Saturday, March 13, 2010

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

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

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