Tuesday, May 10, 2011


The Andes from the window of my room in Merida, June 2010.
Well, the furor of last week seems to have died down, and on the whole I'm grateful. I wasn't prepared for the reaction to my posts about the Superintendent of the Higley Schools--most of all, I wasn't prepared for the level of criticism that came to me.  I guess I didn't reckon with how much some people dislike it when you call attention to something that you think is wrong.  Really, in our culture, we're supposed to look the other way when something untoward is going on.

The thing is, I'm a teacher.  I'm also a conductor.  Part of our job is to point out what's wrong, what could be improved, what's great--and then find a way to make it better.  Generally, that's what I try to do.  If I see litter in the park, I pick it up.  If I see something happening that shouldn't be happening, I try to correct it if it's in my power to do so.  I guess it's in my DNA.  That's all that I was doing here, but people assumed a whole host of ulterior motives--to say nothing of making some pretty remarkable assumptions about my character.

But I'm on to my next projects--my various summer assignments.  First, I go to Venezuela to do some teaching and conducting.  Then I go to Maine for a bunch of stuff:  two big lectures, a reading of Elijah, a recital, and then a huge production of Haydn's The Creation.  I'm looking forward to all of it!  (And burglars, please note:  we have a big dog and house sitters.  This is not your chance to come raid the place.)

I'm spending the next few days getting ready for the Venezuela trip.  I will probably post a few things from there as the spirit moves (and it generally does:  Venezuela is gorgeous and fascinating and full of contradictions).  I've been studying hard, because I'm conducting a whole program of big pieces I've never done before.

So here's what happened:  the concert was supposed to be the Brahms Haydn Variations and the Brahms Requiem.  The Requiem (one of my desert-island pieces) I can practically do in my sleep; only the Haydn Variations were new--so that was very manageable.  But then they had an outbreak of swine flu in Merida--the town where I'm going--and everything was shut down for three weeks.  The choir couldn't rehearse, and they didn't think they could be ready in time.

So we changed the program.  Still the Haydn Variations, but now instead of the Requiem, Bach's "Jauchzet Gott in allem Landen," a big virtuoso cantata for soprano, trumpet, and orchestra, and Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony.  I've never conducted any of this music before.  The Bach isn't hard to conduct--it's a much bigger challenge for the singer and trumpet player--but I still have to know how it goes.  The Mendelssohn, on the other hand, is a huge, complex work that I don't think I'd even heard until they asked me about a month ago to conduct it.  I've been studying it nearly day and night since.  This is the kind of music that really requires you to have a point of view--otherwise, it will be pedestrian.  (If you know where it's headed and can take it there, it's sublime.)  But it's not so easy to get a point of view fast--it has to be in your sinews, and that takes time.  In this case, what I lacked in time I have tried to make up for with intensity.

Fingers crossed.  My previous trips to Venezuela have been wonderful--I might almost say life-changing--so I suspect this will be no different.  I am continually amazed by the places that music takes me.  Stay tuned (if you're interested), because I'll gladly share the experience here.

Here I am conducting the state orchestra and youth chorus in Handel's "Zadok, the priest" in the Aula Magna, Merida, June 2010.

1 comment:

  1. I like your comments about how it's in your nature to point out what's wrong as both a teacher and a conductor. Going off of that I think it's hard for people to take criticism. Sometimes it's hard for me too, but I think I've gotten better at it (being a singer will do that to you). It's important to remember that when people point out what's wrong they're trying to help and eventually make things better. Sure, there are people out there that just like to point out the bad and leave it at that, but you are no one of those people. You point out what needs to change so that it can change, and if people are able to realize that and not just focus on the fact that they're not perfect they might have a shot at getting better. It's a tough lesson to learn and I'm definitely not all the way there, but knowing is half the battle.