Monday, November 14, 2011

Review of Mount Marty College CD- Vespers 2010

Back to reporting on NCCO very soon, but right now I thought it would be timely to address the release of a rather amazing Christmas CD, a lessons & carols vespers from a very small college in South Dakota- Mount Marty College. When you think of Lessons & Carols CDs, the big daddy of them all, and a CD I am sometimes obsessed by, is the Nine Lessons and Carols directed by Stephen Cleobury and King's College on EMI. And of course, when we think of Christmas season choral traditions and CD and/or TV productions we all are familiar with big schools such as St . Olaf, BYU, etc. So how can a school with an enrollment of 400 students, 90 of whom raise their voices to sing in the choir, and yet only three music majors, dare to enter into this realm? Enter one Sean Vogt, who, as the universe dictated, I just happened to meet at NCCO at about the time this lovely CD was announced on ChoralNet!

Here is the Choralnet announcement:

So what was Sean doing at NCCO? Playing the organ for an amazing program of early 20th century British music with Stephen Town's choir from Northwest Missouri State University (highly favorable review upcoming). And then, as Sean is a Michigan State alum, we wound up having dinner with MSU mutual dear friend Sarah Graham and also Peter Durrow. Sean and I also got to know each other a bit more at the Friday night NCCO reception.

I asked Sean to mail me a copy of the Vespers CD. He did and I must say it is amazing- a brilliantly devised program of gorgeous orchestral and/or choral pieces for the holidays plus excellent readings makes this a wonderful holiday purchase for music lovers. Sean tells me that enthusiastic students skip lunch to be in the choir- since choir currently is scheduled in most folks lunch hour. Most students have had little or no vocal training, yet Sean has brought such enthusiasm and solid teaching skills into this small program that it is where everyone wants to be- what an amazing success story!

Especially beautiful tracks are the orchestral version (the superb orchestra is mainly made up of members of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra) ) of Rutter's What Sweeter Music (wonderful rubato), big ole exciting arrangements of Praise to the Lord, the Almighty and Carol to the King by Mack Wilberg, plus other quality music by Prokoviev, Vaughan Williams, Chilcott, Holst and others.

Sean has related to me that he has been very much influenced by working with Helmuth Rilling at the Oregon Bach Festival, and that one byproduct of this is that he conducted every track without a score (bravo- for more about how I feel about "scores", "music", and memorization read an earlier blog of mine here). Some of you may ask, how good are the singers at this small school compared to a St. Olaf? Well, they aren't perfect, but there is plenty of quality music making here and so much enthusiasm. There is a Midwest tendency toward spread vowels, especially in the ladies (keep in mind that all these singers are age 18-22 and generally untrained until Sean works with them), but it is easily overlooked when you hear the music making going on. Sean tells me that working on these vowel issues (and other vocal pedagogy issues) is an ongoing process of getting them to listen and understand the essential importance of this issue.

I'm pretty thrilled to be able to praise this CD- it's a "Mouse that Roared" story! And Sean Vogt is a very grounded young conductor/organist to keep an eye on- he's going to be doing some great things over the years.

Next post: The spectacular Friday night concert at NCCO- featuring choirs from the University of Louisville, the Iowa Sate Singers, and University of Southern California

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