Finally! Professional Development for Choral Conductors

Minnesota choral artists The Singers have launched a new education initiative during their 10th anniversary season.

The Conductor’s Lab Choir will give Twin Cities-area high school choral directors the opportunity to work with Artistic Director and Founder Dr. Matthew Culloton, in a variety of ways aimed at making the educator — and their choral program — stronger overall. This program offers 3 conductors the opportunity to apply new pedagogies and choral techniques to their classrooms. That multiplies out to hundreds of public school students who willl share the outcomes with their schools, districts and families.

What’s so crazy about this program is that there are currently no professional development programs of this nature in Minnesota for choral conductors. I got a chance to hear the opening concert of their season and it was simply incredible. Check out this YouTube video from that performance:

Morten Lauridsen – Sure On This Shining Night

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Nov. 26 to Dec. 3

Tuesday, 7:15 am: School Spotlight: Stillwater Area High School Concert Orchestra.

Tuesday, 5:30 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Composer Chris Gennaula.

Tuesday, 7:15 pm: School Spotlight: Stillwater Area High School Concert Orchestra.

Tuesday, 8 pm: Candles Burning Brightly.

Wednesday, 8 pm: Giving Thanks.

Thursday, 10 am: Giving Thanks.

Thursday, noon: Thanksgiving with Cantus.

Saturday, 7 pm: Candles Burning Brightly.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Assessing Alkan.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Sunday, 5 pm: Advent Voices.

Monday, 8 pm: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Edo de Waart conducts Mozart and Beethoven.

Tuesday, 7:15 am: Teacher Feature: Brad Ollman of St. Anthony Park Elementary School.

Tuesday, 5:30 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Carol Rudie, docent at the Museum of Russian Art.

Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Teacher Feature: Brad Ollmann of St. Anthony Park Elementary School.

Instrument medic Mark Eskola: "I don't do plumbing"

“I don’t do plumbing,” jokes Mark Eskola, referring to brass and woodwind instruments. “I just do strings. I have done wind instruments to bail somebody out every so often, but it’s just something I don’t want to do.”

It’s not as if Eskola isn’t busy enough with strings. A longtime orchestra director at Duluth East High School, Eskola (whose brother Joe works in research at MPR in St. Paul) retired from that position in June 2013; during a school year, Eskola typically fixed more than 50 instruments, ranging from simple re-stringing to crack repair to major overhauls. And even though he’s now retired from teaching, Eskola plans to continue repairing instruments.

Although it’s easy to conclude a music teacher may have learned instrument repair by necessity, Eskola got started at it when he was about 14 years old. By the time he was a student at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., Eskola had lofted the bed in his dorm room so he could have space for a workbench underneath, where he repaired instruments for fellow students and for the Gustavus music department.

Much of his instrument-repair training was learned by doing, but Eskola did spend four summers at workshops in Madison, Wis., and he’s read numerous books on the subject. “That was before the Internet,” Eskola laughs.

Eskola_shop_2_photo_web.jpgMark Eskola’s workshop (submitted photo)

In Eskola’s home in Duluth, Minn., his workshop is outfitted with two workbenches, two computers, plus clamps, chisels and 20-odd drawers with tools and supplies. There are violins and violas on shelves, a string bass stuffed in a corner near the ceiling (which is conveniently high) and about six guitars awaiting maintenance.

Fixing stringed instruments is a science and an art. For example, re-graduating a cello, Eskola explains, involves removing the top of the instrument and cutting it to certain thicknesses. And a common malady for cellos is something called “wolf tone,” which Eskola describes as when “the note wants to come out but it can’t quite go” — a repair that requires strategically gluing a weight to the instrument.

Among Eskola’s upcoming projects are a couple of violas and two string basses he’s going to restore, for which he actually cut down some maple and oak trees specifically for use in the restorations. Whatever the project, there’s trial and error and craft involved, but the desired outcome is always an instrument capable of making beautiful music.

Eskola_shop_photo_web.jpgAnother view of Mark Eskola’s workshop (submitted photo)

Eskola typically fixes instruments for other people, but occasionally he’ll get an instrument that someone can’t throw away but doesn’t want to keep. The cello Eskola himself uses was given to him by the Cloquet School District in lieu of payment for repairs; granted, Eskola had to fix the cello before he could play it, but it’s the one he uses to this day. He recently repaired a rare 10-string guitar that arrived “smashed,” which he resold through Rosewood Music in downtown Duluth. And another smashed instrument — a Gibson J-45 guitar that someone sold to Eskola for five dollars — became Eskola’s personal guitar. “That’s a sweet old guitar,” he says, “but it’s kind of already worn out again now.”

Other instruments have found their way to others’ hands somewhat unexpectedly. This past year, while on an outreach trip to Africa, Eskola saw an Applause guitar he repaired get donated to a young girl in Mozambique. Later, Eskola himself gave a bass guitar to a young man in Zambia. “They had nothing, so it was really fun to see him playing that,” Eskola says.

And he’s been able to stay in touch with the blossoming bassist. “We’re Facebook friends,” Eskola says. “It’s crazy with the technology. He literally lives in a mud hut, but he’s got a smartphone.”

MarkEskola_photo-2_forWeb.jpgMark Eskola (L) with his wife, Sharon, on a recent visit to Kenya to see their friend, David Shivachi.

On a semi-related note: If you have a disused instrument that is no longer being played, consider donating it to Play It Forward, Classical MPR’s statewide musical instrument drive. Read more about Play It Forward here.

A Benjamin Britten puzzle

brittenforweb.jpgBenjamin Britten (London Records)

You may recall how, on Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday, George Barany and Noam Elkies put together a fun (and challenging!) crossword puzzle centered on the great Italian composer.

Now Barany and Elkies have done it again, this time for the man whose centenary we mark today: Benjamin Britten.

Barany and Elkies have called their puzzle “Coin of the Musical Realm”, and you can find it by following this link. Feel free to let me know how you did on the puzzle by leaving a comment below.

Good luck and have fun!

John Birge saw a "Da Vinci keyboard"…in 1984

In an e-mail to the Classical MPR team, host John Birge shared a story about his personal experience with what’s become Internet-famous as “the Da Vinci keyboard.” With his permission, I’m sharing it here.

“Since David Letterman spoofed the CBS news coverage of ‘the Da Vinci keyboard,’ this classical music story has now officially gone mainstream. When the story broke last week, it touched a dim memory, but I couldn’t figure it out exactly what, until Norman Lebrecht posted this article.

“Aha! That’s when it came back to me: I actually saw one of these instruments back in the summer of 1984 on vacation in Brussels, at the fantastic musical instrument collection there. I dug around my old photos and found a postcard image from the museum store (above), and a personal snapshot–which shows the instrument in a less handsome state.

Da Vinci Keyboard.jpg

“It wasn’t in any way playable, so the video making the rounds this week is wonderful to hear as well as see!”


Before we begin, you must watch this video of the Florida State University AcaBelles…

Let me start by giving a shout out to my alma mater (FSU) and the AcaBelles for being recognized by the Huffington Post. Also, let me profess my love for modern a cappella groups like Take 6 and the Pentatonix. The creativity found in some of today’s a cappella arrangements can be mind-blowing. These groups work tirelessly to perfect their performances and often come pretty close (Don’t start with the autotune argument…that’s for another day). Unfortunately, the haters keep hating. I have had many conversations with friends and colleagues that got pretty heated because of their sincere disdain for modern a cappella music/groups. Am I in the minority? What’s the issue? Help me understand why so many purists can’t appreciate this style/genre. Chime in and let me know your thoughts! I am looking forward to a healthy, friendly debate on this topic.

survey solutions

Other a cappella videos

Take 6 LIVE



If you’re looking forward to Friday night’s appearance by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, you’ll be interested in this review of their New York concert in the Times.

The program in New York isn’t identical to the one that will be given here, but in both cities the Choir will perform music of Arvo Part, whose distinctive musical style the Times writer evokes with words like “simplicity,” “piety,” and “luminosity.”

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

Friday, Nov. 22, 7:30 pm broadcast

Cathedral of St. Paul

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Nov. 19 to 26

Tuesday, 7:15 am: Teacher Spotlight: Christopher Fogderud of Brainerd High School.

Tuesday, 5:30 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Fiber artist Arden Bushnell.

Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Teacher Spotlight: Christopher Fogderud of Brainerd High School.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: The Jasper Quartet plays Haydn in St. Cloud.

Friday, 7:30 pm: The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, live from the St. Paul Cathedral.

Saturday, 8 pm: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, live from the Ordway. Hakan Hardenberger is guest conductor and soloist.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Britain’s Great Britten.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Houston Symphony Orchestra and violinist Joshua Bell.

Monday, noon: Learning to Listen: Music of the Pilgrims.

Monday, 8 pm: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Edo de Waart and soprano Isabel Leonard in music of Busoni, Berlioz, Liszt, and Beethoven.

Tuesday, 7:15 am: School Spotlight: Stillwater Area High School Concert Orchestra.

Tuesday, 5:30 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Composer Chris Gennaula.

Tuesday, 7:15 pm: School Spotlight: Stillwater Area High School Concert Orchestra.

Tuesday, 8 pm: Candles Burning Brightly.

Composer anagrams: The answers

These are the answers to a post challenging readers to solve anagrams of composers’ names. To see the original post, click here.

SLANT FRIZZ: Franz Liszt

KABOB ALERT: Bela Bartok

KAISER TIE: Erik Satie

A FILCHED DERRIERE GONG: George Frideric Handel

HERBAL DINGDONG VINE: Hildegard von Bingen

GAGA FEZ WARMS LOAM DONUT: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

EXPERTS VIEWED LLAMA: Peter Maxwell Davies

HENS HARM BANJOS: Johannes Brahms

NEON CRABS THRUM: Robert Schumann

OUR NICE BIG CHILI: Luigi Boccherini

A GLUM HARVEST: Gustav Mahler

History in Houghton: Classical MPR road trips to Michigan

RoszaCenter_web.jpgRosza Center for the Performing Arts in Houghton, Mich. (photo by A.K. Hoagland)

For mid-November, it’s a nice day for a road trip. That’s good for Classical MPR’s Jeff Esworthy, who today is heading up to Houghton, Mich., for a performance of All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce Of 1914 by Twin Cities-based male vocal ensemble, Cantus. The performance takes place Saturday, Nov. 16, at 7:30 p.m., at the Rosza Center for the Performing Arts.

In addition to conducting a pre-concert interview and introducing Cantus to the stage on Saturday night, Esworthy is interested in learning more about Houghton. “I want to check out the copper-mining history,” Esworthy says. “The Native people used to mine it before Europeans came, and legend has it that you used to be able to just pick up raw copper off the ground.”

Are you in Houghton? What would you recommend Jeff Esworthy do to take in some local history and local flavor? Share your comments below.

History seems to be the theme for the weekend. The production by Cantus, All Is Calm, recalls the remarkable World War I truce that occurred between Allied Forces and German soldiers on Christmas eve, 1914. The production is loosely based on the 2005 film Joyeux Noël, which tells the same story. Here’s that film’s trailer: