Italian “Ah”

A question received about “Italian ah” causes me to think back about the uncertainty that I also used to have about that vowel and the stages I went through to reach an answer. It is a basic, and thorny, question.

When I went to CCM as a freshman in 1951, young Mr. Kockritz taught a course called Language Orientation. I think it was a new course, one semester long, and the only diction course I ever had. I no longer have any materials from that class, not even the textbooks: Thurwanger for French and Wilcke for German. Mr. Kockritz was certainly in the forefront of diction teachers, and I heard other voice teachers refer to his new, unproven class quite condescendingly.

My last interaction with Mr. Kockritz was at the NATS convention in December 1970, when Colorni’s book had just come out. The NATS Bulletin offered me a chance to review it.  I didn’t like the book because of the pervasive use of open E and open O in unstressed syllables, but I felt uncomfortable challenging a New York teacher whose work was published by the prestigious G. Schirmer. So I buttonholed Mr. Kockritz and asked him what he thought of the new book. I quote: “It’s a bad book.” He had exactly the same objection as I had. So I wrote my review (NATS Bulletin, Feb/Mar 1971). I don’t know whether Ms. Colorni noticed the review, but the book is still alive on the market.

Now, to the question of Ah. I don’t recall what Mr. Kockritz taught, but when I went to the University of Colorado at Boulder, I came under the influence of Berton Coffin. He and Ralph Errolle agreed on /a/ in Phonetic Readings of Songs and Arias and in Errolle’s Italian Diction for Singers.  Previously, I may have used a cursive letter, which stands for a darker color of Ah, just because it is quicker to write. But I changed over to bright Ah because I realized that Italian Ah is closer to the French bright Ah rather than the dark Ah.

If you do not know the difference between the two Ah’s under discussion, that is not surprising.  I did not know them apart when I began voice study.  We do not distinguish them from each other in English, using one or the other in various regional dialects.  Most forms of American English use the dark Ah “as in father”.  In some American speech the bright Ah /a/ occurs as the first part of the “Eye” diphthong:  If you say “I like icing,” bright /a/ will probably be heard three times.

As you point out, Wall uses the dark script Ah in Italian, as do some others. Why the disagreement? First, the two Ah’s are allophones, that is, you will be understood whichever one you use. Secondly, voice teachers have their tonal preferences. Did Joan Sutherland ever sing a bright vowel in her whole life? And yet, she was a great proponent of Italian opera, as much admired in Italy as elsewhere. Personally, I like the bright vowel, but some teachers think it is vocally disagreeable, if not dangerous.

This touches on a question about the philosophy of diction pedagogy. Especially if you are teaching a class that includes the students of other teachers, do you teach what you believe is vocally optimum for singers or do you teach what is heard from native speakers? I choose the latter, because I believe that a student’s teacher should make the decision about what is best for that student without interference from me.

The first really scientific work written by an Italian on fonetica italiana came out in 1999 in two books by Luciano Canepàri, published by Zanichelli: Dizionario di Pronuncia Italiana and Manuale di Pronuncia Italiana. Since I choose to study the language as it is spoken, those books have become my final authority. Canepàri uses the bright Ah /a/. I am convinced that it will become the standard, no matter how voice teachers may teach vowel modification that will darken the standard vowel.

At a NATS convention I picked up Moriarty’s 2008 revision of Diction. He still uses script Ah and does not reference Canepàri among dictionaries. I also bought David Adams’s 2008 A Handbook of Diction for Singers, 2nd edition. He knows Canepàri and he uses bright Ah. In the “Preface to the First Edition” (page xiii) you will find some of the same statements I have made above.

A final observation: The “IPA community” that you refer to is something that we may have soon but not quite yet. One can hope. In the meantime, most singers are quite unaware of the International Phonetic Association, as they are unaware of us. I joined the Association for several years and read some interesting articles in their journal.

I had a telephone conversation several years ago with the vice-president of the Association, and he was perfectly unaware that singing teachers make use of the IPA. Nor did he seem much interested.  After all, we singers use only a few of the hundreds of languages in the world, and those few have been long and thoroughly studied.

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About editing

A young email friend asked me some questions:

  1. What is your method for choosing songs? I have noted that you’ve chosen common as well as rare songs in previous “Gateway” books.
  2. How do you research the translation of the words? What are your resources?

Flattered by the interest of a young person, I expounded as follows:

Your observation is correct: I try to include some really famous songs in each book because I have watched singing teachers at the NATS conventions as they browse the displays.  If they see some song they know, they have an expectation of what the surrounding songs will be like.  I hear them say “I have been looking for that song” or “I have two students that need a duet.”  I try to think of a famous song that is not in other collections.  For instance, years ago I was bewitched by Janet Baker’s performance of Gounod’s “Sérénade” (text by Hugo), but I have not seen it in an anthology.  So I put it into the new collection in the hope that someone else may be looking for it.  “Lungi da te, ben mio” is in Italian Arias of the B and C Eras for much the same reason.  Having included some well known songs, then I am free to put in personal favorites, esp. by women composers, that are not well known.  Practically no one will go to a music store looking for songs by Josephine Lang or Francesca Caccini, and that is the very reason why I sneak them into my collections.

Beyond those few clues, I cannot tell you much about my choices.  They are capricious, personal, heavily influenced by chance and coincidence.  Of course, I’ve always made personal choices, for better or worse.  It baffles me when a student says she can’t pick out her own music because she doesn’t know how.  I always have.  First, the words.  If I don’t sympathize with the poet’s feelings, or if I couldn’t sing the words in public with a sincere heart, the song is a no.  After that, I hear the music in my head to the extent that I can and judge whether it interests me.  Often I’m wrong, but one has to try.

When I was doing my original research in Rome, I leafed through solo cantatas, probably a thousand of them.  I could always hear the initial melodic idea in my head, and I quickly decided whether the piece deserved a “+” in the margin of my notes or whether I could pass it up with no regrets.  If I looked at a piece a second time and still liked it, then I might copy it out by hand– photocopies were not allowed back then.  I came home with at least a couple of dozen solo cantatas that are still unpublished, but I still like them.

On to your second question, about translation.  I started modern languages late, at 19 and 20, so I still have to work at them.  I try to read a book every year in German, French and Italian, but I don’t always succeed.  On the shelf over my computer screen are three German dictionaries + 2 for pronunciation, 2 Italian dictionaries + 1 for pronunciation, and 3 French dictionaries, all of which include pronunciations.  I still make mistakes.  I caught one in Italian recently: I had translated “la fonte” as fountain rather than source or spring (of water from the ground).  Of course, every tourist in Rome knows that fountain is “la fontana”, as in Fontana di Trevi.  Other resources: Books of translations that I can use for comparisons, never for copying.  Bi-lingual books of poetry, when you can find them.

Indispensable: friends who know the language better than you do and can answer questions out of their inborn knowledge.  I need them for pronunciations also.  E.g., I could not find in any of my books whether it is correct to say the T in Saint-André or the N in Jean-Antoine.  Only French friends could help me.  Answers:  the T, yes; the N, no.

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More Truth and Light

A sermon delivered at UCC Simi Valley, July 19, 2011

When the Pilgrims set out to come to America, some of them started their journey from Leyden [laden] in Holland.  They had gone there to live because they had been persecuted by the Church of England, and they believed that a congregation of Christians is able to govern itself without bishops to rule over them or councils to tell them what to believe.

Their leader was Pastor John Robinson, who was uncommonly open minded for a churchman of his time.  He taught his congregation to think for themselves, to resist authority, and to keep the door open to others who wanted to join them.  I’m not saying that he would feel comfortable in our church today, but he would recognize some of our ideas as being his ideas, too.

Pastor Robinson did not come to America, but he gave advice to his followers as they left Leyden.  Later, it was written that “he was very confident that the Lord had more truth and light to break forth out of his holy word.”  Does that sound familiar?  To me, it sounds a lot like, “God is still speaking.”  When the Pilgrims from Leyden joined others at Portsmouth, England, and sailed on the Mayflower, they remembered what Pastor Robinson had said.

Last week you learned from Carol Mack about that little fuss in Salem MA, so you know that New Englanders were not always as level-headed as John Robinson was.  But his way of thinking was always alive somewhere in New England.  The message that I want to get across to you today is that in the United Church of Christ, we are and have historically been people who believe in discerning the will of God for ourselves, using reason and every kind of knowledge that is available to us.  That is why we have a concern for education and a responsibility to care about educating ourselves and our young people.

One way in which the Pilgrims suffered in England was that they could not attend universities without being in good standing in the Church of England.  In the 1620s, they were urgently concerned about survival, but in 1636 the legislature of MA was ready to establish a college.  Several towns, including Salem, wanted the college, but it went to Newtowne on the Charles River, now called Cambridge.  The next year, in 1637 a clergyman named John Harvard immigrated along with his wife, and in 1638 he died, leaving half of his estate to the college, along with his library of 400 books.  The college was named Harvard College in his honor.

When we hear that Harvard was founded by Congregationalists, that’s partly true, but it was not what we understand as a “church-related college.”  Back then in New England, there was no clear line between the congregation and the town.  A town meeting was held in the town church, and the leaders of the town were the leaders of the congregation.  The same was somewhat true at the state level.  So, while Harvard was founded by an action of the legislature, one of the principal reasons for building a college was to training young men as ministers.

Harvard remained the only college in New England for 67 years until Yale was founded in New Haven CT in 1701.  The library at Yale College began with gifts of books from ten Congregationalist ministers. Yale tried to be holier than Harvard by requiring freshmen to study Hebrew as well as Latin and Greek.  There was a time when Yale expelled boys who attended services at churches that the college did not approve of.

There are similar stories for another five colleges in New England– Dartmouth, Williams, Bowdoin, Middlebury and Amherst– all founded by Congregationalists.  Each of them was governed by an independent board of trustees, and in this respect they embodied the Congregationalist regard for freedom of thought.  And while that was happening in the Northeast, Congregationalist colleges were also being founded out on the frontier.  Illinois College, founded in Jacksonville IL in1829, granted the first college degrees in that state.  Defiance Female Seminary, now called Defiance College, was founded in Defiance OH in 1850.  The German Reformed Church is also part of our tradition, and they founded Heidelberg University in Heidelberg OH in 1850.

Now I’m going to take a side trip to talk about the Disciples of Christ, but if you’ll trust me for a couple of minutes, you’ll see how things tie together.  When I was in high school, my family attended a Christian church, now called Christian (Disciples of Christ).  I left the Disciples of Christ, as young people often leave their parents’ church, but when I learned about the United Church of Christ, I felt that it included the Campbells’ best ideas.  The Disciples of Christ and the UCC are now in full communion, recognizing each others’ clergy.

While the Congregationalists were busy in New England, there were developments out on the frontier, in WV and KY.  In the first years of the 1800s, some Americans were becoming unhappy about the fact that Christians were divided into denominations, often because of old grievances brought over from Europe.  Particularly, there were clans of Presbyterians in Kentucky and West Virginia that would hardly speak to each other because of squabbles that took place in Scotland a hundred years earlier.  To protest against that narrow-mindedness, a preacher named Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander Campbell declared that they were no longer Presbyterians.  They rejected creeds and hierarchy, and they taught that congregations should govern themselves.  They wanted churches to be known only as Christian, and themselves to be called Disciples of Christ.  They probably never heard of John Robinson, but they were putting some of his ideas into practice.  Except that they taught baptism by immersion and weekly celebration of communion, their church life was very similar to the New England Congregationalists.

The Disciples of Christ founded Chapman University in Orange CA in 1861; this year Chapman U declared that it is also in relationship with the UCC, making it our newest church-related university.

In the decades that led up to the Civil War, the Congregational and Unitarian churches were leading agitators for the abolition of slavery.  After the Amistad event, Congregationalists formed the American Missionary Association for the purpose of taking education to Native Americans and African Americans.  In the decade after the Civil War, the American Missionary Association planted the seeds for six colleges that are still UCC-related.   They are all listed on the website.  They were nerve centers for the Civil Rights movement in 1960s.

One of those colleges has a story that I like to tell.  Fisk University was founded in 1866 in Nashville TN, with a handful of students meeting in temporary buildings that had served as military hospitals during the Civil War.  Throughout the first five years the situation was always dire, the university always in danger of failure.  In those days universities had chapel worship for the students, and at Fisk the chapel music was led by a white man, Mr. George L. White, who was also the treasurer of the university.  He had the idea of training a choir of students to sing concerts in northern states to raise money for the university.  He chose a group of five women and four men and took them north to OH on one-way train tickets.  They had no money for the return trip.  Some of their first audiences were hostile because they expected to hear black entertainers with banjos and jokes, but this choir was performing church anthems.  Travel was difficult and money was always scarce until Mr.  White had the idea that the singers needed a distinctive name to catch attention.  After praying about it, he chose the name Jubilee Singers, named after an Old Testament custom of celebrating a Jubilee Year, during which debts are forgiven and slaves are set free.  The Fisk Jubilee Singers attracted larger audiences, and they learned that instead of church anthems, people wanted to hear the songs that they had sung when they were still slaves.  People in the north were stunned and touched by the piety and power of songs they had never before, songs like “Deep River,” “Go down, Moses,” and “The Gospel Train.”  The Jubilee Singers returned home with money to keep their university going, and they began planning for an even more ambitious tour.  In 1872, they embarked on a tour that lasted 18 months and took them through all of the northeastern states.  They then sailed to England where the nobility embraced them.  Queen Victoria received them and had their group portrait painted.  That portrait now hangs in Jubilee Hall, a four-story brick building that was built with proceeds from the Jubilee Singers’ tour.  The building is a National Historic Landmark.

In addition to 31 colleges and universities, the UCC has 7 seminaries that train 2/3 of UCC clergy.  I’ll just mention two of them: Bangor Theological Seminary in Bangor ME, founded in 1815, is where our minister, Dr. June Goudey, taught for several years before she came to CA.  Geographically, the closest seminary to us is Pacific School of Religion.  It was founded in 1866 (the same year as Fisk U), and the founders had the wisdom to locate it high on a hill in Berkeley. (Two years later UC Berkeley bought real estate up at the foot of the hill.)  Our friends, Susan Bjork and Susan Brecht, both studied there in recent years.  The president of PSR is Dr Reiss Potterveld, whom many of us count as a friend because he served the church in Northridge for 14 years.  PSR has long been on the cutting edge of social change, and it has a Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies in Religion and Ministry.

This has been quite a lecture, and I received more than one warning that this would be dry stuff.  Why does it all matter?  Because now in America, there are powerful forces at work to discredit science, and therefore education.  Some of these forces are economic, some are political, some are even religious.  Our leaders have forgotten the tremendous economic expansion that occurred when the G.I. Bill paid tuition and living stipends for more than 7 million veterans of WWII.  That investment in education paid off many times over, but legislators now look at education as a drain on our resources, rather than an investment in our future.

Public schools are threatened all across the nation.  There are corporations that want to take over public schools and operate them for profit.  There are churches that want to be sure that their children don’t go to public school and learn about evolution.  Enemies of labor unions resent that fact that many public employees still have the right of collective bargaining.  Some people argue that only parents should have to pay for the education of children, forgetting that the founders of our nation agreed that democracy is impossible without an educated population.  Educating children for the 21st century will not be a simple matter, but it is only made more difficult by a chorus of voices shouting that our educational system is broken.  When you hear that, ask what are the motives of the people who are so ready to pass judgment.

We need to remember that the UCC stands for a tradition of education, inquiry, rational thinking.  The alternatives are ignorance, blindness and illusion.  The mainline Protestant churches have generally supported education, but millions of American Christians listen to preachers who deny the age of the earth, deny the evidence of fossils, even deny that human cells can be used in medical research.

Let us be a church that has no fear of the truth and light that are still coming to us, from whatever source.  Along with Rev. Michael Dowd, who will lecture here in October, let us say, “Thank God for Evolution.”

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Abraham meets Shylock

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is a comedy, right?  No one dies, and at the end three lovely young couples are married or about to be.  Still we were emotionally wrung out when it was over.

We went to see F. Murray Abraham in the role of the Jewish money-lender, Shylock, at the Broad Stage, a small theater in Santa Monica.  We got far more than we bargained for.

This production, directed by Darko Tresnjak, was played in modern dress and in the milieu of the American business world.  On waist-high tables there were three Apple computers, sometimes used for stock quotes or searching the internet.  Characters sometimes spoke to each other on the cellphones.

Injected into this modern ambience was explicit, physical portrayal of the raw anti-Semitism that Shylock complains about in the play.  We’ve seen Anne Frank, we’ve seen Cabaret, but in those stories, the anti-Semitism is institutional.  It is explicit but not personal; the dreadful acts are carried out by members of a mob or of the military or police.  In Merchant, Antonio and his buddies know the Jew they are persecuting– they have done business with him for years.  When one of them knocks off Shylock’s yarmulke and he loses his balance going down on the pavement to rescue it, they laugh as he grovels.  No wonder he hates them.

Antonio needs money, and Shylock lends it to him with a bizarre contract; if Antonio defaults on a particular date, Shylock may take a pound of Antonio’s flesh as a penalty.  This is treated mostly as a joke, but it comes to reality in a trial scene where Shylock claims his “bond” for the defaulted loan.  Like the street business, the trial was also played with far more physical realism than I have seen before.  Antonio was wearing an orange prisoner’s uniform.  Shylock came in and set a scale on the central pedestal, and on one side of the scale he placed one pound of hamburger wrapped in plastic.  He drew out a small, gleaming knife that he held in his hand throughout the scene.  He will have his pound of flesh.

I have always assumed that when Portia comes into court disguised as a young attorney, she knows that she has a winning argument up her sleeve.  I assumed that the trial scene is play-acting on her part, intended to enhance her certain victory.  Not in this production. This time, Portia delivers her “quality of mercy” argument and is surprised when it makes no impression on Shylock– if mercy is such a fine thing, why don’t Christians make more use of it?  No one can imagine that Shylock wants a pound of a man; he points out that some of them own slaves, and if a Christian can own a man, why can he not own a part of a man?

At every argument, Shylock is more vehement, more insistent, more angry and impatient.  At times Portia is at one of the computers, feverishly searching Venetian law for a way out.  She is no longer sure that she will save Antonio, whose upper chest is bared.  Portia is near panic when the bright steel blade is pressed against Antonio’s skin.  Suddenly she sees that blood is about to flow, and her winning argument flashes into her brain: the contract says that Shylock may take flesh, but if he takes blood along with it, he becomes guilty of murder.

Portia wins, but in this production the verdict is in doubt until the decisive moment.  And when the force of the law falls on Shylock for threatening the life of a Venetian citizen, it is doom indeed.  Shylock’s yarmulke is again torn from his head, and he is prevented from picking it up.  His utter humiliation leaves him a sobbing, gasping animal, who drags himself from the stage with indescribable, speechless sounds of grief.

F. Murray Abraham gave us more than we could have imagined, but so did the other actors, expecially Kate McCluggage as Portia Graham Hamilton as Bassanio.  Throughout, Tresnjak’s direction was creative and cogent.  We left with much to think about.

PS:  Abraham is not Jewish, according to the LATimes, but was raised Syrian Orthodox.  He left that church because of its inflexible attitude toward homosexuality.

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21st Century nightmare

At four this morning, this dream woke me up:

I am in a hotel room far from home, where a convention is going on.  I have unpacked and every surface in the room is covered with a jumble of things.  The telephone rings.  I find my cellphone.  I find the TV remote.   I search for the hotel phone, either the base or the cordless unit.  It goes on ringing.  I hear faintly the voice of Mr. Murray Crew, recording a message for me, just a courtesy call, he says.  But it seems I met him day before yesterday at a reception.  I would like to talk to him but I’m still searching for the phone.  He hangs up.  If I found the phone, could I read the tiny print on it, would I understand the little black buttons?  Would I figure out how to call the hotel desk, retrieve the message, answer the phone again if it rang?  I’m alone in town, it would be nice to meet Mr. Crew again if I found the phone.  I’m still searching.

I woke up feeling frustration and fear– of technology, or of isolation caused by not understanding modern gadgets.  After a few minutes I remember Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams: such dreams come to reassure us that we are, in fact, capable, and that such absurd situations are not going to occur in our real lives.

Following the fear, there is wonderment: that was a 21st century dream.  It was unthinkable in the 1990s, when hotel room telephones had cords and stayed wired to the wall.  In 2011 are other people having the lost cordless dream?

And have I really met Murray Crew?  I think I’ll go Facebook him.

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PFLAG Simi Valley

There’s one category that we all fit into, whether we know it or not.  Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.  PFLAG, or as it’s spoken, P-flag.

At a church workshop a year ago, there was discussion about what more we could be doing for the community of Simi Valley, where the church is located.  On a sudden impulse, I started asking whether there is a chapter of PFLAG in Simi, and wouldn’t it make sense for us to start one?  It’s hard to imagine that no one had thought of it before.  Another of our members, Jeff, was interested in helping with a start-up, and we were off.

The first step was to plan a public meeting at the church and locate a suitable speaker.  That turned out to be easy; PFLAG has a volunteer organizer for the Los Angeles area, and he was more than ready to help us.  We talked to him, selected a date and advertised it.  On that evening, Joan and I met him for dinner and then took him to the meeting.  Thirty or so people attended, and there was lively interest in starting a local chapter.  Soon after, there was another meeting, and then a smaller meeting to select some officers to take on the real work of contacting national PFLAG and getting papers from the state of California to do business as a non-profit.

I was really happy that there were willing volunteers to serve as the necessary officers, Jeff being one of them.  I could cheer from the sidelines, which suited me just fine.  President Patti needed a few months for the required paper work, and in the meantime I visited two PFLAG chapters in the area, one of them in Santa Clarita and the other in Oak Park.  Both of them were large groups, 25 persons or more, and a mix of old and young, straight and gay, singles and couples.  At both of the meetings there were parents attending whose children had just come out.  There were stories, confessions, realizations, tears.  I felt privileged to witness these moments of growth and realization for good people who loved their children and wanted to know how to deal with what they had so recently learned.

PFLAG Simi Valley held its first meeting in November, on the third Thursday evening, with 12 persons present.  Patti had made many contacts for us, including a Facebook page that soon had hundreds of “Friends.”  Several women attended from “Bosom Buddies,” a lesbian group that meets weekly in a friendly Simi bar.  The December meeting was also 12 persons, including some new faces.  The January meeting was a bit larger, I have been told.

Last night was our fourth meeting, and I was excited to see 19 persons present.  We had an entertaining guest speaker, Abby, but at a certain point she gently allowed the meeting to drift away from her on its own momentum.  The focus shifted to a new couple, T& L, who had the coming out conversation with their son on New Year’s Day.  There weren’t actually tears, but they had some unresolved emotions and differences about how they were dealing with the news.  Both parents had known about their son’s orientation for years, but it seemed there was some anger that he had not voluntarily come out until Lasked him the big question, straight out.  Earlier in the meeting I had mostly been turned away from them, but others remarked how tense and closed L had been at first, how she relaxed during the conversation, and then how happy they seemed to be when they left at the end.
Patti and I congratulated each other after the meeting: PFLAG Simi has passed its first test.  We are right where we need to be to serve people who need us.

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My edition entitled 26 Italian Songs and Arias was translated about 10 years ago into Japanese and a few years later into Korean.  So there’s no misunderstanding: The songs remain in Italian, naturally; only the commentaries and translations are translated into the Asian language.

Our good friend, Dan Shen, formerly an operatic soprano in Beijing and now a happily married Italian citizen, saw my book and wanted to make it available for singers in her homeland.  On her own initiative, with no concern for financial profit, Dan translated 26 Italian Songs and Arias into Chinese and then undertook to find a publisher in China.  That was not easy, but eventually Shanghai Music Publishing House licensed the book from Alfred Publishing Co. and brought out a beautiful Chinese edition in early 2010.  So far, so good.

In December, Dan and her husband, Luigi Marzola, went to Shanghai for a visit.  On the day before Christmas I received an excited Skype call from both of them.  They had gone into a bookstore to see Dan’s and my book for sale, and right beside it was another Chinese edition of Italian songs, copied directly from the Alfred edition.

Piracy in Shanghai!  Dan sent me a bookseller’s website (shown below), where I could easily verify the theft. The book cover shows a picture of a bewigged violinist, but the contents are all vocal music.  At that time there were also two pages of music displayed, of which one was my arrangement of an aria by Scarlatti, photocopied from the Alfred edition.  The other page, also photocopied, came from Patricia Adkins Chiti’s Italian Art Songs of the Romantic Era (also from Alfred).

The publisher is East China Normal University (“normal” in the old sense of teacher preparation).  The “editor” is Ms. Cao Jin (Cao is pronounced “tsow”).  The book came out in 2009, before Dan’s translation was on the market, and Ms. Cao had no idea that a legitimate Chinese edition was on the way or that anyone from Europe or the U.S. would ever have any reason to pay attention to what she was doing.  Of course, someone at ECNU should have thought about getting a license from Alfred.  Ms. Cao probably told them that the music is old and in public domain.  That’s partly true, but it overlooks that I created the keyboard parts from the bass parts that were typical of the Baroque style.  My edition is quite distinct from others and definitely under copyright.

This all amuses me greatly.  I doubt if the financial loss amounts to much.  And I’m surprised and delighted to learn that my research, once considered esoteric and of interest to few, has become a commercial entity worthy of being pirated!. In the meantime, Alfred’s legal people are going to deal with it, probably in concert with Shanghai Music PH.  We’ll see.

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How I caused a mistrial

How I Caused a Mistrial

After two full days of jury selection, we were all in our places this morning. Judge Michael Carter greeted us at 9:25 and introduced the prosecution and defense attorneys for their opening statements; the prosecution was very convincing, but the defense had some points, too.

The incident at stake was an argument between wife and husband on a public street in Pasadena; it became so noisy that a man in a car dealer business across the street came outdoors to watch, just for curiosity. That man was our first witness; he had watched the fight until the husband pushed the wife and she fell backward over a low wall, then he called 911. When the police arrived, they found that the woman had a cut inside her upper lip. She did not want to press charges against her husband, but once the police have seen evidence of domestic abuse, the individual’s preference does not matter: The state of California, not the wife, brought a case against the husband.

Within the first 40 minutes of the trial, there were two occasions when the judge called the attorneys into his office for a “sidebar”. It interested me to observe that the court reporter heard the backstage conversation through her headphones and recorded it the same as she recorded dialogue in the courtroom.

From my seat in the jury box, I could not usually see the surface of the table where the defendant and the attorneys sat, because they blocked my view. When the attorneys left the room, I could see the table clearly. I was startled to see the defendant lift up a sheet of paper that had been folded top to bottom, the long way, and he held the sheet so that I could easily read the words written in large upper case letters: “THREE STRIKES”. He held it the sign just at table height. From his position, the defendant could see that the clerk of the court was occupied and had his head down below the divider that surrounds his desk; the bailiff was behind the defendant and could not see what he was doing; and the reporter was busy with her typing. After a minute, the defendant put the paper down on the table and covered it with other papers.

During the second sidebar, the defendant repeated the display of his paper, and this time he even turned back and briefly looked over his shoulder at his mother, who was seated in the middle of the audience area. Again, the paper was hidden when the judge and attorneys returned.

I was disturbed. The jury in a criminal case is not allowed to know or consider what punishment will result from a guilty verdict. The jury only decides guilt or innocence, not sentencing. If the defendant was found guilty of a third crime, he would be put away for 25 years to life, but we were not allowed to know or consider that fact in our deliberations. I personally oppose the three strikes law as being inflexible, removing sentencing power from the judge, and being too harsh for many circumstances where it is applied. In this case, I think that 25 years in prison for inflicting a cut lip is harsh and extreme.

The defendant clearly wanted us to know what was at stake for him in this trial. I had very mixed feelings. In a third strike situation, I would certainly hope for a verdict of not guilty, and I did not know whether I would bend the evidence in my own mind, or weigh it differently, as a result of knowing the danger to the defendant. Also, I had to consider that by trying to influence the jury, the defendant was committing another crime, one of desperation.

At 10 a.m. I wrote a note to the judge: “During your absence from the courtroom for sidebars, the defendant has displayed a paper on which the words ‘THREE STRIKES’ are clearly visible from the position where I am sitting. Is this an impropriety? Juror #12.” At about 10:25, we were dismissed for a 15 minute break, and on the way out I handed my note to the bailiff to give to the judge.

About 10 minutes later, I was called to go into the courtroom and speak with the judge. The attorneys were present, but the defendant was not. The judge said that he had the defendant’s sign in his possession. He questioned me about how I had come to see it and what significance it had for me. People have different opinions about the three strikes law. Would it cause me to feel inclined to vote one way or the other? I said it would make me more inclined to vote “not guilty”.

After I returned to the jury room, six or eight other jurors were called in one at a time for questioning. At 11:45 we were all called into the courtroom, but not seated in the jury box, and Judge Carter told us that he was forced to declare a mistrial. He thanked us and asked us not to consider that our time had been wasted, because we had gone through the process that must be maintained for the sake of our system.

In the jury room, while we waited for our certificates of service to be typed, we were free to talk about the case for the first time. Some jury members did not know what had happened. Some said that they had never seen the defendant’s sign. One lady said she had seen it the day before. I had to wonder why no one else had reported it. Reporting may not have occurred to them, or they may have decided not to report. I still had mixed feelings as I left the courthouse and walked out into the sunshine.

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Sicily and Teatro Massimo

Sicily was beautiful in September when Joan and I joined a tour group run by Grand Circle. Only a few days were too hot for comfort, and rain fell only a few times.  While our bus was crossing the rugged landscape of central Sicily, our guide casually mentioned having tickets for a performance of The Barber of Seville on the coming weekend in Palermo. I went on full alert and notified everyone else in the bus.

As soon as we had checked into our hotel, four of us walked the few blocks to the opera house and saw the audience arriving for a 630pm performance.  We climbed the imposing (meaning “inconvenient”) stone staircase to the main doors.  In the grandiose, high-ceilinged lobby we learned that the ticket window would remain open for a half hour after the curtain time, and decided to return then. That was a good move, as we had the full attention of a cooperative agent, who could show us a computer screen with the available seats for Friday evening.

Parenthetically:  Palermo has a season of 11 months, with one production every month except August.  Barbiere was running for only one week, so it was pure luck that put us in Palermo that week. The theater has a traditional horseshoe form, which means that boxes on the side have a poor view of the stage.  Above the five levels of boxes is the gallery with seats in rows, also stretching around the sides of the theater with a poor view, or no stage view at all.  There are reputedly 3200 seats, but many of them are undesirable.

Orchestra level seats, as well as seats at the front of boxes, are naturally taken by season subscribers.  I chose two seats in the second row of a box a little to the right of center on the first level, which gave a good view of the stage. The price was reasonable compared to Los Angeles Opera, only $100 per ticket. Fortunately, I was able to pay cash because none of our credit cards passed muster.  European cards now have a holographic security chip that ours don’t have.

In Palermo, even the most casual tourist has to notice Teatro Massimo, with its bulk of yellow limestone sitting in an open square in the middle of the city.  Our tour guide called it the “third largest opera house in Europe”, but not all of his facts were reliable.  He said that Palermo had no opera house prior to TM, but Grove’s says otherwise, and he gave us a wrong date for the opening of TM, which Grove’s says was in 1897, with Verdi’s Falstaff.  But more important than flubbed facts was the opportunity to see an opera house where many famous stars have sung, notably Joan Sutherland in Lucia.

The following evening our party of eight set out through the rain for a festive evening.  Joan and I found our box, and we were pleased that our chairs were about 8 inches taller than the chairs in the front row, so we could see the stage very well without imposing on the ladies in front of us.

The overture showed immediately that the orchestra played crisply with beautiful tone.  When the curtain rose, we saw bright reds, oranges and yellows, and a huge graphic in the style of Miro.  Three towers moved about the stage, sometimes showing the big graphic and sometimes other surfaces.  There was never any lack of personnel to move and rotate the towers.  Throughout the whole opera there were never fewer than 10 persons, usually chorus singers and/or pantomimes clad head-to-foot in bright yellow. The crowd was always there, even for scenes like Rosina’s first aria, when she is talking to herself.

We hear about Eurotrash– this was not that, but it was a case of the director thinking that the stage has to be busy to keep us in the audience entertained.  Result: constant distraction.  With gorgeous singing from all the principals, the opera worked best when we didn’t watch the stage.

Except for the lovely experience of the century-old opera house, the evening was by and large disappointing.

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