JoelNothman.com

31 July, 2009

To Sing

Filed under: General,Music by Joel @ 6:04 pm, 31 July 2009.

Music has become a rapidly growing part of my life over the past year. While I first soloed on stage singing Yerushalayim Shtot Fun Golt in year 1 with the Moriah Collage Yiddish Group, it was in June that I finally began receiving vocal tuition, with the wonderful classical teacher Sue Falk. Some do say that mid-twenties is the right time to start, but it’s common to begin much earlier.

Up from the first two choirs I joined as an adult in 2006, I’m now singing with five groups, each presenting different styles of music, ranges of talent and opportunities. Between the universal lack of confident tenors and my own curiosity, I just keep joining.

Most of my singing time is spent on Barefoot Musica Antigua, a small group (up to eight) singing early (up-to-17th century) music. Since our wonderfully successful March concerts, we’ve been focussing on the music of Salamone Rossi, a 17th-century Jewish composer of Mantua, Italy. Our concerts at the end of August will be well worth your while.

Rossi was controversial at the time for bringing polyphony to the Synagogue, and although it became accepted in 19-20th century European choirs, his Renaissance-Baroque settings of Hebrew prayers were a first and a last; no other composers seem to have followed up on his choral approach to the synagogue service. But his works are simply emotive, creative, beautiful to the ear (Dad always thought they were the best the Madrigal Society offered), and Barefoot will not merely be singing “white notes”; we intend to interpret and feel the music.

Our director Jenny’s attention to historical context has involved finding and identifying manuscripts of Rossi’s music and Rabbi Leone Modena’s poetry; reading an autobiography of the latter; and constant communication with Rossi expert Don Harran debating, among other matters, the significance of breaks in the music. In preparing other traditional Hebrew tunes for contrast, I have made my first attempt at arranging a full piece of music for the choir; I’ve had to get a grasp on the idea of maqam; and Jenny has lost much sleep listening to the wonderful library of music at piyut.org.il (and thus acquiring another 15 concerts of repertoire). We’ve unfortunately also dipped into controversies of Kol Isha, which will aid the Orthodox Jewish community in persisting to not hear Rossi’s works.

I do hope to see everyone and anyone at our concerts, entitled Songs of Ascents: Barefoot in Venice on the 28th and 29th of August, and the 2nd of September.

One down.

At the Sydney Jewish Choral Society, the tenors are the strongest in ability but the weakest in number. Our eclectic repertoire under Rose Grausman’s direction would be better served with a more proficient choir. The group has a habit of not learning the music until the last minute, leading to some stressful rehearsals. Hopefully we’ll do a good job of our next couple of concerts for the year, in which I’ll probably have a solo or two, and maybe next year I’ll consider asking the choir to sing some music I arrange… we’ll see.

The Sydney University Madrigal Society lacks men in general. In fact, the first rehearsal this semester indicates that almost all it has is altos. So if you know someone at Sydney Uni who’d like to sing, send them along! The Madrigals have been a wonderful group in the past, and our last concert under Jehan Kanga was a treat, so his upcoming Italian Tenth-Anniversary Spectacular has much potential.

I’ve also found myself singing with the overflow High Holiday choir at South Head Synagogue, which is a different experience altogether (no sheet-music, but little improvisation); and I am occasionally singing contemporary a cappella tunes with my friends Dan, Mud and Saritha.

Unfortunately, more time spent on music means less time spent on writing blog posts (among other things). So once again excuse my lack of recent insights into Bible, Judaism, Hebrew, linguistics, technology, society, or whatever else I might otherwise have had a moment to ponder and prosify.

To Singapore

Filed under: Student life,Travels by Joel @ 6:03 pm, 31 July 2009.

I’ve neglected this blog for quite a while, but as one does on long flights, I might as well say hello. Yes, I’m flying again, for the third international trip this year. This is in great violation of an ideal I’d conjured up a few years ago: that international travel should be minimal and efficient.

On that scale, perhaps it’s not as terrible as Athens in April (it’s a shorter flight — the shortest I’ve made out from Australia — for a slightly longer stay), but it is another quick-and-dirty conference trip. I’m out of Sydney for 10 days, for the Conference of the Association for Computational Linguistics. (The astute will note this is similar to the last conference title, but lacking “European Chapter of the”.)

While slightly up on the flight efficiency, there is less reason for me to attend, as I’m not presenting any papers, just supporting my co-authors who are. I have my name on two papers in the ACL Workshop on Collaboratively Constructed Semantic Resources, which, for the jargon-uninitiated, basically means “research using wikis to help computers understand language”.

But I do hope to see and taste a bit of the city too. Singapore’s taste sensation is sorely limited by my choice of diet. Fortunately, there are many vegetarian restaurants which should suffice, and a Jewish community centre not far from my hostel or the conference site. At 42km long by 23km deep, about half of which is built up, most places I might want to go aren’t exceedingly far (thanks to Fisher Library‘s Lonely Planet collection for providing geography tidbits).

Sadly, I’ve booked my return flight for the morning of the 9th of August, not realising it is Singapore National Day, one of the highlights of the calendar. If only I’d arranged to stay a few more hours… (and maybe it still can be arranged? is it worth it?)

As a perk on the side, I had not realised that I would also be travelling further west in Australia than I’ve ever been. On the flight, I happened to want to know the time, and turned on the only reliable channel on the barely-renovated 1980s inflight entertainment system of Singapore Air’s Boeing 737-400, which pinned its pixelated aeroplane icon at Uluru. This surprised me, as I’ve previously only travelled northward to Asia. So I’ve finally been to Central Australia (not that I could see it from row G). Next time I should make a stop-off.

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