Monday, November 28, 2011

Listening

Listening is an essential form of communication. It is important for relationships, and for peace, and learning. I often learn most when I take the time to listen. Most often, my mind is running at a hundred miles per hour. The hamster mind makes listening a lot more difficult. Just think about how essential listening is for a moment with me. People need to be listened to, because people need to know that other people care about them and respect them. If someone asks me to do something or stop doing something, and I do not listen, then I am being rude. I am guilty of this sometimes, as I am sure a lot of us are. After all, we all are humans. Even if someone is annoyed, and they are not saying it, it is equally important to listen to those non verbal cues. People love to talk about themselves. I certainly know that I like to talk about myself. Listening is one of the keys we turn in the door in order to connect with other people. I am getting better at listening, because being a good listener is paramount for relationships with other people, and ourselves. We have to listen to ourselves as well, because our minds give us a lot of important information. What part of the human skeleton tells the body it is tired? Unquestionably the brain gives us that information. Of course our brains tell us we are inadequate and no good sometimes. The key to that, is to listen so we can reframe those thoughts into positive ones. When I sit quietly and meditate, and concentrate while doing it, I am listening, and learning in quiet. When my mind is racing, I am not listening to anything or anyone. I will tell you one thing, and this I know for sure. Listening takes the focus off any worrying, negativity, anger, and so on and so forth. Interestingly, when I am partaking in negative emotions, and I decide to drop it and listen to someone else, I learn that their problems make mine seem like a joke. So, listen, listen, listen. If I am telling myself something crazy, and I listen, I can listen to how crazy it actually is. Also, if I really listen to a piece of music, I can listen to what the artist is trying to communicate, and learn something, or feel something from it. Listening is a good skill. Before, I think about what I am going to say or do next, I need to listen, or I might miss out on things.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Henri Duparc's Story

It is early in the morning on this dreary day before Thanksgiving, and I found myself browsing on Amazon. I stumbled upon Jose Van Dam's recital of Duparc songs, which I own, and then thought about how Duparc was a genius, and how his story is one of success and tragedy. Duparc was very gifted with musical talent and intelligence from a early age. But, he was incredibly hard on himself, and constantly doubting himself. When I listen to his songs full of brilliance, I think to myself, how is that possible. How could Duparc doubt himself so much, that quite a few of his works were destroyed by him? Duparc stopped composing before the turn of the 20th century, but he lived until 1933. When I listen to his songs, I think to myself how could anyone even come up with this. Well, the purpose of this blog is to talk about Duparc's life. So, here is some information about him. Duparc studied law in college, while studying piano with Cesar Franck at the same time. He soon began writing music, but often destroyed his early works because he was not satisfied with some aspect of them. One of the most important events of his life was traveling to Munich, where he met Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. Duparc's music is very Wagnerian in nature. In the 1870s, through the middle of the 1880s, Duparc wrote quite a few works, but very few of them survive because he destroyed them. Duparc made several trips to Bayreuth, and co-founded the Société Nationale de Musique with Camille Saint-Seans. By this time Duparc's inspiration turned towards the orchestra. Duparc wrote Poéme nocturne in 1874, and it was premiered in April of that year at a Société National concert Sadly, only one of the pieces three sections survived. Also, Duparc composed a symphonic poem entitled Lénore, in 1875. A few years later, because of the influence of Richard Wagner, though not stylistically now, Duparc began work on his opera Roussalka. Although his career was going very well, in 1885, at the age of 36, Duparc stopped composing altogether. By this time he had a disease called neurasthenia, which may have affected him psychologically. The term neurasthenia is no longer in use these days, but back then it was a disease in which there was acute pain and fatigue, irritability, lack of concentration etc... Duparc lived with his family until the end of his life, and he revised some of his works. However, he became blind and paralyzed as time went a long. He traveled to the shrine known for miracles in France, because he was always a religious man. Therefore, he came to peace with his blindness. Duparc's compositional output is too small for him to be considered one of the all time great composers. In my opinion, he is still great though, because of his songs. It is important to acknowledge what Duparc did, versus what might have been. A total of 16 songs of his are published, and several of them are performed quite often. The songs have profound beauty, and are very dramatic and tender at the same time. A lot of great singers have recorded songs by Duparc, such as; Jose Van Dam, Gerald Finley, Janet Baker, Paul Groves, and Gerard Souzay to name a few. Duparc's piano accompaniments are Wagnerian in scope. The vocal lines, go from very declamatory, to very sad, to very tender in a heart beat. Duparc could use a variety of emotions in his song compositions like very few composers I have heard. I thank him for what he did contribute, and long for what he might have done at the same time.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Time Travel

Sometimes I wish time travel were actually possible, and sometimes I do not wish it were possible. We all make mistakes, and we try to learn from them. All we can do is try to learn from our mistakes. When we make mistakes again, it is all the more humbling. Time travel is not possible, and we all know that. The present is pretty wonderful, but there are some situations that I wish I had handled differently. I am sure we all have situations like that. I sometimes think, if only I had reacted this way, a situation would have had a better outcome. Time travel is not possible though. I cannot go back to some event which I did not handle correctly a week a go. It is a phenomenon how time just passes and passes, and things cannot be done over. I do not get time back, and that is the absolute truth. I can do things differently the next time, but I cannot get the time back. It is a fascinating concept if you really think about it. It would be cool to go back hundreds or thousands of years, and meet famous people. It would be pretty neat to see what things were really like in the 17 and 18 hundreds. Think about all the technological things we have now, and try living without any of them. That sounds totally far fetched, but back then it was reality. Composers wrote all this great music hundreds of years a go without any technology. How did they do that? I wish we all could go back in time and find out. I have mixed feelings about technology. It has a lot of advantages for sure. I could not write this without technology, and I do love to write. However, I can get a bit too attached to my iPad and iPhone for my own good sometimes. Not always a good thing. It can make me miss moments of life which I cannot get back. I am very in favor of technology, but a break from it is not a bad idea sometimes. Every moment in life counts, and we cannot get them back.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Male Voice Types

If anyone is looking for an introduction to opera, then look no further then this posting. I want to start with the five different male voice types, which are counter-tenor tenor, baritone, bass-baritone and bass in order from highest to lowest. Most people have heard of tenor, baritone and bass, but perhaps they have not heard of bass-baritone or counter-tenor. I will explain more about that later. But, those are the voice types in a nutshell from the highest range to the lowest range. Range is the amount of notes that a person is capable of singing as comfortably as possible. These voice types have general ranges which are approximate. For example, some baritones can singer higher or lower than a typical baritone. Another important thing about these voice types, is that different voice types play certain types of roles in opera. An opera by the way is a play set to music. However, the actors sing instead of speak. Singing is an exaggerated form of speaking, but not quite the same. Let me explain more about each voice type.
I will start with the tenor voice. Tenors are the lovers and/or heros in most operas, and they wow audiences with their high notes. Audiences love tenors because they are exciting to listen to. Do the three tenors ring a bell? They were a popular phenomenon pretty recently. The tenor voice has been around for several hundreds of years. Enrico Caruso was one of the first great tenors, and he was very famous early in the twentieth century. Recordings of Caruso survive which were recorded over one hundred years a go. These recordings were done by the gramophone. Caruso had to nail his recordings down in one take. Can you imagine that? One take? The tenor range is on average from a low C to a high C. By that I mean the third C on the piano to the 5th C on the piano which is two octaves. This is an approximation. Some tenors can sing higher than a high C, other tenors can sing lower than a low C, or some tenors can do both. I hope this is clear. It is hard to explain without an audio example. Most people come to see operas because they want to hear a certain tenor. Pavarotti was a huge hit at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for years. This is because his voice was exciting and recognizable.
The middle male voice type is the baritone. Counter-tenors are the highest voice, but they are unusual, so I will talk about that later. Most males are baritones whether they sing or not, because it is the average voice of a male. The baritone voice is the most common voice amongst opera singers. However, most of the leading roles are for tenors. Not fair is it? There are two different types of baritones in opera. They are the lyric baritone and the Verdi baritone. There are actually more than two, but these are the main two I will refer to. Lyric baritones almost sound like tenors, but they sing a few notes lower on the scale. I used to mistake lyric baritones for tenors before my ear was trained. Baritones have a richer and darker sound than tenors. The baritone voice has been an actual voice part for about two hundred years. Before two hundred years a go, singers who were baritones, but not called baritones sang higher bass parts. Baritones are popular these days, and baritones have the most competition in auditions and in schools. However, they do not hold a candle to the tenor in popularity at the opera house. Baritones usually play fathers, villains, romantic leads, comic characters, and aristocrats. Before I end my speech on the baritone here, I want to talk about the Verdi baritone. Please refer to my blog posting on the Verdi baritone for a detailed description. A Verdi baritone is a baritone with a big voice. A Verdi baritone has a darker sound then a lyric baritone. Lyric means light, whereas, a Verdi baritone is dramatic. A Verdi baritone specializes in operas by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, who lived from 1813-1901. If you want to get to know Verdi, listen to La Traviata, Aida, or Rigoletto, which are his most famous operas. Verdi baritones are rivals to the tenor, and often causing trouble in the stories.
The Verdi baritone has a cousin called the bass-baritone. A bass-baritone is a voice type that can sing in the bass range, and in a baritone range as well. Typically they cannot sing quite as high as a baritone, and not quite as low as a true bass. The term bass-baritone came into prominence during Richard Wagner's time during the 19th century. Most roles that bass-baritones sing are high and pretty dramatic, but they are not as high as roles Verdi wrote for baritones. The term bass-baritone does not exist in Italy. However, it is used in America, Germany and France as a voice category. The baritone role in "Carmen" is a prime example of a bass-baritone role. A baritone may sing it, but will lack a little bit of depth on the lower notes. There are many baritones who have sung the roles very effectively, but I would still call it a core bass-baritone role. There are several roles in Mozart's operas which are often done by bass-baritones, because the term baritone did not exist when Mozart lived. Mozart never wrote as high as what we know as the baritone range today. Bass-baritones often sing many of the roles in Mozart's operas. A bass-baritone has a darker sound than a baritone, and a stronger lower range. Bass-baritone roles often end at the forth F sharp on the piano. Baritones quite often have to sing above the forth G on the piano, and they have to sing high for longer periods of time then the bass-baritone.
The bass voice is the lowest of all the male voice parts. True basses are rare indeed. If a singer is a true bass, there are pretty good odds that he will get work. There are two types of basses, which are the basso-cantante, the singing bass and the basso-profondo, the deep bass. The basso-cantante, is a true bass, and not a bass-baritone, but it is a higher bass than the basso-profondo, which is the deep bass. Deep basses are very rare. The basso-cantante is the more common type of bass, and they tend to have a good upper range. Basso-cantante singers specialize in bel-canto opera, and some of Verdi's operas as well. They tend to play the lead bass roles in various operas. Also, they can play supporting or small roles if their voice is a little smaller. The term basso-cantante, literally means singing bass. By singing, I mean lyric, which means a light sounding type of singer. The term lyric does not mean small in size, but it means pleasant. Lyric basses tend to have a higher sound, and faster vibrato than the next category I am going to talk about, the deep bass. A basso-profondo, meaning deep bass can reach the lowest human notes. They are a bit stronger on the low notes than a basso cantante would be. A basso-profondo is a big and impressive bass voice. The statue in Don Giovanni should be sung by the most impressive bass voice in an opera company. That is the basso-profondo of the opera house. Basso-profondo singers are also very important in choral music. Especially, Russian Orthodox choral music. Some of that music goes down to a low B flat 2 on the piano. If you go to the piano and play the second b flat, then you will know how low this actually is. Singers like myself can growl on it, but no one wants to hear that. A true basso-profondo, which I am not, has a good sound on this note. Search "A basso-profondo am I" on youtube, and you will find Glenn Miller singing the song. He is a perfect example of a basso-profondo.
A counter-tenor is an amazing voice type, which took me a long time to get used to sound wise. Now I think it is a very effective voice type. The role of Oberon in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Benjamin Britten is sung by a counter-tenor. This opera is based on Shakespeare's play, and Oberon sounds great as a counter-tenor. A long time a go, men had their family jewels cut off so they could sing roles which were written for castratos. Castrato and castrate go together here if you get my drift. These roles were often written in Baroque operas. That is why some of Handel's phrases are so long. When men had their family jewels cut off, they could sing for longer periods of time without breathing. These days men sing in their falsetto voice, and that is how the counter-tenor sound is produced. The last recording of a real castrato was done at the beginning of the 20th century. Do not bother listening to that one. You will not be the same, trust me. I have not heard of any castratos since then. Some counter-tenors sound more natural than others, in that their falsetto sounds like it is not being manufactured, and therefore, it is a very beautiful type of sound. The ones who sound natural sound the most authentic to my ears. Each voice type is unique and fascinating, and every male is one of these voice types whether they sing or not.

Tara and Bella, what are the odds?

We all have heard the expression, a dog is man's best friend. It has been a common expression for who knows how long. Now, we can add the expression, a dog is an elephant's best friend to our list of english phrases. This is because I saw a story about a dog and an elephant being best friends on the news recently. I was shocked and moved at the same time. Tara is a retired circus elephant, that migrated to the elephant sanctuary outside of Nashville, TN. Normally, elephants join each other in pairs. However, Tara instantly befriended a stray dog named Bella. Stray dogs and elephants normally do not mix. This unusual pairing was an anomaly to say the least. A few years back, Bella got injured and could not walk. Tara stayed at the fence near the office where Bella was being nursed back to health. There are over two thousand acres of land on this elephant sanctuary. Tara stayed in one spot the entire time. How devoted is that? Bella was brought out to visit with Tara when she was healthier. Despite her weakness, she got very excited and so did Tara. The relationship between these two animals involved so much trust, that Tara would scratch Bella's stomach, just like a human would scratch a dog's stomach, give or take several tons. However, Tara was very gentle with Bella. Bella eventually was nursed back to health, and was reunited with her friend. Bella was a stray dog though, and there is a high risk factor for the dog being in two thousand acres of land as a stray. I am now referring to Bella in the past tense with great sadness. This morning, through a youtube video of the CBS evening news, I learned that Bella was killed by a pack of coyotes. Tara carried her body a mile. The proof is that Tara had blood on her. A heart breaking story for sure, but the time they had, which was over a decade seemed priceless. Losing a pet is very sad for humans. In this case it is sad for a gentle giant named Tara. She is depressed, but will recover. Believe it or not, other elephants are trying to cheer her up. This is according to the news report. Even the newscaster who covered the story was very upset about this, and could barely hold back tears. Newscasters are used to sad things, but this is a touching situation, so anyone would have feelings for it. I am sure Tara will be alright, despite the void. Death must occur, and there is no escape from it. It is a part of life for any living thing. The ones who experience the loss move on, as I am sure Tara, the gentle giant will.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How Faerie Tale Morals Relate to Real Life

I have been revisiting some of the episodes of Faerie Tale Theatre from the 1980s lately. Those movies are still great even though I am grown up now. I remember warching some of these movies when they first came out. Vanessa Redgrave used to scare me in her portrayal as the wicked Queen in "Snow White and the seven dwarfs." She's pretty cool in real life as it turns out. The moral of that story is that the queen's jealousy comes back to haunt her in the end. Snow White's innocence prevails. Another moral I like is in "The Frog Prince.". Robin Williams and Michael Richard's are hilarious in that by the way. To make a long story short, a witch helps a couple have a baby, and in exchange the couple promises to invite her to the christening. They leave her off the list, and she turns the baby into a frog. Keeping promises is the moral. The frog does turn into a prince at the end as the title suggests. The moral in "Rapunzel" is to take heed of warnings. A poor man named Claude sneaks into a witches garden to pick radishes for his pregnant wife. However, the second time he is caught. An owl warns him, but he ignores the warning, and she ends up taking the baby. The story ends happily of course. The "Princess who had never laughed" has a good moral too, which is to not take yourself too damn seriously. That is a good one for me. Being overprotective of children is not a good thing either, as the moral in "The Dancing Princesses" suggests. There are seven princesses who sneak out behind their father's back and go dancing in a dream kingdom. Overprotection results in rebelling in this case. These faerie tales are simple stories, but they all have important morals.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sleep is Important

Sleep is important. If my sleep is affected for one night I can get by, but if I lose sleep two nights in a row it starts a downward spiral in my mood, and ability to function. It also makes things I normally love to do into a chore. Plus, when I do not sleep enough my attitude sucks in situations where I normally have a good attitude. Well, it can be complicated. There is no need to go into the facts about sleep. Anyone can look those up online. Some people can function on very little sleep. I am not one of them. All the more power to them. Back to the complicated part. Those jitters about upcoming games, performances, presentations, tests, or whatever we are doing can shorten our sleep. Fear of the unknown, or fear of humiliation keep many people up at night until the event is over, and then it's cool again. Tough issue to deal with. I have lost sleep over presentations, tests and performances many times. Why? I have no clue. They are after all just events in time. The big bad wolf isnt coming after me. Our 18 pound dog may be the big bad wolf, but I don't think so. Point of all this is to be careful with lack of sleep, because it certainly can catch up with you later. When I sleep well I am much more alert and more pleasant to be around. Plus, I perform better in work, school, performances or whatever. Key thing is to be wise. Not drinking too much caffeine late in the day is a big one for me. It keeps me up, or gets me up later in the night. Eating too much or exercising late at night don't seem to work either. Exercising a reasonable amount does help, and so does breath work, meditation etc... Over exercising affects my sleep because it feels like flu symptoms. Reading certainly helps, as does a serene piece of music. Listening to Ozzy Osbourne will not get the job done. Finally if there is a pressing issue on your mind, talk to someone so you do not lose sleep over it. Also, if there is an unresolved issue, resolve it. Unresolved issues get worse. Well, sweet dreams everyone. I enjoyed writing this, and I hope you all get something out of it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Life's Everyday Lessons

 I was driving earlier and another car was tailgating.  That driver was beginning to drive me nuts.  Pun intended.  But then I realized that whoever it was who was driving was one of my life teachers.  I have no control over whether a driver tailgates me or not.  There endeth that lesson, although tailgating pisses me off, despite the fact that I do it myself sometimes.  There is always someone going ten under the speed limit when I am running on the back end of my time.  There is lesson number two right there.  There is a reason why they are going slow.  I am not talking about them.  They could be spaced out on Neptune for all I know.  The lesson for me is that I need to chill out and slow down.  There endeth that lesson.  
   Drivers are only the beginning of the teachers of life.  School teachers are awesome too, but I am talking about something a little different.  Like if a cop pulls me over because I have not changed my license plates or whatever, the lesson is do not procrastinate especially when it comes to the government.  They tend to win, and certainly there endeth that lesson.  Next lesson is when I play out future events in my mind and am completely wrong.  That is one of the most humble lessons of all.  My higher self learns that lesson.  For example if I project a rehearsal or audition going sour, and it does not happen that way, I have wasted a whole bunch of energy which could have gone into the rehearsal or audition.  There endeth that lesson.  There are so many of these life lessons that we learn everyday, that the list could go on and on.  I have learned a lot from these lessons, although they can be tough ones sometimes.  Last year I was looking at my phone while driving.  There was a problem though.  Another car was stopped at a light.  How dare he, right?  I hit him and totaled my car.  Luckily no one was hurt.  I learned to put the phone away while driving.  There endeth that lesson. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. This was one such example. If we make mistakes we are learning another one of life's lessons. The lesson there is to not beat ourselves up for the mistake. There endeth that lesson, and here endeth this blog post.