Choral Journal’s ongoing column called “Choral Conversations” features interviews with noted choral conductors and composers. An interview with Roland Carter is featured in the August 2020 issue.
You can read the interview in its entirety online at acda.org/publications/choral-journal. Click “Search Archives” and choose August 2020 from the dropdown menu.
As a performer, do you have a tonal ideal for spirituals?
I’m sure there would be those who would disagree with me, but I tend to bring the same musicianship to the spiritual that I would bring to Brahms or Schubert. I look at the music of Harry T. Burleigh, Hall Johnson, Jester Hairston, William Dawson, and R. Nathanial Dett… those are the standouts for me. Each one approached the arrangement of spirituals in a very different way. Only one tried to capture, I think, the authentic way of performing, and that is Hall Johnson. He tried to capture what he heard growing up. But other than that, I don’t treat any arrangement of a spiritual as an attempt to recapture what the slaves sang. I just don’t think that is what I set out to do. My model has been basically what I learned as a musician or in conducting with any other music.
I don’t know if they still teach the heart pulse relationship for tempo in Renaissance Music or arsis and thesis, but I like that with the spiritual just because of the rhythmic basis of it. I think often we try to put too many beats in the measure, which interfere with the fl ow of the music. It’s the same with a Mozart Symphony. You wouldn’t beat every beat of an allegro. I think that works really well with spirituals. I don’t really have a tonal model. I’m a person of the moment. I don’t feel the need to do a piece the same way twice.
Read the rest of this interview in the August issue of Choral Journal.