Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Food Glorious Food!

I'm happy to see more and more choirs discovering two of my pieces which have the most fun, most creative texts-- "My Friend Elijah" (Walton Cat # HL08501621) and "Play with your Food" (Walton cat. # HL08501682)

The whole three part set and excerpted movements of "Play with your Food" have been featured this season by a number of choirs, including two separate performances at the NW ACDA conference a few weeks ago in Seattle. And now coming up, Bemidji State University is singing the whole set on their spring tour (see tour info below). Many thanks to Dr. Bradley Logan and the choir!

I get a kick out of some comments here and there from some people who know my music- they have noticed I have written a whole bunch of food-based tunes. Well. we all get hungry, don't we? And I keep finding really great texts about food, I just can't resist them. Beside all the food references in "Play with your Food", "My Friend Elijah" talks about Oreo cookies a bit, on its way to discovering miracles and a vision of God- gosh, that Elijah fellow gets around.

Btw, here are the poems from "Play with your Food" (an interesting side note- Sidney Hoddes, the author of Mashed Potato/Love Poem used to hang out with the Beatles in Liverpool before they became famous):

I. Summer’s Bounty by May Swenson

berries of Straw apples of Crab beans of Lima
berries of Goose apples of May beans of Jelly
berries of Huckle apples of Pine beans of Green
berries of Dew apples of Love beans of Soy

berries of Boisen nuts of Pea melons of Water
berries of Black nuts of Wal melons of Musk
berries of Rasp nuts of Hazel cherries of Pie
berries of Blue nuts of Chest cherries of Choke

berries of Mul nuts of Brazil glories of Morning
berries of Cran nuts of Monkey rooms of Mush
berries of Elder nuts of Pecan days of Dog
berries of Haw nuts of Grape puppies of Hush

II. Mashed Potato/Love Poem by Sidney Hoddes

If I ever had to choose between you
and a third helping of mashed potato,
(whipped lightly with a fork
not whisked,
and a little pool of butter
melting in the middle...)

I think
I’d choose
the mashed potato.

But I’d choose you next.

III. Vending Machine by Grey Held

Let me do It!, he shouts.
I take the coins from my pocket,
and he counts out the quarters—three, four:
I pick him up so he can slide
the money in. He pushes the buttons:
K—I whisper,
10— I whisper. Out falls
the package of peanut butter crackers.

He grabs it from me, yanks
the little red string that opens the wrapper
and it falls to the floor. He unglues
the top half of a sandwich,
scrapes the peanut butter off
with his teeth, his tongue, polishing
the cracker into the soggy circle
he hands to me. Your half, he says
and I take it.

And here is the info on Bemidji State's tour- maybe you can make it if you are in the Upper Midwest!

BEMIDJI, Minn. (March 30, 2010) — The Bemidji Choir and Chamber Singers, under the direction of Dr. P. Bradley Logan, professor of music at Bemidji State University, will open a five-day 2010 spring tour on Tuesday, April 6, in Grand Forks, N.D.

The tour begins April 6 and will include eight concerts in six cities in Minnesota and North Dakota, culminating with a Saturday, April 10, home concert in Bemidji. Tour dates include:

• Tuesday, April 6 - Grand Forks, N.D.
The Bemidji Choir features Grand Forks native Anna Smith, a senior in music/liberal arts and music/teacher certification and choir manager.
12:15 p.m. - Central High School; 115 N. 4th St.
2 p.m. - Red River High School; 2211 7th Ave. S.
7:30 p.m. - United Lutheran Church; 324 Chestnut St.
• Wednesday, April 7 - Bismarck, N.D.
The Bemidji Choir features Bismarck natives Alyssa Wagner, sophomore in elementary education and social studies education, and Alex Ferderer, freshman in music/teacher certification.
7:30 p.m. - Cathedral of the Holy Spirit; 508 Raymond St.
• Thursday, April 8 - Moorhead, Minn.
7:30 p.m. - St. Joseph’s Catholic Church; 218 10th St. S.
• Friday, April 9 - Fargo, N.D.
11:52 a.m. - Shanley High School; 5600 25th St. S.
• Friday, April 9 - Park Rapids, Minn.
The Bemidji Choir features Park Rapids native Nick Dahn, a sophomore in music/liberal arts.
7:30 p.m. - St. John’s Lutheran Church; 803 W. 1st St.
• Saturday, April 10 - Bemidji, Minn.
7:30 p.m. - Bethel Lutheran Church; 5232 Irvine Ave. NW.

The program will feature a broad array of pieces, including “O Magnum Mysterium” by Jeff Enns and a trio of pieces by Paul Carey collectively called “Play With Your Food!”

The Bemidji Choir was founded in 1937 by Carl O. Thompson and has gained an international reputation for excellence. The choir has represented the United States five times at The Europa Cantat, an international choir festival, and has performed in a number of other countries including Israel, Italy, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic and Switzerland. The choir also has performed at numerous national and regional conventions across the United States.

The choir has also produced Bemidji State University’s world-reknowned Madrigal Dinners for each of their 41 seasons.

The 2010 Bemidji Choir features 54 singers, while the Chamber Singers is an auditioned choir of 16 members from within the Bemidji Choir.

Dr. Brad Logan, director
Logan, chair of Bemidji State’s Department of Music and director of choral activities, received his undergraduate degree from North Dakota State University, a master’s from California State University in Long Beach and a doctorate from the University of Illinois. He has served on the faculties of the University of Montevallo, Louisiana College, University of Illinois and California State University in Long Beach. He made his Carnegie Hall debut conducting René Clausen’s “a new Creation” in 2002, conducted the BSU Chamber Singers on Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” in 2003 and served as conductor of the Röthenberg Choral Festival in Röthenberg, Germany, in 2005. He is the executor of the Edwin R. Fissinger Musical Estate and serves as co-editor of the Edwin Fissinger Choral Series published by Meadowlark Music Publications. Dr. Logan has been an active teacher of voice for 30 years. His studio has produced numerous winners of state and division National Association of Teachers of Singing competitions and prepared students for graduate study at leading conservatories in the United States.

About Bemidji State University Bemidji State University, located in northern Minnesota's lake district, occupies a beautiful campus along the shore of Lake Bemidji. The University enrolls nearly 5,000 students annually and offerings include more than 65 undergraduate majors and 13 graduate programs encompassing the liberal arts, interdisciplinary studies and applied fields. The University is a member of the Minnesota State College and Universities System and has a faculty and staff of nearly 600. University signature themes include environmental stewardship, civic engagement and global/multicultural understanding. For further information about the University, visit our web site at: http://www.bemidjistate.edu.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Aspiring choral composers- do NOT miss this!

I see that Steven Sametz and his school Lehigh University, in a beautiful part of Pennsylvania, have hooked up with ACDA to present a choral composers workshop this summer. Bravo to all involved and for those of you who don't know the history behind this, I will try to fill you in (though I am not privy to the details of the new developments with ACDA- perhaps someone there can fill in the recent blanks).

Steven started this great idea about 9-10 year ago-- a week long bootcamp for aspiring choral composers/arrangers to start a new piece or two from scratch, hit the ground running, write like maniacs every day AND hear their sketches sung every day by Steven's fine professional group, the Princeton Singers. This was Steven Sametz' and Lehigh's invention, and it went really well the first year, from what I heard.

The next year, 2002, Steven got Oxford University Press (USA), at that point run very ably by Chris Johnson, to collaborate. Oxford (with some of the decisions being made by the UK management) decided to expand the event by adding in a "festival" adult choir to the composer element in hopes of drawing more people and more income to the event. For a few years this was the format, but the festival choir element never really took hold, as many quality amateur singers in the area (and there are a lot, this is Bethlehem Bach Choir country) already had pretty strong allegiances to singing at the Berkshire Festival off and on.

But in the meantime Steven had great guest composer mentors such as Libby Larsen, Bob Chilcott, and so on working with the aspiring composers and things really took off. Oxford was able to discover some, at that point, totally unknown composers such as yours truly (I attended 2002 and 2003 to compose, and 2004 to work on my conducting with Nicholas Cleobury), Reg Unterseher, Jon Rommereim, Ellen Voth, Valerie Crescenz, Jonathan David, and a whole bunch of other very talented folks. Oxford was able to, in short time, add about 40 quality pieces into their catalog from the composers at the event, no small accomplishment by the composers or by OUP.

However, things kind of unraveled. As I said, the festival choir element never really gelled, although people like Nick Cleobury and Tom Hall gave it their all (hey, I just rhymed) and Oxford UK seemed to grow weary of the event and/or lack of income. They finally pulled the plug on their support which to me totally sucked (yeah, I can say that, it's my blog). To me, this was OUP UK not respecting (or jealous of?) OUP USA as run by Chris Johnson-- a real shame that they decided to not respect Chris' vision for what OUP USA Music Department could achieve.

I believe Steven Sametz did the event at least once or twice since then with its original intent, as a composer/professional choir workshop for new choral compositions. I'm thrilled that Steven and Lehigh went back to their original idea and did that.

I am also thrilled to see that Steven, Lehigh and now ACDA are collaborating on this event this summer. I wish them all the success in the world and for any of you aspiring choral composers/arrangers of any age- PLEASE sign up and attend. I guarantee you that it will be worth it- the chance to work with Steven, Chen Yi, the Princeton Singers, and the collegial atmosphere you will find there will be life-changing for you.

And finally, I will never forget the amazing sessions we had with Bob Chilcott one summer- Bob's tiny handwritten immaculate notes he prepared for seminars, his supportiveness, his earnest and intense beliefs about the intent of musical composition, and for sure his ability to blow off some steam and amuse all of us with insanely funny King's Singers stories- what a blast.

So... here is the link to ACDA's page about this event. Go, sign up already!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Part Two: ACDA Brock Commissions for 2011-13

While I was in Tucson for the recent ACDA Western division conference, Tim Sharp, ACDA executive director, happened by. Tim sat down and we got a chance to chat for a few fun minutes (and also again later in Memphis). One of our topics was how to get more young choral directors to join ACDA and to start attending conferences regularly, and I think Tim and the organization have already made some strides there.

The other topic was Joan Szymko’s very successful new piece “All Works of Love” which was the 2010 Brock Commission. I asked Tim how the commission had progressed and how Joan and he had discussed it as the process unfolded. And Tim’s wonderful comment was this- his role, as he saw it, was to invite Joan to write a beautiful new choral piece, and it “just happened to be” the Brock Commission. In other words, don’t let the “importance” of the commission weigh you down and make it difficult to simply write in your own personal, very creative voice. It appears Tim’s advice/invitation to Joan really worked.

By the way, Joan’s new piece is published by Santa Barbara Music Press, and through their new marketing/distribution relationship with Lorenz, it is available through Lorenz, catalog number SBMP 942. Here is a link to the order page:


Then Tim rewarded this cub reporter with a mini-scoop.

(pictured: a more famous cub reporter)

In addition to already public knowledge of the next two commissions (Steven Sametz for 2011 and Chen Yi for 2012) Tim gave me this scoop (you are hearing it here first folks)-- the 2013 commission will be for women’s choir and orchestra. Tim likes this idea a lot, as he’s trying do things outside the box- how many pieces are there for women’s choir and orchestra? So, it will be very interesting to see who this commission goes to and how the piece turns out. I hope it will be stunning and a great addition to the repertoire!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

ACDA Brock Commissions Pt. One: Joan Szymko's "All Works of Love"

The 2010 ACDA Raymond Brock Commission, Joan Szymko’s “All Works of Love”, is in my mind, the most successful ACDA Brock Commission in years. The piece is beautifully lyrical, thoroughly well-crafted, sets a timely yet ever-universal text, and is accessible to many choirs in the best sense of that sometimes scary word “accessible”.

I had two opportunities at the recent ACDA conferences to hear the piece, once in Tucson and again in a performance by Dan Bara’s wonderful choir from East Carolina University in Memphis. What Joan has created is a gorgeous piece with a gentle text that could and most likely would devolve into cloying musical clichés in the hands of a less mature, less sensitive composer. The text by Mother Teresa is all of twenty–five words, yet Joan has found a way through repetitions, using almost Zen-like echoes of varying phrase lengths (this was important, I believe, to avoid four bar phrases) to bring the message across in the most artistic way:

“All works of love are works of peace. If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

The piano part is supportive and never intrusive, in fact, in many ways the music often feels like an a cappella piece, that’s how much the choir is entrusted to convey the message, with the piano just there to help out.

Joan is a composer who has strong beliefs about music, about society, and other issues and her world views are usually reflected in her music. I was quite thrilled that she received this commission and wrote about it last April in one of my first blogs- which you can see here


(this also includes a fun anecdote about meeting her parents at one of my concerts!).

Here are some thoughts about composing by Joan, taken from her website, which is at www.joanszymko.com

“As a choral musician, I have witnessed over and over again the power of ensemble singing to awaken in both vocalist and listener an almost ineffable yearning; a longing to be “one with”—what? The object is not so important as is illuminating the illusion of separateness. Dispersing the illusion allows the participant to enter into communion with that for which they yearn. I believe that it is the responsibility of any artist to facilitate this kind of communion. As a choral musician I am bound to the task. It is the nature of the medium. It is also in my nature as an artist. I know that as I compose, if I truly surrender myself—if I become “one with” the process, then I will create something of beauty that will resonate deeply with singer and listener, whatever the tone, character or meaning of the work.

I honor intuition, letting my compositions unfold, but am also a craftsman and a lover of language. I look at the rhythm and flow of a text in the way a sculptor may search her medium for the form that is already there. The willingness to see what is inherent, the courage to allow the truth that is present to be revealed and the skillful craftsmanship to give it a clear voice; all are a part of my ideal as I create new works.

Throughout my career, my goal has been to compose in such a way that invites the audience in while challenging the notion that “accessibility” and “musical integrity” are incompatible concepts. One of the means to realizing this goal has been through collaboration. I have composed choral music to be performed with actors, poets, Taiko drummers, modern dancers, aerialists and accordion players. I have set texts by fourth graders, 12th century mystics and Pulitzer Prize winners. As a composer and conductor, my intention is to engage audience members with choral performances that will surprise, delight, move and transform.”

Congratulations to Joan on this new piece, which I expect will become standard choral repertoire, something which many recent Brock commissions have not been able to achieve for one reason or another.

Coming Up: Part Two: ACDA Brock Commissions for 2011, 2012, and yours truly gets a scoop from Tim Sharp on the 2013 commission

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guest Blog by Sean Burton- North Central ACDA in Minneapolis

My very talented friend Dr. Sean Burton reports in on the NC ACDA conference that was held in Minneapolis. It sure sounds like a lot of great things happened up there!

Sean is a busy guy- besides being the absolute authority on the beautiful music of Pierre Villette, he is Director of Choral Activities at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa where he is also the founding artistic director of the Siouxland Choral Artists. He also directs the Children's Chorus Bel Canto of the Nebraska Choral Arts Society based in Omaha.

Here are Sean's impressions of the NC ACDA conference:

North Central ACDA: "Without a Doubt -- Outstanding" by Sean Burton

In a nutshell, the performance content of ACDA's North Central Division Convention in Minneapolis rivaled the programs of every National Convention I have attended in the last ten years. For this blogger, concerts had the strongest impact during the four-day celebration of the choral arts. There were simply too many triumphs to list in the context of a guest blog, though a few highlights follow:

The Girls' Choir of the Old Town Music House (Tallinn, Estonia): led by the uniquely talented Maarja Soone, fantastic renditions of intriguing music from the Estonian choral tradition complete with a complement of low altos to die for.

The Waukee High School A Cappella Choir (Waukee, IA): under the skilled direction of Ryan Beeken, from Janequin and Rossini to Dickau and Wilberg, a stunning program celebrating age-appropriate mature vocalism.

The Manitou Singers of St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN): directed by the incomparable Sigrid Johnson, incredible intonation and superb selections includingAbbie Betinis' riveting "Chant for Great Compassion" and a revelatory performance of Katie Moran Bart's classic "Blessing."

The Appleton North High School Varsity Men's Choir (Appleton, WI): a seamless performance masterfully coordinated by Craig Aamot, these men sang with genuine passion, conviction, and mission.

The Iowa State Singers (Ames, IA): anyone who has heard this group under the baton of Dr. James Rodde has experienced choral excellence of the highest echelon, yet again Rodde rocked.

University of Minnesota Singers (Minneapolis, MN): Kathy Romey's expert rendition of Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms" (accompanied by members of the university's symphony orchestra) was as refreshing as it was exhilarating, the choir was perfectly prepared and thank you so much for programming and beautifully executing this masterpiece.

Bemidji High School A Cappella Choir (Bemidji, MN): With repertoire running the gamut from Clausen and Gjeilo to Debussy's "Trois Chansons", Christopher Fettig's program models the very best of possibilities for public school music-making.

Luther College Norsemen (Decorah, IA): Immediately following the conclusion of their program, this massive group of first-year men brought the audience to its feet without pause. During their performance Tim Peter almost brought the house down, literally, when the guys broke into a virtual hoe down on the stage of Orchestra Hall!

The St. Olaf Choir (Northfield, MN): The benchmarks for outstanding choral performance continue to be set and exceeded by Dr. Anton Armstrong and The St. Olaf Choir. The engaging program -- from Schumann's exquisite "Talismane" and Abbie Betinis' compelling "Bar xizam" (Upward I rise) to Moses Hogan's brilliant "Ride On, King Jesus" --combined with Armstrong's commitment to the ultimate heights of vocal artistry united for an event of exquisite choral mastery and pure beauty.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More from the ACDA Southern Division Conference in Memphis

Some more great things at ACDA Southern Division Conference in Memphis

I’m going to quickly write about some excellent interest sessions and concerts:

Dr. Everett McCorvey, fresh off a spectacular performance leading his American Spiritual Ensemble, did an interest session on interpreting spirituals to a packed room of about 200 people. Dr. McCorvey talked a lot about stylistic interpretations even on the micro level of shadow syllables, stopped tones and the like as people feverishly took notes. He also had us singing using his stylistic interpretations and we sounded pretty darn good!

Caroline Carson of New Orleans University and Timothy Michael Powell did a great interest session on the liturgical and folk music of Bulgaria and they, as well, had us singing and even doing some Bulgarian dance steps, what… ACDA folks dancing?! The Powerpoint segment of their presentation on the development of Bulgarian church music from the late nineteenth century until now avoided being bookish and all in the room truly appreciated them sharing their obvious love of this musicand culture with us. This was an informative AND fun session!

Lori Hetzel of the University of Kentucky did a great two part session entitled “How to Unleash the power and beauty of the female voice in a choral ensemble”. Her first session was a four person truly expert panel who spoke to a number of topics and who then fielded a whole bunch of great questions from the audience. The second day Lori had some of her U. of Kentucky Women’s choir there to demonstrate warm-ups and other issues and Lori even brought four young singers of progressing ages from her children’s choir in Lexington; with these young singers she demonstrated the gradual changes happening in adolescent female voices and wonderfully referenced Lynne Gackle’s groundbreaking research on this quite a bit. By the way, I think Lynne is working on a new book about this issue and I would guess, more!

The Riverwood High School Singers directed by Amy Hughley gave a wonderful concert Saturday morning, with her singers producing some gorgeous legato lines and mature music-making far beyond their young years on a wonderfully varied program. They also sang a piece they commissioned for the conference by Dan Gawthrop, “The Deeper Well”, which not only featured Dan’s usual elegant lines and harmonies, but some new ideas which I was very interested by. Bravo Amy and Dan!

Saturday night featured an absolutely heartfelt and moving performance of the Brahms Requiem by three combined choirs, the Loyola University Chorale, the University of Mississippi Concert Singers, and the LSU A Cappella Choir, all under the baton of Kenneth Fulton. Fulton obviously knows this score inside out and his interpretation arose from the core of both Brahms’ musical style and his soul. His slower than usual tempi in movements one and two forced these young singers to truly engage and work through the very long lines of the piece with his masterful support, plus the slower tempo in movement two certainly emphasized the dirge quality of the movement. The singers all obviously bought into his interpretation because the results were amazing. The singing was impressive on all levels for the entire evening- no easy task, as I’ve seen choirs try to prepare this piece and at first they think it’s going to be easy. Soon they find out that, in addition to the long lines and their breath management issues, there is more snarky chromaticism in each part than you might think- just when you’re expecting a half step it’s really a whole step and vice- versa. The tenors were stellar the whole night, bravo to them for being a great strength in a choir, not the usual scapegoat target!

In an odd turn of events the choir sounded like seasoned and dedicated professionals while, unfortunately, the orchestra sounded like amateurs. In other words, the professional musicians from the Memphis Symphony Orchestra did not do their homework and these hardworking young choirs and Dr. Fulton deserved far better. There were sackbuts playing coarsely and out of tune most of the evening, lots of bleching and gurgling coming from the horns, and the first flute not only had an unpleasantly, non-Brahmsian metallic sound all night but also left unplayed important exposed cues (such as the very sweet cue near the end of “How lovely is thy dwelling place”- egads, what would Brahms think?). This is not ACDA’s or Fulton's fault, the Memphis Symphony just didn’t show up ready to perform on the level that the college students did- a shame, but still the conducting and choral brilliance of the evening shone through magnificently.

PLUS Seems like ALL the Memphis rib joints have some good stuff to offer. You don’t have to only go with the ones with the reputations (like Rendezvous).

MINUS College students in the audience for the Brahms talking way too much during the piece, checking their cellphones for text messages during the performance, etc. Would you like us all to show up to your senior recital and talk through it? I’m thinkin'—just go hit Beale Street and let the rest of us listen to this fabulous music-making.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

An absolutely great performance by Univ of Alabama/Birmingham @ ACDA

A true discovery was made here by those attending the Southern Division ACDA conference in Memphis—a glorious program sung by the University of Alabama @ Birmingham Concert Choir directed by Philip Copeland. Philip presented a program which through a very creative mixture of sacred and secular music travelled through the day from dawn to night. The concert opened with the chant “Spiritus Domini” with a drone (the vibrations of the universe, or the first shimmer of sunrise?) coloring the aural atmosphere. This led directly into Peteris Vaskis’ “Mate Saule” (“Mother Sun”) sung in Latvian and describing in wonderful ways the break of morning using a mixture of sophisticated, non-cliched aleatoric elements and beautiful ebbing and flowing word-painting. This piece was sung in an amazing way, with each phrase, each moment counting and with a full palette of colors elicited with ease by Copeland from the choir. The program proceeded through William Byrd (quite a stylistic shock coming from the Vaskis, not that I mean that in a bad way), through Cecilia McDowell’s fine Regina Caeli, to another fantastic piece, Jakko Mantyjarvi’s take on an old William Billings tune “Death may dissolve me”. This piece also was sung with beauty, energy, and a spectacular sense of phrasing . The piece had sort of a false ending which took many in the audience by surprise, and which, whether Philip meant it or not, sort of returned momentarily to the drone idea from the beginning of the concert.

The program gradually headed toward evening with an absolutely velvety peaceful, lovingly understated rendition of “Esti dal”, a child’s simple prayer by one of my favorite composers, Zoltan Kodaly. After such a wild ride through the Mantyjarvi this was a wonderful return to serenity and an apt reminder to us all that simplicity can and should be a goal in our lives. The concert ended with a Nunc Dimittis by Vytautas Miskinis, which I thought was more successful when it was sounding European than when it slipped toward the end into some clichéd American harmonic language (unprepared ninth chords and the like that we have been hearing for the last twenty years here). Tiny quibbles aside, the programming of this concert was unique and creative in a wonderful way and the singing and conducting…. oh my!

Copeland does not conduct in the way you usually think of that word- he literally sculpts the sound directly from the actual musical gestures - there is very little beat marking in his conducting style and when you do see beat marking it has organically risen out of the musical gesture. His graceful hands shape and color the sound and thus the singing was always flowing, always organic, and phrases and subphrases appeared and disappeared magically. Downbeats have all sorts of different weights to them depending on the situation- there is really no “tyranny of the barline” with this approach to conducting. Along with this fantastic flow was a use of choral colors to shade phrases with meaning as related to the text and music. I don’t think I could count how many colors we heard from this choir and they were not there just for show- they served the text and music at all times. This performance along with the University of Utah’s in Tucson were the absolute highlights of the (non-professional) a cappella singing I heard at the three ACDA conferences I attended. Bravo to Philip and this group, and you didn’t just blow me away; everyone was talking about this performance afterwards.

I ran into Philip shortly afterward out on the street and was amazed to find out that this choir is made up of a high number of freshmen and sophomores. I hope that Philip has sent in an application for this group to sing at the next national conference- everyone needs to hear this choir.

One final thought- the choirs that thrill me the most in performance also pique my interest in attending a rehearsal or two or three. How much fun would it be to sit in on an American Spiritual Ensemble rehearsal or U of Alabama/Birmingham rehearsal to see how they put their music together? The final performance and interpretation of course is, I suppose, the group’s goal; but it would be really insightful for interested outsiders to see the process as well and see the organic growth in the rehearsal room. This might be a cool idea for a future ACDA event, open rehearsals of carefully chosen master groups. What do you think, Tim Sharp?

Another guest blog by composer Reg Unterseher from NW ACDA

More from Reg Unterseher reporting from the NW ACDA Conference in Seattle

Please visit Reg's website at www.reginaldunterseher.com

Reg says:

I am reminded that when the level of performance at these events overall is high, my tolerance for performances that are merely good is quite low. I am not alone in that respect. I am a little disappointed in myself for that. But only a little. My ears are full! I am not going to be able to get to all the concerts tomorrow, even though they all look like they would be worth going to.

I got to the first concert session late, just in time to sort of hear (from outside the door) Carol Stenson’s South Salem High School choir sing your "Mashed Potato/Love Poem". The audience was clearly getting it, and loved the choir. Also in the same concert session was a well-programmed, beautifully sung set by the Western Washington University’s Advanced Women’s Chorale with Tim Fitzpatrick. Of particular note was the Magnificat by Christina Donkin. It was sung in a circle, with 4 singers in the middle, with their backs to each other. The quartet sang with remarkable expressive and tonal unity, all without being able to see each other, and without a conductor. They were deeply musically connected, listening in an absolutely focused way that was riveting. Also, the standing in the round truly produced a particular color and depth to the sound that was remarkable.

The afternoon concert session started with the Alla Breve Women’s Chorus with Marcia Patton, made of mostly alums and mothers of the Casper Children’s Chorale. I love it when people make that connection to singing for their whole lives! Community choruses sometimes don’t fare so well at these events, and come up with programs that are outside their strengths, but these women were spot on. They used music for some pieces, had the courage to sing from memory on some, and even used the folders in a creative way for some stage business.

The other standout was Sharon Paul’s University of Oregon Chamber Choir. The first thing that struck me was the healthy, clear, focused sound, the kind of singing that makes you sit back and be willing to be taken wherever they want to go. It was also another wonderful example of good programming, pieces that treated us as a normal audience, not people they had to impress somehow. They gave terrific readings of your "My Friend Elijah" and "Vending Machine" from "Play with your Food!", with just the right amount of physical movement. When they sang the Stanford “The Blue Bird,” I was absolutely transported.

The evening concert started with what may turn out to be the highlight of the whole series for me, a performance of “Canticum Calamitatis Maritimae” by Mäntyjärvi, by The Phoenix Chorale with Charles Bruffy. It is a deeply moving work, and I found myself completely wrapped up in the music itself. Not until it was over did I even begin to think about what a gorgeous choral sound, full range of colors, perfect tuning, and amazing balance it was that took me there. When the Soweto Gospel Choir came on, it was the perfect counterpoint to the Pärt, Whitacre, Gjeilo, and Lauridsen the Phoenix Chorale had sung. The singing, dancing and drumming were such a complete unit, and so full of joy and life. They did not need the over-driven amplification, which muddied things up a bit. Even so, the audience absolutely ate it up.

I am going to miss the concerts today, unfortunately, and I am sure there will be something I really should have heard. I got to hear some of the High School Men’s Honor Choir rehearsal led by Timothy Peter, and those young men sounded fantastic.

My suggestion for the next conference is to hire a whole bunch of massage therapists. If people visit enough booths in the exhibits, they get a free massage in a room with no music or sounds at all. My version of that was to go to World Spice Merchants down by Pike Street Market. Going in there and just breathing in and out gave some other senses the opportunity to balance out the aural overload that this many concerts builds up in my brain. I wish we could decree that there be no music in the lobbies and restaurants and elevators of the convention hotels while we are there, we need the break!

-- Reg Unterseher

Friday, March 12, 2010

The American Spiritual Ensemble at ACDA in Memphis

On Wednesday night the American Spiritual Ensemble led by Dr. Everett McCorvey sang one of the greatest concerts I have ever heard. McCorvey's mission for the fifteen years since he founded this group is to perform the music of the great African-American spirituals both in this country and abroad, and to teach people about this music with hopes that this rich, broad, and culturally important repertoire will feature more prominently on our concert programs and in our schools.

The program consisted of about twenty pieces, presented as a mixture of choral music and solos. Dr. McCorvey believes in full formant singing, healthy vocal production, and an interpretation of this music deeply rooted in the tradition of concert spirituals going all the way back to the famous Fisk Jubilee Singers in the nineteenth century. His singers are all professionally trained, many of them having careers in opera, thus the big strong formant sound when the music calls for it. McCorvey himself is an impressive conductor and interpreter of this music, his conducting being about the rhythms, subrhythms, and the importance of beat weight of this music; he also brings out word stresses and inflections that lesser conductors would never even think of. His gestures are clear, strong and confident and it is obvious that his choir knows every gesture very well and will do anything for him- such is the trust inherent in their relationship.

As I said, the program was rooted in the great tradition, and in speaking with Dr. McCorvey he expressed his driving interest, which is to maintain this music and have it enter or reenter the repertoire on a wider basis. He especially hopes that gospel, jazz or other elements not be mistaken for the real-deal spiritual and I totally agree with this idea. There is nothing wrong with mixing genres now and then, but let’s at the very least know that we are mixing them. I think he and I both worry that what often passes as a spiritual arrangement is barely that; and the very legitimate concern is that high school singers, for example, will not truly know the real spiritual arrangements, their style, and the real history of this music.

The program consisted of the classics-- Harry T. Burleigh, William Dawson, Hall Johnson, and moved through into Moses Hogan and Roland Carter-all great arrangements sung in the most amazing way by these very talented 28 singers. Especially effective were dramatic no holds barred performances of Hogan’s “Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel” and Dawson’s “Ezekiel saw de wheel”.

The solos (and some duets) gave individual singers a chance to shine, and most of them really brought home the often intensely personal story contained in some of these spiritual texts. This is where the true emotions of sorrow and despair, but also hope and faith brought the audience to tears at times. There is no escaping the universal laser truth of this music, and by that I mean that it is rooted in the very real world of our lives and our struggles, and also our hope for grace either now or in the future. Especially touching were "Is there anybody there"" sung by Albert Lee, "I gotta lie down" sung by Kenneth Overton, and "Here's One", a masterful , subtlely colored arrangement by William Grant Still, sung sweetly by John Wesley Wright. The two solos that really brought down the house due to amazingly intense and beautiful storytelling were "O Redeemed" sung by Laurence Albert; and tears flowed when Calesta Day's touching performance of "Give me Jesus" concluded. On the brighter side of the spectrum, folks hooped and hollered for Hope Koehler’s sassy and bouncy version of "I wanna be ready", with some vocal runs and inflections that a “pop diva” like Mariah Carey would wish she could match!
Providing amazing accompaniment for the solos and the non a.c. choral pieces was Tedrin Blair Lindsay, a pianist with the most amazing chops on some technically demanding music. His sense of rhythm and color and total fearlessness in the passages with a ton of notes all over the keyboard was awe-inspiring (says this former accompanist!). The ensemble is very fortunate to have him there at the piano.

All in all, this program was a major event for ACDA- truly American music of historic and cultural importance sung by dedicated American artists led by a man who inspires greatness in all who are in his presence. I was touched deeply “down in-a my soul” by this music and this ensemble, and was also deeply moved by the strong, honest artistic convictions of Dr. McCorvey which he shared with me during two conversations we squeezed in between all of his interest session commitments and travel schedule.
By the way, his ”other job” is leading the University of Kentucky Opera program, which he built from scratch into a leading program with an endowment of over five million dollars. Amazing!
More information:




Guest blog by Reg Unterseher- ACDA Northwest Conference in Seattle

In talking to some buddies, I realized that perhaps they could guestblog about some of the other ACDA conferences. My very good friend/composer/really funny guy Reg Unterseher reports in from ACDA NW in Seattle. Reg and I met at the Oxford University Press/Lehigh University summer composer sessions in 2002 through 2004 led by Steven Sametz and OUP's Chris Johnson. In fact, that's how Reg and I got our OUP publishing start thanks to Chris's loving guidance (sadly he and OUP parted ways a few years back, a big mistake by OUP management for sure). Reg writes great, imaginative music in a variety of styles- his website is at www.reginaldunterseher.com

Here is Reg's report:

Notes from NW ACDA conference in Seattle

The NWACDA conference in Seattle has so far been all the things I want from these events. Inspiring concerts, reading and interest sessions that are worth your time, and the chance to rub elbows with some really great people. This note is just going to be a quick overview of my favorite concert moments so far.

Wednesday night started out with a bang, with a concert featuring Seattle Pro Musica, conducted by Karen Thomas, and the University of Washington combined choirs and orchestra, conducted by Geoffrey Boers. First up was SPM, which was the perfect way to set the bar for the whole conference. Clear, precise, energetic, expressive singing and conducting in a program that included some pieces new to me and some favorites, ending with a portion of the Martin Mass for Double Choir. I have been a fan of SPM for years, had high expectations, and they absolutely lived up to them.
Next up was a program that could be, all by itself, the subject of a long article. It was titled “A Mass For Our Time,” taking the structure of the mass as the outline, with each movement taken from different sources. These parts were stitched together with newly composed pieces by Eric Barnum, who is a grad student there. The opening was from the Duruflé Requiem, then parts of the Poulenc Gloria, the Tavener “Eternal Sun,” Robert Kyr’s “Pacific Sun,” and selections from the Vaughan Williams “Dona Nobis Pacem.” I knew we were in for something when the set-up/intermission period was overlaid with a recorded soundtrack that started with what sounded like audience noise and turned into an engaging, interactive aural experience. The performances of each of the pieces would have been terrific, even if they were presented traditional concert style, but the other elements, including three dancers, took it even further. I was especially taken with the Pacific Sanctus. It had great emotional impact on first hearing, and it stood up well in the company of Duruflé and Vaughan Williams, no small task.

Thursday morning’s concert started with the Cheyenne All City Children’s Chorus, conducted by Diane Hultgren. I loved the integrated use of movement-it was engaging to both audience and the young singers, and supported the music rather than smothering it. The program was blessedly free of cliché. Next up was Gary Weidenaar’s Central Washington University Chamber Choir. Impeccable, engaging, thrilling. My favorite piece was “Contrition,” by Ola Gjeilo, in its American premiere. Ola is a truly unique voice, and every new piece of his takes a step forward. This piece has stunning layers of color and texture and packs an emotional punch. I want to hear it again. Next up was another amazing Seattle chorus, Choral Arts, conducted by Robert Bode. He is headed out next year to take the choral program at UMKC, my alma mater. He will continue with Choral Arts, though, we are glad to say. I was immediately reminded of what makes Seattle such a great choral city, the variety of style and sound that qualify as excellent. They have a full, rich, mature adult sound that goes right to your center. Again, great programming, including Bruckner, Averitt, and a beautiful performance of the Brock Commission piece, which I loved, by Joan Szymko.

The afternoon concert was the Crystal Children’s Choir from the Bay Area, a program based in Chinese culture. They were just what we expected, a world class musical experience. Lots of music that was unfettered by European cultural traditions, and on the other side of things, a beautiful setting of Shenandoah.

From that concert, we walked a block to Plymouth Congregational Church for the Music In Worship service. A wonderful space, creatively used. Highlights for me were the “congregation” singing the Duruflé Ubi Caritas, Kris Mason’s
Seattle Children’s Chorus singing in the round, and the drummers on “Praise The Lord,” a processional song from Cameroon arr. by Ralph Johnson.

Barely time to grab a bite to eat, then off to Jazz Night. The venue was the downstairs space of Town Hall, which had a great club feel. It started with a Jr. High Jazz Choir, which explains the the regrettable lack of access to martinis. Confession time—Jr. High Jazz Choir sounds to me more like something I would avoid rather than attend, but this was excellent. Teachers like Dan Davison, who kicked things off with his Ballou Jr. High jazz kids, and has the patience and skill to turn a motley crew of Jr High kids (weren't we all?) into musicians, are my heroes. I loved every minute of it. The other highlight of the evening was Groove for Thought. Exciting, complex, direct, precise, hugely fun, world class vocal jazz. When I woke up this AM, their rendition of Spain was still in my head, and that made me happy.

More later...


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Day One of ACDA Southern Division Conference

Hey everyone!

After barely a day and a half back home from Tucson to spend at home with Sherri and Aidan (making sure to squeeze in some UNO and Pokemon for my game-lovin' lil guy) I am now in Memphis for the ACDA Southern Conference. I'm basically here for two reasons 1) Sigrid Johnson has my arrangement of the spiritual "A City Called Heaven" (published by Roger Dean) on her HS women's honor choir program, and 2) I'm now sort of a South guy, since although I live in Illinois I will be teaching my second year at North Carolina Governor's school this summer. I did attend the southern division conference in Louisville two year ago and loved the people and the level of music-making going on!

Today was not a jam-packed full day of events but some good things going on.

The first was a great conducting masterclass with Rodney Eichenberger and Milburn Price as the clinicians and four student conductors from southern division colleges. This was a great session as Eichenberger and Price were very skilled in teaching in a positive manner through the whole session, and all four of these student conductors obviously knew their scores very well, had technique appropriate for their age, confidence, and really had their eyes out there communicating to the singers (volunteer college students who sang well).

The main things that wound up being stressed by the clinicians were:

1) conduct more, talk less
2) don't mouth the words- you want them to watch your hands or stick, not your mouth
(Hallelujah to Eichenberger for saying this- it's a pet peeve of mine)
3) understand that all your gestures, for good or ill will truly be mirrored back in the sound
4) decide on beating in 2 or 4 depending not on just the music but also the choir's needs
5) don't be afraid to experiment with pitch levels on earlier music
6) have the choir come to you, don't sway and lean to them to get what you want
7) get away from indistinct swooping cutoffs of sibilant sounds
8) you can guide the soft palate with your hand gestures

Those were the main notes I jotted down while watching- there were plenty more great ideas which these students were able to incorporate very quickly into their conducting repertoire, proving that young minds are very facile! I also noticed their posture improved greatly as they were being coached by these highly experienced conductors, even though they didn't directly talk about the students' posture-very interesting. And really, the biggest thing you could take away from the two hour session was this: show the choir what to do-- don't tell them in words, show them with your hands or baton. It reminds me of a recent Choral Journal article about the "silent rehearsal": conduct, sing, make great art-- don't talk.

The four wonderful student conductors were Joshua Golden, Zack Johnson, Janet Linschoten, and Heather Vereb, with the session being moderated and coordinated by Tim Sharp and Carol Krueger.

Hmmm, I'm reminded of a movie from a few years back:

The first rule of Conductor Club is: don't talk.

The second rule of Conductor Club is: don't talk

(apologies to Tyler Durden).

Next Blog Post- a review of the absolutely stunning, breathtaking, and inspiring American Spiritual Ensemble, who sang tonight. Can you tell I liked them?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

ACDA in Tucson- The University of Utah Singers

Today the University of Utah Singers directed by Brady Allred sang the most beautiful a cappella program I have heard in the last two weeks. Allred apparently took the words of Eric Whitacre's piece "hope, faith, life, love" and created a program of amazing music that touched on all these basic universals of our existence. In addition to the Whitacre sung beautifully there was also "Wonder" from Mack Wilberg's "Dances of Life" (a bit of Mack channeling Sondheim) plus other pieces which were just perfectly placed in the program and sung in a masterfully inspiring way.

But the two pieces that I want folks to know about and very much want to hear again were by two European composers unfamiliar to Americans:"Salve, Regina" by the Spanish composer/conductor Josep Vila I Casanas (b. 1966, and who will be directing the World Youth Choir this summer)and "A Drop in the Ocean" by the Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds (b. 1978), whose music has been featured recently by Donald Nally's The Crossing in Philadelphia.

"A Drop in the Ocean" uses a text by Mother Teresa and is simply a gorgeous, highly developed piece of music. Full of beautiful moments and sung with amazing richness by Allred's choir, the piece also ended with a beautiful and special moment- the singers gradually unfurled a large white sheet over themselves, and kept the sheet gently swaying over them as they sang quieter and quieter- the sheet representing the waves of the ocean. On the sheet is an image of Mother Teresa, although I'm not sure that is even needed, since the image of the choir singing from underneath the undulating waves is an amazing effect.

The Salve Regina by Casanas was my favorite for a few reasons- and chief among them was the prominence of a very personal ebb and flow between homophony and a gorgeously flowing more contrapuntal style. I feel that American composers are writing too much these days in such a simple homophonic style that it is refreshing to hear a composer seek to intertwine the voices, letting them move about in lovely serpentine manner as dictated by a very close affinity to the text. This also respects the singers more- altos, tenors, and basses feel they are more important than just filling out a bass line or chord tone underneath a soprano line which the ear will usually be drawn to simply because it is on the top.

The other element that set the piece apart was an amazing moment toward the end on the words "nobis post hoc exilium ostende" ([and Jesus...] show us after this our exile). Here Casanas music paused very slightly and then the women entered with a tonality that was completely new-- shocking yet beautiful, over which was then laid another chord in the men which was equally unexpected. This polytonal moment (kind of Gesualdo-like) was of otherwordly beauty and Allred and the choir knew that and embraced it. I see there is a youtube clip of the choir singing this piece, I hope to check it out soon (and you should too).

I also noticed another thing which both these composers did- as their pieces were about to end, there was a brief soprano solo, almost as if signifying with that one voice that the emotion conveyed by the text can and should be internalized by us as individuals, and then the pieces end with the whole choir singing again. This is a most organic and text-driven dramatic idea and therefore a very valid reason to use a solo in a choral piece, and I do believe that a solo written into a choral piece must have a true reason for existing (in fact, it's what I also do intentionally toward the end of the Agnus Dei of my "Missa Brevis Incheon").

The choir's sound is built from the basses up, an approach which I think is highly successful and I wish that more choirs would do this. I actually had a chance to discuss this briefly with Brady Allred after the concert and it was Vance George who brought up the question. I also felt that the Casanas was so beautifully sung because Allred encouraged the men and women's voices to shine at various times during the piece- in other words, there were moments when the music demanded a male dominant or female dominant sound. But in addition there was also this wonderful vertical integration when all four voices were basically equal, and this seamless vertical sound, grounded firmly in the bass/baritones and building up, was something that really sets this choir's approach to tone apart from so many others.

All in all, an incredible performance of inspiring and beautiful music. Thanks to Brady Allred and the choir for introducing us to these amazing pieces.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Quick reviews- University Choirs at Tucson ACDA

Again...pressed for time because there are so many concerts, so many great interest sessions, and so many people to meet and connect with...

Mini-reviews of some university choirs at ACDA Tucson Thursday and Friday:

Forgive me if I am mistaken about the status of these colleges, but I heard, I believe, two two-year college choirs (not four year degree institutions) here that were amazing in their accomplishments.

The first was Mt. San Antonio College directed by Bruce Rogers, and the second was Riverside City College directed by John Byun.

Mt. San Antonio began with a Sweelick with very sweet color shifts in tone from section to section. The balance of their program was delightfully varied, and the sound was far beyond what you would expect from a junior college choir. A big audience pleaser was "Beim Kronenwirt" arranged by Leonard Enns, sung with champagne glasses in hand with Feledermaus-ish (yeah, I just invented that word) delight and even some tooting away on pitched wine bottles. Overall, the group was very successful in their efforts yet at times seemed to be oversinging;however, I am still on record as being a big fan of this choir.

The Riverside City College Chamber Singers were directed wonderfully by John Byun, and I believe they are also a two year institution. Again, some wonderful singing, but a tendency to push the sound too much crept in at times. They sang a quite beautiful Ave Maria by Kevin Memly to great effect and the program was filled with unusual repertoire sung with commitment and passion. Bravo to these young singers and a young conductor who seems to be very popular with his singers and many in the audience.They also sang the Brock commission piece by Joan Szymko, "All Works of Love" in an intimately beautiful manner. I am going to blog about Joan's piece separately. Let me just say for now that this Brock commission is very special and it touched the hearts of those in the audience, especially sung so sensitively by Byun's choir.

And finally, a four year institution, the University of Arizona Symphonic Choir, made up of undergrad music majors and non-music majors directed by Elizabeth Schauer. Schauer's programming was thematic and very sophisticated, while a bit conservative in its repertoire (not that there is anything wrong with that). I have to love any choir who gorgeously sings Monteverdi and Vaughn Williams. Schauer's conducting is graceful and extremely effective- one of the most elegant choral conductors I have ever seen. Her gestural style is open, inviting and truly communicative. No wonder that she is on the Westminster Choir College summer faculty in addition to her appointment at U of Arizona.

In addition, this choir (as well as the U of Cincy Conservatory choirs I heard last week) easily had the widest dynamic range I have heard in the last two weeks attending ACDA Cincinnati and Tucson. It was a delight to hear pianissimos, mezzo-pianos and so on as well the big triple fortes. And of course, we all need to remember that the triple fortes are going to be more awe-inspiring if they develop organically from a quieter beginning!

PLUS many great interest sessions including Dave Devenney's Eurythmics session- people were stepping to the music and really understanding what a great tool this can be

MINUS Reading session tunes with repeated half-step up auto-modulations. I thought Alice Parker passed a law against this annoyingly tired cliche years ago. Did some composers not get her memo?

ACDA Tucson- Crystal Children's Choir/Incheon City Chorale

On Thursday night Crystal Children's Choir and Incheon City Chorale gave amazing performances. Crystal Children's Choir, led by Jenny Chiang and Karl Chang and based in San Francisco, performs Chinese folk music with amazing flair. Dressed in traditional costumes (with many different regional costumes sprinkled about the choir, meaning there is not one uniform), their repertoire spans all provinces of China(and there was even a very entertaining Mongolian song included). The group uses a lot of choreography, all of which is very natural and is highly effective. What a great, entertaining group of hard-working, artistic young women! Much of this music was in 3-4 parts and beyond; I was very impressed with their dedication to their art.

Next was Incheon City Chorale, and the anticipation in the venue was electric. They began with Hyo-Won Woo's Me Na Ri, the same piece they opened their ACDA national program with last year. For anyone who had not seen them in OK City, this was, I am sure, breathtaking. They sang other music that had been done in OK City plus a new piece by Hyo-won Woo, a very special setting of O Magnum Mysterium, which began with a very misterioso (yeah, that's the idea, of course!) low rumble in the basses (low D-low C?). I was amazed by the piece and really need to hear it again to really describe it well.

ICC then also blew people away with their amazing sonic excellence, their expressiveness and joy, and their variety of music styles, including simple traditional Korean folk songs with choreography, their famous costume changes, and so on. Not far into the program, there were pockets of HS or college students giving standing "O's" to each piece, such was the effect on the audience. The program had to come to an end, of course, but I think the audience would have kept listening forever!

Afterward I rode back on the ICC bus and Hak-won and the very talented Korean composers Hyo-Won Woo, Ji-hoon Park, and Il-Joo Lee and I shot the breeze for at least two hours(in English, for my sake!). We talked about lots of things and had a really good time. They then were headed to San Diego for one last US appearance. It felt really good to see all my Korean friends again.

PLUS The enthusiasm of everyone in the audience on Thursday night

MINUS Nothing...everyone in the choral world assembled in Tucson was a happy camper!

ACDA Western Division Conference in Tucson

Hey everyone, this is day two of the ACDA Western Division Conference in Tucson, AZ. It's been crazy busy here and I'm already behind trying to blog this event. Please bear with me, and there ain't-a gonna be any pics on this for now1

I'm staying at the cool landmark Hotel Congress built in 1919, and kept as a retro hotel- thus no TV's, old plumbing (ha) and so on. It's a great ole place, not a McHotel, and a hangout for very groovy gen-xers amidst the various bars (5 count 'em, 5) in the building.

Thursday started off with a wonderfully sweet address by the legendary Weston Noble. What a cool speech, as he told a few stories from his childhood but mostly was zeroing in on his new interest in "mirror neurons" and their interactive effect on human communication. How many octogenarians do you know that are still this interested in cutting edge science? In his own sweet way he sounded like he was doing a TED talk!

Following that Daniel Hughes' The Choral Project did a wonderful program including choralography on a few numbers. Daniel is a great guy, and I think I will save talking about Daniel and the choral Project for later when I have more time, and hopefully Daniel can add to the blog.

My biggest reason for being in Tucson was that Incheon City Chorale is the guest professional choir here and Hak-won Yoon decided to place the Agnus Dei from my Missa Brevis Incheon into his interest session about Korean music. I guess I ate enough Korean food in Seoul in October to qualify as an honorary Korean, as I was the only non-Korean composer on the session. Hak-won, with his usual wit and wisdom, taught the directors about basic Korean folk music rhythms and modes and then demonstrated various elements of Korean music with the choir and then sang some short songs by Korean composers in varying styles. Then they also sang my Agnus Dei beautfully and I had a number of nice comments from my peers. It was fun to share this piece here now in America. Hak-won and I also discussed the future of this piece, and we decided to start showing it to US choirs. So, if you are interested in seeing a 13 minute Missa Brevis, SATB divisi, and on the difficult side (fast melismas at times for men and extended ranges for sopranos), let me know! Free perusal scores via pdf file available

The evening concerts featured the Tucson Chamber Artists directed by Eric Holtan, followed by The Crystal Children's Concert Choir from San Francisco, and then Incheon City Chorale.

I thought that the Tucson Chamber Artists gave a wonderful program- a very professional, polished sound while performing difficult music in a very artistic way- the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis of the very talented Scotsman, James MacMillan, followed by some lighter music by Stephen Paulus. I very much admired the intensity of the singing on the McMillen and I felt that Holtan's conducting was rock-solid. This is a group to watch as they continue to grow. I actually felt that the audience was a bit noisy and antsy and was not entering McMillen's rather intense, moderately dissonant, and highly creative world whcih challenges you to engage in your listening. I think they were so much anticipating the Asian folk music coming up that they forgot the respect Mr. Holtan's group, which is a shame.

Time for another session- I'll pick this back up later...

PLUS atmospheric music here and there with singers imitating birdcalls and the sound of rain (or the sound of rainsticks)

MINUS already by morning of day two I've heard FOUR pieces doing these same effects!

THOUGHT maybe start a new trend- write a piece with this atmosphere: construction vehicle backup beeps and other posh urban noises

Monday, March 1, 2010

Final Day of ACDA Central Division Conference in Cincinnati

Saturday started off with some interest sessions and then the final events-- the awarding of the Stace Stegman Award (which is presented at each Central Division conference to a member who has demonstrated skills similar to the late Stace Stegman's in service to the choral art) and then performances by the three honors choirs.

The Stace Stegman Award was presented to my dear friend Mary Alice Stollak, who not ony founded and led the Michigan State University Children's Choir for many years and also earned two Grammys with, but who also gave countless hours of her time to ACDA on the state, regional and national level, spent nineteen years as head of the choral division of the Northwestern University HS summer music institute and many, many other achievements. Mary Alice is such a humble soul and it was so wonderful to see the look of heartfelt joy on her face when she received this award. One of the great people in the choral world-- and I feel honored to have written music for her which I was glad she loved, watched and learned from her by example, and to get to be there and see her receive this award. What a great moment!

The honors choirs were next and I was greatly impressed with their level of musical artistry, stage presence, and tone. The JHS girls, a large ensemble of 85 dedicated musicians sang with gorgeous lines and support, tone color, and joy. Lynne Gackle was an inspiration to them, something I was able to witness as I attended two rehearsals not only of my piece, "Peace on Earth...and lots of little crickets", but on all the music. Two true highlights were the energy of the spirited "A-Maying, A-Playing" by Stephen Chatman (I love his music- it's so creative) and the lovely legato and rubato in Carl Bohm's "Still wie die Nacht". This piece is just gorgeous- it should be sung more often.

The presentation of the JHS boys honor choir was quite interesting. Led by Margaret Jenks and Randy Swiggum, they took multiple approaches to voice issues and repertoire in working with this age of the male voice, and I am actually going to discuss this in a later blog as I believe it warrants more exploration- perhaps I can even convince these two fine, dedicated directors to guest blog about their ideas on this subject.

The final honors choir was the mixed HS group led by Edie Copley. This choir gave a great performance, and Edie led them with such grace and artistry. Her repertoire was also wonderfully paced and quite creative. Here the pieces that struck me as most delightful were David Childs highly expressive "Salve Regina", two Brahms "Liebeslieder" sections (ooh, sing more!), and a blast of a folk song, "Sigalagala", replete with some Xena Warrior Princess fff tongue trills by one of the high sopranos!

It is no surprise that Edie and Lynne are frequent guest conductor/clinicians all over the country-- they know the voice, they care about people, they have drive and energy, and love music. They also know how to pace an honors choir with love, and not browbeat them and wear them out.

Which leads me to my final subject- why aren't ACDA conference attendees at the honors choir concerts? Are they in such a hurry to leave with their bundles of reading session music and just have to get out of Dodge? Do they think the honors choir concerts are beneath them and a waste of time? If that is their attitude, they are so wrong. To get an opportunity to observe this level of communication and musical leadership skill between a gifted honors choir conductor and their choir is not something to blow off. I learned a number of things Saturday from watching Edie Copley, Lynne Gackle, and the Jenks/Swiggum team and I don't even conduct on a daily basis. I think it is shame that ACDA conference attendees have developed such an unwarranted aversion toward attending honors choir concerts. And if anyone wants to debate this opinion, please send a reply this way.

Finally, hats off to all of the Central division folks who planned this conference. It was the best Central division conference I have ever attended. There was a performance venue with very good acoustics, amazing guest choirs, great performing choirs, highly skilled honors choirs and their directors, many interesting and unusual interest sessions, and a generally very high excitement level at the conference. Bravo!

Coming up: Blogs from ACDA Western Division in sunny Tucson