Walter Bitner

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The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed

This article posted yesterday, June 2, 2020, on my ChoralNet blog.

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As protests erupt in cities across the country against police violence and inequity, I felt it was best to use this column to share something that may help further understanding, compassion, and hopefully – change.

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Keep Calm and Stay Home

This article posted today, April 21, 2020, on my ChoralNet blog.

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I have read the New York Times every morning for much of my adult life, although lately there have been mornings when I have put this activity off until later in the day…there just hasn’t been much good news. It’s difficult to find articles that aren’t directly or indirectly related to our current shared situation.

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BWV 106 “Actus Tragicus”

Disputed portrait of our friend Sebastian by Johann Ernst Rentsch the Elder (d. 1723) painted c. 1715, which would make him 30 years old here. Sebastian wrote Actus Tragicus when he was 22.

During the eleven-day period from March 21 – 31 it has been my practice for many years to spend some time each day reflecting on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, as I have written about here. Our friend Sebastian was born this time of year in 1685 – on March 21 or March 31, depending on whether you recognize Old or New Style (Julian or Gregorian) calendar conventions for commemorating things that happened centuries ago.

Now under quarantine, this annual period of concentration brings a heightened sense of immediacy, of what G.I. Gurdjieff called “The Terror of the Situation”. People around the world are dying, the pandemic has disrupted everyone’s lives, and the reality is: some of those close to me may die, or I may die myself. This is in fact the reality of everyday life, but our drastically more uncertain times underline the certain fact of our mortality. (more…)

Making Music During the Pandemic

This article posted today, March 17, 2020, on my ChoralNet blog. I think it’s worth reposting here.

 

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These are uncertain times. The current COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted everyone’s lives, and we are facing a period of time in which much of what we did regularly – our daily and weekly routines – has been impacted.

For choral singers and choral directors, this means the cancelation of classes, rehearsals, performances, services, and the other activities of our lives that involve gathering together to make music. These social activities now on hiatus are in many cases the reason we got into this work – making music with others is a kind of lifeline, a way to connect with not only others and the world, but with the deepest, internal parts of ourselves. (more…)

Man’s Life’s a Vapor

Man’s Life’s a Vapor, unknown artist, early 1990s ~ I found this among other documents from my years at Blue Rock. It was drawn by a student and given to me by his or her teacher (the teacher supplied the title). Note the scissors, and the deep hole that the protagonist is about to fall into. (click images to enlarge)

A miniature, a concise meditation on the precarious and impermanent nature of human existence.

There is not a lot to say about this song. Man’s Life a Vapor is fittingly brief, as are my comments. (more…)

Richmond Symphony Musical Ambassadors Program (MAP) 2020

Richmond Symphony Principal Flute Mary Boodell demonstrates her instrument during a performance by the Principal Woodwind Quintet at Rural Point Elementary School, Mechanicsville, Virginia, February 27, 2020 (click images to enlarge)

 

Many of my students will never make it to see a group of musicians perform, so I think the most valuable thing they learned was what instruments sound like in real life, as opposed to just a recording. I can play videos of musicians all day, but it’s still just a video.

~ local school teacher after a MAP performance

 

One of the most wide-reaching and robust programs we produce, the Richmond Symphony Musical Ambassadors Program (MAP) curates, develops, rehearses, and performs over 125 concerts each season in metropolitan Richmond area schools. Although many in our community may be unaware even of the existence of this program, it nonetheless fulfills a vital aspect of our music education mission, introducing more than 45,000 children to classical music and the instruments of the orchestra every year.

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Ho! Young Rider

Image by Dieter_G from Pixabay ~ click images to enlarge

This song, whose origins are shrouded in obscurity, was hands down the most popular song that I ever taught to children.

When I arrived at Blue Rock School to begin my tenure there in February 1991, Ho! Young Rider was already the student favorite, and in my memory, I learned this song from the students themselves within the first couple of weeks I worked there – in a bit of table-turning I asked the students to teach me songs they already knew so I could sing with them. Ho! Young Rider was first on that list. I soon added a guitar accompaniment and through repetitions in my music classes that spring arrived at the format in which I would teach this song to children for the next fifteen years.

 

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As I Went Over Tawny Marsh

Loch Vennachar, Perthshire, by Harold Sutton Palmer (1854-1933) (click images to enlarge)

 

This gem, beloved by my choirs, was one of my favorite canons to teach to and sing with children, and a staple of my children’s choir repertoire for many years. I first came across it the early 1990s in a book I can’t find right now, a little red book of traditional songs in English used for students of English as a foreign language at schools in twentieth century continental Europe. I taught As I Went Over Tawny Marsh to my students at Blue Rock School and at most of the other elementary schools I taught at afterwards.

My students always called this song Tawny.

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Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra Side-By-Side with the Richmond Symphony, February 9

Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra, Daniel Myssyk, conductor after a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, November 17, 2019, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center, Richmond (click images to enlarge)

 

Next weekend, the young musicians of Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra in collaboration with the Richmond Symphony present our annual Side-By-Side concert: the culmination of months of work on the part of the students, and a highlight of the Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra Program (YOP) season. This year’s Side-By-Side promises to be a memorable occasion for all, as 125 musicians gather together on stage to perform Hector Berlioz’s monumental Symphonie Fantastique.

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Menuhin Competition Richmond 2020 Announces Competitors, TwoSet Violin, and More

 

Its been my privilege to work next door to the U.S. team planning this year’s Menuhin Competition Richmond 2020 since I began working at the Richmond Symphony in August (our offices share a wall). So I’ve been inspired on a regular basis as hints were dropped about details for this major international musical event, as hints became hopes became plans, applications were made, contracts were drawn up, and all of a sudden here it is: January 22, the day of days, the red letter day!

Today is the day when much of what has been kept secret is finally revealed. (more…)