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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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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