Another great American Choral Directors Association conference has come and gone. Like each one, the week seems to go by very fast and yet offers a large wealth of things to learn from and incorporate into our art form. Sometimes, these conferences can be just the shot in the arm you need to keep fighting the good fight.
It was particularly great that this year’s national conference was in Salt Lake City. What a perfect place for a conference! Two great halls: Abravanel and the Salt Lake Tabernacle, along with the Assembly Hall, the Cathedral of the Madeline, the Conference Center, the Salt Palace and the new City Creek Shopping Center, TRAX, along with all the other amenities downtown SLC has to offer. It was also unseasonably warm for most of the time we were there.
The USC Thornton Chamber Singers had the opportunity to perform where we gave two excellent concerts that were genuinely fun to be a part of. Whenever you perform at the conference it does limit your ability to attend. After Wednesday, however, we pretty much had the rest of the time to ourselves and I made full use of it.
Here are some highlights as well as some thoughts in no particular order:
- Repertoire: I can’t help myself. Out of all of the regular gold/blue track concerts, there were aprox. 224 compositions performed (folk songs with no author credited didn’t get counted). Of those 224 compositions, 16 came from the Renaissance or earlier (7%), 8 from the Baroque (3.5%), 4 from the Classical (2%), 17 from the Romantic (7.5%), 21 from 1900-1950 (9.5%), and 158 from 1950-Today (70.5%)
- While this has shifted from year to year, in many ways, it does represent pretty accurately what repertoire is being performed by choirs throughout the United States. Classical music was much better represented than in Dallas (which had 0 compositions). Renaissance and Romantic music were better represented thanks to the King’s Singers, National Youth Chorus of Great Britain, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
- I hear a lot of people complain that all we do is sing old music by dead people. I also often hear choral musicians saying that we need to “start” performing more recent music by living composers. As you can see above, this is already the majority of music we perform. It was very much the same situation two years ago in Dallas.
- There were a lot more choirs from outside the United States performing than previous years. It some cases, multiple ensembles per concert. This is GREAT because it exposes Americans to more ensembles, repertoire, and choral tones than what they encounter in the US. Choral musicians have a tendency (especially in large metropolitan areas) to be insular and only focus on ensembles in our own vicinity while being vaguely aware of ensembles in other parts of the country and world. We saw choirs from England, Estonia, Cuba, South Korea, and Japan, among other places.
- The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra performed under the baton of Tõnu Kaljuste. While their singing and playing were top-notch and their program cutting-edge, they messed up in a big way–they gave us NO program. They performed Arvo Pärt’s Adam’s Lament, Brett Dean’s Carlo, and Lepo Sumera’s Concerto per voci e strumenti (along with an encore by Arvo Pärt). It’s a brilliant selection and music that we all need to be exposed to, but how can ANY audience be expected to follow what’s happening with no texts, no translations, no program notes, or any sort of explanation. It was only after the performance that I was told that Carlo was inspired by and quoted Carlo Gesualdo’s music–something that would have helped me enjoy it more if I had known that before the performance. As a result, many people walked out in the middle of an otherwise incredible performance. This is why modern audiences are alienated by classical music (more on this later).
- The Mormon Tabernacle Choir was in top form with some of the best programming I’ve seen them do. It was Mack Wilberg, being the incredible Choral Lit. teacher he is, showing the rest of American how to program a concert. Brilliant choices. Many of the pieces from the Romantic era were ones that I hadn’t been exposed to yet. The entire 75 minute program was done without any applause in between. The whole program was a tremendous statement! We ALL need to study that program much deeper and learn lessons from it.
- One of the most inspiring programs and performances was the Sante Fe Desert Chorale at the Cathedral of the Madeline. They sang and read a lot of texts by Rumi and Hafiz, and incorporated other music closely related to it. The tone was rich and the performance engaging. Whenever people got up to give readings, a little bit more of their personality came out. It was definitely a moment when they shined. After this performance, it’s easy to see how the Sante Fe Desert Chorale have become one of the finest small choirs in the United States. Bravo to Joshua Habermann.
Overall the conference offered a lot of great opportunities. I purchased bags full of music and I’m ready to dive in and find lots of new treasures. It also inspired me to keep writing (easier said than done). I only wish the next conference would also be in Salt Lake City, but I’m looking forward to Pasadena for western division in 2016 and Minneapolis for national in 2017.