Farewell to Provo

I’ve finally made the move out of Provo and now live in the city of angels “ready” to start my DMA program at USC (I use the term “ready” very loosely here).  A friend of mine asked me what some of my favorite moments at BYU were, and it got me thinking.  It might be the best way to talk about this transition.  There’s been a quote going around attributed to Dr. Suess (don’t know if it was him, and I don’t feel like taking the time to verify right now) that says “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Here are some of my favorite moments/times that I had at BYU in no particular order:

  • Being at the inauguration of President Samuelson as the President of BYU by Gordon B. Hinckley.  It was the first time I had been in the same room as the prophet.  It was electrifying.
  • My very first day in Concert Choir with Professor Hall.  Completely changed my life.
  • Singing the premiere of “Midnight Clear.”
  • The premiere of “In Paradisum.”
  • Our study abroad in London learning about English choral music.
  • Returning to Ireland on tour.
  • The first time I conducted BYU Singers in performance.  Will Todd’s “Ave verum corpus” in the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake.
  • Singing “Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine” in the Provo Tabernacle.  I’ll never forget the audience reaction.
  • Taking Counterpoint and Independent Readings (Renaissance Music) with Dr. Bush.
  • Conducting the Men’s Chorus in the MTC.  “Choose the Right,” arranged by Rosalind Hall.
  • Climbing to the top of Squaw Peak, Y Mountain, Cascade, Timpanogas and Nebo.

As you can see, most of these best times involved the choirs in some way. That’s how important they have been in my life.  As a final gesture, I want to post one of my favorite choral pieces.  These last several years have shaped my life in a way that few other things have.  I usually can’t listen to this without tearing up . . . a lot.

Tour to the United Kingdom

BYU Singers performing in Gloucester Cathedral.

For the past month I’ve been touring the United Kingdom with BYU Singers.  It was a fantastic tour.  Out of the three I’ve done with BYU Singers, this one was by far the most rewarding and the most fun.  Our tour itinerary looked like this:

Somewhere around Embankment.

  • Church of Christ the Cornerstone – Milton Keyes
  • Emmanuel United Reformed Church – Cambridge
  • St. Andrew’s Hall – Norwich
  • Gloucester Cathedral
  • Bristol Cathedral
  • Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – Cardiff (recorded for a later broadcast on BBC Radio 3)
  • Exeter University’s Great Hall – Exeter
  • The Sheldonian Theatre – Oxford
  • Crawley Stake Center – Crawley
  • St. Peter’s School – Bournemouth
  • St. Mary’s Church – Hitchin
  • St. Giles-in-the-Fields – London
  • Guildford Cathedral
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral – London
  • St. John’s, Smith Square – London

The whole tour was a string of incredible venues.  I’ve never had the opportunity to sing in so many rewarding and historical places.  In addition, it was great to just be back in the UK.  As we were preparing for the tour, a man came in to talk about England to us.  He asked us to raise our hands if we had ancestors from the UK.  Turns out, all but one of us have forefathers from the UK.  He mentioned to us that, in a way, we were going back home.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  The idea of home is something that has always alluded me.  There really hasn’t been a place that has felt like “home” to me for many years.  The few moments that have felt like home have been with groups of people rather in a specific place.

Some highlights for me would have to be Cambridge, Gloucester, Cardiff, Oxford, and of course, London.  We also got to see places like Stonehenge, the Roman Baths, got to attend a rehearsal of The Sixteen in Exeter Cathedral, and was allowed to take high tea at the high table in Christchurch College at Oxford.  There really are more things that I can mention here.  Ruth, a member of the choir who graduated from Oxford, kept mentioning that we have opportunities that our ancestors would never have had.

BYU Singers performing in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

All of our concerts in London, St. Giles, Guildford, St. Paul’s, and St. John’s Smith Square, were just incredible and an amazing way to end four wonderful years in BYU Singers.  St. Giles was one of the finest acoustics we’ve sung in.  Singing in Guildford, there were a LOT of people and we had a great interaction with the elected officials from the city.  St. Paul’s was a very intimidating but remarkable experience.  St. John’s, Smith Square has become one of the top three performances I’ve had with this remarkable ensemble.  Some of the finest performances of some of our pieces, especially Ferko’s “O vis aeternitatis.”  Also, in attendance were two of my heroes: Gabriel Jackson & Tarik O’Regan.  These two, in my opinion, are among the finest composers in England right now.

After the tour was over I stayed behind with two friends, Chris Downard, and Mark Zabriskie.  We spent most of our time in London, but also went out to Cambridge and Oxford.  Among other things we saw concerts by Tenebrae, the Tallis Scholars, the Cardinall’s Musick, the Sixteen and the BBC Singers.  All were remarkable performances, and it was a dream to hear these choirs in person, either again or for the first time.  Tenebrae sang “Funeral Ikos” by Tavener, Requiem by Howells, and “Evening Watch” by Holst.  The Tallis Scholars sang a number of works by John Cornysh and Jean Mouton.  The Cardinall’s Musick sang an entire concert of Byrd, including the Mass for Five Voices and “Infelix Ego.”  The Sixteen performed an all-Flemish concert with works by Josquin, Brummel and Lassus.  The BBC Singers performed Israel in Egypt by Handel.  In addition, we got to attend a rehearsal of the BBC Singers preparing Israel in Egypt.  It was difficult to come back down to earth after each of these performances.

That final concert of BYU Singers in St. John’s, Smith Square was very difficult.  Everyone was trying to mention to me that this was my final concert with BYU Singers and ask me how it felt.  It might have seemed a bit rude, but I had to immediately interrupt and say, “I’m not talking about that!”  And indeed, talking with others in the choir, with whom it was their final concert the same thing happened (rather mutually): “We’re not talking about that!”  I didn’t want any sort of sadness to overshadow what was a very important concert for the choir.

Our final concert at St. John’s, Smith Square, London.

Just before the concert, I had a small word with Prof. Rosalind Hall about this though.  Since she had been in the choir for four years as well, I asked her how she coped with leaving the choir.  Her response was very telling: “You know Matt, you never do.  You never get over being in BYU Singers, and frankly if you did, it means we didn’t do our job.”  Another friend who was in the choir years earlier mentioned, “After being in BYU Singers, you find yourself working to replicate and imitate the experience there the rest of your life and never really succeeding.”

I feel immensely blessed and privileged to have been in BYU Singers for four years and in BYU Concert Choir two years prior.  These last four years have shaped my life in a way that very few things have.  Being in these ensembles completely changed the course of my life and I feel that I am a better man because of it.

The next morning after our concert I couldn’t bring myself to go downstairs and see the rest of BYU Singers who were flying home.  It was too much.  I just lay in bed trying to deal with this new hole in my life.  I felt very empty and void with it all being over.  So much of my life these past few years has been spent revolved around this ensemble.  I took a shower, got dressed when my friend Chris came in with some breakfast.  He asked how I was and why I didn’t come down to see everyone leave.  After a bit of talking, we both became silent and I just started to cry.  A little at first and then a huge wave of sadness came over me.  After a while, I looked over at Chris and he was crying too. “Now why are YOU crying!?” I asked.  We both laughed, hugged and cried some more.

It’s not like I’m the first or only one to experience this sort of transition.  I’ve seen it happen to my friends, I just never expected it to actually happen to me.  This was my paradise and I never actually expected it to end.

At the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Long Overdue Update

It’s been really crazy for the past month and a half or so.  The biggest update is that I got accepted into the DMA program at USC for this Fall with a generous scholarship.  That’s where I’m going.  Very exciting stuff!

In other news, BYU Singers had another great concert with the BYU Concert Choir and gave some of the best performances we have all year.  It was incredible.

My parents are coming home from Ukraine this summer!  My older sister had a new baby girl (first niece), and my older brother had a new baby boy (sixth nephew)!

I’m going on tour with BYU Singers to England and Wales in the next few weeks.  If you’re there, you should come to one of our concerts!

Commencement and convocation are coming up soon and I’ll be walking with a Masters hood and robe.  I can’t believe it’s all ready over.

All these changes in my life are quite challenging.  I’ve come to a realization in the past little while that I’m a man with a great deal of inertia.  I resist change.  While I work in a linear art form, I sometimes find it difficult to live in a linear lifestyle.  But that’s what makes it life right?

I’ve Left London Town

It’s been a while since I checked in, but here I am.  I finished my study abroad in London and had a great time.  I highly recommend visiting London to anyone and everyone.  It’s quite the city.  A couple of things I did before leaving:

– Watched Macbeth at the Globe.  Super intense and well done; I was a groundling on the floor and right up in the action.  A word of warning if you plan on seeing it: there’s lots of blood and gore.

– Saw The Swan Lake performed by the English National Ballet in Royal Albert Hall.

– Watched Tenebrae (famous for performing exclusively by candle light) rehearse Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil (Vespers).  Quite a rush.

– Saw Esa-Pekka Salonen conduct the London Philharmonia performing Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.  Brilliant conductor!  Why did he ever leave the LA Phil?

– Went to Cambridge to meet John Rutter (hilarious!) and caught Evensong with Kings College and St. John College choir.

Now I’m in Germany visiting my sister, her husband, and their two sons.  We went to Munich to visit one of my sister’s friends and spent the day downtown exploring and sight-seeing.  Most of our sight-seeing though was of really expensive cars.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a high concentration of Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsches, Bentleys, and Aston Martins.  I mean, London had a lot of great cars, but not with such a high concentration as this.  In fact, instead of playing “Slug-Bug,” we started playing “Slug-Porsche,” and quickly got bruises on our shoulders and arms.

I haven’t had a lot of time to compose much of anything, but I have done a bit.  I’ve been working on a few pieces here and there, namely “Gloria,” “Prelude in 5ths,” and “Water Lilies.” Now I’m also working on a new setting of “In Paradisum.”  I found just the plainchant a while a go (and serendipitously found out that it’s the same chant that Duruflé used in his Requiem), and was struck again by how much I love this text:

Munich (München)

In paradisum deducant te angeli,
in tuo adventu
suscipiant te martyres,
et perducant te
in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requiem.

May the angels lead you into paradise,
may the martyrs receive you
in your coming,
and may they guide you
into the holy city, Jerusalem.
May the chorus of angels receive you
and with Lazarus once poor
may you have eternal rest.

When we met with John Rutter I had the opportunity to ask him a question: “When you don’t have the pressure of a commission and you have the freedom to write for yourself, what inspires you to write?”  His answer was quite enlightening:  He said that he couldn’t compose “in a vacuum,” or writing a piece for the sake of writing it, but that he had to have some sort of purpose or direction.  He usually writes a piece for a friend or loved one, or an ensemble that has some sort of hole in their programming.  He might have a friend call and say, “we have a ten minute gap in this album and we’d like you to fill it.  Our resources are these…”  That’s how many of his pieces are written.

I’ve thought about this a good deal, because even though I agree with Mr. Rutter for the most part, this is how the majority of my pieces are written.  I write for the sake of writing quite a lot.  I have no idea if I’ll hear the pieces I write, let alone when.  When I wrote “Midnight Clear,” I had no idea at that time that Dr. Staheli would like it enough to put it on his Christmas program.  I got lucky there I guess, and yet, I feel that having a direction would aid me quite a bit in getting things done.

I know I’m working on a bunch of projects right now that I should really focus on finishing first, but when I find a great text, sometimes I just can’t help myself.  I’ve got some good ideas and the whole piece mapped out in my mind pretty well, it’s just a matter of scrounging up some piano time wherever I can.  I’d like to write without piano, but for some of this music, it’s just too much for my poor-atrophying-vacation-focused-mind.  Maybe when I’m older.

St. Paul's Cathedral after the London blitz

Tosca + Warhorse

I recently saw two stage productions here in London.  The first being Tosca from the English National Opera and the second being War Horse by the National Theatre.  Both were brilliant experiences, and worth a visit.

The ENO’s production of Tosca was top notch.  Singers, sets, costumes, lighting and the orchestra were all brilliant.  The staging of everything made sense and it moved along quite well.  What bugged me the most was how it was in English.  I know that’s what the ENO is all about, but it feels like a bad idea in every way to me.  There were some moments that were ruined because of the English translation.  What kills me is that they were singing in English with English supertitles.  If the whole idea of singing in English is for the audience’s understanding, pray tell, why are there supertitles?  It’s either redundant or a necessity.  Let’s just keep the supertitles and do the opera in the language it was written for.

In my group I was pretty much the only person who had seen this opera before or even had an idea of what it was about.  To everyone it was a completely new experience.  I got a lot of requests from people to tell them what the opera was about.  In any other case I usually wax poetic about the whole deal, but in this case I decided against it.  When I first saw Tosca I knew everything and the whole time I kept thinking “I wish I was experiencing this for the first time.”  This opera is based off an Italian melodrama and itself is the epitome of “Verismo” opera.  It’s all about surprise and unexpected twists.  I think that’s one of the reasons why it was so successful at its premiere.  The first audience was just blown out of the water by the drama of it all.  Since I couldn’t have that experience anymore, I wanted to let everyone around me have it instead.  A lot of people expressed gratitude as it helped them enjoy it even more.

Last night I saw War Horse with a few friends.  Now it was my turn.  Unlike Tosca, I had no idea what this play was about.  I had heard great things about it from people I trust so I figured it couldn’t be all that bad.  I was not let down.  It’s incredible.  What a powerfully moving work.  Everything in the production was brilliantly executed.  One of the most incredible parts about the production was the puppetry.  It requires the use of several onstage horses, but of course getting horses to act is virtually impossible.  Instead, the horses were all life size puppets.  Each horse took three puppeteers.  While obviously puppets, there were some moments when I honestly forgot that.

At the end, I got teary-eyed.  I don’t remember the last time a stage production moved me that much.  At the end of Tosca, I was breathless, but not moved like this.  It was quite the experience.  Walking back to the tube stop though, I started to wonder about what I was supposed to learn from this story.  It was a poignant and touching story, very well told, which is enough for me, but I kept wondering what I should do differently now.  There are some obvious ones:  World War I was futile and accomplished nothing.  We’ve got more common loves we should focus on than common hatreds.

I woke up this morning and the thought occurred to me that maybe, unknowingly, it taught that God is real and that he loves us.  World War I bred a great deal of atheism and agnostics.  People felt that God had either abandoned them or didn’t exist.  The thought was “How could God allow this to happen?  Where was God when my sons/brothers/father died?”  The spirituality in England still hasn’t recovered.  I feel that this production taught that God was there, guiding us and helping us.  The story, to me, is nothing less than miraculous.

The National Gallery

"The Fighting Temeraire" by J.M.W. Turner

I decided to take a peak into the National Gallery and see what they had to offer.  The place is pretty big and I didn’t have all day to spend perusing through the whole place.  The great thing about the Gallery is that it’s built in such a way where you can hop between rooms really easily or you can go through in a logical numerical order.  My main goal was to find works by J.M.W. Turner, who is, in my opinion, one of the greatest English painters.  Found him, but I also found some other works I had no idea were there:

Rembrandt – “Self-Portrait at age 34,” “Self-Portrait at age 63,” “Belshazzar’s Feast,” “An Elderly Man as St. Paul” (Life changing)

Seurat – “Bathers at Asnières,” “The Channel of Gravelines, Grand Fort-Phillip,” “Study for “Le Grande Jatte,”

Monet – “The Water-Lily Pond,” “Water-lilies” (one of many), “Water-Lilies, Setting Sun,” “The Thames below Westminster,”

Renoir – “The Skiff (La Yole),” “The Umbrellas,” “Gladioli in a Vase,”

Van Gogh – “Sunflowers,” “A Wheatfield, with Cypresses,” “Van Gogh’s Chair,”

Van Eyck – “The Arnolfini Portrait,”

"Rain, Steam, and Speed," by J.M.W. Turner

Constable – “The Hay Wain,”

And many, many other amazing works.  There were several times when I was saying to myself, “wait, that’s here.  HERE in London.  HERE right in front of my eyes.  Whoa.”  I went in there with a purpose, and then found myself completely swept up what the museum had to offer.  It’s a fantastic place, and the best part is that it’s FREE!

I want to go back just to enjoy the rest of what that place has to offer.  Also, they have “Madonna of the Rocks,” by da Vinci that they’ve taken out from display temporarily.  I’d like to see if it’s back on the wall before I leave.

Oxford + Cambridge = Oxbridge

Wow!  So much to cover and such a short period of time.  Let’s see if I can get to some of this.  First off, I’m rather surprised I even got to these universities in the first place.  It was such a blessing to go to each of these places and drink in what they have to offer.

First, Oxford – It wasn’t what I was expecting.  First, the entire university isn’t just one body, it’s divided into smaller colleges (St. John, Magdalen, New, Corpus Chrisi, Wadham, Kings, Queens, etc.) that have their own chapel, living quarters, halls, and studies.  Also, I was expecting it to be a campus set aside from the town, but I found just the opposite.  The university and the town are indivisibly woven into each other.  There’s a college here, and a college there with a number of shops between them.

I had the opportunity to sit in on rehearsal with the choir boys of New College.  It was remarkable.  8 to 12 year olds all together singing the treble part of whatever piece they were learning.  They knew what key the piece was written in and what key they were choosing to sing it in.  They knew which marks were editorial and how to tune certain intervals.  There’s nothing like this in America.  One of the highlights was hearing them rehearse “Lift Thine Eyes,” by Mendelssohn.  Unbelievable.

The highlight of the entire trip was being able to sing with one of the college choirs for an Evensong service.  We’ve got some really sweet hook ups into a lot of different colleges there (Thanks Ruth!).  I had the opportunity to sing with St. John’s College Choir.  We pretty much showed up and hour before the service, learned the program (including Anglican chant), and then started learning some of next week.  I was impressed that they all could sight-read so well.  It must have rubbed off or something because I started sight reading better!  Next to me was another bass named Rory who helped show me the ropes.  Without his help I would have been completely lost.  I was really glad that one of the pieces had the same words as a song we did in BYU Singers this year, and the other one was “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,”  the same version we did with the combined choirs at BYU.  Way to take a load off my mind!

Between rehearsal and service we had tea in a common room.  It was a great way to get a bit of food, water and socializing in before singing.  An interesting part of the service was that before and after we went out to sing the service in the chapel, there was a prayer and a blessing.  It’s a part of the service you never get to see unless you’re apart of it.  And I guess, if you’re doing this week in and week out it becomes routine for you and might not be as novel as it is for us.  After the service we had a wee reception in the chapel and then dinner in the hall.  They sang a blessing (that was more like a Verdi opera chorus then the Tallis cannon we learned) and then ate.  We had a great time chatting with the students and learning what they do and why they choose to do it.  They really are a keen bunch.  I found them to be really open, warm and friendly.  Awesome people.

Next, Cambridge – We have only spent a day here so far (as opposed to three in Oxford), but already, it’s an engaging place and very attractive.  It’s much like Oxford in the sense that there are different college with the town woven in.  We got to walk around a bit and felt that the place was really bright and open with a really good feel about it.  We took a punting tour down the River with great guide and had a blast.  The punting tour essentially shows you nine of the colleges that sit on the river.  I found Cambridge to be a bit more bucolic then Oxford (which is always a plus in my book).

After our punting trip and our walk around the place, we went to rehearsal and Evensong with Trinity College Choir conducted by Stephen Layton (who conducts Polyphony).  It was a great choir with a really fantastic repertoire.  They sang the “Nunc Dimittis” by Arvo Pärt (LOVED IT), “O Vis Aeternitatis” by Frank Ferko (a new favorite) and a new unpublished piece by Stephen Paulus called “Little Elegy” (Uh-mazing).  They sounded really amazing, and are definitely up there on the list of choirs I need to get to know better (along with Tenebrae, Elora Festival Singers and The Holst Singers).

Sadly, we didn’t have much more time besides that.  On the way to Cambridge we found a US Memorial a few of the troops who died in the European Theater, many from the air force who were shot down over the sea.  It was a moving experience.  I really want to go back there.

One thing that I noticed with both choral experiences is that most of the what choirs ever do is church music.  Literature specifically written with a church service in mind.  They see very little secular repertoire, if any at all.  I found that very peculiar to me since I find myself about half and half with the sacred and secular lit.  I can’t see myself giving up either.  Then again, with so much focus on church music, they know it all and have a vast amount of it.

Sorry for the long delay and hope I can write more soon.  Just having a blast here!  I highly recommend it.