For the Love of Choral Music

ACDA at the Salt Palace Convention CenterDay One of ACDA was wonderful. Started the day with a fun session on circle singing and improvisation in rehearsal. The audience of the session became the singers and active participants. Starting my ACDA experience with some singing was great, and it gave me some food for thought about how to work creatively in my own rehearsals!

Then had an opportunity to connect with colleagues from Southern Illinois, Susan Davenport and Carlyn Zimmerman. Susan is the director of choral activities at SIUC and graciously loaned us some octavos for the Gloriana concert last summer. If it weren’t for Illinois ACDA, I wouldn’t know Susan at all and wouldn’t have the opportunity to connect with other choral colleagues. ACDA functions on a large scale as Gloriana did for many of us last summer: it provides an opportunity for choral folks to get together and share what they love.

Concerts for Day One were beautiful. The first session I heard included the Thornton Chamber Singers from the University of Southern California under the direction of Jo-Michael Scheibe. My favorite work on their program was the Trois Chansons Bretonnes by Dutch composer Henk Badings. These are lovely, evocative pieces and the choir’s French diction was superb. Scheibe is a great champion of new music and living composers. Their program featured music by two composers who are still in their twenties, including an exciting and beautiful Alleluia setting by Jake Runestad (b. 1986).

Also in this session was the Brigham Young University Women’s Chorus, consisting of 160 singers. Yes, one-hundred-sixty. Their program indicated that this choir has over 10,000 alumnae. ACDA conventions are always a wonderful reminder that choral music is alive and well in the United States. The BYU choir sang an incredible work by composer Daniel Hall. Reflections from Yad Yashem serves as the composer’s own response to a children’s holocaust memorial and presents a combination of texts that includes quotes from Genesis in English interspersed with the composers own words and alternating with names of children who died in the Holocaust. The work closes with the opening line of Psalm 23 in Hebrew and what effectively becomes a prayer for the dead: the choir sings the name of a child followed by a line from the Hebrew lullaby “Numi, Numi, Yaldati” (Sleep, Sleep, My Little Girl). The program included extensive information about the piece, the full text and photos of children from the memorial. The program helped illuminate the music and made my experience of the piece much more powerful. This is an important reminder that it is important to help your audience understand what it is that you are performing, especially in choral music where texts are involved.

Later in the day, I had the privilege of seeing Helmuth Rilling work with some young conductors in a master class using choruses from Handel’s Messiah. One of the conductors, Arianne Abela, was a young woman I know from our days with the San Francisco Girls Chorus. (She was a young girl when I was just starting out conducting for the Chorus.) Arianne did a beautiful job. Her conducting was clear. She was knowledgable, professional and responsive both to the ensemble and to Rilling’s suggestions. It is exciting to see the future of choral music at ACDA. In a report on the state of ACDA last night, it was announced that 25% of the over 5000 attendees at the conference were student members. And that is 25% of the conductors. The 5000 attendees does not take into account the thousands of singers in all the performing choirs.

In closing, I can’t give a report on Day One without talking about the exciting double-billing last night: the King’s Singers and the Real Group. Thoughts of Gloriana came to mind as the King’s Singers performed Weelkes’ As Vesta was from Latmos Hill Descending. It is always remarkable to me that the King’s Singers have been around for decades and have had a shifting membership, but have always maintained the same sound and aesthetic. Also, I can’t believe that the Real Group is celebrating their 30th anniversary. The first time I ever heard them was at my first ACDA national conference in San Antonio 1993. I was bewitched by the Real Group at the time, and have been a big fan ever since. Just seems like a few years ago. My seven-year-old daughter was so excited to hear that I was going to see them in person. She’s a second-generation Real Group fan and wanted to come hear them, too.
This is what ACDA is about: passing on beautiful choral music from one generation to the next.

More to come…

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