April 13, 2019: WTAMU Carmina Burana; Featured Art – Tasia Brown

Out on the bald Panhandle prairie on March 30 and 31, one of the iconic orchestral/choral works in all musical literature thrilled sold-out auditoriums.

I refer to the staging of Carmina Burana, an epic collaborative production between orchestra, chorus and dance department, which in my 45 year experience with this work, stands as unique.

Drawn from medieval student poems and musings, some from a millennium past, and part of a corpus of so-called Goliardic Literature maintained at the Monastery of Beuern in Bavaria this work was lyricised and orchestrated by Carl Orff in the 1930’s.

These writings hail from the gestational period of European Universities, when conflict between town and gown was persistent but which reveal that though the nature of higher education has evolved, the psyche of male collegians has remained static, and not at a higher cognitive level.

In short, these poems, some would say fantasies, elaborate the arc of male student concerns, from fortune’s revelation, whether good or ill, to keggers in the tavern, to legions of lovely lasses eager for male company. Many moralists have assigned this masterpiece at least an R rating for content, which did not appear to affect the participants in the slightest.

It was clear that the orchestra, conducted by Dr. Mark Bartley, enjoyed themselves, and played with a dynamic precision equal to the great philharmonics of the planet. The Berlin Philharmonic, performing this piece with Maestro Seiji Ozawa comes to mind.

The chorus, directed by Dr. Sean Pullen has demonstrated a facility during Dr. Pullen’s tenure for multilingual performance. In this instance the WTAMU choirs showed why they are the voice of one of the premier music programs in Division II. The choristers’ Medieval Latin and German were enunciated spot-on as they sustained the rapid pulse and energy of the music.

And this production featured dance, choreographed by Mark Gold and Leslie Williams and using members of the WTAMU Dance Program. The concept was bold, with some of the dancing, like the songs, abstract, but some which proceeded from real life. In Taberna quando sumis featured six female dancers giving comedic and convincing renditions of terpsichorean inebriation.

Some aspects of the staging were innovative and effective. The backlit dividers cast a dramatic effect, as did the opening O Fortuna through dry-ice fog. The soloists came onto the stage for their numbers, then exited, which made the work much more of a narrative than sit-and-play-and-stand-and-sing. Finally, lines of females and males came to stage front to antiphonally dialogue veni, veni, venias with nuanced flirtations. Very effective!

The translation, projected on an attached ceiling screen, as in opera, was adequate, but leaving no doubt as to what was transpiring. Sometimes it’s so scrubbed and sanitized as to mislead, but other times, blatantly literal to the point of being vulgar. This struck a happy medium.

The soloists were also exceptional. Matt Oglesby dished up a superb falsetto rendering of a roasting swan in Olim lacus colueram, while faculty colleague Sarah Beckham-Turner hit Dulcissime with ease and conviction, a high bar often missed by sopranos in performance.

Kudos to the Amarillo Boys Choir, directed by the Brooks, Mel and BJ, who held forth admirably in the young adult context of this work. Both their voices and Latin maintained the right pitch.

Congratulations to the whole WT team for mounting a successful production of this oft-performed work, but with new wrinkles that makes traditional presentations staid by comparison. That such bellwether staging has taken place in the Panhandle should not surprise, because Amarillo, along with WTAMU, is artsy!

So, let’s keep it that way, and “Keep Austin Weird and Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”

April 9, 2019: Chamber Music Amarillo, March 30.

On March 30, a packed house at the Fibonacci Space was treated to an evening of The Three B’s: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms for the final concert of the season for Chamber Music Amarillo,with four virtuosi performing solo, duet and quartet.

The first selection of the evening featured Annamarie Reader playing Bach’s Suite no. 1 in G Major for Cello, bwv 1007. Bach composed this early in his career, and the score is a virtual tabula rasa sans compositional mandates , thus enfranchising the performer with broad interpretive latitude.

The individual pieces are all dances, each having a different character but all colored by the rich sonority and overtones of the cello, immediately evident in the Prelude.

Of particular “note” was the double-stopping in the Allemande, more difficult on this instrument, and the two Minuets. The first had a happy tilt and lilt whereas the second was darker and had more force with an emphatic downbeat.

Lastly, Annamarie and JSB offered us a little Gigue, a final treat in this terpsichorean/cello sojourn, which ended all too soon. This artist needs a return to Cowboy Country ASAP, to again take us all dancin’!

Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Cello no. 3 in A Major, op 69 was written in 1808, just as the maestro started to recognize his encroaching deafness. Perhaps his Sturm und Drang informed parts of this work, especially the Allegro with its ebb and flow, unannounced eruptions bracketed by benign collaboration between the instruments.

The Scherzo contains passages of protracted syncopation, some sounding almost tongue-in-cheek after the mutability of the Allegro. The Adagio cantabile favors the piano with a sometimes coy cello provoking a high octane response, for which the Fazioli 278 and David Palmer were more than equal. Ultimately both instruments played in tandem leading to Beethoven’s patented final pound.

Hopefully David and Annamarie will have other occasions to play ’cause I wanna hear em!

The last number on the program was Brahm’s Piano Quartet no. 3 in C Minor, op. 60, with Evgeny Zvonnikov on violin and Vesselin Todorov on viola joining the piano and cello.

This work casts a morbid pall while being very alive. One senses an almost bipolar character to the piece, whose conception was in the context of Robert Schumann’s suicide attempt. Almost manic escalations tip into wistful declines throughout the four movements.

Some phrases stand out, such as Vesselin Todorov’s beautiful viola, wrapped around the cello and violin at the end of the Allegro. The pulsing ferocity of the piano in the Scherzo makes one wonder whether David Palmer or Brahm’s himself was venting his inner Beethoven.

The Andante with its elegant interplay twixt piano and cello is later matched by a consummate duet involving the violin and viola. This is a beautiful section in which to get lost.

The Finale builds to a series of incredible peaks before plaintively leveling out, two crashing chords marking Das Ende.

Such musical ambrosia we consumed Saturday night! If art brings us to the level of the divine, as Beethoven says, what we heard here in Cowboy Country was heavenly.

Our thanks to David Palmer for arranging this spectacular program, and his co-performers Annamarie, Evgeny and Vesselin. Such artistry, bestowed on us liberally and frequently in this place, is why we say, gratefully, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”

April 5, 2019: Amarillo Master Chorale, March 29, 2019

The weekend of March 29 – 31 saw again the triple-headed monster of too many artsy choices rearing its head. Since divinity can trifurcate, but mere mortals cannot, Saturday night required choices twixt Master Chorale, Chamber Music Amarillo and Carmina Burana, all right here in Cowboy Country!

Part of the dilemma was resolved by gracious permission from Dr. Nate Fryml to attend the Friday night dress rehearsal of Master Chorale at St. Andrews Episcopal Church.

The program of eight spiritual works ranging from Bach to Fryml impressed. Included in these selections were works by two American female composers of the 20th century, Emma Lou Diemer and Alice Parker, an English madrigal and Rejoice in the Lamb by Benjamin Britten.

The precision and productivity of rehearsal time stood out. Choristers complied immediately with terse instructions and observations. Appearances assert that the Master Chorale has bought into Dr. Fryml, to which the ensuing lofty sound bears testimony.

The MC sang Saints Bound for Heaven by Alice Parker, the primary arranger for the Robert Shaw Chorale for twenty years. This work is a sequence of statement and response, as well as the embodiment of the pulse and credo of the Second Great Awakening, with the many voices making each part sound as one, all with impeccable phrasing and timing. One could almost sense shaped notes in the score.

Nate’s signature work, Rejoice Again, commissioned by Chamber Music Amarillo and premiered on January 12, received a much anticipated second hearing. A variety of scriptures formed this text, which, richly colored by the composition, conveys the message of rejoicing through the peaks and valleys of one’s spiritual walk.

As predicted in January, this piece will acquire legs, becoming frequent liturgical fare for churches nation-wide having quality choirs. But, it premiered right here!

Madrigal by Thomas Weelkes
All People Clap Your Hands
Amarillo Master Chorale

A select group of twelve singers performed the work All People Clap Your Hands by Thomas Weelkes right out of the English madrigal tradition of the early 17th century. Madrigals pose a challenge when parts are uneven, but these vocalists had the clear and distinct harmony that defines this genre.

O Come Let Us Sing by Emma Lou Diemer, was another American composer of the 20th c. whose works range from solo to orchestral and choral. This song, taken from the Psalms, reveals the composer’s tendency to blend the traditional with the modern and then amplify by intense dynamics. When the MC came to the phraseOh worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,” chorale members produced an effect both haunting and profound.

Bach’s Jesus Bleibet Meine Freunde was an appropriate choice this weekend of JSB’s 334th geburtstag. And, the chorale had sufficient tenors and basses to give this work the profound depth it requires and then delivers.

The Saturday night performance brought rave reviews from a packed house, significant because two concurrent events were similarly at capacity. That sometimes there are, here on the high plains, too many options in the fine arts is a problem with which we of the Panhandle will just have to deal.

To find in Amarillo a professional caliber community chorus attests to the level of local talent and the astute direction of Dr. Nate Fryml. This reality is just another reason we can say, with justifiable hubris, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!

April 2, 2019: ‘Bach’s Lunch’ Lenten Organ Recital Series

The 24th annual Bach’s Lunch Lenten Organ Recitals are underway as I write this on JSB’s 334th birthday. This series is sponsored by the Amarillo Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, and is held at different churches every Friday at 12:05 during Lent.

So far as anyone knows, this series is unique, comporting with the anomalous character of the arts in Amarillo.

St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church hosted the first concert on March 8 with Jim Gardner on a Schantz Pipe Organ.

A select program featured works by Couperin, Franck, Rodrigo and Bach. Of note was an adaptation from the second movement of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, played with projected images of the season. This movement is, by turns, pensive, evocative and triumphant, the latter quality played fff.

The second concert in the series was held at First Christian Church with Rev. Dr. Jacob Miller as organist.

Dr. Miller played four works, significant among which was an arrangement of O Sacred Head Now Wounded, originally attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux with harmony by Bach.

This arrangement by Hassler, Hayes and Gaspard included Jennifer Akins on the piano and has a harsh dissonant quality, especially around the first phrases which focus on pain and trauma, but then organ registers and instruments coalesce in triumph.

First Presbyterian hosted the March 28 recital, featuring one of the premier organs in the country which was dedicated only this last December.

Norman Goad, designer of this instrument, played five works, two of them his own compositions. Special features of the organ permeated the pieces as in Bach’s Pastoral in F which resonated with tintinnabula.

In Peter’s Denial, composed by Goad, a soft, almost Bossa Nova beat, signifying the rhythms of daily life, is terminated by three low bells and a crash of thunder. The unchanging has now forever changed.

The organist concluded with the second of his compositions, Meditations on the Cross. This work is a combination of organ and iPad synthesizer with tonal layering in surround sound that enfolds the listener in aural surrealism. This piece certainly will gain a wider audience.

These nationally-unique programs are well-attended, and evince a public spirit, right here in Cowboy Country that is at once aesthetic and ecumenical, and which eagerly anticipates the last two recitals in this series.

For Bach’s Lunch, and all of the other special cultural events and offerings found here, we say with conviction, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”

March 31, 2019: Keeping it Casual with Sarah & Bradley; Featured Art – Steve Cost

Sarah and Bradley
Keeping It Casual
WTAMU – Mar. 21, 2019

On Thursday, March 21, Sarah Beckham-Turner and Bradley Behrmann with James Gardner accompanying, presented a program entitled Keeping It Casual with Sarah and Bradley: Featuring Favorites from Musical Theatre in the Fine Arts Complex Recital Hall at WTAMU. Far beyond the pale of classical sophistication, this program provided the audience with an hour of entertainment and easy listening.

In some fifteen numbers, these artists demonstrated their range of vocal, dramatic and comedic talent, singing both solo and duet.

The two performed People Will Say We’re in Love from Oklahoma with exuberant naivete to render the song credible without being mushy.

Sarah, on the faculty at WTAMU, gave a moving performance of I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables, exploring the full range of dramatic pathos inherent in the lyrics, making the work the most impactful of the evening.

What could be more diametrically opposed to Les Miserables than Spamalot? A rhetorical question, but in Divas Lament she revealed that she could wallow in the outrage of affront to unrequited artistic vanity. Aspiration to indignation is an epic journey that SBT negotiated with aplomb and finesse.

Bradley Behrmann similarly showed his comedic flair singing the sarcastic Laughing Matters from When Pigs Fly about the current deluge of bad news, and by turning the noun into a verb is where ‘laughing matters’ most of all.

Then, in You’ll Be Back” from “Hamilton,” the audience, comprised mainly of music majors, spontaneously took off on the chorus, showing that it’s not only in social media that millennials are ahead of baby-boomers.

Sarah and Bradley, along with James Gardner, demonstrate not only the range of talent in this community, but also illustrate the myriad art forms available to the public to just kick back and enjoy.

That’s why we happily say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”

March 27, 2019: FASO Concert-Suzanne Ramo; Featured Art-Steve Cost

Suzanne Ramo
March 17, 2019

While much of the local population fixated on the brackets for March Madness, a fortunate group focused on a magnificent FASO concert by soprano Suzanne Ramo in St. Andrews Episcopal Church. An acronym for Friends of Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1024, the magnificent organ in the sanctuary, FASO stages several concerts yearly featuring well-known artists.

Long-based at WTAMU, Ramo is now the quintessential peripatetic vocalist, gifting symphonic and opera audiences around the country with the rich, creamy texture of her soprano.

When contracted by FASO, she was given carte blanche to select and sequence the program. What the St. Andrew’s audience received was an amalgam of her favorites, from Mozart and Handel through this century.

She filled the Neo-Romanesque transept with her effervescent coloratura when singing Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate, especially the Allelujah, and from Handel’s Samson, Let the Bright Seraphim. For the latter she was accompanied by Robert Hinds on the piccolo trumpet, a classy combination to hear in cowboy country.

For much of the program her accompaniment alternated between Rick land on organ and Fritz Gechter on piano.

Suzanne also chose works by Gounod and Richard Strauss on the same subject: the ups and downs of love. Gounod, as sung in French by Ramo, carried a happy, laughing lilt, but the Strauss descended into an emotional German despondency.

The poetry of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Thelonious Monk was also lyricized, layering the profundity with added impact.

At one point there was an unscripted intermission as neither the soloist nor accompanist returned immediately to the stage. When Ms. Ramo did return, she hollered in pure Panhandlese, “Ya’ll come on back!” And we did, ’cause she talks our talk!

The last number on the program, a fun piece entitled The Girl in 4 G by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan portrayed a young woman yearning for peace and quiet but sandwiched above and below by an opera singer and party central.

Our gratitude to Suzanne for this spectacular performance, and for FASO which sponsored it. Her talent reaffirmed the value of art in elevating the human spirit, a common occurrence here on the high plains.

That’s why we can say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”

March 25, 2019: Texas High Plains Writers; Featured Art from AMOA Exhibition

Dee Burks
“The Secret to 6-Figure Freelancing”
Texas High Plains Writers
March 16, 2019

Among the myriad surprises found in artsy Amarillo is one of the country’s longest continually-active writers organizations. In fact, in 2020 Texas High Plains Writers will celebrate its centenary.

The writers group embraces all genres, covering the range of fiction and non-fiction, poetry, prose, traditional and self-publishing, and writers from potential to professional.

Bi-monthly meetings, held in the Ed Davis conference room at the First Bank Southwest tower, convene on the the third Saturday morning and feature a variety of speakers, usually those who have been there, done that.

The meeting on March 16 was no exception with a program presented by Dee Burks entitled “The Secrets to 6-Figure Freelancing.” A former Amarillo resident, Dee has been involved in publishing for more than twenty-five years. She has owned a publishing company and now lives in New Mexico where she freelances prodigiously and works on her own books.

According to Burks, freelancing involves writing on demand, to deadline, an on contract to meet the specific needs of a client, whether individual or corporate.

The world of publishing has changed dramatically, and it’s easier than ever in freelancing to make a lot of money and to get paid immediately, because clients desperately need the skills of a freelance writer.

She quipped that being an author, and writing from the heart is great, but it’s better to get paid, and as the balance of her presentation emphasized, paid well.

She expounded on the importance of professionalism, and knowing one’s value and time. Also, and of paramount importance, the freelancer has to market themselves and then deliver. Inherent in self-marketing is an expansion of skill sets, for which Burks advocates afternoons with U-tube rather than an expensive course.

She asserted that the best source for ideas is local, but the writer can always branch out using any number of websites

A primary cause of failure is lack of professionalism, which includes inadequate business and people skills, lack of life balance and an inability to write to deadline.

Dee Burks has inspired hundreds of writers, not only because of her advice and insight, but also her integrity: she walks the walk.

All attendees were reaffirmed in their craft, but came away with an awareness that their writer’s world just became much bigger.

It’s significant that writers come from all over the tri-state area to affiliate with Texas High Plains Writers, including a number of Lubbock which has no group.

The contribution that THPW’s make is just one more reason we say: “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”