Saturday, July 27, 2013

What Teachers Live For (with inadequate, heartfelt thanks to Ethan Sperry)

I don't have sufficient words to express my gratitude for this; they fail utterly.


Hi Dr. Dehning,
First of all, I so wish I could have been at the USC Reunion. I'm so glad it was such a huge success and I hope that means it leads to others. With 2 small kids and your reunion falling right before my own choir's tour, another weekend away from the family wasn't in the cards this time.

So I just got back from the best musical experience of my life so far - actually one of the best experiences of any sort I've ever had. I took the Portland State Chamber Choir on tour to Italy for 12 days at the end of which we competed in the Seghizzi Competition with choirs from 21 different countries. You probably saw this on Facebbok, but somehow, we not only won the entire competition (which no American choir has ever done in the 52 years this competition has been running), but we won 14 other awards as well.
This is in large part thanks to you. Many choirs at the competition sang much harder repertoire than we did. And I mean MUCH harder repertoire. They also had a lot more flash to what they were doing. We sang a much wider diversity of repertoire, and we sang it with real understanding and communication. Much of the repertoire we sang I learned from you (this is true of almost every concert I do by the way). I not only learned about it, but I learned how to understand it and bring it to life.
In our 20th Century set we sang Pizzetti's Piena Sorgeva la Luna
In our 19th Century set we sang Verdi's Pater Noster (and I think this piece won us the competition)
In our Spirituals set we sang Precious Lord (which is still my favorite arrangement of any spiritual)
In our Folk Music set we sang Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal (which we sang on my first day in Chamber Choir with you in 1996)
THANK YOU for standing up for the greatness our best choral literature
THANK YOU for teaching me why it is great and teaching me how to teach others this as well
THANK YOU for being a relentless advocate for beauty in the world

I was going to end this letter there, but I'm going to try and say something more substantial. Not sure if it will work. I would be writing this letter even if we had come in last place in the competition. The choir made HUGE breakthroughs on how to sing together at the beginning of the tour well before the competition. This (as you know) often happens on tour and is its own reward, and I think we all enjoyed our pre-competition concerts as much if not more than competing.

The effects of the way we were singing were profound on the singers and on me. We all began treating each other differently. I know that every person on that tour (36 of us) truly loves everyone else we shared that experience with. There was a universal sense of acceptance and a willingness to be vulnerable that changed us all as musicians and people. The amount of pure joy we shared with each other and will continue to share with each other and anyone else we come into contact with is immense and it makes the world a better place. I wanted to share this with you if I could, because I think you are one of the few people I know who would actually understand what I'm talking about.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Reuniting in Manhattan Beach

I have never written anything here about my professional engagements since retirement and am not sure why.  Maybe because I didn't set this blog up until retirement; maybe because I wanted this to be personal not professional.  If they wanted professional they could go to my website. As if anyone cared, anyway.  I gotta admit that I am still embarrassed by the egoism blogs represent and in many ways I still don't know what purpose they might serve.  Then someone tells me to 'blog more,' confusing the hell out of me.

So this one is professional, except I didn't get paid to do this one.  First the food, my goodness: Rob Istad's self-sponsored reception on Thursday night at the hotel after the first rehearsal (booze included!); a fantastic group meal of Greek food on Saturday night after the last rehearsal at Petros restaurant (including margaritas and sangria!); a lineup of fish tacos with all the trimmings after the performance organized by Karen (cash bar, booze not included, but this Silverback Ape didn't have to pay for a single drink!).  Not to mention the many meetings at Grunions bar at all hours; this is a funky neighborhood joint a half block away from the hotel where everyone seemed to know everyone else--the best kind of bar, in other words.

Now imagine 24 singers, one accompanist, one conductor working for 11 hours on Rheinberger Mass for Double Chorus (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo), Martin Mass for Double Chorus (Kyrie, Credo), a Gabrieli double chorus madrigal, Lauridsen Mid-Winter Songs I and IV, Victoria Vere languores nostros, Holst Nunc dimittis, and two fine Trashy pieces stuck into the middle of the program. Then a performance to a big crowd packed into that little Lutheran church that simply didn't know when to quit applauding once they started. And they kept starting. 

I'm talking, of course, about last weekend's USC Chamber Choir Reunion (Dehning Years) that was an event for the ages, at least my ages.  Karen Schrock Simring was the inspiration and ringleader who simply wouldn't take no for an answer; Rob was the on-site organizer who got the church for free, sent copies of my scores to all twenty five people, and took charge of all logistical matters for all four days.  The rehearsals were a triumph: every suggestion I made was accepted and performed immediately.  That's never happened before, really.  And the performance was the best rehearsal to the third power: every move I made was immediately and correctly deciphered.  And the audience bought every second of it.

You'd think that would be enough and the end of the story.  But it ain't. I expected they would love seeing their colleagues and friends again and rehearsing fine music together.  And they did. What I didn't expect was that they wanted to rehearse great music with me, their former conductor and teacher, in front of them; that's the main reason they were there.  That's simple professional respect, though.  But the many expressions of love--there is no other word--of me as a person were utterly unexpected and more gratifying than it is possible to relate here or anywhere else. 

They love me.  Holy cow.

I cannot relate how wonderful that makes me feel. I lack the vocabulary.