Hug a Med Student Today – It’s Match Day!

Three years ago, on a cool and cloudy day in Irvine, California, I accompanied McDoc, then a fourth year medical student, to his Match Day Ceremony. Every year on the third Thursday of March, soon-to-be MDs across the country find out where they’ll be doing their residency training. And many schools hold a ceremony where students can open their magic envelope and announce their assignment in front of gathered classmates, family and friends. Because med school isn’t stressful enough without a little public humiliation thrown in! 😛 (Reading one’s match results aloud is optional, I’m told.)

When McDoc’s turn came, he strode to the mic and cheerfully announced that he had matched to the Emergency Medicine program at Detroit Receiving Hospital (his first choice), the expressions on the faces of those Southern California kids was quite a sight to behold!

Well, it turns out that Emergency Medicine did not actually match McDoc, which is why we are no longer in Detroit; when he decided to switch to Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the best open position he found was here in Boston. And I’m thrilled to bits to be here, though I don’t regret our two years in Detroit. But that’s another story.

Anyway, fourth year med students all over are breathing a sigh of relief today, hopefully, for even if they didn’t get their first choice of residency assignments, at least the nerve-wracking wait is over. Oh, just wait til you start your intern year, kiddoes — you don’t know from stress!

They say that music soothes the savage breast, and I think that applies to the stressed out one, too. I know it soothes the stressed out McDoc, anyway! So here are some medical-themed tunes for today, some of which are devoted to particular medical specialties! Paging Dr. Readmore — click to listen! Continue reading

Miss Music Nerd Goes Green!

No, I haven’t bought a hybrid or installed solar panels… I’m a very conscientious recycler, though! 😉

What I mean to say is… Happy St. Patrick’s Day, music nerds!

McDoc and I both have plenty of Irish in our backgrounds (Scots-Irish, to be precise, hence his ‘Mc’!), so you can bet we were wearin’ green today. There wasn’t any green beer or extended revelry for us this evening, as good little doctors and good little music nerds have to get home at a decent hour on a school night. Which is a shame, since we do live in Boston!

I started thinking of examples of Irish music, and of course, there’s a much broader spectrum than what you might first think of. There are also too many famous standards to include in one post. Click Mr. Readmore for Miss Music Nerd’s random yet highly selective St. Paddy’s Day playlist! 😉 Continue reading

Miss Music Nerd’s Choral Marathon!

DST sends MMN to the fainting couch!

Happy Monday, music nerds — as happy as the Monday after “Springing Forward” can be, that is! I know I’m not the only one who gets thrown off-kilter by it. Sample comments from Facebook and Twitter today:

“The change to Daylight Saving Time means for the next 2 weeks I will be a mess. Be warned.”
“Happy Napping Day!”
“They may as well call time change day National Feel Like #$!& Day!” Etc. etc. 😀

It’s so true… This morning was rough for McDoc and me both. It wasn’t just the time change, though: our weekend was a veritable Choral Marathon!

I ran the first leg solo on Friday night, as McDoc was on call. It’s too bad he had to miss Cantata Singers performing Monteverdi, Poulenc, Schütz and Stravinsky. Fascinating program, great performance — I’ll write more about it soon. Oh, and there was a bona fide “Is there a doctor in the house?” moment… Well, McDoc didn’t mind missing that, actually! (An elderly woman suffered a fainting spell, and was taken away by ambulance. She was alert and cheerful by the time they got her on the stretcher, and I certainly hope the hospital visit turned out to be purely precautionary!)

On Saturday, it was time to get out of the stands and onto the field. I picked McDoc up at the hospital around 7:30 am, and then we headed to Cambridge, where breakfast at S & S Deli was followed by a three-hour dress rehearsal for Verdi’s Requiem with Masterworks Chorale. (I would like to be able to say that I eschewed dairy products at breakfast, as proper vocal protocol requires, but in some quarters, a bagel without cream cheese is considered an even bigger sin than singing with phlegm in your throat! 😉 )

Mandatory union break. 😉 You can just make out McDoc at the back of the stage, wearing scrubs!

The dress rehearsal was very exciting, because we got to hear the orchestral accompaniment, and the vocal soloists, for the first time! Mad props to hardworking choral piano accompanists everywhere, of course — they slave over a hot orchestral transcription for weeks on end at rehearsals, and don’t even get to take a bow at the performance! But there’s just nothing like hearing the opening cello line of the Verdi, on the cello. I felt myself getting verklempt from the very first measure. It reminded me of the dress rehearsal for my sister’s wedding, where I dissolved into a puddle of tears. Fortunately I got that out of my system before the ceremony itself!

After Verdi, we raced to Jamaica Plain to rehearse for Night Song, a weekly program of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony for small vocal ensemble. Changing gears from Verdi to this unaccompanied music was interesting, to say the least. I missed having time to breathe between phrases while the orchestra played, for one thing!

I was very happy that my voice lasted though the day — five hours of rehearsal all-told! But the real test came on Sunday.

I recently accepted an organist-choir director position at a local church, so Sunday mornings no longer mean a leisurely brunch and a newspaper as thick as a phone book… Until after church, that is! 😉 So the day started bright and early. After the service, it was back to Cambridge for a 2:15 call and 3 pm performance of Verdi.

After the Verdi, tired but happy!

Oh, did I mention it rained non-stop all weekend? We dashed from parking garage to theater with garment bags in hand, not entirely avoiding some very impressive puddles along the way, but at least keeping our fancy duds dry until we could change into them.

Performing the Verdi was extraordinary, of course. More about that soon, too! But afterwards, we were still running! 6 pm call for 7 pm performance of Byrd, Farrant, Tallis, and assorted chant. All of which went swimmingly.

We ended the weekend as any self-respecting Boston-area musician would: at an Irish pub, eating and drinking with our musical partners in crime!

What do you say, McDoc — shall we do it again? 😉

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The Transcendent Organist: A Conversation With Gail Archer

Happy International Women’s Day, music nerds! As luck would have it, I have an outstanding woman to introduce to you today!

Gail Archer is a very busy concert organist and dedicated teacher with an impressive list of projects to her credit, including a concert tour going on right now, and a newly released CD, both featuring music by J.S. Bach, part of a project entitled Bach the Transcendent Genius.

I had a wonderful conversation with Gail recently – we talked about church jobs, what Bach and “Messiaen have in common, and the ups and downs of being a woman in music, then and now. Click Mr. Readmore for the scoop! Continue reading

My Life in Chopin

PhotobucketEvery so often, someone will ask me who my favorite composer is, and I always answer that it’s impossible to narrow it down to just one, because there are so many I love. But I can say that Frédéric Chopin has long been my favorite composer of piano music, specifically. I have always felt that his music just fits the instrument so well, and fits the hands so naturally. That’s not to say that it’s easy — far from it! But it is possible to be fiendishly difficult yet still idiomatic to the instrument, taking advantage of what the instrument does best, and making it shine.

On this day, Chopin’s 200th birthday, and I’m inspired to think back on the his pieces I’ve played (or attempted to play) over the years. You could call it My Life in Chopin.

I believe the first piece I ever sank my teeth into was the Waltz in D flat major, Op. 64, No. 1, a.k.a. the “Minute Waltz”. I was young, maybe 7, I don’t remember exactly. And yes, I probably got the idea from watching Bugs Bunny cartoons — I admit it! 😀

My education began at about 2:30:

Not an easy piece to start with, for sure! But I was a stubborn, precocious little cuss. I remember sitting at the piano for what seemed like hours, obsessively poring over the music for pieces that were way beyond my level — I got them from my older sister’s piano books. I would painstakingly play one note or chord at a time, not making much musical sense, but totally transfixed by just being able to translate the black dots on the page to keys on the piano.

Suffice it to say that it took me far longer than a minute to play the Minute Waltz!

The first piece I played for real was the Nocturne in E minor, op.72 no.1. I was a senior in high school, and I was quite the little emo kid. Could I have chosen a more perfect soundtrack for that? 😉

One of the first pieces I ever wrote was in a similar form and style. You could say I had a one-track mind!

A little later on, in college, I took on the more ethereal, contemplative Nocturne in B♭ minor, Op. 9 No. 1.

Practicing those roulades — the long chains of undulating, cascading notes in the right hand — rocked my world.

During my second year of undergrad, I got the crazy idea to take on the Ballade in F minor, Op. 52. Was I on drugs or something? I honestly don’t remember what possessed me… but I did go to Berkeley, after all. 😉

That opening melody just slew me… Well, actually, the whole piece slew me. I practiced that bad boy for hours on end for an entire summer. That’s the kind of thing that changes your brain forever, I can tell you — in a good way, though!

Toward the end of my undergraduate career, I reveled in the much sunnier Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major, Op. 47. At some point, even an emo kid has to smile! Speaking of which, here’s a performance of the piece by Sergei Rachmaninoff, who could use a little sunshine:

While in my master’s program in New York City, I went back to the Nocturnes. The one in B major, Op. 32 No. 1 has a truly wacky, out-of-left-field ending, uncharacteristically fiery for the Nocturnes. And I needed to get a little fiery in order to make it in the big, bad city!

By the time I got to my PhD program in San Diego, my composition studies, teaching assistant duties and all the rest kept me from having much time to add to my piano repertoire. But I remember very clearly one afternoon, when I decided to dust off the ol’ 4th Ballade for old times’ sake. It took a fair bit longer than real performance time to get through it after the intervening years, but I didn’t mind, because I found myself as transfixed as I had been way back as a seven-year-old. Remember how I said that practicing a piece of music intensely for a long time changes your brain? Going back to that piece unlocked a flood of memories for me — vivid mental images and sense memories from the whole span of my piano-playing life. It was quite a trip.

Who needs drugs? This is your brain on Chopin! 😀

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