Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Guest blog by Chicago a cappella's Jonathan Miller

I am thrilled to have a guest blogger today-- Jonathan Miller, the founder and artistic director of the innovative nine-voice professional choir Chicago a cappella. They're performing an exciting program of spirituals in four performances over the next two weeekends, including the premiere of a commission by Chanticleer founder Joseph Jennings, who will be in town. Oh, yes, there's a piece of mine on the program too, by the way.

One of the things I like about Jonathan and Chicago a cappella is that the spiritual tradition has always been a big part of their repertoire and mission. In a day when many choirs are underprogramming this genre (perhaps a reaction to when it has at times been programmed in boring, predictable ways) Jonathan has kept it alive in very creative ways. CAC has performed the truly great standard spiritual arrangements but also seeks to present new ones by a number of excellent composer/arrangers.

Here is a short version of Jonathan's impressive bio and then I'll let him take it away as he speaks about the Jennings commission and also his own commissioned piece which will be premiered this weekend as well.

Since founding Chicago a cappella in 1993, Jonathan Miller has guided the ensemble through more than 130 concerts, seven commercial CD releases, and thirty choral-music demo CDs. His international accolades include the 2008 Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal from Chorus America. He was a founding member of His Majestie’s Clerkes (now Bella Voce). Eager to learn research tools for repertoire, Jonathan pursued musicology, earning his doctorate at UNC-Chapel Hill. Since returning to the Chicago area, Jonathan has expanded his role as a conductor and composer. He has written more than fifty choral works; his music has been sung at venues including St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Pentagon. He conducted his piece The Lincoln Memorial at the Lincoln Memorial on the 200th anniversary weekend of Lincoln’s birth. Since 1998, Jonathan has taken a growing leadership role in Chicago-area Jewish music. He holds as a great honor his role as publisher of the late Max Janowski’s catalogue. Jonathan enjoys the blessings of family and neighbors in the woods of Downers Grove, where he loves helping to maintain two shared vegetable gardens.

JM: This weekend (Feb. 3-4) marks the first pair of 4 performances of “Wade in the Water,” a concert of spirituals by Chicago a cappella. On the concert are two premieres: a new setting commissioned from Joseph Jennings, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” and a newly commissioned two-movement piece by yours truly called “Old Testament Spirituals.”

I have known Joe Jennings for more than twenty years. I was tempted to sing for Chanticleer in 1990, when I was just starting to dig in on my dissertation in musicology at UNC-Chapel Hill. I did not end up joining the ensemble, partly because I knew that joining the ensemble would mean I would never finish grad school. By the time my dissertation was done I was already back in the Midwest, and the birth of Chicago a cappella came not long after that. However, Joe and I have remained connected and friendly over the years, partly because CAC has championed his music literally from our very first concert. That show featured his “Steal Away,” which we eventually recorded on our “Go Down, Moses” album from the year 2000. We have regularly performed his two spiritual medleys, which always bring down the house. This year, it has been a thrill to actually commission a piece from Joe, one that is perfectly tailored to our voices and sound.

(Joseph Jennings)

Along with the new piece by Joe Jennings, we will also do his wonderful setting of “Way over in Beulah-Lan’,” which appears in the recent collection of spirituals for mixed voices from Oxford. The two pieces couldn’t be more different. “Nobody Knows” is slow, brooding, moaning, and has much alternation between “choirs” of men’s and women’s voices. The piece, as you might expect, has a total of nine voice parts, to fit our ensemble. There is also a glorious solo baritone line in the last chorus, over which a three-part women’s quasi-gospel chord line cascades in reply to the word “nobody.” The tempo ranges from quite slow to extremely slow; if you’ve ever sung at a quarter note = 33, you know it takes a great deal of breath control and emotional intensity to sustain a line at that tempo. By contrast, “Beulah-Lan’” is very fast, excited and exciting, and full of hope for a better life to come. The chords are likewise thickly layered, although more of the singing in “Beulah-Lan’” is in block chords for the whole group.

For my “Old Testament Spirituals” commission, I chose spirituals about characters of the Old Testament: King David, Daniel, Moses, and Joshua. The cycle is in two movements. The first, short movement is “Little David, Play On Your Harp,” which uses a pentatonic scale throughout – even all the chords use only the same five pitches that are in the melody! The much longer second movement – about six and a half minutes – is a layered combination of three tunes: “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel”; “Go Down, Moses”; and “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho.” This piece uses a layering technique that I learned from the great Gunnar Eriksson (who works in Sweden). The layering owed much to the structural similarities of the three melodies. All three tunes—“Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel,” “Go “Down, Moses,” and “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho”—are often sung in the key of D minor. (This is sort of funny to me, because D minor is also a key often found in Jewish folksong, and these are Jewish characters in the songs.) The spirituals are usually associated with definite harmonies; the more I looked at them, the more it seemed in particular that the refrains to “Daniel” and “Joshua,” although they tell different stories, are in truth almost the same melody! As the action intensified, I threw in a reference to blowing the shofar at the end, just as the tenor soloist sings of Daniel commanding the “ram’ lam’ sheep-horns” to blow. It is one of my very best pieces, with an atmospheric, slow beginning and an powerful, driving energy at the end; in that sense it’s a nice kind of mirror for the energy of the two Jennings pieces.

Look forward to seeing you at the concerts!

-- Jonathan Miller

Chicago a cappella's performances will be at the following Chicago area venues on dates listed- for more detailed information visit this page of their excellent website

Chicago: Friday, February 3 (8 pm)
Naperville: Saturday, February 4 (8 pm)
Evanston: Saturday, February 11 (8 pm)
Oak Park: Sunday, February 12 (4 pm)


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Happy New Year!

(photo: normal happy newt, not newtus gingrichus)

Happy New Year to all!

Here is what is going on in my little corner of the music world:

Since I last wrote you in June 2011 I have had some great experiences and met so many wonderful people. Here's a quick recap (often with links to the blogs I wrote regarding them):

June and July was my regular gig teaching the amazingly gifted choral students at the North Carolina Governor's School in Raleigh. This year's students, a women's choir of 24 voices, was beyond spectacular. I have never led a choir so committed to deep probing rehearsal, to an impeccable level of performance quality, to each other, and to having so much fun all along the way. We learned and performed repertoire far beyond the HS realm- one piece in particular was a premiere which was written in response to the tsunami in Japan and the piece was quite difficult-certainly a professional level score. These kids just rolled up their sleeves and worked like crazy to learn this score. Yes we struggled at times, but no one ever suggested we give up. It was truly a memorable summer for us. By the way, we memorized every score for the summer except for the premiere piece. I would also like to thank my assistant for the summer, Beth Philemon.

In September I visited the Portland, OR/Vancouver WA area for the Chor Anno premiere of my double choir piece "When Jesus Wept" (a modernization of the Billings' tune). Everyone there was so friendly and committed to learning this piece of mine, which is also not terribly easy.

(Chor Anno)

Special thanks to Howard Meharg, Reg Unterseher, April and Greg Duvic, Margaret Green and a slew of other folks. I still have to finish blogging about this experience and tell you about Tim Sharp's "Come Away to the Skies", which was performed as well and with Tim there on banjo. So look for that blog soon.

October marked the release of the latest Atlanta Sacred Chorale CD "Awake the Dawn" (da Chiesa DCSR 119). The chorale, led by Eric Nelson, did a wonderful job on my piece "Morning Person", (published by Roger Dean) with a text by New Orleans poet Vassar Miller, retelling Creation in a new, highly imaginative way. I channelled Canadian dude Healy Willan and Sondheim while writing this (yeah you'll have to hear it to figure that out- go buy the CD!). Other composers on the CD include Rutter, Chilcott, Bernstein, J. Hairston, some guy named Lauridsen, Lee Dengler and more. Visit www.atlantasacredchorale.org for more info.

In November I attended the National Collegiate Choral Organization conference in Ft. Collins, CO (multiple blogs starting here). This was a blast and hearing Robert Taylor's University of Charleston Choir and Graeme Langager's University of British Columbia Singers were big discoveries for me. Everyone had a great time at NCCO and the future looks very bright for this organization. Congrats to Buddy James, Lisa Graham, Mitos Andaya, Bill Bausano, Bill Dehning, Sarah Graham, and James Kim for putting on such a great program.

December held a slew of performances and premieres of my music- thank you to all who performed my holiday music- and I am proud to have written quality pieces that do fall out of the realm of strictly Christmas, such as "Winter Solstice" (SSA/harp or piano which was performed a lot) and "Unending Flame" (a non-dorky Hanukkah piece which got multiple performances by Ethan Sperry's Oregon Repertory Singers-- thanks Ethan!).

What's up for the next few months? Plenty!

Roger Dean is releasing in a week or two these new titles (too bad there is not an SATB title there):

"Rain" SSA/piano Uptempo, jazzy and very fun (commissioned by the Cincinnati Children's Choir, directed by Robyn Lana). This piece would be for HS and up women's choirs.

"May I be Happy" SA/piano In two parts, the first is a slow-ish Eastern Orthodox benediction of sorts, and the piece then becomes more lively to the text of a Buddhist chant. This piece was commissioned by a great young choir in Hong Kong last year. This piece would be for grade 6 and up treble choirs. Both titles will be in place for ACDA conferences in Feb. and March.

Roger Dean is currently my main publisher- they have been so supportive. If you would like a free perusal copy of these new releases, or single copies of all of my Roger Dean scores (treble and mixed titles), let me know. They are happy to mail out scores. I can also sign you up to be on their mailing list to receive all the new releases by all their composers. In an age when most publishers are very stingy about supplying free scores, Roger Dean is a breath of fresh air.

In February I will be presenting an interest session at the North Central ACDA conference in Madison, WI. This will be my first time at a NC ACDA conference and I expect it will be great. My session will be on ways to enable your choir to take more initiative and allow you, as teacher, to do less heavy lifting. It's influenced by teaching theories at NC Governor's School and by ideas from Rick Bjella (now at Texas Tech) and Sandra Snow. In April I will be presenting the same session at the Tennessee MEA conference in Chattanooga.

All through the spring there will be a number of performances of various pieces, including premieres. One I am very excited about is a performance of "When Jesus Wept" (the piece I mentioned up above) by the University of North Texas choir directed by DMA candidate Patrick Dill. Richard Sparks suggested that Patrick look at this piece and he has decided to do it- so I am thrilled to see another advanced SATB piece getting a performance by an excellent choir. If you would like a free perusal pdf file of this piece let me know.

In May I will be wrapping up my one year stint with Angie Johnson's Young Naperville Singers as their composer in residence. Last night I just finished the fourth piece I have written for them for this season. It has been a blast working with the various choirs in the program and I look forward to even more fun interaction with them between now and May.

Just a few things left to say:

This here blog is fun to do but very time consuming-- I am on the lookout for anyone who would like to guest blog (a few people have, and done great jobs) about anything they would like to share. So if you have ever thought of doing a choral music blog but didn't really want to commit to keeping one going- here's your chance to just jump in and guest blog here. I get about 25-250 readers a day, FYI. Here is a link to a recent guest blog by Kira Rugen about her trip, as a member of Anuna, to sing for and interact with the children in the tsunami/nuclear radiation affected area of Japan. Kira did a great job communicating this story.

I am now taking inquiries and orders for commissions for the 2012-13 concert season. If you would like a new, exciting piece of music for your choir contact me. Commissioning (and also consider doing a consortium commission- it saves you money) is very rewarding for all and I do my best to make each piece special in some way. I am also entertaining inquiries for composer in residence situations- either in the Midwest area or anywhere, as a composer in cyber-residence I guess you could say (hey, with Skype anything is possible). I am also available for short residencies at high schools or colleges here and there around the country since I love to travel. Also, I am happy to work with you and your choir on a piece of mine via Skype (no charge of course). The piece doesn't have to be in perfect shape--this is about the process, yes? Skype is a great tool for us all and it's really great fun to interact and have a realtime relationship with a choir that might be 2,000 miles away from me!

So I hope you all have a great finish to your concert season- best wishes as you continue to make magic with soundwaves! And I'll leave you with this kwazy lil clip which has been going pretty viral this last week (so you may have already seen it):

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pt. 2: Guest blog by Kira Rugen- Anúna's Concert Tour of Japan

Part II

Tsunami stricken Fukushima

This was my first time visiting Japan and I knew very little about the country before arriving. Therefore, I feel blessed that my first experience singing with Anúna was for the Japanese people in Fukushima, the most heavily damaged region stricken by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The Ambassador of Ireland sponsored a series of projects in which several Irish artists provided comfort and cheer to children in the region through benefit concerts. The Japanese put a lot of stake into the healing power of music, but this is especially true for a country that has recently endured a catastrophic natural disaster. Anúna and Irish musician, Liam Ó Maonlaí, gave performances to primary age and secondary age Japanese students over the course of two days. Although I am an American, by virtue of singing with Anúna, I was a part of these extraordinary events.

We were told that this region is devastated. Yet, on the surface it would not be immediately clear to a visitor why the region continues to suffer. On a driving tour of the worst hit neighborhoods, we noticed that large areas have been cleared and in some cases rebuilt. The cleanup was thorough and swift. It is not the aftermath of the tsunami itself that has devastated the region, but rather, the ever-present radiation that continues to exist in the ground, drinking water and continues to touch every part of the residents’ lives. The children are not allowed to play outside because there is radiation in the ground. The food supply, such as crops and animal products, has been infiltrated. A pathway is cleared and sprayed down daily for students to walk on to and from school in the hopes that there will be less radiation exposure. To us it was a poignant and telling moment to see those children, wearing their matching uniforms and matching backpacks, walk in lines along these pathways as they made their way home. I found their return to everyday life and their display of routine impressive, but also emotionally unsettling. They have been through immense upheaval, yet they go on with their regular lives attending school, going to work and buying goods. They exhibited a sense of ‘normalcy’ that the rest of the world hopes and prays for in that region.

Anúna in Fukushima, December 2011 from Anuna on Vimeo.

[Note: Vimeo player may be a little slmow in loading]

The children were very excited for the ‘foreigners’ to arrive. In their shy demeanor, they insisted on saying ‘Konnichiwa’ in the hallways, and the entire campus was abuzz with excitement. During the performance, students sat in rows organized by age, with five-year olds in the front.

photo: Yoko Nozaki

As we began our concert, the children were so surprised by our entrance that they began murmuring and standing up to understand what was happening around them. They continued to be mesmerized as we sang and moved around the space. We ended our program by having the children join us in the traditional Japanese song “Yuki”, our own special version of which we had prepared for them on the bus ride to the region. Young children stood up to sing with us, and instruments were given to older student for them to join in on the fun!

photo: Yoko Nozaki

At the close of our concert, the 4th-6th grade band performed for us. It was a true education for me to see what these children ages nine to eleven were capable of musically. The talent displayed by the forty-member band was outstanding. There were xylophones, accordions, melodicas, hand drums, timpani and piano. Never mind that these were not ‘traditional’ band instruments, this elementary school ensemble had an extraordinary gift to offer. They were rhythmic, musical, and the pieces were completely memorized. The entire program had the air of respect and appreciation for our presence at their school. I was fully impressed and felt that instead of our concert being the catalyst for healing them, they instead healed us with their impressive display. As the Japanese children exited the hall, they were not shy in their desire to touch us. Plenty of high fives, handshakes, hugs and pictures with the peace sign were exchanged.

photo: Anúna

The effect Anúna can have on an audience of any age, socioeconomic status, or culture is profound. These children were enthusiastic about our performance and fascinated with Anúna’s ritualized movement, shimmering voices and historical costumes. Our presentation was completely foreign to anything they have ever experienced and their reaction, given in the universal language of children, was pure joy!

After this experience, I was certain that I would have been happy to spend the entire tour doing several benefit concerts for the children in Japan. As I sang with Anúna, I held a sense of hope that this little gift we gave them was enough to at least offset their pain for a while. I gazed at those adorable little girls and boys, who were fascinated with our program, and I wanted to weep for them. They looked and acted exactly like my son and daughter, who are five and seven, and I found myself making comparisons. They are all full of life, smiles and joy! I couldn’t help but think of their great potential. Yet, I was able to see resigned acceptance and pain behind the eyes in the parents who were seated in the back of the hall. They exhibited an ache and a yearning for what was lost, but also a great appreciation for what we were there to do. It took all of my strength as a performer to avoid deteriorating emotionally while we were sharing our music and I utterly failed in my composure during their concert and gift giving ceremony. It touched and shook me, particularly because I am a parent and understand so keenly the hopes, dreams and fears that we all have for our children. It did my heart good to know that we were a part of an effort to support the victims of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Many heartfelt thanks goes to Onahama 1st Elementary School, Yuko Maeda, Plankton Company, The Embassy of Ireland to Japan, and Anúna for organizing the benefit concerts in the Fukushima region. The Japanese peoples' greatest desire is for rest of the world to not forget what happened and continue to reach out to them. Japan, with your extraordinary attention to service, giving, kindness, beauty and healing: this privileged musician will not forget you.

[PC here: Thank you so much, Kira, for such a personal, heart touching blog. I will follow this soon with information on a musical project/website called "Sing for Japan", put together last year by Marian Dolan, Yo Matsushita, and Sherri Lasko, which has raised money and awareness for the plight of the people in Fukushima.]

Visit Sing for Japan: http://www.thechoirproject.org/sing4japan/

Visit them on FB: http://www.facebook.com/#!/singjapan

Monday, January 9, 2012

Guest blog by Kira Rugen- Anúna's Concert Tour of Japan

At this November's National Collegiate Choral Organization conference (start reading my many blogs from NCCO here) I was fortunate to meet Kira Zeeman Rugen, a bright young singer/conductor and grad student from Greg Gentry's Arizona State University choir who performed at NCCO. Kira asked to interview me as part of her dissertation on recent trends in American choral music and after the interview she told me that she would be singing with Michael McGlynn's Anúna on tour in Japan (I had met Michael earlier this year at ACDA Chicago and we really hit it off). I invited Kira to guest blog about her experiences- you are in for a treat of a read. It will be in two parts starting today.

(BTW, I am looking for more cool guest bloggers who woudl liek to share interesting ideas and expereinces in the choral world- please step forward if you are interested).

Here is a pic of Kira and her bio, and then I will turn the rest of the blog over to her:

Kira Zeeman Rugen, singer and conductor, is pursuing a DMA in choral conducting with a cognate in vocal performance at Arizona State University where she conducts the early music ensemble, Solis Camerata (Choir of the Sun). Kira is also in her eighth season as a singer in the Phoenix Chorale under Charles Bruffy, and is a member of Anuna, Irelands National Choir. She has performed under the direction of Ton Koopman in Carnegie Hall’s Young Artist Concert Series, at the Incheon International Choral Festival in Korea and has sung extensively throughout Italy, Ireland and the U.S. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in vocal performance and choral conducting from Weber State University, and a Master of Music in choral education with an emphasis in vocal performance from Arizona State University. Kira has taught children and youth choirs, high school choirs, orchestra and musical theater in the greater Phoenix area.

Singing with Anúna – Part I

My name is Kira Zeeman Rugen and I am a DMA candidate in the Choral Conducting program at Arizona State University. I’d like to thank Paul Carey for inviting me to be a guest writer on his blog and I’m excited to share my story.

As a part of my degree, I am pursuing research on the performance practice techniques of contemporary professional choirs. I have had the fortune to interview many interesting conductors and composers for my research, and through this process I met Michael McGlynn. I have always been fascinated with the music of Anúna, particularly the visual beauty and the aural esthetic they have become famous for and wanted to include it in my research. I attended Anúna‘s summer workshop in Dublin last July, and had the honor of singing with Anúna as a part of that event. It was a memorable and fun experience and the information I gleaned for my research was of great value to me. Much to my surprise and excitement, in August, Michael McGlynn invited me to become a touring member of his choir, Anúna. It was an offer of a lifetime that I could not refuse.

My first tour with Anúna, Ireland’s National Choir, was on a two-week concert tour to Japan just last month (December 2011). This adventure certainly gave me first hand eye-opening information for my research. When the schedule of events for the tour arrived, I took one look at the timetable and immediately thought, “That looks like the ugly underbelly of the life of a rock star.” I didn’t know then just how accurate a description that was. Working with Anúna is not like working with a traditional classical choir. As an eight-year member of the Phoenix Chorale and having traveled with them extensively during that time, I am accustomed to rigorous schedules, flights, buses, great friends, exciting cities, beautiful music and rewarding concerts. Touring with Anúna had all of those same elements but with a whole new set of dynamics. Many elements were new to me as a professional singer, and particularly unique to Anúna.

We perform as twelve singers. Every voice is integral, and balancing the sections was always of primary importance. We perform without a conductor, giving us the freedom to perform as a chamber ensemble, communicating directly with an audience. Typically this technique is practiced by ensembles that regularly rehearse and perform together. Often, an Anúna touring group doesn’t get the chance to rehearse together until on location… so we learn fast!
We usually perform with microphones in larger halls. The amplification is meant to ‘lift’ the sound for a natural mix, rather than amplify the sound. The effect is one of a quiet wash of voices that the audience strains hear, as opposed to the wall of blasting speakers found in rock music.
We perform everything memorized, and had to learn by heart all potential lines (S1, S2, and A for girls. T1, T2, B for the guys).

The women of Anúna

I had to alter my tone to fit within the context of their sound, which does stems from a classical tradition, but has a different production than I am accustomed to. There is a mixture of trained classical singers and gifted amateurs, which provides for a unique and beautiful color. I think the best way to describe the tone is to compare it to the traditional solo Irish folk song tradition, and then applied to a choral medium. Let’s just say that operatic vowels do not work here!

Language pronunciation is an issue as the singers are from several different countries. Anúna is based in Dublin, with about thirty-six singers currently on the roster. They come from Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and the U.S. The Japanese tour included twelve of those singers: three from Northern Ireland, seven from the Dublin area and two from the United States. There are times that the natural Irish accent is compelling in the music. Other times, such as when singing in Latin, we have to work to find some middle ground.

We never know what music, what order, what part or which solo will be sung by whom until we are well into the dress rehearsal of a concert that opens in two hours. Also, Michael prefers to operate without a printed program. There are pros and cons to this method:

Con: It is difficult to know the show down ‘cold’ before it begins and the dress rehearsals feel frantic.

Pros: The show can be flexible, improvisational and fresh for every audience. If someone is sick or is unable to perform, anyone in the ensemble can fill in as necessary. This format prevents the show from growing stale or old and allows for artistic license in any given setting. There is no program to dictate what is coming next, so the audience may experience surprise and wonder by not knowing what is expected.

Anúna is known for their use of space and sound in creative and unconventional ways. We use the entire space of the hall for choreographed and movement numbers. There is a presentation, a gait and appearance that is a part of being an Anúna singer, in particular for the women- slow, graceful, beautiful and natural. It’s not as easy as it sounds!

A unique and defining characteristic of Anúna, is how much we rely heavily upon one another in concert. Even though Michael McGlynn is the leader, there is an egalitarian aspect to the duties and interaction. All singers correct and help each other, create the staging together, and everyone is highlighted as a soloist or instrumentalist in the concerts. Although the choir takes the rehearsals seriously, there is silliness in the work. When the stress gets high, the clowning around keeps the tone light. The Irish work as hard as they play, in all aspects of their life! Their jokes, sarcastic banter and clever tongues add to the camaraderie and fun that defines the group. At first they made my transition into the group comfortable and fun. Then the ‘all-in-good-fun’ teasing began! But by the end of the trip we were all the best of friends. You know what they say about the Irish… neither do I. But I’m sure it’s something like… “The more they razz you, the more they like you!”

(Michael McGlynn)

On the Japanese tour we gave nine or ten concerts and three workshops, each in a different city of Japan, over thirteen days. The workshops were really fun because it gave the audience and locals a chance to interact on a personal level with the choir. We even had the privilege of singing on Japanese national television for three - four million viewers (yes, I was nervous).

Anúna on Japanese TV (photo: Yoko Nozaki)

We took planes, buses, bullet trains and jumbo taxis everywhere we traveled. We stayed in seven or eight different cities (I lost track!) and checked out the local cuisine everywhere we traveled. For those of us who were brave enough, we tested out the Japanese Onsen spas. THAT was certainly a new experience for many of us.

Perhaps the most profound element of performance that I learned as a new singer to Anúna, was the effect this music has on an audience. The Japanese are respectful and quiet people and as a whole, they are some of the most well behaved audiences I have ever sung for. They sat captivated and completely silent throughout each concert and their rapt attention, combined with the compelling music and colorful lighting, created an atmosphere of a dream-like sequence. Musicians are used to gauging an audience based on their reaction to a concert. We describe it by saying we can feel the ‘energy’ of an audience, or we know it by their exuberant clapping. I had to be much more keenly aware of the ‘energy’ in a Japanese audience because of their unmoving and concentrated attention. Over the course of the tour, I became more and more aware that there was a gentle hum of energy flowing from the listeners. They were touched by the atmosphere and soaked up every last nuance. I think they were really listening, and not just hearing the music. The more I was aware of this newly identified energy, the more I was able to respond and change how I performed for them.

After the concerts the Japanese audiences relayed much appreciation by sharing their happiness and sense of peace. They expressed a genuine gratitude and love for our music by presenting us with gifts everywhere we went. It seems to me that the emotional experience listeners have when hearing the music of Anúna, is the magic that makes this ensemble compelling and successful. After all, it is certainly the aspect that initially drew me to love the music of Anúna.

In concert in Japan (photo: Yoko Nozaki)

As a professional singer, I have had some really beautiful musical experiences that I cherish and value. But my experience with Anúna was completely different than anything I’ve done before… and I loved it! In my opinion, the culture that Anúna has developed over the past twenty-five years is something uniquely individual and noteworthy. Their music, which could be identified as a ‘crossover’, is easily approachable and loved worldwide. Having now had the experience of touring with Anúna, I must agree with the comment Michael McGlynn shared with me last August: being Anúna just might be “dangerous to the soul”.

Coming Up: Part Two of Kira's experience

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Xavier University Concert Choir Winter Tour

Happy New Year!

Sherri, Aidan, and I had a great trip right after Christmas and on through yesterday down to the Buffalo River area of Missouri/Arkansas. We hiked Lost Valley near Ponca- an incredible area with caves and waterfalls. Also near Ponca we saw a herd of wild elk (these are western elk restored where the eastern elk disappeared from years ago). We also saw eight bald eagles soaring above the dam on Table Rock Lake, thousands of young trout at the fish hatchery, owls out during daylight, and much more. Aidan also spent a ton of time in the very large pool at the motel working on his swimming (and splashing) skills. All in all we had a great time.

Just a quick heads up if you are in any of the following areas (see below)- Tom Merrill's Xavier University Concert Choir from Cincinnati is touring the Midwest now and the repertoire includes my “Play with your Food”. The other repertoire (which I can't seem to find right now) is pretty classy stuff. Catch them if you can!

(Tom Merrill)

Winter Tour Venues 2012

Tuesday, January 3
Concert Venue:
St, Francis Xavier Church (SLU campus)
3628 Lindell Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63108

Wednesday, January 4
Concert: (7:30 pm)
Holy Cross Church
405 West Clark St.
Champaign, IL 61820

Thursday, January 5
Concert: (7:30 pm)
St. John the Baptist Catholic Church
209 South Street
Wauanakee, WI 53597

Saturday, January 7
Concert: (7:30 pm).
St. Matthew Cathedral
1701 Miami St.
South Bend, IN 46613

Sunday, January 8
10 am Mass at Basilica of Notre Dame
Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Notre Dame, IN 46556