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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Norman Lebrecht interviews available free

British critic Norman Lebrecht has done a great series of interviews for the BBC. Now available free for download here.

Quite the list of musicians:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Diane Loomer remebrance in Chorus America

Chorus America has a nice remembrance of Diane Loomer:

Celebrating the Life of Diane Loomer, C.M. 1940-2012

December 20th, 2012

On December 10th, the choral world lost one of its celebrated and respected choral conductors. Diane Loomer died in Vancouver, Canada after a short illness. She was 72. Here Chorus America board members Susan Knight and Leonard Ratzlaff remember their colleague and friend.

A native of Minnesota, USA, Diane moved to Vancouver in 1962. She was known for her many contributions in the choral sphere, but perhaps most prominently for her co-founding, with Morna Edmundson, of the women’s choir Elektra (1987) and the founding of the men’s choir Chor Leoni (1992). The latter was inspired by Sweden’s renowned male choir, Orphei Drängar, founded by Eric Ericson. Both Elektra and Chor Leoni performed and toured nationally and internationally, as well as regularly recording and broadcasting. Both choirs were in receipt of many accolades for their choral excellence. In 2007, Diane created her last ensemble, EnChor, intended for experienced singers “who had reached their 55th birthday”.

In addition to her choirs, Diane led an active career as a guest conductor and clinician. In 1994, she was the first female musician to conduct Canada’s National Youth Choir. She was a leader and encourager of choral colleagues and singers alike. Mentorship of young choral musicians was important to Diane, and she established programs to nurture their development. Diane gave great energy to promoting Canadian choral composers, and left a prolific commissioning legacy. This work was further enabled through the dissemination of these works through her dynamic touring, broadcasting and recording practice, as well as establishing, with her husband Dick, Cypress Choral Music, a publisher of Canadian choral music. A great supporter of arts organizations, most recently, Diane served as Vice-President for Advocacy from 2008-2012 on the board of the Association of Canadian Choral Communities. In 1993, she was a key organizer of IFCM’s 3rd World Symposium on Choral Music. She was also a sustaining member of Chorus America, providing the organization with additional support beyond her membership dues.

As a conductor, Diane’s instinct and philosophy was informed by her core belief in the person and in community, and the power of choral music to inform and enrich life. An impeccable musician, her work was also infused with empathic connection to her singers, the music and her audiences. In a recent national radio interview, in speaking about the sound of her men’s choir Chor Leoni, she witnessed this belief: “It’s sensual, it’s human, it can be brilliantly heroic and achingly tender... [it] can envelop and cradle listeners in a visceral way.”

Diane Loomer was a member of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian honour. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of British Columbia in 2011. However, for all those who had the privilege to know her, she will principally be remembered for her delight in life and the caring warmth and inspired gift which she so generously shared throughout her stellar career.

Condolences may be posted on www.chorleoni.org.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Another loss to the choral world--Diane Loomer

Diane was, quite simply, a marvelous musician and human being. I can't say I knew her extraordinarily well, but had enough opportunities to be around her, talk with her, and hear examples of her work, dating back to 1990, to know what a special person and artist she was. Here a short obit from the Vancouver Sun--there will be more in the next few days from many sources, I know. A sad day for all of us in the choral world.


Famed Vancouver choir founder Diane Loomer dies at 72

Diane Loomer, the founder and artistic director of famed Vancouver men's choir Chor Leoni, has died.

A notice on the choir's web site says Loomer, who died Monday, left a legacy that is "alive in the many works of Canadian composers and arrangers she championed, the artists and conductors she mentored, the singers she led in workshops, rehearsals, and performances around the world, and in the hearts of every past and present member of Chor Leoni."

The notice added: "Our thoughts are with her husband Dick and her family at this sad time and we request that you respect the privacy of the family."

Born in Minnesota in 1940, Loomer was also co-founder and conductor emerita of Elektra Women's Choir, a member of the Order of Canada and a YWCA Vancouver Woman of Distinction in Arts and Culture.

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra conductor Bramwell Tovey once said of Loomer: " Under Diane Loomer's direction, Chor Leoni has a polish, a sound, a spontaneity and a style that I feel is unequalled by any male voice choir that I have ever heard - and that includes the best on offer at the Eistedfodd in Wales."

Excerpts from University Singers concert on YouTube

The University of North Texas University Singers had a concert recently and the following excerpts are now on YouTube: 
Bruckner motets: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lI_p-0EBOa8
Britten Festival Te Deum: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDdJFW9DOHg
Peter Hallock - Song of Moses: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lm8gwrpm1_E
Rosas Pandan with Pei-Chi Lin conducting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwCfy78coK0
Trent Worthington Alberta Cowboy Songs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4F0Q_oroBI

We're very lucky at UNT to have support for live streaming of concerts and to be able to convert that video to YouTube clips. Huge thanks to Blair Liikala for all his work on this!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Younger and younger orchestral conductors

Norman Lebrecht writes about the younger generation of conductors who increasingly are getting major posts here.

It's an interesting trend. I've written about a few as well: 3 posts on Gustavo Dudamel when in Sweden, several posts on Yannick Nezet-Seguin, some on Daniel Harding, and several on the young Dutch choral conductor Peter Dijkstra.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Creating a Positive Culture in Your Choir - IV

One of the things that makes a huge difference in how much your choir accomplishes is what I'll call the "density" of rehearsal. By that, I mean that the ratio of hard, focused work on those things that need it (versus the time that isn't so productive).

There are lot of things that go into this, much that has to do with you and not your choir: your preparation (knowing the music, knowing what will be challenging or not), having solutions for problems at hand (rehearsal techniques/devices), having a well thought-out rehearsal plan, etc.
However, part of it is convincing your choir (building the culture) for hard, focused work.
I'll go back to Doug Lemov and John Wooden for this (and much more about both in future installments): Lemov (author of Teach Like a Champion) has a new book called Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better. Lemov's rule 7 is "Differentiate Drill from Scrimmage." One of the noticeable things about the way Wooden worked his UCLA teams was to spend much more time in drill (focused on specific skills) than scrimmaging (playing a mock game). The advantage was that in drill, he could focus his players' work on skills and techniques that needed work (passing, shooting, defence, etc.), whereas in a scrimmage, only one player had the ball at any one time and less work for each player.

I introduced this idea to my choir this fall, equating scrimmage with a run through of a piece or section of a piece--valuable for both me and them to see where they were, what worked well and what didn't (and, of course, to get the experience of singing through the entire piece, which is what they'll do in the concert). However, I explained that we would accomplish most with drill, where we worked the difficult sections of a given piece of music, or focused on pitch, vowel, rhythm, vocal technique, or whatever else needed special attention. Sometimes, I simply said, "scrimmage," so they'd know they were doing a run-through, and to work towards what the performance would be (and to note what was and wasn't ready yet).

In drill on the other hand, they knew they were going to do multiple repetitions of something, perhaps only a few notes, but with great focus on whatever elements were brought to their attention.
They got the concept very quickly, which has meant a much greater rehearsal density for this choir. There are other elements in building this, but I hope you get the idea as well.

Of course, the level and age of your choir will determine how much and how long you can focus on small, but important, elements of the music, and how many repetitions are possible before you need to move to something else. We all have to figure out what the attention span is (although part of building a great choir culture is gradually lengthening and deepening your singers' abilities in this regard), how quickly to pace, how quickly to move from one activity to another. However, even with young singers, I've seen incredible concentration and focus --  and not all in "elite" situations. It's amazing how much young people can learn to do, given a wonderful conductor with the skill to teach them!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lovely tribute to Philp Ledger

Here.

I won't quote from it . . . just go to the link. From Chris Gillet, free-lance opera singer and former King's College Choir singer.

Monday, November 19, 2012

great NY Times review of J.E. Gardiner Beethoven 9 & Missa Solemnis

Beautiful review--wish I could have been there!

The New York Times


November 19, 2012

Beethoven, With Not-So-Subtle Attacks of Piccolo, Drum and a Standing Violinist

Too often we think of historically informed performances in terms of what is stripped away: less vibrato; fewer players; the muted brilliance of gut strings and natural horns. But as John Eliot Gardiner demonstrated in two red-blooded performances of Beethoven masterworks at Carnegie Hall this past weekend, the period-instrument movement is, at its best, an ambitious grab for big effects and heightened expressive power. On Friday he led his Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in a flame-drawn rendition of the Ninth; on Saturday he gave a glowing performance of the “Missa Solemnis.” 

Mr. Gardiner created the Orchestre Révolutionnaire, a large symphony orchestra playing on 19th-century instruments, in 1989, but its sounds still hold surprises. Some are quietly revealing, like the wood-bodied flute that insinuates itself into the soloists’ quartet in the “Et incarnatus” of the “Missa.” Others come as a shock: the kettledrums that sound like cannon fire; the piercing insistence of a piccolo that seems to have been requisitioned from Napoleon’s army. 

But, ultimately, the choice of instruments is like casting in theater: a dream lineup of character actors still needs a director with vision in order to tell the story. For Mr. Gardiner, that vision begins with the text. Even in the purely instrumental movements of the Ninth, there appeared to be words encrypted in the music, so declamatory and speechlike were some phrases. At other times he whipped up furiously fast tempos that left no room for the sort of ponderous self-importance that can sneak into performances of Beethoven’s music and that are deadly in the extensive fugues of the “Missa.” Mr. Gardiner is an expressive conductor, shaping phrases with expansive arm gestures and the occasional sideways flick of a hip. 

In the choral finale of the Ninth and throughout the “Missa,” the primacy of the text was never in doubt. The Monteverdi Choir sang it with crystalline diction and extraordinary flexibility, giving individual words deliberate dabs of color. Rarely has the word “Kuss” — the poet Schiller’s kiss to humanity in the “Ode to Joy” — been delivered with such panache. The “Sanctus” of the “Missa” was uttered in hushed whispers like an incantation. 

The English bass Matthew Rose made an authoritative entrance in the Ninth when he jumped to his feet to sing his introductory recitative. In the “Missa” he showed great reserves of power and depth. Some of the most moving solo singing came from Jennifer Johnston, whose mezzo glows with unforced feeling and whose pure style fits well into the period-instrument world. The soprano Elisabeth Meister and the tenor Michael Spyres rounded out the finely matched quartet of soloists.
But certain instrumentalists, encouraged by Mr. Gardiner, managed to steal the spotlight when he invited many of them to stand for their solos. Among them were Peter Hanson, who rose for the extensive violin part that meanders in and out of the “Benedictus,” and the three trombones who acted as a sort of celestial press gang throughout the “Missa.” In the final bars of the “Ode to Joy” the piccolo stood in front of the chorus like a fifer leading his troops into battle.

Philip Ledger dies

Ledger was best-known to most of us as conductor of the King's College Choir from 1974-82, following Sir David Willcocks.

He had a distinguished career, as one can see from his Wikipedia post:

Sir Philip Stevens Ledger CBE (12 December 1937 – 18 November 2012) was a British classical musician and academic, best known for his tenure as director of the Choir of King's College, Cambridge between 1974 and 1982 and as director of Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama from 1982 until his retirement in 2001. He was also a composer of choral music and an organist.

Sir Philip was born in Bexhill-on-Sea in 1937 and educated at King's College, Cambridge.[1] When appointed Master of the Music at Chelmsford Cathedral in 1961, he became the youngest Cathedral Organist in the country.[1] In 1965 he took up the post of Director of Music at the University of East Anglia where he was also Dean of the School of Fine Arts and Music and responsible for the establishment of an award-winning building for the University’s Music Centre, opened in 1973.[1] In 1968 he became an Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, conducting at the Snape Maltings on many occasions including the opening concert after its rebuilding, and playing in first performances of works by Britten.[1] He appears as continuo player on Britten's recordings of Bach and Purcell.

He was Director of Music at King’s College, Cambridge from 1974–1982 and Conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society from 1973-1982. During his years in Cambridge, he directed the Choir of King’s College in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, made an extensive range of recordings and took the Choir to the USA, Australia, and Japan for the first time.

He was subsequently Principal of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama from 1982-2001 where in 1988 new premises for the Academy were opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. Since that time Ledger has appeared as a conductor throughout the United Kingdom, North America, and Asia.

He is also an organist and keyboard player and has conducted many leading orchestras. He has made numerous recordings with artists such as Benjamin Britten, Dame Janet Baker, Paul Tortelier, Pinchas Zukerman and Robert Tear.

Compositions

Ledger is also noted for his original compositions and arrangements, particularly for choir. After succeeding David Willcocks as director at King's, he wrote a number of new descants and arrangements of Christmas carols, as well as new settings of popular texts such as Adam lay ybounden and A Spotless Rose. His arrangement of "This joyful Eastertide" for mixed voices and organ has been widely performed and broadcast. Many of his compositions and editions have been published by Oxford University Press, Encore Publications, The Lorenz Corporation (USA), and The Royal School of Church Music. His Requiem (A Thanksgiving for Life) is written for soprano and tenor soloists with mixed choir and may be performed with either orchestra, or with chamber ensemble or with organ.

The first recording devoted entirely to his choral compositions, including his Requiem - A thanksgiving for life was recorded on 7 and 8 December 2008 by Christ's College Chapel Choir, Cambridge, directed by both David Rowland and Sir Philip Ledger. The album (Regent Records) was released 16 November 2009.

Ledger has also composed an Easter cantata with carols entitled "The risen Christ". Published by Encore Publications, his new work is composed for soprano, tenor and baritone soli, choir and chamber ensemble. The words of have been compiled from various sources including original texts by Philip Ledger, Robin Morrish and Robert Woodings. The piece also contains words by anonymous authors, two settings that have been adapted from texts by G.R.Woodward and Christopher Wordsworth, as well as a short extract from a poem by Olivia Ward Bush-Banks. The cantata portrays three appearances of the risen Christ. The first of these is to Mary Magdalene at Christ's tomb, the second to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus, and the third to Simon Peter at the Sea of Tiberias. The US premiere took place at Washington National Cathedral on 7 May 2011 in a concert by Cathedral Voices, conducted by Jeremy Filsell. The first UK performance was given at Canterbury Cathedral on 8 May 2011 during Evensong sung by the cathedral choir, conducted by David Flood.

In 2012, Ledger composed another cantata, "This Holy Child", which is a setting of the Christmas story with five original carols, "Jesus Christ the apple tree", "The voice of the angel Gabriel", "In the bleak mid-winter", "Hush! my dear, lie still and slumber" and "A little child there is yborn". The words have been compiled from various sources including poems by Selwyn Image.

Friday, November 16, 2012

New music magazine

Is Sinfoni. Check it out.

Also courtesy of Norman Lebrecht's blog, which is consistently interesting. Well worth adding to your reader (if you don't have one to follow blogs--including mine!--try google.com/reader--it's easy to use and blog posts can be found at one bookmark).

Dangerous times for music -- The Netherlands

As Norman Lebrecht reports in this blog post:

As part of the Dutch government’s plans to dismantle the Broadcast Music Centre in Hilversum – plans that also involve the abolition of an orchestra and chorus – one of the biggest sheet music libraries in western Europe is going to disappear.

Unless the MCO library can raise independent funding in the next nine months, the scores will be sold to dealers or turfed out into the street. About 5,000 have been digitized, the rest will be lost. You can read more about it here (in Dutch).

What a shame that such a cultural resource would be destroyed or scattered in such a way that they would no longer be generally available.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Creating a Positive Culture in your Choir - III

Last time I discussed Doug Lemov's 100% idea: "There's on acceptable percentage of students following a direction: 100 percent. Less, and your authority is subject to interpretation, situation, and motivation."
So, what are his principles for getting to 100%?
He says there are three principles to ensure "consistent follow-through and compliance in the classroom." The first of these is to use the least invasive form of intervention, and this is so you don't have to interrupt teaching (your rehearsal) to deal with a student who isn't following through (talking, not paying attention, slumping in his/her chair, music in their lap, not engaged, etc.) with your 100% expectation. He then gives a list, starting with the least invasive techniques, which means you should start as close to the top of the list (use the least invasive technique which will get the job done):
  • Nonverbal - gesture/eye contact - keep teaching
  • Positive group correction - quick verbal reminder ("sit tall" "focus" "eyes up")
  • Anonymous individual correction - quick verbal reminder, but makes it explicit that not everyone is doing what they should ("Two people are still looking down")
  • Private individual correction - if you have to name names, if possible do it quietly and privately (after rehearsal, at lunch or some other time after class)
  • Lightning-quick public correction - name the student and quickly give the correction ("Quentin, I need your eyes") - you can also follow up with a positive ("Looking sharp, back row! Thanks, Quentin, much better.)
  • Consequence - external consequences should be used as sparingly as possible, but sometimes it's the only way to deal with an individual (Lemov's further explanation: consequences should be delivered quickly and in the least invasive emotional manner; don't allow it to interrupt instruction/rehearsal; have a scaled list of consequences, so you can match the significance of the response to the level of disruption)
I have to say, there's so much more and the book is well worth reading, so take a look if you find what I've shared from Lemov interesting . . . or perhaps it could be a great dissertation topic for some DMA or Music Ed PhD--adapting some of the principles specifically to the choral situation or observe and/or video "champion teacher/conductors."
Again, a reminder that the goal is not "power" -- as Lemov states, "Students need to follow directions quickly and completely so that they can be assured of having the best chance to succeed." Interruptions, lack of focus, singers who don't use good posture or vocal technique, who are disengaged, lead to a poorer musical experience for all your singers. A choir which is focused, doesn't chat, consistently follows principles of good musicianship and vocal health gets much more done . . . and frankly, the experience is a better one for everyone. It allows you to concentrate on teaching: good technique, wonderful sound, musicality, and expression. Isn't that what we want for all our students?
Finally, why the "thumbs up" at the top of the page when I've been talking about interventions for disruptions to whatever you feel needs 100% compliance? Well, you should also to reinforce those students who are doing what they should. That can be to the group ("great focus today!" "what a fantastic sound you just made!" "did you hear how beautifully that chord was in tune?!"), but can also be to individuals ("I love the way you watch, Megan!" "Thanks for the great posture, Mike"). But I also (usually after talking about something like looking up) find a non-verbal way--and yes, I do use the "thumbs up"--while conducting to a student whose eyes are with me. It tells them that I noticed, that I care about what they're doing . . . and that also makes a difference.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Creating a Positive Culture in your Choir II

Once again, the idea behind this series is how to build a positive culture in your choir.
 
John Wooden, the most successful college basketball coach in history, was famous for the structure that he built into his practices (rehearsals) and the clear expectations for each player on the floor. He was amazingly detail oriented and believed that "little things make big things happen" (the title of one chapter in his book, Wooden on Leadership). For example, he talks at one point about how at the beginning of the year he personally taught his players how to put on their socks and tie their shoes--because if their socks were not put on properly, the player could get a blister and affect his performance--and shoes not tied properly could come undone in a game and cost points.
 
A few thoughts about "little things" to build into your choir's culture:
  • be on time (how does your choir expect to begin the rehearsal? In seats? quiet and ready to work?)
  • be prepared: have your music and pencil
  • use your pencil (which means teaching choir members how to mark their scores)
  • how to sit ("tall," feet on the floor)
  • how to hold your music (up so you can see music and conductor)
  • how to focus during rehearsal (is talk/chatter tolerated?)
One could go on -- I'm curious about what things you think are essential "little things." Let me know!
 
But once you've decided what your choir will "look/act like" in terms of those little things, fundamentals (or whatever you wish to call them), how do you build them into the choir's culture?
 
Doug Lemov's Teach Like a Champion is a really wonderful book. Lemov is managing director of Uncommon Schools and concerned with how to take lessons learned from master teachers and teach young teachers to do this same. If you're interested, check out the website for the book, which has video examples and excerpts. The book itself comes with a DVD that contains real-life examples illustrating the principles in the book (the subtitle is "49 techniques that put students on the path to college").
 
One of the techniques is simply called, "100%" (technique #36, by the way!). The key idea is, "There's one acceptable percentage of students following a direction: 100 percent. Less, and your authority is subject to interpretation, situation, and motivation." Here's a bit more of what he says:
 
The assertion that the standard, not the goal, is 100 percent compliance may sound terrifying and draconian: a power-hungry plan for a battle of wills or the blueprint for an obedience-obsessed classroom where little but grinding discipline is acheived. The classrooms of champion teachers belie this expectation, however. They finess their way to the standard with a warm and positive tone. They are crisp and orderly; students do as they're asked without ever seeming to think about it. Yet the culture of compliance is both positive, and, most important, invisible. Not only can these two characteristics be part of a classorom with maximum order, but in the end, they must. Discipline that is most often positive and invisible (that is, a matter of habit) is, arguablly, the only sustainable variety.
 
Note the statements, "Yet the culture of compliance is both positive, and, most important, invisible. Not only can these two characteristics be part of a classorom with maximum order, but in the end, they must. Discipline that is most often positive and invisible (that is, a matter of habit) is, arguablly, the only sustainable variety." Those are my italics, of course--it is building a positive culture (habitual ways of doing things) that reinforce themselves . . . ultimately leading to a much more positive (and effective) experiene for everyone in the choir.
 
This is getting long, so I won't outline Lemov's ways of achieving 100% here (next time!), but you may say, "This just seems like the old lessons in classroom management." Well, that's true, in part. But unless these "little things" and the concept that everyone in your choir will do things a certain way takes hold, it's very hard to achieve what you want musically.
 
But just to show that the "cultural" things I'm discussing are not just "classroom management," but can musical habits as well, an example from several years ago when I guest conducted the wonderful Exsultate Chamber Singers in Toronto. At that time conducted by John Tuttle, the choir's musical culture was decidedly Anglican/British choral tradition. One thing I noticed right away was that they took a "lift" after every single instance of punctuation (comma, semi-colon, period, etc.). It was their culture to do this. Any new member coming into the choir would have figured it out quickly and done the same. This meant I didn't have to tell them every time I wanted them to breathe or take a lift in a phrase. In fact, I needed to tell them if I didn't want a lift, but to carry through. However, it meant that this musical element was automatic with the choir.
 
Let me know what you think!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Creating a positive culture in your choir

This will be a short series about the idea of creating a  "culture" in your choir.

I've thought about this a lot over the years. By "culture," I mean those things about the way the choir operates, what the singers do, that become normal and expected--and once established are "enforced" or maintained by the culture. When a new member joins the choir, how much do they pick up about how to behave in this choir simply by being a part of it for a few rehearsals? If you've ever had a cultural anthropology class, you know that cultures develop ways of interacting, social strata, and behaviors that don't need to be externally enforced, but are simply a part of that culture, so anyone growing up in that culture learns many (not all) of those expectations by osmosis, rather than direct teaching or rules.

Of course, one can build a negative culture as well as a positive one!

I remember a few years ago having a great discussion about this topic over pizza with Robert Vance, a terrific young choral conductor, now the Associate Director of Choral Studies at Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music, but then a student at CCM/University of Cincinnati, where I was a guest professor. The discussion ranged widely over ways to do this (he'd just done an interim posiition or sabbatical replacement), what to expect of your singers and how to change an establlished culture. Since he'd been a student of Joe Miller, who'd fairly recently moved to Westminster, we talked about the things Joe had built in his previous position and how that would translate to Westminster, which had gone through a couple interim years after Joe Flummerfelt (who'd built his own, great culture) retired. Having been part of transitions myself, I know how important it is to think of what to build into the new culture (and to be aware of what aspects of the pre-existing culture you might wish to change).

So, what are some things to think about? A few examples:

What does your choir expect to do when they walk in the rehearsal door?
What about posture in rehearsal?
Attention/focus?
Do they talk?
What do they know to do in terms of choral sound/vocal approach?
What's the approach to working on a new piece?
And one could go on and on.

How much do you consciously build the habits, behaviors, approaches that you expect from your choir, so the way the choir works (or older members of the choir) inform newer members about what it means to be in that choir? How much can ultimately happen without having to talk about it?
These are just a few of the things I'll talk about in the next few posts.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Beginning a series on ChoralNet

I'm now beginning a series of blogs on choralnet--here's the first:

Helping your singers feel like their contribution is important

Hi everyone,
 
Many thanks to Philip Copeland for the invitation to share with you through the ChoralNet blogs! Let's get to it.
 
Since coming to the University of North Texas in 2009, one of my choirs was a chamber choir (24-32 voices), the 2nd of the 3 mixed choirs at UNT. This year, for a variety of reasons, Jerry McCoy and I decided to make it a larger choir, around 65.
 
My own background, especially in the past 12 years or so, has had me conducting chamber choirs, often around 24 singers, not larger groups (unless guest conducting). So this forced me to think of more ways to make sure each member of the choir understood and felt that their contribution is important. Instead of being one of 6-8 in a section, now they're one of 15-17. So it's been a fun process to work to create an atmosphere that says to each singer in the choir: you're important and what you do is crucial!
 
When I took over the Choir of the West at Pacific Lutheran University, I inherited a number of practices from Maurice Skones, my predecessor. One was that he almost always had the choir in quartets--and in fact, always in double choir (both sides balanced as to divisi and color/weight of voices), since the traditional opening piece while on tour was for double choir. Even though I hadn't studied with Maurice, I knew (or learned) a fair amount about his methods.
 
Of course, simply singing in quartets makes the singers much more independent by itself--they can't "lean" on someone singing their part right next to them. So I put them in quartets very early (I know this isn't possible for everyone--you may have to do a lot of work in sections before moving them into quartets). Furthermore, one of Maurice's rehearsal techniques was to sometimes work with one choir (of the double choir) at a time--this has several benefits: the other half of the choir gets to listen to what's happening, and can more easily hear for themselves what I'm talking about (are they together? was that chord in tune? was the phrasing musical?), start to make their own musical judgements as well, and there's also a small element of competition (each choir wanting to outdo the other).
 
I've taken this a bit further, often having just the front or back two rows of choir 1 or 2 sing, or even one row. That exposes the individual singer even more--which means it's important that I give positive feedback about what I hear. I don't want to shut them down or have them fear singing in front of others! I've also had just a quartet, or in a couple of cases, just one singer come up in front of the group to sing and work on a passage. All of this reinforces the importance of what every single singer does . . . and also gives each singer a chance to show what they can do. More about this process later, since I have a few models in mind who have done this extraordinarily well.
 
Finally, this week I started rotating the rows, so the same row isn't always in the front or back--this means I hear the individual voices much better and know what they're doing--again, it's harder to "hide." And since they're in quartets, it works perfectly well, although it could work to rotate in a sectional formation so that the same group isn't in back or front all the time.
 
As I say, it's been a fun process! I've enjoyed re-thinking my approach to rehearsals, it keeps me creative, and from falling into the same rut I've done for . . . well, a lot of years!
 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Erich Leinsdorf "exit interview" from Boston Symphony

A fascinating series of interviews with Erich Leinsdorf after he conducted his final concert at Tanglewood following his 7-year tenure at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He speaks of what he considers the highlights, including the American premiere of Britten's great War Requiem.

Leinsdorf was always articulate about music and had a great career. His book, The Composer's Advocate: A Radical Orthodoxy for Musicians, is one that all conductors (and perhaps all musicians) should know.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The magnificent Marilyn Horne

Fabulous article/memoir about Marilyn Horne's early contacts with Stravinsky and his circle in LA. If you haven't heard Horne sing, you should--simply an amazing voice. Listen to her on YouTube here:



As a 13-year old, she sang with the Los Angeles Youth Chorale, conducted by Roger Wagner, and later it's successor, the Roger Wagner Chorale (as did Paul Salamunovich, who was  19 and had sung with Wagner's church choir as a boy--the 14-year old Marni Nixon also sang with the Youth Chorale). I knew Marni Nixon a bit when she lived in Seattle in the late 70's and early 80's and hosted a local TV show for kids called Boomerang. Cyndia Sieden, a coloratura soprano who sang with my Bach Ensemble for a couple years and also was the soprano soloist for me in a Mozart C Minor Mass (and later went on to an excellent international career), was studying with Marni at the time. We talked about Marni doing a concert with Seattle Pro Musica, but unfortunately, we never managed to make it work.

A wonderful article from the LA Times by Mark Swed. Note not only her personal friendship with Stravinsky and his circle, but the incredible repertoire she did (one of the earliest Monteverdi 1610 Vespers, Gesualdo, etc.):


 Marilyn Horne at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. (Patrick T. Fallon, Los Angeles Times / July 29, 2012)

Marilyn Horne: Stravinsky and me

As Music Academy of the West readies the composer's 'The Rake's Progress,' the singer, who heads the academy's vocal program, reminisces about the composer.

By Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic
July 28, 2012, 11:00 a.m.

SANTA BARBARA — On Oct. 11, 1954, a 20-year-old soprano, a recent graduate of USC, performed in the premiere of a new version of Igor Stravinsky's "Four Russian Peasant Songs" at the new and unusual music series Monday Evening Concerts, then held in an auditorium in West Hollywood Park. An all-American, a tomboy with the nickname Jackie, she would be singing Russian for the first time in her life, and the 74-year-old Russian composer, who had relocated to West Hollywood, coached her in the language at his home above Sunset Boulevard. He was so delighted with her that before long she was practically part of the Stravinsky family.

Seventeen days after that premiere, "Carmen Jones" opened in Hollywood. This was Otto Preminger's film version of the Broadway musical, which updated Bizet's "Carmen" to World War II, included new lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and starred Dorothy Dandridge as Carmen and Harry Belafonte as Joe (Don José) in the all-black cast. The white operatic soprano who brilliantly dubbed for Dandridge sounds for all the world like Dandridge. She was the same 20-year-old recent USC grad nicknamed Jackie. Her film credit was Marilynn Horne.

She is, of course, the Marilyn Horne, who became a great Carmen in her own right and an operatic legend.

Now 78, Horne, who looks robust and far younger despite a near-deadly bout with cancer, heads the vocal program at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. Each summer the academy stages an opera and this year Horne has chosen Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress," which was written in Los Angeles and had its premiere in Venice, Italy, three years before Horne met the composer.

The performances Aug. 3 and 5 at the Granada Theatre are the Santa Barbara premiere of the opera, which has experienced a curious neglect in Southern California. It was a good time to talk to Horne about those early days and how Stravinsky and Hollywood of the '50s helped shaped a uniquely important and influential American opera career.

After Horne's fateful first meeting with Stravinsky, conductor Robert Craft, Stravinsky's inseparable associate, frequently invited her to sing old and new music at the Monday Evening Concerts and the Ojai Festival. They became fast friends. Stravinsky's Russian maid took a liking to Horne (which impressed the old man), as did Stravinsky's wife, Vera, whom Horne refers to as "the dearest person, a great lady."

Before long, Horne was a regular at the Stravinsky dinner table along with the literary likes of writers Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood. Composer Nicolas Nabokov was another. Horne calls him Nicky and has an amusing story about fighting him off the time he got her alone in a gondola late one night in Venice.

So what was it like being around the dinner table of the world's most celebrated composer at the time?

"You know, when you're young, that young, I was so stupid that I actually joined in the conversation. I knew this was the great man and maybe the greatest composer of the 20th century. But I wasn't afraid to be with him.

"That's what amazes me. I didn't just sit there mute."

Horne says the talk was usually about literature, music and current events, which Stravinsky followed closely. Conversation was mostly in English, although Stravinsky usually spoke Russian or French around the house.

His doctor was often present as well. "He was a bit of a hypochondriac," Horne explains. "There was no question about it.

"One night at dinner when he coughed, he popped a pill immediately. I didn't word it too badly, I just said, 'Maestro, have you always been interested in things medical?'

"He took a deep breath, 'I adooore medicine.'" Horne happens to be an excellent mimic (which helped her get the "Carmen Jones" gig), and her breathy, Russian-accented Stravinsky would be worth preserving for posterity.

Stravinsky valued Horne as much for singing early music as he did for singing his music. At the time, Stravinsky was fascinated by the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras, and thanks to the pioneering efforts of Craft and Stravinsky's friend, violinist Sol Babitz, Los Angeles became a progenitor of what later turned into the international early music revival.

Horne's contribution was as a member of the Gesualdo Madrigalists, which Craft had formed to explore the radical, weird music of the late 16th, early 17th century Italian composer who murdered his wife for infidelity. Stravinsky and Huxley were obsessed with Gesualdo. Huxley even toured California with the madrigalists, giving tantalizing talks about Gesualdo, whom he described as a "composer-flagellator."

The Gesualdo pieces were typically rehearsed in Stravinsky's home, and on the occasion when a bass line would be missing from the manuscript, Horne says that Stravinsky would go into his study and write one. They would sing from a manuscript with the ink still wet.

This also led to Craft and the madrigalists making some of the earliest Gesualdo recordings. Horne reveals that they were bankrolled by the film composer and new music champion David Raksin. Royalties were rolling for Raksin's score to "Laura," another Preminger film. "Dave too liked to be around the old man," Horne notes.

Horne came along too late to have had anything to do with "The Rake's Progress," the neo-Classical opera Stravinsky wrote withW.H. Audenand Chester Kallman as librettists. And it never worked out that she would sing either its soprano role of Anne, when she was young, nor the mezzo role of Baba the Turk when she was more mature. But Horne did have important, glancing connections with the opera.

One mentor was Carl Ebert, a noted German émigré stage director who headed the opera program at USC. Stravinsky chose Ebert for the world-premiere production of "Rake" in Venice. Horne says she also had many conversations about "Rake" with Craft. And Vera told her stories about Auden, who stayed with the Stravinskys. Apparently the poet rarely bathed and never used soap.

It was not until a full decade after the opera's premiere that Stravinsky's opera was finally mounted in L.A., with a student production at USC. Its U.S. premiere had been at the Metropolitan Opera and, recognized as one of the most important operas of the 20th century, it was being regularly staged in Europe. But Los Angeles Times music critic Albert Goldberg called the opera "deadly dull." Rather than USC presenting the work, he wrote, "it would have been just as well to let a sleeping dog lie undisturbed."

Stravinsky sent an enraged letter to the editor, complaining of Goldberg's "mole's-eye view of music history." The composer pointed out errors in Goldberg's review and concluded by protesting not only what he said about the "Rake" but the critic's "incompetence to write meaningfully about music of any kind."

A touring production of "Rake" by San Francisco Opera was given the next season at the Shrine Auditorium as part of the worldwide celebration of Stravinsky's 80th birthday. "Lord, what a bore!" Goldberg wrote.

Horne observed the bitterness between Stravinsky and Goldberg on several occasions and says it was known in Stravinsky's circle as the Goldberg Variations. "After one lousy Goldberg review," she recalls, "Stravinsky pulled a silver flask filled with Scotch from his pocket and handed it to me. 'Drink this immediately," he said. 'This is the only way to survive.'"

With Craft, Horne found herself singing all kinds of improbable music. She appeared in one of the first modern performances of Monteverdi's "Vespers of 1610." Now considered a major work of the repertory, it was then all but unknown. Stravinsky attended all the rehearsals and performances.

She also continued to take whatever film gigs came along or even do pop covers. She often appeared in the venturesome concerts of the Los Angeles Festival at UCLA that film composer Franz Waxman underwrote. During a festival performance of Honneger's "Joan of Arc at the Stake" she became a close friend of the ballerina and actress Vera Zorina. In addition, she began singing opera in the Shrine Auditorium with Los Angeles Guild Opera, where she appeared in Smetana's "The Bartered Bride," Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel" and Rossini's "La Cenerentola."

She took up with a Los Angeles Philharmonic bass player, Henry Lewis, after meeting him while singing at the Monday Evening Concerts, and they eventually married. Lewis became an assistant conductor of the L.A. Phil under Zubin Mehta and music director of the New Jersey Symphony, making him one of the first major black conductors. Horne met the young Pierre Boulez at the house of Los Angeles Philharmonic percussionist and composer William Kraft. She became chums with Arnold Schoenberg's widow, Gertrude. She worked with émigré conductors Fritz Zweig and Richard Lert.

Horne's career took her in an entirely new direction when she moved to Vienna in 1956 to try to make it in opera. She switched from soprano to mezzo-soprano and concentrated on bel canto repertory. But she never lost touch with Stravinsky.

"I have a wonderful memory of Stravinsky, about 1967," she says, beaming. "We were doing 'Oedipus Rex' in Canada, and a bunch of us were having a conversation. Somebody asked me, 'Jackie, have you ever sung such and such?' I said, 'I've already forgotten that.'

"And then Stravinsky said, 'Oh, the things that we forget. But Jackie, I will never forget the beauty of your voice.'

"That's a nice memory, I'll tell you. And it's even sweeter today."

And what about today? Horne has been one of the fortunate patients to survive pancreatic cancer. "I had another clean bill of health in early June," she says. "It's been five years now."

She then knocks on wood. The rhythm is Stravinskian.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Another obit: Al Swanson

It seems I'm writing too many obits lately as posts, but that's a consequence of getting older, I guess.

Al Swanson was two years older than me, but we (and his wife-to-be Eileen) were in Rod Eichenberger's University of Washington Chorale together. I sang in the choir at his wedding, in particular a setting of the Gloria from the Mass, composed by fellow student Alan Dorsey--I still have a copy.

As you'll see by the obit below, Al was an amazing recording engineer. After UW days we didn't keep in close contact, but Eileen, an accomplished violist, played for me sometimes, and my PLU choir did several projects with the Northwest Chamber Orchestra, where she was an original member and principal violist.

When I took on the Seattle Symphony Chorale from 1990-94, I was again in contact with Al, since he recorded all the SSO concerts and worked on the Delos recordings we did (I prepared the Chorale for 8 or 9 different ones in those four years). Later I also worked on a couple CDs as "producer" with Al for friends: one of Janeanne Houston's CDs and the Northwest Chamber Chorus with Steve Demorest.

Through recording so many artists, Al touched countless lives. He'll be greatly missed, most greatly by his family: Eileen, two children, and what will be their first grandchild this fall.

Albert Swanson

Albert George Swanson

Albert George Swanson - audio engineer, musician, essayist, philosopher, photographer, crossword puzzle creator, and adored husband, father, and friend - died July 24 after battling an overwhelming blood infection. He was diagnosed in 2010 with a rare autoimmune disease, Wegener's granulomatosis, and had been on immunosuppressants from that time.

Al was born Sept. 15, 1948, to Albert George Swanson and Aris Shankle Swanson in Tacoma, where he grew up. He attended Mount Tahoma High School and the University of Washington, playing trombone in the Seattle Youth Symphony and in the Husky Marching Band. While studying music and psychology as an undergraduate and ethnomusicology as a graduate student at the UW, he began recording music, which became his profession after college. Al went on to produce recordings for dozens of musical groups throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond for more than four decades.

He served as the Seattle Symphony's audio recording engineer from 1983 through 2006, recording the Symphony's live performances and editing them for radio broadcast on Classical KING FM 98.1. As the Symphony's audio engineer, Al participated in the majority of the Seattle Symphony's prodigious discography of more than 140 recordings - some 50 of which were reissued this year -including the 12 that received Grammy nominations, working with labels Delos, Naxos, JVC, MMC, and Reference Recordings, among many others. Al served as principal recording engineer on numerous Seattle Symphony albums, including the works of American composers Alan Hovhaness and William Schuman.

Al's projects ranged from orchestras, soloists and choruses to rap videos and bagpipe bands. Al regularly recorded ensembles such as the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival, Music of Remembrance, Husky Marching Band, Seattle Youth Symphony, Seattle Choral Company, Seattle Peace Chorus, the Esoterics, and Seattle Girls' Choir, and he spent 25 years as the choir director at Zion American Lutheran Church in Wallingford. He was instrumental in the development of the Seattle film-score recording scene in the 1990s, serving as chief technical consultant (look for Al's name in the closing credits of "Die Hard: With a Vengeance" and "Mr. Holland's Opus"). In 1995, Al recorded the ballet score of "Swan Lake" in Saint Petersburg, Russia, for the Houston Ballet, and in 1996 he recorded organist Carole Terry on the legendary Ladegast Organ in Schwerin, Germany. Of Al's 2009 recording of the Icicle Creek Trio, Jerry Dubins of Fanfare magazine wrote: "The results are astonishing. ... Without a doubt, this recording captures the stage in one of the most transparent, lifelike sonic images I've yet to hear. It's as if the musicians, having been teleported from the recording session, simply materialize in my living room."

In 1977, Al was one of the founding committee members of the Audio Engineering Society's Pacific Northwest section. He continued as a committee member through 1981, and served another term on the committee in 1990. Al was elected chair of the Pacific Northwest section in 1992, and vice-chair in 1991 and 1993.

Al was a man of his mind, and his gift for wit and irony lives on in writings and essays on all subjects. At any given time he was likely to be speaking, reading or writing about topics such as corvid intelligence, quantum physics, the artistry of Carl Barks, temperate rain forests, the psychology of music, home construction, international linguistics, photographic techniques, volcanology, and the health industry. He loved baseball, and in season he could typically be found in his favorite easy chair with the Mariners on television, one or more cats on his lap, and his composition book in his hands.

After his diagnosis of Wegener's granulomatosis in 2010, Al became a self-taught expert on the condition. He was active on forums and blogs dedicated to Wegener's for the rest of his life, dispensing wisdom and serving as a resource for those suffering from the rare disease.

Survivors include wife Eileen; daughter Amy King and husband Geoffrey of Seattle; son Stephen and wife Jeanne of Spokane; sister Pat Kaer and husband Bjarne of Goodyear, Ariz.; numerous nieces and nephews; and his first grandchild, due in October. The family's thanks go out to the staff at the Swedish Medical Center ICU and to Dr. Robert Winrow for taking such good care of Al.

A celebration of Al's life will be held at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 5, in the chapel at Bastyr University, 14500 Juanita Drive N.E., Kenmore, WA, 98028. Please visit Al's online obituary and guestbook at www.bonneywatson.com. Memorials may be made to the Vasculitis Foundation at www.vasculitisfoundation.org.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rilling's last year in Eugene--End of an Era

Helmuth Rilling, about whom I wrote here, closes out his long run with the Bach Festival in Eugene this year. An amazing man with an even more amazing career!

From the Eugene Register Guard:

The passion of Rilling

Bach Festival co-founder is approaching the end of his long run

Published: (Thursday, Jul 12, 2012 01:06PM) Midnight, July 12

As he prepared last week for Sunday’s upcoming performance of the St. Matthew Passion, Helmuth Rilling grilled his conducting students behind the scenes at the Oregon Bach Festival, making sure that they were tuned into even the tiniest details in the sprawling choral work by Johann Sebastian Bach.

As he has done here each summer for more than four decades, the 79-year-old festival founder and artistic director from Stuttgart, Germany, demanded that his students — who come here from around the world to work with him — study the music’s text as thoroughly as a good film director might explore the motivations of a movie’s characters.

“These are texts that have a deep meaning,” Rilling explains later that afternoon, relaxing with his wife, Martina, at a borrowed home overlooking Eugene. “I always have to challenge them to understand this.”

Rilling — and the Oregon Bach Festival itself — are at a turning point.

The co-founder, along with University of Oregon music professor Royce Saltzman, of a little summer music festival that grew to international prominence, Rilling is stepping down from his post here after next year’s festival, turning the title of artistic director over to Matthew Halls.

In a wide-ranging interview, Rilling talked about everything from the St. Matthew — Bach’s longest work — to American speed limits (he prefers the anarchy of the German autobahns, which have no limits) and the little cigars that keep him going through long hours of musical study.

First, St. Matthew.

As with most of Bach’s work, it is music that is grounded in a particular faith, the European Christianity of the 18th century. Bach himself was an organist and choirmaster, and Rilling insists there is no way to take the Christianity out of Bach’s music.

“Bach regarded himself as a musical theologian,” Rilling says. “He had to do the same thing with his music that the minister did with his sermons.”

And yet the conductor doesn’t think it’s essential for the audience to share Bach’s Christian faith (although Rilling himself does) to appreciate the music.

“That’s because of (Bach’s) ability to speak to many human problems in the St. Matthew,” he says. 

“Love. Hatred. He speaks about disappointment. He speaks about betraying someone.”

And so, Rilling has been able to conduct the St. Matthew to appreciative audiences in places such as Taiwan.

“Of course there are some Christians there, but most of them are not,” he says. “And yet they are deeply interested in the piece.”

Complexities present challenges

The St. Matthew requires enormous forces to perform. It’s written for two orchestras and two choruses, as well as a number of vocal soloists.

Rilling, who prides himself on conducting without a score in front of him on the podium, admits that the St. Matthew was one of the harder works to get control of by memory.

“It took me a long time to get that piece in my head,” he says. “The most dangerous is the recitatives (words spoken without a musical structure). It is easy to learn a fugue. It’s logical.

“But the recitatives ...”

Rilling, like Bach, was an organist early in his career, although he says he hasn’t touched the pipe organ at his home in Stuttgart for 10 or 15 years. He also is a quiet perfectionist, demanding a high level of preparation and understanding from his musicians.

And he is harder on himself than he is on anyone else.

“That comes from responsibility to the music,” he says. “I am responsible for the quality of the performance, and that is a challenge.

“If I am well-prepared, I know that I can get the music ready for performance in the quickest possible way.”

Despite the fact he is known primarily as a conductor of Bach, Rilling also has been a champion of contemporary music at the festival, which has commissioned or premiered works from such leading composers as Krzyztof Penderecki, Osvaldo Golijov and Sven-David Sandström.

Rilling’s approach to new music is fairly simple. He doesn’t care about styles of composition. What 
he does care about is engagement.

“There is one thing that is important,” he says. “Does it have the quality of speaking to the audience?”

Fesitival is part of his life

In person, Rilling is charming, cordial and reserved. He is not given to small talk, and he gives the impression of being a man who lives very much inside his own head.

Rilling pulls out a tin of small cigars, imported from the Dominican Republic, and lights one up. He explains the tobacco habit in terms of his work.

“I just started smoking 10 years ago,” he says. “It’s because I sit there with my score. You can’t imagine how many hours every year I sit there in a chair, studying my scores.

“And together with that, I puff! I am working, and while working, I smoke.”

It’s clear that it is difficult for Rilling to contemplate stepping down from his post with the Oregon Bach Festival. He and his wife have spent a large part of their lives here.

In fact, he interjects, when you add it all up they have lived in Eugene for more than two years. Their two daughters, Sara and Rahel, have grown up as part of the festival; both have performed here.

“I think it would be great for the festival to have a hall the size of, say, 1,200 (seats),” he says. “The (Hult’s) Soreng is too small. Beall Hall is too small.”

But the Hult’s Silva Concert Hall is so large, at 2,500 seats, that many concerts can’t fill the space. And the acoustics in the Silva are middling at best.

“We could do a Bach cantata, and you have 1,200 people and it’s sold out,” he says.

A commitment to education

Rilling has no special post-Bach plans.

“I very much like being at home,” he says. “We have a beautiful house. I enjoy reading some beautiful books. And sometimes my wife takes me on a walk.”

He and Martina also have their first grandchild, Rahel’s 3-month-old son, Joseph, to entertain them.
There is one thing Rilling insists is important that the festival never change, and that is the focus on education.

Rilling would like to see a youth orchestra alongside the youth chorus, for example. He would like to add voice classes and instrument classes to the conducting master class he has taught.

“You can buy important names anywhere and have them perform,” he says, referring to importing big-name stars such as violinist Joshua Bell, who played at the festival’s opening night on June 29.

“But this festival is unique. Why would you even do it without the education?”

Friday, June 22, 2012

New YouTube video up! Victoria Requiem

My Collegium Singers from UNT (well, 14 of them) were invited to perform at the Berkeley Early Music Festival through the auspices of the Early Music America Young Performers Festival. June 7 we sang Tomas Luis de Victoria's Officium defunctorum (Requiem).

It can be found here, thanks to Charles Coldwell, who did a wonderful job recording.

Huge thanks to my singers, who did a fantastic job and worked really hard (and had fun!) prepping for the Festival and giving a wonderful performance.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A colleague dies


I knew Roger primarily as a member of "Liederkranz," an organization that is a wonderful mix of fellowship and love of the choral art. I was a member of this group of conductors for about 8 or 9 years, which met in the Columbia River Gorge each fall. Roger was notable for his great sense of humor--the "seminar" the first evening at the local bar was always a place for the telling of new (or old) jokes and Roger always had some. The picture below captures him beautifully. He will certainly be missed. The article tells much that even I didn't know.

 
PORTLAND, OR -- The University of Portland community is mourning the loss of Roger O. Doyle, a colorful and beloved professor of music at the University of Portland for nearly forty years and cheerful sturdy pillar of the music community in Portland, who died Monday, April 30 of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – ALS, “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” Doyle was 72 years old and is survived by his widow Kay Reboul Doyle, as well as his stepmother Lucille and stepsister Elizabeth, and his nephews Kevin and Christopher Sanborn.

Born in Wichita, Kansas, on Christmas Eve, 1939, the younger of Daniel and Minnie Doyle’s two children, Roger earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees in music education at the University of Wichita (where he was also a noted singer and tuba player, and served six years in the Kansas Air National Guard), and a doctorate on conducting and choral music from the University of Colorado. He taught in high schools in Kansas and at Saint Mary of the Plain College in Dodge City before arriving at the University of Portland in 1973, where he became legendary for his energy, creativity, exuberance, tireless energy for conducting choirs and orchestras, and booming laughter.

But for all his excellence as a teacher and admired colleague on The Bluff, Doyle’s energy and influence ranged much further than the campus. He directed Portland’s Choral Arts Ensemble from 1976 until his final concert with that group in 2010. He served as president of Portland’s classical radio station, KQAC (formerly KBPS) – famously persuading the station’s board to purchase the broadcast license from Portland Public Schools and become an independent station. He founded and directed the Mock’s Crest Productions professional light opera run every summer in the University of Portland’s Mago Hunt Theater. He was often a guest lecturer for the Oregon Symphony. He lectured and conducted in Japan, Austria, Denmark, and Ireland, twice conducting the National Chamber Choir of Ireland. He conducted the Multnomah Club Balladeers for 35 years, from 1975 to 2010. He was a board member of the Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra for nearly thirty years. He was president of the Oregon Choral Directors Association. He wrote graceful essays and articles about music and composers for many periodicals. He founded the annual Best in the Northwest Choir Festival, which has brought thousands of talented high school students to Portland. He presented more concerts in and around Portland than can be easily counted, among them a series of famous sacred music events at Saint Mary’s Cathedral. He persuaded Aaron Copland to donate his scores to the University of Portland, he sang with Barry Manilow, studied with Robert Shaw, and taught thousands of students to sing and to savor and appreciate music and musical theater.

And among the many dreams and sweeping ideas he had that came to fruition, he finally did conduct Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, in 2008 in Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Portland, with the University Singers and the Choral Arts Ensemble, in two legendary performances; he finally did spend months in his ancestral Ireland, on a research sabbatical in 1998, where, among other entertainments, he conducted high school choirs and met the famous Irish composer Roger Doyle; and he did finally conduct at the farewell concert his wife Kay had always envisioned for him at the University, in 2010, with more than a hundred of his students and former students singing their hearts out for the professor who had changed their lives.

Yet for all his sweeping accomplishments and myriad projects, Roger’s legacy at the University and in the city of Portland is his character and cheer, his irrepressible humor and open friendliness, and the absolute integrity of the way he lived his life. He loved music, he loved his wife Kay, he loved bringing music to people and people to music. He was an unforgettable man with an immense heart, a lovely tenor voice, and a kindness bigger than an ocean. When he retired from the University of Portland in 2010, beginning to suffer the effects of his illness, the University community paid him the usual honors: emeritus status, scholarship gifts gathered in celebration of his work and spirits, an award for community service established in his name. But the most telling events, perhaps, are the stream of visitors, letters, calls, and notes to him from friends and admirers, so constant and dense that Kay had to resort to scheduling callers in advance; and that June 2010 farewell concert for him, organized by his current and former students, among them the wonderful Portland singer Julianne Johnson. During the show Roger sat on stage, beaming, as wave after wave of the young people he taught brought music back to him as a balm, a prayer, an expression of deep love and respect.

Gifts in memory of Roger may be directed to the Roger and Kay Doyle Scholarship Fund at the University of Portland, a scholarship devoted to students of music.