of the American rock band, and in commercials like the Domino’s Pizza commercial that aired during the 2015 Super Bowl.

German composer Carl Orff lived from 1895 to 1982. Known for his pedagogical skills and teaching children to perform musically, he made an important discovery that led to his crowning masterpiece of “Carmina Burana.” In a bookstore he came upon a collection of medieval poems originally found in a monastic library in Bavaria in the early 19th century. “Carmina” is Latin for songs or poems, while “Burana” is the Latinized version of the German town Beuern, where the monastery was located.

The clerical student-monks wrote these poems as a way to amuse themselves and poke fun at the clerical establishment. In the late 1960s I became enchanted by a book “The Feast of Fools.” Written by Harvard theologian Harvey Cox, the book invites the reader to a rebirth of imagination and festivity in our own times as inspired by the “feast of fools,” a day in medieval times when ordinary townsfolk reveled in mocking the rituals of church and court.

“Carmina Burana” features the elements of wine, women, song, gambling, and fate. Orff was intrigued with the notion of the Wheel of Fortune, using it as an organizing principle for the medieval texts. According to Thomas May, writer for the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the text portrays “the innocence of nature…the social sphere of partying… and the amorous and bittersweet awakening of courtship. The wheel’s rotations — ceaselessly repeated, much like human desire — are cleverly echoed in the repeated melodic material and refrains…balancing the score’s vigorous exuberance with moments of introspective tranquility, inviting us to an understanding of pleasure and pain as opposites of the same coin.”

Jung-Ho described his interpretation of Carmina Burana as a “hybrid,” closer to the intent of the composer to be a “multi-media opera” with the soloists acting in character: “Alize Rozsnyai is a very talented soprano with incredible technique and a beautiful voice. She is new to our stage and open to playing this role in character with subtle yet also erotic expression. Gerrod Pagenkopf plays the role of a highly comedic countertenor. I decided to use a countertenor versus a regular tenor so the voicing would not sound so high or strained. Thomas Jones, a fun-loving rogue baritone, is always willing to take a risk with our audiences.”

He added, “We are delighted to have the Cape Cod Children’s Chorus, directed by John Yankee and a ‘feature performance’ of the Chatham Chorale, under the direction of Joseph Marchio.”

Boston Camerata Artistic Director Anne Azéma is currently on tour with “Carmina Burana.” Last week at the Théatre de la Ville in Paris, they performed the full version and received a standing ovation. From there they went to Treviso, Italy, also commanding a capacity audience with cheering crowds.

Azéma, a soprano, shares this about the upcoming Cape performance: “We will present a small selection from our larger program, to give the audience a taste of both the poetry and music of this most important medieval manuscript. The intersection with Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” (composed in 1936) is poetic only. He didn’t recycle any of the medieval music and composed his piece afresh. We will also present some visuals, coming from the Carmina Burana manuscript as well as others from the same period; and share a few thoughts from stage, as we go along. For this performance we will have three singers, including Daniel Hershey, tenor, and Taylor Ward, bass-baritone; two plucked instruments, lauta and guitern, played by our director emeritus, baritone Joel Cohen; and a small hurdy gurdy.”

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Radio Days Swings at Cape Symphony

Holli B Photography

Holli B Photography

Written by Anne Ierardi

Join the Cape Symphony as they take a sentimental journey back to the days when bands were big and swing was king with “Radio Days.”

Cape Pops tunes the dial to radio’s Golden Age   

This weekend’s Cape Symphony Pops concert, “Radio Days,” promises to bring us back to a time when radio was king, a time of war and heartbreak, a decade of the incredible upbeat music of big bands and swing jazz. Over the past few years, the Greatest Generation’s contributions are being brought to light through film and literature. I grew up when TV dominated our home; our minds were on perfect families, exploring space and the beginnings of rock’n’roll. I remember a family party in the 1960s when my uncle, who had served in the air force during WWII, kept changing the records on the phonograph from pop to his favorite big band tunes. Years later I came to love the music of the 1940s, such as cabaret singer Andrea Marcovicci’s “Love Songs of World War II” that she performed at Town Hall in Manhattan.

This Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, Jung-Ho Pak, maestro of the Cape Symphony, features Five by Design, a creative, exciting quintet of singers who have created a multimedia show that will delight audiences by recreating the sounds and sights of this era. I had the pleasure of speaking with Terry Niska, one of the performers of the group. Five by Design began at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire in the 1980s. A group of trained classical music students including two brothers and a sister-in-law met together to harmonize on jazz and pop tunes. Inspired by 1987’s Woody Allen film “Radio Days,” starring Mia Farrow with Allen as narrator and a fantastic musical score, they created their own live version of the Golden Age of Radio.

Alton Acolla came up with the idea of combining all the elements of a real radio day experience through costumes, lighting and props. In 1994 they had their first symphony collaboration with the Milwaukee Symphony and they were awarded the Number One Pops Performance of the season. By 1997 the group was booked throughout the country.

Niska said, “Our band grew to love this unique American-style music, especially the harmony which drew us together. I sometimes think I was born in the wrong era. The lyrics have an inexplicable power with fascinating melodies.” The symphony collaboration “takes the music to a whole different level,” functioning not as backup but as an integral part of the performance. Audiences will be treated to a mixture of theatre, commercial jingoes, Inner Sanctum Mystery, an old popular radio show and special Foley sound effects.

Artistic director and conductor Jung-Ho Pak describes the music as “fun, energetic, filled with boundless joy…you can see it in the dancing… I like the songs that have great meaning for America during the war…particularly “I’ll be Seeing You” because it played such an important part of World War II. To me, it just captures this hope that we will see each other again; that there will be a tomorrow and the war will end.”

“Five by Design” includes founder Accola who serves as host, Lorie        Carpenter-Niska, Kurt Niska, Catherine Scott, Michael Swedberg and Terrence Niska. Their website (www.behindthemic.org) highlights performances with the Boston Pops, St. Louis Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Vancouver Symphony, Calgary Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony, more than 200 symphony orchestras in all.

Vocalists that have influenced their music include Manhattan Transfer, The Real Group from Sweden and Bobby McFerrin. Terry Niska told me that the group loves to meet their audiences, especially to hear the memories and stories of people who lived through this compelling decade. “Radio Days” will include “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” “Moonlight in Vermont” and “I’ll be Seeing You.”

www.capesymphony.org

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Jung Ho Pak Serves Up a Delectable Three Course Meal

Written by Anne Ierardi

Jung Ho Pak Serves Up a Delectable Three Course Meal at Opening Season of Cape Symphony

“If music be the food of love, play on” – Shakespeare

I had the pleasure of speaking with Maestro Jung-Ho Pak before last weekend’s concert. We got on the subject of Mexican food. He shared a wild dream about opening a restaurant with food from many world cultures for people like himself with eclectic tastes. Fortunately for us Cape Codders, his breadth of vision extends not only to food but to a musical imagination that embraces all who come to his wonderful concerts.

Last Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon offered up a delicious feast for the senses in an all-Russian program. Each masterpiece delighted the audience with a full course, starting with dynamic virtuoso guest violinist Lindsay Deutsch performing Khachaturian’s fiery concerto followed by the splendid orchestration and color of the “Russian Easter Festival Overture” by Rimsky-Korsakov and then Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.”

John Clarke whet our appetites with his savory pre-concert lecture. With good humor, he joked about a lady who let him know that while she appreciated his talking she also wanted to hear a preview of the music to be performed. John hooked up a CD machine with a beautiful full sound so we could listen to a snippet of the concert pieces. After I came home I hunted through my albums (yes I still own a stereo and love vinyl) and CDs to find two of the three selections to enjoy again.

A longtime friend who attended the symphony for many years called me the next day marveling at the performance. While Jung Ho often has more to say at other concerts, she thought it just right that he “let the music speak for itself.” Both of us had noted how the orchestra shined. My friend told me that she particularly was drawn to many of the individual instruments, including the triangle and the harp. While there was clearly a unity among the musicians there were also many sparks to heighten our awareness.

Clarke spoke of Khachaturian as a master of melody who combined his love for his native Armenian folk music with Russian and European modern classical works. He told us that the Violin Concerto in D Minor was written near the birth of Khachaturian’s son “as though aware of happiness awaiting the birth” with a “twinge of sadness in the minor key.”

Violinist Lindsay Deutsch played with such verve, passion and athletic skill that the audience broke into applause after the first movement. At one point, Lindsay and Jung-Ho formed a stunningly beautiful sculptural formation. Jung- Ho described Lindsay as “a young, extremely dynamic player” who would fit perfectly to perform this “very athletic and exhausting piece.”

Lindsay was raised in Houston, Texas, where she began her orchestral debut at age 11. She was concertmaster of the Disney Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra at age 12 under the direction of Jung-Ho Pak. She then moved to Los Angeles where she studied with renowned violin teacher Robert Lipsett.

Like Jung-Ho she shares a philosophy of engagement with the audience as well as her mission of widening the exposure of classical music to youth and other groups; she co-founded with her sister Laura a non-profit organization, Classics Alive (www.ClassicsAlive.org), dedicated to building classical music audiences.

The “Russian Easter Festival Overture” by Rimsky-Korsakov and the “Firebird Suite” by Stravinsky formed the second half of the program. “The Firebird” is an early Stravinsky colorful ballet suite that draws from an old Russian fairy tale of an evil wizard. Stravinsky, mentored by Rimsky-Korsakov, was only 28 when he wrote the piece that he dedicated to his master. Jung-Ho is thrilled to present this very challenging piece, the first major work of Stravinsky during his tenure.

The “Easter Festival” is a haunting piece combining pagan themes with Russian Orthodox Liturgy chants, which communicated the passion, energy and color that Jung-Ho Pak brings to his audiences. In his words: “I want the audience to expect surprises. I want the soloists and players to share their feelings and emotions in how they communicate like Yo Yo Ma does with his whole body. I was a student of Bernstein one summer. Leonard Bernstein was our best of the century, far above his time, inspiring millions of Americans to appreciate classical music. A prophet for America – where are the prophets for today?”

This Symphony season promises to entertain, enlighten and communicate music. Jung-Ho’s recipe includes an “audacious” outreach to people of many tastes. His own musical taste buds extend to jazz, rock and world music “serving it up: All me,” he exclaimed. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area during the Golden Age of TV, from Andy Griffith to Hawaii Five-0 and Laurence Welk to eventually MTV. Jung-Ho is in touch with the pulse of America: “What I crave myself is what they want: entertainment, surprise. Take me out of the ordinary, and give me a good value for my money.”

October features “Radio Days,” swing music from World War II with the band By Design. “It will be like an MGM movie – close to the real thing.” Other performances include “Opera’s Greatest Moments” with soloists and the Chatham and Falmouth Chorales in November; the ever-popular Holiday Pops with guests Sioban Magnus, John Stevens, Patrick Thomas, the Chatham Chorale and the Cape Conservatory Dancers; then the New Year’s Day Party with Peter Schickele, of P.D.Q. Bach fame.

In January of 2015, “Passport to England” will highlight Gilbert and Sullivan, the Beatles and Downton Abbey. Other performances in 2015 include “Rhapsody in Bluegrass” with the Annie Moses Band from Nashville; “Carmina Burana” with the renowned Boston Camerata; and classical masterpieces “Symphony #4” by Mahler and Prokofiev’s “Giant.” Jung-Ho has endeavored to create a “continuous epiphany for the audience.”

He described Cape Cod as “the best community I have ever had the pleasure to serve. They welcomed and adopted me. I am repaid by their great attendance and support. A spiritual place, who it draws here, and a show piece orchestra.”
Cape Symphony –www.capesymphony.org.- 508-362-1111

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John Clark: A Man for All Seasons

Written by Anne Ierardi

A J Clark“One of the most difficult things to give away is kindness, it is usually returned.”
– Joseph Joubert

John Clark carries a treasure trove of knowledge in a light manner. He’s the man most of us know from his Cape Symphony’s enlightening pre-concert talks. The symphony opens its new season with a dramatic Russian theme, “The Firebirds,” on September 20 at 7:30 (pre-concert talk at 6:30 – note the earlier evening times due to popular demand) and September 21 3pm (pre-concert talk 2pm). “The Firebirds,” conducted by Jung-Ho Pak, includes “The Firebird Suite” by Stravinsky; “Violin Concerto” by Khachaturian, with guest violinist Lindsay Deutsch; and “Russian Easter Festival Overture” by Rimsky-Korsakov.

I asked John to share a favorite saying with me. He didn’t choose Homer or Shakespeare or Proust though he has taught all these sages in his Inquiring Mind School at his home in Eastham. Instead he offered a simple message about the value of kindness in a society that is often distracted from the real human connections. When kindness is returned there is an added delight for the recipient. Thanks to the Internet I discovered this quote was taken from philosopher Joseph Joubert, who was born in 1754 in France. I believe John, a Francophile, has found some kinship in Joubert, who also was a teacher.

John’s sense of adventure and learning began when he left his native England to study in Paris after receiving a fellowship from the French government. He wrote about the poets Verlaine and Rimbaud and their time in England. From there, John went to teach at the American University of Beirut for 15 years. The city was influenced by French culture and language, regarded as the “Paris of the Middle East” due to its earlier occupation after World War I by the French. The beauty of Lebanon was crushed by the Civil War that broke out in 1975. No longer a safe haven, it was time for John to leave and so he came to the states and did his Ph.D. in medieval literature and linguistic studies at the University of Wisconsin. In 1982 John returned to Beirut to fulfill his promise that he would give back to the school for granting him leave to complete his degree. After two years he had to leave by helicopter as it became too dangerous to remain. “It broke my heart. It was my career and I loved the place.”

Returning to the states, he went to UCLA where he received a distinguished teaching award. He met his wife, Jo Leal, a visual artist, and eventually they retired and settled on Cape Cod. “Retirement” for John did mean settling into one place (it has been the longest time that he and Jo-Leal have lived in one place).

The magic of the Cape is not only its physical beauty but also its wide opportunities for the creative imagination. John has been able to contribute to the culture of Cape Cod through music, teaching and coaching. “Inquiring Mind” began about 20 years ago. About 10 years ago John became certified in life coaching to help writers, artists and musicians to move in the right direction with their gifts. At that time I met with John regularly at his home exploring my next steps in visual art and writing.

John’s love of music began as a youth – he raised his hand when his teacher took an oboe out of storage and asked if anyone would be interested in learning how to play. “I found my hand go up though I hardly knew anything about the oboe, even that it was a double-reeded instrument and very difficult to play. However, it gave me many opportunities to perform, as oboists were often in demand.” Through the years he continued to play; for 10 years he played with the Cape Symphony.

John’s wide experience, which he humbly remarked was “not that exciting or extraordinary,” is a gift to us as appreciators of classical music on the Cape. Most impressive is his ability to show how music, literature and culture intersect and learn from each other. While living in England, France, Beirut and the United States, John has absorbed many rich experiences.

He explained, “The Russian mood is strong, sometimes difficult to warm to, but these musicians were not only influenced by their native Russia. Rimsky-Korsakov was on a two-year cruise on a Naval Ship that docked in New York Harbor and wrote one of his symphonies there.” There has always been a strong connection with Russia and France. Stravinsky lived and worked in France, Switzerland and the United States. Khachaturian, a Soviet Armenian composer and conductor, followed Russian musical traditions while using Eastern European and Middle Eastern folk music in his works.

For John, the Symphony lectures “are not technical treatises but give a topical and topographical sense of the meaning and history of the music. Jung-Ho Pak puts together very exciting and positive programs.” It is the first time Jung-Ho Pak will conduct Stravinsky here. “The Firebird Suite” will feature two new musicians: principal flutist Zachary Sheets and principal horn Clark Matthews. Zachary described his love of the suite: “Whenever I listen to it, I imagine all the infinite possibilities of colors, images, and movements that could be done in a ballet or choreography.” Jung-Ho Pak reflected on the horn piece that Clark Matthews will perform in the last movement: “Right before the big finale there’s a rather high horn part that’s extremely exposed. It’s a challenge for many a professional horn player to play clearly and beautifully because it’s just so naked.”

I hope you will join me to hear what John Clark will pull out of his treasure trove and be uplifted by the fiery music of the Russians.

www.capesymphony.org

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Finding voice

Written by Anne Ierardi

Wendy Watson in Light in The Piazza

This is wanting something, this is reaching for it,
This is wishing that a moment would arrive.
This is taking chances, this is almost touching, what the beauty is.

“The Beauty Is,” by Adam Guettel

Theatre loomed large in Wendy Watson’s life, starting as a 5-year-old who played an angel at church and performed in community plays in White Plains, New York. Her mother, Cara, a theatre director, inspired her to appreciate film and theatre. She recalls her mother keeping her up some nights to watch the 11:30 movie. “She would put me to bed in the early evening and then wake me up to watch, if she thought it was important enough for me to see.” Her parents raised the money to send her for two incredible summers to the exclusive Brown Ledge camp for girls on Lake Champlain, where she was empowered to act and sing through their theatre arts program. Three one-act plays were produced each week, a three-act play and a Broadway musical each season.

Wendy is the star of the Cape Repertory Theatre’s The Light in the Piazza, which opened on Tuesday. She plays Margaret Johnson, a Southern woman visiting Florence, Italy, with her daughter. Wendy’s personal and professional evolution shines through this chance of a lifetime to play this extremely demanding role of a mature woman interacting with an engaged, wonderful cast.

“This play is magic,” she said. “The music is closer to opera than standard musicals but the structure and action is like the musical genre. It is stunning, complex, and unpredictable so the audience has to be alert and awake, which fits the sophistication level of Cape audiences. The play is a culmination of a lifetime of my work in theatre. Fortunately, recent changes in our society provide more interesting lead roles for women.”

Wendy’s life took an abrupt turn many years ago. After achieving a following as a cabaret singer from New York to London and producing a one-woman show, “Wendy Watson, I Presume,” she lost her best ally, her voice. For seven years, before she was able to have surgery on her vocal chords, she could not sing or act. One of the movies her mother took her to see that inspired her as a young person was Johnny Belinda with Jane Wyman, who plays a deaf girl. She remembers that movie and the compassion it aroused in her.

Around this time, singer Chris Williamson asked her to be an interpreter for her concert at Carnegie Hall. A new door opened in Wendy’s life. She could enter into a play even without voice. From there she enrolled in Northeastern University and received a degree in interpretation. Today she is a sought-out interpreter for Boston theatres including the Huntington and Wang.

She returned to the Cape to perform at Cape Repertory in Brewster with a new voice one full octave stronger, thanks to her surgery. She found musical companions in Ethan Paulini and Christopher Sidoli, both Cape natives who grew up musically through Harwich Junior Theatre and Cape Rep. They formed a musical revue with a family theme, “Mama and Her Boys.”

“We loved singing together,” she said. “We managed to sing over 20 show-stoppers. The audience loved it. In addition to Cape Rep, we took it to Provincetown where it became a bit more campy, HJT, and Off-Broadway.”

Assuming the “mother” role in many of her recent performances, Wendy uncovered some interesting parallels in her life. In Light in the Piazza, she plays a Southern mother who goes to Italy in 1953 with her daughter. Wendy’s parents were both born in the South and her grandfather, a colonel, brought his family to Rome, where he was stationed, after World War II. The awakenings for Wendy’s grandmother in Rome and for Margaret Johnson in Florence between the strict standards of Southern culture and the more expressive manners of Italians challenged them to a new level of integration.

In her work with youth who are deaf, Wendy often becomes a mother figure aware of the delicate balance between her instinct to protect the children while allowing them enough independence to come into their own. Ten years ago video relay phones came into use. At schools for the deaf, phone booths were set up for communication between students and parents. Wendy interpreted to parents what their children were saying. While both parties had good intentions to connect, Wendy often found the parents surprised at what their child was saying. Light in the Piazza also brings out the tension between the needs of the mother versus the needs of the child and how to untangle this most intimate relationship.

Wendy’s life has come full circle with Light in the Piazza, thriving on the energy of the cast, the audience, the life. Bravissimo!

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CJazz and the creative impulse

Written by Anne Ierardi

CjazzExperiencing the joy of ensemble playing

“I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.
– Miles Davis

For many years I led groups on the Artist’s Way, based on the book by Julia Cameron. Participants brought with them a desire or dream to become more creative in their lives. Many had gifts as writers, musicians, artists – some had newly retired with time to explore, some worked too much and needed a break – all sought to discover or recover something about their own lives.

Together we wrote in journals, took artist’s dates (a date you make just with yourself to open up your creative spirit), and shared deeply from our hearts. There was one group in particular that was so full of enthusiasm, my little cottage-office rocked when they arrived. After the group ended, they each went off, shedding some old ways to pursue their new gutsy dream.

Life can either be a series of tasks or a process. The jobs we have in our lives, the day-to-day responsibilities, are usually dictated by external factors that we have little control of. We can easily get caught up in the chaos of the clock, others’ needs, or our own old tapes telling us we are not good enough or haven’t done enough. Anatole France said, “If the path be beautiful, let us not ask where it leads.”

Art is liberation of body and soul. It is my play, my vision, and my joy. I keep a big tool box – sometimes I take out a pen (or my desktop) and write, or take out my paint brushes and express myself in oils. Other times I feel like singing and playing guitar.

There are times I have goals like writing my monthly music column or preparing for an art exhibit ,but there are many others time that I just play and stay with the process.

Remember the old saying “practice makes perfect?” That messed up a lot of young budding artists. Miles Davis got it right when he said: Do not fear mistakes. There are none.

I am at a time in my life when I am looking back yet also looking forward. Appreciating how I absorbed music through my brother’s passion for standards and musicals, my coming of age during the British invasion when I was lifted up high to see the Beatles at Suffolk Downs by a big girl who already decided to occupy my seat before I arrived, and going backstage to meet the Rolling Stones in Worcester. Johnny also funded my guitar lessons through junior high and high school with Bob Mulcahy, the only teacher who pronounced my last name correctly with a sparkle in his eye each week as he invited me into his studio. When I was lonely on weekends in college, in the dry hills of California and homesick for Boston, I went down to the coffee house to hear folk and rock bands from Hollywood or classical and religious music in the gymnasium. The first time I ever heard “Amazing Grace” was in that gym in Thousand Oaks.  Bluegrass singer and guitarist Doc Watson, who though physically blind in essence was full of light. I will never forget that moment.

To teach the arts one must not only have passion but a sense of mission. Music, especially, is a gift that begs to be offered to others and like dance it involves the body and the breath. In a sense music was my roots, my beginning, but years later it has returned in its new forms, and I am more able and willing to birth possibilities that weren’t there in my younger days.

This spring I joined a class, C-Jazz, at the Cape Cod Conservatory led by Bart Weisman. I wanted to discover what is it would be like to be part of a Jazz Ensemble. My first day was a feast of the eye as well as the ear as people gathered with their instruments: bass, drums, piano, clarinet, trumpet, saxophone, and guitar. Ages ranged from youth to elders and even an assistant Chihuahua on drums, but it made no difference as everyone supported and respected each other.

Bart introduced several styles of jazz. There was a new piece of music every week including the swing tune “In a Mellow Tone” by Duke Ellington, Jobim’s bossa nova “Corcovado,” Miles Davis’ modal jazz, “So What,” and jazz/rock fusion “Chameleon” by Herbie Hancock. Bart’s love of jazz comes through his energetic bearing and confidence while creating a space where we can express our selves while participating in the real thing of live jazz.

In an e-mail, Bart explained how C-Jazz came to be last fall:

“Dr. Stephanie Weaver, managing director of the Cape Cod Conservatory, hired me to teach percussion students and be the program director for CJazz at The Conservatory. Dr. Weaver had run a very successful Jazz Combos Program in Michigan and I had wanted to do the same on Cape Cod. Since the Fall of 2013, CJazz has been running in The Barnstable Campus and we started sessions in Falmouth in 2014. Students of all ages learn jazz standards, how to improvise, and have performed at recitals. All of the instructors and guest musicians are working jazz musicians on the Cape. I know that not all of the students will go on to perform professionally, but I love sharing my passion and experience performing Jazz, an original American Art Form, and hopefully sparking a life-time love of jazz in them too.”

I had the great fortune to have two mentors through this process: Alan Clinger for guitar and Bob Hayes for voice. Alan provided instruction during the group to the guitarists and met with me a couple of times to practice Hoagy Carmichael’s ballad “Nearness of You.” His beautiful accompaniment felt natural to follow and special to sing with a guitar.

Bob Hayes changed the key from F to a comfortable C for my voice on “The Nearness of You” and met with me the morning of our recital to get the breath and the soul into the song.

You may be wondering what my next adventure is. Since you asked, in mid-June I will be attending Django Camp in Northampton with a few hundred guitarists, violinists, and accordion players gathering from all over the world. On the weekend of June 21 and 22, there will be a Django festival open to the public. Django Reinhardt’s gypsy jazz has always fascinated me. If he dared to play with just a few fingers after his tragic accident, I should not shrink from giving it a go. After all, there are no mistakes.

For more information on the concert and music camp: www.djangoinjune.com

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P.D.Q. Bach comes to Cape Cod

Written by Anne Ierardi

Peter Schaaf photoPeter Schickele brings is own brand of Bach to the Cape Symphony on New Year’s Day

I have a long history of fooling around with other people’s music.”

– Peter Schickele

Jung-Ho Pak is celebrating New Year’s Day with a program that promises to be attractive, elegant and great fun. His guest star is none other than P.D.Q. Bach, aka Peter Schickele. Schickele graciously spoke with me by phone this week about his trip to Cape Cod, in the midst of a busy season of engagements. “I will be in two of my personas: Professor Schickele (P.D.Q. Bach) and Peter Schickele.” P.D.Q. Bach was born in the fruitful imagination of Peter Schickele during some musical research, and in 1965 he and his friends brought P.D.Q. Bach to the public at Town Hall in New York City. Eventually his popularity brought him to the Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. The “infamous” comedian of classical music was born.

His love of music and training in composition at Juilliard School of Music forged a partnership with his playful comic nature that has reached out to a wide variety of audiences for the past 50 years. He has written well over 100 compositions for symphony orchestras, choral groups, chamber ensembles, voice, movies, television and even Joan Baez.

While Schickele’s main goal is to “make people laugh,” he also is happy to find that he has helped young people appreciate classical music, often in classroom settings like his “New Horizons in Music Appreciation,” where a humorous take on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, in the form of a play-by-play Sportscast, is nevertheless “historically true.” Still, he laments the fact that our music programs have had their funding cut back so that many budding artists will not have an opportunity to learn music first-hand through a school band.

Like many comedians, Schickele is unassuming and honest: “My family said I was born entertaining at 18 months old. I don’t hold any high-blown ideas about my work. I am happy to make people laugh.

“During the sixties in my pre-teen years, I had the pleasure of hanging out with my older brothers and male cousins. We listened to the humorous music with its sound effects of Spike Jones on the phonograph and laughed watching Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. My cousin Phil took me in his Model-T Ford to parades. Phil donned a straw hat and Groucho glasses, squeezing one of those horns with the rubber ball.”

By age 10 in Washington, D.C., Schickele was a theatrical kid acting out movie serials and westerns in his basement. He still remembers every syllable of the music that he passed on to his own children.

P.D.Q. Bach will present to Cape audiences the “1712 Overture,” a giant orchestra piece “with organ and every instrument including the kitchen sink.” He also will be singing a round with the soloists on a P.D.Q. Bach poem called “The Mule.”

The Symphony will perform several Strauss pieces, including “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” led by Jae Cosmos Lee, the symphony concertmaster, and “Chacun à son goût” (Each to his own taste) from Die Fledermaus. Musical theatre pieces include “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “The Sound of Music.”

Guest vocalists include Kara Cornell and Margot Rood. Kara is a mezzo soprano who performs in many genres, from classical to opera to jazz and musical theatre. Soprano Margot Rood has a wide repertoire and often performs with the Handel and Haydn Society.

Jung-Ho Pak’s reflections also bring him back to his own days in the school band when they were playing a P.D.Q. Bach piece. He recalled, “it really surprised me,” as “classical music is usually so serious. It was such a relief to know someone out there made what you did cool and hip and put a smile on your face.”

Start the New Year on an upbeat with the Cape Symphony. Meet P.D.Q. Bach. Arrive early to enjoy the Vienna Café with Viennese pastries by Gourmet Caterers of Boston.

Limited seats are available: www.capesymphony.org or call 508-362-1111.

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