We the people…

001The wake up call came at 4:30am. We loaded our bags in the bus and headed for the airport. We spent two hours cued up in a long line to check in and then came the news. Our flight was delayed by about 14 hours! We would be getting in to Chicago in the late evening instead of the early morning which would mean we probably couldn’t get out of Chicago until the following morning and would have to sleep in the airport.

Fortunately, American Airlines shuttled us off to a nearby Beijing hotel to spend the extra hours. We each ate a buffet breakfast and I went back to my room and slept for several hours until lunch.

At lunch it was my intention to catch up on this blog, but instead I had several very meaningful conversations with fellow students. I am always struck by the incredible histories hidden behind the eyes of everyone we interact with. In previous tours and trips I have really enjoyed getting to know these stories and this trip is certainly no exception.

Unfortunately, discretion prevents me from telling these stories, but I want to touch on some of the themes that came out over this week that I had no idea about and feel so honored to now be aware of.

Some adversity I learned of included loss of dear friends to alcohol or drugs, abuse as children, severe illness, and a couple things I can’t even mention here. Knowing these histories make the successes I see around me all the more incredible and inspiring. You just never know the whole story behind people’s eyes and when in life you have an opportunity to gaze deeper into someone’s past that glimpse often explains behavior you may have once viewed as unjust or erratic.IMG_2769

IMG_2744Traveling in close proximity to others for an extended time often unleashes a negative side and there were a fair share of times when each of us behaved less than our best – myself included. People get irritable when they are sleep deprived, dehydrated and forced to sleep and eat in unfamiliar situations. However, over all, this group was easily one of the better behaved groups I have had the pleasure of touring with. To spite a jam packed schedule, a huge time difference and over 36 hours in flight, no real incidents occurred. Somehow we all found a way to get along.

I’m proud to know the stories of my fellow singers better now and am forever tied to each of them because of this common experience. Making music with this ensemble and this director was not on my plan for life this year. I even tried very hard to skirt this obligation at the onset of the fall. However, Dr. Bierschenk would have none of that and I’m eternally grateful for his insistence.
As I ready for graduation this summer I can not overstate the blessing Texas Wesleyan has been in my life. I never meant to be such a fan, but I can’t help but recognize the bountiful opportunities for expression and learning it has afforded me over the years. I met my wife here, learned jazz, and held a huge concert with all of my best and most talented friends under skillful guidance. There just aren’t any places in Texas where a student like me can really stretch his wings and be allowed to create. The faculty, staff and students are forever a part of my story.IMG_2993

Wesleyan is a hidden treasure buried in Fort Worth. It has enriched my life in unbelievable ways and I am forever changed for the people it has brought into my life. This trip is just the latest chapter in my educational journey. After graduation I will deeply miss this place, but I know that the connections made here will always remain alive wherever we all go and I’m warmed by this thought.

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Once in a lifetime Concert experience

IMG_2613(I’m posting this one out of sequence because I’m too excited about what just happened)

As we pulled into Guiyang’s Grand Theatre, “Jackie”, our guide, told us his mother would be watching tonight’s concert on television.  This was of course the first we had heard of this and were pretty excited.  We all entered the performance facility and went to a large dressing room in the basement to warm-up.  Dr.  Bierschenk put us throught our paces and reminded us to use our brains (which we needed).  IMG_2615 Stitch
Then he took a brief moment to show us how deeply this experience was touching him and that shot of enthusiasm and praise was something we took straight onto the concert stage.  We shared the stage with a brass quintet, a string chamber orchestra and the chorus from the College of Arts at Guizhou University.

The audience was filled with university students and many other citizens as well as members of our delegation.  The level of energy and trust on each piece was more than I am used to with this group.  It’s a solid group, but often a little tentative.  However, there was no holding back tonight, we sang very well and confidently and seemed to b


e well received by the audience.

It was my very special honor to conduct a piece called Water Night on this concert.  Dr. Bierschenk was gracious enough not only to allow me this amazing opportunity, but also allowed me to walk out after the choir and take a bow before beginning.  The amount of honor this was for me surpasses my ability to capture the experience.  However, I felt so supported by the members of the choir that there was no nervousness about the conducting.  It was a deeply moving experience and one that would be impossible to forget.

We continued the concert and came to the end and that’s when the Guizhou chorus members all came out with a gift for each of us.  They gave us a gift that is a combination of several Chinese customs.  The top is an example of elaborate Chinese knotting and below that is supported 3 necklaces typical of the Chinese Miao minority which is native to the Guizhou province.  Dangling from these three necklaces are a hundred or so little metal fish.

Each of their chorus members presented each of us with one of these inscribed with the words, “Guiyang– Fort Worth Youth”.  Then they proceeded to sing a piece written to the tune of Dvorak‘s 9th symphony.  Dr. Bierschenk conducted them as they sang the first time and we were to join them the second time.  As the Chinese chorus sang this beautiful hymn like tune with the words, “Goin Home” I completely lost my composure.  There was something so moving about the beauty of the piece sung by people who live half way around the world from me.  All the generosity and warmth that has been shown to us on this trip piled on top of the emotions of this moment and made it nearly impossible to sing with them.  IMG_2623

It was a completely overwhelming experience of emotion met with wild applause anIMG_2620d a standing ovation.  It was a complete success and a beautiful and touching moment for many of us in the choir.  Fort Worth city councilman Dennis Shingleton stopped us all as we were about to exit the concert hall to share a heartfelt and sincere thanks for representing the city so well.  It was completely obvious that the emotions many of experienced on stage were successfully transmitted to the audience, because Mr. Shingleton was visibly moved by the experience.  His thanks meant a great deal to us all.

Afterward, as we exited the concert hall we were met again by cheering faces of the audience as well as the choir, wishing us well and thanking us for our performance.   Dr. Biershenk shared his approval with our performance as we drove back to the hotel.  When we got out, every member of our delegation had formed a tunnel of applause and cheering for us to pass through on our way to the hotel.  AGAIN – this meant the world to each of us.  I’m sure they would have wanted to go up to their rooms, but they took the time to make us feel extremely special.

This whole trip we have been treated like absolute royalty and have been showered with gifts, affection and respect.  I don’t know that we deserve the treatment, but it has touched each one of us so very deeply that Guiyang feels like a part of us.  It will be so very difficult to say goodbye to our hosts here after tomorrow.

There are too many people to name, but YoYo, Livia, Jackie, and Erik from Guiyang have been a huge part of making us feel so welcome.  we will never forget the warmth shown by them and so many other of the Guiyang people.

Tonight was a great example of how of the power of music to unite cultures.  Dvorak’s piece with the words “Goin Home” will forever be tied to this evening for me.  What more beautiful experience could we have ever hoped for?IMG_2625

Thank you, Guiyang

xiexie ‘谢谢’

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Rehearsal at the Grand Theatre of Gui Yang

IMG_2415Our next stop was at the Grand Theatre of Guiyang to rehearse our pieces.  It was on this trip that I realized we had a police escort in front of our caravan of busses.  This police presence would remain throughout our stay and from the way our bus driver honked his horn, we were apparently entitled to the right-of-way regardless of anyone else’s needs.

We walked up the steps to the performing arts center and entered the huge building.  IMG_2416We were then ushered into the audience of the concert hall where we were to perform.  The Guiyang Symphony Orchestra performed a piece from their program as we watched.  They sounded great and the acoustics were well suited for instrumental chamber music.

We then took the stage for what we thought was our own rehearsal.  We sang a couple songs and worked a few things before we realized we were doing a dress rehearsal of the concert.

Dr. Bierschenk conducts rehearsal in the concert hall in Guiyang's National theatre

Since the acoustics in the hall were not as sensitive as Martin Hall I encouraged the chorus to up their dynamic levels on Water Night in order to “ring the room”.  The choir complied beautifully and I could here our voices ringing off the walls.

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Sendoff Concert Preparations

A couple weeks ago we had a meeting with Irene Chase about the final details of our upcoming trip to Guiyang, China.  We learned at this meeting that we needed to prepare to sing the Chinese national anthem at the signing ceremony.  Not wishing to cause an international incident I volunteered to find an arrangement we could use.

Dr. Bierschenk speaks to us about the trip

It turns out there is not an edition of the Chinese national anthem written phonetically for us westerners to attempt.  Perhaps we should have taken this as a hint.  However, I was able to find a phonetic version of the lyrics and with the help of a mandarin speaking friend of mine, I assembled both a four part choral arrangement and a simple melody version for us to use.  I play piano for the Weatherford college jazz band and they have a trumpet player who is actually from China and is a native mandarin speaker.  He was kind enough to record a video for us to use as a guide while learning to pronounce the mandarin necessary for singing the Chinese anthem.

His own modesty prevents me from sharing these videos publicly, but they were of huge help to us all as we learned this piece.

Tomorrow evening we perform our farewell concert at Texas Wesleyan’s Martin Hall in which we will attempt to sing one piece in Mandarin as well as another which is written by a mandarin speaker in a very eastern style.  I have a loud and ridiculous solo in this piece which I accidently auditioned for.  You see when we first sang through this piece , I didn’t see the word solo printed above these few measures and I sang it at the top of my lungs.  I became the default singer of this rather flamboyant solo.  Video will follow.

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Irene Chase explains the schedule

I also learned about a month ago that I would have the privilege of conducting a piece for this concert as well as the concert in Guiyang.  I selected a piece I recently performed on my senior concert.  (VIDEO HERE)  The opportunity to conduct this beautiful piece overseas in an exotic Chinese theatre makes me so excited I can’t even put it into words.

The concert is tomorrow evening, Tuesday 4/10 at 7:30 at Texas Wesleyan’s Martin Hall.  If you can make it, it should be full of excitement as we showcase music we’ll be performing in China as well as featuring a guest chorus from Nolan HS.

More blogging soon to come from the plane!


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Wesleyan Chamber Singers Accept Invite to China

In October the Texas Wesleyan Chamber Singers sang for signing of the declaration of Fort Worth‘s sister cityGuiyang, China. The mayor from Guiyang then invited our choir to be his guest at the signing in his home city. Thanks to a generous donation and the efforts of our Dr. Bierschenk (our director), Dr. Fisher (department chair),Dr. Slaback (University President) and many others, we were able to accept his offer and will be joining him in China this April.

As this adventure unfolds, I will be blogging about this huge opportunity to get to know the people of Guiyang. We are all extremely excited to have this opportunity.

A Brief History

I have enjoyed a relatively successful career as a professional pianist, vocalist, director, producer and educator.

I taught upper school music at All Saints’ Episcopal School in Fort Worth from 2007-2010. Prior to that I was the full time director of Fine Arts at Aledo United Methodist Church where, in addition to providing direction and coordination for 5 weekly ensembles, I also produced 5 full scale musical theatre productions and one CD release.

I have developed a professional working relationship with Tony Award winner Betty Buckley and am honored to have served as her rehearsal pianist here in Texas. I have prepared her for several concerts and also accompanied her in a preview concert last Spring at the Modern in Fort Worth.

I am the staff accompanist for the Texas Christian University Vocal Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Allison Ward. I conducted a 16 piece orchestra for TCU’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town in 2004. I played for the national tour of Mamma Mia and have conducted and/or provided musical direction for over 40 professional musical productions in local Equity stages.

I am currently on staff at University of North Texas as accompanist for associate professor Marjorie Hayes’ musical theatre class. Ms. Hayes often grants me the honor of teaching UNT theatre majors practical music theory concepts and sharing my experience as a musical director. I have also served as an adjunct faculty member at Tarrant County College and as staff accompanist for the Texas Wesleyan Singers.

My history as a vocalist began with an exceptionally successful high school program at Judson High School under the direction of Mike Mitchell. Our choir sang as the TMEA honor choir in 1992. I made the All State chorus the following year as a Bass II.
I first attended college at the University of Texas in Austin to work with Craig Hella Johnson. He selected me to join him in one of the first performances of “Christmas at the Carillon” (1995) in a group that later evolved to become Conspirare.

I moved to Fort Worth the following year to study at Texas Wesleyan with Tim Ishii (UNT one o’clock alum) and Jeff Walters. At one point I had the distinction of being enrolled in 8 ensembles in a single semester. I learned a ton about performing and I would not trade it for anything. However, I did not make much progress towards obtaining my degree. I rapidly became overwhelmed by professional opportunities and my studies yielded to these opportunities to support my now growing family.

I am now returning to school to finish what I started seventeen years ago. I am currently finishing out my core requirements at Weatherford College, so that I may transfer to a school of music in the Fall of 2011 with the hopes of graduating in Spring 2012 and continuing right into graduate work.