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welcome to PIANONOISE!    if you push my buttons I will play music for you

above: from a concert in Sedona, Arizona in 2010. The one on the left is from a concert in 2013 in Champaign, Illinois, and shows Norm LaDuke directing his Summer Ensemble. See this week's column, below for details.  The banner photo at the top is from this summer at Westminster Presbyterian church near Pittsburgh, where another organ recital took place the same week as the church's Vacation Bible School, with the result that I got a lovely stage setting for practice! (they removed most of the decorations for the actual concert).

This Week's Featured Recording: for Friday,
September 24   One of the many fascinating sonatas by a Baroque master we know so little about. The satisfied little tune that opens the work very quickly heads for deep water, and an epic journey awaits us, all in the span of four minutes!

Sonata in C, K. 460
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)

This is a particularly fine sonata to illustrate one of Scarlatti's great gifts: of being about to change moods so rapidly, to go from formality to frivolity, from melancholy to mayhem, in the space of a few measures.

It so happens that this week I have just heard of the death of a Chorale friend, and am preparing to celebrate the wedding of a Pittsburgh friend. The contrast, opposite poles in the ordinary business of life (and death) seems a fit companion for Scarlatti's discourse, even though I selected this recording to feature several days ago.

Brothers, Sing On!    September 24, 2021

The archives for this website have gotten rather large, and various. If I need reminding in the midst of a hectic week, month, or year, what kinds of good memories I've been making I only need visit them. Just the morning I stumbled upon a few pictures that date from a concert in Arizona in 2010. And then this evening, I found out that we've lost another friend, the one who initiated that concert. Maybe I was looking at the pictures as he was drawing his last mortal breath. I don't know.

Norm LaDuke is singing in the celestial choir. Well, heck, maybe he is directing it. Some portion of it, anyway. They have sectionals up there, don't they?

I don't remember when I first met Norm, but it probably had something to do with the Summer Ensemble. This group met every June and July, rehearsing for about 90 minutes once a week. Then they'd have a few performances at the end. One was usually at our church, and one or two others would happen that afternoon at a retirement community or two. Norm wasn't all that particular about the performances, though. He liked to say that "a performance is just an excuse for another rehearsal." The point was to get together and sing. And maybe to visit Jarlings afterward.  (Jarlings was/is the epicenter of the frozen yogurt universe in downstate Illinois.)

It wasn't generally the most strenuous literature anyhow. Most of it consisted of post-war pop, some more modern (a Billy Joel tune comes to mind), and some things you might sing in church. But every concert had to open with a rousing rendition of "Brothers, Sing On!" which was written by Edward Grieg.

We weren't all brothers. There were a few women in the group. At first we were the Men's Summer Ensemble. He wasn't trying to be sexist, it's just that there is a special sound, and literature, for tenors and basses (as there is for sopranos and altos) and that was what Norm specialized in. After a year or two, he dropped the "men's" part on account of the ladies.

Of course, most of those men (and women) belonged to a larger choir, a community chorus known as The Chorale. Its pool of around 60 or more members formed the backbone of the smaller "summer ensemble." Norm himself sang in The Chorale. The Chorale's director, Julie Beyler, was not necessarily thrilled that Norm was getting his choir members from her choir, though since The Chorale didn't sing in the summer it doesn't seem to have created too many problems, usually. Eventually Norm retired to Arizona but returned every summer to conduct us and to feed his Jarlings habit.

Before I get to the concert in Arizona I have to mention the rehearsal in which lightning struck the church while we were in it and we all hit the deck! Also the evening that Norm announced he would have to go back to Arizona because of health issues. We'd buried our cat earlier that evening so it wasn't a good day! I closed out the season directing the group for him, and when it turned out to be kidney stones, he was back the next season.

In the spring of 2010, Norm wanted to try getting some of the Illinois Summer Ensemble people together with some of the members of the choir at his new church in Sedona to sing a concert. Since the concert was built around our spring break I figured I could go. I was in staff meeting looking at the calendar when I realized I had made a large mistake. It was Palm Sunday that weekend! I think our choir director has forgiven me for taking the week off (though I'm less sure about myself). At that point the tickets had been purchased and we were off.

There were three of us. Mark, Woodie and I thought we'd visit the grand Canyon. When we told Julie about our plans she told me I'd better not fall in. She didn't want to lose her accompanist! (I'm not sure if Mark or Woodie got similar expressions of concern!) When we got to the canyon Mark snapped a picture of me looking over the edge. We wanted to send it to Julie with the caption, "this is the last we saw of Michael!"

Norm hadn't thought we'd enjoy the Grand Canyon. It's just a big hole, he sniffed. You'll get out of the car, look around for five seconds, turn around and drive the two hours back to Sedona. He was wrong about the Canyon. We spent hours marveling over the rock formations. We'd drive a few hundred yards, get out and look some more. About 600 photographs later, we returned home. At the gift shop was a book detailing all the people who had fallen into the Canyon. Now that I think about it, that would have been a great souvenir for Julie! (oh well, hindsight).

But the local scenery in Sedona was spectacular as well. We went hiking among the "red rocks" that Norm kept touting with pride. His back yard was up against an amazing golf course. It was quite an experience.

Then of course, there was a concert. The ensemble sang, I played some solo piano pieces, people seemed to enjoy it. After a week that was much too short, back to the airport (two hours to Phoenix through the early dawn hours and the cacti and the red rocks). I could just get back in time for the Sunday evening Chorale rehearsal if the plane wasn't very late. If you weren't a Chorale member you may not be aware that rehearsals on Sunday nights were sacrosanct, and occurred without fail even on Easter, Superbowl Sunday, and any other Sunday that began with Sun and ended with Day. If you were the Chorale's music director you knew that there were never enough rehearsals before the next concert. I explained the tightness in scheduling my return trip and how, optimistically, I hoped not to be late the following week. Unless the plane was. "In that case" said our fearless director "I will have a talk with Mr. LaDuke." I replied "I think you should take it up with American Airlines!"

The plane was late. But not very. I managed to get home, grab a quick bite and get to rehearsal on time. ("Whist, anyone?*")

Norm returned to Illinois for a few more summers, and as recently as 2019 for the Chorale's final festival concert, with his wife Jan (on whom be heaped much credit for Norm's success, huzzah huzzah).

I know there will be many appreciative choral singers thinking about his legacy this week, and the memories we shared. 

To that end, brothers (and sisters), Sing On!

Brothers, Sing On! by Edward Grieg as performed by the summer ensemble in 2015

*inquiring about getting up a game of Whist is what Phileas Fogg says at the end of Jules Verne's novel "Around the World in 80 days." He has just manged to circumnavigate the globe in the allotted time and thus win a bet.

blasts from the past....
I'm about to have a busy, potentially exhausting, weekend. I'm sure I'll enjoy it, but I expect to be tired on Monday, much like in the blog below. And since I also happen to have just recorded another Scarlatti sonata, just like in this entry from 2014, well...enjoy!

Getting the feel of it


How are you this fine Monday morning?

Me, I'm exhausted. I'm probably lying in bed right now aching, and in no hurry to get up. I'll catch up with you around noon, maybe.

The reason for that might have something to do with my weekend. Saturday night I had a concert with one organization. Sunday afternoon was a concert with another group. In between I had the usual four weekend church services, also a dress rehearsal on Friday night for group one, and then on Sunday, after three services and a concert, another (three hour) rehearsal for another thing group one is doing. Group two had their dress Thursday and is now finished for the season.

So I'm probably a little less chipper than my usual Monday morning self. I say probably because I wrote this entry on Thursday night and I'm having it posted automatically at 8 a.m. Monday while I'm likely still in bed, dead to the world, because I'm a musician and I work weekends, but not necessarily Monday mornings.

Now one of the terrific things about recordings is they can capture a moment and play it back for us much later. The recording I'm going to play for you, of a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti, was made about a week ago, and I gave it a very vigorous, energetic playing, which is likely the very opposite of what I am feeling right now.

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The Solace of Noble Minds

The Strange Employment of Domenico Scarlatti


Naples in 1685 was a very loud place. Thousands of inhabitants crammed into a tight space, dwellings piled high atop each other, narrow alleys filled with the cries of street vendors, children, men rushing back and forth--a cauldron of human activity. Into this noisy environment was born one Domenico Scarlatti.

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