How We Rehearsed a Screaming Successful Show
November 21, 2014, 11:47 AM posted by Maria Choban

August 26: 12 weeks out - Notification of upcoming show on November 20 and inquiry: Would I be interested in performing in this show? (It was late notice because the first pianist contracted moved out of town). The show: Carla Rossi Sings the End of the World!

September 28: 8 weeks out - first rehearsal. Me and singer/clown Carla Rossi show up well practiced, rehearsing the feel and the sculpting of the interpretation of 3 of the eventual 9 numbers (around 40 minutes of music). 2 consecutive rehearsals the following 2 weeks cover the other numbers in the same way. We set up weekly 2-hour rehearsals.

October 15: 5 weeks out - I'm off book, everything more or less memorized.

October 22: 4 weeks out - Both of us are off book, everything more or less memorized.

November 2: 2.5 weeks out - First of 3 off-Broadway shows (at ClassicalRevolutionPDX waypost jam) presenting portions of the November 20 show.

November 8: 2 weeks out - Second of 3 off-Broadway shows (special guest on Leo Daedalus' The Late Now) running different portions of the show.

Carla and Leo; photo by Gene Newell

November 16: 4 days out - Morning - Dress rehearsal at the Alberta Rose Theater with The Dolly Pops dancers.

November 16: 4 days out - Evening - Third of 3 off-Broadway shows at Christopher Corbell's Muse:Forward. Again, running other different portions of the show.

November 19: 1 day out - Another run-through with everyone: Carla, Dolly Pops dancers and me.

November 20: THE DAY - Tech run and show. Full House! Lots of electricity - neither under nor over rehearsed. Smooth, spontaneous, successful, FUN run! Raucous, enthusiastic audience.

My personal practice time:
52+ hours
includes arranging songs, memorizing

Carla's personal practice time:
100+ hours
includes writing dialogue, learning songs, memorizing everything!

Dollypops personal practice time:
100 hours

Rehearsal time:
50+ hours
includes rehearsals between Carla & Maria, Carla & Dollypops, Everyone

3 Test Runs:
20+ hours

320 hours

Raucous, Enthusiastic Audience, many of them newbies and now new fans!!!

November 18, 2014, 05:41 AM posted by Maria Choban

My father, trying to remember exactly how a room was set up 40 years ago, called a friend to ask. When the friend answered he shoved the phone at me to take the call. Off guard, I shoved it back. His retort: "I HATE being bossed!!!" My reaction: "Me Too!!!"

Listen To Music, Dammit! - an article in NewMusicBox exhorts us to open our ears and our minds to sounds outside our own box. And this kind of shit always feels to me like someone's shoving a phone in my face. I'm all for curiosity and being curious. But I don't think it's as simple as being too lazy to be curious, to venture into new areas. I do think it has much to do with self-esteem (not simply defaulting to our comfort(able) zones), to affirmation by others that our tastes are valid even if they're not the affirmers', to luck - being slightly bored and maybe someone being in the right place at the right time on the phone, asking us if we want to speak to a mutually adored friend about a new artist they're gaga over. And that's just for starters.

November 17, 2014, 05:36 AM posted by Maria Choban

I saw Masque of the Red Death yesterday - produced by Shaking the Tree theater company. What a fun production! Audience participation, recreation friendly - you get to dance, walk to different scenes in the play, drink up at a wine bar across the street for intermission personally ushered by the Edgar Allan Poe characters. There are stand out performances, fair to middling performances, Escheresque-gee-whiz concepts mostly laudably carried out. There was so much to comment on why this event shook the tree and alas I was left to listen to an ape at half-time gaga over the hollywood beauty of the actors - the thing that most (or perhaps only) impressed him. While nothing in the play moved my insides like reading The Alexandria Quartet (with all its flaws) or Karenina, I would definitely see it every year if STT would consider doing it as a Halloween Holiday event. At intermission I'd hide in the bathroom.

October 21, 2014, 08:14 AM posted by Maria Choban

Learning to do something I love enjoying - like writing when I love reading, is an exercise in holding on to the magic. With great teaching comes maturity, knowledge and the loss of naive bliss. I finished The Alexandria Quartet - all 4 volumes - 2 nights ago. For me, what makes Durrell great is his amorality - his inability to moralistically judge character. Incest or superficial B+ intellects in the British diplomatic corp are equally forgiven human traits in likeable, flawed individuals. Dark sides are his specialty. He shares this trait with Terry Pratchett. A masterful metaphorist, of turning nouns into verbs (i.e. something like "the translation Englishes badly" in one of his sentences), I get lost in his writing - never thinking that it's laboured or pedantic (something I cannot say about Thomas Hardy). Because I frequently discussed the book and the writing with a writer friend who has always wanted to read it, I was forced - via soviet interrogation - to specify WHAT made this read so riveting for me (and what was lacking). Durrell's AQ stands up to the interrogation; I never went back to reading the book thinking about what was discussed about it. But yesterday I read a Hilary Mantel short story The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. LOVED IT! and yet, was always aware that I was comparing and dissecting and analyzing as I was reading.

I remember when I decided as a concert goer to stop listening as an insider - to stop analyzing, stop appreciating great craft, etc. . . . . to JUST FEEL! (good or bad). And to dissect later. I was in my early 20s. It's hard! It's not something I accomplished in one year or even five. It's a lot easier to do when the event is particularly great or particularly awful, but that in between has me second-guessing myself, tending to err toward the good. I recently tried to read Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar and got about 100 pages into it before I gave up. She writes smart, quick, insightfully and I couldn't quite grasp why I was detached. Finally I surmised, like Aaron Sorkin's West Wing, her smart characters are all the same character and the pacing never varies - a one bandwidth book. But it took some time for me to ferret this. In the past (before writing consistently, with observation) I would have dropped it with an "it sucks." And while I'm happy for the maturity of exploring why it sucks, I do miss the good old days when I jumped from book to book or event to event or piece to piece just looking for the one that got me high.

October 14, 2014, 05:37 AM posted by Maria Choban

It's the first day of autumn. Not really, but the long stretch of arid sunny days is purportedly over. My next door neighbor stood me up for our morning walk no doubt he'll claim threat of rain. It's barely foggy and I've gassed up the sunlamp by my computer.

What a great summer! A ten day trip to Estonia to partake of the world's largest choir fest - 30K on stage, 90k in the audience!!!! Lots of outdoor gardening/farming time (though never enough). Starting a new business venture (which is still more a renovation project than a business endeavor) with one of my sisters our father. I did not get in as much hiking or cycling as in other summers but I don't know where I would have slotted those activities either.

Today, right now, would have been the perfect day for Thanksgiving to fall. By the time late November hits I'm friggin' thankless with all the rain and miserable damp, too clouded to feel how lucky I have it.


For those who missed my last diatribe on Oregon ArtsWatch,click here!

For those who missed my gushing over Ben Folds, the second coming of Leonard Bernstein (yes,THE Ben Folds),click here!

August 07, 2014, 06:38 AM posted by Maria Choban

"we need street action, that's what's basically wrong with the music today, a lot of it don't go street." (James Brown from his interview with Terry Gross on NPR)

August 01, 2014, 09:54 AM posted by Maria Choban

I am puzzled by the protestant work ethic when it spins its myth into "force yourself to do stuff that's uncomfortable." Why wouldn't you force yourself to do stuff you love? That kind of discipline is hard enough to master.

Composers are offering advice to young students to broaden into areas that do not relate to their world. Others are bemoaning inadequate performances of their pieces, not understanding that same concept: Not part of that little performer's world . . . . yet. I have a student who is gaga over vocaloid music, listening to youtube hits like Nyan Cat and tracking down the sheet music and playing them. After observing her pattern through several of these obsessions, I asked her to listen to THIS. When I finished playing THIS she jumped up and down like the 12 year old she is, totally unselfconscious, wanting to know what that piece was and if she could play it! Bach's c-minor Prelude from WTC book 1. She's learning it line by line, week by week. She has 3 more lines to go -- 3 more weeks. After this we'll try Philip Glass's Wichita Vortex Sutra.

I don't think it's our job to push the broader world willy-nilly on the young. Too often, when I hear this kind of talk I translate: "You just want them to expand into YOUR world!" It is our job to shepherd them to areas that resemble the territory they know and love, augmenting that territory and bringing explosive ebullience into their experience (unabated btw for the 2 or 3 months my student has been in love with Bach's Prelude, continuing her focused obsessive drive to learn the whole piece).

For more ruminations like this, read my recent article in Oregon ArtsWatch, Cascadia Composers' "In Good Hands" concert: Bringing students the music of their time.

July 29, 2014, 11:43 AM posted by Maria Choban

"Do you like this piece?"

3 of us are sight reading the first of 3 pieces by Rick Sowash and I have been asked.

No, I do not like this set of 5 movements. It's insipidly tonal, cloying and I have to work hard to breathe life into it.

"Well, I can see where it would be much more audience friendly to a broader demographic than what classical music has been reduced to" is what I actually respond.

Am I lying? maybe. But consider these points:

1. For one month earlier this summer I was immersed in everything Estonian -- actually travelling to Estonia to partake in Laulupidu, the largest choir fest in the world -- 30,000 singers on stage at one time, 90,000 in the audience. The music was insipidly tonal. So tonal I totally understood why Esa Pekka Salonen defected to Modernism. I was this close myself! The issue of maintaining populist, folk simplicity vs. evolving a more sophisticated type of sound has been raised . . . . . and defeated at this festival. In Estonia's case, I totally agree with the decision but that's another blog post which centers around unifying a nation around their own language, banned through most of their existence, circumvented by singing.

2. David Del Tredici, a recent feted composer at Chamber Music NW -- is he revered because he stuck up for tonality or did he simply outlive/outlast the others in his milieu?

3. Our own Mousai audience, one of whom remarked to one of the players at the sight-reading session that the last Mousai concert sounded too much the same.

How should I program??? Should I default to tonality or some variation because statistics prove that's where I'll get the broadest largest demographic? Should I program stuff I personally like, such as Industrial Metal or Rebetika?

And then we played Sowash's Clarinet Concerto arranged by him for clarinet, cello and piano. The cellist and I fell in love immediately. "We MUST perform this piece!!" -- I interrupt the playing to gush. Lush harmonies, swoopy lines that resemble Gershwin, and that unexplainable "it" factor that makes for magic vs. good craftsmanship.

What makes a good program? a good piece? Like Justice Potter Stewart's pronouncement regarding porn: "I know it when I [hear] it."

June 04, 2014, 08:12 AM posted by Maria Choban

More than anything I love falling in love. I prefer when it comes out of left field, totally unexpected as it did with Will in the World -- the terrific Perry Mason-like biography of Shakespeare written by Stephen Greenblatt (And isn't it true, Mr. Burger, that Will's father's decline might have been attributed to alcoholism . . . . ?). Never having been a fan of Shakespeare, with this bio I not only fell in love with the author, I am also reconsidering a reconciliation with the playwright. I have never been a fan of musicals but I was cajoled into helping out in the band with Homomentum and I fell in love with its creator, Max Voltage, the cast, crew and band. When was the last time I heard ANY album, concert (much less musical) with 20 songs -- most of them written by Voltage -- that covered country, rock, cheese, Celtic, classical, blues and much much more with intelligence and HOOKS! ?

I am nearly immune, almost predisposed to rebuff what I consider in Portland to be a hybrid of emperor's new clothes with much too much polite acceptance of accredited acts or ensembles or shows or whatever. Call me a curmudgeon, my partner certainly does. In my defense, I have never been wrong when I've been dragged to these hybrids. It's not that these acts are terrible, it's just that they're not magic and I want magic!!! (although too often they are terrible).

Last Sunday I capped my concert filled weekend attending Portland State's choir concert. I was not dragged. I went because my nose has been itching to see Ethan Sperry, director of that school's choir programs, for over a year. In classic form, I was not an Ethan Sperry fan after a first introduction at a party. Staying true to classic form, I am now a groupie. My nose operates differently from my highly reactive personal emotions. It itched even harder after that party. I always trust my nose. When Sperry took the stage for the first piece he conducted well into the second half of the PSU show, everything flipped to hi-def. He moves spastically like David Byrne. His moves are sexier than Byrne's don't ask me why. I've seen both men live now. I think it's because Sperry has more heat and less kitsch. The Man Choir he was directing responded with equal heat. There was so much testosterone flying I nearly dove off my first row balcony seat and into the middle of that morass. Like the Lear production I saw a few weeks ago, the entire meh concert was worth these precious moments. I want to see Sperry march onto Portland's choir scene with a handpicked underground choir. I want Sperry to show us what magic really is. Make no mistake, this man over-prepares his choirs as evidenced by the national and international awards his choirs have won. This extra layer of raw rock&roll heat is lacquered over well rehearsed content. I am not a choral nerd, but I am a starstruck Sperry groupie and I'll catch anything I can that he puts on, or that Max Voltage produces/directs or Scott Palmer or . . . .

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