John Adams' Harmonium - tips on learning?

We have three performances of John Adams’ *Harmonium *coming up in a few weeks’ time. I’m finding it very difficult to learn. I keep getting lost in the long stretches of repetitive, monosyllabic notes. It should just be a simple matter of counting, and yet somehow that’s not working.

Has anyone else performed this work? Got any tips?

Are you singing or playing? Which part?

Sadly, the answer is still likely to be “count like mad”. Mark up your music with a count (up or down) over each bar for the repetitive sections and use that to help keep track. You can also put in cues from other parts, although they will be repeating a lot as well.

And if you’re singing bass, be sure to wear your tightest underpants for “Wild Nights”. A series of high B-flats is just insane.

I’m singing first tenor, so the high B flats won’t be a problem.

Marking each bar is a very good suggestion. Thanks Gyrate.

You can’t be the first person/group to face the challenge of learning this type of minimalist piece - how about checking on line for tips for singing Steve Reich or Philip Glass? There was a thread about a small college’s performance of Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians at NYC’s Band on a Can festival - that piece has vocals, so if a “small college” can figure it out, there must be a way to get tips and tricks on line in mimimalist music circles…

Best of luck!

I’ve done the work twice and it definitely gets easier as you get more comfortable and are able to relax and start hearing the changes going on around you - it’s not all the same but the changes are subtle.

When you get close to the performance, also pay attention to which people the conductor is cueing at various points as this can help if you get lost - if your conductor is at all competent s/he will be consistent in this.

I don’t know this specific work - I’ve done lots of other minimalist music, though.

Marking your ‘countdowns’ is a really good idea.

Does this one have a lot of metre changes? Marking a two with an ‘L’, a three with a ‘△’ (a triangle, in case that doesn’t come through) and a four with a ‘▢’ (a square) does two things - it gives you an easy visual reference that reinforces the time signature and the act of marking it/writing it yourself helps you to pay attention to it.

In your home practice, toss a grapefruit or similar sized object from hand to hand, so that you always catch it on the downbeat. This helps to give you a kinetic sense as well as an intellectual sense of the timing.

That’s the trick with Steve Reich - the repetition forces a type of listening that’s much more intense than anything one is used to.

That is, like, the coolest tip ever. I love insider-baseball stuff like that; stuff you never hear about but is part of digging into your art.

The conductor will be Edo de Waart, to whom the work is dedicated, so I assume he will be up to scratch. I’ve sung under his direction only once before, for several Beethoven 9 performances.

Oh God, yes.

Already done, and definitely helping.

Thanks. That’s an interesting suggestion. I’ll give it a try, but I’m doubtful. My hand/eye co-ordination is pretty woeful.

Actually last night’s rehearsal was a huge improvement. I suspect everyone had been doing lots of work at home. I certainly had.

Our first performance is tonight. The overall sound is fine, although there are still a few dodgy bits here and there. We’ll just have to go for it.

If it gets youtube’d, post a link!

Break a triplet*!

*or whatever word used to describe the meters you are dealing with! :wink:

It went pretty well - certainly much better than anticipated. No really obvious mistakes anyway. No doubt we’ll improve tomorrow and Saturday night.

We were last on the program, which included the Beethoven 7 and Barber Adagio. As we came on stage it was amusing to see the usual exodus of patrons leaving to avoid having to sit through anything ‘modern’.

The ABC recorded last night’s performance, presumably for broadcast at a later date.

When the piece is that complex, I prefer to just say ‘Don’t fuck up!’.

If there’s a broadcast, I’d love to hear it!

When we’re given the details of any broadcast, I’ll certainly post them.

Well, the three performances are over. The final one on Saturday night was definitely the best and was greeted by rapturous applause. Edo looked very pleased too.

All in all it was a very rewarding experience. Returning to Bach’s St John Passion will seem rather tame.

Very cool - congrats!