Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day Four:2011 ACDA National Conference

The final day of the ACDA conference in Chicago was absolutely amazing. The day was filled with great performances, topped off in the evening by the gold track presentation of Mendelssohn's Elijah by the Chicago Symphony orchestra and chorus, professional soloists, and guest conductor Helmut Rilling.

But first for me was an 8 AM multicultural reading session which held my Hanukkah piece "Unending Flame" published by Santa Barbara. A few weeks ahead of time Clayton Parr of DePaul University here was able to secure a young, talented clarinetist for me so we could show this piece off right- it's for SABar (originally SA, commissioned by MSU Children's Choir founding director Mary Alice Stollak), solo clarinet and piano (orch version available as well). The clarinet is important because the piece travels from a slow introductory section (with text about the more serious side of Hanukkah, by the way the text is by the very talented Sherri Lasko) and then moves into a fast section where the clarinet is very much in klezmer, latkes sizzling on the griddle mode.

So I got up early, took the El down, and got there right at the chime of 8 AM. The room was pretty filled for 8 AM on a Saturday morning and the session, led by national chair Sharon Gratto, was great. This was probably the most diverse music I have heard on a multicultural reading session, and included for the most part legitimate music, not dumbed-down Americanizations of ethnic pieces. Great job, Sharon! A number of composer/arrangers led their own pieces, and I led the reading of my piece- we had great fun and the piece, especially the ending, seemed to make people smile. What made my day was when Ethan Sperry came up to me and said "Now, I can no longer say that I hate every piece of Hanukkah music ever written". Thanks, Ethan, for that compliment. It means a lot to me coming from someone who "knows from" multicultural.

I then finally met up with Diana Saez who was about to conduct my piece El Limonar Florido, a major piece in Spanish which she would be conducing with her group Coral Cantigas based in Washington DC. We went over a few musical things about the piece and had a chance to get to know each other. Diana is a really sweet person.

Later on in Orchestra Hall was a great concert session, in fact, the top one I attended in regard to uniformly excellent music making by everyone on the session. The groups singing were the University of Kentucky Mens' Chorus, the Lawrence Conservatory Women's Choir,The Young New Yorkers Chorus and the Brigham Young University Singers.

U of K led off and this is, to me, the absolute premiere men's large chorus in the country and has been for quite awhile. They led off with a great yarn of a piece, text by Melville as set by Peter Schikele, who you may know as PDQ Bach. Of course Schikele is a fine composer in his own right and the chorus sang this piece with just the right amount of drama, movement, and energy. The program then wound through some Schubert, Rachmaninoff, a piece by Paul Nelson and then "Wedding Qawwali", an Indian song energetically arranged by the aforementioned Ethan Sperry. The audience loved this number and the applause was rocking the room. Then an even greater thrill- an arrangement of Ol' Man River by Russell Robinson which heavily featured a bass/baritone soloist, Reginald Smith, Jr. Reginald has a gorgeously developed gigantic instrument. This young man has a future in the opera world I am sure ( he is a recent Met Opera regional finalist). The piece was tenderly choreographed and the stage movement matched the ebb and flow of the music's dramatic unfolding. This was one of those moments when you thank God or Buddha or whomever that you have ears and a heart, and that you can witness the overpowering beauty of music. Young Mr. Smith's performance took our breath away, as did everything Jeff Johnson's choir did. Jeff showed us his textbook on how you pack a wallop of a program into twenty-five minutes. I thunk we all could have listened to them sing for two more hours, and the applause, the hoots and hollers, the whistles and standing ovation went on and on. Wow, U of K- you are amazing!

Reginald Smith, Jr.

Michael Kerschner

I kind of felt sorry that any choir would have to follow this performance, but the Young New Yorkers Chorus did a fine job. This is a group which is just ten years old, and is composed of 20- and 30-somethings led very ably by Michael Kerschner. Their repertoire leans toward the modern and they sang quite beautifully, though I felt their repertoire was a bit hit or miss, but that's just my opinion. The singing on the Vaughn Williams "See the Chariot at hand" was so velvety and gorgeous and full of line (gasp, it's okay to sing lines?) that I spent most of the tune with my eyes closed just enjoying being wrapped in the loveliness of the moment. I think RVW was a-smilin' over this peformance! Here's hoping that Michael can continue the evolution of this fine young adult choir.

Next up was a fantastic performance by the Lawrence Conservatory Women's Choir, "Cantala", directed by Philip Swan. Their program was full of great new music filled with moments of energy and moments of beauty. I had never head this ensemble before and I was really pleased to finally hear them. The program held, among other music, pieces by Brahms, Szymko, and Gwyneth Walker, but to me the highlight was a really creative, busily sibilant piece by Abbie Betinis- movement two "suffer no grief" from her "From Behind the Caravan". I would like to see this score and am curious how much of the everchanging tone colors are notated there and how much Philip added to the mix, but no matter how it happened, it was fresh and somehow seemed simple and complicated at the same time. Abbie Betinis is obviously a young composer to watch- she doesn't seem to have any interest in writing mundane music just for the sake of getting more pieces out there.

Philip's group represented what the best women's choirs out there are doing today. The leading choirs are presenting performances of quality texts in quality settings by strong composers who have done the work necessary to understand how to write effectively for the adult female voice. The tone was natural and vibrant in all sections and none of the hooty boy soprano sounds I complained about earlier in the week in performances by either treble choirs or the sopranos of mixed voice groups would ever come out of this group.

The final group of this amazing session was the BYU Singers led by Ron Staheli. Staheli took an old-fashioned approach to his session- this was a simple, elegant theme about (a cappella) singing and it basically was that- all SINGING, with the annoying percussion instrument (read: piano) retired to a corner of the stage and not a drum or colorful costume in sight. Yes, I have spent much of the last few blogs praising groups for their staging elements, but none of that works unless the singing is artistic to begin with, as it was here.

The two highlights to me were the Argento "Everyone Sang", and a sweetly lyrical piece titled "There is Sweet Music Here" (the Tennyson text most people know) set by L.J. White. The Argento was fabulous and is not an easy score. The White was totally unfamiliar to me and, as I found out, to everyone. I asked Ron later where it came from and he smiled and said that he just happened across it one day in the BYU music library by chance. Further research yielded little new knowledge about the piece or its composer. The piece is quite gorgeous and deserves to be discovered by more choirs, and how cool is it that Mr. L.J. White, whose dates seem to be either 1831- 1913 via Ron, or perhaps 1910-1949 according to the internet, gets some time in the spotlight in 2011 in front of so many choral people. I'm sure he would have never imagined it.

After this highly rewarding presentation by four choirs I met with Reg Unterseher, Michael McGlynn, Philip Copeland, Sydney Guillaume, and Nick Cummins for a chat. I already mentioned this meeting in a previous blog entry. Then it was time for the Mendelssohn Elijah, the last ACDA concert for gold track folks.

Up Next: the Elijah performance and my own quirky Elijah story

Day Three: 2011 ACDA National Conference

Today is Friday, yesterday was Thursday, tomorrow is Saturday, fun, fun, fun, fun...

My Friday began with witnessing some strong concert sessions. The first was the Rex Putnam High School choir directed by John Baker, who is retiring this year after thirty-three years in the biz. Some really strong singing of repertoire outside the norm, not a single "ho-hum we know that American work" in the mix. Whoever inherits this choir will have big shoes to fill, but hopefully they will have their own great musical personality and simply continue a very strong tradition.

The choir that totally blew people away in the AM session was the Riverside City College Chamber Singers directed by John Byun. Their great singing was not a surprise to me, as I heard them a year ago at ACDA Tucson. What I did notice this year was that any tendency toward oversinging that I mentioned in my blog from a year ago was totally gone, bravo to Mr. Byun (read that review here). The singing was dead-on for every change in mood, displayed a nice variety of choral colors, an extraordinary dynamic range, and so on-- this was the whole package that people dream of when singing at such an important event. The audience was wowed by them, and they finished up with a Stacey Gibbs spiritual "Way over in Beulah Land" that Moses Hogan would have been happy to witness. I'm not a big Stacey Gibbs fan, but maybe I just haven't heard a choir sing his arrangements with this much understanding of the importance of beat weight that needs to be there in a spiritual, whether fast or slow. Byun is a talent to watch- keep in mind, this is a great choir at a junior college. I'm guessing there is a large turnover in this choir simply due to that fact, yet the performances they deliver are incredible.

(John Byun)

After the AM concert, Reg Unterseher and I corralled Anuna founder Michael McGlynn for a short lunch meeting. Michael only had 15- 20 minutes to spare in his schedule but he really did want to meet some American composers and talk about all sorts of things. We were having such fun and delving into great discussions about topics such as the exciting future of ACDA, the accelerating demise of the traditional publishers extremely antiquated business model and our personal take on the already in progress composer revolt against that business model(more on that in an upcoming post), and other items that the short meeting turned into a two hour marathon of great discussion. It was great to hear how Michael views the choral world from his home in Ireland, and the ways in which things there differ so much from here in the US. Michael is brilliant, funny, and sincere. I was honored to be able to lunch with him Friday and then hook up again Saturday afternoon for a session which also included Reg, Samford University and ChoralNet awesome guy Philip Copeland, Philip's ace grad student Nick Cummins, and composer Sidney Guillaume.

Sidney Guillaume, Philip Copeland, Michael McGlynn, me, Nick Cummins, Reg Unterseher

After that I swung by the exhibits and said hi to the Lorenz/Dean folks again, said a quick hi to Mike Scheibe and Tim Sharp who both seemed cool and calm and enjoying the fruits of their labors, and also ran into Joan Szymko again. Joan and I also went by the IMP (Independent Music Publishers) booth, the young upstart rebel composers who are breaking away from the traditional publishing scheme. The folks in the core of this co-op are Minnesota composers Abbie Betinis, Jocelyn Hagen, Linda Tutas Haugen, J, Edward Moore, and Tim Takach. They have also enlisted older, established composers like Joan and Wayland Rogers. The mood at their very busy booth was electric and I will talk more about this in a few days.

Form there I went to visit the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory reception at Earl Rivers' condo building on the lake-what a view! A whole bunch of cool people were there including Earl, Brett Scott, Robyn Lana, Glenda Crawford, Susan Medley (who I met a couple years ago when I wa guest conducting in Pittsburgh), the top staff from ChorusAmerica and a whole slew of other very talented nice people (egads, who have I slighted by not mentioning?). This was a lovely reception. I will be in Cincy in early May-- Robyn Lana commissioned me to write two pieces for the conservatory children's choir, and I actually set two poems written by young choir members. I'm really looking forward to meeting the choir and working with them, and especially looking forward to meeting my young text/music collaborators!

I then headed off to the Lorenz/Roger Dean reception which was a pretty swanky top drawer food and drinks event. There I met David Devenney for the first time and I told him how much I admire his conducting books, especially the work he has fdown with movement on the rehearsal room, something I an doing more and more at the North Carolina Governor's School (heck, I'm even booking the small dance studio for all our AM rehearsals there this summer!). Can't sing unless you know how to move, I say!

David Devenney with Scott Foss

So after all this being ooot and abooot it was a joy to happen across Paul LaPrade and Sarah Graham, and for us Illinoisians to retreat to a quiet dinner. This ninety minutes or so felt great- just to be with some close friends-- Paul and Sarah are two of mah favorite peeps! We also all have young childeren (hey with childeren, it's bewilderin'-- you don't know until the seed is nearly grown, just what you've sown)---so we talked about planting radishes (they're dependable, they're befriendable) and other parental stuff without worrying that we were boring non-parents at the table (since there weren't any!).

From there MSU grad Sarah and I mosied over to the Michigan State reception (I've been commissioned by the children's choir there a bunch of times, and Sandra Snow has premiered one or two of my pieces). The room was packed and I ran into Sandra Snow of course, and also Jonathan Palant, Cara Tasher, Meredith Bowen, and was especially happy to chat with Rick Bjella, who I was sorry to see leave Lawrence Conservatory a couple years ago to go to Texas Tech. Rick has always been a great source of advice and is a great guy. And then it was time to push off toward my Oak Park home and another fifteen hour day has gone by...!

Coming up: The final day, starting with an 8 AM (gulp) reading session I needed to be at, and amazing performances all through the day

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Day Two: 2011 ACDA National Conference

My Thursday was a bit wacky at the national conference. Whereas I used to go to every concert on the program, I now know that some choir types just aren't going to wow me (like high school choirs in general) and that I really do have a lot of people I need to connect with for various reasons. One of these is of course trying to meet people who have been so kind as to program and conduct my music but we so far have only had an e-mail or FaceBook relationship. It's important to get to know people face to face and show my appreciation for what they do in the musical world. So my Thursday was about meeting wonderful musicians from all over the country and not much about concerts.

First off, it was important to visit my main publisher the Roger Dean Company and my editor there Scott Foss. Roger Dean is presenting three new releases for me this year and they are all in stock ready to ship (hint hint). Roger Dean (the fancy subsidiary of Lorenz) has been my most supportive publisher by far, and Scott was in fine humor the whole conference, cracking jokes, often at my expense! The Lorenz booth was large and they were giving people perusal scores, not charging folks a dollar a copy like most other booths.

My pal Sarah Graham (Illinois State U) and Scott Foss

So, after admitting above to, in general, dissing high school conference performances, I am forced to eat crow. A choir about to perform handed out their concert material and it sure looked like the group was show choir based. I was thinking this could be scary. Were we about to have some Glee moments? Or jazz hands?, they blew me away on so many levels-- this was "The Counterpoints" from Indiana directed by Patricia Wiehe. The school has a high standard of performance success both as a show choir and concert choir school. And what I saw was a choir that took the best elements from show choir and transferred them to a great concert presentation. Oh yeah, they could sing up a storm too, and all very healthy production- no tired voices here.

The program wound through Debussy, Bach/Nystedt's Come Sweet Death with an understated choreography of simple arm and hand motions, Memly's Ave Maria, and a folk song from earthsongs series . The two most stunning performances were on "Horizons", the Peter Louis van Dijk tune- I forgot what this title was until I saw the familiar first line "Come my springbok baby...". This was a wonderful performance of a very heartfelt piece, the text ending of which is heartbreaking. This performance stunned the audience in its beauty, depth, and sincerity.

The final piece was a gangbusters all-out wild performance of Ethan Sperry's arrangement of Jai Ho, sung in Spanish and Hindi. I think Ethan was in the room, and I think I heard he was thrilled with their choreography, which was all original. This group brought everyone to a rousing standing ovation, and they deserved every bit of applause and excitement in the room. Thank you Pat Wiehe and thank you to your students for showing that a great high school program, singing quality age appropriate music, can steal plenty of thunder away from the university choirs!

I then had lunch with a very cool, smart, funny, and talented composer- Joan Szymko, who grew up in Chicago-- I would imagine you all know her music. It's my opinion that Joan is writing the best music of her career right now, and we had a blast comparing notes and a bunch of things, and having a good laugh about this and that.

me and Joan

Following that I attempted to attend James Jordan's interest session on breath and center- oops, even thought the session had not yet started attendance was capped off and no more people were being allowed in. I was sorry to miss this, but glad to see that so many people were attending. I think it would be great if more directors would become far more breath conscious-- I saw too many choirs not breathing during the week. Well I guess they were breathing, but you couldn't tell it from their tight singing!

The rest of my evening was devoted to visiting receptions, especially those hosted by universities who have done my music over the past few years, or who are preforming a piece of mine very soon. So, as a bit of a whirlwind I hung out first with the University of Missouri at KC Conservatory people. Chuck Robinson was instrumental in my decision to put regular conducting off for awhile in order to compose more and he was happy to introduce me to Robert Bode who is a recent new addition to the faculty there. Reg Unterseher was with me, and of course he knew Dr. Bode from his years in the Pacific Northwest. After also running into Matt Harden there, I bounced over to the fun reception being held by the children's choir folks, and witnessed the larger than life Nick Page doing a sing along with Doreen Rao.

The photos I took of these two are hilarious.
I had never met Nick, so to get to talk to him for a few minutes and realize what a hoot of a guy he is was great fun. From there it was off to the Walton reception hosted by Gunilla Luboff. The usual suspects were in the room, but also some very interesting Northern European publishers who were manning booths at ACDA for, I believe, the first time. They were asking me all sorts of earnest questions about American composers and I did my best to inform them about a number of things from our perspective and to also tell them that, indeed, Virginia, there are more US composers than just Moses Hogan and Eric Whitacre.

Finally the evening finished up at Mike Scheibe's swanky USC reception where I got to meet a bunch of people including Buddy James, president of NCCO. Mike's receptions are always first class. Another fifteen hour day has flown by!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Further Day One experiences: ACDA National Conference

(Geoffrey Boers)

Here is what I did the rest of day one of the conference. This will be a bit of a mish-mosh entry but I think it can be fun to just follow someones day and it saves me from not having to slavishly post only concert reviews.

The early afternoon offered some great interest sessions and it was hard to make a choice- there were three that caught my eye. I finally settled on Weston Noble's and Geoffrey Boers' session on "Transforming Conducting". Boers did the heavy lifting with Weston providing some of the original ideas and inspiration. The final gist of things was that mirror neuron research tells us that conducting, whether examined on a macro or micro level, is not just a leadership role but also a facilitory role which must be collaborative and invitational.

In addition, I think the greatest benefit for me and many others was Boers' discussion of the sideways gesture, or looping gestures- he really didn't get fancy and call it anything more formal. The idea is simply that outward expanding motions, especially quite often displayed as graceful angles out from the body (in other words, not just an outward mirror motion perpendicular to the middle of the body) are very natural, highly efficient, and create some wonderful gestures/pictures for the choir to sing from. I have actually been doing this lately but not really analyzing it. I find it is very freeing and I also don't conduct everything the same way every time, especially in rehearsal. This might seem inconsistent for a choir to look at, but actually I think it keeps them engaged and fresh. After the session, I was able to have a short chat with James Jordan about this and he was in total agreement with Boers' ideas. In fact James said that much of his own new book talks about this. So for me this was a great session to attend.

After that I dropped in on the children's choir reading session, and was pleasantly surprised to see my wacky (and unexpected bestseller) "Peace on Earth...and lots of little crickets" on the session list. The session was full of great energy- and for any of you who don't travel in the children's choir circle- you don't know what you are missing! This dedicated group of people have great energy,and are constantly exploring all the wonderful new repertoire being written today for their genre. They even had a bit of a wild and wacky party Thursday night!I also got to meet promising young composer Andrea Ramsey at the reading session, and my friend Sydney Guillaume was present as well for a reading of one of his pieces. It's great to see these young composers in the room for a session- choral composers are becoming less shy about being present at conferences!

Next up for us gold track folks was the International Choir concert. Unfortunately this was a disappointment to me, especially after having witnessed such jaw dropping presentations by international choirs at the 2007 and 2009 national conferences. I felt that the only truly strong, innovative group was the Latvian choir "Kamer". They were quite excellent but not spectacular. The evening went downhill from there-- "musica intima" claimed out loud to be "Canada's most important choir" and then proceeded to give a completely flat, uninspired concert. The sound was thin, tight, and tired, and the Auditorium Theater did not give this small group any helping hand. The repertoire was tedious and repetitive and tiny reshuffling of the singer formations between selections seemed to make no difference to the sound that we could detect in the audience-- and honestly, the hooty or wooty approach to high soprano lines was something I also, unfortunately, began noticing in other groups during the week. Can we not do the hooty wooty thing up high- we're not really trying to sound like old, tired copper kettles on the cottage fire getting the water hot for teatime, are we? The Taipei Philharmonic Chamber Choir sang next, with at tines a full and vibrant sound, but then also often sounding hoarse and tired as well. The repertoire was full of Chinese music with the usual pentatonic melodies and occasional folk yelps. Sadly, zero fresh, exciting repertoire here.

The final group was Chanticleer. Now please don't be a hater,but I am not much of a fan anymore. I used to love them years ago, but I have grown weary of the warbly high soprano male voices. I also think they are nowhere near as good as they were in the 1990's.

(Miranda says don't hate on Paul for not liking Chanticleer anymore)

I just basically feel now that I want to hear a men's choir singing in men's voices, without going into warble land. My main reason to listen to Chanticleer for the umpteenth time was to hear my friend Steven Sametz' Brock commission piece,"Three Mystical Choruses" . In all honesty I need to hear this piece a few more times to really be a good critic or judge. Everyone though it was quite beautiful, but I think we really need to hear it more to get a handle on what Steven was aiming for and how the texts work with the music. The piece is in three movements which Steven believes can stand alone and is being sold that way by EC Schirmer. Many of us felt that the third movement, titled "I am Within you", which danced way more than the first two movements, was the most appealing on first listen. I hope some quality mixed SATB groups will sing this piece, and of course it will sound very much different with female sops and altos. All in all, I was proud of Steven, and a bunch of us fellow composers (we mostly go back to being part of the Oxford Institute sessions in the early 2-thousands) were able to have a very fun conversation with him late Saturday night as the whole conference was winding down in the Hilton lobby. Bravo Steven, for an enticingly beautiful and intelligent piece.

Finally, my evening ended with a visit to my pals at the Northern Arizona University reception at Kitty O'Shea's. There I got hang out with the folks who had hosted me in groovy Flagstaff in December when they sang my NAU Holiday Dinner commission: very cool and talented people like faculty Edie Copley, Ryan Holder, and recent grads and/or current students like Erica Kragness, Elliot Liles, and the uber-energetic Erin Tucker.

me, Edie Copley, Ryan Holder, Sydney Guillaume

Coming Up; Day Two, including an amazing HS performance, and lunch with the very fun Joan Szymko

Day One Concert Review: 2011 ACDA National Conference

Sorry for the delay in getting some new blog material up as I was in Hong Kong for a full week teaching and conducting a festival (yes, it went very well) and then straight back to Chicago for the ACDA conference. This was two weeks of little sleep, but it was well worth such a minor deprivation. I will blog about the Hong Kong experience later and now try to get at least a little about the ACDA conference posted for those of you who could not attend.

The opening concert included performances by Illinois choirs whose directors I know and admire– Anima, Young Singers of Greater Chicagoland (formerly the Glen Ellyn Children's Choir) led by Emily Ellsworth and the Millikin University Choir, directed by Brad Holmes.

Anima led the concert off, and they were in fine form. The group performs in outfits with delightfully lively colors and moves through various highly effective stage formations and movement during many of their pieces. Emily conducted from memory, thereby freeing herself from being being anchored to a podium/music stand - she even moved about the stage herself to some extent, a freeing you rarely see of conductor from being a static, deadening stage element. When I have felt like doing this lately I keep thinking it breaks too many so-called rules about what conductors should do or not do, yet I saw Emily making this subtle conductor freedom of movement really work.

Truly Anima is all about freedom of expression-- free singing, movement, joy, and a great celebration of singing. And, hello, they actually breathe (something many choirs later in the week weren't really doing)! In addition to older scores by Mendelssohn and Handel sung with great finesse, a major highlight was Rautavaara's “Suite de Lorca”, movements 1 and 2 (published by Walton). In Rautavarra's usual very personal style, the music and text are merged in a highly complementary and darkly expressive manner. This is music which advanced children's treble choirs on through more mature women's ensembles should know better, and Anima's dramatic performance proved that young choirs are quite quite capable of singing texts which are not all just sweetness and light. A great leader and mentor to many for years, bravo to Emily Ellsworth and her choir Anima, Also a round of applause for pianist William Buhr, whose playing, to me, has never sounded better than it did at this performance.

Millikin University Choir director Brad Holmes has developed a reputation for presenting ACDA performances showcasing highly artistic, unusual a cappella repertoire, dramatic stage movement and brilliant singing. Millikin's concert at ACDA 2007 Miami is still remembered for its brilliance, especially in the staging elements. The concert the Millikin choir presented this year was not so much about staging this time -instead Brad's programming expertise and his way of combining various pieces in novel ways was front and center.

The concert began with what Brad called “An Eclectic Singet dem Herrn” which presented, in seamless manner, the Distler “Singet dem Herrn”, which flowed directly into the Mendelssohn “Der Herr lässt sein Heil” (a further Psalm 98 text), which further flowed into the Bach final Singet fugue. This was all sung so beautifully with vocal substance AND bounce, not one without the other. I especially loved hearing someone present Distler at an ACDA conference since he is such a great composer and really underperformed.

Continuing the theme of creatively pairing or connecting music, the choir then sang Tallis' “Te lucis ante terminum” (“before the close of day”) and the same text as set in a lovely harmonic idiom by thirty-five year old Hungarian composer Gyöngyösi Levente. Subtle harmonic hints of Bartok, or even more accurately, the mature Kodaly (melodic cells of major floating at times over minor chords) made Levente's heritage apparent.

The next piece was Eriks Esenvalds “A Drop in the Ocean” (published by Musica Baltica) which I heard sung beautifully last year at ACDA Tucson by the University of Utah, directed at that time by Brady Allred. This is a wonderful piece to Mother Teresa texts which we would hear sung again the next night by the international choir “Kamer”. As Millikin concluded this piece you couldn't help but be amazed at the maturity of interpretation which comes from Brad's leadership and deep understanding of music. Millikin's performances are profound and it is always apparent that every member of the choir is “all in”. The tone is always gorgeous, never forced, the choir is always aware of the overall arc and shape of a phrase, a section or an entire piece, or even for that matter, the arc of their entire program. This is music making of the highest order, and the Millikin Choir continues to set the standard at virtually every ACDA event at which they perform. Even days later and after many concerts, interest sessions, receptions and so on which can really tire you and cause the memory to become momentarily foggy, people were still coming back to the topic of the brilliance of the Millikin choir.

To finish up the program Brad went off in a new direction, into the land of folk music in the form of a lively Shaker Dance he has arranged and J. David Moore's “Seinn O”. The staging of the Shaker Dance was hilarious, and even included moments when the choir seemed to have formed battle lines over the story, and even toward the end very pointedly took on Brad as musical adversary. This was all played up to great comedic effect. “Seinn O” was all drama and drive, mouthmusic drums and pipes, as a Scots lad dancingly defies anyone else who might want a piece of him. As they finished this piece, the audience roared with applause.

I talked to Brad a day or two afterward and he intimated that he was worried that the eclectic Singet dem Herrn would perhaps not work for the purists in the audience. I assured him that it was brilliantly conceived and presented and that, I think, virtually all of us truly appreciated his mixing and matching of music in these very creative ways. And really, when you think of it, why shouldn't a director let it all hang out and do innovative things- is there any true reward for just playing it safe?!

P.S. For any young people looking for a great university choral experience within an outstanding liberal arts environment,you should be looking at Millikin. You should also know that Brad's colleagues, Guy Forbes, Ted Hesse, Beth Holmes and Michael Engelhardt are also brilliant musicians and mentors.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sharing a student blog from St. Mary's College trip to China

Well the ACDA National Conference here in Chicago has just ended. It was an amazing experience and I will try to start blogging about it, plus blog about my experience teaching in Hong Kong the week previous to ACDA (wow, I am exhausted, but in a good way). There were so many fabulous new directions at ACDA, and one that really jumped out was the youth movement that was so obvious- but more on that later.

For those of you curious about a choir trip to China (or just looking for new ideas about planning international trips in general), Nancy Menk's St. Mary's College Women's Choir is in China right now, and Nancy and I discussed having the young women guest blog on my page. They've done far better- they have set up their own blog and they've been pretty busy on it. There's lots of good information and fun firsthand reflections there, so I encourage you to take a look at it. Right now I think they are just really getting into their singing,and one thing I think is truly great is that it is an exchange program with a Chinese women's choir. So these two choirs are singing for each other, trading ideas, and so on, This is so valuable and way better than just having ABC or XYZ tour company set up the usual rather random concert opportunities that you usually see. These young women are going to make lifelong friends with women their age who live across the globe. I'm also thrilled that they are doing my piece Winter Solstice and have added a solo dancer to the piece- I really want to see/hear this version!

I will repost the link every few days for those who may have forgotten to take a look right away, and it will be fun for us all to see the blogposts evolve over the next week.