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.


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  2. Thanks for coming by. It was certainly a pleasure and I hope a resource.