High Notes

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Hootenanny

As the holidays approach, I start to think of friends and family and I think about our annual end-of-summer Hootenanny.   “What is a hootenanny?” you might ask. Well… don’t bother to look it up in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary.  I heard last year that they’ve decided to omit it from their dictionary.  A hootenanny is a music-making event, sort of a jam session for bluegrass, folk, country and gospel music.  My husband Ross and I started hosting hootenannies in our back yard about 25 years ago.  The first one started pretty spontaneously when a couple of our friends wanted to come over and play some music with us.  Ross plays the guitar and dulcimer.  I play guitar, harmonica, violin and a little mandolin.  We have friends who play banjo, guitar, accordion, ukulele and we thought it would be fun to have a barbecue and play some music.  Our daughter Elisabeth was a toddler when we hosted our first “hoot.”  Ross put some bales of straw in our backyard, folks brought lawn chairs and food.  We played music, ate, drank, and sang well into the night, and that was the beginning of this Brewer tradition. 

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The Lesson Of Britten’s ‘War Requiem’: Don’t Underestimate Younger Audiences

Soprano and Illinois native Christine Brewer — once a music teacher in a small former coal-mining town — writes about not underestimating adolescents' powers of subtle understanding.

If you were choosing repertoire to explore with this age group, what would you pick? Tell us in the comments section below.

I work with a group of sixth graders in the little school where I used to teach in Marissa, Ill., about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis: a coal-mining town where the mines are now shuttered. The project, called "Opera-tunities," started out as a sort of geography lesson. The classroom teacher, Nancy Wagner, would pinpoint on a world map where I was performing. It was a sort of "Where in the World is Mrs. Brewer?" map. I asked her if I could drop in on the kids once in a while, and the project began to grow.

Now I visit the classes a few times a year and I bring my friends from the St. Louis Symphony to play. We talk about our lives as musicians and talk about music. David Robertson, the music director of the St. Louis Symphony, started inviting the class to attend closed rehearsals of whatever I was singing with the SLSO. To prepare the students for the music — ranging from Mozart's Requiem to the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten to Beethoven's opera Fidelio and even Wagner's Die Walküre — Nancy would play CDs of recordings of the upcoming works, and I would spend time with the kids talking about the words I had to sing.

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