Quick study Bach

Quick study Bach

Quick study Bach

Quick study Bach. There’s an oxymoron for you. Why, just recently I heard myself saying to a student, “You cannot cram Bach! It just doesn’t work!” That is, when I’ve heard people try to learn a work of Bach on short notice, more often than not, they panic and the performance falls apart. Believe me, unfortunately I know firsthand the realities of having a performance become a train wreck when it comes to playing a work of Bach and not having adequate practice. [EPIC FAIL!] The notes in Bach have “to sink in” and “become part of you.” You cannot sightread Bach with any degree of musicianship and authority.

As my teacher used to tell me, “Bach separates the men from the boys!”

Well, this week, I have no choice. I was just given the music yesterday for a concert I am performing next week with the Oahu Choral Society Chamber Choir. The program is called “Motets & Cantatas”—works by Bach, Brahms and Mendelssohn and will be conducted by Esther Yoo. Thank goodness, I am only playing organ for the two works of Bach: Motet No. 3, “Jesu meine Freude, BWV 227” and Cantata 56, “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen.” The concert will take place at St. Andrew’s Cathedral on Saturday, April 22nd at 7:30 pm.

Oahu Choral Society concert, April 22, 2017

Oahu Choral Society concert, April 22, 2017

It used to always make me laugh when the Honolulu Symphony contracted me for orchestra gigs. The questions were, in this order:

  1. Are you available?
  2. Can we borrow your organ?
  3. Can you bring your own music?

I’m afraid for this gig it’s no different! Yes, it means that I have agreed to loan my baby organ for the concert, and the April 22nd concert will be its coming out party. S & S Delivery will be picking up the baby pipe organ from my condo on Wednesday for the dress rehearsal that night! [Out in the real world for the first time! Stay safe, baby organ!]

As for music, I already had the organ part for “Jesu meine Freude.” However, since there was “no organ part available” for Cantata 56, I was given the vocal score and told to do the best I can. Yes— I am having “to make up my own part” by reading the bass line from the vocal score and filling in the appropriate chords! Fortunately (or unfortunately!), it’s something I’ve had to do on many occasions! I dare say that I will be the only instrumentalist that night “ad-libbing” as I go along!

Here is a performance of Cantata 56 conducted by Philipp Herreweghe with baritone Peter Kooy (whom I have had the great fortune of hearing in person.) Jeremy Wong will be the baritone soloist in next week’s concert.


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One of those years

Easter is April 16, 2017

Easter is April 16, 2017

2017 would have been one of those years—when Tax Day collides with Easter.

This year Easter is April 16th, and the deadline for filing 2016 tax returns is April 18. Which brings up the question “Why is Tax Day April 18?” instead of the traditional deadline of April 15th?

The regular tax return filing deadline is April 15. However, due to April 15 being on a Saturday and the Washington D.C. Emancipation Day holiday being observed on April 17 instead of April 16, 2017, Tax Day is on the following Tuesday. (E-file website)

You see, for church musicians, Holy Week is the busiest and craziest time of the year. And when it coincides or is very near to Tax Day, my late husband Carl Crosier was absolutely beside himself! Look at these years and the dates of Easter:

1974 – April 14
1979 – April 15
1990 – April 15
1995 – April 16
2001 – April 15
2006 – April 16

I think those were the years that Carl went cuckoo! He used to call it “Holy H***” Week!

Many people did not know that in addition to being the Cantor of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, Carl also held down a full-time job as the Chief Financial Officer of St. Andrew’s Priory School. But he also had a dozen personal tax clients, so in addition to filing our own, very complicated tax return, he did it for others. Can you imagine what his life was like during Holy Week and Tax Week?

The church schedule was:

Monday, there was a dress rehearsal with the brass or orchestra
Tuesday, there was a meeting of some kind.
Wednesday was generally the only free night. One year, however, we did a combined Tenebrae service with the choir of St. Andrew’s Cathedral.
Thursday was the Maundy Thursday service
Friday was the Good Friday service
Saturday was the Easter Vigil with a rehearsal at 5:45 pm and a dinner before the 7:30 service. There was a tradition that Carl always cooked that night for 40-45 people, which included the choir, acolytes, clergy and other participants. [HE WAS CRAZY!]
Sunday, there were three services: 8:00, 10:30 and 9:00 pm Compline.

You see, it was not only his task to choose all the repertoire for the week—he had to teach it to the choir and assign solos as necessary. He also was responsible for typing the Triduum bulletin, a booklet containing the service orders and music for the Three Days (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday), which sometimes ran to 72 pages!

The only possible repeat of choral repertoire was between the Easter Vigil and the 10:30 am Festival Eucharist. Every service had its own music. I would guess that during Holy Week, the choir sang in excess of 40 different pieces of music.

When did he have time to do his “real” job? When did he have time to do people’s taxes? He also NEVER put people on “extension,” to file their taxes much later in the year.

I’ll never forget that after Carl’s funeral, I returned the tax papers to his clients. Several of them told me that Carl had done their taxes for over thirty years and they never knew him to be anything but their tax guy, an accountant! Never heard that he was a musician! On the other hand, how many people in the music community knew that Carl had this whole other life as a money man?

As for me, I’m almost ready for my Easter brunch!

I still have to add fresh flowers which I will do on Sunday.

I still have to add fresh flowers which I will do on Sunday.

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Verdi Requiem

Verdi Requiem, April 6, 2017

Verdi Requiem, April 6, 2017 by the Oahu Choral Society

In spite of the fact that the Oahu Choral Society scheduled its performance of the Verdi Requiem on a Thursday night, (and the Thursday before Palm Sunday at that!), there was certainly a decent audience. (Don’t they know that God made Thursdays for choir practice!) 

I invited my organist colleague, Elizabeth Wong, to share a seat next to me and she put up with my crazy preference to sit smack dab in the front row of the concert hall. We saw two other organist colleagues there, Samuel Lam and Gregory Bietz —so I guess they didn’t have Thursday night rehearsals either!

Leon Williams, St. John Passion, March 2004

Leon Williams, St. John Passion

Conducted by Esther Yoo, the Verdi Requiem‘s reputation for fire and dramatic flair did not disappoint, and I found my hair standing up on end several times during the performance. Three of the soloists had local connections, mezzo soprano, Charlene Chi, tenor Keith Ikaia-Purdy, and bass Leon Williams. (Do you remember that Leon sang the part of Pilate in our Bach St. John Passion performance?)

[While I was looking for Leon’s picture in my vast collection of 30,000+ photos, I also came across this picture of the four people in the St. John Passion performances who are graduates of Westminster Choir College: myself, Leon Williams, Susan McCreary (Duprey) and David Newman.]

Four Westminster Choir College alumni: myself, Leon Williams, Susan McCreary Duprey and David Newman.

Four Westminster Choir College alumni in the St. John Passion performances: myself, Leon Williams, Susan McCreary Duprey and David Newman (Photo taken in March 2004).

Okay! Back to Verdi. Something jumped out at me while I was reading the program notes:

“Verdi first learned music from the village organist, Petro Baistrocchi, whose job he inherited as a teenager when Biastrocchi died.”

Verdi the Organist CD by Liuwe Tamminga

Verdi the Organist CD by Liuwe Tamminga

Hey, I didn’t know that Verdi was an organist! In fact, just now I discovered that organist Liuwe Tamminga has a CD called “Verdi the Organist.” The recording notes that “Verdi came to music through the organ; that experience stayed with him throughout his life. All the works on this CD have been intended and adapted by Liuwe Tamminga for specific timbres of the instruments played by Guiseppe Verdi, and to evoke a particular aspects of his sound world. Mr. Tamminga plays on the organs of Roncole Verdi (Bu, Parma), Sallceto di Cadeo and Trevozzo de Nibbiano (Piacenza). Liuwe Tamminga performs all over Europe, the U.S.A., and Japan.”

Oahu Choral Society's next concert

Oahu Choral Society’s next concert. Click to enlarge.

Imagine my surprise when I saw a postcard of the next Oahu Choral Society concert inserted in the program. See a familiar name to the left?

Oh, it’s not a surprise that I’m playing—it’s just that my name appeared at all, since I am unaware that I’m playing any solos and deserving of “star billing!”


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Orgelkids coming to Hawaii!

The Rudolf von Beckerath organ (1975)

No! This is not a piano!

A few years ago, Karl Bachman of the Hawaii Chapter American Guild of Organists took visiting organist Nathan Laube to dinner in a local Honolulu restaurant. When the waiter asked why he was here, Nathan answered that he was here to play a concert on the pipe organ. You got it, the waiter had no clue what a pipe organ is.

And I don’t how many people have walked into the nave of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu and said to me, “That’s a big piano!” (No, that’s a pipe organ!)

All of which means that our work is cut out for us to educate people on what our instrument is, not to mention to getting more people to study the organ. So, drum roll, please!

I am so excited to announce that Orgelkids is coming to Hawaii!

What is Orgelkids, you may ask? I know that “Orgel” is the German word for “organ.” Shouldn’t that be, “What are Orgelkids?” Actually not.

Orgelkids is an educational pipe organ curriculum and kit dreamed up by Dutch organist Lydia Vroegindeweij. Lydia enlisted the help of organ builder Wim Janssen to build the first Orgelkids kit. With Orgelkids, young children are empowered to assemble a working two rank, 2-octave pipe organ in under an hour. Orgelkids can be deployed to schools, music festivals, Maker Faires, museums, bringing the King of Instruments to children.

A couple of years ago, I watched the following video (in Dutch with English titles)

And my first thought was, we need an Orgelkids kit here in Hawaii! With the support of the Hawaii Chapter American Guild of Organists, the Executive Board signed a contract to purchase a kit. The cost is $6,000 plus shipping and the cost of a shipping storage crate. Just today, we received an email from Erin Scheessele, the Executive Director of Orgelkids USA, who sent us the first picture of the Hawaii instrument! It is being built by Terry Lambert and Christo Fralick, located in Eugene, OR. They both worked many years with John Brombaugh as members of his organbuilding firm. Chris was John’s workshop foreman for over 12 years.

Orgelkids kit bound for Hawaii!

Orgelkids kit bound for Hawaii!

We hope to get donations and grants to help us take this kit all over the major Hawaiian islands, to introduce more children to the wonderful world of the pipe organ—just like the kids in this video.

As stated on the Orgelkids USA website:


  • is designed to capture interest at a younger age than AGO’s existing programs. Orgelkids can be used with kindergarten groups on up.
  • lowers the threshold for participation: Orgelkids has no requirements for its audience beyond curiosity.
  • is mobile. It comes to the audience rather than vice versa. Orgelkids can be shared at Maker Faires, music festivals, science and engineering festivals, and museums.
  • can integrate with the existing programs
  • is hands-on and appeals to both musicians and builders. Orgelkids captures the zeitgeist of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), DIY (Do It Yourself) and Maker movements.

Stay tuned—we’ll let you know when our Orgelkids arrives!

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St. Matthew Passion: Part Two

[Yesterday I started to share Carl Crosier’s 2008 article from Cross Accent, the journal of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, “A Personal Journey to the Bach Passions.” Here’s the second part.]

“Although the St. Matthew Passion had been presented several times before in Honolulu, it had only been sung in English, in an adapted form, and always severely cut. So it was my goal to present this masterwork complete and in a historically informed way, sung in a church and not a concert hall.

“In the summer of 1999, I had the great opportunity to attend a ten-day in depth study of the Bach St. Matthew Passion, led by Dennis Keene, which culminated in two performances (complete and in German), one at Kent School Chapel (Connecticut) and the other at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center. I sang alto (countertenor) in Choir II. [Editor’s note: Please check out my post about the adventure Carl had when I mistakenly booked a hotel for him many miles away from the venue and it took an awfully expensive cab ride to get to the hotel!] 

Joseph Z. Pettit

Joseph Z. Pettit

“It was also our very good fortune to have tenor Joseph Z. Pettit living in Honolulu at the time all of this was being formulated. Not only had he spent several years in Amsterdam studying with renowned early music baritone Max van Egmond, but while there had also toured and recorded the St. Matthew Passion with Gustav Leonhardt and La Petite Bande (a highly recommended recording using forces similar to those of Bach’s time). Not only was he a superb Evangelist, but also served as our accompanist and language coach as we prepared this daunting work.

“The choirs began preparations immediately after Christmas. I made the decision to use a professional choir of fourteen singers for Choir II as they would be eighty feet away from me during the performances, and I needed to rely on their ability to follow what they “saw” from the conductor and not what they “heard” in the room. Choir I was made up of thirty singers which included all of the soloists of Choir I and those singing the minor characters (except for the two false witnesses in Choir II).

Jennifer Lane

Jennifer Lane

“For the soloists, I tried to use the very best of our local artists. And only after exhausting that list did I engage professional early music singers: Philip Cutlip (Jesus), Jennifer Lane (alto I), Mary Phillips (alto II), Vernon Nicodemus (Bass II), and John Dornenburg (viola da gamba).

“The orchestral musicians were the professional players of the Honolulu Symphony. I would be asking them to play very differently than they do normally in the concert hall. However, after working with concertmasters of both Orchestras I and II, we meticulously marked the parts with the desired bowings, articulations and discussed at length the performance style.

“Considerable fundraising went on and “awareness” was built up not only by newspaper and media publicity, but also by a five week “in depth” study course that I conducted during which we reviewed every note of the Bach St. Matthew Passion in detail.

“The whole parish got behind this celebration. Nearly every parishioner was involved in some way. The church interior was completely painted, the “Swallow’s Nest Gallery” was prepared, a new lighting system was installed, the modular choir risers expanded, the central air conditioning system replaced, and a 3-stop Beckerath continuo organ was shipped for free from New York, courtesy of United Airlines.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 31, 2000

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 31, 2000

“For these performances, we decided to configure the church to resemble St. Thomas, Leipzig—that is, with collegiate style seating (facing each other) in the central nave and a traditional orientation toward the crucifixion window for the rest of the church. We were able to seat 300 people in the nave (plus) the choirs and orchestras on either end with the children’s choir seated in the gallery above the assembly corresponding to the historical “Swallow’s Nest Gallery.” Both evenings were completely sold out.

“I won’t relate in this article the many challenges that unfolded during the course of the dress rehearsals and even up to the opening performances. [Editor’s note: You can read about some of the mishaps in my post here. In addition, on the night of the performance, one of the violinists came in jeans, thinking it was a rehearsal, and had to go home to change, not returning until the second half. The concertmaster of Orchestra II thought the performance started at 7:30, not 7:00, and was not present for tuning or the opening chorus!) However, when I raised the baton to begin “Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mit klagen” at the opening night performance, a great calm swept over me, completely removing any anxiety and frustration I had been experiencing up until minutes before. There was a hushed intensity in the church, as the drama of the passion story unfolded as told through Bach’s glorious music. You could have heard a pin drop. It was incredible to hear everyone turning the pages of the libretto (in unison). People were totally captivated.

“To this day I continue to encounter people who were present for those performances expressing their deep gratitude for the Lutheran Church of Honolulu in providing one of the most memorable and profound experiences of their lives. Yes, the inspired music of Bach still touches listeners today, nearly three centuries after it was written.”

Photo in the Honolulu Advertiser, March 26, 2000.

Photo in the Honolulu Advertiser, March 26, 2000. (Click to enlarge)

Greg Shepherd's review in the Honolulu Advertiser, April 2, 2000

Greg Shepherd’s review in the Honolulu Advertiser, April 2, 2000

Posted in Carl Crosier, Honolulu Symphony musicians, J. S. Bach, Katherine Crosier | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

St. Matthew Passion: a personal journey

Mark Boyle's collection of St. Matthew Passion recordings.

Mark Boyle’s collection of St. Matthew Passion recordings.

A couple of things converged in my universe today. The first is that former LCH chorister Mark Boyle shared on Facebook that he was asked to talk about Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. As he says, he is slightly obsessed with it—he owns 48 different recordings of the work, plus his car’s license plate reads BWV 244, the catalog number!

The second thing that happened is that tomorrow I am giving a “tour” of my condo to association board members and I thought I’d better straighten up the bookshelf in the guest room. Along the way of sorting and purging, I came across an article in Cross Accent, the journal of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, written by Carl Crosier in 2008, titled “A Personal Journey to the Bach Passions.” It’s quite long, but it documents the inspiration behind the performance. I will share the article with you in several segments, beginning with this post.

Carl and Kathy at the J. S. Bach statue in Leipzig

Carl and Kathy at the J. S. Bach statue in Leipzig

A Personal Journey to the Bach Passions
Carl Crosier

“The two surviving Passions by Johann Sebastian Bach are still considered by most musicians, theologians, and musicologists to be the pinnacles of the oratorio in western music. Today these masterworks are still performed on a regular basis throughout the world.

“I consider the presentations both the St. Matthew Passion and the St. John Passion to be the most profound experiences of my long ministry at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. Although we have performed quite regularly a great many cantatas, the motets, and both versions of the Magnificat, I was extremely intimidated by the thought of presenting the passions.

“When one turns fifty years of age (at least this one), you often take stock of your life and career. I came to the realization that if I ever wanted to present these works, I had better get to it before I was too infirm to be able to manage them.

“As always, I looked for the right opportunity to present them on the basis of the resources available. In both situations, those resources converged to enable the performances of these masterworks. I will relate those stories in the passages below.

The Saint Matthew Passion
“I decided to start with the “Big One.” Talk about “not seeing the forest for the trees,” I was really totally naive as to what lay before me.

“My real personal journey with the St. Matthew Passion began in 1982 as my wife Kathy experienced a difficult pregnancy with our son, Stephen, and ended up in the hospital several times. After visiting at the hospital, I would return home and play the then newly-released recording by Nikolaus Harnoncourt/Gustav Leonhardt of this work, which was a revelation to me for its performance on historic instruments and with a boys choir similar to one from Bach’s time. Listening to that recording (much of which I still greatly admire), and to the constant optimism as expressed particularly in the benevolent music of the Jesus recitatives, served as a source of great comfort and solace to me then.

“In the ensuing years, I continued to collect many historically informed recordings of both Passions and also had an opportunity to visit Leipzig in 1997. I was quite struck by the architecture of the building and the clarity of sound in the room. We were fortunate to hear the Thomaner sing a motet service at which they offered Lobe den Herren, BWV 226 (Motet VI). I tried to imagine what the Passions would have sounded like in that church.

“The great challenge of the Matthäus Passion is not only its length and complexity, but the fact that it was written for two choirs, two sets of soloists, two orchestras and two organs. Bach is meticulous in the score as to how all of this is to be divided. In St. Thomas, Leipzig, the main choir and orchestra were located in the rear gallery and the second choir in the “Swallow’s Nest Gallery” spanning the transepts at the front crossing.

“So as I stood in St. Thomas, I realized that this double choir Passion was possible because of the unique architecture of the church and also because the distance was not that great. The seed was planted!

“So shortly after we returned from that visit to Leipzig, I began to look for the opportunity to present the Matthew Passion. There were some very obvious things on the horizon in the year 2000—the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, the 100th anniversary of the Honolulu Symphony, and most importantly, the 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach.

“So I presented the idea to the church and they completely endorsed it as a wonderful way to mark the centennial anniversary. I went to the management of the Honolulu Symphony and they were equally excited about the project. Those two key endorsements were really only the “tip of the iceberg.”

St. Matthew Passion, March 31, April 1, 2000

St. Matthew Passion, March 31, April 1, 2000

Hard to believe it was seventeen years ago!

I’ll print more of Carl’s article tomorrow.


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Don’t look!

Out of the words I say to beginning organ students, I think the words that I use the most often are “Don’t look! Don’t look at your feet! You need to find the pedals without looking!” It’s such a temptation to look down, especially when there is such a bright light on the pedalboard as there is at the Beckerath organ at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu.

In the last few years, though, I have noticed another habit of beginners which I mention to them, and that is the practice of looking at the music, then looking immediately down at their hands on the keyboard. I call it the “Bobble Head Doll” syndrome in which students’ heads are constantly moving up and down between the score and the keyboard.

Why? Because organ music is frequently within a narrow range (notes within the grand staff —yes, “I don’t read leger lines!”), I tell them that there is no need to look at your hands. This is unlike piano music, where your hands are constantly jumping all over the keyboard which is a lot larger and wider (The piano keyboard has 88 keys, vs. 61 or less for the organ keyboard.) The act of looking up and down between the music and the keyboard is a good way to “get lost” in the music. As in reading words, in music you have to keep your eyes moving ahead, moving forward.

I even sometimes use a large piece of paper and hold it underneath a student’s chin so they can’t see the pedals or the keyboard when they’re playing. Oh, I know, I’m a meanie!

Organists are also constantly having to sightread, unlike many other musicians, because of the sheer volume of literature that must be learned, the constant weekly deadline of hymns, anthem accompaniments and organ voluntary literature that must be consumed. “Like grinding out so many sausages every week” is a phrase my college theory professor used to say.

I found a fascinating article on the whole business of eye movement on Wikipedia, where you can read

“Eye movement in music reading is an extremely complex phenomenon that involves a number of unresolved issues in psychology, and which requires intricate experimental conditions to produce meaningful data. Despite some 30 studies in this area over the past 70 years, little is known about the underlying patterns of eye movement in music reading.”

So you can see why I found the following video so interesting— it shows the difference of eyetracking between students and professionals—the experienced musicians focus more on looking at the score in addition to faster, quicker motions in looking at the keyboard—especially when sightreading.

In the Wikipedia article, the correlation to eye tracking and sight reading makes me want to look for further studies:

“(A) critical difference between reading music and reading language is the role of skill. Most people become reasonably efficient at language reading by adulthood, even though almost all language reading is sight reading. By contrast, some musicians regard themselves as poor sight readers of music even after years of study. Thus, the improvement of music sight reading and the differences between skilled and unskilled readers have always been of prime importance to research into eye movement in music reading, whereas research into eye movement in language reading has been more concerned with the development of a unified psychological model of the reading process. It is therefore unsurprising that most research into eye movement in music reading has aimed to compare the eye movement patterns of the skilled and the unskilled.”

Remember, keep your eyes GLUED to the music!

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Raw musical talent

Music in the brain

Raw musical talent—playing by ear

Fifteen years ago, I was absolutely blown away by a ten-year-old boy who had taught himself how to play the organ—he had downloaded Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” from the Internet, and played the pedals with both feet. All that before he had had any formal organ lessons! I discovered he had an incredible ear for music—unusual perhaps because no one else in his family was musical. That, of course, was Joey Fala, who is on the cusp of graduating from Yale University with a master’s degree in organ, and who gave the Hawaii Chapter of the American Guild of Organists an absolutely stunning concert a couple of weeks ago.

Today, I swear was déjà vu, because I met a 9-year-old boy who has been playing the organ for six years already, and has only had a year of piano lessons. Everything else he has done strictly on his own. He is in fact already the organist of his church and can play better than any of the parishioners. Oh, we have a number of technical things to fix, but I am still in awe of his raw talent and how he was able to accomplish so much, based solely on his fantastic ear.

All of which tells me that there are two basic types of musicians: those who read music, and those who play “by ear” —would you believe that there is a Wikipedia article on this?

Playing by ear” is a term describing the ability of an instrumental musician to reproduce a piece of music they have heard, without having observed another musician play it or having seen the sheet music notation.[1] It is the most common way to learn to play a musical instrument in cultures and musical that do not use musical notation, such as by early Blues guitarists and pianists, Romani fiddlers and folk music guitarists. Outside of the Suzuki method, playing by ear is less common in Western Classical music. In this musical tradition, instrumentalists learn new pieces by reading the music notation. Classical students do study how to notate music by ear during “ear training” courses that are a standard part of conservatory or college music programs and by the use of Solfège.

Learning music by ear is done by repeatedly listening to other musicians, either their live shows or sound recordings of their songs, and then attempting to recreate what one hears. This is how people learn music in any musical tradition in which there is no complete musical notation.

Something I discovered was the little boy I met today has only the  briefest knowledge of reading music — up to this point he has done everything “by ear.” Yes, in spite of the fact that he played a Handel concerto from memory, and it looked like he was “reading” music out of the hymnbook, in reality he was playing by ear because when I asked him to sightread a single musical line with only four notes in it, he couldn’t do it. It will be my goal to teach him how to read music, and after we accomplish this, there’s no limit to what he can do.


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Three Decembers

Fredericka von Stade, mezzo-soprano

Fredericka von Stade, mezzo-soprano

I had already purchased my ticket to the Hawaii Opera Theatre’s production of “Three Decembers,” starring the great Frederica Von Stade, and was looking forward to being able to walk to the Hawaii Theatre (which is only two blocks from my condo), when I read Steven Mark’s review in today’s newspaper. It was an exceptional review, one in which I felt Steven was talking directly to me, and what I particularly remembered was his closing, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a production of such caliber, imbued with such depth. Go see it.”

If you go to the composer, Jake Heggie’s homepage, you will read:

Three Decembers is a 90-minute opera in one act by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, based on Terrence McNally’s original script Some Christmas Letters. The opera is composed for three singers (soprano, mezzo-soprano and baritone) with 11 instrumentalists: oboe/English Horn, clarinet/bass clarinet, sax/flute, 2 pianos, percussion, 3 violins, 1 cello, 1 bass. Three Decembers was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera and co-commissioned by the San Francisco Opera in association with Cal Performances at UC Berkeley.

The first performance was Feb 29, 2008 in the Cullen Theater at the Wortham Center in Houston. The opera tells the story of a famous stage actress – Madeline Mitchell (mezzo-soprano) – and her two adult children: Beatrice (soprano) and Charlie (baritone). The drama takes place over three decades of the AIDS crisis (1986, 1996 and 2006), each section recalling the events of a December as the characters struggle to connect when family secrets are revealed.

The Hawaii Opera Theatre’s production was the first time the three singers, Fredericka Von Stade, Keith Phares and Kristin Clayton, reunited after the premiere nine years ago.

Here is Steven Mark’s review:

Steven Mark's review of "Three Decembers"

Steven Mark’s review of “Three Decembers” (click to enlarge)

[You may remember that it is the same Steven Mark who wrote Carl Crosier’s obituary.]

Indeed, I was so caught up in the drama of the aging diva and her troubled children, that I forgot I was at the opera. It’s like when you watch a heartbreaking movie and find yourself weeping. Why? Because of events that have happened to you and your empathy with the characters on the screen or stage. When Maddie (the mother) dies at the end, I couldn’t help shedding a tear or two. It immediately took me back to the day I found my husband, Carl, his speech slurred, paralyzed and unable to move, which turned out to be the last day before he died. “I’m so sorry,” he kept saying to me, over and over again.

Isn’t that the power of a great performance, to move us so deeply, that it takes us on a journey, to another place, and somehow we are changed afterwards?

That’s what happened to me tonight at the opera.

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Organist on the radio!

Gene Schiller, Hawaii Public Radio

Gene Schiller, Hawaii Public Radio

It’s been three days since Joey Fala’s triumphant concert last Sunday, and people are still commenting and raving about his performance to me.

Last Friday, Karl Bachman, the Dean of the local Hawaii Chapter of the American Guild of Organists,  arranged for Joey to be interviewed by Gene Schiller of Hawaii Public Radio.

Joey certainly kept his cool, in spite of being asked some very challenging questions!

Click this link to go to the Hawaii Public Radio website and hear the interview.

As you will see, they used the photo of Joey taken seven years ago at the Central Union console just before his senior recital in high school.

Joey at Central Union, seven years ago.

Joey at Central Union, seven years ago.

Today I had a lesson with Steven Severin, organist of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, who turned pages for Joey in Sunday’s concert. Being up close, he marveled at the large size of Joey’s hands, which give him a great advantage in playing the organ, especially in playing the works of Franck, which have sometime call for stretches of a tenth (an octave and a third).

I then pulled out a picture of Joey taken shortly after he finished sixth grade. Even then, you can see that he had wonderfully long fingers at a young age! What was also fun was that this weekend, in cleaning out a box of miscellaneous papers, I found the Midsummer Night’s Organ Concert program dated Sunday, July 18, 2004, Joey’s first public concert appearance!

Here’s Joey’s bio from that time: Joey began piano at age five with Toni Leong and has continued piano study with Jill Fong since he was six. He has been an organ student of Katherine Crosier since May 2003 and a recipient of an AGO Scholarship in 2003 and again in 2004. Joey just completed the sixth grade at Iolani School and looks forward to seventh grade in the Fall.

Joey and myself, 2004

Joey and myself, 2004. 

Look at the length of his fingers, compared to mine—and this was in the sixth grade! No wonder he’s such a marvel at the organ.

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