Author Archives: Nathan Bird

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“If With All Your Hearts” from the oratorio Elijah by Felix Mendelssohn


For a moment, I want to say, “Thank You.” You, our audience member, our listener, our reader, are why we do this. Thank you for being on the other side of that screen and for giving thought to the chance that music matters.
We really like you.


This aria comes at a point in the Old Testament narrative where the people were in utter despondency because of the drought that God had brought on the land.  Mendelssohn chose to smoosh together with a dash of creative license, two other biblical texts for this aria’s lyric; Joel 2:12 and Job 23:3.

The two were written centuries apart.  Joel and Job weren’t buddies.  Also, neither context has anything explicitly connected with Elijah’s story.  However, in juxtaposing these two texts Mendelssohn captures something totally human, the internal conflict between our awareness of God’s nature, and our state of being.

This aria swings back and forth between the voice of God and the thoughts of man. God says through the prophet, (actually quoting Joel, my paraphrase) “If you’re all in, I’ll meet you there.  I don’t want you half-way.”  The other flavor present is the prophet quoting Job (again my whine-implied paraphrase); “I wish I could just come talk to you because I really think if you just knew my side of the story you’d understand.”

When we were dating, we help lead a youth group in producing a staged dramatic reading of the entire book of Job.

The story goes like this: God allowed Satan to do lots of horrible things to Job to test Job.  Job’s friends, and even his wife, and Job himself are trying to explain away why all of this is happening and God shows up in the end and says, “I’m God, you’re not going to figure me out,” and goes on to learn ‘em good.

Despite the reality that God’s ways are past finding out, the pursuit of Him with our entire hearts is a good way to live life.  Or at least to try.


TEXT
‘If with all your hearts ye truly seek Me,
Ye shall ever surely find Me.’
Thus saith our God,

Oh! That I knew where I might find Him,
That I might even come before His presence!


Rabbit Trail Trivia: Mendelssohn wrote the soprano role of this oratorio especially for the Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind, who some know of primarily from her part of the story line of The Greatest Showman. (Enjoy the movie, but please don’t tell yourself that that is actually what she sounded like. Thank you.)

Coincidentally, the local public school where our kids attend is named after this famed singer.  I find this ironic, considering that the student population now is approximately .000000001% Swedish. Don’t quote me on that. You get the point. Being in the minority is a new experience for us, unless you include homeschooling. But even then, when assessing the ethnic representation in our kids’ respective classes, they were definitely in the majority.


Previous post: Bring Him Home, from Les Misérables 

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In “Bring Him Home” Jean Valjean sings a prayer over Marius while he sleeps that sounds like it’s part lullaby, part heart cry, part reflection on his own mortality.  Valjean is anticipating a horrible battle the next morning with the odds stacked against them.

Kretzmer’s words show a change in Valjean through this song. At the beginning of the song the character remembers God’s provision: “in my need you have always been there.” By the end of the song, however, Valjean is reminding himself of the truth that God has the ultimate power: “You can take. You can give. Let him be. Let him live.”  For Valjean to say “If I die, let me die, let him live” I’m reminded of John 15:13.  “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

I’ve known for a while that the first change that our prayer makes in the world is not to change our circumstances, or others, or God, but our prayer must first change us.  Prayer adjusts our perspective to put us in our place and refresh our awareness of God’s place.

This song begs the question, however.  Am I willing to be the answer to the prayer that I am praying?  Even if it means I lose everything?

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Lyrics:

“Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables

Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Words by Herbert Kretzmer

Performed by Nathan and Naomi Bird

 

God on high, hear my prayer.

In my need You have always been there.

He is young. He’s afraid.

Let him rest, heaven blessed.

 

Bring him home. Bring him home.

Bring him home.

 

He’s like the son I might have known

If God had granted me a son.

The summers die, one by one.

How soon they fly, on and on,

And I am old, and will be gone.

 

Bring him peace, bring him joy.

He is young. He is only a boy.

You can take. You can give.

Let him be. Let him live.

 

If I die, let me die.

Let him live.

Bring him home. Bring him home.

Bring him home.

Let’s Take it From the Top

What’s up world!  The past couple of years have been a whirlwind!  Naomi and I are parents-times-four now.  We also have our own home.  As you could probably tell from my last post, the segue out of full-time music was not an easy one, but it was a necessary one.  The transition into corporate America into my first new “real” job wasn’t what I’d expected.  Being laid off 4-plus months later was a sharp contrast to the vision of success that I’d painted in my head.  However, hindsight is often 20/20. I can see how God has taken me on this road for a reason.  Sometimes what feels like detours are actually scenic byways.  ashley-knedler-43546-unsplashLet go of your schedule and enjoy the view!  After meeting at need as Office Administrator at my church for the past 17 months I’m happy to report that I’ve dusted off my freelancing shoes, and have started to flex those exciting self-employment muscles again!

Giving life to a dream’s plan is similar to a music rehearsal.  We invariably make mistakes as we’re exploring possibilities.  The beauty of rehearsal is that no matter what mistakes are made, you can always stop and say “Let’s take it from the top, shall we?  Let’s start over. Start fresh. Let’s begin again…

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In life, we’re not given the luxury of rehearsal.  We CAN still take the opportunity to say, let’s start over.  Let’s begin again.  Let’s see if we can apply some of the things that we learned from the last time we were in this groove, singing this, using this skill.

We all have a song to sing.  Every day I want to wake up and no matter how I slept, or how many of my children climbed into my bed, or what I think about the news, or current events……”Let’s take it from the top.”

Ties and Slurs and Jobs

I’m not not talking about clothing accessories and inebriated speech…just yet.

When reading them little black and white dots on top of all them lines, aka music notation, it’s really easy for beginners to confuse ties with slurs.  Both are graceful arcs between notes. The actual shape of the lines can be identical.  The purpose is very different, however.  Ties are about rhythm.  They connect the rhythmic event of one note to the rhythmic event of the same note later on and tie the two together in one rhythmic event. Slurs denote how a series of different notes should be played.  Slurs are drawn over a series of two or more notes that are different than one another but who share the same melodic idea.

Sometimes life and work is like reading music notation.  It looks like it’s black and white and you just have to make music out of it.  However, if you misinterpret the notation you’re going to fall flat….and on your face.

There’s so much that I love about being self-employed and in music.  The thrill of hearing my volunteer church choir lock into their chord.  The joy of hearing my voice students creating gorgeous music to express themselves. The fun of casting a vision for a new concert production and seeing it come to fruition through collaboration with a dedicated team of various talented friends.  I love it all.

Brian Tracy, in his book, Earn what You’re Really Worth says that income security can only be guaranteed when you do something that is A. Important, B. in Demand, and C. where you are Irreplaceable.

I know that music is important.  I know that my music performance/instruction/production is in demand and has been growing consistently over the past five years.  I’d like to think that I’m irreplaceable.

So why then am I looking for full-time work? Well, there’s a few.

  1. Work/Life Balance. Teaching thirty voice students at five different teaching studios has been exciting to have a somewhat regular flow of monies, but it makes for a difficult work/life balance.  The emotional cost to my family has been greater than the financial reward.
  2. Growing family, growing needs.  Yep.  Number 4 here we go!  We’re very excited to meet this little addition in October.  I’ll be more excited if we’re able to move into a different home by the end-of-summer.
  3. Self-Employed and you want a Mortgage?  Despite growing my own business for the past five years and experiencing some really cool successes/expansions with teaching/performing/producing, all I need is a couple of pay stubs at a new job and I’d qualify to buy a home for my family.  #thanxhousingmarketcrash

SO.  I’m looking for work that allows me to capture more of the value of my experience in a full-time W-2 “real” job.  The music won’t stop.  Don’t you worry.

After telling a friend of mine about my job hunt, he said that he was sad at the thought of me in a tie and a cubicle.  I understand that I don’t fit inside that box very well.  I’m hoping to God I get to do something that I’m passionate about where I can work with people, care about a cause and finally get paid to be the creative vision guy.  But most importantly, I welcome the tie if it comes with some economic security for my family.

I’m just going to read it as a slur and make it part of my melodic line.

Finding my Funny Bone

I have known for a long time that I like to make people laugh.  I didn’t think I was very good at it though.  Just ask my wife.  She has the unfortunate task of being my sounding board for jokes that haven’t fully matured.  However, when watching an episode of Seinfeld’s new show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee he mentioned the act of writing jokes.  Now I already knew that comedians have to write a lot.  And that they were constantly editing – honing their craft… but it hadn’t clicked yet.

I had a mini-epiphany: if I started keeping track of some of this stuff that I find funny, I might have some material.  Or at least prevent the cringes and scowls from my lovely bride.

I used to think that either you had it or you didn’t. That strange and beautiful funny bone. Some people feel that way about singing. I’ve learned that no matter how much talent someone’s born with, they can always improve if they work at it. And, you’ll never know how much you’re capable of, unless you try. I’m so excited to try. Putting this together has been So. Much. Fun.

I couldn’t do it alone, however.  I’m not THAT crazy. I’m not going to subject myself to an entire show of stand up, never having done it before.  With a great affinity for the work of Mr. Keillor, on his long-running “A Prairie Home Companion” and with a nod to NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” I’ve assembled a variety show of comedy. It will include, but is not limited to the following:

 

  • Stand up by yours truly
  • Musical parodies written by the incredible performer and playwright, Christy Jones
  • A cameo of Goose Nissley playing someone very far removed from the character we know and love from the Goose Radio Broadcast
  • A certain silent special guest
  • Several scripted scenes sure to please
  • A live house band
  • Fake commercials!

 

What: Tuesday Night Live

When: April 5th, 7PM

Where: Redeemer Covenant Church, Brooklyn Park, MN

How: Tickets available here, or at the door. First come, first serve. $Pay-as-you’re-able

My Christmas with Cantus

This is the weird and wonderful story of how my one and only Christmas with Cantus led me to meet tenors David Walton and Aaron Humble who are joining forces with me for my upcoming “A Three Tenors Christmas” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.  

plug:

  • Tuesday, December 22 at 8:15 P.M. (dinner seating at 6:15) get tickets
  • Wednesday, December 23 at 8:15 P.M. (dinner seating at 6:15) get tickets

Fyi, as of this writing, availability has gone from “excellent” to “good”….so don’t wait too long to get a ticket!

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The three tenors rehearse with pianist Herb Johnson.

My life is strange.  I’ve known for some time that anybody who willfully puts himself or herself up on a stage in front of other people is unusual.  Being a man that sings really high in front of people makes me a freak of nature.   I shouldn’t be surprised then, that this story is also strange.  Some call it luck but looking back all I can think is that Someone was orchestrating.

When I was in my last semester of grad school, I met Aaron Humble of Cantus as he was getting a tour of Denver University’s Lamont School of Music before the ensemble’s performance that evening.  I’d heard of Cantus on Minnesota Public Radio but had never been to any of their productions.  I decided I needed to look into this group, and I applied to audition that spring.  They hold annual auditions to attract the top male vocal talent in the nation, regardless of any open positions in the ensemble.  They invited me to come to one of their live auditions. That alone was worth the plane ticket.

Instead of singing for a director, or a panel of judges, you sing for the men of Cantus.  After all of the auditionees had sung their songs, we were invited back into the room and then magic happened. We got to sing WITH Cantus.  As I’d prepared my parts for the music ahead of time I had imagined the sound we’d achieve.  It surpassed all of my expectations.  I flew back to Denver with an even deeper respect for the organization.  I was saddened to hear some time later that there were no open positions in the ensemble, but still very glad to have sung with them, even for a day.

While singing a role in Italy at the tail end of the summer I received a call from Doc Rainbow, director of theatre at my undergraduate alma mater, University of Northwestern – St. Paul, inviting me to come sing the lead role of Father in Children of Eden that fall.  We sold or gave away nearly everything we owned and returned to our native Minnesota, anticipating a one month stay and then a circuit of audition trips out west.  Then, just a few days after arriving in Minnesota, I got a call from Cantus.  One of their tenors had taken a leave of absence and they needed a tenor to replace him for their upcoming “Christmas with Cantus” concerts and was I in town and AVAILABLE!?  I was ecstatic.

Rehearsing with them for six hours a day and learning an entire show in two weeks was a rigorous and rewarding experience.  Getting to perform with them was So. Much. Fun.  My contract included singing on their Christmas with Cantus CD in 2011.  That recording is still a favorite in my household, frequently being chosen by our young daughters as their bedtime music.

In the spring of 2012, Cantus was looking to fill this tenor position with a full-time singer, and I was hopeful that I may be able to join this group for the long term. Though I was bummed that they chose someone else, I totally understood their reasoning. David Walton possesses  a tenor range that I only dream of.  On my first encounter with David, I remembered thinking – just from his speaking voice – “wow, this guy is going to go far.”  Which he has. Find out more about him here.

I’ve been so privileged to have performed with David since then in various productions and was thrilled that he joined me and Aleks Knezevich for the debut performance of our tenor trio last year for Christmas at Wooddale in Eden Prairie Minnesota.

As plans for this year’s Chanhassen concerts developed, we needed to find a new tenor, as Aleks was not available this year.  David suggested Aaron Humble, also a long-time Cantus member who is currently on faculty at Augustana College in Illinois.  He is not only a quick study but brings such confidence and experience with him.  You can find out more about him here.

While I never purposed to create this year’s tenor trio with former members of Cantus, it makes perfect sense that that’s what has happened.  Cantus attracts top male talent to the state and the entire community benefits from it.

I’m thankful for the boldness to take chances.  This Christmas I’m especially thankful for the men of Cantus 2010 who took a chance on me.  I will always be grateful for the institution of Cantus.  It continues to create amazing music with many new voices and creating opportunities that go far beyond the ears that hear them.

(By the way, the 2015 “Christmas with Cantus” series starts tonight!)

Three Tenors (medQ)

photo credit: Bethany Jackson of Twin Cities Headshots

Confidence

I hear it again and again, students of mine want to “build confidence” with their singing voice.  The following was taken from a message to a student who’d recently sent me a self-assessment of her level of preparedness for a role.

“One note about “confidence” while singing…If confidence is the measure of how good we feel about how we’re doing, as singers we can come about this in a variety of ways.  The most readily available is to listen to ourselves in the moment and assess how pleasing the sound is to our ears.  The only problem with this model of developing confidence is that we will invariably sound LESS good to our audience if all we’re focused on is making our sound SOUND good to us.  Instead, focus on releasing the sound as much as you can.  Think about the way that you would shout your words from the roof tops or across rice park.  Throw your voice out of you the way that you’ve used your voice before…  Anytime we call out to someone or cry for help, it uses ample space, direction, purpose, resonance,  articulation, etc.  AND we don’t stop to think about how it sounds.  Focus on the feeling of releasing/throwing/giving your voice instead of improving your audible sound.”

I believe that we’ve been built this way on purpose.  A good voice is something that is functioning its best when it is being shared in a selfless way.