Friday, October 7, 2011

My great trip to Oregon and Washington, pt. 2

Saturday and Sunday Concerts

Saturday morning at 9 AM Chor Anno gathered for a day-of-concert three hour rehearsal. Not much fun to sing that early, but this is how a professional group puts things together- intensive rehearsals during the week-of, not a seemingly never-ending once a week rehearsal like a community choir does things.

Musical interpretations were falling into place- probably the trickiest piece was still the Hyo Won Woo Alleluia, simply because any singer rhythmic inaccuracy, even from just one singer, will be totally exposed and noticed. But with each run through the piece was getting better and better. My piece was also sounding good- just some sagging pitch problems in the gnarliest bit of chromatic imitation, due to the fact that at the junction of voice imitation there is a vertical tritone for a moment,. making it tough to establish the new tonal center that each voice tries to claim as new territory. I knew this was not an easy passage when I wrote it, but of course I wasn't trying to make this piece easy! (Btw, please let me know if you would like a perusal copy of this score- contact me at

After the rehearsal, some of us went up to Brian Mtichell's awesome farmhouse with acreage on a high hill overlooking the river. Brian runs a wonderful choral program at Mark Morris High School in Longview, WA and he is also R and S for high schools for Washington ACDA. There is a maple tree on his property that must be over 150 years old I would guess. The few hours there were just what the singers needed- a little food, rest, and quiet.

Then it was time to get on back to our venue in Vancouver, WA and present a pre-concert talk sponsored by Meet the Composer Foundation. The event was well attended and the hour or so was moderated by Reg Unterseher with the composers in attendance being Tim Sharp and Wes Ramsey, co-composers of the High Lonesome Mass, Seattle-based composer John Muhleisen, and myself. The concert program contained other pieces by living composers, many from the NW, but they were not present for the talk or concerts (Vijay Singh and Richard Nance, to mention two).

The talk was great and the audience mostly wanted to know about our process for composing. We all seemed to have different answers to all the question but there were plenty of things in common too. I felt that we had a comfort zone and clear mutual respect for each other and the audience loved that we didn't see each other as competition, rather as brethren of the compositional art I suppose you could say. I was especially interested in how Tim and Wes co-compose as I have never tried to do such a thing. After an hour Reg had to go warm up, but the audience wanted us to keep talking and they veered us toward the area of publishing and the self-publishing that many of us are already doing. The audience was fascinated by this area and seemed to be cheering us on in the general quest to become independent from the traditional publishing houses. I think one telling factor here was a question posed by an audience member- she asked if we ever get commissions through any of our publishers' efforts. The answer across the panel was a resounding no- it's never happened. Seeing as how commissions are the biggest earnings item for a living composer, this was a pretty telling fact- not a single one of us have ever had a publisher pull in a commission for us- wow! Before this talk I had not intended at all to bring up publishing issues- many people know I am getting more and more militantly anti-traditional publisher so I didn't want to sound like I was on the offensive in front of a Meet the Composer audience. But the audience wanted to hear about this issue and I think everyone on the panel spoke fluently, fairly, and without avarice on the subject and where the future is going to be for us individually and for the choral world as well.

Finally concert time came. The church was filled- maybe 300-400 audience members (you would never achieve that in Chicago) Chor Annon was sounding great and my piece was early in the program- the third piece. They preformed my "When Jesus Wept" beautifully and as it trailed off with two soprano solo voices (one from each choir- thus quite antiphonal and echo-ish) Reg gestured a conductor's release to the end of the piece. Then there were at least 3-4 seconds of total silence and then some audible "wows" whispered hear and there, and then the applause. For a piece that has some drama and also has a quiet ending this is what you hope for- that extended silence where everyone soaks up the last phrase and appreciates the music enough to give the ending a stillness before we enter back into real rime. Obviously I was very pleased with the choir, Reg (who totally "gets" this piece), and the audience!

The rest of the program was rock solid and well-received. It included the Tim Sharp and Wes Ramsey "Come Away to the Skies: A High Lonesome Mass" and I'll write more about it in the next part. It's such a new and interesting work that I think it deserves a blog post of its own.

After the Saturday concert we all wound up at the Vancouver Hilton for celebration. I got to chat with national ACDA president-elect Karen Fulmer about her plans for the Dallas 2013 national conference. She and Tim have some great things planned. Karen also sings in Chor Anno.

The program was repeated Sunday in Longview, WA and the music was blossoming even more. On my piece the singers were becoming more and more comfortable and becoming more expressive of the drama packed into that short text. Once again we had a large appreciative audience- Chor Anno is well-liked and they deserve the support they get from their audiences!

Earlier that morning Tim Sharp, Reg, and I had a nice brunch overlooking a small sailboat harbor (you can decided whether the sailboats were small or the harbor). We had a great time chatting away, and we even talked about things other than music once in awhile. Reg and I especially love Tim's support for composers, his interest in the future of choral composition and how ACDA can build more mentor/partner support for that in various ways.

After the Sunday concert Reg, Justin, Molly, and I headed back to the Tri-Cities area, driving along the highway that follows the beautiful Columbia River back east. Before the sun set I got to enjoy the spectacular views of the river and cliffs, and we stopped at the Multnomah Waterfall for a few minutes to enjoy the view.

Up next: Before I continue my travelogue, I will backtrack to talk about the "High Lonesome Mass"

Thanks for reading!

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