Sunday, November 16, 2014

Achieved is the Glorious Work

Last night, the Wheaton College Artist Series presented Haydn's THE CREATION with John Nelson, conductor.

It was easily the most complex production of my young career. According to my boss, Tony Payne, Creation at Wheaton was also the most complex production of his over three decades at Wheaton. After well over half a year of coordinating, discussing, organizing, and re-organizing the details of all that was involved in all the activity leading up to and surrounding last night's concert, I think it is safe to assume that all of my colleagues and I, not to mention all the Wheaton students who were involved, are now breathing a collective sigh of relief. I was actually in a bit of a daze at church this morning, and not just because of the lack of sleep. After months of continuously thinking about this project, with all the details and their multilayered connections, spinning in my head, I woke up this morning with the very liberating feeling of no longer needing to mentally hold it all.

This is not a confession that I almost had a break down or anything like that. Sure, there were moments when I was, as I put it to a friend yesterday, "professionally annoyed." And of course I know I did not do everything perfectly; I certainly hope to learn much from this experience to apply to my future work. But, truthfully, I am also breathing a sigh of satisfaction, and I think that is true for the others as well.

There are so many things I could say about the Creation at Wheaton project. Hearing from music students about the thrill of rehearsals with John Nelson. Seeing a group of high school students engaged in their special workshop. Witnessing the fine work of my student staff, aptly executing every task I assigned to them (I must pause here at say thank you to Matthew James, Anna Krcek, Cathrine Peistrup, and Sameah Villaca). I was also, at the risk of sounding conceited, very gratified to see people use the hashtag #WheatonCreation that I created for the whole project back in February. Needless to say, I have yet to fully process everything (and being still short on sleep as I write this, I will likely not finish doing so today.)

So I will simply offer a few reflections on last night. First, we had a tremendous audience, both in scope as well as in style. Moments like that, when Edman Chapel is alive with energy and excitement, are always special, and last night took it to a new level. Everyone was enjoying the evening.

Second, we had a tremendous group of musicians. Wheaton College is indeed blessed to have such quality student music ensembles. They performed with such passion last night, no doubt driven by the fact that the piece they were performing is a part of their faith. I was in the backstage corridor with the ensemble directors when the students all came back at the conclusion of the performance, and it was so special to see 260 very happy musicians walk past us.

And third, I had the unique experience of having one of my best friends from my days at Wheaton College, my senior year roommate Nathaniel Olson, as one of the featured guest professional soloists!

All told, an experience I will not forget anytime soon. I am so grateful to have been part of it.

And now a couple pictures from last night...

My senior year roommate and one of my best friends from Wheaton, Nathaniel Olson, sang the role of Adam in THE CREATION.

Maestro John Nelson, flanked by the soloists and backed by the Wheaton College choirs and orchestra, greets the audience to begin the concert.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Classical Music Concerts

I read a great piece by Swiss conductor Baldur Brönnimann, "10 Things That We Should Change in Classical Music Concerts." Some of his points I agree with completely, and with others I have reservations. Please read his list (it will not take long) before continuing to read here.

Welcome back!

And now, my responses.

1. The audience should feel free to applaud between movements.

Maybe. Perhaps after the first movement of a concerto, if there was a cadenza involved. Perhaps after each item in a song cycle or series of dances. It can show that the audience is following and affirms the conductor's interpretation of the overall piece as it progresses through the movements. But I think it would be difficult to derive a new standard here. Applaud only after loud, fast movements? Temper your applause to up to fifty percent of what you would give at the very end? What if people start to applaud just as the conductor preps the downbeat to the final movement? I certainly think there's room for a shift from a universal frown, but where to redraw the line is a challenge.

2. Orchestras should tune backstage.

Should they also refrain from meandering out to the stage fifteen or twenty minutes before curtain and quietly (or maybe not so quietly) playing this or that passage from the evening's program? To me, the entrance of the conductor is what signals the true start of the concert; the tuning does not affect my hearing of the actual pieces of music.

3. We should be able to use mobile phones.

People are doing it anyway. Is an orchestra really going to lose money because a few quick photos, even from the new iPhone 6, or even some 15-second Instagram recordings are circulating on the Internet? I would even say orchestras should create hashtags for each program in their season and ask people to tag their posts from the concert accordingly! Appropriate etiquette must be observed, of course: silent mode, and lowest brightness, so as not to disturb people who, in their own discretion, wish to focus solely on the music and musicians, and react later.

4. Programs should be less predictable.

This idea has merit. While it is true that the repertoire is often the selling point, a well-chosen theme, with the exact pieces announced from the stage, can sell well also. Not to mention headliner soloists! Seriously, does it really matter what Yo-Yo Ma is going to play? Yo-You Ma is going to play!

5. You should be able to take your drinks inside the hall.

I will not embarrass her, but I was once at a concert with a friend and no one prevented her from bringing her slushee into the hall after intermission. There was an audible slurp during a quiet moment of a Dvorak Symphony.

As long as straws are not involved, I have exactly zero problem with folks having their coffee or tea or beer or cocktails in the hall. No aluminum cans, though. Very tacky.

6. The artists should engage with the audience.

Absolutely yes. I would love it if conductors would say a few words about how they arrived at the interpretation they are about to present. Do keep it short, though. And not for every piece on the program. And yes to mingling with concertgoers after the concert. Probably not backstage, where stagehands will be at work and dressing rooms will be train stations, but why not in the main lobby?

7. Orchestras shouldn't play in tail suits.

Here I must hold out as a traditionalist. Uniforms are important. I really have no idea what purpose the tall white hat serves in a kitchen, but it is part of the package.

8. Concerts should be more family-friendly.

Yes and no. I firmly believe that every professional performing arts organization should devote part of its time, energy, and resources to programming suitable for children. But on the other hand, some works of art are hard to understand, and take more attention, patience, and critical thinking. Those works are part of the canon, and just because children are unable to understand them, adults should still be able to engage without the children around.

9. Concert halls should use more cutting-edge technology.

There is merit in this idea. Depending on the configuration of the hall, I have no inherent problem with image magnification (though sometimes seeing the full breadth of the orchestra from the highest balcony, with each bow moving in unison, is very much worth being far away). Downloadable content, yes. Digital acoustic enhancements, sure. As long as it all supports the music, rather than creating something that is more artificial than not.

10. Every program should contain a contemporary piece.

Maybe. As long as the inclusion is for the sake of presenting quality music, not for the sake of presenting a contemporary piece. Present the best music from across the ages, rather than meeting quotas. 

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What do you think about all those ideas?

Brönnimann himself responded to some of the comments on his original post; his responsive thoughts are worth reading as well.

Friday, October 10, 2014

On Being Present

Yesterday was my twenty-sixth birthday. I had dinner with two friends, and one of them asked me what my goal was for my year of being twenty-six. I thought for a moment and responded, “I want to be more present.”

It seems simple, conceptually, but as most of us alive today know, it is very difficult, practically. I am no exception – I thrive on thinking ahead and planning and all of that. I think as human beings we are naturally drawn to what is ahead of us.

If that tendency manifests itself as hope, then I think we are on solid ground. But if that tendency manifests itself as a way of avoiding the current reality, and not engaging with the needs of the current time and place, then we may be missing the mark.

For example, Advent is approaching – it will be here in seven weeks. Advent is the season that I define as the season of hope. As we in the Christian church reflect on the hope of Israel for its promised Messiah, so we on this side of the Resurrection hope for the promised return of our King. I think Advent has always been my favorite liturgical season precisely because it resonates with my tendency to be forward-thinking, always making a plan and charting out the next steps.

I of course want to be hopeful for things large-scale and small-scale, from the things I have to accomplish on my next day at work, to my relationships with other people, to the long-term flourishing of the institutions I care about, and to my personal growth as a follower of Jesus.

I can overdo it, however – I speak from experience. If I have something I am eagerly anticipating on my calendar, whether in my professional life or my social life, it is sometimes difficult to focus on the mundane of the day to day.

But that “mundane” of the day to day is where Christ calls me to be. Not every day is going to be opening night or Christmas morning or wedding day or get-away day or launch day. But every day is a day when I can see the people around me – my family, my friends, my colleagues, and even the myriad of people I encounter for the merest sliver of time – and invest the mind, body, heart, and soul that God has given me to meet their needs. Every day is a day when I can, to borrow from the prophet Micah, do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with my God. Every day is a day when I can, to borrow from the prophet Jeremiah, seek the welfare of the city where the Lord has sent me into exile. Every day is a day when I can sit at the feet of Jesus, like Mary, and learn how to follow him more closely. Every day is a day when I can proclaim that the Kingdom of God is here – here in the every day, here in the present moment.

There is work – Kingdom work – to be done today, and I want to spend this year of being twenty-six not missing a moment!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

At the Close of Summer

Well here we are - Labor Day Weekend. Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back on the menu at Starbucks. Fall is upon us, and the summer is drawing to an end. 

I have decided that this was a good summer, both personally and professionally. First, professionally: 

We had a transition in the worship and music ministry at Calvary Memorial Church. Under the leadership of our interim worship pastor, Dan Svendsen, we have continued the passionate, enthusiastic, congregation-driven, God-oriented corporate worship that has become our hallmark at Calvary. Sanctuary Choir rehearsals begin this coming Wednesday, and the Chamber Orchestra will begin an active fall schedule soon after. 

At the Wheaton College Artist Series, we had a series of successful community outreach and promotional events throughout the summer months, from visits to retirement communities, presence at events in downtown Wheaton, to the Fourth of July Parade. We also worked hard on pre-production for our nine - nine! - concert events in the coming year. I hope all my readers in the area will take advantage of our diverse offerings. 

The summer was also a very refreshing time for my personally. I attended four different performances at the Grant Park Music Festival (though I wish it had been more!). I spent a lot of time with my small group and the broader young adult community at church - porch parties, music in the city, a Cubs game, and helping one friend move a piano. I attended the weddings of two good friends from college - one here in Chicago and the other in Kansas City, giving me the opportunity to visit the city for the first time (please read my detailed recap of that trip). Just a few weekends ago, another good friend from college who I had not seen in over two years was in town for a convention and took a night off to enjoy Chicago with me. 

All in all, a satisfying summer. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!  

And now I turn to all I have this fall - many, many things I am eagerly anticipating. As I said, we are about to begin our fall schedule at church, and the school year has begun at Wheaton College as well - this first week was an exhausting one, but a lot of good happened, including a great address on hope in times of doubt and discouragement by President Ryken at convocation on Wednesday. I hope to keep you updated here on all that develops in the months ahead!