Zodiacal Light

There is a time of day when the horizon is lit by zodiacal light; the glow of stardust known as false dawn.  Not day or night, earth or sky. Neither real nor imaginary, it is a time before the dawn when our dreams turn to flying.

It is YNYC’s 15th anniversary season, and it has been a time of looking back. Our story starts with an idea that young professionals in New York City would crave the deep connection they felt when they have sung in choir. Singers of considerable talent have been flocking to our auditions ever since, not to be featured soloists, but to be part of the machine of harmony.

Brambilla Creation

Brambilla Creation

Most of the time we are an old-fashioned organization that presents choral works in the most beautiful rooms in NYC. We also have a reputation for flexibility and generosity in the realm of new music collaborations. Our biggest risks have all been star related. From Marco Brambilla’s Creation, Ander Mikalson and Caroline Shaw’s Score for the Big Bang, and commissioning Shara Worden’s The Pleiades. It wasn’t intentional, but serendipity must be at play. My first season with YNYC was 10 years ago, and the final concert was called Dreamers Awake. We performed Leonardo at that concert, and it was like a declaration of purpose. Our dreams have served our desire to connect through harmony, and it has brought to life new music by composers who are making crucial and influential music.

Orbital Family is a celebration of the YNYC family, and our theme returns to the night sky, the original silver screen upon which stories danced.  Our repertoire contains some of these stories. Eric Whitacre’s music, coupled with Charles Anthony Silvesti’s libretto, tells the story of Leonardo’s imaginings in the style of a 16th century madrigal, complete with word painting, chains of suspensions, and plenty of melodrama. The final third of the piece is a minimalistic flying scene. You’ll feel the wind in your hair, and the sweet serenity of floating above Tuscany. Shara Worden uses a similar musical language to touch on both the science and mythology of a fabled constellation. More than anything, it is a touching story about brotherhood and sisterhood. The Beautiful Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda are in honor of Vena, the personification of a celestial being: a rainbow, the marriage of water and light, the domain of the zodiacal light. Our final piece, Steven Sametz’s in time of, brings all of the YNYC family together. The Cummings poem is a beautiful response to the inquiry of the sphinx, telling the story of our lifespan through the desires of flowers, who remind us that the aim of waking is to dream.

 

Tickets to Orbital Family

The Beginning of Curiosity

With our senses turned outward we learn that this is what life is; seeing what is there, discovering what is beautiful.

The Beginning of Curiosity

The most common response my students articulate when describing a performance tour is that “it changed them”. It is an audacious claim, and I would be bashful about it if didn’t know it to be true. I think it is worth sharing what that change looks like from the perspective of a seasoned educational traveler.

Learning

In the era of big testing, we are conditioned to accept assessments that demonstrate what students don’t know. We search for holes. We determine deficiencies after the learning is done. In the touring culture, experience is translated to knowledge in real time. Uncertainty becomes practical know-how. Assessment and learning are woven together in such a way that they are indistinguishable.

Turn and face the strange

Our attitudes and opinions are formed using information that we may know, but do not necessarily understand. In the touring situation, understanding occurs after every challenge. Experienced travelers expect to feel anxious and confused from time to time. We feel incapable when we are anxious and confused at home, and we worry that our young artists may be unable to deal with these feelings when they are far away. It is empowering to observe that the students’ strengths are equal to their vulnerabilities. On tour, the challenging moments are the gateway to tremendous personal achievements. Students who struggle with getting their act together in school are often the first to demonstrate their bravery on tour, and students who can take care of themselves in all situations delight in taking care of others. Their confidence is everyone’s confidence.

The power of performance

The students may have imperfect vocabularies to express themselves in foreign countries. This is where the true weight and value of art is realized. The performance tour will be the first time most of these young musicians perform on a stage that is not part of their community. The tour is where music transforms from something they do for school to something they do for life. Music is utilized as a conduit for understanding, with the accompanying benefits of beauty, empathy, and joy. The best thing is that there is no return to normal; music can’t reverse its impact on the students. The students will never again be ambivalent about music and art.

Ethical vision

When we travel to countries less fortunate than our own, much of what we take for granted snaps into focus. Seeing hardship is essential for knowing the human condition, and humanity becomes our nation. Teenagers who are in the midst of finding their own identities do so in relation to the cultural norms and expectations around them. When traveling, they realize that those norms are fluid, and are closely related to how one experiences the bounties of life, wherever and whatever they are. Viewing the world in this way changes a student’s perspective and challenges his or her certainties. They learn that etiquette is nothing more than respect, and that respect efficiently compensates for the inadequacies of language. Intolerance caused by ignorance becomes intolerance for ignorance; an invaluable transformation for our future leaders.

The beginning of curiosity

Most importantly, the students learn that this is what life can be. A performance tour is not a vacation; it is hard work. But it is an opportunity to give a rest to our urgency. It is so tiring to always focus on ourselves. With our senses turned outward we learn that this is what life is; seeing what is there, discovering what is beautiful. What is the soundtrack of another person’s life? What are the soundtracks of our own lives? When we consider these questions, we learn what harmony is.

The best thing is that there is no return to normal; music can’t reverse its impact on the students.

Michael Kerschner is a choral educator who has organized and conducted tours to 8 different countries.

Grasping for Echoes

I awoke the other day from a beautiful and terrifying dream. There was a swarm of fireflies around me like a constellation. Specks of light pooled into one glowing cloud. I tried to catch one of the fireflies. I was not able to because the glow of the cloud was more powerful than the parts that created it. I was surrounded by light but I could not catch the source.

I have a taste for subtle things, and subtlety is the currency of my art. Choral mastery requires rigorous refinement. The most dazzling moments in choral music are by nature human-sized; when one note moves to another, the vitality of a collective-silent breath, the sensual profundity that occurs when harmony collides with unison and redefines the air. These moments are best experienced in a quiet space. Careless volume is an adversary of these subtleties. In choral music, loud is actually a robust quiet. The sound fills the space around you, but it leaves a distance- if you wish to make contact you must meet it half way. If you lean in and make contact, you’re hooked.

I was on choir tour in Europe when I noticed a change in my hearing. It was 1993, and I was 21 years old. Upon returning to the States, I had the first of dozens of depressing hearing exams. My first audiologist thought it was hilarious that I was a music major.

I was told that I was born without a stapes bone- a congenital anomaly, apparently. The stapes is one of the three small bones in the middle ear. Situated between the incus and the inner ear, it transmits sound vibrations from the incus to the oval window, a membrane-covered opening to the inner ear. (By the time vibrations reach the oval window, they have been amplified over twenty times from what they were when they contacted the tympanic membrane). I have been the owner of 3 different prosthetic stapes bones. I like to imagine that my oval window is cracked, but made of the most beautiful stained glass.

My three surgical procedures have each been preceded by a mucky, dull sound. The effort taken to engage in a conversation is exhausting, and only sustained solitude provides recovery. Music, the central component of my creative life, becomes something to endure or avoid. Have you ever listened to music with headphones that only work on one side? One can twist the chords, but it’s a tenuous fix. And while it is not the end of the world, one does want to rip their face off, a little bit.

There are several weeks of dizzy-waiting following the surgeries. I had a procedure in 2001 that healed into nearly perfect hearing in my right ear. This procedure was done at the House Ear Clinic in LA. In retrospect, it was an uncharacteristic display of faith that saw me auditioning to go to graduate school for music in the months before this surgery. In the years following, I graduated with an MM in Choral Conducting from the University of North Texas, started teaching in Long Island, and conducting in Manhattan. I fulfilled my biggest career dream by conducting the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus at the National ACDA Conference in Chicago. I’ve conducted over 50 world premieres, working with the brightest composers, singers, and conductors of this young generation. I was going places, surrounded by a dream cast of friends, students, and singers, reaching a point of satisfaction that can only come after years of sacrifice.

In February 2015, the gains in my right ear disappeared. Another anomaly. A recent procedure in June 2015 healed with no improvement. The surgeon was confident before the surgery, dismissive and distracted after.

I’m in the midst of an exciting year of conducting; my high school choir is performing concerts in Cuba, and YNYC is celebrating its 15th season. It has become clear that I can’t function with these responsibilities while being physically and emotionally impaired. I know I can be a good mentor and curator, and I can operate an efficient rehearsal, but there are critical tools missing. I want my singers to know that I’m trying very hard, and I’m often frustrated with myself, but not them. I want to be transparent, but mostly I want the best experience for all my ensembles. I’m going to keep giving them what I can, and that includes enlisting some help from awesome and fun musicians along the way. It includes leaning a bit on YNYC’s incredible assistants and leadership, and on my rock-star colleagues at school.

I’m taking swift, expensive action. I’m going back to Cali! If all goes according to the most positive scenario, I’ll be back and running in a few weeks. Actually I have no idea, but the more I focus on this big thing now, I can better deal with the lovely stuff when it matters. In the meantime, all will go, as is our custom, smashingly well.

About tonight’s performance:

Irish folk melody, beloved for the gentle leaps and rolls of its contours, captures the pain and pleasures of life with remarkable accuracy.  The narratives are direct, prone to beautiful adjectives instead of metaphor, and the stories are wrapped in their own misty atmosphere.  To borrow a line from Seamus Heaney, the notes are perfectly arranged to “catch the heart off guard and blow it open.”  Born from an ancient struggle to define Irish identity, Irish poetry and music have emerged as some of the most powerfully recognizable in the world. This unified culture emerged in a land of political, social, and religious diversity and division.  While The Troubles (Northern Ireland Conflict) fade from our memory, we see similar divisions emerging with frightening speed in other parts of the world.

Tonight we will hear Mohammed’s vision of violence though the lens of Seamus Heaney and W.B. Yeats.  Discussing poetry with Mohammed is a dizzying thing; he references texts from myriad centuries, languages, ideologies and geographies.  Poetry and music are not mere decoration to him.  He is aware of the world, and does not resist bringing that awareness to his art.  Current trends in choral composition skew toward shallow renderings of beautiful poetry.  A song about water could sound like a still pond, for example, using thickly layered chords with limited harmonic motion.  These tone-poems have their place, (we love performing this kind of music) and the ability to paint words with music has been the muse for choral composers throughout history.  Sometimes, this style of music begins to feel like holding a mirror up to another mirror.  Nothing new appears.  With Mohammed, a song about water will take you on a journey from clouds, rain, rapids, quiet puddles, and raging oceans.  Or it will sound like a desert, so much so that all you want is water. 

Like the poetry, the music is vivid and direct.  Mohammed is a bold person, and like any great artist, his knowledge and experience guide him into the eye of the storm, where the truth is often hiding. What we get is his idea. It assumes that human experience has already demonstrated the DNA of peace and war, and that there have always been artists around to document how those things have played out in the world.  Mohammed’s music, like the Irish songs accompanying tonight’s world premiere, is about identity, and it finds life among brave artists and open-hearted audiences. 

Hope is a function of struggle, and so we offer you a concert assembled on hope, with the conviction that music can identify the beauty under the ashes.  Lightning Illuminates. 

Tonight we will hear Mohammed’s vision of violence though the lens of Seamus Heaney and W.B. Yeats.  Discussing poetry with Mohammed is a dizzying thing; he references texts from myriad centuries, languages, ideologies and geographies.  Poetry and music are not mere decoration to him.  He is aware of the world, and does not resist bringing that awareness to his art.  Current trends in choral composition skew toward shallow renderings of beautiful poetry.  A song about water could sound like a still pond, for example, using thickly layered chords with limited harmonic motion.  These tone-poems have their place, (we love performing this kind of music) and the ability to paint words with music has been the muse for choral composers throughout history.  Sometimes, this style of music begins to feel like holding a mirror up to another mirror.  Nothing new appears.  With Mohammed, a song about water will take you on a journey from clouds, rain, rapids, quiet puddles, and raging oceans.  Or it will sound like a desert, so much so that all you want is water. 

Like the poetry, the music is vivid and direct.  Mohammed is a bold person, and like any great artist, his knowledge and experience guide him into the eye of the storm, where the truth is often hiding. What we get is his idea. It assumes that human experience has already demonstrated the DNA of peace and war, and that there have always been artists around to document how those things have played out in the world.  Mohammed’s music, like the Irish songs accompanying tonight’s world premiere, is about identity, and it finds life among brave artists and open-hearted audiences. 

Hope is a function of struggle, and so we offer you a concert assembled on hope, with the conviction that music can identify the beauty under the ashes.  Lightning Illuminates. 

October

October in New York reminds us that the most dramatic display of life is the elegant encroachment of decay. Night has begun its invasion of the day. The leaves are behaving differently now than they did just a few weeks ago; more interested in dancing in the wind than clinging to a tree. The ravens are taking their place on the twiggy-clawed silhouettes of deciduous trees. The sun electrifies the yellows and reds of harvest, and twilight illuminates the blue and adorns it with shadows of purple. There are sounds to all this scary beauty. Is that the wind, or a scream? The howls harmonize with moans, and this is where YNYC enters the tableau.

Choral music is like fine wine. Paired with the correct ambiance, it clarifies and elevates experiences. The music’s ability to trigger the aura of a time and place is largely why our annual Christmas concert is so popular. You’ve enjoyed the soundtrack we provide for your Christmas, now have a blast while we infiltrate your nightmares. We are adding a new experience to this season; a Halloween fundraiser, celebrating another holiday with its own built-in lore and atmosphere.