Archive for the ‘Music’ Tag

An Early Christmas Present   7 comments

Some of you know by now that I’m leaving my longtime church, St. Francis Episcopal in Palos Verdes Estates, CA. I’ll be starting early next month as Minister of Music at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Corona del Mar, which is in southern Orange County near Newport Beach and Irvine. My wife and stepdaughter tell me it’s the setting for the TV show Arrested Development!

My final Sunday at St. Francis is January 5. I’ve been at this church for close to 25 years, and some of my deepest roots, musical and emotional, are there  – the building with its marvelous acoustic, the people, and the South Bay area. I met my wonderful wife there, and our dear daughter, now a college freshman, wouldn’t exist if the Rector at the time, The Rev. Robert Dunn, hadn’t hired me, ‘way back in 1989!

It’s been a long and basically a good run, and I’ve had many great experiences there. But now with our daughter gone we are semi-empty nesters. It seemed time for a major church move for me, this position came up, et voila!

I am excited about it – I’ll be playing a fine organ in a fine acoustic, and directing potentially the best adult choir I’ve ever had, with four section leaders and the ability to hire other musicians, both vocal and  instrumental, for occasional services (recently I went unannounced to a Lessons and Carols service there which was quite good).

There is also a bell choir, in which a former Associate at St. Francis and a longtime friend, The Rev. Dr. Barbara Stewart, is a member. They also have a children’s choir, and a Friends of Music group with an active concert series (I’m already booked for a program with a string quartet next May!). And there’s a Corona del Mar Baroque Festival I hope to get involved in.

So, I guess that’s God’s Christmas gift to me! Happy holidays to all of you!

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A Fond Remembrance   3 comments

Organists, Sir David Willcocks workshop, Santa Barbara CA, 1990s. From left: Elizabeth Rembolt, Sir David Willcocks, Ray Urwin, and the late Mary Gerlitz.

Organists, Sir David Willcocks workshop, Santa Barbara CA, 1990s. From left: Elizabeth Rembolt, Sir David Willcocks, Ray Urwin, and the late Mary Gerlitz.

We’re back now. It was a glorious time in England, and I do have stories, as promised!  But York will be my next post (or two). For this one I want to bid a fond farewell to a beloved person, one of Cantori’s founders.

Recently it was my privilege and pleasure to serve as organist for the memorial service and celebration of the life of Mary Gerlitz, a longtime organist in the LA area, and accompanist, administrator, and General Goddess in Residence for the Cantori Domino choir.

We had returned from England only a few days before. Over the previous year Mary had made the basic arrangements for the tour, and she and I were to share the accompanying duties. But shortly before we left she suddenly became very ill, and it quickly became clear that she would not be going. She died on August 1. We all knew she was very seriously ill, but it was still a huge shock.

The service, held at St. Augustine by-the-Sea last Friday night (August 9th), was lovely – simple and direct, with a superb mix of music and words, and eulogies of fond and admiring content. Prelude music was Joseph Jongen’s impressionistic Petite Piece and a Bach instrumental aria. The organ loft was packed with former and current Cantori members, who sang Brahms’ Let nothing ever grieve thee so very beautifully – I could feel as well as hear the love and affection for Mary as they sang, both in the rehearsal and service. The service also included some of Bach’s best: Bist du bei mir sung by Bunny, and the Aria from the Goldberg Variations.

We also sang the great hymn O God, our help in ages past. The choir (which includes some of the finest vocal musicians in LA, including several members of the Roger Wagner Chorale) had gone down into the congregation by then, and one doesn’t often hear hymn-singing like THAT!:) Thanks so much for that, Cantori – that’s one of my very favorite hymns: a perfect match, I think, between text and music, the greatest funeral/memorial hymn ever written, perhaps the greatest hymn, period. I will never forget our moving rendition of it, and don’t expect to experience hymn music-making like that this side of Heaven! I will never forget it. And several singers noticed that I had composed the previous hymn in the book!

I knew Mary would also want a big piece for the closing organ voluntary, the last music of the service. Instead of selecting one of the usual suspects, I played Swiss organist Lionel Rogg’s magnificent toccata setting of the Advent chorale Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stille (I played this piece at OLA a while ago).

A lovely reception followed, thanks to Betsy Wheeler Kollgaard, Susan Kasenow, my dear spouse, and many others. Last but not least, my personal thanks to Cecilia for quickly finding some last-minute music I needed online, and to The Rev. Mark Goldfarb, the Rabbi at my wonderful Temple Beth Ohr, who graciously let me have the evening off for the service.

Bunny told the group several times, both in York and at the service, that I had been Mary’s choice as the sole accompanist, should she be unable to go. I felt honored and remembered this throughout the tour and the service. Mary certainly deserved no less than my best and the choir’s, and we all knew it. I still find it difficult to believe, and accept, that she has passed. But I think we gave her a good send-off, and she is pleased, wherever she now resides!

Mary was one of those people who had been around “forever;” after all, she and Bunny had co-founded Cantori Domino. All of us have very fond memories of her. My personal eulogy: in the many years I knew and worked with her I don’t remember ever having heard her utter a bad word or negative comment about anyone, even when such opportunities arose – and indeed sometimes even invited such comments! Quite the accomplishment! And a great example to us..

She will be long remembered and greatly missed. Rest in peace, my colleague and friend.

Annoying Music   2 comments

We all have music that annoys us. This guy made a career out of it by analyzing and categorizing it. What’s your annoying music?

Posted July 5, 2013 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

Sightreading, Interviews, and Dating…   2 comments

Take a look at Seth’s Blog, by Seth Godin, sometime – his posts are short and sweet, almost minimalist. Even though he’s a quick read, he often poses intriguing, question-your-assumptions thoughts!

Recently, Godin tells of sometimes fooling his clarinet teacher with his sightreading prowess, but never really developing and progressing. (From there he moves on to interviews and first dates, but I’ll let you read it yourself, here!

I’m a good sightreader. This skill is very handy (and probably essential for organists), and I’m really glad I have it.

But it’s also something of a mixed blessing: if you get a decent rendition the first or second time you try a piece, it’s hard to have the self-discipline to do sustained and systematic work on it afterward, rather than moving on to another piece.

Long ago a colleague described another mutual colleague to me as also an excellent sightreader, “but that’s about as good as it ever gets.”

Some good sightreaders can get away with not practicing all that much, especially between lessons (case in point: Seth!). That’s probably the great danger of good sightreading ability—and I’ve been as guilty as much as anybody! Whether or not one is a good sightreader (quick study, fast reader, etc.), the better way for the long term is the concept of kaizen, used by Toyota and others—incremental small improvements, moving towards and eventually arriving at the goal.

You know, like the tortoise and the hare! Great things usually take time, and more than one brief and quick encounter, to fully appreciate.

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