Monday, August 11, 2008

Vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!

My brother In Tradition, Camaraderie, & Musical Excellence: Paul Mow.

When I was in the University of Michigan Men's Glee Club it was led by Jerry Blackstone. He's now a Grammy winner. He was probably the best musical diagnostician I've ever worked with. If something didn't sound right it wasn't enough to identify what the mistake was and who made it. He would also identify which progressions and notes were causing the confusion. Sometimes a singer misses an interval because of an odd chord progression or because of a melody line that moves from 2nd tenors to baritones without warning. If you listen for the wrong harmony you might hear a discordant or unresolved chord and compensate with the wrong line. It was a lot of fun watching Blackstone solve problems by correcting an understanding of the score rather than just giving the right note.

He didn't like to organize the ensemble by section. All parts should be blended, so singers from each section were scattered evenly around the risers. If you had a strong voice you were told to stand back row center. It was a musical backbone. Paul Mow always stood in the center of the back row. His voice was a beacon.

In one clinic presentation Blackstone was describing to a roomful of choral directors this method by which the best singers were placed there to influence the rest of the singers. He turned around and addressed the poor singers who must have felt they were being relegated to the shameful wings.

'You guys on the end of the first row must think I hate you.' Everyone in the room laughed. 'Well you're partly right' he said, with hardly a smile. He turned back to the audience and continued to instruct. The man was a master. But he was brutal.

Once during a rehearsal Blackstone heard something wrong. He asked just the basses to sing their part. We sang it. He looked at me. My spine twisted. My heart shook. 'Aw crap' I thought.

'Michael,' he said, 'go stand next to Paul.'

It was one of the proudest moments of my life.


  1. You know, this era of your bizarre and deeply-shrouded past has always terrified me. However, I am glad that whatever this "glee club" did, you excelled at it.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go curl up in a ball and shiver for the next 24 hours.

  2. What a great story!

    When a compliment comes from someone sparing with them, it's pretty powerful.


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