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April 15, 2014: Like a River

Every week, the NLC's artistic director David Cherwien, writes a short letter to the members of the choir to give them notes on how they should direct their attention preparing for the next week's rehearsal or performance. This week, his focus is on Frank Martin's Mass. 

Conductor's Diary:

Given the weekend coming up (perhaps the defining weekend for Christians!) -- I am not sending detailed notes but, as you know, there are many details to pay attention to! I suspect you don't need us to tell you what they are.

It's obvious that the focus really needs to be the Frank Martin Mass: notes and rhythm, to be sure. But when you practice, it's just as important to practice with musicality, too! In fact, shaping a musical phrase takes practice. The appropriate placement of strong and weak accents in the phrase and on the correct syllables seems to be the main reason we stop rehearsals.   

I love when we get to this point in rehearsing a piece that is new to us. For several weeks an unfamiliar composition seems like an unknown ocean -- many, many pages of open water. It's like we're on a winding river with no idea what's around the bend. But as we become familiar, the music begins to feel "smaller" -- or perhaps more like hopping into a helicopter ABOVE the river where we can see exactly where it goes, and how each bend relates to the other; where the river starts, and into what oceans it flows. This sense of music paves the way for even more musical phrasing.  

We begin to see "sections" instead of measures or even individual rhythms. As we run through it, notice how the "sections" differ from each other. What are the French instructive markings?  How does each section flow into and through each other?

Take the opening pages of the Credo -- we struggled a bit in rehearsal (me too, actually) because Martin moves from a half-note pulse to measures of 3/4. Moving from 3/2 to 4/4 is now quite good, because you all feel 4/4 as 2/2. But 3/4? Today I practiced feeling those 3/2 measures as having one and a 1/2 pulses, or in others words -- a measure with a dotted half-note. Feeling the entire section (measures 1-44) with half-note pulses and 3/4 measures as one dotted-half note help make this entire section flow more freely and expressively. When we bog down thinking of each of the three quarter-notes (in the 3/4 measures), the pulses slow down and the music feels a little like moving through sludge. And then when we return to 3/2 measures (like measure 29), there is an awkwardness. Learning this section may require moving slowly in quarter notes, but now we need to move on and start feeling the half note pulse, throughout.  

Next week, Agnus Dei: I'm eager to ensure that Choir 2 comes together in expressing this section of the Mass. We have been there once. Listen and 'feel' it withe the other members of your choir. Can't wait because it is beautiful.

We were thrown quite a curve at last Tuesday's rehearsal. It was probably a record number of people singing with colds, sitting out with illness, or people at home recovering from this bug. First of all, for those who came in spite of feeling crummy, thank you. It still helps for you to be at rehearsal to hear the work that we're doing. For those who stayed away, I hope you're feeling better -- but you've got a special disadvantage now. The rehearsal recordings are online on the "members only" site and it would help our rehearsals if you could listen to them.  

For the rest of us -- it's a tall order to carry on without many of our brothers/sisters! This could happen on the program weekend and part of our learning is figuring out how to adapt. We can't always rely on any one singer for any one thing -- like getting one spot for us, or making an entrance. Entrances were the area of greatest concern as I listen to the rehearsal recording online -- we've EACH got to sing entrances with confidence as if it were concert week!  

All in all, we still accomplished a great deal. Bravo to the survivors of the malaise going around! Wish I was among your ranks. Have a blessed Three Days.

David Cherwien