Follow by Email

Friday, July 17, 2009

Personal History -- England Study Tour

One of the things I'm most thankful for is the fantastic people who've inspired me and influenced me.

I mentioned in another post that I was lucky to have some great mentors early in my career.

Neil Lieurance was a student teacher at my high school during my sophomore year, took a non-music job there my junior year (but accompanied the small ensemble, and I also started to take voice lessons from him at that time), and then took over the choral program my senior year. Since he was working on a master’s degree at Western Washington University in the summers, I got to know Robert Scandrett, who headed the choral program there, and attended several summer workshops with clinicians such as Gregg Smith, Günther Graulich (editor/owner of Carus Verlag) and Louis Halsey (a fine conductor in his own right, but probably best known now as the father of conductor Simon Halsey—who’s been Simon Rattle’s choral conductor since the beginning of Rattle’s career in Birmingham). All-in-all fabulous experiences, but compared to the study tour Bob organized, they don't compare!

Bob is an enormously talented musician, still active at University Congregational Church in Seattle, after retiring from being Director of Choral Activities at Western Washington University, where he was Professor of Music from 1967-1990.

He was also director of the Seattle Symphony Chorale from 1976 to 1989 (I followed in that position from 1990-94), founded and directed the New Whatcom Choral Society (Bellingham) for 12 years, was Minister of Music at University Presbyterian Church from 1957-67 (it was a major program with regular performances of major works) and has been associated with the German publishing house Carus Verlag as editor and consultant since 1985 (with wonderful editions of Scarlatti, among others). He graduated from the University of Washington with a Ph.D. in musicology. Also a talented pianist, I remember hearing him accompany a performance of Die Winterreise at one point. He's also a composer and arranger--Kathryn and I were proud to include his setting of Psalm 91 at our wedding.

In 1975 Bob organized an amazing choral study tour of England and I was lucky enough to be included. Others on that trip that I've later worked with included Neil Lieurance, Susan Erickson, Linda Scheuffele, Nancy Zylstra, Richard Nace, and Rick Asher. The trip (as you'll see) took an extraordinary amount of work to organize--in some ways much more than a traditional choir tour. It involved attending rehearsals, meeting with conductors (we met with Roger Norrington in his home), services, concerts, reading sessions at publishing houses, etc. We also had free time, which I usually managed to fill with yet more music. This was just an incredible experience.

I'll do brief posts for the next couple weeks talking about what we were doing each day, plus short excerpts from the diary I kept (although in re-reading it I'm thinking, "Ah the arrogance of youth!"). However, it'll give a flavor (or flavour) of what this trip was like.

We left on June 8 and arrived late the morning of June 9. That evening we attended a rehearsal of the Louis Halsey Singers at St. Giles Church, Cripplegate. Halsey, born in 1929, had attended Cambridge, where he sang in the King's College Choir. He was working at the BBC as a producer when we visited, had first achieved notice with his Elizabethan Singers, and later with the Louis Halsey Singers. I don't think any of their recordings are available anymore, but I remember clean ensemble, nice phrasing, and a fresh vocal sound. He also edited and arranged for a number of Christmas carol books. Halsey later took a position at the University of Illinois, but only stayed briefly.

That night he was rehearsing the Haydn Missa Cellensis, some Tavener motets and a piece by Michael Tippett (there would be a Mozart Horn concerto on the program as well). The choir was mostly amateur, but with a few pros called in for the last rehearsal or so (the British term at that time--maybe still--for these extra hired singers was "stiffeners," which we found quite amusing). The alto section was made up of 3 female altos and 2 countertenors. He normally had only four rehearsals for each concert (the Brits are well known for superb sight-reading ability), which inspired me at that time to get my singers to do more and work faster.

Consequently, I programmed a very ambitious season with my Seattle Pro Musica groups the following year with the goal of moving in that direction: my chamber choir opened the season with the CPE Bach Magnificat and Handel's Dixit Dominus; the Christmas concert included Tippett's Magnificat, Distler's Singet Frisch und Wohlgemut, and Poulenc's Christmas motets; in February a program of Romantic era music by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Wolf; an April performance of the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers (with period instruments); and a June concert with Bach's Lobet dem Herrn, the Debussy Trois Chansons, and Purcell's Come Ye Sons of Art. The Bach Ensemble did it's usual Bach cantata the first Sunday of each month, and a new small ensemble did a debut program with the Byrd 4-part Mass and Bernstein's Choruses from 'The Lark'. I think I was crazy (and imagine my singers did, too)!

At any rate, an enjoyable beginning to the trip. As you'll see later, besides being ambitious to have my singers work faster, I was influenced by the repertoire I heard as well.

No comments: