Directors of choruses are frequently composers themselves, and composers and new music—even when not front and center—has played a role in about every session of this conference I had ever attended. But ACF’s construction of an entire composer track in tandem with this year’s gathering kicked it up more than a notch.
The opening concert, rather than featuring some new music, was completely devoted to new music almost exclusively by Minnesota-based composers, most of whom are alive and were present to hear the audience cheer after listening to their music. A consortium of youth choirs based throughout the state was led by Francisco J. Nuñez, artistic director of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, in performances of his own music and a couple of other works. Then, in turn, eight professional Minnesota choruses took the stage to perform local repertoire. At the end, they all joined forces, a total of 500 voices, to premiere a new work by local hero Stephen Paulus.But the most exciting event of the entire week, at least for me, occurred on the last day—a reading session and master class workshop of four new choral works led by Dale Warland.
I didn’t get to go to Chorus America last week, but Frank Oteri did, and he blogged about it:
Minnesota Public Radio has posted a streaming version of the opening concert of the Chorus America conference from last week.
The program includes
- Choral Arts Ensemble
- Magnum Chorum
- Minnesota Chorale
- National Lutheran Choir
- One Voice Mixed Chorus
- The Singers
- Minnesota Youth Choir Consortium
Click on the links in the middle of the page to get the concert rather than the promo.
The Composers’ Community has an ongoing series highlighting a member composer. This month’s choice is Karen Thomas. Click here to read an interview with her, hear sample MP3s and videos, and get more details.
Jeffrey Tucker writes about the isolation of musicians, saying that church musicians live in their own little world and it’s hard for pastors or parishioners to communicate with them. He says that parisioners
have a sense that they have no more business intervening in the world of music than they have in telling the plumber how to fix the pipes or the roofer how to deal with the leaks. They believe it’s not their place, and many musicians are happy to have people think this way too….Everyone has a stake in the music program of the parish, and yet hardly anyone other than musicians themselves sense that they have any control over the program itself. People have a sense that they have to take whatever the musicians dish out, whether good or bad. This creates a certain detachment and even resentment toward the musicians. The musicians respond with a culture of defensiveness, resenting anyone who dares comment on what they are doing much less introduce fundamental change.
I don’t think that in Protestant churches the detachment is as severe, but I think there is a sense that musicians are members of a club that everyone else is excluded from.
As for priests and pastors, there is no sector of parish life that terrifies them more than the music sector. They have a sense that they might want improvement, especially more integration between what goes on in the loft and what goes on in the sanctuary. But they wouldn’t know where to begin to explain this the musicians. They also worry about alienating them for fear that they won’t come back — since the musicians are rarely there just for the money, of which there is usually very little.
Although the “little” money problem is more extensive in Catholic churches, perhaps, I do think that sometimes pastors don’t really know what they want out of the music, so it gets mistranslated into words like “accessible” and confused by digressions about whose favorite music should get priority. When a pastor is dissatisfied with the music, he often is unable to articulate exactly what the problem is.
Jeffrey’s agenda is bringing back Gregorian chant propers into Catholic services, but I think some of the alienation he described applies to many kinds of churches. His solution, to re-introduce music training in seminaries and empower Sunday School teachers to teach music, sounds nice, but unlikely.