Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ottawa Citizen article on Phillip Holmes

Monday's Ottawa Citizen features an article by Tony Lofaro entitled "From Country Boy to Opera Man" about Bathroom Divas finalist Philip Holmes and his current projects.


Bathroom Divas 2 Episode 3 Recap

This episode's vote-off recital was public, so the invited audience (from Toronto's musical community) that attended the August 2006 taping got a sneak peek at the final four, although they were asked to leave before the jury handed down its final decision and had to wait until this week to find out what happened. Since I played for the vote-off and knew what happened afterward, many were the conversations I had in the ensuing months with audience members eager to discover the afternoon's outcome. An example of one of these conversations:

X: Please tell me who got voted off.
CF: Er, I can't.
X: I understand. It's okay, you can trust me, even though you signed a non-disclosure contract.
CF: Actually I didn't have to sign one of those. It's a question of, you know, honor.
X: Oh, come onnnnnn.... I won't tell anybody.
CF: No, I really can't say who--
X: Oh my god. It was one of the guys, wasn't it?
CF: No, I mean, um, not necessarily, it's just that I would rather not mention them--
X: Oh my god. You mean two people were voted off?
CF: Actually, I used "them" as the politically correct third person singular. Watch the show. All will be revealed.

Unfortunately, Robyn Hefferton's illness got worse and she made the difficult choice not to continue, but to return home in order to recover. In addition to their coachings with Mary Lou, Tom, Dan, and Liz, the singers spent a day working with Marshall Pinkowski and Jeanette Zingg of Toronto's Opera Atelier on baroque dance. They also found out that they were to perform at Toronto's grano. An Alexander Technique session also helped them become more aware of their physical issues related to singing. The evening before the vote-off, all four cooked a gourmet meal for the judges.

This week's arias:

Phillip Holmes sang the Catalog Aria from Mozart's Don Giovanni
Paul Abelha sang "Una furtive lagrima" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore
Elaine Hefferton sang "Ebben, ne andro lontana" from Catalani's La Wally
Laura Landauer sang "When I am Laid" from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas

Especially fascinating this week were the audience comments following the public performances. What you don't really get from the few comments shown on the episode was the fact that each of the final four singers had both their champions and their detractors, and everyone in the audience had their own agendas and criteria for judging singers, which resulted in an incredible diversity of opinion regarding the four. This week's guest judges were pianist Peter Tiefenbach and legendary voice teacher Mary Morrison.

The judges conferred and finally decided not to vote anyone off the show this week, since all of the four had made substantial progress and and possibly because Robyn had already left the show a few days previously.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Review of Duruflé in Ottawa Citizen

Wendy got a favorable review in today's Ottawa Citizen. Richard Todd writes: "Foley rendered a lovely account of the Pie Jesu, now serene, now urgent, always powerful and expressive".

Link to Wendy's site

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Wendy to perform in Duruflé Requiem this weekend with Ottawa Choral Society

It's off to Ottawa tomorrow morning for Wendy's appearance as soloist in the Duruflé Requiem with the Ottawa Choral Society. Alexandre Sylvestre will be the baritone soloist. Matthew Larkin will conduct the OCS Chamber Symphony in both the Duruflé Requiem and the Morten Lauridsen Lux Aeterna. The performance is this Sunday February 25 at 8pm in St. Joseph's Church in Ottawa. Tickets are $30/10.

Link to concert details
Link to ticket info

Monday, February 19, 2007

Alex Strachan on Bathroom Divas

Alex Strachan writes in the Ottawa Citizen about the Bathroom Divas and its unique selection and coaching process. An excerpt:

Bathroom Divas is bravura television. Just because opera singers in this country aren't as well known as Nelly Furtado, or even Eva Avila, doesn't mean they aren't stars in their own right. Taking on Puccini -- and winning -- is a little different than tackling Celine Dion.


Donna Jacobs featured on Le soleil du samedi

Dan Rosenburg writes in the Feb. 17th issue of Le soleil du samedi on Donna Jacobs' trip to the final six of Bathroom Divas.

Link to article
Link to editorial

Laura Landauer's website

Check out Laura Landauer's website for more info on this Bathroom Divas finalist. The news section has info on upcoming engagements (including an appearance on the new series Look-A-Like airing this fall). Don't forget to drop by the Bathroom Divas blog for more insight on the second season of the show as it progresses.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Reality for career pianists

An article by Ingrid Jacobson Clarfield in the June/July 2004 American Music Teacher, entitled ''Preparing our students for reality: should we really be encouraging so many performance degrees'' should be required reading for all students and teachers at the collegiate level. What are these performance graduates going to be doing when they graduate in order to make a living? Shouldn't post-graduate institutions be doing more to turn out students that have a more realistic idea of how to make a living in the profession? Here's an excerpt:

I believe we need to change the emphasis of the undergraduate music student to incorporate courses that will enable them to be a successful musician, not just a performer. We need to include in our courses topics that will help students with the numerous aspects of earning a living as a musician--be it as a solo performer, collaborative artist, member of an orchestra, teacher of all levels (preschool through adult), arts management positions and so forth. Students also must be given some knowledge of the business and marketing aspects of being a musician. What will they be doing when they graduate? Will pianists really be performing their standard jury of a Bach Prelude and Fugue, Beethoven Sonata, Chopin Ballade and Prokofiev Sonata every semester of their lives? Highly unlikely, but even those top performers, probably one day, will perform in community concert series, teach students of all ages in groups or private lessons, accompany, adjudicate, play chamber music, belong to teacher organizations and present workshops. They maybe even will write books and, perhaps, be asked to write articles for music journals.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bathroom Divas 2 Episode 2 Recap

This week's episode begins with the six finalists arriving at the house for three weeks of Opera Boot Camp. Tom Diamond and Mary Lou Fallis were on hand for the divas' arrival.

The six are:

  • Phillip Holmes, from Shawville, Quebec
  • Donna Jacobs, from Khanawake
  • Laura Landauer, from Toronto
  • Elaine Hefferton Brown from Calgary, currently getting over a bout of laryngitis
  • Robyn Hefferton Houk, Elaine's daughter
  • Paul Abelha, from Hamilton
As the day of their arrival wore on, we find out that both Laura and Donna have left young daughters to attend boot camp, and that Paul and Phil are beginning to bond as the camp's only male singers.

The next day, the six singers are summoned to a frank talk with the judges about each singer's strengths and weaknesses on the national auditions. From there, the singers begin coaching their arias. Here are the arias each singer is working on this week:

Phil: ''O du mein holder Abendstern" from Wagner's Tannhäuser
Laura: ''Una donna a quindici anni'' from Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte
Elaine: ''Senza mamma'' from Puccini's Suor Angelica
Robyn: ''Depuis le jour'' from Charpentier's Louise
Paul: ''Questa o quella'' from Verdi's Rigoletto
Donna: ''Vissi d'arte'' from Puccini's Tosca

The next day, the singers begin with a somewhat intense cardiovascular workout in the morning with Colin Blayney before the day's coachings.

On the following day, Robyn wakes up sick with the flu and is unable to sing in the day's coachings. Tom Diamond works with the singers in the morning, offering indispensable advice to the singers that acting is "doing something to someone for a reason". Daniel Lichti and Liz Upchurch work with the singers in the evening.

The next day is the first voteoff, held at Bravo!Canada's studios on Queen Street. The guest judges of the week are mezzo-soprano Jean Stilwell and Gage Averill, Dean of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. Unfortunately, Robyn's flu has worsened and she is unable to sing for the vote-off. The remaining 5 singers then perform their arias and receive feedback from the judges.

The judges inform the five that since Robyn was too sick to perform, she would be granted a reprieve, after which Donna is the first singer voted off.


I was the pianist for all this episode's coachings as well as the vote-off. What struck me about the first few days of boot camp was just how hard Donna Jacobs worked to learn her aria for the performance in only a few days, and just kept on working even when she realized that it might not be at the level that she would want it to be for a performance. I think Donna's dedication and perseverance is an inspiration to all of us and we will definitely be hearing from her in the future.

Addition to Career Options list

Kudos to Patti Loach for extending the scope of what is being accomplished in the field of collaborative piano. Here she is as an actor/model in a Dove commercial (appearing about halfway through with curly blond hair, glasses):

The Career Options list has been updated to reflect this possible career path.

By the way, Patti's upcoming CD with Jean Stillwell is slated for release at the end of March, with a release party at the Ernest Balmer Studio on March 30.

Bathroom Divas audition footage on Bravo!Canada site

The Bravo!Canada site's Bathroom Divas page now has a link to some audition highlights from episode 1.

Episode 2 airs tonight at 9pm on Bravo!Canada.

Link (via life's little oddities)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hanon reviews on Amazon

I noticed a search query for "will practicing hanon improve my technique?" earlier today on my Sitemeter stats. My site came up near the bottom of the first page on the Google search. What made it to the top of the search was an Amazon page for the Schirmer edition of Hanon, complete with customer reviews. Browsing through all 28 reviews, here are some highlights:

Michael P. Cohan writes:

The exercises are carefully designed to (1) strengthen the weak fingers of the hand (3-4-5), and (2) teach patterns of notes that recur not only in classical music but in melodies of all types of music. Each exercise varies in a manner that rests the fingers worked on in the previous exercise, so you can play through a series of them without overly tiring out your hands. For this reason they work great as warm-ups.

Caroline writes:

The exercises can get very monotonous and they drive my younger sister up the wall. But they work.

Eric C. Sedensky's opinion:

Promise yourself to play something lively and fun after you plunk at these exercises for a half hour or so, and listen as your playing begins to even out and your hands take you to musical places you've never been before.

Is Hanon useful? Yes and no. The most useful advice I would give anyone looking at this method is never to heed the "Concluding Remarks" that appear at the end of Part III:

Now that the student has completed this book, he[sic] should be familiar with the most important technical difficulties. But in order to retain the benefits of these exercises and become a real virtuoso, he should play through the entire book at least once a day. An hour is required to do this.

All 60 exercises? In one sitting? Preposterous! That's a surefire recipe for tendonitis, especially with the dreaded tremolo exercise right at the end. And these days very few pianists have an hour to kill doing Hanon every morning before they start their repertoire.

My recipe for Hanon: concentrate on the first twenty exercises, but play them in all 12 keys with various rhythms. Do them 10-15 minutes a day in addition to other piano technique, such as can be found in the RCME curriculum.

Other interesting editions of Hanon include Boris Berlin's edition, including different rhythms to liven up things and the Peters edition, which I have nicknamed Extreme Hanon. There are so many variants in the Peters Hanon that I doubt if any pianist could ever get through them, and some are so difficult they will make you weep.

At any rate, the main reason I assign the first 20 of the Hanon is that traditional piano technique (scales, chords, arpeggios, etc) often neglects the 5th finger, which is mostly used only once in a pattern, if at all. Adding the Hanon to your practice regimen evens out the action of the fingers and adds some spice to technical practice (especially if you eventually learn the first 20 in all 12 major keys, an adventure rife with surprises and rewards).

Recital tomorrow with Vanessa Fralick

Here is the program:

Vanessa Fralick, trombone
Christopher Foley, piano

3:15pm, February 16, 2007
Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building
University of Toronto
Free Admission

Fantasy for Trombone - Malcolm Arnold

Concert pour trombone et piano - Launy Groendahl

Misty - Errol Garner

Sonata Vox Gabrieli - Stjepan Sulek

Cousins - Herbert L. Clarke with Stephen Hum, trumpet

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

You mean I have to promote myself?

Normal Lebrecht writes about some standouts from a generation of classical musicians that are learning to kick-start their own careers.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Piano Kitty

Just in time for Valentine's Day, a YouTube of a cat showing a fair amount of dedication at the piano.

(Via Cute Overload, thanks s55ael)

Paul and Laura to appear on Star! Daily tonight

I have just received word that Bathroom Divas finalists Paul Abelha and Laura Landauer will be appearing on the Star! network program Star! Daily this evening at 6:30 and 11pm.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Fur Elise diagram

From Christoph Niemann, a schematic illustration on how to play Fur Elise (the picture is the third one down following the link). Isn't it a pleasure that musical notation never evolved in this direction...

Link (Via Neatorama)

Yahoo Pipes classical music blog mashup

Using the recently launched Yahoo Pipes service, I just created a mashup with all my favorite classical music blogs, created a widget for the mashup's Yahoo feed on yourminis, then copied the widget's URL to paste here. If it behaves over the next few days as the content of all two dozen or so blogs comes in, I'll be sticking it on the sidebar as additional reading for the classically inclined.

For more widgets please visit www.yourminis.com

Update: Most interesting. I'll need to rename the mashup widget so the title fits across the top and resize to make sure it fits on the sidebar, but just barely. One problem with the widget is that it only posts titles of feeds, not their source. However, the title links directly to the post's URL on the source blog.

Link to the mashup's page on Yahoo
Link to the mashup's feed URL

Magda Tagliaferro plays Mompou on YouTube

Yet another Cinephonie film from the early years of talking pictures features the legendary pianist Madga Tagliaferro playing Mompou.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Bathroom Divas 2 Episode 1 Recap

The season premiere of Bathroom Divas Season Two starts with a slightly different cast of judges than last year. Mary Lou Fallis and Tom Diamond return to the show, but new this season are Daniel Lichti and Liz Upchurch.

The episode starts with the four judges traveling to Vancouver to hear the first batch of aspiring divas. David Boothroyd once again was the pianist for the Vancouver auditions.

The next round of auditions were held in Edmonton at the Winspear Centre.

The tour then moved to Toronto, where I played for the auditions at the Hart House Theatre on the University of Toronto campus. It's worth noting that even though the segment featuring the Toronto auditions lasted only about 10 minutes, the footage was whittled down from two full days of auditions.

The tour then made its final stops in Montreal and Halifax, after which the four judges, following much animated discussion over dinner, decided on the following six singers to be invited to opera boot camp in Toronto (listed in alphabetical order):

Paul Abelha
Elaine Hefferton
Robyn Hefferton
Phillip Holmes
Donna Jacobs
Laura Landauer

Next week's episode will detail the singers' arrival at boot camp, their first week or so of lessons, rehearsals, coachings, and adventures, culminating in the first vote-off.

N.B. Readers of this site will have noticed Rachelle Kelly in the Toronto auditions, who very nearly made it to the final six.

TV, Eh? guesses at possible issues and plot lines for episode two:

Can Laura shake her Celine Dion-isms and find her own voice? Mother Elaine vs. daughter Robyn - who will make it further? Does Phil need a “Henry Higgins” to polish his country-boy ways? Can Donna bolster her self-confidence and find her inner diva? Will Paul build his dream and leave the construction site behind?

Bathroom Divas Forum on Smart Guestbook

I just received an email this evening with a link to a Bathroom Divas forum, for those that simply must debate the pros and cons of the soon-to-be-announced final six...

Link (Thanks, ______)

Bathroom Divas airs tonight on Bravo!Canada

The wait will finally be over when the second season of Bathroom Divas airs tonight at 9pm on Bravo!Canada. For those new to Bathroom Divas, yesterday's Toronto Star featured an article on the show, with some thoughts by judges Tom Diamond and Liz Upchurch.

(I was the pianist for the Toronto auditions on episode one, as well as the pianist for most of the boot camp in subsequent--oops, can't say any more...)


Oboeinsight laments the fact that Bathroom Divas will only be broadcast on Canadian Bravo:

But I sure wish Bathroom Divas was available here.


C'mon Bravo TV ... can't you give the US of A a bit 'o class? Huh?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

FWD: Music

I've been keeping quiet about this on the blog for the last few months until everything was set up, but I've been putting together a recital at the Royal Conservatory that will highlight Community School faculty and the diverse things they do. It will be called:

FWD: Music
An Ongoing Project of the Faculty Association in Support of Excellence at the RCM Community School

The concert is slated for 8pm on April 7th at the RCM Concert Hall at 90 Croatia Street. Once advertising materials and ticket info are available, I'll be posting them here, as well as info on the all-star cast of performers, who are:

Helen Jacob-Stein
Christine Surman
Donna Sherman
Jennifer Tung
Helen Russell
Susan Gagnon
Karen Quinton
John Graham
David Richter
Penelope Dale
Chris Foley (me)
Stephen Satory
Alla Zacarelli
Monica Zerbe
Brahm Goldhamer
Joel Katz
Margot Rydall
ivan Zilman
Anne Lederman
George Thurgood
Alan Hetherington
Wagner Petrilli
Subhadra Vijaykumar

The idea of this concert is to raise scholarship funds for the Community School. If the concert is enough of a success, the next step is to create an ongoing series that will eventually fund an endowed scholarship for the Community School on behalf of the RCM Faculty Association.

Stay tuned for more info...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

An interesting Google query

Looking at my Sitemeter stats this evening, I saw the most interesting search query:

"musicians who have been electrocuted by the guitar pedal?"

I would like to reassure the kind Virginia Beach Googler in question that even though I did operate a guitar pedal on a gig last year in place of the damper pedal, which was never shipped with the electronic keyboard for the engagement, and even though the engagement in question did take place in a more than somewhat rain-soaked festival tent at Word on the Street, no, I did not in fact succumb to electrocution, but emerged from the rain-soaked festival tent in excellent health although somewhat damp.

Lynn Kuo plays Pepa Fantaisie bohemienne

This is a YouTube of Toronto violinist Lynn Kuo playing Michael Pepa's Fantaisie bohemienne last summer in Bulgaria with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Lynn and I will be playing the violin and piano version of this work at a private function tonight in Toronto. The embedded clip is part 1 of the performance.

Part 2
Part 3

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Rachelle Kelly's new site, with MP3's

Soprano Rachelle Kelly's website now features MP3's of Rachelle and I performing a few opera and music theatre selections that we recorded late last year at backsplit music @ media.