Camerata Behind the Scenes: In the Green Room

For anyone who has attended a Camerata concert, you know that the choir members don’t just loiter around the lobby and concert hall waiting for Dr. Bass to beckon them to their places. Nary a tuxedo nor black dress should be seen anywhere before the concert begins. So, where are those invisible singers lurking as you look for your seat?

There is a very secret, special and (usually) deep underground space, not unlike a bunker of sorts, known as “The Green Room” where the performers are allowed to loiter before the concert begins. Allow me to give you a behind the scenes look at the glamor of the Green Room.

Madrid Green Room
What you think a Green Room is…

The term “Green Room” conjures up images of lushly decorated salons with great lighting, perhaps a reproduction of some Raphaelite painter with a cupid playing a lute, a redundancy of mirrors, comfy overstuffed couches, and the ever important “facilities” being not only functional, but elegant and in great number.

Let me burst your bubble of champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Each concert hall has a different style of Green Room, some of which are actually painted red and are not rooms at all but hallways.  Green Rooms are rarely accommodations that would be featured in the semi-annual publication of this totally fake magazine “The Great Concert Halls: A Performer’s View”. Yes, the term “room” gets tossed around a little too glibly for me, but every Green Room has the same purpose: corralling the performers in a safe place where they can rest or pace before the concert.

Suny Green Room
The Reality of Green Rooms

The Tangled Origin Stories for the Term ‘Green Room’, an article which begs many questions about how tangled and dramatic Green Room history really is, states:

“Two historic London theatres, Blackfriars Theatre and the Cockpit-at-Court, are said to have had the first “green” rooms backstage. The stage itself, in 19th century Cockney rhyming slang, was referred to as the “greengage,” which would have meant the room just off the stage was the “greengage room,” or the “Green Room.”

Well, that’s boring. Where’s the drama and tangeldness of this tale?

But wait! There’s more! “Many of the theories about the origins of the term “Green Room” have to do with actors, and there is a story that specifically has to do with their interactions with the walls (Author’s emphasis and note: Singers don’t have a great deal of interactions with walls, so this obviously refers to theater folk.) Sometimes they (the actors, not singers) would get fake blood on the walls, and the fake blood didn’t show up as much on green painted walls as it did on white painted walls.” Well, that just seems like a great reason to call it a Green Room.

green room looks like ours
The All Too Familiar “Blank Slate” Green Room without fake blood on walls.

Mercifully most of the time the Camerata Singers are not involved with fake blood and rarely get anything more exciting that a Starbucks on the walls. We are also very good about cleaning up after ourselves.

All “history” aside, being in the Green Room all together right before the concert begins is one of our favorite times. We’re all excited and anticipating our performance, with the added luxury of time to get to talk to one another. We get to have long conversations, share stories about past performances, concert faux pas, and inevitably, we end up talking about concert dress. And that topic, my friends, deserves its own post.

Tenors
Our Green Room in the O’Neill Theater is PINK! Lookin’ sharp, Tenors!

Whatever our next season ends up looking like, we hope you will continue to support Long Beach’s premier choral organization. Hopefully, we’ll all be able to return to our concert halls and Green Rooms very soon. Our hearts and voices all need to be together.

Pre-Concert Silliness
Pre-Concert silliness. Altos are weird. And wonderful. Thanks to Sarah Len for ALWAYS capturing a part of backstage.

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Handel With Care: A Baroque Trivia Quiz

It’s a good thing that Peanut wasn’t G.F. Handel’s dog — he never would have put up for being ignored during that 3-week period when the master composed Messiah! Considering that the oratorio comprises almost 3 hours in its entirety, that is quite an accomplishment.  You can see that Mr. Peanut is ready for the holidays in this photo!  Here’s some interesting trivia about this beloved piece for your reading pleasure.

  1.  Messiah is rich with vast effects derived from simple means,  along with beautiful melodies and the insistent rhythms that are characteristic of the Baroque era, easy to love and hard to forget.
  2. The Music gains extraordinary intensity through the Baroque compositional technique of “word painting,” in which the flow of notes in the music actually seems to replicate a shape or contour that the words describe.
  3. Papa Haydn, always generously praising the merits of other composers, called Handel “der Meister von uns allen,” or  “the master of us all” at a performance of Messiah. But Beethoven, who was far more grudging with his approval, used almost the same words—“der unerreichte Meister aller Meisters,” “the unequalled master of all masters.”

  4. images-13The association between diva soprano and the soprano solo role in Messiah extends more than a century earlier, back to the legendary Jenny Lind, who barnstormed the U.S. as a Barnum-sponsored headliner in the 1840s. On one of her transatlantic crossings, the Swedish Nightingale asked the ship’s captain to wake her before dawn, without specifying a reason for her request. At the appointed hour, she stood with him at the ship’s railing as the sun rose over the waters and sang “I Know My Redeemer Liveth.”

  5.  Handel’s Messiah continues to exert a very real influence upon modern composers.  Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, composed in 1971, brings together music, dance and diverse religious and secular traditions in a way that owes much to Handel.  Andrew Lloyd Webber—like Handel, a master of theatrical craft in music—wrote a requiem mass as his only full- scale classical work. Paul McCartney, too, ventured into oratorio with his only classical work, The Liverpool Oratorio.

    This year will be the twelfth  annual performance of Messiah by the Long Beach Camerata Singers.  The chorus will be accompanied by Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra.
    Camerata sings Handel’s Messiah.  TICKETS NOW AVAILABLE $35/$45.  www.LBCamerata.org or call 310-686-5833.  Saturday, December 21 and Sunday December 22 , 4:30pm, Beverly O’Neill Theater, Long Beach, CA. Preconcert lecture beginning one hour before each performance, offered in both English and Spanish options.

“Word-Painting” and Handel’s Messiah

One of the most extraordinary aspects of Handel’s music is the use of “word-painting,”  the musical technique of composing music that reflects the literal meaning of a song’s lyrics. For example, ascending scales would accompany lyrics about going up; slow, dark music would accompany lyrics about death.

This technique is employed throughout Handel’s most famous work, “Messiah.”  Today we will examine the use of word painting in two  arias, “Ev’ry Valley,” for Tenor and “But Who May Abide” for Bass.

In the very first aria, or air, of the composition — “Every valley shall be exalted,”  Handel literally begins the work with powerful word painting.  Many a composer would be content with just composing a melody with half the beauty of Handel’s, but he went much further.  The text is: “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain.”  When the tenor sings the word, “crooked,” Handel toggles between two notes; and with “straight,” he writes one long note. The effect wonderfully contrasts uneven with straight.

“But who may abide the day of his coming?” contains one of the most dramatic moments in the entire oratorio. The text from Malachi prophesizes about Judgment Day, asking “who may abide the day of his coming?” This Handel crafts into a mysterious, slow air. But at the text, “for he is like a refiner’s fire,” the music explodes into … well … a fiery exclamation. The acceleration and ferociousness captures perfectly the threat of hell and damnation.   The word “shake” uses a melisma that actually sounds like the singer is shaking.  And, if you listen really closely you can hear the violins play a run that is reminiscent of  the “flames” of the “refiner’s fire” licking at the singer’s feet!

These are just two examples of many in Handel’s Messiah that make it interesting, exciting and accessible.  This is why the work has endured since its first performance in 1742.  We hope you will join the Long Beach Camerata Singers in their performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Beverly O’Neill Theater in Long Beach on December 21 and December 22, 2019.  Click HERE to purchase tickets.

Handel’s Messiah and the Baroque Violin

Long Beach Camerata Singers will perform Handel’s Messiah on December 21 and 22, 2019, with Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra.  There are many reasons to attend what promises to be a beautiful performance; today we will focus on the use of the Baroque violin and why that is important and interesting.

Handel composed his famous oratorio in 1742, and it has been performed every year since then.  The music was composed to utilize the abilities of the instruments that were available at that time.  However, instruments changed as the decades and centuries passed.

Baroque Violin:  The size of the Baroque instrument is almost identical to the modern instrument, but there are other differences that affect the sound.  For example, the neck is angled back on modern instruments, which allows the strings to be tuned to a higher tension.  Also, modern strings are made of steel rather than gut, which produces a sharper sound.  The bass bar (a support on the underside of the instrument) on the modern instrument is larger and allows for greater volume.  However, the baroque instrument is actually more resonant simply because the box is under less tension and vibrates longer after the bow ceases to move.

Baroque Bow:  Another major difference is the evolution of the bow. Baroque bows generally look straight or bent slightly outwards in the middle, with an elegant “swan-bill” pointed head. They are typically made from strong, heavy snakewood. By contrast, a modern bow is made from pernambuco and has a marked inwards bend, particularly when the hair is relaxed, and has a “hatchet” head at right-angles to the stick.

Baroque Bowing: In the Baroque period, musical phrases were made up of strong and weak notes, falling on strong and weak beats within a bar. When a violinist would move the bow in a downward stroke across a string, the sound was stronger than when the bow would be moved in an upward direction. But eventually the lengths of musical phrases grew, and more notes were meant to be played in a connected way, leading much further down the line to a phrase’s focal point. Accordingly, the bows for stringed instruments were then made to create the same amount of sound whether the bow was moving up or down.

Please join Long Beach Camerata Singers for our 12th annual performance of Handel’s Messiah on December 21 or December 22, 2019.  Performances take place at the Beverly O’Neill Theater at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center.  Tickets:  $45/$35.  https://longbeachcameratasingers.org/event/handels-messiah-2/

 

 

 

Evening of Song — Evening of Fun

What do you get when you introduce a world-famous TV Director to a world-famous choral conductor?  That’s what happened recently at a lunch in Westwood near the UCLA campus when Long Beach Camerata Singers Artistic Director, James K. Bass,  met Michael Lange, Film and TV Director since 1981 with over 250 TV shows to his credit.

In a wide-ranging conversation, these two entertainment professionals with vastly different perspectives, found a lot of common ground.   Bass realized he had seen many of Lange’s directorial efforts; Lange’s son is not only a choral singer, he is also a choral composer.

The result?  A collaboration at Camerata’s upcoming Evening of Song concert on June 1, with Lange as the evening’s guest emcee and Bass at the podium. A few stories, a little banter, perhaps some questions from the audience . . . the point is, we don’t quite know what is going to happen on concert night, and that is part of the fun!

So what do you get when you introduce these two?  We think it might be Ellen DeGeneres with Choral Music . . . or it might be  Handel’s Messiah with Robin Williams . . . or it might just be something you’ve never seen before.

Join us and find out for yourself!

 

Captive Audiences: How Many Tickets can one Singer Sell?

Peanut never lacks for an audience because he expects everyone he encounters to pay attention to him.  Perhaps we singers need to take a lesson from him and have higher expectations of our friends and family to attend our choral performances.

Choirs understand that they have great built-in audience potential living in their singers’ address books.  How many friends and close family does each choir member have?  10? 20?  Our goal is to make sure that when we perform, all of those people are IN THE AUDIENCE.

So what should we expect from our singers?   And how do we overcome resistance?  Here’s a look at some of the obstacles and solutions to this problem:

Provide Advertising Materials — This seems like a no-brainer, but most choral organizations are multi-generational; the younger members want on-line information and the older singers like a nice shiny postcard or flyer.   Don’t discount the appeal of a printed card placed a store window, and don’t be surprised if one of the sopranos invites her grandchildren using an email.

Provide Several Purchase Portals — More and more people purchase tickets to events online, but when you are dealing with family and friends, they may need a little help.  A telephone ticket hotline might just be the convenient factor that reaches your new tenor’s Grandpa.

Provide Enthusiasm — Sometimes chatter is your best advertising.  Encourage singers to talk about their upcoming concert and to be open about their love for the music.

Provide Encouragement — People love to be invited to events.  Studies show that almost half of all people who attend concerts were invited by someone else.  Don’t think of it as selling tickets, think of it as extending invitations.

Provide a Culture of Participation — Positive reinforcement is the name of the game.  We’re not talking about contests, or shaming the slackers.  Our best tactic may be to recognize and praise those who do a great job.

Provide Training — Consider investing 15 minutes per concert to simply review ticket prices, purchase options, marketing materials and even a script of talking points.

The bottom line is that singers want that big audience as much as anyone else.  They may not realize how much power they have to make that a reality!

Long Beach Camerata Singers will be performing Handel’s Messiah on November 30 and December 1, 2018.  Tickets can be purchased for $30/$45.  Click HERE to visit our website.

“Word-Painting” and Handel’s Messiah

One of the most extraordinary aspects of Handel’s music is the use of “word-painting,”  the musical technique of composing music that reflects the literal meaning of a song’s lyrics. For example, ascending scales would accompany lyrics about going up; slow, dark music would accompany lyrics about death.

This technique is employed throughout Handel’s most famous work, “Messiah.”  Today we will examine the use of word painting in two  arias, “Ev’ry Valley,” for Tenor and “But Who May Abide” for Bass.

In the very first aria, or air, of the composition — “Every valley shall be exalted,”  Handel literally begins the work with powerful word painting.  Many a composer would be content with just composing a melody with half the beauty of Handel’s, but he went much further.  The text is: “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain.”  When the tenor sings the word, “crooked,” Handel toggles between two notes; and with “straight,” he writes one long note. The effect wonderfully contrasts uneven with straight.

“But who may abide the day of his coming?” contains one of the most dramatic moments in the entire oratorio. The text from Malachi prophesizes about Judgment Day, asking “who may abide the day of his coming?” This Handel crafts into a mysterious, slow air. But at the text, “for he is like a refiner’s fire,” the music explodes into … well … a fiery exclamation. The acceleration and ferociousness captures perfectly the threat of hell and damnation.   The word “shake” uses a melisma that actually sounds like the singer is shaking.  And, if you listen really closely you can hear the violins play a run that is reminiscent of  the “flames” of the “refiner’s fire” licking at the singer’s feet!

These are just two examples of many in Handel’s Messiah that make it interesting, exciting and accessible.  This is why the work has endured since its first performance in 1742.  We hope you will join the Long Beach Camerata Singers in their performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Beverly O’Neill Theater in Long Beach on November 30 and December 1, 2018.  Click HERE to purchase tickets.

 

Homer (Simpson) Loves Handel

We all know that GF Handel is famous for his iconic chorus from the oratorio, Messish, the Hallelujah Chorus.  He’s so famous, it turns out, that even Homer Simpson likes his music.  This is evidenced by the fact that the Hallelujah Chorus has appeared in the soundtrack of The Simpsons not once, not twice, but FIVE times!

  1.  “Bart Gets An F” (1990) —   Bart is about to flunk out of 4th grade.  A snowstorm saves him, to the accompaniment of the Hallelujah Chorus.  Other music in this episode:  Row, Row, Row Your Boat.
  2. “There’s Something About Marrying” (2005) —  Bart becomes a minister to capitalize on the rash of weddings about to take place due to the legalization of gay marriage.  Other music in this episode:  Let’s Twist Again.
  3. “Thank God It’s Doomsday” (2005) — Homer hears about the Rapture, and by using numerology to calculate when the Rapture is coming he learns that it is only one week away.  Other music in this episode:  The Flower Duet from Lakme.
  4. “The Treehouse of Horror” (2017 — Maggie gets possessed by a demon; Lisa discovers a creepy/perfect version of her family in an alternative universe; Homer cannibalizes himself.  Other music in this episode:  On the Road Again.
  5. “Singin’ in the Lane” (2017) — Homer gets his old bowling team back together and they wind up competing with arrogant millionaires.  Other music in this episode:  The Boys Are Back in Town.

Long Beach Camerata Singers will be performing Handel’s Messiah, including The Hallelujah Chorus, on November 30/Dec 1.  We hope you will join us.  Click HERE to buy tickets.

How GF Handel Made History Reusing Music

GF Handel, like most composers of his era, borrowed and recycled musical themes on a routine basis.  Today, we would consider the practice at best, distasteful, and at worst, plagiarism.  But in Handel’s time it was a sign of respect.

As we know, “Messiah” was composed in just 24 days.  Part of the reason Handel was able to accomplish this remarkable feat is that four of the major choruses in the oratorio were “repurposed” from earlier work that the composer had done.

In the beloved Chorus, “For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” Handel not only borrowed music from one of his earlier compositions, he pretty much lifted in intact and just set it right down in the middle of the Messiah score.  The original composition was a duet for 2 Sopranos, an allegro movement from HWV 189, a short cantata called “No, di voi non vo’ fidarmi” or “No, I do not want to trust you.”  This piece was composed in 1741, shortly before Handel began work on Messiah, but it harkens back to his Italian sojourn in the early eighteenth century, when these vocal miniatures established his reputation as an up-and-coming composer.  Click Here to listen to a performance of the duet, beautiful and a bit bizarre in its original incarnation.

Stranger still, Handel was not done borrowing from this particular cantata.  The final movement of the cantata is another allegro section and yes, you guessed it, was also reincarnated into the “Messiah” oratorio, this time morphing into “All We Like Sheep.”  Use the same link as above to listen, but advance to 3:35 seconds to hear the second allegro.

If borrowing twice is successful, why not do it again?  And again still? Source material for “His Yoke Is Easy” and “He Shall Purify” was supplied by Duetto XV, HWV 192, “Quel fior che all’alba ride” or “That flower that laughs at daybreak.”  Again, the borrowing is deep and extensive.    Listen Here to this beautiful music.

Regardless of how he got there, we can only be grateful that GF Handel composed this great, enduring piece of music.

Long Beach Camerata Singers will perform Handel’s Messiah with Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra on Saturday, December 21 and Sunday, December 22 at 4:30pm.  Both performances will feature a pre-concert lecture one hour before the concert, offered in both Spanish and English.  The Beverly O’Neill Theater is the venue for these events.  On Saturday, a holiday sing-a-long will kick off the afternoon.  Tickets are $35 and $45.  Click HERE to visit our website to learn more and purchase tickets.

A Busy December for Camerata

December is typically the busiest month of the year for choral musicians, and this year is no exception for the fine singers of Long Beach Camerata Singers.  As the reputation of the group and of choral music grows in our area, the calendar has become crowded with concerts and performance engagements.

First up for the holiday season, is Camerata’s own performance of Handel’s “Messiah” on November 30, 2018 and December 1, 2018.  Marking the 11th annual mounting of this holiday classic, this is the first year that two performances will be offered.  The Friday event will take place at 7:30pm at the Beverly O’Neill Theater.  On Saturday, the concert will start at 3:30pm with a short program of Holiday music, featuring the Long Beach Youth Chorus.  The audience will be encouraged to sing along with the program.  Musica Angelica Baroque orchestra will accompany the chorus for both concerts, and top-flight soloists have been contracted to perform with the group.

No rest for the singers!  The following week Long Beach Camerata Singers will perform with Musica Angelica again — this time at their holiday concert.  The singers will appear in the second half of the concert, as the two groups collaborate to present Handel’s “Ode to St. Cecelia,” the patron saint of music.  Again, two performances will take place, the first on Saturday December 8, at the Beverly O’Neill Theater and the second at Zipper Hall at the Colburn School on Sunday.

Long Beach Camerata Singers is always excited to perform with the Long Beach Symphony, and they will have the opportunity to do so on December 22, when they collaborate for the Holiday Pops! concert.  These immensely popular concerts take place in the Long Beach Arena, as friends and neighbors gather to dine and visit before the concert.

Please join us for all of these events!  Tickets can be purchased as follows:

Long Beach Camerata Singers presents Handel’s Messiah:  http://longbeachcameratasingers.org/lbcs/handels-messiah/ 

Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra Holiday Concert:  https://www.musicaangelica.org/events/

Long Beach Symphony Holiday Pops!:  http://longbeachsymphony.org/browse-concerts/2018-2019-pops-series-become-subscriber-today/

 

Observations and anecdotes about classical music in Southern California