Follow by Email

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Learning from Eric Ericson IX - Wrap-up

Eric Ericson is one of the giants of our field and his work has been a model for many others: in his enthusiasm for performing and commissioning new music, in raising standards in a cappella singing, as a teacher, and as a conductor. His ensembles (Chamber Choir, Swedish Radio Choir, and Orphei Drängar) became models of their type and their recordings are likely to live on.

For me personally, it's been fun to look back at my own experiences with Eric and talk to Swedish friends who've worked with him closely. Looking back at these interviews, the following are significant aspects of his work and success:
  • curiosity - about music of all kinds and periods, for new music, for better ways of achieving excellence - this is something we can all emulate - it's a huge reason for his success - he did an enormous amount of new music and constantly encouraged composers to write for the medium of a cappella choir
  • his concern for getting it right (and being willing to work--and work the choir!--until he did)
  • his superb piano skills and his way of communicating through the keyboard to his ensembles - this is not something all of us can do, but for those who have great skill as a pianist, his use of the keyboard can provide a model for a way to work . . . and all of us can learn to play and give pitches in a way that supports beautiful choral sound, rather than call forth harsh and un-vocal ones
  • his conducting technique - while one may not want or be able to copy Eric's exact technique, his concern with mastering technical elements of conducting and (more importantly) making sure the body reflects what a singer needs to sing well should concern all of us -- as Stefan Parkman said, "He wanted to wave his arms and hands in such a way that it allows the singers to produce the sound."
  • the choral sound he developed came out of working for clarity, balance, and beautiful intonation - that he did this with big, well-trained voices helped define a new standard
  • his joy and love for music - as Arne Lundmark said, "In the concert itself I often had the feeling that all his love to music suddenly was shown and we were willing to give him all he asked for." 
Here's a summary of the series in one place:
I - Introduction
II - Interview with Eva Wedin
III - Interview with Robert Sund
IV - Eric teaching conducting technique I (notes from a workshop I observed)
V - Eric teaching conducting technique II (continued)
VI - Watching Eric conduct
VII - Interview with Arne Lundmark
VIII - Interview with Stefan Parkman

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Learning from Eric Ericson VIII - Stefan Parkman

Stefan Parkman has had a long association with Eric. Born in 1952, he first studied medicine, but began singing with Eric in Orphei Drängar in the early '70s. Just a few years later he began his studies in the Royal College of Music. Stefan's an exceptionally fine tenor (listen here or buy the album here to hear his solo in "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square"--conducted by Robert Sund, by the way) who's regularly sung the Evangelist role in Bach's St. John Passion--often while conducting the performance! Consequently, he began at that time to sing as an extra (but ended up singing most projects) for both the Chamber Choir and Radio Choir, and that continued until probably the late '80s. For example, he sang in the Radio Choir for their big US tour in 1983, when they sang for the National ACDA Conference in Nashville. In 1989 he became conductor of the Danish Radio Choir and that ended most of his singing with Eric. Some of his recordings can be found here.
 
In a conversation on March 29 he talked about characteristics of Eric and his ways of working:
  • His curiosity was insatiable and he was always eager to find new ways of solving problems, loved to explore new music, and always wondered, "how can we make this better?"
  • He always worked up until the last second until either the concert or broadcast, not giving up on making it better. "We could all hear that something was out of tune, but he had the curiosity to find keys and tools to solve the problem."
  • With his Chamber Choir he could work longer than with the Radio Choir, which was state-run and had to follow strict rules. With the Chamber Choir he would just go on working as long as he felt he needed. Today, people wouldn't accept that, but he was in the right time to be able to do that.
  • About his piano playing: "I don't think that any singer or choir can sound as beautiful as when Eric played the piano."
  • About his conducting and teaching of conducting: "He always tried to find ways to conduct that are comfortable and good for singers. In this his gestures (and playing) were very vocal. He wanted to wave his arms and hands in such a way that it allows the singers to produce the sound."
  • "He never talked much about text or its interpretation, but I later realized he'd thought about it and it was addressed by his hands or way of rehearsing."
  • "His choral sound was orchestral and homogeneous, a combination of beauty of sound and intonation."
  • New music: "This is a large part of his curiosity, of course. It's not unique, but during his time was unusual."
  • What he learned from Eric: "Gesture that gives both singers and instrumentalists time to breathe, to get their instruments going. In concerts, a vocally wonderful way of conducting. The never-ending eagerness to find solutions. And I can't conduct a piece such as Friede auf Erden, for example, without thinking of Eric, having sung it so many times with him. That doesn't mean my interpretation will be the same--he always expected us to do it in our own way--but learning it and so many other great works with him made a huge impact."
While I'm sure there could be more to say, I'll finish up next week with a summary about Eric and his work. After that, a summer hiatus!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Learning from Eric Ericson VII - Arne Lundmark

Arne Lundmark is the manager for the Swedish Radio Choir, a fine singer, and voice teacher. He's the baritone soloist on a recording of Sven-David Sandström's Etyd, som e-moll (if you get a chance, listen to it--gorgeous!). I was able to write Arne and ask about his experiences with Eric when a member of Eric's chamber choir and after. Here it is:
 
When did you first work with Eric? I studied at the Piteå College of Music so didn't work with Eric earlier in my career. I joined the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir in 1982 after moving to Stockholm. I was a regular member of EECC from 1982 -1992, and did some projects as an extra with both the Swedish Radio Choir and EECC during the years when I started working at the Radio, from 1992-2005.
 
What is characteristic of Eric and his work as conductor: What I was most fascinated by was his very clever way of expressing himself, both with his words and with his hands. And also the way he gave us a picture of the musical character and the harmonic context by sitting at the piano and letting his magic fingers point out the important notes and passages. He had an outstanding way of describing things that was his very own. And as a world class story teller, he obviously used that as a very efficient tool to have break in the rehearsal and get everybody on track and in the mood again.

It was quite frankly "messy" at rehearsals sometimes, and I have to admit that sometimes he spent so much time of tuning the choir so that learning the notes was a bit neglected! His conducting was very much about phrasing the musical line with the most undescribable gestures that everyone for some reason understood. In the concert itself I often had the feeling that all his love to music suddenly was shown and we were willing to give him all he asked for.

And I also have to say that Eric's way of using brilliant metaphors to get the right character is one thing I wish that our conductors would learn from.
 
What’s special about his sound? Is it part of a “Swedish” or “Scandinavian” sound? It's hard to tell. I think the combination of well trained, partly soloistic voices and the idea of all coming together in a transparent and well tuned way for the a cappella was the recipe for a good sound. Whether it was Scandinavian or not I can´t say, but Eric was anyway a pioneer.

What was most remarkable about him? The way he made choir singing go from a social phenomenon into a respected art form. And also how he succeded in attracting good voices to choir singing. That was a unique thing and maybe the first reason why the EECC had such a reputation.
 
Special memories of Eric? There are hundreds of stories, but one other thing that I will not forget is a moment when we invited him at the age of 92 to conduct the Radio Choir in a workshop. He made a fantastic work with some songs of Peterson- Berger. And on the stage he gave us all his blessings with some very touching words.
 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Official obituary for Peter Hallock

The official obituary has now been written by Jason Allen Anderson, Peter’s successor as Director of the Compline Choir since 2009:
scan0001-e1399217106699-102x150Peter R. Hallock—mystic, solitary, composer, organist, liturgist, and countertenor forever linked to Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Seattle—died of congestive heart failure on Sunday afternoon, April 27, 2014. He had just returned to his beloved home in Fall City, Wash., after a lengthy hospitalization. He was 89.

The youngest of five children, Peter was born on November 19, 1924 to George Oakley Hallock and Estella Rasmussen Hallock. Peter’s brother George and sister Peggy preceded him in death. He is survived by his sisters Matilda Ann Milbank of Los Altos, Calif., and Barbara Hallock of Kent, Wash., and several nieces and nephews and a growing number of grandnieces and grandnephews.
PRH_Youth5At age five, Peter’s parents enrolled him in piano lessons, and sent him, along with his siblings, to Sunday School and worship at Saint James Episcopal Church in Kent, Wash. At the age of 9, Peter had his first encounter with the numinous at Saint James; five years later, Hallock was playing the organ there. His organ teacher at the time was Clayton Johnson of Tacoma, Wash. Peter’s sisters Tillie and Barbara would often trek to Saint James to hear Peter play miniature organ recitals on Sunday afternoons; whatever Hallock was doing, his sisters were always there. He was active and creative from an early age, not just in music, but also arts and crafts, weaving, letter writing, puppet theater, and soap box derby car racing.
scan0003After high school, Peter enrolled at the University of Washington (UW), but was drafted into the U.S. Army after only one year of study. From June 1943–February 1946, he served as a chaplain’s assistant and sharpshooter in the Pacific theater during World War II. After the war, he re-enrolled at the UW and resumed organ performance studies with Walter Eichinger, composition with George McKay, and took music courses with Miriam Terry and Eva Heinitz, all of whom maintained a lifelong collegial relationship with Peter. Though Hallock had completed all required coursework by 1949, eighteen months of government-paid education remained, so Peter enrolled at the College of Saint Nicolas of the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM), then based in Canterbury, England. He became the first American Choral Scholar at Canterbury Cathedral, singing under the direction of Gerald Knight. In June 1951, he completed both the RSCM program and was graduated from the UW with a Bachelor of Arts in Music degree. Later, in 1958, he took the Master of Arts in Music degree from the UW.

Among his many contributions to local and national church music traditions are the introduction of countless audiences in the United States, and the Pacific Northwest in particular, to the countertenor voice, and founding the chant study group that eventually became known as the Compline Choir—an ensemble that has led to a resurgence of interest in the Office of Compline. He also fought successfully for installation of the Flentrop tracker-action organ at the cathedral, making Saint Mark’s the first Episcopal cathedral to have such an instrument. He developed the Advent and Good Friday Processions and introduced liturgical dramas at the cathedral. Perhaps his greatest contribution to church music was composition and publication of The Ionian Psalter.
HallockatKimballPeter began work as organist/choirmaster at Saint Mark’s Cathedral on October 28, 1951, a position he held until his involuntary retirement in 1991. He was named Canon Precentor, the first layperson in the Episcopal Church to hold such a title; he received two Bishop’s Crosses from two Bishops of Olympia, was named an Associate of the Royal School of Church Music, and was granted a Doctor of Church Music degree honoris causa by Church Divinity School of the Pacific. In 1992, at the invitation of the Rev. Ralph Carskadden, Peter became organist at Saint Clement of Rome Episcopal Church, Seattle, a position he held until March 2013.

Hallock composed over 250 works, from occasional church music to extended anthems, to dramatic works (sacred and secular), to music specifically written for the Compline Choir. To discover Hallock the mystic and composer, one need only experience his music in the “Holy Box” that is Saint Mark’s Cathedral. It is that “Holy Box” that provides both a physical space and musical landscape in which to hear, process, and intuit Hallock’s music. The texts Peter set provide vignettes of the metaphysical and mystical, from the poetry of Alcuin, to the words of the psalmist, to the poetry of Thomas Merton. Hallock married text and music in ways that allow listeners to experience something wholly unique, something beyond themselves, something numinous. Peter said it best: “Music is a conduit to the inner, spiritual person; and I think the road to God is internal.” No piece of music was immune to revision, even those already published. His most recent compositions include Advent Calendar (2012), commissioned by the Compass Rose Society to honor Archbishop Williams on the occasion of his retirement, and Victimae Paschali (2014), a work that was undergoing final revisions at the time of his death.
PRH_Russia5The Ionian Psalter, Peter’s largest creative work, was born out of a desire for greater congregational participation in Psalm singing. Hallock began composing the Psalm settings on October 4, 1981 and continued through the entire three-year cycle of lectionary readings. Later, he expanded the Psalter and created a customized version for use by Lutheran congregations and those following the Revised Common Lectionary. The Psalter’s name is derived from Ionian Arts, Inc., the music publishing company founded in 1986 by Peter and his lifelong friend and business partner Carl Crosier.
10-1-06 5657At Peter’s invitation, twelve men from the university and community began study of chant in 1955. This study group solidified into a choir that sang the Office of Compline on Sundays at 9:30 p.m. beginning in late 1956. Classical 98.1 KING-FM began broadcasting the service in 1962. Hallock once wrote of Compline: “The Compline service may find its best definition not in terms of what it is, but what it does, for the needs it fulfills for those who attend in person, the large radio audience, and members of the choir. For all of these it is part of a journey towards God. Such a journey must allow for definitions as varied as its sojourners with the promise of a goal as ‘wide as sky and sea.’” Peter directed the Compline Choir until his retirement in June 2009.
As a soloist, Peter began to concertize as a countertenor in 1951, exposing audiences to that unique sound for the first time. The countertenor voice was so unusual in the U.S. that colleges and universities across the country soon requested performances—from the University of California, Berkeley, to the University of South Alabama. As a conductor, Peter’s most memorable conducting might be his first performance of Handel’s Messiah using period or replicas of period instruments in 1985. This period style performance was a first for Seattle; concerts sold out and critics raved.
IMG_1187As an organist, Peter’s lasting legacy at the cathedral is the mechanical-action organ built by the Dutch firm D. A. Flentrop. Installation of the organ began in late 1964 and tonal finishing took place in July 1965. For the dedication, Peter composed Hail Universal Lord. Hallock believed installation of the Flentrop to be one of his greatest accomplishments: “I suppose the Flentrop might be my greatest accomplishment, provided we don’t blow ourselves off the earth, it’ll probably be there for a century or two.”
PRH_SM1As a liturgist, Peter contributed something new to the Advent and Good Friday Processions held at the cathedral. He composed music for two choirs in dialogue (Cathedral and Compline Choirs), liturgical handbells from the firm Petit and Fritsen based in Aarle-Rixtel, Holland, and organ. Hallock’s ultimate metamorphosis of the Advent Procession was in crafting the liturgy around the seven ‘Great O Antiphons’ and the setting each of the antiphons to music, using all the pomp and drama he could muster. As a dramatist, Peter produced liturgical dramas at the Summer School of Church Music held at Saint Mark’s in 1965. Hallock was assisted by Ronald Arnatt (music director), Aurora Valentinetti (dramatic director), and Glenn White (sound engineer). This production team, minus Arnatt, collaborated on future productions in 1968, 1969, and 1975 for Hallock’s Everyman and 1970, 1971, and 1974 for his Days of Herod.
PRH_patio_2013Hallock worked extensively within The Episcopal Church, having been appointed to the Joint Commission on Church Music in 1965; he also directed the choir for the 1967 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. His work with the Joint Commission on Church Music centered primarily on production of the 1973 Songs for Liturgy and More Hymns and Spiritual Songs. Embedded within Songs for Liturgy was the introduction of new, intriguing sounds, like handbells, percussion, and clapping and antiphonal congregational texts, into the worship space.
Though Hallock’s music, creativity, innovations, and contributions to church music are notable, his greatest legacy is the community and family of musicians, mystics, solitaries, composers, weavers, theologians, humanists, agnostics, acousticians, “sound nuts”, chefs, gardeners, nature lovers, and lovers of beautiful things with whom Peter cultivated lifelong friendships. Whether meeting him in the office, organ loft, or his home, following his direction in a rehearsal or performance, sharing a martini over lunch or dinner, exchanging letters or emails, weaving with him at the loom, hiking or walking with him along a nature trail, digging in the dirt with him in his Japanese garden, or collaborating with him on a recording or video project, it was the friendship that mattered most.
A memorial service will be held Sunday, May 18, 2014 at 5 p.m. at Saint Mark’s Cathedral, 1245 Tenth Ave E, Seattle. Contributions in Peter’s memory can be made to one of two 501(c)(3) designated charities; please note “Hallock Legacy” on your gift:
By Jason Allen Anderson, Peter Hallock’s Biographer, Friend, and Caregiver
and second director of the Compline Choir (4 May 2014)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Learning from Eric Ericson VI - Watch!

There aren't many examples of Eric conducting on the net, but here's one with him recording with the Real Group (all the original singers sang as students with him--when he came to Pacific Lutheran University in the mid-80s with his Conservatory Chamber Choir they'd been working together for a while and all were members of that choir).
 
Enjoy!

Monday, April 28, 2014

First of what will be several remembrances of Peter Hallock

Here. In a blog post at the Seattle P.I. by Joel Connelly.


Peter Hallock remembered: Seattle’s world-renowned choral musician

|
Peter Hallock, a world-renowned church musician who made beautiful music in Seattle for 63 years, died Sunday afternoon at his home in Fall City. He was 89.

As choir director at St. Mark’s Cathedral for 40 years, from 1951 to 1991, Hallock is best known as the musician who revived the ancient monastic rite of Compline, which became a Sunday night magnet for generations of Seattle-area young people.

“What an amazing thing he created,” said Austin Rickel, a senior at Center School who did a video on Compline last year.  “Here was a service that you could experience, a spiritual experience that you could appreciate even if you did not fully understand.

“The experience is going to live on: One of the greatest things a person can do, what you should live for, is to create something that goes beyond yourself.  As long as St. Mark’s is in existence, Compline will be in existence with a wealth of participation in something deeply spiritual.”

James Savage, music director at St. James Cathedral, described Hallock as “a giant” and added:  “For me, he was the one who made it possible for me to do what I do here.  He saw a cathedral as a citizen of the community.  He invited people to come for more than worship (services), for annual performances of the Messiah, for organ concerts, for times of grief and celebration.”

Savage was a master’s degree student at the University of Oregon when, in 1974, he was invited to sing at St. Mark’s.  “I had a job waiting for me somewhere else, but I fell in love with Seattle.”
Hallock conducted the Compline Choir until 2003 when he was succeeded by Jason Anderson, who wrote his dissertation on Hallock’s music.  Hallock believed, said Anderson, that “God could be experienced in beauty, in song, in the communal experience as well as the contemplative.”

The Compline service at St. Mark’s, begun in the 1950′s, led to a rediscovery of the late-night monastic prayer tradition in the Episcopal and Anglican churches.  Anderson estimates that, at one time or another, there have been 50 groups across North America modeled on the St. Mark’s Compline Choir.  Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver has a Compline service.
 
“He was instrumental in enabling St. Mark’s and the Pacific Northwest to make a critical contribution to sacred music generally, and to music in the Episcopal-Anglican tradition,” said the Rev. Steve Thomason, dean of the cathedral.

Hallock thought big.  He was the person who caused the Flentrop Organ — usually called “the mighty Flentrop” — to St. Mark’s in 1965.  He authored a three-year cycle of psalm settings for choir, with antiphons for congregational singing, that is widely used in the Episcopal and Lutheran churches.

Hallock was still composing at the time of his death.  One of his last works, a setting of the Victimae Paschali, had its premier during Easter services at St. Mark’s in 2013.

“On Easter, I am not not always thankful of having to listen to everything twice, but with this piece I was most thankful,” said the  Rev. Greg Rickel (father of Austin), Episcopal bishop of Olympia.

Bishop Rickel noted that Hallock stayed at the “Holy Box” on Capitol Hill for 40 years, conducted the Compline Choir for a half century . . . even as he won national and even international recognition.
Hallock was  honored across the pond by the Royal College of Music and was awarded  an honorary degree from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.  He was the first lay musician in the Episcopal Church to be given the title of canon precentor.

“There is nothing normal about that anyplace in the church,” said the bishop.  “He gave his life to St. Mark’s.  He brought so many, many people who had never crossed the doors of a church into a church.”

It’s likely that not one of the hundreds of young people who fill St. Mark’s at 9:30 on Sunday nights knows what a “canon precentor” is.  Yet, generations of college and high school students have come to witness one of Christianity’s most ancient rituals.
 
Hours after his death, the Compline Choir processed to Hallock’s setting of the Easter canticle Pascha Nostrum (Christ our Passover) and remembered him simply at the beginning of the service.  
Arrangements for Hallock’s funeral service are pending.
Peter Hallock made Compline happen, in Seattle and elsewhere. It is his living legacy.


A moving account of Peter Hallock's last trip home

Here.