The November 2018 issue of Choral Journal was a focus on composition and featured an article by Andrew Crane titled “Hunting for Choral Treasure: How Conductors Find New Repertoire.” Below is an excerpt of the article, and you can read it in its entirety in the November 2018 issue! Go to acda.org/choraljournal and click “Search Archives.”
Choose November 2018 from the dropdown menu.
With modern digital technology, conductors now have more resources than ever at their fingertips to find newly composed repertoire for their choral ensembles. The digital age has brought us near instantaneous accessibility.
I see this as both a blessing and a curse. While I can now simultaneously read a score and listen to a recording of a brand-new piece without leaving my desk, I still often feel overwhelmed. I tend to select repertoire for my choir during the summer months and look through hundreds of scores in the process. Rather than simply program what my colleagues in the profession have already successfully done, I am always in search of that new “diamond in the rough.” I love the feeling of discovering something fabulous and the excitement of sharing it with my choir. But with so much out there that is so easily obtained, I have to now sift through so many more haystacks to find the occasional needle. I have programmed many choral works on the recommendation of colleagues, and I will continue to do so. However, I always wonder: where did they find that excellent repertoire? At some point, the excitement of the unearthing/discovery process has to be done by someone.
This line of inquiry led me to even more questions: How have these technological advances affected a discriminating conductor’s ability to zero in on the very best compositions? What tried-and- true best practices exist? Does the age and experience level of the ensemble affect how we search for repertoire? I wanted to see what my colleagues were doing in the hope that it might help further refine my repertoire seeking.
For this article, I interviewed six conductors who represent a wide spectrum of choir types. My aim was to both discover new and evolving methods for repertoire selection and to unearth the practices that conductors use that have stood the test of time. I hope this information may prove helpful to composers, publishers, and conductors alike, as we all work together to advance the choral art.
To what sources do you most often turn when selecting repertoire, particularly new compositions?
Ken Berg: It is hearing choirs at festivals or reading sessions where I most often find new repertory. Other than that, I refer to word of mouth from other conductors. Copley: Many publisher websites provide scores and sound files that make new repertoire more accessible, but these websites don’t necessarily make the conductor’s selection process easier due to the quantity of new music released each spring/summer. That said, I often begin by searching large internet vendors where I can sort new releases by genre. Second, I contact respected choral colleagues and inquire about recently performed and newly commissioned works that were rewarding for their students to prepare and well received by audiences. Third, I go to a composer’s self-publishing website to see what they have recently created. Lastly, I view international choral competition videos to discover repertoire from all over the world.
Patrick K. Freer: I use three types of sources most frequently: 1) trusted composers who I know write particularly well for young voices; 2) the websites of publishers that specialize in high-quality literature for young voices, particularly those that include recordings of real-life adolescent choirs; 3) concert programs for adolescent singers chosen by conductors I trust; I’ll then seek copies/recordings of the pieces I don’t yet know. My use of “high-quality” does not only refer to “vocally appropriate” repertoire, it refers to all aspects of the composition.
Joshua Habermann: Recommendations from trusted conductor colleagues.
Karen Kennedy: Several sources work for me, the first being YouTube. Also publisher sites, composer sites, my colleagues’ choirs from all over the world, and watching all kinds of choirs from professional choirs to All-State groups. I also regularly reach out to my professional network when I need something to fill a specific “hole” in a program.
Chris Maunu: I enjoy perusing online sources that have the entire recording of a piece, while also having the full perusal score. I also find that visiting the individual website of a composer is effective. After finding a composer I respect, I’ll go directly to their page to see what else they have.
Read the rest of this article (and more!) in the November 2018 issue of Choral Journal, available online at acda.org.