ACDA 2015 – Salt Lake City


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:

  • Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 11.42.52 AMRepertoire: 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).
  • mormon-tabernacle-choir-background-blueThe 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.


Barlow Endowment + River

Last week, the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition officially announced their commission recipients for 2014. I am very excited that I have been awarded one of those commissions! I am writing a new work for BYU Singers as part of their tour to China.

Earlier this year, during my visit to Portland, I met up with Dr. Staheli and he asked me to write a piece for BYU Singers and encouraged me to apply for the Barlow Endowment to fund it. He asked me to write a “mood” piece with only a few words rather than a piece with a narrative text. He wanted something simpler that the Chinese would be able to understand almost immediately.

I’ve been working over this idea for a while and have come up with an idea. The working title for this piece is “River.” I’ll elaborate more on this later as the piece starts to come together.

My many thanks to the Barlow Endowment as well as my many teachers and mentors who have made me the musicians and most importantly, the person I am today. Getting back to writing…

“Pure Imagination” Now Available for Purchase!

Hey friends, Santa Barbara Music has now released their July 2014 issues which includes my arrangement of “Pure Imagination.” It’s now available for purchase from their website here! You should go buy ALL the copies!

Publishing this pieces has been a LONG and challenging process. Many thanks to all those who helped make this one

New Hymn for My Hymnology Class

Yes, it’s a real subject and yes, it’s a real class. Our assignment was to write a hymn tune to an existing text or widely used meter. I chose this text because I despise the music written by Rousseau in the LDS hymnal. Sadly, I only noticed later that my melody was all too similar to his.

Also, I had to harmonize it. I just couldn’t leave it alone. Seriously, how do you expect me to write a hymn tune without harmonizing it? If you like it, you can print it and use it freely. Just give credit, it is still copyrighted.

Lord, Dismiss Us with Thy Blessing

“I Wonder as I Wander” premiere


This afternoon and tonight I had the great privilege to be at the premiere of my arrangement of “I Wonder as I Wander.” It was performed by the combined choirs and philharmonic orchestra at BYU numbering over 500 singers. It was a very humbling and surreal experience.

They performed the piece so beautifully that I couldn’t help but be moved. It was ethereal, transcendent, and full of color. They performed with full and open hearts. I had so many doubts about the orchestration. It’s the first time I heard any of my writing for orchestra performed by an actual orchestra. All my fears were swept away in the first few measures.

One of the best compliments I got was a man asking, “was there some Vaughan Williams in that string writing?” Yes! Win!

But of course, I feel super humbled to take one of my favorite Christmas hymns and have my arrangement be performed so professionally and with such love. Feeling rather overwhelmed with all that’s happened today. A great outpouring of love and compassion.

Merry Christmas!

New Piece “I Wonder as I Wander”

Last March, during the ACDA convention in Dallas, Dr. Staheli and I met up and talked about the possibility of writing an arrangement for the combined choirs and philharmonic at BYU for their annual Christmas concert. After a few ideas, we settled on an arrangement of “I Wonder as I Wander,” based on an Appalachian folk hymn.

I love the haunting, reflective feeling of this Christmas hymn. The themes of solitude, pondering, awe, and grace are the feelings I associate most with Christmas. Yes, the jubilance, and cheer of Christmas is also important and inviting, but I find myself still drawn to the warmth of this hymn over and over again. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like Christmas is coming until I hear this specific song.

I’m very excited to hear this! If the concert isn’t already sold out, you should attend!
Preview of “I Wonder as I Wander (Orchestra)”

New Piece: Dormi Jesu

In the business associated with these last few weeks I’ve neglected to mention the new piece I’ve finished writing for Cantorum. It’s a new setting of “Dormi Jesu” (Often called “The Virgin’s Cradle Hymn”) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It’s a simple, sweet, little setting of a lullaby for the infant Christ. I was supposed to write a setting of “Vox Clara Ecce Intonant,” but that just didn’t work out. I had to go for a simpler text. I think this fits the bill beautifully. I can’t wait to hear Cantorum perform this!

Dormi, Jesu! Mater ridet
Quae tam dulcem somnum videt,
Dormi, Jesu! blandule!
Sleep, sweet babe! my cares beguiling:
Mother sits beside thee smiling;
Sleep, my darling, tenderly!
Si non-dormis, Mater plorat,
Inter fila cantans orat,
Blande, veni, somnule.
If thou sleep not, mother mourneth,
Singing as her wheel she turneth:
Come, soft slumber, balmily!

Dormi Jesu