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

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