There’s no such thing as “Just Singing”

A Taiwanese, ethnic minority, children’s choir is disinvited to China after they sang the Taiwanese anthem at (Taiwan’s) President Tsai Ing-wen’s inauguration in May. The Puzangalan Choir was to travel to China in an endeavor to garner funds and visibility for a trip to an international singing competition in Hungary this fall. President Ing-wen has pledged a little over $15,000 USD when she heard about the cancellation.

Taiwan and China have a varying opinions on the sovereignty of the small island 110 miles off the coast of mainland China. However, that short distance is misleading, as Taiwanese government, freedoms, and art are leagues away from the People’s Party strict mandates in mainland China. Asian drama fans will note that television from mainland China is often overregulated to the point where the plot and characterization suffers, while Taiwanese dramas are rather enjoyable.

This political maneuvering is another example of a long string of contentious relations between Taiwan and China. It’s truly unfortunate, if not appalling, a children’s choir was the target.


Source: AFP

Choirlogue: The Pursuit of  Freedom in Beethoven’s Prisoner Chorus

O Welche Lust, in freier Luft…nur heir ist Leben!

Over Christmas, I had the opportunity to visit with my dear niece and nephews in Texas. My niece, to whom I as a woman can more easily relate, is sixteen years old and thinking about what she wants to do after high school and what sort of career she would like.

At sixteen, she has a black belt in karate and walks her own path, showing her individuality with brightly colored pants decorated by outlandish patterns.

As we sat on a settee in her softly colored bedroom, she told me that she wanted to be a counselor to clergy and missionaries and their families.

My silent, knee-jerk reaction was “Oh thank god.”

This is a young woman who has surprised her parents at every turn by giving up ballet and starting to collect knives. Who is demure in public speaking but impassioned when with small groups or partners. She is strong with a fiercely caring personality, and I am ever so thankful that she is not tempted to go into any field related to videogames.

She could, very easily I believe, enter into such a vocation and would stand strongly, back straight against the adversity. She can take of herself quite well. But I would never wish a calling in the videogame industry on any woman.

Over the past few decades, we’ve seen the emergence of a new complex artform: videogames combine playwriting, acting, music, and visual art in one performance medium. Videogames have become spaces in which people can feel free to live alternate lives, to experience new liberty by being granted superpowers and assigned epic missions, to find peace in achievement and predictable productivity through efforts which always make a real difference (in the game). Not only do videogames affect our culture, but the industry provides the most enticement and seductive position for a person to go into the technology field–that being the coveted, successful videogame design career.

While technology plays more and more salient roles in our lives, videogames offer a relaxing way to process the stresses we encounter. Everyone is interested in videogames, but the videogame establishment isn’t interested in everyone. In fact, there are structural and organizational reactionary stances towards the inclusion of 51% of the US population– women.

Women videogame designers face endless hate mail and well-organized smear campaigns against their products. Women videogame journalists face the threat of murder and mass shooting at their public speaking engagements. Everyday female gamers face persecution and oppression ranging from the micro-level (devaluation of their talents and contributions as players and exclusion from the gaming community via online harassment) to the macro-level–objectification in videogames themselves as well as organized campaigns to flag their social media and other online accounts, dox, or swat them. Wir sind belauscht mit Ohr und Blick. Women on all levels of videogaming are watched, monitored, and targeted.

Under these circumstances, the pressure to not make any waves as a woman, to not speak up about any microaggressions for fear of larger repercussions and retaliatory action has become the norm. Spricht leise! Haltet euch zuruck. Speak softly. We must hold ourselves back.

And yet the hope of a day in the sun and free air continues. Where women can play (and design, and talk about) games and simply just be playing games. O welche Lust in freier Luft…nur hier, nur hier ist Leben. Only here, only here, is Life, when freedom is guaranteed for all.


“When a good man is hurt, all who would be called good must suffer with him.”


Contemporary Contextualization: Mozart’s “Lacrymosa,” Part 2

Contemporary Contextualization: Mozart’s Requiem in Pop Culture Television

Part 2: Hannibal, Season 1, Episode 7, “Sorbet”

“Hannibal” transversed boundaries in television no one had come close to touching. The series itself can only be described as an artwork. The creators blend cleverly cutting dialogue with earnest and honest characters contained in exacting costumes and framed by lavish sets, and yet all the meticulous creation builds to show the audience a mirror of their darkest, secret desires. The show builds upon the grotesque artistry precedented a dozen years previous by Silence of the Lambs, while tapping into contemporary discourses of religion, medically-assisted suicide, and untraditional “found” families.
Classical music is used throughout the series. While  most television series reserve the grandiose sound of a full orchestra for large dramatic climaxes, Hannibal uses well-known classical pieces as pointed motifs of the titular character, often laying an audiophile subtext into the nondiegetic storytelling. “Lacrymosa” is played at the near halfway point of the first season. Much of the dialogue of “Sorbet” revolves around the idea of friendship–being a friend to someone, or the lonely, “painful” state of friendlessness. The choir beseeches a nameless entity as Hannibal paces in a darkened, empty room, waiting for his patient and colleague Will Graham to arrive for an appointment. The song ends and we see Hannibal breaking his normal pattern of behaviour to seek Will out, confront him about his absence, and their conversation flows into a volleying of words, a verbal repartee about Hannibal’s most-wanted alter ego, the Chesapeake Ripper.  This moment elevates the relationship of Hannibal and Will Graham from hunter and prey to something more complex, as the dialogue and plot suggests a type of agapé love to be building between the two. In some respects, “Lacrymosa” marks the death of the singularly-motivated Hannibal. The relationship of the Hannibal and Will is indelible altered from this point onward, and their interactions and intimacy increasingly drive the story as the series progresses through its three seasons.


Contemporary Contextualization: Mozart’s “Lacrymosa,” Part 1



Contemporary Contextualization: Mozart’s Requiem in Pop Culture Television

Teen Wolf, Season 3a, Episode 8, “Visionary”

Teen Wolf is an MTV series that springboards from the eponymous 1985 film and incorporates European and Asian folklore with a personable and complex cast of characters and fast paced plots to build a momentous popular narrative with a passionate following and an exemplarily creative fanbase. Since its inception in 2011, it has garnered over a dozen Teen Choice Awards, and its actors have seen their careers take off in popularity: one third of the original main cast members have since secured roles in high-profiled movies.

The show began in 2011, and has gained an immense following of fans. Over 17 fanmade conventions (one of which is a hop, skip, and jump away in New Jersey, Howlercon) and very creative fanbase with over 50,000 works of fanfiction on Archive of our Own,  40,000  fanvids on Youtube, and 25,000 pieces of fanart on DeviantArt.

The show supports a demographically diverse audience by resonating on several levels and pulling from (and putting a creative spin on) familiar mythology. While themes of high school cliques, sports, and popularity taps into the primary YA demographic, subtexts and commentary on prejudice, gender, and homosexuality engages an adult audience as well. It is during the development of one of these “more mature” sub-themes that Lacrymosa is played: in a flashback episode, the audience is given information on the background of the Big Bad of the Season. The leader of a (friendly) werewolf pack agrees to meet with a hunter under the premise of discussion of a treaty. Said hunter uses the guise of peace to capture and blind the werewolf leader by the classical Greek method. The moment of the leader being blinded  triggers a spin into insanity and obsession with the acquisition of strength and power. This crystallizing moment cements both characters on a destructive path, and the choir beseeches “Dona eis requiem” in the background.


Choirlogue: Collaborative Concert

Feb 21 2014:

This past Friday, Lincoln University, a historically black university, and the Haverford College Chamber Singers sang a combined concert. Below are my thoughts:

Seated in the front row of the mezzanine, I have a great view of the choir and the audience below. Many of the Lincoln University choirsters are mingling around, while hot cider is a convener of all shivering attendees who braved the snow and sub-freezing temps for a choral performance.

The first set of the show is performed by the Chamber Singers of Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges. They have five songs in a myriad of styles and languages. The first is “Sleep, Fleshly Birth.” This beautiful Renaissance piece was written by Robert Ramsey, an Englishman, for a prince who died before his time. The sentiment and some of the suspensions call up a similarity with Whitacre’s famous “When David Heard (That Absalom his Son was Slain.)” The Singers handled the soft supplications of the song with delicacy and blended well and smoothly, but the forte sections were bruised, especially by a couple of heavy-handed soprano voices who overshadowed the choir. Naturally, such an imbalance will pervade throughout the performance, and while this is a common problem especially for US American select choirs, it is sometimes difficult to address the issue with efficacy and politeness.

The second and third songs in their set are in Spanish, from Mexico and Venezulea respectively. We hear “La Adelita” by Gustavo Martin, and the men, who sang the previous song with a timid tone, come into the music and sing the song with brilliancy and buoyancy. The entire choir comes alive, and perform the notes with alacrity, from the effervescent onomatopoeia to the warm embrace of legato lines. Indeed, we finally see the choir actually getting into the music, and their energy imbues the song with joy. The third song–”Caramba” by Alberto Grau–is a warm and refreshing love song, once again with great suspensions. This along with the Ramsey piece prime the audience well for the Eric Whitacre piece later in the program, giving the entire performance a neat and clean musical frame despite the variety of the pieces performed.

Director Thomas Lloyd’s assessment that “The African American Spiritual is [US] America’s greatest contribution to world music” receives a standing ovation even before the final two pieces of the Chamber Singer’s set begins. Unfortunately, the song that follows this assertion–”I’ve been ‘buked” by Hall Johnson, is lacking energy and sincerity from the Singers. The strong lyrics are deadened by a placid performance, that is technically correct, but lacking in feeling and emotion. On the positive side, the introduction of the song is sweetly sung, and the vocalises are well done.

Abigail Stephenson shines in the penultimate song of the Chamber Singer’s set. Her solo in William Dawson’s “Ain’t Got Time to Die” is moving and warm, with spot on vibrato. (Her vibrant performance is foiled by the woman singing to her right who looks bored with the song.) The choir as a whole almost gets to a point of energy and true performance, but fall short.

On the whole the Chamber Singers sing a diverse selection of songs with superb technical acumen, but they do not allow the music to move them, and so it neither will it move their audience.

Next up is the Lincoln University Chamber Choir. One can immediately tell that this choir has a different culture than the Chamber Singers, even from their entrance on the stage (the tenors and basses offer their hands to Altos and Sopranos in a gentlemanly effort to help the heel-wearing ladies up on the risers.

Like the Chamber Singers, the choir from Lincoln U sings a diverse and technically challenging set. Their first song is “O Magnum Mysterium” by Kevin Membley, which they demonstrate a beautifully straight tone for an (US) American choir, despite that vibrato sneaks in on higher notes. A solid attacca at the culminating climax masterfully offsets the flowing serenity of the rest of the piece. By the end of the piece, this group has shown great balance and pleasing richness to their dynamics. The superb blend of this group, especially in comparison to the home choir, raises questions of culture on cooperative/communal vocal performance: Are thing singers from Lincoln of a church choir background? If so, is that the key to their improved blend and synergy of a choir? One of the challenges of all choirs in the United States is the hyper-individualistic culture that stands against choral singing which is cooperative and a team-centric exercise at its core. (More on this at a later time.)

The second song, “Hold Fast to Dreams” is the best of their set. There are some inaccuracies, noticably a sfz that is only performed by half the choir, but the a cappella section stayed marvelously in tune (aided by the extreme focus of the choir during this section.) This arrangement (by Roland Carter) engages a very interesting, and not often utilized musically, idea of the Second Line. Here, we have the introduction of the spiritual “Keep Your Hand on the Plow” as a Second Line melody. The whole song is wonderfully engaging.

The third song, “Afternoon on a Hill,” shows this Concert Choir’s weakness. Here we have a song that has a lacy, pale yellow mood, but the choir sings it with a velvet, maroon quality. The delicacy of the song is weighed down, and this performance of it misses the airy quality the song would intone. The choir may be more apt to sing it with more gentleness if it were placed earlier in the program, and not after a valve of energy was released with “Hold Fast.”

The next song, however, is the best of their set. Jeffrey Ames’ “In Remembrance,” is beautifully wrought by the choir, and their performance is truly touching and heartfelt.

Their last song, “Great God Almighty” arranged by Stacey V. Gibbs, is energetic and well performed. They choir does hit ff too soon and the climax is flat by their premature crescendo.

On the whole, the Lincoln University Concert Choir performs with exuberance and skill. Their balance and the richness of their dynamics are truly exemplary.

The program is concluded with a triptych of pieces performed by both choirs. The final set opens with Brahms’s “O Schoene Nacht.” This classical piece does not seem to resonate with the singers, and the fifty-some individuals on stage seem to be singing at the same time, rather than together. The blending improves with the next piece, “O Lovely Rose,” by Eric Whitacre. Director Edryn Coleman, in introducing the piece, states that “Eric Whitacre is the Michael Jackson of [this type] of choral music.” The singers do seem to feel this piece a bit more, even while it is certainly a challenge to summon the energy needed for the intensity of any Whitacre piece late in a program. The singers come together, and gel as an ensemble.

The final song of the night is conducted by Thomas Lloyd, and is the widespread favorite of choral singers everywhere: Moses Hogan’s “Elijah Rock.” Lloyd’s interpretation of the song brings it new life in this performance, with interesting staccato “rocks” and great bridge embellishments. Lloyd truly pushes the choirs to their limits, speeding the tempo to a fever pitch as singers struggle to keep up with music they (perhaps) only recently learned.

On the whole, this performance showcases two very technically skilled choirs from very different backgrounds. Equally impressive are the directors who educate and intrepidly expose their students to a vast variety of distinctive musical styles and subjects. While the performance of the undergraduates did have flaws, it is important to mark that they are singers who are still learning. Tonight, however, they did shine and bring wonderful life to many pieces and inspired the audience with their potential.

Choirlogue: 2nd rehearsal


Our choir’s size is noticeably smaller than last season, possible due to the weather, but I speculate it’s due to the choice of music. Tonight, I had very few fellow Alto II’s, and my normal comrades in arms were absent as well.

This piece requires a type of energy put into it. You have to make it entertaining, it won’t do otherwise. I did get a stink eye from a fellow alto after having too much fun with “joyful produce.” (Come on, guys, we’re singing about vegetables. VEGETABLES!) There’s also some fun to be had with the bawdy lyric “push it, pull it,” but apparently only a handful of us get the hidden subtext.

I remember singing Hadyn’s Creation in 2010 at Upenn. It has a similar grandeur I can appreciate, but the musical setting and style doesn’t align with my more modern conceptions and tastes for choral pieces. I will definitely need to listen to a recording to get the tonal progressions in my head.

Choirlogue: 1st Rehearsal of the Season


choirlogue, 1st rehearsal: Brahm’s “The Seasons” – Alto II

The season started as it always does: The director giving us some background and then playing an extended sample of the music so the choir can get a feel for the piece. “The Seasons”  is a resplendent piece, marking Handel’s progress from composing music for small, private, affluent audiences (read: chamber music sponsored by a prince) to large, pieces with more grandeur, befitting a more common audience. Still, it was written in the 1700s, and does pull up some imagery of chanson sung in sitting rooms while young women do needlework or sketching. I can see Mary Bennet enjoying this type of music: immensely enraptured in her socially awkward and hardened outer skin.

My first thought on performing this piece on a college campus: It’s going to be a hard sell for the undergrad singers. The libretto and ornamentation of the piece is stylized in a way, while radical and brilliant for that time period, does not necessarily easy lean itself to teenagers and young 20-somethings of today who’ve grown up with John Williams and Howard Shore in their ears.

My second thought is, “Oh those poor foreign national students.” The lyrics (originally based on an English poem, Handel’s first rendition of this piece was to a German translation of the words. The English we sing is re-translated from the German. Furthermore, the translation is by a non-English speaker, so there are some quite interesting word choices. Our non-native English speakers will expand their vocabulary this season to include “jocund,” “bounteous,” and, a particularly archaic word, “tuns.” In a cringeworthy moment (at least for a writer,) a native English speaking undergrad asked about the  word “ethereal.”

My mood was made buoyant again by the wonderful presence of Girl Scout cookies at break. Though one did have to fight a crowd to get to them.