Tim Sharp (BM, MCM, DMA) is Executive Director of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), the national professional association for choral conductors, educators,scholars, students, and choral music industry representatives in the United States. He represents choral activity in the United States to the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM).
PC: You travel the world these days guest conducting and also connecting with choral organizations all over the globe- how would you describe the status of the global choral music field today and what changes globally do you foresee in the next ten years or so?
TS: It is very encouraging to witness the amount of participation that is taking place around the world in choral music making. And, I include the United States in that observation. In the most recent cultural survey from the National Endowment for the Arts, choral participation is at a higher level in the United States than it was five years ago. I think it is “up” in many other ways—in travel, in excitement, in the “cool” factor, in media attention, and in quality of composition and performance. In terms of status, I think we are seeing a renaissance in choral composition, and we are seeing composers treating the choir as an idiom of expression that is uniquely “choral.” The choir is considered a serious instrument, and I hear that both in composition and performance worldwide.I think people will hear that in a dramatic way at our upcoming National Conference. I also see the choral organization as a new social entity, as we witness choirs forming around ideas such as hospice choirs, complaint choirs, prison choirs, bicycle choirs, flash choirs, along with our more conventional titles.
PC: Along the same lines, what impact do you foresee from the increased activities in the US by Interkultur and the World Choir Games being held in Cincinnati in 2012?
TS: I see this activity as a continuation of our priority of becoming a more international and world choral participant. ACDA is a founding member of the International Federation for Choral Music, and we remain very active in this world choral organization. Bringing the World Choir Games to Cincinnati is further evidence of our desire to expand our boundaries and understanding. It is such a thrill for me to see an American city embrace choral music in the same way many cities embrace sporting events as a civic focus. To have 400 choirs from around the world converge on an American city for performance and cultural exchange is truly history in the making, and ACDA is proud to be a part of this partnership.
PC: How do the big movers and shakers in the European and Asian choral world view our US choirs, choral sound, and teaching methods? Are there areas where they just perhaps don't even get what we are up to?
TS: When it comes to choral performance, I believe we speak something of a universal language with our colleagues in other countries. However, when it comes to choral pedagogy and choral music education, there are vast differences. The history of the growth of professional training in [American] choral pedagogy and conducting tracks right alongside the growth and development of the American Choral Directors Association. This is one of the reasons that so many of our colleagues in other countries come to our onferences and enroll in our colleges and universities—they want to learn from our work in the area of choral music education and conducting pedagogy.
This year, there are over twenty countries that will be represented in participant registration for our National Conference. We often praise the sight reading skills of individual singers in other countries, but other countries will single out the progressive work we do in the United States in the area of gestural conducting and rehearsal pedagogy.
Another interesting difference is in the base of operation for many of our choirs in the United States. The largest membership category for ACDA is in the area of directors connected to an educational institution. However, in many other countries, community choirs greatly outnumber choirs based in academies.
PC: I believe ACDA membership is on the rise, and I have heard that the upcoming national conference in Chicago has already had a large number of people registered to attend -- what is ACDA's current model for membership growth? Also, is there a plan for bringing in more young teachers as members and perhaps expanding the number of (university) student chapters?
TS: Our largest area of growth in ACDA is at the level of student membership and young professionals. Our student membership base was 150 larger than this time last year, and due to the good work of our various state chapters, student membership is on the increase. This is good news for the future of choral music making, and certainly it is good news for ACDA. We have incentive programs in place for the creation of new student chapters, and for states to recruit first-time student members of ACDA. These programs have been embraced enthusiastically by many of our state chapters, and we see the results in our expanded student membership base. Our strategy is to grow our base from young professionals entering the field, and to grow our student membership base for future teachers, conductors, and leaders.
After a few years of flat growth across the association (new members replacing members that had dropped off the membership rolls, but the number remaining the same), in January of this year, ACDA’s membership has returned to the level it enjoyed in mid-2000. It was during that period that ACDA had moved into its new headquarters in Oklahoma City, and a time when our National Conference had expanded significantly to a multi-track event. And while the Great Recession starting in 2008 was sobering for all of us, we are now seeing the positive results of our renewed since of mission and purpose, along with stimulus work to bring new professionals, students, and others we are mentoring into their professional organization.
PC: As a composer myself, I applaud your obvious interest in our living choral composers. How do you foresee ACDA initiating more interaction with composers in the near future? And how do you see ACDA and ACDA interest session organizers adapting to the rise of "self-publishing" composers, which may be something the traditional publishers and retailers may not be that interested in exploring?
TS: ACDA has taken some recent steps to move more aggressively into living out one of our primary purposes as stated in our Bylaws and Constitution, which is to “Foster and encourage choral composition of superior quality.” This past summer we co-sponsored the LeHigh Composer’s Symposium, led by Steven Sametz and Chen Yi, and I was encouraged and inspired by the robust participation in that incredible event. I have an ongoing conversation with some of our Brock composers, including Steven, on this topic, and I am hoping to make the activity that is already taking place with our commissioning initiative much more visible and available to choral composers as well as those interested in their compositions. I also want to be more aggressive in seeing works that ACDA has commissioned, receive additional and ongoing performances. All of these efforts will benefit by making the activity more visible, and searchable, within our organization and its various programs, conferences, and other activities.
Regarding the rise of “self-publishing”, the many performance activities of ACDA are the natural place for composers to have their compositions considered and performed. How a work is discovered and distributed has never been a parameter for ACDA performance consideration. The only issue for ACDA is the quality of a composition, and both the universal availability, and the accessibility, of the work to the broad base of our membership.
PC: You and I talked in Tucson last spring about Joan Szymko's highly successful Brock commission piece All Works of Love (which, by the way, I programmed immediately for my summer program at North Carolina Governor's School). Can you share your thoughts on why Joan's piece was so successful, and also how you perceive the Brock commission and what attitude tweaks would you like to make to it in regard to the goals of ACDA, the chosen composer, and director members of ACDA? What measure of general accessibility do you think the Brock commission piece should have? Do you hope that most of the Brock commissions will enter into the general repertoire of our choirs around the country?
TS: This is a conversation I hope will have a broader base of participation as ACDA thinks about strategic planning. I feel that our activity in the commissioning of new choral works is one of the best-kept secrets of ACDA. Each year, ACDA, through our various member directors, as well as State, Division, and National activities, commission many new choral works. Over the history of ACDA, this number is easily in the hundreds of commissioned choral works. To date, however, no one has cataloged and tracked all of the commissions that have the words “Commissioned by ACDA” written at the top of the score. For many reasons, we need to identify and track this catalog.
I view our activity of fostering and promoting new music in terms of helping emerging composers. And, “emergence” takes place at different levels. At the student level, we have a Brock Student Composition award, and we see student composers entering this first level of emergence. Then there are composers that are receiving some publishing success, and finding their way on to programs, regionally and then nationally. And finally, there are composers that are clearly setting the pace and emerging as our laureate and established composers. I believe we are recognizing this level composer with our Brock Commission. I don’t think we would approach a composer of this stature unless we thought this composer’s work would have a good chance of entering into the significant canon of choral works available. I think you have identified Joan Szymko’s Brock Commission work correctly with this characterization of quality and accessibility.
PC: Describe your work with the Tulsa Oratorio Chorus as their artistic and musical director, and what kind of growth do you hope for with that group?
TS: I was very fortunate to be presented with the opportunity at the end of my first year in Oklahoma to conduct this very fine ensemble within proximity of OK City. I began conducting in Tulsa in the fall of 2009. So, each week, at the end of my workday on Monday, I drive to Tulsa for my weekly evening rehearsal with the Tulsa Oratorio Chorus, and due to the fact that they have an excellent and well-defined Board of Directors, my work is truly one of conducting and artistic direction for the organization. I have been able to grow the ensemble to their ideal size of 100 singers, performing four concerts in our season, usually with the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra. In addition to growing the ensemble and expanding the repertoire, I have been able to connect the organization to other arts organizations such as the Tulsa Opera, Tulsa Ballet, Tulsa Children’s Chorus, and Tulsa Boy Singers, in collaborative performances such as our recent Carmina Burana and RVW’s Hodie.
We are also working with the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra on an upcoming “Side by Side” concert featuring our two organizations along with some of the best high school singers and instrumentalists performing alongside us. Next year will be an “all Bach” year for us, as we perform three cantatas (BWV 79, 80, 140), the motet Singet dem Herrn (BWV 225), Magnificat, and Mass in B Minor.
PC: And now for a few less serious questions:
What major work have you not yet conducted that you are just itching to do?
TS: I would like to conduct Gerald Finzi’s Intimations of Immortality, as well as John Adams’ Harmonium. These have been on my “bucket list” for a while now, but so far, the occasion, forces, or time has not been right for these unique works.
PC: Any guilty musical pleasures you care to admit to?
TS: I enjoy playing the banjo and have been working on a “‘High’ Lonesome” mass for years, which I will finally see through to completion this spring. My desire was to create a musical service incorporating some of the folk hymns from the Southern Harmony and Sacred Harp tradition, with true bluegrass styling. My intent is to create something I am able to play myself, along with bluegrass ensemble, with any choir interested in programming the work.
PC: What young composers have you got your eye on?
TS: I have most recently worked with Albany, NY, composer Evan Mack. I was honored to be able to conduct the premiere of his recent choral work Of Fire and Form, at the Clay Center for the Arts in Charleston, WV. I was very impressed with Evan’s writing, and the WV Collegiate Honor Choir did a very fine job performing the premiere. In addition, Evan’s opera Angel of the Amazon in workshop stage at the Manhattan School of Music, and his ballet Pinocchio will be performed by the West Virginia Ballet in March.
PC: And also what young conductors have you also got your eye on?
TS: I would love to single out a few conductors, but rather than naming-names, I will mention how important the conducting masterclass experiences are that are being offered by ACDA’s various Student and Youth Activities leaders and our College and University leaders at the state, division and national level. I have had the opportunity to be a part of some of these events, most recently at Michigan’s State ACDA Conference, and the Southern Division ACDA Conference. Also, at ACDA’s “One Song” event last Fall in Atlanta, podium time was created to help mentor young conductors.
PC: With all your global travel experience, what is Dr Tim's advice for combating jet lag?
TS: The solution for me is to immediately be working, eating, and sleeping on the time zone I am in, no matter how radically different it is from where I left. I push through to staying active if I arrive during the day, and I eat and sleep on the local timetable. If I can sleep on the airplane, I do. And, there’s Lunesta.