Thursday, January 31, 2013

Creating a Conducting Video of Yourself- Goofus and Gallant Revisited

Ah yes, who here read Highlights in the dentist's or doctor's office as a kid? What a goofy magazine- I always thought it was pretty lame, but I did get a kick out of the Timbertoes!

A slice of the American (hardwood ) pie
Cue the Aaron Copland track in 3-2-1

 What I especially thought (even at age 8) was really transparent ADULT BRAINWASHING were the Goofus and Gallant epic battles of good (a cheer for Gallant from the adults) versus  boorish behavior (yay Goofus from the kids, all tired of being told to sit up straight and eat their peas).

Today I saw a video of a DMA choir conducting grad ( I will not share who it is- it's just not nice to reveal that, but it's somebody who attended a very major school for this hand waving, oops I mean choral conducting DMA degree). The video is supposedly going to help gain this DMA person a job. Well let me tell you, there are right (Gallant, yes, okay I guess I will for this topic decide that Gallant is the rockin' dude) and wrong ways (Goofus) to create one of these videos as you go out trying to score either a decent or a great job as a conductor. By the way, for a cool commentary on Goofus and Gallant check out:

Scenario #1: backtrack to a video I saw about ten years ago. Camera trained on the conductor. Every piece was either weird, or esoteric, or both. Just gnarly nasty stuff that even a modernist couldn't love. Obviously this musical genius wanted to impress everyone with his deep understanding of the avant-garde instead of demonstrating any choral conducting or people skills: STRIKE ONE. The conductor spent 45 minutes just waiving his arms without any real connection to the choir and also lectured the choir on the music: STRIKE TWO and never had any comments on how to  improve anything being sung: STRIKE THREE AND YOU'RE OUT- GRAB SOME BENCH. This was one long arduous death march through these awful pieces. The video even showed the choir leaving the rehearsal room with sullen, weary faces. What search committee would want to include this conductor as they winnow down the applicant pool? Also never any praise for any singers (Uumm, STRIKE FOUR, if we need it?)- just really brutal stuff. In summation,  this video would lose any job you hoped to gain.

Scenario #2: The video I saw today was similar to the above. The really scary thing about this video was the 99% lack of eye contact, which to me is lack of human contact (STRIKE ONE). Oh my God, what was this person thinking- that no one in the biz would have problems with them having their eyes buried in the score 90 % of the time and just marking beats? And would that ever impress anyone anyway- I mean who can't just mark beats? The other thing about the eye contact issue was that she did look at the singers every once in awhile to give an obvious cue- but it was always a momentary eye contact cue which never actually extended into the onset of the actual singing. In other words, a nominal cue was given, but there was never any follow-through (sorry,  we need to bury our eyes back into the score) to connect with the singers as they actually made a successful entrance: STRIKE TWO. Would it kill the conductor to stay with them eye to eye, make sure they are in, and *gasp* even acknowledge to them that they entered successfully? Or am I just crazy to expect such monumental achievements? When the conductor stopped, there was never any praise: STRIKE THREE, no humor: STRIKE FOUR, nor any real direction as to how to improve anything: STRIKE FIVE, PLEASE GRAB SOME PERMANENT BENCH. These collegiate singers were actually quite good, yet as this disaster played out over 45 minutes, it was obvious that they were tiring and losing pitch focus (vowel unification, thus pitch, especially was becoming worse and worse, though the director never corrected anything of this sort). I was dumbfounded, this is a DMA grad at a major university (maybe even one I attended, years ago, ahem) and what I saw was just plain awful. There were so many errors caught on video, errors of commission and of omission in regard to caring about your singers and their needs and energy issues, leading them successfully and with joy and adventure, and getting your face out of the score. Any of you reading this who teach conducting could have taken a talented high school student and coached them for a few weeks and achieved more than what I saw in this video. And that is not an exaggeration. Where is the responsibility for this from the university teacher? Would that teacher be proud of his student's video? I hope not, but that professor is out there granting ADVANCED degrees in this field.

Scenario #3: This is the Gallant example, in the best sense, and since it was so great I will say where this person studied- Westminster Choir College (this would be just before Joe Miller came over). The video showed a confident young woman with an open, inviting and natural posture and facial expressions. There was energy in her face and arms and there was an appreciation of the singers she was working with. She did her best to show the singers what she wanted (hello, Rodney Eichenberger!) and she used her knowledge of the music and her sense of humor to collaborate with the singers in a highly successful rehearsal. There was lots of healthy energized singing and a minimum of verbal direction. This was a video that made you want to hire this young woman on the spot! No strikes, just singles, doubles, triples, and home runs!

So...if you are a young person about to make a video of your conducting, take a lesson from the two Goofuses and the one awesome Gallant in my three examples. Make sure you actually care about your singers, and hey, look at them every now and then! They might be yawning or picking their noses OR they might be gazing into your eyes because they think you are the next superstar conductor- you won't know if you aren't looking!

PS Numero Uno:

And so here is your Goofus and Gallant Test- which is the fake Goofus and Gallant Image? The first person to respond correctly wins a singing lesson from Russell Crowe:

Choice A: Hey kids- A is always a  good choice as it represents the best grade you can get in school when you suck up to every teacher: choose A now!Or not. Or yes,or I am just messing with you- or not.

Choice B: Hey kids, never choose B- it's the letter that starts the word bananas and bananas turn brown and mushy. I knew a kid in grade school who ate banana peels. Just so wrong!
Choice C: Yes, but truly what are Gallant's real intentions?
And what is wrong with stealing from the World Bank- it's just play money!
Choice D: I'm sorry, there are just too many big words here for me to
want to advise you to make this choice.

Choice E: Personally I think this is the right answer. Beer is ALWAYS the right answer. And actually a Blue Moon is beer and an orange- win-win!


Years ago I wrote a children's song to a text by Ivy O. Eastwick (it was performed recently at the 50th anniversary of Minnesoota ACDA, yah know). When my publisher was hoping for some biographical info on the late Miss Eastwick we rummaged around and discovered that a lot of her kids poetry had been in Highlights. I called Highlights up, and they answered the phone sleepily, but then gradually the person on the other end of the phone warmed up to the conversation and then handed me off to the grandson of the founders. He talked with amusement about the old days and Ivy. It turns out that she would harass them with hundreds of poem submissions yearly and they just started publishing what they thought was her better work just to get her off their back! He also told me that she may have been a spy during WWII. We couldn't verify it, but it sounded like a cool life- Ivy O. Eastwick: kids poet and spy- Hitler and Mussolini beware!

Which one of these ladies is Ivy the spy? Lots of big hair here!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Come Away to the Skies: A High Lonesome Mass"

In September of 2011 I was in the Portland area for Chor Anno's yearly brilliant concert since it included the premiere of my double choir reworking of William Billings' When Jesus Wept. Howard Meharg is the very fine conductor, founder, and musical director of Chor Anno, but my friend Reg Unterseher was the conductor for my piece, which takes the Billings canonical tune into very new and interesting harmonic and rhythmic territory. After the wonderful Chor Anno performance, Patrick Dill, a DMA student at University of North Texas studying with Richard Sparks, also performed the piece quite successfully with a UNT choir. Anyone interested in a perusal score please let me know either here or at

The title for the Chor Anno concert was "Come Away to the Skies: Sacred Music of Early America" basically utilizing part of the title of a new piece by ACDA executive director Tim Sharp and Wes Ramsay- Come Away to the Skies: A High Lonesome Mass. I have been meaning to blog about Tim and Wes' wonderfully creative piece for a long time- and now finally here it is!

Composers John Muhleisen, yours truly, Tim Sharp, and Wes Ramsay
(sorry it's not hi-resolution)

Come Away to the Skies is intended for concert presentation or within a liturgical service. Most of the performances so far have been in the concert mode, and recently added special slide shows and lighting designed by Tim and Wes have made the work an even greater success with audiences. The piece is not meant as a tongue in cheek novelty item with a fake feel to the bluegrass music- the music and texts have substance and creativity and truly represent the melding of traditions in the best possible sense. With that said, don't expect anything stuffy and academic- at the Chor Anno performance little grannies in the audience around me were tappin' their toes, especially to the Credo! The piece, which embraces both simplicity and also sublime matters of faith as well as musical folk tradition in this country, was a major highlight of the Chor Anno concerts.

 You can find very tasty  performances of all the movements of the piece on youtube, as performed by the Southern Nazarene University Choir, nicely directed by Jim Graves. That's Tim on the banjo in the video of the Credo!


Inquiries about the piece and arrangements to perform it should be made by contacting Wes Ramsay at Wes sends a list of the choral movements and information on the rental of the instrumental parts. He then sends the material to a download site after a director determines a performance.


The piece is for mixed choir and double bass, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and banjo. The instrumental parts can be modified and enhanced by players with improv skills (especially the fiddle part). There is no keyboard reduction. To me, the choral parts are very well-written and not difficult. I felt the Agnus, which incorporates the beautiful tune, What Wondrous Love is This,  was the epitome of grace and well worth performing either as part of the whole piece or by itself; thus I asked Tim right away whether they would allow excerpting of movements.There are plans to allow the Credo and Agnus Dei to be excerpted, with possibly other movements to follow. And just to clarify- although the titles of each movement are in Latin, the lyrics are in English.


2012 performances of the work were held at Seattle’s First Baptist Church, Berry College in Rome, GA, the Idaho ACDA Fall conference in Sun Valley, Tulsa, OK, and Ashville,NC.  2013 performances already set to take place will be in Gainesville, GA; Portland, OR; Columbia, MO, and Wichita, TX.

Tim will also be in London/Dublin in late December 2013 into Jan 2014 conducting both the Messiah by some dead guy named Handel AND Come Away to the Skies. You can read about it here.

NOTES  (© Goliard Music Group) by TIM SHARP [abridged for this blog by PC] 

Come Away to the Skies: A High, Lonesome Mass

This collection of music is a winsome set of folk-hymn arrangements originating in the mid-nineteenth century collections of the Sacred Harp and Southern Harmony, and organized around a significant liturgy of the church. The hymnbooks from which this music is found were unique to the southern region of the United States.

Tim Sharp

As Come Away to the Skies: A High, Lonesome Mass invites you into the hearing and singing of these timeless hymns, place yourself musically into a time when a singing experience paid little attention to the length of time of a service, but rather, invited you to enjoy community and extended gathering time through the learning of songs in singing schools, through shaped notes, and occasionally through days and even weeks of religious services. There is nothing nostalgic, however, about the poignancy and integrity of text and tune on which this collection is based.

The service known as a High Mass comes from the ordering of the Christian church liturgy into a standardized theological and dramatic liturgical flow. Many faith communities share this liturgy, in one form or another. Certainly, the Roman Catholic Church is known historically for the service of the mass, but Protestant groups such as Lutherans and Episcopalians also share the service. The adjective “high” before the word “mass” partially indicates a service that is chanted and sung, as differentiated from a service that is mainly spoken. The historic texts, usually known by their Latin name, form the various sections of the traditional mass: Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei.

The working title for this collection plays on the word “High Mass”, by inserting a term unique to the history of the bluegrass musical style, which is the word “lonesome.” This description, coined by Bill Monroe, the so-called “Father of Bluegrass Music”, is the idea of bluegrass music as a “high, lonesome sound.” Monroe is referring to his own vocal quality and range, as well as a modal melodic contour, a quality shared by bluegrass vocalists such as Ralph Stanley, Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs, and also heard in female musicians such as Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton. The subtitle, A High, Lonesome Mass plays on this combination of both service and sound.

The folk-hymns used to carry forward the ideas of the individual sections of the mass—“Kyrie”- “Lord, Have Mercy”; “Gloria”- “Glory to God in the Highest”; “Sanctus”-“Holy, Holy, Holy”-“Benedictus”-“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”; “Agnus Dei”-“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”—possess the same theological themes as these historic sections. These folk-hymns used come primarily from the Scotch-Irish theological and musical traditions, found uniquely in the American South, and published in the hymn collections mentioned above. Such hymn collections flourished throughout the American South in the mid-nineteenth century, and are repositories of some of the greatest hymns of that era.

The ballad and song tradition that migrated with early Irish, Scotch-Irish, Welsh, and English settlers into the southern Appalachian areas of Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee, was as natural as the transposition of their verbal languages and customs. The thousands of songs that flooded into the valleys of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers came from the lips of generations of folk performers of Southern Appalachia, and found their way into the culture and ways of the American South.

At first, cultural isolation kept music contained in the hills or in wilderness settings. But over time, population patterns caused a convergence of the various pods of population and cultures. Religion took a powerful hold on the settlers of these areas and in 1801, great revivals became popular in rural parts of the South. These gatherings resulted in a body of wilderness spirituals and folk hymns such as “Jesus Walked that Lonesome Valley”, “I Found My Lord in the Wilderness”, “Do Lord, Oh Do Remember Me”, “Down to the River to Pray”, and many, many more.

In the mid-nineteenth century, differences found in the American North and South were not limited to politics. There were differences in matters related to music and music instruction, as well. These differences were particularly distinct in matters related to hymn and gospel song publication and practice.

In the North, the European traditional practice of round-note notation prevailed, as well as a hymn tradition based on slow harmonic rhythms, parallel thirds and sixths and the use of common major keys. This tradition, known as the Reformed or Progressive Movement, promoted musical instruction through public schools, choral societies, music normal institutes, and the publication of sacred, educational, and popular music.

The South was more conservative and maintained the folk traditions and customs taught by the old 18th century singing schools popular throughout the southern regions. This tradition was characterized by rapid harmonic movement, parallel fourths and fifths, and minor and modal keys. Hymn notation in the South was characterized by the Character Notation Group, or as it is commonly called today, shaped-notes. This method of music education and music reading was based on such pedagogical methods as letter and numerical notation, as well as four and seven shape-note tune books. Nashville, TN, maintained these traditions in both singing schools and hymnal publication. In the North, hymnbook publications were rectangular, but in the South, the distinctive hymn and gospel book publications were oblong in shape, and captured the nickname of “long-boys.”

Folk-hymns used for this collection as statements for the traditional mass texts are Come Away to the Skies (MIDDLEBURY), Brethren, We Have Met to Worship (HOLY MANNA), Brightest and Best of the Stars of the Morning (STAR IN THE EAST), What Wondrous Love is This (WONDROUS LOVE), and Do Lord, Oh Do Remember Me. Additional tunes and stylings are inspired by this tradition, and settings are based upon bluegrass stacked harmony, bluegrass rhythms, and other unique stylistic qualities, including “high, lonesome” modal vocals. Instrumentation requires the classic bluegrass combination of acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, and double bass. Spoons, washboard. Bones, or snare may be added as desired.

Texts and tunes forming the basis of Southern Appalachian folk-hymns and the bluegrass music that came from the Appalachian areas of western Virginia, and eastern and middle Kentucky and Tennessee, share common features. These include the elegant simplicity of the poetry and theology of the hymns; the modal, folk-song quality of the tunes; and even the interval of the rising fourth at the beginning of many of the tunes, theorized to be not so much a compositional idea, but rather, as a “gathering tone” for the group to find their starting pitch. And, there is the underlying theme and tone of hope, and optimism for a better place and a happier day.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Viola Jokes? We Got 'em Here!

When my musical friend Carlton Higginbotham shared the following grocery ad on FaceBook I realized that here I have been blogging for about three years and still haven't shared any viola jokes. So down below I am sharing a bunch of them (all stolen from someone else of course, I mean really, who would actually work at something that has to do with violas?).

My response back to Carlton is that they should pay
YOU $3.99 to take the damn viola

I also happened to be listening to WFMT, Chicago's classical station (WCPE streaming out of North Carolina is better; all y'all should check them out) when they announced they would play the unfinished Bloch Viola Suite. So I am thinking here is old Ernest, yeah getting old in his new digs in Oregon, and he has the audacity to write a solo viola piece. Why would he tempt God and fate and try to write music for solo viola- it was a friggin' death wish I tell ya! So they played the piece and it just peters out and there you have it, a radio station playing music that killed someone with no apologies to the listener- creepy!

The Wikipedia caption is
"Ernest Bloch with children"
Note that he does not try to scare them
by wielding a viola

So here are the viola jokes as compiled by some brainiac at MIT of all places. And lest you think this is too mean to violists, actually they all know these jokes and regale each other with new ones!

Viola Jokes

Part 1

These jokes have enjoyed wide publicity. They have been mentioned in such places as Alex Beam's Boston Globe column on Wednesday, November 30, 1994 (p. 65), John Hayward-Warburton's article in BBC Music, and Dave Barry's book Dave Barry in Cyberspace (pp. 153-4).


These jokes are a continually-growing collection, and unfortunately, I can no longer remember which jokes I heard from whom. If you have ever told, emailed, or otherwise communicated to me a music joke, thank you.

I also collect Jokes about other instruments.

How is lightning like a violist's fingers?
Neither one strikes in the same place twice.

How do you keep your violin from getting stolen?
Put it in a viola case.

What's the difference between a violin and a viola?
  1. The viola burns longer.
  2. The viola holds more beer.
  3. You can tune the violin.

We all know that a viola is better than a violin because it burns longer. But why does it burn longer?
It's usually still in the case.

How do you get a viola section to play spiccato?
Write a whole note with "solo" above it.

How do you get a violist to play a passage pianissimo tremolando?
Mark it "solo."

What's the difference between a viola and a coffin?
The coffin has the dead person on the inside.

What do you do with a dead violist?
Move him back a desk.

What's the difference between a viola and a trampoline?
You take your shoes off to jump on a trampoline.

What's the difference between a viola and an onion?
No one cries when you cut up a viola.

What's the definition of a minor second?
Two violists playing in unison.

What's the definiton of "perfect pitch?"
Throwing a viola into a dumpster without hitting the rim.

Why do violists stand for long periods outside people's houses?
They can't find the key and they don't know when to come in.

What's the difference between a seamstress and a violist?
The seamstress tucks up the frills.

What's the difference between a washing machine and a violist?

Why do so many people take an instant dislike to the viola?
It saves time.

How can you tell when a violist is playing out of tune?
The bow is moving.

How was the canon invented?
Two violists were trying to play the same passage together.

Why is playing the viola like peeing in your pants?
They both give you a nice warm feeling without making any sound.

Why is a viola solo like a bomb?
By the time you hear it, it's too late to do anything about it.

Why is a viola solo like premature ejaculation?
Because even when you know it's coming, there's nothing you can do about it.

Why do violists leave their instrument cases on the dashboards of their cars?
  1. So they can park in "handicapped" parking places.
  2. If someone mistakes them for mafia, they might get some respect.

Why don't violists play hide and seek?
Because no one will look for them.

Why do violists smile when they play?
Because ignorance is bliss and what they don't know can't hurt them.

Why shouldn't violists take up mountaineering?
Because if they get lost, it takes ages before anyone notices that they're missing.

What's the difference between a dead skunk in the road and a crushed viola in the road?
Skid marks before the skunk.

How do you get a violin to sound like a viola?
  1. Sit in the back and don't play.
  2. Play in the low register with a lot of wrong notes.

If you throw a violist and a soprano off a cliff, which one would hit the ground first? (two answers)
  1. The violist. The soprano would have to stop halfway down to ask directions.
  2. Who cares?

A conductor and a violist are standing in the middle of the road. which one do you run over first, and why?
The conductor. Business before pleasure.

What's the most popular recording of the William Walton viola concerto?
Music Minus One

What do a viola and a lawsuit have in common?
Everyone is happy when the case is closed.

What is the range of a Viola?
As far as you can kick it.

What do a SCUD missile and a viola player have in common?
They're both offensive and inaccurate.

Why are violas so large?
It's an optical illusion. It's not that the violas are large; just that the viola players' heads are so small.

What's the difference between a chain saw and a viola?
If you absolutely had to, you could use a chain saw in a string quartet.

What is the definition of a cluster chord?
A viola section playing on the C string.

Why do violists get antsy when they see the Kama Sutra?
All those positions!

If you're lost in the desert, what do you aim for? A good viola player, a bad viola player or an oasis?
The bad viola player. The other two are only figments of your imagination.

Why shouldn't you drive off a cliff in a mini with three violas in it?
You could fit in at least one more.

How many violists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
None. They're not small enough to fit.

Why do people tremble with fear when someone comes into a bank carrying a violin case?
They think he's carrying a machine gun and might be about to use it.
Why do people tremble with fear when someone comes into a bank carrying a viola case?
They think he's carrying a viola and might be about to use it.

What's the difference between the first and last desk of a viola section?
  1. half a measure
  2. a semi-tone

Why can't you hear a viola on a digital recording?
Recording technology has reached such an advanced level of development that all extraneous noise is eliminated.

Did you hear about the violist who bragged that he could play 32nd notes?
The rest of the orchestra didn't believe him, so he proved it by playing one.

Why is viola called "bratsche" in Germany?
Because that's the sound it makes when you sit down on it.

Why can't a violist play with a knife in his back?
Because he can't lean back in his chair.

What instrument do violists envy most?
The harp. You only ever have to play pizzicato on open strings.

What's another name for viola auditions?
Scratch lottery.

What is the difference between a violist and a prostitute?
  1. A prostitute knows more than two positions.
  2. Prostitutes have a better sense of rhythm.

What is the similarity between a violist and a prostitute?
Both are paid to fake climaxes.

How do you get a dozen violists to play in tune?
  1. Shoot 11 of them.
  2. Shoot all of them.
  3. Who the hell wants a dozen violists?

What's the latest crime wave in New York City?
Drive-by viola recitals.

How does a violist's brain cell die?

How do you call a violist with two brain cells?

Why do violists have pea-sized brains?
Because alcohol has swelled them.

How many violists does it take to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies?
Ten. One to stir the batter and nine to peel the M & M's.

What's the similarity between the Beatles and the viola section of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra?
Neither has played together since 1970.

What is the longest viola joke?
Harold in Italy

What do you call a bunch of violists in a hot tub?
Vegetable soup.

Did you hear about the violist who played in tune?
Neither did I.

What is the main reqirement at the "International Viola Competition?"
Hold the viola from memory.

Why did the violist marry the accordion player?
Upward mobility.

How do you transcribe a violin piece for viola?
Divide the metronome marking by 2.

Why do you always bury a viola player three feet under?
Because deep down they are all very nice people.

How do you keep a violist from drowning?
Take your foot off his head.

Note: the following joke is very funny in German, but doesn't translate well into English.
Was sind die drei Lagen auf der Bratsche?
Erste Lage, Notlage, und Niederlage.
(What are the three positions of the viola?
First position, emergency, and defeat.)

The viola jokes have been split into three pages. This page is part 1.
viola (part 2) next viola joke page (part 2)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Barihunks: A Blogsite for Singing Man Candy

There's something for everyone on the intertubes, witness a blogsite I came across about a year ago- Barihunks, presenting "The sexiest baritone hunks from opera".

Whether you are a lady who likes chiseled faces with a day or two of manly stubble, six-pack abs, and the ability to beat up some wimpy tenor while braiding his lover's hair onstage, or... if you are a guy who likes hot looking guys who can carry a tune- this is the site for you!

I'm not sure how this blogger makes a  living- could it be possible to blog almost daily on this subject and hold a real job, too? Anyway, I think the site is a hoot, and actually does contain real news from the opera world. And who knows, maybe there is a secret portal somewhere in there that takes you to a truly hot barihunks porn paysite! And, yes there is a calendar for sale.

So here are some barihunks who grace the blog:

Michael Todd Simpson (nice hair) and Joseph Lallanzi (specializes in innocent boy next door scenes)

Paul Thompson, proving of course that all guys named Paul are uberhot

Hunky Dudes playing Colline in Boheme- Tom Corbeil & Christian Van Horne
Excuse me, wasn't the flat WAY COLD- why *wink wink"is
Tom stripped down?

Donovan Singletary & Steven LaBrie
(Donovan wants to know what you want for breakfast!

And here is a recent fun quote from Joyce DiDonato:

 We do NOT need a bad imitation of another artist that has come before us (the blond one, the “Next Callas”, the skinny-one, or the “New Pavarotti” or another barihunk … Well, OK, we can always use more barihunks!).

But I can't help thinking that this site is too focused on hot Barihunks onstage today. Why aren't there any photos or articles on THESE amazing hunks ( I have included one delightful tenor, Leo Slezak, since he is so hunky) from the past:

Antonio Tamburini

 Tamburini was the most famous Italian baritone of the 19th century. He specialized in Bellini and Donizetti and any other opera composed by a guy whose name ends in the letter i. Somehow he never confused arias from one of these neverending bel canto creations with tunes from a different opera- pretty impressive. Here is a picture of this massive hunk, and please don't tell me he looks like Steve Buscemi- that's just disrespectful. And who knew a wooden version of the Stanley Cup was around back in those days?

The very hot Leo Slezak-  love the curls
(oh yeah, anyone have a swanhat fetish?)

During a performance of Lohengrin,  a stage hand sent the mechanical swan out too early, before Slezak could hop aboard. Seeing his feathered transportation disappear into the wings, Slezak adlibbed to the audience: "Wann fährt der nächste Schwan?" ("When does the next swan leave?").
Leo was daddy to the actor Walter Slezak.

BassBariHunk Hall of Fame: Tito Gobbi

I first head this Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love Machine when my high school music class made a field trip to Lyric Opera of Chicago, where he was appearing as Scarpia. Dude was scary, and the theater erupted into wild applause and cheers when Tosca gave him the shiv (it was a for-school groups performance, and we really got into it- just like any self-respecting Italian opera-goer).

Gobbi was a manly man in love with the camera- here is a gallery I am quite proud to present to you:

Tito playing Frasier Crane in the original opera by Cavalli
about a Seattle radio personality

Tito as the Joker in an early Batman movie

Tito when he unfortunately got out of shape- sob, no longer a BassBariHunk

The photographer caught Tito's reaction to Callas passing gas onstage,
yet somehow he still maintains the hunky vibe- amazing!

Tito still the hunk, even (especially?) in drag!

If you like a Daddy Bear,  you could do worse than extra "hunk on the hunk" Bryn Terfel, who obviously is still working but not as young as the boytoys who appear on the Barihunk blog:

Ooops, sorry, that was Alec Baldwin on 30 Rock, here's Bryn (looking really hunky after losing a bit of weight):

This lady has issues- too many to enumerate

Here's  a very interesting story from the Telegraph, (come on Bryn, admit you were dong a BariHunk nude photo shoot):

Bryn Terfel's night at the opera with no trousers

It was less a case of the wrong trousers and more a case of none at all for Bryn Terfel, the world-renowned opera singer, at a recent concert.

Bryn Terfel: handed back the trousers at end of concert
Bryn Terfel: handed back the trousers at end of concert  Photo: PA
Before leaving his hotel to perform on a warm day in the South Korean capital of Seoul, the Welsh bass-baritone opted to wear a pair of shorts.
But, his mind no doubt on the performance ahead, he unfortunately forgot to pack his trousers.
Arriving at the venue with only minutes before he was due on stage there was no time to return to the hotel, and Terfel was left with the prospect of singing in his shorts.
However, fortune smiled on the singer. When he appealed for help one good-natured Korean opera lover agreed to the odd request of equipping 6ft 4 ins Terfel with an alternative pair.
Speaking to Shân Cothi, a soprano and presenter on the Welsh language television channel S4C, Terfel explained: "One can be a bit forgetful on the day of a concert – and I forgot my trousers at the hotel.

From Byrd to Britten: Special Summer Study Opportunity

From Dr Sharon Paul, a wonderful conductor at the University of Oregon:

[Please consider] ..." an extraordinary opportunity to study choral music in London this summer. I will be teaching a course called “From Byrd to Britten: A Survey of British Choral Music” from July 24 to August 14. This is available to graduate and undergraduate students from any college throughout the country [may also be open to auditors?- P.C.]. Every subject we study will be enhanced with excursions to relevant historic sites and attendance at concerts. Imagine singing madrigals in a preserved Tudor home, visiting Handel’s house, studying Evensong music and then attending a service at Westminster Abbey or Kings College Cambridge, or attending Britten centenary concerts at the BBC Proms!"

You can find more information from AHA International at you are welcome to e-mail Sharon ( for further information.

At the Proms!

Sharon has also given me the syllabus for the course, read below after the overview- it's great stuff plus there are plenty of tour activities as well- you won't just be stuck in a classroom studying John Blow!


Professor Sharon J. Paul is Director of Choral Activities and Chair of Vocal and Choral Studies at the University of Oregon. She will lead this inspiring three-week program exploring the rich history of English choral music. The course will consist of weekday class meetings, daytime and evening concert attendances, and excursions to relevant historic sites throughout London. We shall travel outside London to the historic cities of Lincoln and Gloucester, each associated with the glories of the English choral past.

This course is open to all students with a minimum sophomore standing, and ideal for undergraduate and graduate music students. The seminar will include lectures, class discussions, listening assignments, singing, journal writing, attendance at concerts, and frequent excursions.

Dr. Sharon Paul

 TITLE: From Byrd to Britten: A Survey of British Choral Music
Instructor: Sharon J. Paul
Contact Hours: 48 hours in class, plus excursions/concerts
Language of Instruction: English


London provides the backdrop for a survey course exploring highlights from Britain’s rich history of music for choir. From the 16th-century English madrigal through Benjamin Britten’s brilliant contributions to the choral canon, students will explore British choral music through listening, lecture, singing, concert attendance, and excursions to relevant historic sites.

By the end of the seminar, students will have increased their knowledge of British choral music, and possess an appreciation for the wealth of British choral repertoire available for future study.

Lecture; discussion; student presentations and projects; listening assignments; student written reflections; concert attendance; excursions to relevant historic sites

Students will be graded in the following areas:
Written assignments: 30%
Presentation: 15%
Projects: 25%
Final exam: 20%
Class participation: 10%

Graduate students enrolled in MUS 688 must complete two additional writing assignments.

Unit 1: The English Madrigal
Having been familiar with the Italian madrigal from publications and manuscripts, as well as from traveling musicians, the English interest in the genre expanded after two important publications. In 1588 Nicholas Yonge published a collection of Italian madrigals translated into English (Musica Transalpina), and in 1590 Thomas Watson published, Italian Madrigals Englished, which featured translations of Marenzio madrigals. In this course we will trace the birth of the English madrigal, from its Italian inspirations to its mature English style, studying major madrigalists such as Weelkes, Wilbye, and Morley, while also exploring lesser-known madrigal composers. Students will study the English madrigal through singing, viewing partbooks and manuscripts, studying iconography, and visiting extant Tudor sites.

Unit 2: William Byrd & Thomas Tallis: Music and Politics
William Byrd and Thomas Tallis flourished as musicians during turbulent religious changes in England; both composers created music for the Catholic Church as well as for the Anglican Service. Students will be able to visit sites where Byrd and Tallis worked, such as the cathedral in Lincoln where Byrd served as organist and Master of the Choristers, and St. Mary-at-Hill in London, where Tallis served as organist and singer. In addition we will visit venues key to the musical and political shifts that took place in England late in the 16th century.

Unit 3: Highlights of the Baroque Era: Purcell & Handel
The Baroque era in England produced a considerable number of choral masterpieces. Our survey will feature two composers’ contributions to the English choral canon: Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel.

Considered a musical prodigy, Purcell began tuning the organ at Westminster Abbey when he was only fifteen years old, and he became one of the organists at age twenty. A prolific composer who died in his thirties, our survey will focus on Purcell’s anthems, motets, and odes.

Handel spent a considerable amount of his career in London. The class will visit his former home (now the Handel House Museum), along with the Foundling Museum, originally a home for abandoned children founded in the 18th century. Handel served as a Governor and benefactor for the Foundling Hospital, which is now home to the Gerald Coke Handel Collection. We will explore the British Library’s collection of music by both Purcell and Handel.

Unit 4: English Service Music
Music composed for the Anglican Church Service has become an integral part of choral repertoire. Our seminar will explore music composed for Matins and Evensong, Holy Communion, and the Burial Service, from composers such as Purcell, Tomkins, Byrd, Stanford and Howells. We will have the opportunity to attend services at Westminster Abbey in London and King’s College in Cambridge.

Unit 5: Celebrating Benjamin Britten’s Centenary
The year 2013 marks the one-hundredth anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s birth – what an extraordinary time to be in London! Our class will attend numerous concerts of Britten’s music, exploring repertoire ranging from chamber music to large-scale masterpieces.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sh*t Chorsiters Say!

Congratulations to the Vancouver Cantata Singers and Missy Clarkson on the one year anniversary of their hilarious video, Sh*t Choristers Say (240,000 views on youtube). In case you missed it last year, here it is:


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Children Like Not Dead Composers! They Really Do!

Paige Mathis, the very talented music director of the Atlanta Young Singers of Callanwolde contacted me this past summer to ask if I would like to be part of a new project the choir was undertaking. To begin  their program "The Composer Next Door" they wanted me to be the first composer to participate. Since I often advertise myself as a not-yet-dead composer I believe they found the perfect fit! Here are some excerpts ( posted variously by  singers and directors) from their blog about the experience:

From Dec. 5, 2012

 Believe it or not, classical composers aren't all dead. Some are very much alive and living amongst us. The Composer Next Door Project of the ATLANTA YOUNG SINGERS of Callanwolde grew out of the idea that singers can really understand the music they are singing a lot better when they can engage with composers themselves, and organize activities themselves from a kid's perspective.

So here's how it works: For each concert that the AYS choir produces during the 2012-2013 Season, the Music Director selects one living composer to be featured. Singers volunteer to organize how they and their fellow singers will get to know the featured  composer. 

From Dec. 15, 2012


AYS kids Skype with Paul Carey

AYS members Skype with Composer Paul Carey. The Singers are preparing his two pieces Unending Flame and Come Christmas the Morn at their concerts on December 15 and 20.

Another post from Dec. 15th post:

Hello Everyone,

I wrote the paragraph below from the answers that Paul Carey gave to our questions during our Skype conversation (the one in Brianne's photo!).  He was really nice to speak with, and after the interview, we sang his songs for him.

Paul Carey is the wonderful and talented musician who wrote Come Christmas the Morn and Unending Flame.  He has been interested in music since he was ten years old, but he actually started writing music in high school.  His favorite styles of music are classical, renaissance, and 20th century jazz [I thumb my nose at that lame 15th century jazz with all its cutesy sharp 9, sharp 11 ficta].  He loves music because it is, I quote, "mysterious and it is all around you."  He also loves to work with kids and teach them about his music and other people's music.  He likes to see kids' reactions when singing a piece of music, and he also wants to make sure kids don't think all composers are dead!  


From Jan. 15, 213

New Year reflections

With December in the rear view mirror, it's good to look at Atlanta Young Singers' first installment of kid-managed interactions with very-much-alive composers.As a teacher watching the kids talk with our featured composer Paul Carey in December, it was great to see how they began to change their view of music itself. I think they have greater excitement and healthy curiosity for the notes and rhythms on the page as they relate to a breathing human being--one who has a family and home, and is, for all intents and purposes, a pretty normal guy.

The kids thoroughly enjoyed performing Paul Carey's music and I think they had a greater sense of pride in performing it because they had some sort of connection with the composer. After performing Carey's Unending Flame and Come Christmas the Morn, we heard lots of "Can we do that again next year?" Introducing new music at a holiday concert can be tricky, but this music was inspiring and fresh--especially the treatment of "Now Every Child"  from Silver, Sand and Snow by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965), the text used in Come Christmas the Morn.

I really liked the way that the adults had the children organize activities and conduct the Skype session. Kids are happy when adults get out of their way!The Skype session really was a lot of fun. My 9 year old Aidan was curious to know what was going on (usually I Skype in isolation to appear professional) and wandered into the office. He wound up sitting on my lap and listening in and also introduced our cat, Poka, to the choir. They thought Aidan and Poka were pretty cool. This also helped make them fully realize that composers are real people too, with litterboxes to clean and children to tickle, I guess.

 If you want to see all the posts in entirety- here's the thread to start on:

And hmm,  do I want to be known as normal (as Paige says I am)? Am I normal? Does anyone who puts maple syrup on grilled cheese sandwiches normal? Does anyone who pines to have a baby Congo buffalo as a pet really qualify as normal? The themes of my last three commissions: peace, dona nobis pacem (which of course is peace too), and zombies singing Richard Strauss as they eat your brains- is THAT normal? So there, take that, "normal"!

Congrats to Paige and her fine choir for starting this project. Maybe other choirs  will want to borrow some of the ideas.

Paige Fumbanks Mathis, Music DirectorPaige Fumbanks Mathis, Music Director, Atlanta Young Singers of Callanwolde
Paige Fumbanks Mathis was named Music Director of ATLANTA YOUNG SINGERS of Callanwolde in May of 1998 and is the first holder of the Stephen J. Ortlip chair. Ms. Mathis received her undergraduate degree in Music Education from Jacksonville State University and her Master of Music degree in conducting from the Conservatory of Music of the University of Missouri - Kansas City. She founded the Youth Chorale in 1994 as an expansion program of Atlanta Young Singers. She is a long-standing member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus and Chamber Chorus where she sang and recorded under the baton of the late Robert Shaw. Ms. Mathis is also a proud AYS alumna.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Seraphic Fire Signs with Columbia Artists Management

Recently I posted two reviews of two different Christmas CD/iTunes releases by the great Miami-based professional choir Seraphic Fire. Already recently inking a recording deal with Naxos, they have just now signed a management contract with one of the biggest and most prestigious companies in the field, Columbia Artists (CAMI). Look for Seraphic Fire's national and international recognition to skyrocket as they, Naxos, and CAMI work together! Below is the press release:

Twice GRAMMY®-Nominated Seraphic Fire
Signs with Columbia Artists Management, Inc.

MIAMI, FL – Seraphic Fire, the United States’ All-Star two-time GRAMMY®-nominated vocal ensemble, has signed with Columbia Artists Management, Incorporated (CAMI), the international leader in managing the careers and touring activities of the world's most prominent performing artists and institutions. Seraphic Fire is based in Miami, FL.

Seraphic Fire will join the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, legendary mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, internationally lauded pianist Lang Lang, and Metropolitain Opera Artistic Director James Levine as the only American choir on CAMI’s roster.

"The entire Seraphic Fire team is thrilled to join CAMI’s roster” said Seraphic Fire’s Managing Director, Joey Quigley. “We are so excited to bring our art to the rest of the world. CAMI’s large network of contacts will allow Seraphic Fire to achieve greater recognition in cities across the globe.”
“On behalf of Columbia Artists Management Inc., we are excited to begin this new partnership with Seraphic Fire” said Benjamin Maimin, Vice President and National Booking Director for CAMI. “We look forward to sharing their outstanding voices and innovative programming with audiences around the world.”

For interview requests, high-resolution photos, or any other information, please contact Mike Burgess at (305) 285-9060.

About Seraphic Fire

Entering its second decade, Seraphic Fire is widely regarded as one of the most important vocal ensembles in the United States. Led by Founder and Artistic Director Patrick Dupré Quigley, Seraphic Fire brings the best ensemble singers from around the country to perform repertoire ranging from Gregorian chant to newly commissioned works. This past year, the ensemble’s recordings Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem and A Seraphic Fire Christmas were nominated for two 2012 GRAMMY awards.

Seraphic Fire was the only choir in North or South America to be nominated, and the only classical ensemble in the world to be nominated for two separate projects.
In addition to a critically-acclaimed chamber choir, the organization has established Firebird Chamber Orchestra, which collaborates with Seraphic Fire on choral-orchestral masterworks as well as independent concerts of orchestral repertoire. The orchestra, like the chorus, is made up of top-tier performers from around the country.

Patrick Dupré Quigley with Seraphic Fire

Seraphic Fire’s artistic accomplishments have translated to chart-topping album sales. In the summer of 2010, Seraphic Fire’s recording of Monteverdi’s Vespers of the Blessed Virgin (1610) reached the number one position on the iTunes classical music charts. The ensemble’s GRAMMY®-nominated recording of Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem debuted at #7 on Billboard Magazine's Classical charts, and Seraphic Fire’s newest Christmas album, of which NPR’s Morning Edition proclaims “the singing is just fabulous; this group has a really excellent blend”, broke into the top ten on the iTunes Classical charts on day of its release.

Seraphic Fire has just signed a three-year partnership deal with Naxos of America to distribute Seraphic Fire Media. Seraphic Fire is represented worldwide by Columbia Artists Management, Inc.

About CAMI

Columbia Artists Management Inc. (CAMI) is an international leader in managing the careers and touring activities of the world's most prominent performing artists and institutions. Led by Chairman and CEO Ronald A. Wilford and the managing partners of CAMI's subsidiaries, the company has been on the forefront of performing arts management and production throughout the world for eight decades.

CAMI was formed in 1930 by William S. Paley and Arthur Judson, in a merger of seven independent concert managers, as part of Columbia Broadcast System. The convergence of major impresarios under the Columbia Concerts Corporation, as CAMI was originally known, began the tradition of cooperation among independent managers that is still in place today. The company’s dominating presence in broadcasting and representation was sustained and driven by the now legendary roster of artists managed by the company’s founders.
CAMI continues its legacy in the discovery and career development of the next generation of young artists from the world over through its subsidiary Columbia Artists Management LLC (CAM LLC). Under the direction of Tim Fox, President, with colleagues R. Douglas Sheldon and Andrew S. Grossman, Senior Vice Presidents, the company maintains its position as the world's largest classical music management firm internationally recognized for its distinguished list of Artists & Attractions.
The firm’s managers include a diverse selection of individuals who specialize in the careers of instrumentalists, conductors, opera singers and other vocalists, as well as in the touring activities of orchestras and instrumental ensembles. Complementing its activities in classical music, the company manages an extensive roster of world music performing artists, as well as the leading classical, modern and popular dance companies.

For over thirty years, through its Columbia Artists Theatricals (CAT) subsidiary, CAMI has pioneered the development of national Broadway touring. Today, through the leadership of Gary McAvay, CAT continues its long tradition of distributing the highest caliber of theatrical entertainment.
In recognition of the diversity of its artists and of previously untapped opportunities to reach new audiences worldwide, CAMI's subsidiary, CAMI Spectrum, led by Margaret Selby, is reaching beyond convention to produce an array of innovative projects and special events.

In 2004 Ronald A. Wilford and Jean Jacques Cesbron formed CAMI Music, an independent enterprise, specializing in the worldwide general management and touring of a prominent roster of artists, institutions and theatrical events appealing to both existing and new audiences across the globe. In addition to traditional representation, CAMI Music provides production and consultation services for special events and festivals around the world.

Through the further development of collaborative partnerships, CAMI continues to expand its activities at the forefront of media development and the performing arts.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: Conducting Women's Choirs, by Debra Spurgeon

Conducting Women's Choirs: Strategies for Success

Edited and compiled by Debra Spurgeon

 Published by GIA ISBN 978-1-57999-927-8, 340 pp. plus DVD, $43.95


Conducting Women's Choirs:Strategies for Success - Book and DVD

Editor : Debra Spurgeon     

© 2012 GIA Publications, Inc.

Chapter Authors: Hilary Apfelstadt • Lynne Gackle • Lori Hetzel • Mary Hopper • Iris Levine • Jeanette MacCallum • Nancy Menk • Janna Montgomery • Joelle Norris • Sandra Peter • Sandra Snow • Debra Spurgeon • Phillip Swan • Shelbie Wahl

Contributors: Elizabeth Alexander • Elizabeth Arnold • Carol Barnett • Abbie Betinis • Derrick Brookins • David Brunner • Paul Carey • Drew Collins • Eleanor Daley • Michael Ehrlich • Stephen Hatfield • Ron Jeffers • Sharon Paul • Rosephanye Powell • Kathleen Rodde • Rebecca Rottsolk • Mark Stamper • Z. Randall Stroope • Joan Szymko • Gwyneth Walker
Conducting Women’s Choirs: Strategies for Success is a pioneering yet practical book and DVD devoted to all aspects of the women’s choir—a groundbreaking contribution and a true collaborative effort from top professionals in the field. For the first time in a book, choral leaders bring together historical, philosophical, psychological, sociological, pedagogical, and real-world considerations to the women’s choir—information missing from most choral methods and conducting texts.
Areas of focus include:
  • working with beginning, high school, collegiate, and community women’s choirs
  • improving the sound of women’s choirs
  • suggested repertoire for women’s choirs
  • composing for women’s choirs
  • building community within the ensemble
  • warm-ups and rehearsal strategies
  • building excellence in women’s choirs
Sections also focus on mentoring, auditions, seating arrangements, historical women’s repertoire, healthy vocal development, gender issues, history, status of the women’s choir, and much more. This book features research, practical insights, and round-table discussions. The included DVD demonstrates choral techniques and teaching ideas with two women’s choirs: Aurora, from Luther College, conducted by Sandra Peter; and The University of Kentucky Women’s Choir, conducted by Lori Hetzel.

Conducting Women’s Choirs is, quite simply, essential for anyone who is involved in the women’s choir movement and the culmination of decades of experience and wisdom by leaders in the profession.

Debra Spurgeon is Associate Professor of Choral Music at the University of Mississippi (Oxford) where she conducts the Ole Miss Women’s Glee Club and teaches choral music education and conducting courses. She has served the American Choral Directors Association as Women’s Choir Repertoire and Standards National Chair (2007-2010) and as president of the Oklahoma Choral Directors Association. Her publications have been featured in the Choral Journal, Journal of Singing, Journal of Music Teacher Education, and Teaching Music

Debra Spurgeon

Debra Spurgeon has edited and compiled an amazing resource for directors of high school age and beyond women's choirs. Beginning with an historical overview of women's choirs and covering every conceivable topic, this book is a must-read for anyone in the field of women's choir music or about to enter into that world. The list of chapter authors is a who's who of the leaders in the field over the last twenty-five years, a period of growth which has been truly astounding. As women continue to outnumber men in college enrollment and also show more interest at most ages in singing choral music, the current explosion of new ideas about women and singing, new research on the female voice, and new music specifically written for women's voices by skilled composers will continue. Spurgeon's book not only tells the story of women choirs through history and tells us where we are now, both musically and philosophically, but also lays the groundwork for the next twenty-five years.

Within the various chapters each reader will find a number of subjects which interest them. Interested in the Venetian ospedali? Jeanette MacCallum's chapter on the subject, twenty-seven pages filled with concise information, will guide you through the history of that amazing period. Hoping to find a philosophy based upon the uniqueness of the women's choir and the shared experiences within them? Look to a brilliant chapter by Sandra Snow titled “We Sing Ourselves, an Essay about Teaching and Learning with Women”.

In a must-read chapter, Debra Spurgeon interviews Lynne Gackle, currently the leading authority on the changing adolescent female voice and author of the book which explores this and much more in the recent publication by Heritage Music Press, “Finding Ophelia's Voice, Opening Ophelia's Heart”. This chapter is full of great information and practical advice. Lynne, as always, graciously shares her deep knowledge on this subject.

Other valuable resources include the chapters “Mentoring the Women's Choir through Voicing, Labeling, and Seating” by Sandra Peter and “Warm-ups for the Women Choir” by Lori Hetzel. The information in these two chapters is also the focus of the DVD, with Peter's Aurora Ensemble from Luther College and Hetzel's University of Kentucky Women's Choir as demo groups.

I was honored to be interviewed for the chapter by Nancy Menk, entitled “Writing for Women's Voices: A Conversation with Composers”. Nancy drew up some very good questions and sent them to a number of composers who have written quality music for the genre, and she then compiled our answers to the various questions. This chapter makes for a good read; we agreed on a number of things, yet there were some areas where there were quite different answers by some of the composers. For me, this was great fun to read (and compare my thoughts with the others) when I received the book. The composers whose ideas are shared in this chapter are Elizabeth Alexander, Carol Barnett, Abbie Betinis, David Brunner, Paul Carey, Drew Collins, Eleanor Daley, Stephen Hatfield, Ron Jeffers, Rosephayne Powell, Z. Randall Stroope, Joan Szymko, and Gwyneth Walker.

In summation, Debra Spurgeon has created an amazing resource- at 340 pages there is so much within these pages to explore that it is truly amazing. I would imagine this book took hundreds of hours to create, but I think it was well worth it and I congratulate Debra on her achievement. She will present an interest session on topics from this book at the March 2013 ACDA National Conference in Dallas, with a panel of people who were chapter authors. If you are attending the Dallas ACDA Conference, don't miss this session.




Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review of Luther College Nordic Choir Winter Tour Concert

The Luther College Nordic Choir, the upper-class mixed voice touring choir of this renowned musical institution has just kicked off an extensive sixteen city concert tour of the US. Starting off in Naperville, IL  near Chicago ( I attended the concert last night, and a review is posted below), they head east, winding up in NYC (St. Bart's) and DC, then slide south into the Carolinas, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia and then head on back to wintry Iowa.

If you are close to any of their venues, listed toward the bottom of this blog, try to attend. They are under the fine direction of Dr. Allen Hightower and the program include works by Weelkes, JS Bach, Chesnokov, Casals, Mealor, Whitacre, Mulholland, and more.

Luther College Nordic Choir, Allen Hightower, director


I was very pleased to discover that the Luther College Nordic Choir (the 70 voice SATB touring choir) would kick off their winter tour in Naperville, IL not far from me. Who wouldn't want to go hear a great group like this on a cold Wednesday in January? I also was curious to hear them under their new-ish director, Allen Hightower. After Weston Noble's remarkable 57 years at the helm, and a period of five years under Craig Arnold, Hightower is now in his third year at the helm. In a very nice printed program, Hightower speaks about Luther choosing him even though he is a Texan and was an outsider to the Upper Midwest Lutheran choral tradition. I can say that this hire was brilliant. Hightower totally impressed me with his joy as a conductor (I was sitting right in front and could see his facial gestures), his technique- especially a left hand that shapes in such a gorgeous way, and his ease and gracious interaction with the audience. In regard to that amazing left hand of his, the only other conductor I have seen with one to match would be Edie Copley at Northern Arizona University (and coincidentally she happens to be a Luther grad).

Dr. Allen Hightower

For those of you who don't know the Luther College choral program, this is a small school (about 2,500 students) of ambitious undergrads. Often when we hear great choirs from big schools we are hearing some much older, more mature voices (grad voice majors, grad teaching assistants, etc) in the top choir.
The Lutheran singing tradition in Iowa, Minnesota, to some extent the Dakotas is remarkable. In addition to Luther, almost every college or university in the area fields outstanding choirs.

The concert began with Thomas Weelkes' "Hosanna to the Son of David". The singing was rich, and the phrasing clear but yet with subtlety. This was something that I loved about this choir and Hightower- I felt that the choir under Arnold had one mode of  bold, yet still warm singing and that it often sounded like a really great y'all come choir, in the sense that there was usually very little subtlety, nuance, phrasing, etc. Under Hightower every text and musical phrase  is understood, and I also felt that the singers (holding hands in the Luther tradition) really heard all the other voice parts fitting into their own throughout every measure of every piece. There was an organic, communal process happening- seventy voices as one, if you will.

This attention to organic phrasing paid big dividends in the second piece, an ms by Randall Stroope, "Verbum caro factum est". I'm not a big Stroope fan, and that probably stems from the fact that I know his signature harmonies, phrasings, and turns of melody well enough that he doesn't surprise me anymore. Yet this new piece, sung by this group really was gorgeous and deep. Hightower's baritones and tenors at times push the choir into a higher gear of resonance, nicely-energized vibrato, and volume. I loved the effect this had on a few pieces during the evening. I was able to ask him about this via e-mail today and his well-worded and thoughtful response was this:

"That's an interesting observation. I don't know that this happens intentionally. I suppose it's organic.  I can only hypothesize that as I tend to be a fan of the English choral tradition, our trebles tend to stay clean and clear into their fuller sound, whereas the men's voices tend to sing more fully/freely into the sound.  I think one tends to hear this in groups like "The Sixteen". The English women tend to have the clear boy-sound in their ear, but the men sing more heartily. I think that generally the women in the Lutheran choral tradition tend to sing a bit more on the "leaner/cleaner" side.
Perhaps this also has something to do with a search for balance that is more of a pyramid shape.  Paul Salamunovich and before him Roger Wagner talked much about building the balance from the bass up.  That's why I have more basses and altos than I do tenors and sopranos."

When the choir began JS Bach's "Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt" I sat there thinking that the sound was a bit square and boxy, but somewhere along the way the piece started dancing- wow! The next piece was Mullholland's "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name", with organ. I wrote "gonzo" in my program. Oh my, the sound was big and glorious, yet the tone was always musical.

Another highlight to me was  "Praise to the Lord" by Melius Christiansen. Hightower didn't just blast through this like most choirs do. There were lovely nuances to phrasing; he was able to bring out things I have never really noticed before. To perform a familiar "chestnut"  like this and bring something new to an audience fully familiar with the piece is a big accomplishment.

Pablo Casals' intimate, heartfelt "O Vos Omnes" was sung with great beauty. Casals would have loved to hear this performance- and we need to hear more Casals!

The concert ended with a fun rendition of the Rodgers and Hart tune "My Romance", with a very sweet solo by  Marissa Satern, Fissinger's "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" and "O Lord God" by Pavel Chesnokov. Hightower has the low basses in this choir to sing Russian church music such as this. I hope to hear them sing some of this repertoire in the Church Slavonic sometime. Their encore, David Schwoebel's "An Expression fo Gratitude", featured some great chops at the piano by choir member Sophia Huang.

All in all, this was an amazing program presented as a winter's night gift by these smiling, gracious young singers and their equally gracious director. The audience of about 300 was thrilled (they even displayed excellent audience etiquette- something rare these days), and the Nordic Choir tour kicked off with a bang. Try to hear them yourself if you are near any of the venues they will sing in over the next few weeks.
Bravo, Nordic Choir!


Wednesday, January 16, 2013 / 7 p.m.
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church
Naperville, Illinois

Thursday, January 17, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana

Friday, January 18, 2013 / 7 p.m.
Peace Lutheran Church
Gahanna, Ohio

Saturday, January 19, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Ardmore, Pennsylvania

Sunday, January 20, 2013 / 4 p.m.
Asbury First United Methodist Church
Rochester, New York

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
St. Bart’s Episcopal Church
New York, New York

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
Lutheran Church of the Reformation
Washington, D.C
Thursday, January 24, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
Hickory, North Carolina

Friday, January 25, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
The Conn Center at Lee University
Cleveland, Tennessee

Saturday, January 26, 2013 / 7 p.m.
Central Baptist Church of Bearden
Knoxville, Tennessee

Sunday, January 27, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
Westminster Presbyterian Church
Greenville, South Carolina

Monday, January 28, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
Palms Presbyterian Church
Jacksonville Beach, Florida

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
First Presbyterian Church
St. Petersburg, Florida

Thursday, January 31, 2013 / 8 p.m.
University of Georgia Performing Arts Center
Athens, Georgia

Friday, February 1, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
Asbury United Methodist Church
Madison, Alabama

Saturday, February 2, 2013 / 8 p.m.
Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
Luther College, Center for Faith and Life
Decorah, Iowa

Luther College Vocal Program

Luther College offers a wide variety of opportunities
for vocal music participation for young aspiring singers.

Choral Ensembles

Aurora, Dr. Sandra Peter, 90-voice first-year women’s choir

Cantorei, Linda Martin, women’s choir

Cathedral Choir, Dr. Sandra Peter, 90-voice sophomore touring choir

Collegiate Chorale, Dr. Andrew Last, 100-voice upperclass touring choir

Nordic Choir, Dr. Allen Hightower, upper-class touring choir

Norsemen, Dr. Andrew Last, 90-voice first-year men’s choir