Andrei Strizek

pianist - music director - writer - etc

Sondheim's "Loving You" for a cappella choir

I was asked to arrange "Loving You" in early 2014, for inclusion at the First Annual Sondheimas celebration on March 22d. David Levy was organizing a birthday celebration for Stephen Sondheim to be held at Broadway’s supper club, 54 Below. Without much thought, I said yes. I mean - David is a good friend, I’d have the opportunity for an arrangement of mine to be performed at 54 Below, and the timing worked out perfectly that I would be able to attend on my spring break visit.

And then I promptly forgot about it.

Until around the middle of February, that is, when David checked in on my progress. I smiled, said it was coming along, and then I started working on this arrangement. "Loving You" is such a simple song that I knew immediately my arrangement wouldn’t be flashy. It was not my intent to add much that wasn’t already written by Sondheim; I wanted it to be almost understated, to let the words and their meaning, the harmonies, the melody, be at the forefront.

I toyed with the idea of including a cello and a piano part, but I liked the sound and intimacy of a small a cappella choir instead. Part of me wants to write a cello part, but I haven’t had the drive. I like the sound of this as it is.

Sometime during this process I asked David how he was planning on ending the Sondheimas celebration. I was wondering if he was going to use “Sunday,” which is cliché but also a great ending. His reply: “No! We’re ending with your arrangement!” That meant, of course, I’d have to sit through the entire presentation on edge, waiting to hear a fine choir assembled for this occasion sing my arrangement.

Later in the spring, I asked my quite large class of musical theatre students if they would be willing to learn and perform this at our cabaret that we always do at the end of the semester. They did a great job with it, and we barely had any rehearsal time! It was exciting to hear the song again, and to be able to conduct it this time.

I’ve uploaded the PDF to my Arrangements page. It’s available there as a free download. I would enjoy hearing from you if you perform the piece. It needs, at minimum, 8 singers (2 per part), but as you can see in the video above, a larger choir is possible. The piano part is included to help during rehearsals; it can be utilized during a performance if necessary, but I prefer it sung a cappella. And watch out for that key change! It can be a little tricky.

Thank you to David, Jose, Steven, and several others as listed on the PDF for their support and help with this arrangement.

December Reading List

The holidays, the last month of Grinch tour, and two full days at Disneyland wore me out in December, and I didn't get as much reading done or as much writing done. So, without any type of review or write-up, here are the books I read last month:

New Bach Arrangement for Piano

Before your throne, I now appear ... turn not your gracious face from me, a poor sinner ...

Over on my Arrangements page, I have just uploaded a new arrangement I recently finished, of Bach's "deathbed chorale," Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit.

This has long-been my favorite chorale by Bach, and it's easily in the top 5 of all of his compositions, as far as I'm concerned.

The piece is sneaky; it sounds so simple, and perhaps the hymn melody is, but the counterpoint that makes up the bulk of the piece is anything but. It's challenging to play on the piano, but worth the effort. If you're unfamiliar with the piece, you can read about it here.

Perhaps ironically, my favorite recording is the Frackenpohl arrangement for Canadian Brass, although Angela Hewitt's new recording for Hyperion Records runs a close second. It's often performed at the conclusion of The Art of Fugue, which has been arranged for countless instrument combinations, so there are many different versions of this chorale available online.

The arrangement is free to download; I would love to hear from you if you perform or record the piece - please contact me through the link to the left, or via social media links to the right.

Thanks, as always, for reading and for your support!

Meanwhile, Over on Instagram ...

Downtown Oklahoma City, OK

Downtown Oklahoma City, OK

Tulsa Union Depot, Tulsa, OK.

Tulsa Union Depot, Tulsa, OK.

I won't say that Instagram has become my favored social media platform, but I do know that since starting the Grinch tour, it's the one I've utilized the most. I'm on a few different platforms, and each has its perks and flaws. When I'm out and about in a new city visiting churches and museums and finding random tidbits of trivia, it's difficult to keep up with Twitter. GIFs on Tumblr practically refuse to load on 4G, LTE, or horrible hotel wifi, so I don't really bother. (And using these apps use up my phone's battery pretty quickly.) Instagram, however, is easy to scroll through and catch up on. People post fewer pics than they do tweets. (And I follow fewer people on Insta than on Twitter.) Being away from the hotel room for most of a day means I'm out & about taking pictures, randomly Tweeting (but not following my timeline), and in general finding things out about a new place. Posting pics of buildings, friends, or myself, is relatively quick and easy to do. And it's a great way to find pictures of places in a new city that are worth visiting.

I am also growing to love Instagram more because of the brief moments of creativity it offers to its users. I not only have the opportunity to change filters and saturations to create a different image than originally taken, but I've noticed that, since using it more, I tend to look at things differently. I see buildings and shapes and shadows more through the lens of an artistic photographer rather than someone taking pictures to show the family over the next holiday meal (or one who takes pictures solely of that meal). Playing the same show 10 times a week can be a little monotonous; not being able to bring my keyboard home with me so I can play some Schubert or Bach in the hotel room doesn't help. It's important to find a creative outlet, and as minuscule as Insta may be - and as much as some my think that it's  a purely superficial app - it's become a pleasant little escape for me.

The beginning of a four-show day in Oklahoma City, OK.

The beginning of a four-show day in Oklahoma City, OK.

There's a part of me that wish I were posting more pictures to Instagram. Well, to any site, actually. I've taking a lot of pictures so far, and most of them haven't seen the light of day. Some of them will find their way onto Instagram, Facebook, or my website. Most probably won't. But that's also okay. I enjoy taking photographs, even with just my iPhone, and it's such a blessing to not have to buy all the film that I used to for my SLR back in the in "old days."

Of course, not all my pictures are amazing. Not all of them are posted "Insta"-ly. Obviously I'll post the occasional selfie, since that is apparently a defining feature of this time period and generation. And sometimes I simply feel the need to post something on Instagram because the image is too dark, and that app's filters are the easiest way for me to use to adjust the picture.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying my pictures are glorious or that I'm at the level of a professional photographer. And Instagram has its faults: sometimes images are grainy when not viewed on a phone's small screen; the square image can be constraining; images don't appear automatically in Twitter's native apps; the filters and other options aren't as powerful as on other apps, etc. But I enjoy using this a lot more than when I would spend time in a dark room filled with the aroma of chemicals. And sometimes a picture can share a lot more about my adventures on the road than a Tweet or a long-winded blog post (oops).

So if you're looking for where I'll be hanging out the most until the New Year, Instagram is most likely the place you'll find me. It's where I've most thoroughly documented this tour and I don't foresee that changing. In the meantime, below are a few Insta pics I've posted over the last few weeks.

Exploring OKC: Remembering Tragedy

It was a nice, calm spring day. I was in 2nd hour 8th grade social studies class when our teacher, Mr Marty, got a phone call and ran to turn on the TV in the front of the classroom. We were suddenly watching a scene that seemed out of an action film: a gaping hole in a large office building, surrounded by rubble, fire trucks, and rescue workers. I remember being shocked by the destruction to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, but I don’t remember much else from that morning. The memories of that morning have faded, not only with time, but - as I'm sure it is with many people - with the larger impact of the World Trade Center attacks of 2001.

Almost 20 years later, whatever memories remained of that morning and of emotions came flooding back, though, as I sat in a nondescript replica of a government office, listening to a likewise nondescript, routine water rights hearing take place. 2 minutes into the tape-recorded meeting, there was a large explosion, followed immediately by sounds of chaos and turmoil. Almost immediately after that, a cacophony of reporters, news anchors, sirens, bombarded my ears. It wasn't like I was watching the aftermath of the 1995 bombing again; this time, it felt like I was a part of it. I couldn't tell you the last time I felt such powerful emotions.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum (housed in the former Journal Record Building), taken from the Alfred P. Murrah Plaza - the still extant plaza for the Murrah Federal Building. Photograph by Andrei Strizek.

As I mentioned elsewhere, I’m grateful for the time that we have to explore cities while on tour with the Grinch musical. Our first full week of performances was in Oklahoma City, and there were many surprises in town: a wonderful art museum, the First National Building, the American Banjo Museum, and some great stores and restaurants. Yet I knew before arriving that visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum would be something I had to do, no matter what.

While remembrances of 9/11 are doused in patriotism and nationalism, everything at the National Memorial was very personal. Very Human. The event memorialized is obviously very specific, but there is a larger picture presented here: one of human suffering, of good versus evil, and, most importantly, the ability of humans to come together to collectively grieve and support each other at times of crisis.

We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.
— The inscription carved on the outside of each gate.

After the shock of "witnessing" the initial impact, the remainder of the museum is much more calm. They chronicle the rescue efforts, memorialize those who died, document how the FBI was able to track down the offenders. It ends with a beautiful view of the symbolic memorial: next to a room that was damaged in the explosion and is kept as it was found, you look out onto the peaceful reflecting pool and Rescuers' Orchard, see the strong elm tree that survived the bombing, and, across the reflecting pool, the 168 chairs representing everyone who died that morning.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial. Photograph by Andrei Strizek.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial. Photograph by Andrei Strizek.

The grounds of the memorial are still and peaceful, even though they're amidst a revitalizing downtown area. Open all day and night, year-round, one gets the impression that this is indeed a place to come and remember and pay tribute to the people who died - many of whom were humble federal government workers, the kind you run into any time you have to fill out paperwork, in countless offices across the country. the kind who come home to their families at 5pm for a night of a home-cooked meal and watching the latest sitcom on ABC. I appreciated that there were no metal detectors to go through. There was no searching of backpacks and handbags upon entering the grounds. In an era of overly-heightened security and fear, this memorial still lets someone come in off the streets and enter unharassed. You can spend time wandering between the 9:01 and 9:03 gates (meant to represent the human spirit before and after the bombing). You can walk up to the individual chairs. You can view tributes left on the chain-link fence, and see a small part of the original building's foundation that is still standing.

From the moment I approached the memorial, I felt that it was done “right,” whatever that may mean. A visitor is given the time and a deserving place to consider that morning, to pay respect to those who died, to recognize the good that can come from a horrific tragedy. Pictures do not do it justice; in a place like this, pictures only serve as a form of meta-memory. Yet that is what I will take with me away from the OKC memorial: memories of an amazing tribute to those overtaken by a large tragedy on that clear spring day back in eighth grade.

There are more pictures of the memorial here. Feel free to share your memory of this memorial or the event down below.


Under Construction

I recently transferred my website from Squarespace 5 to Squarespace 6 and then to Squarespace 7 - something that I should have done a long time ago. I'm in the process of reformatting everything and cleaning out some of the clutter that comes with the template provided by Squarespace. Please bear with me as I update everything!

I have some things I'm in the middle of writing, too, which will get posted as soon as I can finish cleaning things up here (and getting the hotel wifi to coöperate).

Exploring OKC: The First National Building

One of the things I like about being in a new city - and that I appreciate about the Grinch tour, having a week in each location - is spending some time exploring, wandering around the city, and seeing what pops up. I'm sure it drives my walking companions crazy, as I pause to read signs and take pictures and espose trivial facts. Heading into our first full week of shows, I knew of a few places in Oklahoma City that I wanted to go to (the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the botanical gardens, Bricktown), but today I stumbled upon the First National Building and its second-floor bank lobby.

I don't know much about this bulding (all I really know is what is on the Wikipedia page...): the third-tallest in the OKC skyline, the bank lobby isn't in use anymore except for, apparently, the occasional party and ball. (Although, based on the shape it's in, I'd imagine it takes a lot to spruce it up. There was also a random Suzuki "Disklavier" piano there, roped off.) It was weird that the lobby was open to the public; no need to sneak past security and climb over fences to visit this place. (Although the esclators had "no public entry" signs posted, but the main staircase is wide-open with nothing blocking entry upstairs.) Practically empty, it still has an aura of its grander days, when it was no doubt full of people tending to their fiduciary matters.

Part of my personal attraction to this space is its Art Deco styling. I'm honestly not sure I'll ever tire of that style of architecture. Built in 1931, it was erected during the beginning of the Great Depression but before the Dust Bowl swept through the Great Plains. The unique tower at the top of the building was an airplane beacon. When it was built, it was the fourth tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

Some of the bars on the teller windows are cracked or missing; some doors are done; the carpet in an office area is shabby; but the marble - which basically covers the entire space, and makes up beautiful columns (and drinking fountains) - still holds its sheen. There are four paintings in the corners: two depicting the land runs in Oklahoma, one showing the Shawnee Trail, and the fourth portraying the Louisiana Transfer, when the area that makes up Oklahoma became part of the United States in 1803. There are numerous "tokens" on the walls of the space. I'm not sure what any of them mean; there were too many for me to look at for later exploration, but based on the paintings, my guess is that they are related to Oklahoma heritage.

Next to the stairs, on the ground level, is a gate that led to where security deposit boxes were held. I'm sure it was better lit in its heyday, but today it looks a little foreboding, like it should be part of a horror film or The Strain. The clock above the staircase is permanently stopped at 12pm. (Or 12am?)

I'm not certain, but I believe the building has normal business hours. (The ground floor has a host of shops and restaurants that are worth visiting.) The building is showing its age and lack of tenants, particularly some of the other entrances, but next time you're in Oklahoma City, take a few minutes to check this area out. It's a unique piece of history in the middle of the city that is working to redevelop and grow.

I have a few more pictures here. If you have any more information about this building, let me know!

Gardiner's Opening Thoughts on Bach

I recently started reading John Eliot Gardiner's Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven - partly because I want to learn more about Bach, partly because I want to read about something other than music from the 20th century, partly because I've always loved Gardiner's recorded interpretations of Bach, partly because I don't know his vocal/choral music as well as his instrumental and keyboard works, and partly because I'm really interested to see Gardiner's interpretation of Bach as a human, and the conclusions he draws ... so quite a few reasons, actually. I'm only on the second chapter (tech week doesn't allow for much down time), but I am already enjoying it particuarly much of what he wrote in the preface, about how we've dealt with Bach since his death:

A nagging suspicion grows that many writers, overawed and dazzled by Bach, still tacitly assume a direct correlation between his immense genius and his stature as a person ... But why should it be assumed that great music emanates from a great human being? Music may inspire and uplift us, but it does not have to be the manifestation of an inspiring (as opposed to an inspired) individual ... Any God-like image that we superimpost on Bach blinds us to his artistic struggles, and from that point on we fcease to see him as a musical craftsman par excellence.

He also goes on to quote from Peter Williams's The Life of Bach, and looks ahead to how he draws information about Bach's life from his (vocal) music. I'll save some interpretations and reactions to Gardiner's writing until I get further in the book, but I already appreciate his attempts to draw Bach out from the Romantic world concept, which still has a powerful hold over how we view classical music and composers. (For something recent on this idea, read Alex Ross's recent article in The New Yorker about Beethoven, who, much like Bach, still has a power over contemporary composers, performers, and listeners - as much his fault and those who helped to create and maintain his myth.)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

In one week (!!) I hit the road again with the national tour of Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical. Last year I was the replacement Keyboard 2, and I played about 30 shows in the 3 weeks I was with the show (most weeks we have 10 performances). I'll be on the entire tour this year. I'm looking forward to working with this great team again, and performing this fun and heartwarming show. If you're in any of the cities below, let me know so we can meet up! I'm looking forward to visiting some great cities - many of which I've never been to before!

Fah who foraze!

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