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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Big Change!

A big change in my professional life is a new position as Professor of Music at the University of North Texas in Denton, TX (north of Dallas).

The story starts last year in Sweden. As many of you know, Kathryn and I attended Robert Sund's retirement celebrations in Uppsala. While there I met Jerry McCoy for the first time in person. We'd both known and admired each other's work for a long time, have close friends in common (not only Robert, but Bruce Browne and others), but just hadn't met personally. We both arrived the day before festivities began, so ended up having dinner together. We had a great time, hit it off, and in the course of things, Jerry mentioned that UNT would have a choral job opening up next year which could be interesting. We didn't talk further of it or correspond after that, but I kept it in the back of my mind and watched for the job announcement.

The position is the result of two different retirements: Henry (Hal) Gibbons, who's taught choral music at UNT since 1980, this past year; and the retirement of Lyle Nordstrom, who heads UNT's very fine early music program, at the end of this coming academic year.

Lyle has built an enviable program, with the ability to put together a full 18th century baroque orchestra (playing at A=415 or 396, depending on repertoire) or sackbuts and cornetti (playing at A=465), or many other periods as well (the collection owned by the university includes over 250 instruments now). Lyle also has conducted the Collegium Singers, a 24-voice ensemble that performs on their own, as well as with the Baroque Orchestra. Works have ranged from medieval and renaissance masterworks to Biber's Requiem, and the oratorios of Handel. Members of that ensemble come from the other choral ensembles at the school, as well as graduate students in voice, early music, or other areas.

So the new position includes conducting two ensembles: the chamber choir Hal has conducted, doing a wide variety of repertoire from all periods; and the Collegium Singers, who will specialize in period performance. With the Collegium Singers this year, for example, there will be an all-Vivaldi program in the fall (the Collegium Singers will do either Dixit Dominus or Beatus Vir, both for double choir & double string orchestra) and a classical program with new faculty member, Christoph Hammer, who is a new faculty member teaching harpsichord and fortepiano (a Mozart Missa Brevis will be on that program). Lyle will do a program of music by "Italians in Germany" in February, with some participation by the Collegium Singers, and May 1 will conduct Bach's Mass in B Minor as his "swan song" at UNT, which will include some notable former students from Lyle's 40 years of teaching at various institutions.

The rest of my load will include a variety of courses: this year a graduate conducting class in the fall and the final undergraduate conducting class for music education majors in the spring, and the choral literature sequence in the following year. Of course, I'll be involved along with Jerry mentoring and evaluating their fine MA and DMA conducting students in recitals, exams, papers, etc.

All in all, it makes for a great mix of activities. I've been out of regular academic work since I left PLU in 2001 (although enjoyed enormously two guest professorships at CCM/University of Cincinnati in the fall of 2006 and this past May). I have to say that while I've loved my professional activities during that period (and the marvelous opportunities that have come through my own ensembles, guest conducting, and two fantastic times in Sweden), I've missed teaching. I've missed both the contact with students and their energy, and regular daily contact with fantastically talented and knowledgeable colleagues.

I'm not giving up Pro Coro Canada! I still remain Artistic Director and have two more years left on my contract. I'll do three concerts this season (instead of four), but look forward to continued work with this wonderful group of singers.

However, I'm excited about all the possibilities that come with our move to Denton. Kathryn and I spent last week in Denton with Jerry and Julie McCoy, arranging housing, setting up our move, meeting with Lyle and Hal, lots of brainstorming with Jerry, and beginning what will be a very intense process leading up to a move around August 1. I think Jerry and I and Alan McClung (who heads up choral music education and conducts the Concert Choir) will make a great team. It'll be an exciting time!

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