(After this article was posted, it was updated with a paragraph about Pink Floyd and his backup singers to make a comparison).
Hola a todos. Here in San Francisco, the San Francisco Symphony and Symphony Chorus performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in d (Choral) last month (diciembre/December 2018) in Davies Symphony Hall.
It seems that the public’s interest in symphonic choral works has dwindled considerably from the days of where works such as Mendelssohn’s Elias/Elijah was a mainstay in the repertoire, or oratorios in general for that matter. Here, in our dumbed-down US society, we seem to be down to (what I call) “The Big Three” on the “classical pops” list: Beethoven’s Ninth, Orff’s Carmina Burana and the annual, ubiquitous and perfunctory performances of Messiah (at the neglect of many other holiday choral works, such as Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Hodie). Which brings to mind that there’s another “Big Three” and that’s the ubiquitous performances of the Anglican canticle settings by the late English composer Herbert Howells that are over-performed in Anglican parish and cathedral churches. Those “Big Three” settings are the Collegium Regale Service (King’s College), St Paul’s Service, and The Gloucester Service. All are superb pieces but the man wrote others and unfortunately those three have become over-performed at the expense of Howells’s many other beautiful but neglected settings. (Lazy?) Anglican choirmasters seem to say, “We’ll do what we already know and have performed umpteen times. Nobody will know the difference!” The same goes for 2-3 of his anthems (“Like as the hart” and “Take him earth for cherishing” come to mind). But that “Big Three” is for another article.
The San Francisco Symphony Chorus also recently performed Messiah — I don’t even need to give the name of the composer for that do I? It’s Händel, by the way — but I didn’t hear that. No disrespect intended to the SFS Chorus, but if I don’t hear that warhorse Messiah again it will be fine with me. (I much prefer to hear Zelenka’s Missa Divi Xaverii ZWV 12 performed by Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704 instead. By the way, the vocal soloists in this performance were superb, and they were chosen from the Chorus the way it should be in my opinion. They’re not screamers. They sing on pitch. They have lovely voices and are real artists. Why can’t all vocal soloists sing like these fine soloists?
With their performance of Beethoven’s Ninth, perhaps it was the mic’ing as far as the sound problems were concerned. I don’t know, although I suspect the sound I heard was what it was in the hall. Because the tenor and bass sections were superb, followed by the alto section. It was the soprano section that bothered me. What is going on with soprano sections these days? I don’t get this.
When I was in Orchestra Choruses, our soprano section was superb and always sang with a lovely straight-tone (no noticeable vibrato) giving them perfect intonation. And favouring the soprano section, I was always closely listening to them especially when they were up the stratosphere in the top of their range. That was the case with the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the University of Maryland Chorus and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. But as is the case with the troubled (I’m being polite) Tanglewood Festival Chorus — which is currently undergoing a much-needed overhaul led by Chorus Director, James Burton, from the UK — at times it sounded like the soprano section of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus was screeching and screaming in their upper register. I heard some shrill sounds rather than beautiful singing. When the tenors were in their high register, they didn’t sound like they were screaming or shrill, and I didn’t hear any ugly shrill sounds. I heard impeccable German diction from the tenors, well, from the men in general including their perfectly trilled “r” on the word “Brüder” (which means “brother”). The German diction was superb from the Chorus.
As a former chorister in the San Francisco Symphony Chorus when superb Vance George was Chorus Director, I remember that when one is in the Chorus one thinks that unfortunately most people listening to us don’t even notice the diction that we worked so hard on with the language coach and or Chorus Director — or notice much of anything really for that matter unless they are another serious “choral person.” But being a “choral person” with years of Orchestra Chorus experience myself, let me assure you choristers in the SFS Chorus that I noticed your excellent diction, and your (mostly) beautiful singing and hard work. It may have gone unnoticed by many people who don’t have a clue about the talent, skill level, musicianship and amount of work involved to be in the Symphony Chorus. But let me assure you, you’re very much appreciated by me because I know what’s involved from having done it myself. As I’ve written before, there was a time where I felt like I was living on the stage of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with our performance demands in the Choral Arts Society with the National Symphony Orchestra and other (inter)national orchestras. So muchas gracias.
A brief aside: It sounded like the Chorus — per the conductor’s wishes I presume — made some of the quarter notes into eighth notes with the final t’s in the diction coming a half-beat earlier than they normally would. I don’t have the score before me but when we sang the Ninth here (SFS Chorus/Vance George) under conductor Kurt Masur (who held the word “Gott” at the fermata for a day and a half – I loved that and the soprano section was up on their High A with no struggling at all!), and when I sang it with Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the National Symphony Orchestra, I remember those notes that I’m talking about being quarter notes. This is not a complaint, just an observation. Sometimes conductors do change note values for diction purposes so that a consonant lands on a certain beat. I was just curious.
The problem with this performance by the San Francisco Symphony Chorus was that I detected some unevenness in the soprano section. I also heard a slight bit of wobbling vibrato on a couple of occasions from the tenor section. It seemed that the quieter the tenors sang is when the vibrato reared up. And it sounded like just one voice that had turned on vibrato. I heard the same thing at one point from — what sounded like — one voice in the alto section.
With Beethoven’s Ninth if one is not careful, the choral section can come off as screaming because the soprano section especially is often in the top of their register, which is where I think a darker-tone in the soprano section would be helpful and could possibly eliminate any shrill and or hints of possible screaming sounds. The soprano section of the SFS Chorus has a rather bright sound from the broadcast I heard. I think the Chorus overall has a brighter sound now than they did under Vance George. That’s just an observation. As I remember, when I was in the Symphony Chorus we sounded more like Margaret Hillis’s Chicago Symphony Chorus (warm, dark tone) when Solti was CSO conductor. And Vance George was a protégé of Margaret Hillis. The Chicago Symphony Chorus under Ms Hillis/Solti sang with an open-throat dark tone and the same for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Robert Shaw. They both sang with a straight-tone or no noticeable vibrato.
At least to my ear, one thing I noticed about the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Shaw is that he had the bass, tenor and alto sections as the dominant sections, and the soprano section just sort of laid up above or floated up above the other three sections. In other words, the soprano section was not the dominant section as it was in this performance by the SFS Chorus. And I never heard any hint of screaming or shrill sounds from the ASOC at any time. The soprano section of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus had a very polished, refined, pure-tone and controlled sound with perfect intonation, which one expects from a major Orchestra Chorus such as the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. As of this writing, it must be said that the SFS Chorus is clearly the better Chorus when comparing it to the TFC.
As for the vocal soloists in this performance, sigh, don’t get me started on them. Who chose them? Ah, dreadful. I know a 90-year old woman and she and her group of about 10 people have stopped going to the Symphony because of screamers like these vocal soloists I’m about to write about. She said that it didn’t used to be like this. She said, “they just scream at you; none of us like it in our group. It’s no longer enjoyable.” I understand. I can’t stand them either.
These days, if someone were to tell me, “I’m a classically-trained singer,” if I could do so I would say, “Oh, so you’re a screamer? That’s what it amounts to. Why not just call yourself that? Screaming with heavy, wobbling vibrato. Guess what pitch I’m singing? And vibrato is often used to cover up technical problems and pitch problems. If you can’t sing on pitch, hell, use heavy-vibrato where your voice is wobbling back and forth in between pitches. Nobody will know the difference, including some conductors who have been brainwashed to think that ‘it’s supposed to sound like that.’ (roll eyes) Groan. Some of these screamers seem to be trying to compete with the sirens on emergency vehicles passing by the concert hall. That’s not music. It’s not singing. There’s no artistry involved in screaming with vibrato and that’s what it is. Let’s tell it like it is. It’s noise pollution.” The Vibratobots will tell you, “you must use vibrato to ‘sing over’ the Orchestra.” Rubbish. Orchestras are quite skilled at accompanying quietly. They can play so quietly that one can barely hear them. I’ve heard them do so. And with technology being what it is today, any vocalist screamer can be mic’d with a headset microphone. Then, they can sing at a reasonable volume level — without annoying wobbling vibrato and so that the people sitting in the first few rows of the Orchestra section won’t need to bring earplugs — and where it doesn’t sound like they’re screaming and trying to compete with a jet engine.
Beethoven’s Ninth is a symphonic choral work. It is not opera. Why does Beethoven’s Ninth consistently turn into opera in the choral section? These opera divas in this performance were among the worst screamers that I’ve ever heard anywhere with (as usual) the tenor and soprano soloists screamers trying to outdo everybody on stage. As is usually the case, the quartet in Beethoven’s Ninth sounded like the typical train wreck one has become accustomed to hearing with the quartet in this piece with wobbling vibrato and screaming where none of the soloists seemed to be trying to harmonise with each other and sing beautifully. There was nothing musical about their role in this piece. They turned a non-operatic work into screaming opera. They didn’t seem capable of harmonising. They each seemed to live under the illusion that they were giving a solo recital performance, rather than performing as an ensemble. Did these four not study ensemble singing where they trained, in screaming? Ensemble singing requires real talent and artistry. It requires being a real musician like the other real musicians on stage such as the Orchestra and Symphony Chorus. They were the real musicians and artists in this performance. Not the screaming soloists. Any damn fool can scream. These soloists came off to me as rather amateurish and so wrapped up in their own voice at the neglect of skilled ensemble singing and harmonising with each other as a unified quartet. What I heard from the solo screamers was noise. The Chorus was singing beautiful music with their talent and artistry. The soloists decided against that. Why? And that last passage of the soprano soloist in the work after the tenor soloist decided to blow out a tonsil, at that point the soprano soloist decided to outdo him. She gave the listener the impression that she was giving a solo recital at that point in the score. She started winding up with a crescendo (is that in the score?) that overpowered all the other soloists screamers. It became all about her, Ms Soprano Diva. It was truly awful. Who, with an ear for music, liked that noise? As I wrote in this article, I usually avoid the solo passages in Beethoven’s Ninth for this very reason. And unfortunately, this performance was no different. But as expected, the audience seemed to love it — I guess they enjoy screaming, or can’t tell the difference between screaming and lovely singing — or were they mainly applauding the Orchestra and Chorus (bass, tenor and alto sections?)
One would have hoped that MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas, the conductor) would have taken the soloists aside and asked them to turn off that god-awful wobbling operatic vibrato and reminded them that this is not opera, and strongly encouraged them to try to harmonise with each other as a quartet is supposed to do and like the Chorus did. Perhaps conductors do this privately, but in my Orchestra Chorus experience I never saw a conductor speak a word of criticism to any vocal soloists. Instead, the conductor worshipped them as gods as if they were above reproach. I don’t understand that thinking. The conductor has no problem correcting the Chorus or the orchestral musicians, so why not the vocal soloists? Why are they off-limits? In this performance, the Symphony Chorus was not wobbling and fluttering. They (mostly) sang with perfect intonation; the perfect blending of voices. They were harmonising. I feel I’m getting redundant here but the point cannot be overstated. Typically with the quartet in this work, harmonising is not their concern. The Symphony Chorus was not singing with any vibrato or any noticeable vibrato (excluding the soprano section on occasion), so why were the soloists? And because of that, the two ensembles — meaning the soloists’ ensemble and the Symphony Chorus ensemble — did not match. It was a case of wobbling operatic vibrato (soloists) versus no vibrato (Chorus). They should have used vocal soloists from the Symphony Chorus. But then I guess orchestral management would say, “Well, no one will come then. We have to use celebrity screamers from artist agents as ‘bait’ to get people to come to this performance.” And because of that, the soloists screamers were as dreadful as usual. Among the worst I’ve heard in fact. Noise pollution best describes them. I don’t like being critical of other musicians, and I rarely do so unless I feel it’s needed because I know how that feels, but in this instance, I feel I must tell it like it is. Notice that I did not list the names of the soloist/screamers on purpose.
I suspect what I’m about to say in this paragraph will not be popular among readers, but frankly I don’t care: The other night mi amigo/my friend wanted me to give him my opinion about the backup singers used in a performance by Pink Floyd, so I did. As I told him, I’ve always paid attention to a group’s backup singers — such as in disco music, for example — because they sort of perform the role of the Chorus for a performance, as they sing behind or next to the solo singer. In the Pink Floyd performance, his backup singers were excellent. They blended their voices nicely and sang with a straight tone. He asked me if I thought they were professionally trained. Well perhaps, to some degree. They knew to try to harmonise with each other and blend their voices. No voice tried to out-sing or overpower the other. They were the opposite of the screamers in Beethoven’s Ninth, for example, or most vocal soloists/screamers in general in the classical music tradition. Someone will not like what I’m about to say, but in Beethoven’s Ninth the soloists/screamers are closer to serving the role of backup singers even though they mistakenly think they are the stars of the performance. They are not. The stars of the performance are the Orchestra and Chorus because they perform the majority of the work. The soloists/screamers have a small role by comparison. But I’ve seen the screamers strut out on stage in performances with this aura about them that they think they are such hot shit and gods, and should be worshipped, glorified and adored by the audience, especially the soprano and tenor divas. Some of the diva females even curtsy to the audience (isn’t that a bit outdated?) They look all around the hall to make sure everyone is adoring them with adoration and affection. Get over yourselves, soloists. You’re just a screamer, usually. You’re not the stars of Beethoven’s Ninth. You’re essentially the backup singers and there’s nothing wrong with that role. Therefore, why can’t you sing like backup singers? Why can’t you harmonise your voices with a straight tone? Your voice does not need to flutter, quiver and wobble in between pitches to the extreme where the listener doesn’t even know what pitch you’re trying to sing. And just like with backup singers, you can stand with a mic in front of you. No need to scream. Someone reading this will say, “How dare you compare the vocal soloists (or what you call “the screaming opera divas”) to backup singers in Pink Floyd?” Well, I have a lot of respect for talented and well-prepared backup singers, far more respect than I have for the screaming opera divas invited into symphonic choral works where their heavy-vibrato voice clashes with the straight-tone choral sound. I don’t look down on backup singers, as perhaps you do? That’s why I’m making this comparison. If Pink Floyd’s backup singers were given the score to Beethoven’s Ninth and asked to perform the solo role, I’d much prefer to hear them sing beautifully with well-harmonised voices compared to opera diva barking screamers. Also, the backup singers didn’t seem to look at themselves as gods or the stars of the performance. They looked very humble. So I’ll take the backup singers any day to obnoxious operatic divas, thank you very much.
I asked mi amigo/my friend to listen to the choral section in this performance. A bit of history: When we met I was listening a lot to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus (ASOC). At that time, he knew nothing about symphonic choral music. It can be said that his “choral ear” was trained by the ASOC, and when I’m playing a CD by the ASOC, he now immediately knows which Chorus it is without me saying anything. As for this performance, he said “the Men of the Chorus are excellent but the Women suck.” After a bit of questioning and clarification, he changed that to “the sopranos suck.” He said “the sopranos sound screechy.” I agree, they do. I also thought that the soprano section sounded too loud overall. They were dominant. They overpowered the rest of the Chorus, unlike what I explained earlier about the ASOC under Robert Shaw. Now, again, I don’t know if this is the mic’ing or the recording, but frankly I suspect it’s how they sounded in the hall.
When I was in the Symphony Chorus, 20% of the choristers were paid. I think that’s still true. They should all be paid just like all the orchestral members are paid. By not paying all the choristers it relegates them to second class musician status, and choristers of this high caliber are among the best, and the audition requirements are stringent. To begin with, one has to be an extremely good sight-reader. This is not a Chorus where one sits around learning notes. Just like when I was in the Choral Arts Society of Washington, our sight-reading of a new (tonal) piece — usually to be performed in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the National Symphony Orchestra or another (inter)national guest Orchestra — sounded almost ready to be performed. That was the skill level of sight-reading abilities of the Choral Arts Society of Washington. The same with the SFS Chorus. That’s the level of excellence expected here. Although based on personal experience, I suspect most of the musically-ignorant public still see the Symphony Chorus no differently than they do one’s average podunk church choir, even though there’s a world of difference between the two. In other words, the public has no idea what’s involved in being a chorister in such as renowned Orchestra Chorus. As a chorister, it was frustrating to me to realise that, and still is. All the work that we put into a a major symphonic work for weeks — and all our years of training — and the public sees us as “it’s just the Chorus. Anybody can do that.” Wrong. And this is true in so many other fields of study. The public — speaking from a position of ignorance — fails to understand that it requires decades of study and training at Conservatories and or Schools of Music, or privately. And one usually starts training when one is very young. In my case I was 5 years old. That’s when I began playing the piano by ear (imitating my elementary school music teacher’s piano playing) and my piano training officially started at age 8.
This also reminds me of the many piano students who came to me over the years and expected to be able to play like me in two weeks. I’m not joking. For those who don’t, I was a piano major at the Conservatory of Music where I trained, and in later years preferring to specialise in the works of Sergei Rachmaninov. Yes, these students expected to play one of the difficult Rachmaninov Études-Tableaux in 2-3 classes — I’d like to see that! — even though they had never studied piano before. Not even a child prodigy can do that! Most students bailed when they realise there was real work involved, hours of practise and real work/study. But especially today, most people have absolutely no clue of the difficulty or the level of advanced work involved in music education involved. So I very much emphasise with Orchestra Chorus members who may feel they’re not nearly as appreciated as they should be.
Overall, from a symphonic and choral perspective this was a good performance. I think that the soprano section needs some work/attention. They’re suffering from similar problems that James Burton is now working to correct with the soprano section of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and their screechy singing.
The San Francisco Symphony and Symphony Chorus are performing Mendelssohn’s Symphony-Cantata Symphony No. 2 Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise), Op. 52 (MWV A 18) later in the season which I’m looking forward to hearing. That is, assuming Chorus Director Ragnar Bohlin can polish their soprano section in time to remove screechy/shrill/screaming sounds between now and then, so that they can effortlessly handle that high B Flat near the end of the work with grace, ease, no screaming or screechy sounds and of course perfect intonation. Which was not always the case in their performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in d, Op. 125 (Choral).
I must say that the Symphony Chorus has one of the best tenor sections I’ve heard anywhere. You boys are good! Absolutely. (Well formally, they’re referred to as “the Men of the Symphony Chorus, but that also includes the basses”). Just like what I heard from them in a clip of their Beethoven Missa Solemnis awhile back. I said, “ah, those tenors! Love them.” I heard no straining, cracking or wilting of voices. They were a pleasure to listen to as were the basses. “The boys did well.” (smile). So did the altos, but those sopranos had their moments from some lovely singing to some shrill sounds leading into what sounded like screaming. Chau.—el barrio rosa
Hola a todos. I have an idea: I suggest that el niño en la casa blanca/the boy in the White House who is rabidly obsessed with a wall at the southern border try to find one adult in his repugnant regime and have that adult start a GoFundMe account in a serious attempt1 for like-minded basura to contribute to for building “his wall” at the southern border of the US. The basura who want a wall at la frontera/the border between los Estados Unidos/the US and México should pay for the wall themselves. And based on how much dinero/money they collect, that will be an indicator of how many people really want this wall.
We should be tearing down walls, not building walls to divide people.
One of the most basic human rights that a person should have is to live where they want to live on Planet Earth regardless of where one was born — which one has no control over — and regardless of arbitrary geographic nationalistic boundaries.
With the proposed wall at la frontera, it has nothing to do with so-called “terrrrrrrrrrrrsts” (terrorists) or “national security.” As expected, that’s once again playing the Fear CardTM to try to scare the willfully-ignorant sheeple into supporting an imaginary crises based in lies, which is all that is spoken from the lips of el niño en la casa blanca. Especially considering that the #1 bloviating, chest-beating and bullying terrorist en el mundo/in the world is currently occupying la casa blanca. He bombs innocent people while pretending to be a Christian (see He goes to the Establishment’s church, but I thought he was anti-Establishment?). He has children dying in his concentration camps at the border and thinks nothing of it while pretending to be a Christian. He bullies or makes deranged comments to someone in the world on a daily basis while pretending to be a Christian.
If the people across the southern border were white with blond hair and blue eyes, this wall wouldn’t even be a topic. It would not even be proposed. But because the people are mostly of a brown-skin pigmentation and speak español — and his proudly-ignorant base deeply fears international languages — and the piece of basura currently starring in the role of US White House resident is a big racist/white supremacist/nazi, this wall has to do with his anti-ethnic hatred based in xenophobia and catering to his anti-ethnic base. The same goes for the trash who support him. Their hatred of brown people and their absolute disregard for women and children. He flippantly says, “Lock them up.”
One looks forward to the day when this basura is the person locked up. Although I’m not holding by breath for the right-wing “Democratic” and Republican Establishment partisan-brainwashed Cults to actually do their job and hold this basura accountable for anything. And for those who are waiting for that or expecting it to happen, I have to ask: What drugs are you on? Chau.—el barrio rosa
————————- 1 Unlike what one individual did who was found to be involved in scams and who allegedly raised $20 million for the wall construction, but now says he will build the wall himself. He believes he can build the wall for less than half of the orange despot’s estimated costs on a per mile basis.
Hola a todos. Some of the breeders are getting pretty bold with their homophobia in San Francisco’s Castro. Mi amigo/My friend and I were standing at the corner of Castro and Market Streets in San Francisco (also known as Harvey Milk Plaza). We saw a “him and her” couple cross Castro Street. He looked more like an old biker-type guy. She wasn’t exactly young. Probably 40s. But I guess she agreed with the message on his shirt. They were holding hands. Channeling Harvey Milk, I guess he was rolling in his grave upon reading this guy’s shirt.
The breeder couple got near me and his black tee-shirt said in white letters, “Fuck you, homo” as they walked along the Milk Plaza. Rather bold to be wearing that around here. I’ve noticed that two of the current pejoratives/hateful terms against Queers these days online are “homo” and “faggot.” That was especially the case when Tumb*r sex sites were around (until recently). So this shirt was not using the word “homo” in a kind way.
Surprisingly, we saw quite a few young Queer boys on this visit. That was good to see. I even saw two Queer male couples making out down at 18th and Castro. Rare to see that around here these days in the Breeder Mecca.
I guess this bigoted biker guy felt the need to come to a former Gay Mecca — if he doesn’t live here — and tell the current residents and visitors how anti-Queer he is, and then he had to go and show how hetero he is by holding hands with a female in The Castro. Why would someone wear something like that in The Castro, even if it were an entirely straight area now? I have read about anti-Queer comments being made late at night as the neighbourhood has changed to a Breeder Mecca. Mi amigo said: Fortunately, I don’t think most people take the time to read what is on people’s shirts. He can’t think of the last time he read someone’s shirt. I only did so as he got closer to me.
Other than that, it was a mostly pleasant visit.
His shirt reminds me of this new hate that’s here in the US of Insanity that is very much “in your face.” Whether it be the deranged/insane orange despot and his obsessional hate against migrants/brown-skinned people from below the US border or his hate against Black people such as Obama, and his endless finger signs of white power every time he gets camera time. Hate and bullying are what this out-of-control toddler in an adult body is all about, and the US of Insanity is emulating his hatred in our faces now. This orange despot supposedly has a 37% approval rating as of this writing. Does that mean that 37% agree with (t)his hate in our faces? Chau.—el barrio rosa
New Year’s Resolutioners are corporate media brainwashed sheeple.
Hola a todos. It’s the beginning of 2019. No big deal as far as I’m concerned. It’s not as if all the problems of 2018 got erased when the clock moved over into another year. It’s just another day, or in this case another year. So what?
I know that’s not how I’m supposed to look at this. It’s supposed to be a big deal where sheeple make (major) changes in their pathetic lives. Well, one can make positive substantive changes any time of year in one’s life. Doing so just because the clock moved somewhere into another year seems silly to me. But the corporate media brainwash the sheeple into this nonsense and they even give the sheeple suggestions of what to do: “Maybe begin that gym membership you’ve thought about doing and lose those extra pounds.” That’s followed by a commercial for a fat-filled corporate “fast-food” chain urging the viewer to eat there. That shows how seriously the corporate media take all this.
Mi amigo told me this morning that he was going to the gym and because it was raining out, in the low 50s and Domingo/Sunday, “no one will be there.” I said: Well have a good time at the breeder-Millennial gym where everybody wears all-black clothing as if they’re all depressed. I call it the “breeder-Millennial gym” because it’s no longer a Queer gym as it used to be when there was a gay mecca here. Like much of the New Techie San Francisco, since the Tech Industrial Complex wrecking crew came in and raped The City — while these millionaire/billionaire run corporations receive corporate welfare from The City — the clientele of this gym changed as well. Every time mi amigo goes to the gym he sees lobotomised Millennials (mostly) all glued to their phone. They think they’re “working out at the gym” but their full attention is on that phone, so they’re not getting much of any workout because to do anything well one’s full attention should be on that. It’s their phone they’re working out, not their body. Sitting on their ass on a piece of equipment looking at their phone is not “working out.”
So mi amigo got to the gym and the dressing room was packed. He didn’t understand why. He was able to “steal” someone’s locker because they were distracted by their phone and didn’t notice that mi amigo had slid in. The gym had — what looked like — 250 new people. “Why,” he asked himself. Then it occurred to him that these were the corporate media-brainwashed New Year’s Resolutioners (NYRs) sheeple. These newbie NYRs were dropping the weights and being obnoxious. (Do they just drop things at home no matter what it is rather than put them down respectfully?) Some macho jock bros tried to drop the weights louder than another obnoxious macho jock bro to try to “out-macho” him. The maturity level of these people is right down there with the orange despot man-child. The front desk had to continually keep making nonstop announcements to these stupid NYRs about the noise they were making and the equipment. “Stop dropping the weights. It damages our equipment.” Of course, most NYRs had earbuds in glued to their phone so they likely never heard the announcements. There were those NYRs obnoxious jocks who were worried about how they were posing in the gym and what kind of jock bro “walk” they were doing so that they looked “hard-assed and tough” like the next guy. As I said, the maturity level? There were other inconsiderate assholes who were using the gym equipment as their personal phone library, so that no one else could use the equipment.
Mi amigo went to the bathroom to pee and there was another guy supposedly peeing at the urinal next to him. Mi amigo was thinking, “This guy is slower than I am at peeing.” He was holding his dick with the right hand and this phone was in his face with his left hand. It looked like he had probably stopped peeing an hour ago and he was still frozen in that position glued to his phone.
In passing, one of the gym regulars asked mi amigo: “Why are all these people here all of a sudden?” Mi amigo said: I think they’re the NYRs. The guy said: “Oh of course, that’s what this is about. Geezus.” Mi amigo said: They’ll be gone in a week or two when they realise there’s real work involved.
True, unless they only use the gym as a phone library, although I suspect the gym’s management would eventually step in on that. But that’s pretty much the way it is with anything and it’s also why this NYRs shit is such nonsense. It’s just a quick fad for shallow people who don’t think things through. They want instant gratification through their compulsive shopping mentality, which New Year’s resolutions are part of. Although I guess it was good for the gym to get another 250 memberships — with the majority of them never to be used again or maybe for only a couple more visits — since this gym seemed to be hurting lately as gym memberships in general seem to be way down in the Breeder Mecca (the former Gay Mecca known as San Francisco’s Castro). It seems that “working out” was just a long-term fad for many in the former Gay Mecca because mi amigo has seen many guys who used to go to his gym that he no longer sees there and he almost doesn’t recognise them. They’ve changed so much by letting their bodies go/deteriorate compared to how they were once very concerned about their toned-body and health.
He hadn’t said so I asked him: Were the NYRs Milleneal breeders? He said: “Yes, everyone of them.” There may have been one Queer guy who was Asian but he was very stuck on himself, but yes, it was all breeders or gay closet cases pretending to be straight. (Sadly, the norm around here now). I asked: Were they all in black? He said: No, the NYRs didn’t know that they’re supposed to be wearing all-black to be conformist at this gym, so there was some colour. I guess that will change should they come back again.
Mi amigo said: I think the New Year’s resolution thing bothers people a lot. They think they must come up with some resolution or something to do as a change in their life.
I’m not one of these NYRs or even one who wishes anyone “Happy New Year.” I find it all very silly. It’s just the date changing. The same old shit continues or gets worse. So when someone says to me — and I know the person well enough to respond like this — when they say, “Happy New Year,” I respond: Happy New Year? What drugs are you on? Chau.—el barrio rosa
Hola a todos. Someone emailed me asking if I was aware that the orange despot had gone to Washington National Cathedral (WNC) for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and asked why he would go there since it’s not where his fanatical religious base goes?
Very astute of you to point that out. Yeah, I was wondering the same thing. I saw that this shallow, vapid, chronic-liar, completely out-of-control, fragile/thin-skinned, deranged (inter)national embarrassment who is void of any semblance of “common sense” or decency and who is currently residing in the White House went to WNC. Yes, the fake “Christian” went to church. Hypocritical basura. He is so transparent. Yet his shallow stupid-is-in gullible believers still worship and glorify him as if he has spoken through the prophets. (Although his believers have likely never heard of The Nicene Creed to which I was referring there). The life of corruption that he’s lived and continues to live, his chronic lies — he doesn’t tell the truth about anything — and his despicable policies are the opposite of what Jesus was about based on what we’ve been told about Jesus from learned scholars who have studied his life. The orange despot went to WNC solely for attention. Maybe one of the other chronic liars, that Sarah Huck, told him this cathedral church would be packed (which it was) and it’s where the Establishment basura go, if they go to church at all, and especially when they are a “Christmas and Easter Christian” (meaning as fake-Christians they only go to church on those two High Holy days).
Never mind that he claims to be anti-Establishment. That’s just another lie. There are also many cameras at WNC. Washington National Cathedral has quite an elaborate production system to video record most of their liturgies for their U-toob channel, although they don’t record Choral Evensong on any regular basis. And I know of no parish or church in the District of Columbia where they video record their liturgies/services other than this cathedral church of the Anglican Communion, Washington National Cathedral (officially known as the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.) I suspect there are some fundamentalist/Southern Baptist churches in the District he could have gone to. I know there are some out in Virginia and he has no problem with leaving the District and going to where he can get attention elsewhere, but none of the churches out in Virginia likely have cameras that I’m aware of to give the narcissist the constant attention he craves.
I only know of two churches in the US that video record their liturgies on a regular basis and they are both of the Anglican Communion (WNC and Trinity Church Wall Street.) I thought there were three but I can only think of two. St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in Manhattan with their renowned Choir of Men and Boys is still back in the “Dark Ages” with only audio recordings of their Liturgies.
To their credit, I didn’t see WNC give the repugnant orange despot any camera attention at all. To them, it was as if he was not there. It was the AP (Associated Press) that apparently had a camera there or did they use one of the WNC cameras? Regardless, the AP fixed their camera on the pew where the orange despot sat from the video I saw.
Every resident of la casa blanca/the white house lies and pretends to be a “Christian” — yet their policies are in direct opposition to what Jesus taught and the way he lived his life. For example, Jesus didn’t bomb or drone innocent people. He didn’t kill people. Jesus fed the needy. He didn’t cut off their EBT/food stamps and or impose work requirements. He didn’t turn migrants away or have migrant children die in concentration camps. Jesus welcomed the stranger. On every account, the fake-Christian/the orange despot does the exact opposite of what Jesus did.
Other than for state funerals, the only time the orange despot goes to church is on Christmas and Easter. Again, he’s one of those “Christmas and Easter Christians” who think they can go to church on just those two High Holy days and that should buy their way into heaven. I think one’s god can see through that and is not fooled by one’s deceiving behaviour and sees how one really lives one’s life. Any other time, the orange despot’s church is a golf course on Domingo/Sunday.
Nobody can ever figure him out because he’s never figured himself out. Unlike well-adjusted and mature people, he’s never learned who he is as a person. He never matured to adulthood despite his chronological age. He’s still that arrogant and pompous immature little bully on the elementary school playground and continues to bully his way around the world to get what he wants. He’s an empty fragile/thin-skinned skin-encased sack who demands praise and adoration. If he were a well-adjusted human being/adult, he wouldn’t care what people said about him of a negative nature.
Does he not know that his evangelical fundamentalist base does not like “those ungodly Anglicans/Episcopalians?” Clueless him. Just like he’s clueless about everything else while pretending to be an omnipotent expert on all topics. There’s nothing that he doesn’t pretend to be an expert on. In reality, he’s the poster man-child for “stupid is in.”
They let him in for the Christmas Eve Mass even though reserved free tickets are usually required for that Liturgy where the Cathedral is packed with other “Christmas and Easter Christians.” Watching the video of this Liturgy, I sensed that most who attended this Liturgy had never been there before and most were not Anglicans/Episcopalians. For example, I watched when the Gospeller, Jan, (one of the priests) introduced The Gospel when she said, “The Holy Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ according to….” I saw no one behind her in the congregation make the three signs of the cross (forehead, mouth and over the heart) as is customary Anglican worship protocol. Also, most of the congregation did not bow to the processional crosses whenever they passed during the Liturgy. It was a very, very Low Church crowd. Ugh. One wonders why they went there in the first place — what enticed these sheeple to go there? — rather than a church where they were already familiar with the Liturgy? I doubt that the orange despot had reserved tickets for the Liturgy since I read he went there on a whim. Because of who and what he is — he’s currently acting in the role of “US president;” to him it’s just another reality show to give him the attention he constantly craves — I suspect the cathedral staff didn’t want any trouble with this international bully embarrassment. (And for those who are about to say to me: “You as a Democrat and Hillary and Obama lover…” You couldn’t be more wrong. I can’t stand either one of them and have never supported either. My comments about the orange despot are not partisan sour grapes on my part. Again, I couldn’t stand Obama as he greatly expanded the neocon agenda of the Bush/Cheney regime after going on and on about “Hope and Change We Can Believe In” during his first campaign. Of course that was all bull shit and merely marketing slogans for gullible people who fell for him. I always have to put in this disclaimer in my articles that I’m nonpartisan for the brainwashed “Democratic” and Republican Cultists/partisans who happen to show up here). And anyone who’s been paying attention knows the orange despot is all about trouble, he looks for trouble, he creates trouble, “it’s all about him,” dysfunction and bullying. This deranged nut belongs in a mental institute, not in la casa blanca.
So, WNC let him in without a ticket, I suspect. Any well-adjusted and mature human being — which obviously he is not — I think would have tried to keep a low profile and sat in the back of the Nave. But being the narcissistic child in an adult body that he is, he wanted full attention so he made sure that he went all the way up to the first pew and sat next to a devout Anglican family. Oh by the way, that Melania was there too, sitting next to him. He was talking to her during the processional hymn. One is supposed to be singing the hymn (“Adeste Fideles,”), not talking during it. That’s rude, but rude is what he is about. He never learned any manners or even the most basic sense of decorum and is completely void of any social skills. Basura.
During the procession, he wanted more attention so he made sure he looked down the center aisle towards the back of the Nave to watch the procession. Why did he do that? Why watch the procession? Just look at it when it goes by you at your pew and then enters the Sanctuary area. That’s what I and other Anglicans that I know always did when I was in cathedral churches. I didn’t stand there looking back and watch it like it were a wedding procession. I think that watching the procession is something that tourists do isn’t it? When I’ve seen the procession at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in London for state ceremonies when the Queen was present, no one turned around to watch the Queen walk by. They faced the High Altar. For those who don’t know, the procession at WNC includes the vergers, the thurifer (if they’re using incense which they did for this Mass), the Cathedral Choir of Men, Women, Boys and Girls, the Communion servers, the person carrying The Gospel, the two groups of acolytes carrying the processional cross (which is to be bowed to when it passes by one) and the clergy, including in this instance the Bishop for the Dioceses of Washington, District of Columbia. But since this was all about him and his desire for attention, he turned around so that everyone could see that he was there. It’s rather surprising that he didn’t make a statement and demand that everyone worship and glorify him as “The Almighty One” he thinks he is. Well, the mother of the devout Anglican family he sat next to was sort of annoying to me — from the AP video I saw of it — as I sense she was somewhat “celebrity struck” by having the orange despot on the same pew with her. (roll eyes) One of her daughters looked uneasy with him being there. If it were me, I would have moved to another location. I have no desire to sit on the same pew with one of the most despicable and repugnant humans beings on the Earth. The devout Anglican family bowed to the processional crosses when they passed. What did the orange despot do? Well, being clueless to Anglican worship protocol (as many from The Establishment are), he stood there looking down the Nave, oblivious to the processional crosses. He did fleetingly notice the thurifer and the incense. Everyone in the procession seemed to be ignoring him which was good. No one stopped and asked for his autograph or genuflected to him which I’m sure he would have loved being the all-important piece he thinks he is.
If only we had someone “presidential” in that office (and no, I don’t mean Hillary). I think the days of having someone “presidential” in that office are over. And yes, I am expecting him to have a second term, somehow, one way or the other. I’m just being realistic rather than engaging in the usual wishful-thinking that most people engage in, especially “Democrats.” Their modus operandi is constantly living in delusional wishful-thinking, only to look like fools later.*
So, I wonder what the orange despot’s evangelical base thinks about him attending an Anglican Liturgy and in this case a more High Church liturgy (Christmas Eve Mass), or are they even aware that he did so? They are the stupid-is-in crowd after all. Considering the religious basura he surrounds himself with such as clergy from the Southern Baptist Convention, I don’t think they would approve as they would say he should have attended a service in an evangelical, Southern Baptist church or another bigoted and prejudiced anti-gay fundamentalist denomination along that line where they pretend to be “Christians.” Just as the Orthodox Anglicans don’t like WNC because, in part, they have women priests and are pro-Queer, or claim to be. But I suspect the orange despot knows nothing about what I’ve written here or why his fundamentalist base would disapprove of him being at WNC. And not being a genuine Christian or knowledgeable about this topic, he wouldn’t have knowledge or understanding about the frictions and differences between the various fake-Christian groups who exploit Christianity for their right-wing, anti-gay, white supremacist agenda. But I know for a fact that most (if not all) evangelicals, fundamentalists have no use for Anglicans/Episcopalians. Although I should point out that there are some fundamentalist Anglicans. They’re called Orthodox Anglicans). The evangelicals don’t even consider Anglicans to be real Christians. They think of them more as (Roman) Catholics, whom they also hate, in part I think, because the liturgies are very similar.
Does one remember that the orange despot promised to “Drain the Swamp?” Well, he’s done no such thing. In reality, he’s added to “The Swamp” with more corporate trash and it seems that no one can work with him. His orange regime has been one big revolving door of corporate basura coming and going. If there were a Human Resources Department they would most assuredly have difficulty keeping up with who’s still here and who’s not and the paperwork that goes along with that.
So he hasn’t “drained the swamp” but rather added to it, and then he goes to WNC because that’s where the other Christian frauds of The Establishment/the US Oligarchy go, if they go anywhere, after he claimed to be anti-Establishment. More hypocrisy. Do any of these fake-Christians of the Establishment go to church on Sundays or on any occasion other than state occasions? Pro-Establishment state funerals are held at Washington National Cathedral. Most recently, it’s where warhawk John McCain’s and warhawk Bush I’s funeral were held and where both were essentially canonised and granted sainthood status using major versions of revisionist history following their deaths making them out to be completely different people than they were in real life. The corporate media dutifully assisted in this process.
At the Christmas Eve Mass, the orange despot took Communion. He went to the Dean for the wafer but skipped the wine.
During the recessional, I was annoyed to see the Dean feel the need to smile and nod at the orange despot — that’s the way he looked to me on camera — on the Dean’s way out in the recessional. Although it looked like the despot didn’t look at him. He looked straight ahead. One would hope that the Dean would have displayed some self-respect and integrity and ignored this basura currently squatting en la casa blanca. Considering the orange despot’s despicable policies and what he has said — including his “pussy grabbing” remarks during the campaign — why would any self-respecting person give this piece of basura the time of day? He deserves nothing. He deserves no respect as he has completely disrespected the office he’s currently holding (illegitimately so?) The Bishop looked the opposite direction when she got near the orange despot, as I would have. Good for her! From what I saw, those who had integrity and self-respect ignored this piece of basura. And then there was the Dean. Ugh.
On another topic but related to his base: One wonders how the orange despot’s white supremacist/nazi base justifies his shoulder-rubbing at “summits” with world leaders who are not white? How do they justify and feel about him getting together all-chummy with Asian world leaders and world leaders of other ethnic backgrounds when on their own white supremacist sites they make the most pejorative and hateful comments about anyone who is not straight and white. They write that they want a “straight and white America.” Also, using the sheeple/conformist and revisionist history “LGBT” acronym, they write that they are “anti-LGBT.” The word “faggot” is saturated all over their sites encouraging bullying and violence against “faggots,” including images of that shown. It does no good to tell them that “America” is the entire hemisphere and that the United States of America is only a portion of America because in their uneducated mind (the word “mind” used advisedly) and where his willfully-ignorant base does not believe in world maps, there is only one “Amerikkka” to them and that’s the one I and others refer to as The Cesspool/the US/los Estados Unidos. Nevertheless, his rabid and hateful base/supporters claim that the orange despot is “Making America Straight and White Again.” They’re serious. They truly believe that, and they’re full of hate for anyone who is not a breeder and white. They’re the most septic of people.
Finally, I’d like to comment on WNC’s new organist (as well as their former organist, Benjamin Straley): For this Liturgy, the organist, Thomas Sheehan, was excellent. He’s from Harvard University where he’s currently the Associate University Organist and Choirmaster at the Memorial Church at Harvard University. He’s a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, and also trained at Westminster Choir College. At first, I thought that perhaps he was auditioning to replace Benjamin Straley. He’s already been hired to do that. Is he the next “Benjamin Straley?” He could be. But in my opinion, it’s much too early to tell. I wouldn’t go by just one Liturgy that Thomas played and especially a Liturgy that is usually or supposed to be more High Church. I would have to hear Thomas over months to determine if he’s another Benjamin. I mean, who could top the original very High Church Benjamin Straley who first showed up at WNC in his early days there after being hired? I remember saying about him: He’s one of the best organists I’ve ever heard. And I may have said he’s the best organist they’ve ever hired, although I don’t know that I would have said that not having heard most of all the previous organists. But anyway, Benjamin was superb in his early days at WNC. He was certainly better than his predecessor. The new organist, Thomas Sheehan, has excellent improvisational skills which are critical in an Anglican Liturgy. I’m thinking of High Church; does one need any improvisational skills in Low Church? I. Don’t. Think. So. Or not much of any. LOL. Low Church congregations are fine with just hearing Southern Baptist hymns played “by the book” where one would usually be improvising. Ugh. Thomas’s improvisational skills do somewhat remind me of Benjamin’s. At one point — I think it was during the recessional hymn (“Hark, the Herald…”) — it looked like Thomas was playing too fast flying up one of the manuals (improvising) for the action of the organ to keep up with him. With Benjamin when he was Organist, I sensed that he had been told at one point by someone to “tone it down.” I think I even wrote about my suspicions about this. When Benjamin first arrived at WNC, he was a very High Church organist. I was delighted they had hired him. He was a perfect choice. But at one point something changed. It was as if he had been reprimanded sort of, as if someone said to him, “Benjamin we need to talk with you for a moment. We enjoy your playing but we are not High Church here, so maybe you could tone things down a bit?” (roll eyes….oh here we go). I don’t know that anyone said that to him but that’s the impression I and others got because his playing style rather abruptly changed to a more Low Church style. After that, I no longer found his playing that interesting. I kept watching the Liturgies waiting to hear the original Benjamin. I didn’t hear him during the Liturgy. Some of his occasional organ improvisations he played for the Organ Voluntary at the end of the Liturgy reminded me of the original Benjamin, but that was it. I remember asking, “What’s happened to our High Church Benjamin? Is he bored with the job and no longer has the enthusiasm he originally had.” Even his improvisations during the Liturgy changed. They were no longer the grand and glorious High Church improvisations he came there with. I remember that his improvisations especially after the reading of The Gospel became more subdued and what I called “meditative” and then he seemed to be stuck in that style. Week after week, I kept waiting for grand and glorious High Church to return. I didn’t hear it. Well, the same thing could happen to Thomas, and it won’t surprise me if it does. So I feel rather reserved about coming to any conclusions about Thomas too early. I enjoyed his playing during the Christmas Eve Liturgy. He doesn’t start full-time at WNC until July 2019. Also, the descant on the recessional hymn was superb. One could easily hear it soaring above the hymn as it should. That was sung from the back of the Nave. The acolytes and thurifer were very well trained and with Thomas’s superb playing it gave the Liturgy a rather High Church feel. I very much appreciated it. Chau.—el barrio rosa
Tough luck, bigots. Hola a todos. A television station in Jacksonville Florida was “bombarded” (their word) with complaints after their newscast showed the image of two gay guys kissing. Queer couple Kenneth and Bryan Woodington re-created the photo (see image to your right) that was taken back in 1945 by Alfred Eisentaedt of a sailor kissing a nurse. Well, the station was accused of not being “family friendly.”
Translation: We, the breeders and closet cases in the Jacksonville audience hate it when you show us a picture of two human beings kissing who love each other, if they’re not a (white) breeder couple. But if they’re two guys engaged in a violent act, we’d love to see that and please show us more of that and as often as possible. We consider watching nonstop violence — especially between two guys — on television “family friendly” programming. We can’t get enough of “family friendly” violence. But we pathetics in the Jacksonville audience don’t want to see two guys showing affection and love to each other because we breeders are fucked up in the head like that. We don’t consider gay couples to be families. Only (dysfunctional and on the verge of divorce) breeder couples can be a family in our twisted “minds.” Therefore, we only want you to show us (dysfunctional and white) breeder couples kissing.
I’m so tired of this. It honestly feels like we have accomplished nothing. As I’ve written many times, here at the end of 2018 after decades of work by the now-dead Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement, the bigoted and prejudiced breeders and closet cases among us don’t like seeing gay guys kissing. Lesbians seem to be more acceptable to the prejudiced/bigots than gay guys because the thinking seems to be, “That’s what girls do. Girls hold hands and kiss.” I see. But you know, I suspect the reaction that the Florida television station received would be the same no matter what station in The Cesspool/the US showed the two gay boys kissing. Gay guys are not equal, but few of us seem to care anymore. I’ve had it up to here with this shit.
We’re headed backwards people and the now-dead so-called “gay community” — whatever the fuck that means now — doesn’t seem to give a fuck about anything. Except for that fucking phone embedded in their hand 24/7.
I’ve been getting some e-mails lately. A new reader asked me what the Queer organisations at the US federal level are doing these days? This came up he said in a discussion over Thanksgiving with his family. The reader said he couldn’t think of anything that’s been done or even talked about since marriage equality (temporarily) became the law here in The Cesspool. The reason I wrote “temporarily” is because I expect marriage equality to be ended at some point in the not-so-distant future considering where we’re headed. I agree with the reader. I’m not aware that the wealthy organisations at the US federal level are doing anything whatsoever except having annual overpriced gala dinners (Dahling) and taking in dinero/money from suckers who are members of their organisation.
Then another person wrote me saying he had been on a “gay conversion” chat app. He wrote about his negative experience there and how it’s mostly a very small (less than 10) and very conservative group, with one of the moderators being a pro-patriarchy gun-toting redneck. “The people closest to me would be shocked if they knew my real views” or words to that effect was a statement the moderator wrote on the chat.
Then I see these headlines:
1. Man says his landlord kicked him out because he’s gay: ‘You think I want homosexuals coming back and forth?’
My response to that: So much for the “gay people can live anywhere” rubbish that we’ve heard so many times from the conservatives in recent years.
2. Transgender teen films teachers hounding her in school bathroom: ‘I’m so scared and violated right now’
Again, so much for the “Queers can live anywhere” rubbish.
3. High school assistant principal suspended for allegedly ordering transgender student to ‘use a urinal’ to prove he is a boy
Repeat my response in Nos. 1 and 2.
We are really one fucked up society, you know that? And I don’t think it will ever change.
And what are we hearing from the so-called “gay community” today? Silencio. Silence. I’m not hearing anything from them. Is there even a gay community today and where is it? Other than on the phone, perhaps, and that certainly can’t be called a gay community.
At what point will we have to start all over again working for Queer rights because people’s fucking phones are more important than anything else in their life? And the old civil rights movements have been forgotten.
It’s an old saying but regardless it’s still true: The Price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance. And the so-called “gay community” seems to know nothing these days about eternal vigilance. The only thing they are eternally vigilant with is their phone. Fucking pathetic. What would the masses do if everyone’s phone went dark at the same time and their entire life is on that phone? Would we see mass suicides? Complete societal chaos? Because people’s adult pacifiers have all gone dark? If you need to be on the internet, can’t you wait until you get home and get on a nice full screen called a computer?
The sense I and others get is that nothing matters anymore to the so-called “gay community,” whatever that is today. I don’t see anyone doing anything of any substance. I’ve not read about anyone doing anything of substance, including those elitist national US Queer organisations. It seems as though everyone shut down after marriage equality was achieved as if that was the ultimate goal, despite all the problems that remain for Queers today. But none of it seems to matter. Chau.—el barrio rosa
Did you know that the Tanglewood Festival Chorus has never won a Grammy Award in the Best Choral Performance category even though they’ve been featured on many recordings with the Boston Symphony Orchestra?
Hola a todos. Well it’s about time. I wrote about this how long ago? Finally they noticed! Yes! Positive changes are finally being made to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC). Many people are now tangling with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus including the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s (BSO) management (including its conductor, Andris Nelsons, who has noticed), their relatively-new Chorus Director from the UK James Burton, current and former TFC choristers and some of the BSO’s audience and music critics.
Take this review for example:
“The Tanglewood Festival Chorus sounds a tad old-fashioned in comparison to choruses that have come up in the digital era, stressing flawless intonation and purity of tone — this group (the Tanglewood Festival Chorus) has a few wobbly sopranos and are not particularly well divided in the sound mix, sounding sandpapery flat for the most part.” (Review of their recorded performance of Kurt Weill: Recordare; Luigi Dallapiccola: Canti di Prigionia, Release Date 1983, Source).
Well! Is that what one would expect to read about the Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra? I should think not.
So someone else has noticed the wobbly sopranos of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC). Well how could one not notice them if you have any hearing at all? That review also speaks of the TFC lacking flawless intonation and purity of tone. That’s the same thing I say.
The BSO seems to have finally noticed “problems” with the TFC. “Problems?” Who are they trying not to offend? “Problems” is not even the beginning of it! It certainly took them awhile didn’t it? Or were they waiting on James Burton to slowly remake the Chorus? Being new to Boston, I think James has been cautious about making major changes. Understandable. Well, until now.
Many long-time TFC choristers who were thrilled that Burton had been hired as Chorus Director aren’t thinking too highly of him now. Many choristers also seem to think that their seniority in the TFC gives them a special licence to remain in the Chorus indefinitely despite their vocal deterioration and lack of musical knowledge, specifically about music theory. I support what James Burton is doing, including re-auditioning TFC choristers.
Here’s a blurb from one of the articles I’m linking to with my editorials in italics:
Quote: “Re-auditioning is certainly normal,” Owades (a TFC chorister who did not pass his re-audition under James Burton) says. “Your voice changes. There are certain choruses that have age limits — nobody over 55 can sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, for instance. [Editorial: Oh good lord, you not comparing the TFC to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (MTC) are you? I think therein lies part of the problem. I hope you're not using the podunk MTC as an example of choral excellence! Why would you even mention them? How embarrassing. Why not mention the name of a superb, renowned Orchestra Chorus and their age limit rather than a choral ensemble connected with an anti-gay, bigoted religious organisation? (Sigh)] All of that is perfectly reasonable.” “Owades, who did not pass the re-audition, suggests strongly that some of the changes Burton is incorporating in the chorus comes from Nelsons. “We don’t hear a lot of praise from Nelsons (the BSO’s conductor),” Owades says. [Editorial: Well that's understandable based on what I've previously written about the TFC. That tells me that he has an ear for choral excellence which obviously he's not hearing from the TFC!] “We always got feedback from Seiji (Ozawa), and from (James) Levine, and from guest conductors. They would at least shake hands with the Chorus when we were filing offstage after a major performance. We never got that from Nelsons.” [Editorial: Those shrill-sounding, cackling sopranos and wobbly altos must have turned him on, and cracking tenor voices.] When he was first appointed, the chorus prepared and learned some Latvian songs, and sang them for Andris and Kristine (Nelsons and his then-wife, soprano Kristine Opolais, are from Latvia). “Andris did not look happy,” Owades says, “and Kristine was visibly unhappy. Nelsons was heard by someone saying, ‘Is that what American choruses sound like?’” End Quote [Editorial: He said that? Oh dear! So I’m not the only person displeased with the “sound” of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus? Even Andris Nelsons didn’t like what he heard. Understandable. But no, the finest US Orchestra Choruses don’t sound like that maestro Nelsons. Source]
Here’s another blurb about the TFC:
“The ensemble’s slide has not gone unnoticed. Writing in 2016, Boston Globe critic Jeremy Eichler noted that while the Chorus was “still capable of delighting,” it also exhibited “an unevenness” and “more than a few patchy moments.”
Well that’s being kind, isn’t it? Why such mush-mouthed critiques. Why doesn’t anybody tell it like it is? When did USians become such mealy-mouthed, timid, afraid-of-offending-somebody people? There are many choristers in the TFC who suck (such as that soprano section especially in their high register with their cackling, shrill-sounding, wobbling, fluttering, quivering sound noise, geezus), so say that! Why is that so difficult? And the altos aren’t much better. Not at all what one expects from the Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Instead, one expects to hear a Chorus equivalent to the Grammy Award Winning Chicago Symphony Chorus prepared by Margaret Hillis (under Georg Solti that is, they had a different sound after Solti for some reason) or Robert Shaw’s Grammy Award Winning Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. That’s what the TFC should be. A Chorus of that caliber. And both the Hillis/Solti and Shaw Chorus sang without any noticeable vibrato in any section (SATB). A straight-tone, in other words, guaranteeing them the desired perfect intonation/the perfect blending of voices.
I’ve written several times about how the Tanglewood Festival Chorus has gone down hill, and I asked: Is this a Chorus that the BSO finds acceptable to their standards of choral excellence? If so, I assume that their choral standards have been lowered, unfortunately. For some time, when I’ve heard them, the TFC had not been up to the standards that one would expect for a major symphony orchestra’s premiere Chorus. Especially when one hears that awful cackling and shrill-sounding heavy-vibrato soprano section. What a dreadful noise they make especially in their upper register. Ugh, good god. Did John Oliver lose his hearing, or did he become more lax about the standards and or too chummy with some of the choristers making it more difficult to get rid of them when they shouldn’t be in the Chorus? I’ve heard some very ugly sounds/noise from those sopranos. Note to (older) sopranos: If you can’t handle the high notes in Beethoven’s Ninth, don’t attempt them. Otherwise it sounds like screaming. Don’t try to sing them because you’ll drag down the rest of the soprano section with your ugly vocal noise.
Some of the Tanglewoodbots/Vibratobots — or was it just one guy who wrote me claiming to be a choral director and a supposed vocal and choral expert — have rushed to defend the TFC. Well, I have to tell you he’s about the only person who is rushing to defend the TFC at this point. Nobody else is, so what does that tell you about him? Anyone else who has an ear for music and choral excellence isn’t defending them too much it seems. Other than in mealy-mouthed, timid language.
I look forward to hearing James Burton’s “new” Tanglewood Festival Chorus based on his superb work in the UK with the Hallé Choir. But he’s pissed off a large segment of the TFC. But that’s the way it goes. If one is not qualified to be in the TFC under the raised standards, out you go. This is not some charity organisation or “Community Chorus” arrangement/situation where they let anybody, their family and their dog too in there just because they want to sing.
The TFC, just like the BSO, is a business despite them being a non-paid Orchestra Chorus. And just because a chorister has been in the TFC for 35 years, doesn’t mean that they should be in there now when their voice has gone well beyond the “Use By” date, as is the case with many TFC choristers. Why do they think many screaming opera divas retire around a certain age — before it’s too late — when other musicians don’t have to be concerned about their age and performance ability?
The TFC needs new highly-qualified choristers. I would suggest Conservatory-trained vibrato-free choristers, if at all possible. They need the very best if that is what Burton expects when he gets his TFC up to the level of choral excellence he expects from them.
Surely Burton heard the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in performance before he took the job, no? One would think he did and knew he had his work cut out for him. After spending some time with them, I wonder if Burton threatened to resign and go back to the UK after realising: “With the TFC, there’s only so much I can do with this Chorus. I hear (what sounds like) elderly wobbling-voiced sopranos — reminding me of podunk church choir members — sitting over there in the soprano section. What the hell are they doing in here? Why are they still in this Chorus? They should not be here. Their voices are well past their prime. Why did John Oliver keep them? The Tanglewood Festival Chorus is not to be the extension of one’s church choir. Their voices cackle and sound shrill on the highest notes of Beethoven’s Ninth and Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“The Resurrection”), as two examples, and other symphonic choral works. There’s a great deal of work to be done here and I can’t do it with these choristers, or with most of them. I need a new Chorus with professional musicians who know some music theory and not a Chorus who see the TFC as some sort of important hobby, a way to “sing with other people,” or something other than what this Chorus is supposed to be. Using two iconic US Orchestra Choruses from the past as an example: A professional ensemble equivalent to the TFC and what it should be would be the Chicago Symphony Chorus under the late Margaret Hillis/Solti or the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under the late Robert Shaw. The highest of choral excellence at its finest is what we’re striving for here with the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus.
One wonders if Burton asked the BSO to give him free-reign to do whatever is needed to bring the TFC up to his standards of choral excellence? That would be interesting to know.
I read that the TFC has 300 choristers? 300? Or is that a reserve number for when they happen to perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major (Symphony of a Thousands)? Depending upon the image I’ve seen of them on stage in Boston Symphony Hall or at Tanglewood, they look much smaller than 300 voices. In one image from Symphony Hall, I counted approximately 115-125 voices. Where are the other 175 or so choristers? Or in other images I’ve seen probably 175-200 voices. For Holiday Pops with the Boston Pops Orchestra, I counted approximately 60 voices. Or do some choristers come and go but remain on the roster? But 300 choristers? Why do they need 300? Of the Orchestra Choruses I sang with in the Kennedy Center, the superb University of Maryland Chorus had 125-150 voices, the Choral Arts Society of Washington was approximately the same size. In Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus was about the same size. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Shaw had 200 voices (not 300) and Margaret Hillis’s Chicago Symphony Chorus under Solti was, I think, between 150-200 voices if I’m not mistaken. I never saw the CSC under Hillis to know exactly how many choristers she had, I only heard them on CDs. But they sounded like the others I’ve listed in size. And quality should be the goal, not the size. But 300 choristers? Is that to try to cover up all the problems? Was the TFC trying to sound like the 375-voice Morbid Tabernacle Choir, since that guy mentioned them? (roll eyes) Again, the MTC is not an example of choral excellence, I can tell you that! Someone may be asking: “What wrong with the Morbid Tabernacle Choir?” Well if you have to ask that question it tells me you don’t have a chorally-trained ear and don’t know much about music, so there’s no reason for any discussion between us. I’ll be honest though: I used to love the Morbid Tabernacle Choir — yes, I know that’s not their real name but that’s what I call them — when I was in high school when I didn’t know any better, and before I acquired my (what I call) “Margaret Hillis’s Chicago Symphony Chorus (under Solti)” chorally-trained ear. I acquired my “choral ear” from actively listening as if I were the Chorus Director to every symphonic choral work that Margaret Hillis’s Chicago Symphony Chorus (CSC) recorded under George Solti. Her CSC trained my ear along with the Robert Shaw’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington, Dr Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Margaret Hillis and Vance George Chorus Directors). They all played a critical role in training my “choral ear.” And then I started listening to the superb Orchestra Choruses in the EU. Such as this Chorus — the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Concert Choir — is superb from Copenhagen performing Brahms – Ein Deutsches Requiem. They don’t need or have 300 choristers.
Why shouldn’t the Tanglewood Festival Chorus sound like the superb Chorus in this performance of the Brahms?
But there’s one thing I don’t understand with Tanglewood, and that’s this cult-like fervor or devotion where some people — or, again, is it really just one guy pretending to be two people and a choral director? — feel the need to defend the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Official Chorus, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. As an analogy, if someone said to me, “I never did like the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the University of Maryland Chorus or the San Francisco Symphony Chorus” (the three Orchestra Choruses I sang with), my response would be: Well, that’s fine. You don’t have to like them or listen to them. Find a Chorus you do like, if that’s possible. Fin. The End. End of discussion.
But with the TFC, if one says anything critical about them, there’s always some nut that has to rush to their defence to defend (what I call) “Cult Tanglewood.” That’s what it amounts to it seems. And they go on about how some conductor, “loved the memorised Tanglewood Festival Chorus.” That doesn’t seem to be the case with conductor Andres Nelsons. But with others, I guess the conductor liked that the TFC looked like a bank of motionless, lobotomised robots not giving any physical signs that they’re getting into the music they’re regurgitating on cue as if it’s been programmed in them. Versus Choruses that clearly look like they’re enjoying themselves and getting into their music and watching the score and conductor as real true artists, and who have won Grammy Awards in the Best Choral Performance category. The TFC has never won a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance. But that may change now under Burton.
I liked the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC) in their early days after John Oliver started the Chorus upon the suggestion of BSO conductor, Seiji Ozawa. They were one of my favourite Orchestra Choruses at one time. Then, awhile back and having not heard them for years, I heard them perform at Senator Edward Kennedy’s funeral and thought to myself:
What’s happened to the Tanglewood Festival Chorus? I had to turn it off after hearing enough. I couldn’t take their very noticeable vibrato, particularly in the unrefined-sounding women’s section. I heard feeble-sounding women’s voices that were not at all blended. I was hearing individual voices with wobbling vibrato. They sounded like unrefined voices that one hears in your standard church choir where choral excellence is not a priority. As I recall, the full TFC did not sing for the funeral but rather a smaller group of them. Then, I also heard them again in one of their performances of Beethoven’s Ninth from the Tanglewood Music Festival. The microphones picked up some cracking tenor voices in Beethoven’s Ninth. One does not expect to hear any of those deficiencies from a major Symphony Orchestra’s Chorus.
None of the Orchestra Choruses I trained my “choral ear” with sang with noticeable vibrato but rather a straight tone, although I’m sure the Vibratobots would disagree with that. But I’m not here to argue with them. They will think what they want.
From my research, and as I said up above, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus has never won a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance, even though the BSO has featured the TFC on a number of CD as you can see here: The TFC has been featured on these CDs. They did receive a Grammy nomination — but did not win the award — for their first recording with the BSO, for Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust with Seiji Ozawa back in 1975.
Whereas, the Orchestra Choruses that I trained my “choral ear” to won a Grammy Award in the Best Choral Performance category on a regular basis: Margaret Hillis’s Chicago Symphony Chorus under Solti won 9 Grammy’s for Best Choral Performance. They’ve only won one Grammy under current Chorus Director, Duain Wolfe. And of course Robert Shaw’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus won numerous Grammy’s in the BCP category. I did not like the “sound” of the Chicago Symphony Chorus under James Levine particularly for their recorded performance of Brahms/Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45. For some reason, under Levine the Chicago Symphony Chorus sang with very noticeable vibrato – especially the soprano section — which made them sound unpolished, unrefined, wobbly, without perfect intonation and I was unable to listen to it, frankly. It was as if Levine wanted an Opera Chorus rather than a Symphony Chorus, even though the Brahms is not opera. They didn’t sound like that in their recorded performance of the same work under Solti.
A bit of history, which some might find interesting: When the TFC was founded, they replaced Lorna Cook de Varon’s — who’s still alive, by the way — New England Conservatory Chorus in PBS broadcasts from Symphony Hall in Boston. At least at that time, to my not-fully-trained “choral ear” the TFC and NEC Chorus sounded pretty much the same in their holiday performance broadcasts. I remember watching their (I think it was called) “Christmas at Pops” with the Boston Pops Orchestra on PBS. The iconic announcer at that time, William Pierce, said, “This is a performance by the Boston Symphony Or-ches-tra, Seiji Ozawa conducting. Also assisting tonight is the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, John Oliver, director. The Chorus is already on stage.” I remember asking my television: Well I’ve never heard of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus although it’s a nice name, but what happened to the New England Conservatory Chorus who’s usually there? As it turned out, they had made their final appearance at the last PBS broadcast and had been replaced by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. I wonder how Lorna Cook de Varon felt about that? She and her New England Conservatory Chorus (which was later “retired”) had been kicked back to the Conservatory about a block away from Symphony Hall.
Awhile back, someone wrote me to defend the TFC and their noticeable vibrato. He said:
“If the BSO hired John Burton to create a straight tone singing choir they are in big, big trouble. That’s just not how American singers are trained to sing. Plus it’s painful!! And it damages the voice.”
Frankly, I think the TFC would be delighted if they could sound like Cappella Amsterdam — they sing with a straight tone — in the video below of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.
The guy who wrote me doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about even though he tried to come off as an omnipotent authority, which is so often the case.
To begin with and apparently he doesn’t know this, but there’s not one way that US singers are trained to sing. There wasn’t one way that voice students were trained in the Voice Department in the Conservatory of Music where I trained and that’s why the politics within the Voice Department were so ugly with “I’m singing correctly and she is not.” (Roll eyes). Ugh. Some students were trained to sing with a dark tone/open throat (think: Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Robert Shaw or Chicago Symphony Chorus under Chorus Director Margaret Hillis and Conductor Solti). Others were taught to sing with a very bright, forward tone which is the “sound” I’ve heard mostly from British Choruses. The politics surrounding both were intense. It depends upon where one trains and with whom. Again, there is not one particular way that US singers are trained, any more than there is one way that pianists are trained (such as The Russian School, for example). There are different schools of thought on training within instrumental categories. With vocal training, even the training of breath support can vary between instructors. Having studied with two different voice professors at the Conservatory where I trained, they each had a different technique for breath support. I never did quite master the second approach I have to say. I preferred and still use what I was taught by my first voice professor. The works best for me. And I suspect that in the (what I call) Vibrato Capital of Boston, all singers are not trained the same way there either. Is everyone trained exactly the same way at the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) and at Boston University’s School of Music (which is a Conservatory environment)? I suspect not. That’s not the case anywhere else so why would it be the case in Boston? Also, at the Conservatory of Music where I studied, from what I remember nearly all of the students sang without any noticeable vibrato or what’s known as a straight tone, including the student who sang the lead role in the Opera Department’s production of Puccini’s Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica). She had no noticeable vibrato at all in her voice. She sounded like a choirboy/boy chorister. The Conservatory Concert Choir, which I had the honour of serving as piano accompanist for in my senior year, sang with a straight-tone (no noticeable vibrato). Some of the most renowned choirs within the Anglican Communion as well as Orchestra Choruses (Stephen Jackson’s BBC Symphony Chorus, for example) sing with a straight tone. So this nonsense about “it’s painful and damages the voice” is precisely the divisive and harmful politics I encountered at the Conservatoryed. I got so sick of it. The childishness and immaturity of whose training is “correct” and who is singing “properly” and everybody else in this Conservatory is wrong was example of juvenile politics. Can’t stand it! Sick of it! Stop it! It reminds me of the brainwashed “Democratic” and Republican Party Cults partisan basura where their brainwashed thinking is: “my pro-war corporate party is better than your pro-war corporate party.” Hardly! They’re both garbage.
Although one thing does seem to be consistent with female singers and or choristers in Boston and that is they’re trained to sing with very noticeable annoying vibrato. So they don’t make good choristers because one cannot have the perfect blending of voices with wobbling and fluttering vibrato, as can be heard in the Concert Choir at the New England Conservatory of Music. I’m thinking of their Johannes Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem Op. 45 performance. I couldn’t listen to most of that because of the lack of perfect intonation in the women’s section because of their wobbling vibrato, although the NEC Symphony Orchestra was superb on the parts I listened to. And the same is true for the Symphony Chorus at BU and of course in the TFC.
Regarding vocal/choral vibrato from Vocal Technique Instructor, Karyn O’Connor:
“There are situations in which vibrato is an undesirable effect. In choral work, vibrancy rates among individual choir members may differ either slightly or enormously, and vibratos that aren’t synchronized can destroy the quality of a soft, unison passage. Wide-swinging vibratos that aren’t squarely on pitch in one singer can throw off the pitch of other singers standing next to them in the group. Most choir directors make the decision to have everyone sing in a ‘straight tone’ to avoid such inconsistencies in the overall sound of the choir. A straight tone can help singers in a large group blend more easily with each other. Therefore, tempering how much vibrato a singer uses or has, if any at all, is a valuable skill in an ensemble situation.” [Source: Singwise: An Information Based Resource For Singers By Vocal Technique Instructor, Karyn O’Connor].
Singing with their heavy, fluttery, quivering vibrato, I almost get the feeling that the female choristers in Boston (at BU and NEC) feel they must emulate the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Well, considering the current “amateurish” level of the TFC which James Burton is working hard to correct, why on Earth would anyone try to emulate Tanglewood? And I specified female choristers because I haven’t heard any noticeable vibrato from the tenor and bass sections of any choral ensemble in Boston that I recall and I’m specifically thinking of the TFC, Boston University’s Symphony Chorus and the New England Conservatory Concert Choir. It’s always the women’s section — the soprano and alto sections — for some peculiar reason that feel they must sound unpolished, unrefined, rough-sounding, fluttery and wobbly and even nervous-sounding, as if they think what they’re singing is opera. One gets the impression that the women (sopranos/altos) are trained very differently than the men (tenors/basses) in these choral ensembles. Why would that be? A symphonic choral work is not opera nor should it sound like opera with god-awful fluttering and wobbling vibrato, which again, prevents the perfect intonation of voices within the soprano and alto sections. This cannot be over-stressed, and I’m deliberately dwelling on this and repeating certain topics in this article because we have so many thick and dense people out there these days. The tenor and bass sections have perfect intonation because they’re not singing with any noticeable vibrato. Why the inconsistency between the women’s and men’s sections in these ensembles (BU, NEC and TFC)? All the Orchestra Choruses I had the privilege of singing with had consistency across all sections: No noticeable vibrato in the soprano, alto, tenor or bass sections. Hillis and Shaw had consistency across SATB sections, as did Norman Scribner (Choral Arts Society of Washington) and Dr Paul Traver (University of Maryland Chorus).
What is wrong with some of these choral directors today where they like or allow the women to sound differently than the men? They only like perfect intonation in the men’s section of the Chorus? That seems to be the case. They like the women’s section to sound unpolished, unrefined and even nervous and fluttery? Where on Earth did these choral directors train who have such questionable standards when it comes to the perfect intonation of voices in a well-trained Chorus?
Mi amigo/My friend asked me if the Tanglewood Festival Chorus had ever performed Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. I laughed and said, “Well not one that I would want to hear. I don’t think I could sit through that in their current state because I don’t think their soprano section could handle the Missa Solemnis. They had enough trouble with two or three high notes at the end of Beethoven’s Ninth, so I can’t imagine that they could possibly get through the Missa Solemnis where the soprano section is often stuck up in the stratosphere at the very high end of their vocal register. Interestingly, they did attempt it back in 2012:
“Still, there were many moments in Friday’s performance that felt like three ensembles (the soloists, chorus, and orchestra) in search of a piece, each with their own distinctive idea about what it should be, rather than a single musical entity collectively exploring Beethoven’s most deeply felt statement on religious faith. If, in its best performances, this sprawling, Delphic score adds up to more than the sum of its parts, Friday’s reading—despite the best intentions of the performers and the wishes of the audience—was not one of those occasions, marred by too many basic ensemble problems, let alone interpretive shortcomings …. the TFC performed with great strength and some fine diction (especially in the Gloria). As the evening wore on, there was some fatigue-related shrillness in the ensemble’s upper range, though, to be fair, they handled their challenging part as well as anybody I’ve heard live or on record, and they consistently gained strength heading into the score’s climactic sections. Still, there were several glaring intonation discrepancies between chorus and orchestra (and soloists, for that matter) that were very troubling, especially considering the high caliber of musicians engaged on stage.” [Source]
But after James Burton has had time to work wonders and accomplished his goal and has his new Tanglewood Festival Chorus, I think a Missa Solemnis by his TFC would be splendid and glorious. But as of this writing, no gracias. No thanks. I know I couldn’t take that. The tenors and basses might be okay, short of cracking tenor voices as I said earlier that I heard in one of their performances (Beethoven’s Ninth). But the cackling, shrill and wobbling sopranos and wobbling altos? No, I can’t take them. I’d have to click off.
If one likes to hear unmusical, god-awful wobbling, fluttering, screaming vibrato where one can’t even tell what pitch the person is trying to sing — and again in a Chorus vibrato prevents the perfect intonation of voices in a choral section — then listen to that garbage. To my ear it’s not music. It’s noise. I personally can only listen to a Chorus singing with a straight-tone or no noticeable vibrato. I have clicked off many choral performances because I couldn’t stand to hear that wobbling quivering vibrato; that unrefined and unpolished rough sound particularly in the soprano and alto sections. It’s damn annoying. Who, with a trained ear for music likes that god-awful sound? It sounds horrid. It sounds dreadful. Can’t stand it.
“What kind of sound Burton wants to re-establish remains a mystery to most. And many are reluctant to guess for two reasons: either the singers have passed his audition and need to establish a new working relationship with Burton, or they haven’t been auditioned yet and don’t want to poison the well.”
And to Mr Omnipotent/the Vibratobot/Tanglewoodbot who wrote me: Your bubble will certainly be burst when and if James Burton has his new and improved Tanglewood Festival Chorus sounding like a large Cambridge Singers — that you referenced in your comment but said that the TFC should not sound like the Cambridge Singers — ensemble. Then what will you do? What will you do if he turns the TFC into a larger Cappella Amsterdam, for example? Will you then whinge about James Burton? I suspect Burton won’t care what you think, just as he wouldn’t care what I think.
Listen to Cappella Amsterdam in the performance below. They are a superb Orchestra Chorus in the Nederlands:
Why shouldn’t the Tanglewood Festival Chorus sound like this superb Chorus in this performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in D?
They sing with a lovely straight tone, no noticeable vibrato from any section (SATB). They’re not as large as the TFC, but even if they were in this context the size of the Chorus is irrelevant. Why wouldn’t one want the TFC to sound like a larger Cappella Amsterdam? They are a superb Orchestra Chorus. Yet the Vibratobot who wrote me can’t conceive of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus sounding like Cappella Amsterdam, although again, he mentioned the Cambridge Singers. His comment seems to have some ugly US nationalism attached to it in that in his mind choral ensembles in los Estados Unidos/the US are somehow superior to the choral ensembles of the EU, which is of course more rubbish!
Nearly all of the Symphonic Choruses that I’ve heard in the EU sing with a straight tone (no noticeable vibrato). So don’t play your Vibratobot Card with me and try to pass off your fear-mongering drama, lies and rubbish about the voice being ruined and how it’s painful. My voice was never ruined or in pain over the years I sang in Orchestra Choruses with a straight-tone (no noticeable vibrato). I heard no chorister in the Orchestra Choruses I sang with say, “You know, my voice is in such pain and agony and is being ruined by singing with this straight tone that we’re required to sing with in this Chorus.” My voice is fine today and I sang in choral ensembles with a straight tone for over twenty years. If one’s voice is messed up or damaged, then I would suggest that one has other technical vocal problems unrelated to singing with a straight-tone that need to be looked at. You’re just using “a straight tone” as the easy excuse. In my voice training classes with my professors, neither tried to get me to sing with vibrato. In fact, I don’t even remember vibrato being talked about by either professor. So go spew your pro-vibrato rubbish to somebody who doesn’t know any better. But this was the same divisive mindset that I heard in the Voice Department where I studied between the two “camps” or schools of thought about voice training which each school say they were singing correctly and the other was wrong and “ruining the voices of her/his students.” In the end, nobody had their voices ruined over the four years I trained at the Conservatory to get my degree. Nor in the years that I sang afterwards with a straight tone in Orchestra Choruses in major concert halls. Can any other profession say that?
Adding to what Karyn, the vocal instructor, said: With a well-trained Chorus, each section of the Chorus (meaning soprano, alto, tenor and bass) is supposed to sound like one voice, which can only be achieved by singing with a straight tone. Singing with vibrato prevents the perfect blending of voices as Karyn explained in the paragraph above. One should not hear individual voices in a well-trained Chorus.1 So for example, if there are 20 sopranos in the Chorus, one should not hear 20 different voices. That’s very amateurish and it’s a sign that the Chorus Director hasn’t a clue what s/he is doing. Instead, one should hear 20 perfectly blended voices sounding like one person is singing, creating one pure sound as if it’s only one soprano voice singing. Not 20.
Mi amigo/My friend has said to me on occasion when watching symphonic choral performances, “That soprano has a lovely voice.” I asked him: What soprano are you talking about? He said, “That soprano singing.” I said: That’s not one soprano singing; that’s the entire soprano section you’re hearing and their voices are so perfectly blended together/trained that they sound like one voice, which is what you thought they were! And that’s how they should sound. He was stunned/amazed that the soprano section sounded so perfectly like one voice singing. And that’s how his ear began to be trained for listening to choral music and the best trained Choruses. It’s just like the string sections in a well-trained orchestra. Even though there are many violins in the orchestra, they sound like one large/thick-sounding violin when they all play perfectly blended together (such as my favourite: hr-Sinfonieorchester/the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and their beautiful string set. Absolutely gorgeous playing). The same for the cellos and basses. One does not hear the sound of each violin, or each cello or each bass.
Also, when one sings with a straight tone (no noticeable vibrato), there’s no doubt over which pitch one is singing, assuming one is on the correct pitch/note to begin with. However, the same cannot at all be said about excessive vibrato and screaming opera divas where that’s often a case of (what sounds like): “Guess what pitch I’m singing?” as the screaming diva’s voice quivers, flutters and wobbles back and forth between or in between (meaning s/he is sharp or flat) two pitches/notes.
The fact is: Vibrato is often used to cover up pitch problems and bad vocal technique.
As for what “sound” James Burton wants for the “new” Tanglewood Festival Chorus:
What’s wrong with having a straight-tone TFC? Absolutely nothing. Where is it written that an Orchestra Chorus is supposed to sound more like a heavy-vibrato Opera Chorus? Perhaps the “sound” he wants is more like the renowned Hallé Choir in Manchester in the UK, where he was Music Director.
I think it was in an interview wherein Margaret Hillis said that a Chorus or her CSO Chorus does not have a “sound.” I disagreed with that because of course her Chicago Symphony Chorus had a “sound.” She just didn’t want to admit it. It was a “sound” that they were very well-known for. And not everyone liked their “sound” either as a guy in the Anglican parish where I was Organist/Choirmaster at the time let me know he didn’t like the Chicago Symphony Chorus when I mentioned them. Under Hillis/Solti, Chicago sang with a very dark, rich, warm, open-throat sound. The same was true for Shaw’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. Neither sang with any noticeable vibrato. But I think what Hillis was really trying to say was that the “sound” of a Chorus can change depending upon the piece they’re singing. Each Chorus has its own “sound,” which can be why one Chorus is chosen for a performance over another Chorus if an Orchestra does not have its own Chorus as is the case with the National Symphony Orchestra in the Kennedy Center. In that case, they invite either the Choral Arts Society of Washington, The Washington Chorus or the University of Maryland Concert Choir to perform with them on the rare occasion that the NSO perform a major symphonic choral work.
These days they usually perform a work from the “Classical Pops” list that I call “the Big Three:” It’s either Beethoven’s Ninth, Orff’s Carmina Burana or that warhorse Händel’s Messiah. Yes, we’re down to those three on the “Classical Pops” list, I’m sorry to say.
Quoting from one of the articles I’m linking to:
“Several singers acknowledged that the chorus had lost some of its luster in recent years, as Oliver, who died last April, suffered declining health in advance of his 2015 retirement — a period of slow diminishment followed by a nearly two-year search for a successor …. The ensemble’s slide has not gone unnoticed. Writing in 2016, Globe critic Jeremy Eichler noted that while the chorus was “still capable of delighting,” it also exhibited “an unevenness” and “more than a few patchy moments …. In a statement this week, the BSO acknowledged the chorus has struggled in recent years. “As is usual during a period of transition — no matter how hard people work to avoid it — there will be slippage in the quality of standard that the group has striven to maintain,” the symphony’s statement read in part. “On some level, this was the case with the TFC.”
Did you catch this part?:
“The ensemble’s slide has not gone unnoticed. Writing in 2016, Globe critic Jeremy Eichler noted that while the chorus was “still capable of delighting,” it also exhibited “an unevenness” and “more than a few patchy moments.”
Well that’s being diplomatic and polite, isn’t it? The problems go much deeper than that shallow stuff.
So it’s not just me who feels that the TFC needs re-vamping essentially.
I found this article from Classic FM in the UK (BBC Radio 3′s competition) interesting: She said:
“Back in the day, Catherine explains (we’re talking pre-16th century), nobody needed to sing ‘louder than lovely’. People sang outdoors, in church or at home, which could all be done at the same pitch as speaking.”
Let’s stop right there. Is she aware that she just said that operatic singing is not lovely because it’s singing “louder than lovely?” She seems completely unaware that orchestras have the ability to accompany and play extremely quietly so there is no need for an opera screamer/diva to scream over the orchestra.
She continues: “There were no opera houses, concert halls, or orchestras – and as a result, singers didn’t need to produce a very loud noise.”
Noise? Noise? Is she aware that she used the word “noise?” Well it’s about time that someone other than myself finally told it like it is. It is indeed noise. It certainly doesn’t sound like music.
She says that vibrato is used to help the voice carry. Oh it “carries” all right. It “carries” like a jet engine, but is that a good thing? The voice doesn’t need to “carry” or scream over an orchestra because, again, orchestras are not stupid. They have the ability to accompany any artist at the quietest levels. I’ve heard them do so. Well-trained, professional Orchestras — such as hr-Sinfonieorchester/the Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra (one of my favourites) — can play extremely quietly. And these days with the technology we have, opera screamers can be wired with a microphone allowing them to sing at a more speech-level voice to “carry” their voice. There’s absolutely no need for screaming over the Orchestra as has become tradition, unfortunately.
She also says, “Technically speaking, vibrato alters the pitch and frequency at which you sing, but it should be so tiny and so fast that you don’t notice it’s happening.”
And that is the point, isn’t it? Today vibrato is not “so tiny” and one does indeed notice it, unless one is absolutely deaf. I’ve seen concert-goers sitting in the front row in the Orchestra section and when the opera diva rears back and begins to scream, the faces of the audience show some frowns as if they’re thinking: “It’s a bit strong, don’t you think? Do you really need to scream at us? I didn’t bring ear plugs because I didn’t think they would be needed in a concert hall. This is supposed to be beautiful music I came to hear, not screaming noise.”
Considering all that, one wonders if opera is even music? Well the orchestral part is music, but usually not the vocal parts because screaming is not music. Screaming is noise. Or is it just part of the noise that fills the air these days, like jet engines and sirens on passing emergency vehicles, or rockets being blasted off to the moon for that matter? I don’t find wobbling, quivering, and screaming voices the least bit musical, artistic or the least bit listenable. I find all that the signs of an amateur, no matter where they trained.
This is certainly beautiful music in the video below. There’s not a finer example of lovely singing with a straight tone (no noticeable vibrato) than in this performance from Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704 of Monteverdi’s Sancta Maria Ora Pro Nobis. Go to 19.22 in the video, por favor/please. Also, even if you have no interest in this beautiful music, you might still be interested in seeing this gorgeous Strausburger Dom (Strausburger Cathedral) in Austria. It’s a Roman Catholic Cathedral. It’s unlike any cathedral I’ve seen before and I’ve seen quite a few cathedrals of the Anglican, Catholic and Lutheran traditions:
Reminder: Go to 19.22 in the video, por favor/please.
Now finally, I want to say this to some idiots in Boston: the BSO’s Official Chorus is not called the Boston Symphony Chorus which is what some of you type to get to my site. The TFC has been around for decades and you still don’t know that they’re called the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, named after the Tanglewood Music Festival for which they were formed in the early 1970s? No attention to detail in your world? You don’t see the name “Tanglewood Festival Chorus” on BSO programmes? Also, hopefully James Burton will get rid of that all-white get up that the TFC has been wearing (I think they wear that at Tanglewood; it could be confused with a Klan rally) and abandon that stale “from memory” routine and go back to using scores so that the Chorus doesn’t look like a bank of lobotomised robots staring straight ahead mindlessly regurgitating what’s been drilled into them on cue. When choristers use their scores, they look actively mentally engaged between their score and the conductor and one can indeed see their faces despite what John Oliver said to the contrary. There’s no reason they shouldn’t use their scores. It doesn’t make them look superior to any other Chorus, and since the Tanglewood Festival Chorus has never won a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance, this singing “from memory” shtick hasn’t made them a better Chorus, especially considering the dismal state they’re in now. But I’m sure some Tanglewoodbot will rush to defend the Chorus and their “from memory” gimmick/routine. “Oh but conductors love the memorised TFC,” they’ll tell me. Oh I’m sure some narcissistic conductors love the attention of constantly be starred at by a large group of people. All the choral ensembles I sang with fortunately used scores. We didn’t try to put on airs of superiority by “singing from memory” to try to “wow” the audience. By the way, I also feel that all musicians — including pianists — should use their scores, if they want. With pianists, it gives a more chamber music feel to performances. (For those who don’t know, traditionally, it’s considered acceptable for pianists to use their scores in chamber music settings).
Here’s another quote from that article:
Quote: Rehearsals with James Burton now feel like dinner with the family, where the parents are getting divorced and are just staying together for the kids,” Owades says. “We used to talk to the conductor in rehearsal breaks, and laugh at his jokes. No more. There are fissures in the chorus, and it’s new and scary for us. End Quote.
That sounds more like the way serious rehearsals went under Margaret Hillis and the Grammy Award-winning Chicago Symphony Chorus under Solti. I believe it was Vance George, former Chorus Director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, who described rehearsals with Ms Hillis as “no-nonsense, serious” or words to that effect. There was no joking around at any time.
It may take awhile — perhaps a couple of years for James Burton to get things just the way he wants them — but I look forward to hearing the new “Burton” Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which may look like a much younger Chorus than the previous TFC, and with a much higher level of musicianship and choral excellence and artistry.
What will the TFC look like — their size I mean — for their 2018 “Holiday Pops” performances with the Boston Pops Orchestra from Symphony Hall, considering the TFC has lost approximately one-third of the Chorus?
A sign of the times? I’ve noticed a pattern that major symphony orchestras in the US are programming less symphonic choral works — less compared to the days when I was in Orchestra Choruses — and this is true even when an Orchestra has its own Chorus. Other than their many holiday performances with the Boston Pops Orchestra in Symphony Hall where it looks like they use a Chorus of only approximately 60 voices (are people tired of doing that silly holiday stuff? I know I would be), for the 2018-2019 season, the TFC only have five performances with the BSO, and fortunately Messiah is not one of them. They performed JS Bach’s Weihnachts-Oratorium, BWV 248/Christmas Oratorio instead. A much better choice. For the 2018-2019 season, the Chicago Symphony Chorus only has four performances with the CSO where the full-Chorus is performing. The Men of the CSO Chorus have an engagement (Shostakovich/Symphony No. 13, Babi Yar) with the CSO. The Women of the CSO Chorus (Mahler/Symphony No. 3) also have an engagement with the CSO. In the Kennedy Center Concert Hall where the National Symphony Orchestra does not have its own Symphony Chorus by choice, when I researched them months ago, as memory serves the Choral Arts Society of Washington and The Washington Chorus each have only one engagement with the NSO. When I was in the Choral Arts Society we had multiple engagements with the NSO throughout the season, as did the University of Maryland Chorus and the Oratorio Society of Washington (now known as The Washington Chorus). That’s not the case today. Also for the 2018-2019 season, the University of Maryland Concert Choir has two engagements with the NSO, including Händel’s Messiah. Here in San Francisco, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus isn’t doing much better than anybody else, engagement wise. They’re more on par with the Chicago Symphony Chorus. The San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Full Chorus) has five engagements with the San Francisco Symphony in Davies Symphony Hall, and the Women of the SFS Chorus have one separate engagement. Of course the Symphony Chorus is doing the perfunctory Beethoven’s Ninth and Händel’s Messiah. Their Messiah performance was probably a Chamber Chorus.
Mi amigo/My friend asked me: Do you think there will be a time in the not-so-distant future that major symphony orchestras will “retire” their Symphony Chorus because of the public’s lack of interest in symphony choral music? It wouldn’t surprise me if they did. At the rate things are going with repertoire selection, they really only need to invite a guest Chorus for the perfunctory and traditional Händel’s Messiah performance(s) or for a Beethoven’s Ninth. In major US cities, it wouldn’t be difficult to find an excellent Chorus to perform those works with the major symphony Orchestra in the City. Years ago, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra disband their Symphony Chorus — I read that their Chorus wasn’t up to the quality level of choral excellence that they expected of them — and after that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra invited the superb University of Maryland Chorus or the Baltimore Choral Arts Society to perform with them whenever they performed a symphonic choral work. I don’t mean to give orchestras any ideas about disbanding/”retiring” their Chorus, but are orchestral management saying these days, “Well, we have to give the Chorus something to do, they can’t just be sitting around all season with nothing to work on with no engagements with the Orchestra, so select a few works for them for the season?” How long before orchestral management say, “Maybe we don’t really need our own Chorus. Just invite a good one when we do need one? It will save some dinero/money. No Chorus Director to pay. And in the case of the Chicago Symphony Chorus (which is fully-paid) and San Francisco Symphony Chorus (20% of the choristers are paid), all other Orchestra Choruses are not paid, even though they all should be fully-paid just like the orchestral musicians. Not paying the choristers most unfortunately relegates them to Second Class Musician status. And if I haven’t said it already, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus is an all-volunteer/nonpaid Chorus.
But I have to say I’m comforted to know — sarcasm intended — that major symphony orchestras have so dumbed-down to cater to the stupid-is-in US sheeple that they are now performing repertoire such as: “La La Land,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Music for Families – SUPERHEROES AND VILLIANS,” film series such as “Mary Poppins” and “Jurassic Park,” Gardel “Tango from Scent of a Woman,” Barry “Main Title from Out of Africa,” John Williams “Theme from Schindler’s List,” Ennio Morricone “Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso” and other stuff. And what were they doing at Wolf Trap awhile back? Promoting gun violence: National Symphony Orchestra (US) promoting gun violence. Such a different time here in the Century of Insanity. Chau.—el barrio rosa
1 I watched part of a video featuring choral conductor Ann Howard Jones. She worked with Robert Shaw in Atlanta. If memory serves, she was Assistant Chorus Director for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Shaw. She left Atlanta and went to Boston University’s School of Music where she conducted their Symphony Chorus. When Shaw died, Norman McKenzie became ASOC Director of Choruses. I had thought that Dra Jones was going to take over after Shaw’s death, but perhaps Shaw preferred Norman instead? I watched the beginning of a video of Dra Jones on YT. She was the guest at Eastman School of Music. I have no idea why she said this but near the beginning of the video she said that Robert Shaw wanted to hear individual voices in his Chorus. That is rubbish. That is not true at all, and why would she say that? Because she likes hearing individual voices? This woman is engaging in revisionist history of what Robert Shaw believed. If she likes hearing individual voices, don’t use Shaw — whose not around to defend himself — to support your position of wanting to hear individual voices. Again, I have no idea why Dra Jones would say that when the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Shaw sang with no noticeable vibrato (a straight tone) and one could not hear individual voices. Period. One is not supposed to hear individual voices in a Chorus when they are singing with perfect intonation, as I have said repeatedly in this article.
Then, I watched a Carnegie Hall choral workshop with Shaw and Dra Jones was sitting in the Chorus, and he specifically said during rehearsal to his workshop Chorus that after you master diction, intonation (the perfect blending of voices), and then he mentioned other requirements needed for choral excellence, you work on such and such. Shaw specifically used the word intonation. Dra Jones’s dishonest remark is in contradiction to Shaw’s beliefs. But I have to say it does explain why the soprano and alto sections of her Boston University Symphony Chorus sang with wobbling, fluttery vibrato. Yes, one could almost hear every single voice wobbling, fluttering and quivering. By contrast, the tenors and basses sang with a very polished sound; they had perfect intonation. Although, to their credit, the sopranos and altos mostly sang with a straight tone in their Rachmaninov The Bells performance. But that was not the case in Mendelssohn’s Elias/Elijah. Dra Jones allowed the soprano and alto sections to sound nervous and sing with fluttery, wobbly and quivering vibrato especially in the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy is god the Lord). I’ve never heard that sung that way. It was damn annoying. I’ve only heard that sung with a straight tone, no noticeable vibrato. It was hard for me to listen to. The voices of the women’s section sounded very unrefined and unpolished. No pure tone. One wonders what other revisionist history Dra Jones engages in when she talks about Robert Shaw?
But being dishonest and revisionist history are most assuredly “in” these days so perhaps that explains it. We saw examples of this disgusting revisionist history for the canonisation of John McCain and Bush I when they were granted sainthood status following their deaths. In real life, these war-hawk politicians were nothing like they were made out to be following their deaths. We’ve also seen this pattern of revisionist history with that “LGBT” nonsense that one sees plastered all over the internet which wrongly implies that lesbians led the Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement. They did not. Gay guys and trans individuals led the movement. But our society has seen many examples of revisionist history throughout its past. Revisionist history is often used to sanitise people and events, rather than telling it like it is about them. In some cases it takes decades or a generation for the real history to be revealed, correcting history books and their syrupy sweet lies about past historical events.