Monday, December 19, 2011

The Words We Sing--The Message We Bring

On This Day Earth Shall Ring
The Symphonic Choir at Festival of Carols, 2011
(Tim Carlson, photo)

Tonight at our meeting of the Board of Directors of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, I used part of the time for my Artistic Director's Report to reflect on some of the beautiful and potent lyrics we hear in our favorite carols.

"What Child Is This," with words by William Chatterton Dix is familiar to us all of course in the GREENSLEEVES tune. It was the text selected by Shane Monds, a young composer commissioned to write a work for the Symphonic Choir's Festival of Carols performances this month. Shane's beautiful treatment of the words brought contextual poignancy to the Passion reference in verse two: "Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you."

GK Chesterton's text "A Child of the Snows" was the lyric for the ISC's other world premiere this month, and beautiful anthem by California-based composer Christina Whitten Thomas. Her masterful treatment brought into sharp relief the oh-so-humble rustic-ness of the Christ-child's birthplace: "We follow the feet where all souls meet at the inn at the end of the world....The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold. And a Child comes forth alone."

Finally, an old favorite, "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear," from American poet Edmund H Sears. As a choir director, I'm especially drawn to the final line of each of the five stanzas: "...the angels sing"! Sitting around the board room table this night, we looked at the poem, verse by verse. We noted its frank assessment of humanity's struggle at establishing a lasting peace: "Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long; Beneath the angel strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong" (sadly this verse is often omitted from hymnals). And we were warmed by the hopeful message of the final verse: "When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing."

And would you believe it, my courageous, trusting board members joined me in singing an a cappella verse, right there in our spartan meeting room. We got some respectable harmony going too! Amen to board members, angels, choirs, kids, audiences, anyone who keeps these great songs alive.

Christmas, December, the holidays...a season for singing.

Merry Christmas, friends!

Friday, November 18, 2011

On the Fourth Day of Festival of Carols, My Dear Choir Gave to Me...

...splendid intonation, heartfelt text delivery, wonderful dynamics--and a gorgeous tone that lingers in my ear!

Yup, we've finished our fourth Festival of Carols rehearsal just this past week, and boy, how the show is coming together! The large group of singers (not certain about this, but it feels like we've got the biggest Festival of Carols group ever this year) is singing so beautifully. Wednesday morning, I awoke with the sounds of ISC still playing in my head. It was fantastic!

A couple highlights thus far: Healy Willan's "The Three Kings" with its jaw-dropping drama and beauty...imagine, a humble new-born baby with the power to compel royalty to remove their shoes and bow down; Jackson Berkey's "Il set Né" (you may remember this from our recording FROM EAST TO WEST)...the familiar French carol over a bolero rhythm is so beguiling; and "A Child of the Snows" by Christina Whitten Thomas...this piece is this year's composition contest winner, and what a piece! So moving and honest. We can't wait to share it with you.

Tom Scurich, baritone

We have a number of special elements in this year's performances: the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, the talented singers from our very own Manual High School (Spencer Lloyd, director), TWO world premieres, and other surprises as well. And we're delighted to be joined by an old friend, Tom Schurich, baritone, who will join the Choir and Orchestra for Vaughan Williams's "Fantasia on Christmas Carols." Whether you join us on Friday night at Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church (downtown, across from the convention center) or on Saturday at Saint Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church (in Carmel, on Haverstick Road), I know you'll love how the ISC sounds in both these superb spaces. Surrounded by friends, family and the beautiful music of the Symphonic Choir, it's sure to be a great way to kick off the holiday season! (Tickets and more info at the Choir's website:

Monday, October 24, 2011

In Search of...a Few Good Tunes!


This year the Symphonic Choir celebrates the 75th anniversary of its founding, so we knew we had to plan a Festival of Carols concert that would be worthy of this impressive milestone. And, since having an orchestra on hand to accompany the choir always makes us feel special, we knew that having a group of professional orchestral musicians was the first step. Once our good friends at the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra confirmed they were on board, it was time to start the long process of choosing the music!

I suppose every choral conductor is always on the prowl for good Christmas music. In fact, at nearly every conducting conference I attend, “What’s your favorite Christmas piece?” is a question my colleagues and I ask each other...suffice it to say, the bartenders at the conference watering holes are probably surprised to hear their conductor-patrons talking about antiphonal anthems, Renaissance motets and Latin prayers over their fermented beverages!

For me, those conferences can yield a trove of potential works for our concerts. I usually fill my carry-on bag with CD’s I’ve picked up, as well as stacks of printed music. Then, over the summer months, I wade through it all...listening, playing, singing and studying to see what will work the best.

This year’s process was unique, since I did most of my music study at my suite at the Hotel Santa Cruz during my 2-week residency in Bolivia in July. In between rehearsals, interviews and master classes, I studied and listened. And, since fortunately my hotel room had wi-fi, I had the entire World Wide Web at my fingertips for further exploration if a composer or text interested me. I suppose you could say it was the South American winter that inspired me...high temps just in the 50s each day, and no heat in any of the buildings anywhere. I was bundled up in my sweater and a borrowed jacket, so it sure felt like Christmas was just around the corner.

I’ve always loved the way British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams sets familiar tunes for voices and orchestra. I’ve been hoping to do his “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” for chorus, orchestra and baritone soloist for some time, and thus we have our first winner for this year’s concert!

Other works you’ll hear and in many cases recognize: John Rutter’s setting for chorus and orchestra of the exuberant “On This Day” made famous by Holst, a nod to Bing Crosby with “White Christmas,” the beautiful “Ubi Caritas” sung at the April wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton, and a haunting work by one of the founders of The King’s Singers, “Put Memory Away,” by Bob Chilcott. This year will be the third year of our composition competition...a way the Symphonic Choir can highlight the impressive work being done by the new generation of composers...and I’m delighted to say that our winning composer will be with us to hear the world premiere of her creation (we’ll “unwrap” that present later!)

The singers in the Symphonic Choir look forward to rehearsing Festival of Carols every year. This is music that speaks to us, that evokes special memories, and that communicates our common wish for hope and peace. And of course, the singers - and I - will be thinking of YOU during our rehearsals, eager to share the music, the joy and the spirit of season at one of our Festival of Carols performances. Whether you choose to hear us in downtown Indianapolis at St. John Catholic Church or on the north side at St. Elizabeth Seton in Carmel, we look forward to sharing the Choir’s 75th anniversary, the magic of the season and the music with each of you.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Come Sing with Us!

Indianapolis Symphonic Choir auditions for new singers, Aug. 12-13, 2011

Want to join in the fun? Eager to sing beyond the confines of your shower or car? Then come audition for membership in the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir!

This year, the Choir will celebrate its 75th anniversary season, with major works including: Carmina Burana, Messiah, Holst's Planets, Brahms Gesang der Parzen, the world premiere of Stephen Hough's MASS, and the Berlioz Requiem. Additional concerts include a Martin Luther King Jr Day "Celebration" tribute, and the annual holiday favorite Festival of Carols.

To learn more about auditioning for the Symphonic Choir, and to schedule an audition time, visit the audition link (in the "ABOUT" tab) at

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day 12: One Down, One to Go!

It was a great concert last night! Felix and Jorge played beautifully in the "Sinfonia Concertante" by Mozart. Roland led his orchestral charges with expert clarity and passion. The audience demanded an encore of the soloists even before the intermission.

Patrick (orchestra) and Felix (soloist) backstage before the performance

The Chorus did a great job...sang with beauty, focus and energy. The concert hall is a lovely, comfortable room. However, the singers had to work extra hard to project the text into its dry acoustic. They were successful, and the enthusiasm and joy on their faces was wonderful to see.

This evening, our concert will go head-to-head against the nationally televised tv broadcast of the soccer game between Bolivia and Costa Rica...numerous musicians have already requested a tv be placed backstage so we can watch and cheer!

Soprano soloist Diana Azero

Post-concert dinner at "La Suisse" last night; delicious beef medallions in a boursin cheese sauce, Bolivian Cabernet Sauvignon (it's really, really good!) and chocolate mousse for dessert.

Looking on as Jorge orders his dessert, called "Amor Caliente"!

Jorge plays the 1/8 size violin for Victoria

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Days 10-11: Dress Rehearsal and Opening Night

Final rehearsal for tonight's concert

After a rehearsal two days ago that was filled with work--and working out (bowings, adjusting dynamic levels, tempo changes)--last night's dress rehearsal was one of good effort and smart music making. We made great progress through my "punch list," attending to the items left over from the night before. By the end, I think we were all feeling good about our preparation, and an energetic anticipation for tonight's opening filled the room.

Vocal soloists Eduardo Linares, Rocio Juanes, Jose Luis Duarte and Diana Maria Azero

Our four soloists are from La Paz, and were auditioned by Charlie Houmard and Roland a year ago, for the choir and orchestra's performance of the Beethoven Choral Fantasy. I've enjoyed getting to know them, and the choral singers are delighted to have them back in Santa Cruz.

Yesterday afternoon, Roland, the instrumentalists and I were the guests of a few of Roland's board members for lunch out in the countryside. "La Rinconada" looks a little like a very elegant country club, with beautiful gardens, a small lake, and numerous palapa-like thatched-roof structures where groups can dine "al fresco." We enjoyed the grounds for a bit, then shared generous helpings of Pique Macho, a native Bolivian dish of beef, veggies, and a mildly spicey sauce.

Two views of our lunching place, "La Rinconada"

And on other food related topics, our dinner last night at a local french restaurant, "Le Coin," was one of the best meals I've ever had. The Chicken Cordon Bleu was incredibly rich and satisfying, served with a side of fettucine alfredo. Our hosts begged us to have dessert, so naturally I had to try the chocolate mousse. So for a jog to burn all that off!

Yummy French cuisine at "Le Coin" after dress rehearsal

Monday, July 4, 2011

Day 9: Weekend, and Final Rehearsals

Ready for the cameras at this morning's TV interview

We're in the home stretch. Rehearsed yesterday with two of the soloists, who had just arrived from La Paz, and with the orchestra, most of whom arrived yesterday morning on the overnight flight from Miami. They had been in south Florida for several weeks of a string festival. And, cancelled yesterday's choral rehearsal...voices needed a break, and besides, the preparations were going well (thanks Charlie, for your advance work!).

Conducting Masterclass

Today, early morning TV show, followed by yummy coffee and breakfast at Alexander Cafe. It's been really cold here the last few days, overcast, strong winds, temps in the 50's. No buildings are heated, actually, so it's chilly everywhere. However, this is their winter, and at least there's no snow!

Over the weekend, met with a chamber choir that wanted to sing for me...worked some King's Singers arrangements of a couple Beatles tunes with!

Chamber Choir rehearsing "Michelle" by Lennon/McCartney

Happy July 4th to all in the US!

Roland and his "Princesses," Victoria and Sofia

Friday, July 1, 2011

Days 4-5: Getting in the Groove!

So if Monday and Tuesday were days of gradual immersion into the Mozart/Bolivian routine, Wednesday and Thursday have brought a kind of hair-is-now-all-wet/I'm-fully-commited-to-this-thing experience. Writing this in my hotel room late on Thursday, the last two days have brought a total of 10 different masterclasses/rehearsals, for a total of over 15 hours of musical/linguistic engagement in two days... We're all getting our money's worth now :-)

I'm glad to be so active...and the singers and students here (some are adults, some attend the Catholic or Evangelical Universities here in Santa Cruz, some are high school age) are certainly eager to work. Today, despite a driving rain, 5 guys from the chorus trudged across town and were waiting for me at the conference room in our hotel we are using for afternoon classes.

I'm teaching a combination of conducting and singing masterclasses...not really with a lesson plan per se, rather asking the students what they want to work on, or what questions they have. Teaching is so often about reinforcing the good lessons students already know--I'm certainly relying upon that philosophy a lot this week--and the good news is folks keep showing up for more.

Singing the "Benedictus" in our voice masterclass

We were joined yesterday by another guest musician for the concerts next week. Jorge (from Honduras, but now living and teaching in Jacksonville, FL) arrived on the overnight flight from Miami. He (viola player) and Felix (violin) will be featured in the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante. I got to hear them rehearse a bit tonight...their playing is certainly wonderful.

Felix and Jorge with Roland and Orchestra

Roland has been making sure I'm eating very well. Yesterday's lunch was a buffet with potato soup, cooked veggies, and chicken. Last night it was a delicious Cuban restaurant for Ropa Vieja and the best sauteed plantains I've ever had...sugary glaze on the outside. And today, with one of his board members, we were treated to a wonderful sushi lunch.

Rehearsals are going well; we are making progress, and despite the fact that the 50 or so singers come from different places (some are already in other choirs, some are in no choirs), we are building our unique choral instrument. Tonight we sang through the entire mass, taking time to remind them about the importance of looking up, working on pronunciation of text (the "B" sound is hard for them to make) and working on transitions from one movement to the next.
Rock n' Roll, Mozart style! Our accompanist, Jacinth, is a student from Princeton University doing a summer study abroad program here...and he's a great help to us!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 3: A Run, My Ears and Mozart

The one window I have in my hotel room faces the east, and even with the curtains drawn, the morning sun peeks in. A good own self-setting alarm clock! I think the maids must work according to the sun, cause each day they knock at my door just about 30 minutes after it appears, ready to clean: "disculpe señor, podemos regresar mas tarde!" No telling when they must rise each day to be at the hotel ready to go by 7:30.

After the breakfast buffet, I took a stroll around the downtown neighborhood while my hotel is located. Just about two blocks from here is the main Plaza, with a lovely large brick cathedral.
Cathedral and Plaza in Santa Cruz, two blocks from my hotel

Managed to find my way to the grocery store I remembered from my last visit, and picked up some provisions for the room, and some Powerade to take with me to classes and rehearsals. Three sacks full of stuff for less than $10.

My conductor friend Charlie Houmard recommended a jogging route from the hotel to the Parque Urbano, about 3 miles round trip. I checked it out on the map and with Roland to make sure it was safe, and ended up having a pretty good run after the grocery store. The main thing is to keep your eye on the sidewalk...lots of uneven sections, big curbs, etc., waiting to turn an ankle. That and the traffic...pedestrians definitely are NOT the priority at the intersections! The urban park is large, probably 6 city blocks, with basketball courts, an oval cement track, skateboard area and fountain.

My run to the Parque Urbano

For lunch, Roland, Melissa, Felix and I went to a nearby coffee shop, and I had a hamburger with a fried egg on top of it. Pretty tasty!

For the afternoon, I had been approached by three singers from the choir about having coffee together, then a voice class for the three of them. They took me from the hotel to the "Horno Caliente" ("Hot Oven") where we sampled numerous yummy pastries, empanadas and tamales.

The singers, all women, wished to practice their English, so our conversation was bi-lingual, since I tried always to answer in Spanish. I think we all learned a bit in the process!
One thing I noticed during our coffee shop time was that my ears are gaining some traction with the language. In fact, when I speak with some people, it's starting to feel kind of easy to understand them. Others, however, still can be a challenge. In general, Bolivian pronunciation of Spanish is pretty standard. However, some folks speak with a distinct accent that makes it a bit harder to follow. For them, final "s" consonants are not only omitted, but the vowel that precedes them is sort of nasalized (kind of like nasal "n" in French). Take the word for "more" which is "mas." Usually when pronounced we hear all three parts of the word: the "m" consonant, the pure vowel "a", and the "s." However, I often hear it like this (IPA rendering): [mã]. Perhaps it's an influence of the Portuguese language...Santa Cruz is only a few hundred miles from the Brazilian border, and that language includes a lot of nasalized vowels. Regardless, it's reassuring to know my ears have made the trip to Bolivia with me!

Finally, we took off for our evening choral rehearsal. There was a little confusion, since I was to have had a class before for choral conductors in the group, but the room was scheduled by someone else. We'll try to make that up later in the visit (the singers are truly eager to learn, and it feels like I'm going to be doing numerous masterclasses in voice and conducting while I'm here...fantastic!).

Our rehearsal started out a bit casually, as many folks were late. However, by the second hour, we had a good group of 45 or so, and really made some progress. Eventually, we even got to the end of the mass, so now we've covered everything and can begin to refine and polish. There's a variety of skill levels in the group, so naturally that's a challenge to everyone. But, since we still have a week of rehearsals before the performances, I bet we can help everyone learn and grow.

Sometimes we all need a reminder-"Don't forget: get close to the urinal. Thanks!"

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 2: First Rehearsals

Working on some of the solo quartets in Mozart's "Coronation" Mass

I had a lot of fun today! After a good night's sleep in a very large bed in my room at the Hotel Santa Cruz (just 3 blocks from the Cathedral and civic plaza), I ventured to the hotel's breakfast buffet. Plenty to eat--sliced fruit, some cheese and ham, cereal, pastries, yogurt, juice and coffee. Shared my table with Felix (violinist from Germany who will be a featured soloist on the first part of the concert that "my" choral work will conclude) and Melissa (his friend and dancer/choreographer, whom Roland has asked to help prepare a project for an upcoming season). Felix and Melissa arrived on the AeroSur overnight flight from Madrid, landing at 2 am, and arriving at the hotel around 5. They looked pretty good considering all that!

Fred took me to the rehearsal hall, in a privately owned community center. It was a large room with lots of wood surfaces. Good space for singing and making music. There, I taught a morning masterclass to some singers...folks from the choir interested in working on the various solos found in Mozart's "Coronation" Mass. (Though we are bringing in professionals soloists from La Paz, Roland and I agreed the singers would gain a lot from the experience of preparing these solos.) They were an eager bunch, willing to try things a different way. I can only imagine how foreign it must feel to "put oneself out there" vocally speaking, and so cooperatively try things that may feel new or different. I'll continue my work with them throughout the two weeks as time permits.

Lunch was served at Roland's house, prepared by his wife (Marcella) and also his mother. Some German food (in a nod to Felix), vegetables, chicken, and a lesson in "Brazilian" coffee.

Roland, Melissa, Felix and Marcella

After a restful stop back at the hotel, it was over to the rehearsal site again, for my afternoon 3-hour session with the chorus. About 40 folks attended, and they had done their homework (thanks Charlie!). We reviewed the first two movements of the mass, and took some time to introduce the third (the Credo).

It was great to meet the singers...many have worked with me during my trips in 2005 and 2008--it is great to see them again! And some are new...evidence of the continued community interest in vocal performance, and what I take as a growing sense of the possibility that collaboration brings.

There was a lot of good work and learning taking place...and lots of laughing and enjoying the process as well. Of course my linguistic "chops" provide their own moments of disarming fun (I call it, "Guess what the conductor is thinking now"!). And I did have to remind everyone of the now infamous gaffe I made last time I was here, confusing the verb "disfrutar" ("enjoy") with "disculpar" ("excuse") (hence my introduction to our final performance of the Mozart Requiem was prefaced by my request to the audience "That you might excuse our performance this evening".)

Following rehearsal, Roland took me, Melissa and Felix out for a yummy meal at a nearby Irish Pub. It was fun to be crowded in that hopping joint, surrounded by happy Bolivians!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 1: Arrival in Santa Cruz

View of the Andes Mountains shortly before landing in Santiago, Chile

As overnight transcontinental trips go, it wasn't too bad. Two layovers in Chile gave views of the eerie landscape of the western side of the Andes Mountains range...completely desert climate, sandy, with snow capped peaks.

Had great service at the Santa Cruz airport, where I was met by my host conductor Roland Schlieder (former Butler student of mine, and now conductor and music director of the Orquesta Sinfonia Juvenil de Santa Cruz de la Sierra) and singer and horn player Fred Alba (who has become a good friend to me, with his wife Claudia, in my earlier trips here). We stopped by Roland's home so his young daughters Victoria and Sofia could say hello to their "Tio Eric," then it was off to dinner for the three of us. Conversation included the schedule tomorrow (soloists rehearsal/coaching in the morning, then I meet the chorus for the first time tomorrow afternoon), and recent job/musical goings on for each of us. You woulda been proud of me...we conducted about half of our conversation in Spanish (I reminded them, "I need all the practice I can get!"). Some sentences were a mixture of Spanish and English vocabulary, but it all seemed pretty natural to the three of us!

Conductor Roland Schlieder and Singer/French Horn Player Fred Alba take me to dinner (...and beer!)

Friday, June 24, 2011

"Attention on the Concourse..."

So, it's 3 pm on Friday...the exact hour I was to be stepping off American Airlines flight 922 at my final destination of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, just in time for my first rehearsal later this evening.

Instead, I'm sitting at gate the Indianapolis International Airport. Sigh...

What was to have been my first flight yesterday, Indy to Miami, was cancelled due to a flight crew issue. No other flights were available to get me to Miami in time for my midnight flight south, so home I went. At least I got to catch up on some sleep!

My rebooked ticket had a first flight at 12:45 today, Indy to JFK. At the very moment I arrived at the gate, that flight too was cancelled. Apparently weather-related.

Back at the ticket counter, at first they were going to book me for something tomorrow...but after a little negotiating, we found an evening flight out tonight to Dallas. From there, overnight flight to Santiago, Chile (never been there before!) then two more connections to arrive in Santa Cruz around 5 pm tomorrow.

What's your favorite way to spend time in an airport? I'm transferring my marks from one Mozart "Coronation" Mass score to another, so I can use the newer Barenreiter edition for my rehearsals and concerts.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Soy, Fui, Era...


On my counter in my kitchen, I've had open a book I bought 24 years ago. When I was living/studying in Madrid, I found a "Handbook of 4,500 Spanish Verbs" at a bookstore and picked it up. Granted, it's not the most riveting of texts to read, but it IS a great source of information, especially when one is on the eve of a trip to South America.

I'll be arriving in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, at the end of the week. With last week's Beethoven rehearsals and numerous other tasks taking my time, opportunities for Spanish review have been few and far between.

But I've managed to get some homework done! 1) created a small document of three common irregular verb conjugations (for the infinitives "ser/estar"--"to be" and "ir"--"to go") AND posted it to my iPhone for handy viewing; 2) spent a lovely hour chatting in Spanish with Patricia Camacho, a member of the Symphonic Choir originally from Mexico (she was very patient with me!); and 3) dug up the aforementioned verb textbook.

On my previous Bolivia trips, I've had to hit the ground running, usually having either a rehearsal or media interview within a few hours of stepping off the plane. I'm sure this one will be no different. Stay tuned to see how it plays out!

Singing the mighty 9th Symphony of Beethoven is always a thrill. Our past weekend's three performances with the Indianapolis Symphony and conductor emeritus Raymond Leppard were a great way to finish the Choir's 74th season. Leppard, now in his 80's, brought plenty of his trademark wit to the proceedings. His was an expansive 9th, and though some might have wished for a more sprightly take, it did give the opportunity to savor Beethoven's delectable inner voice writing.

"Music Made Me" is the title of Leppard's just released autobiography, which concludes with a chapter about coming to and working in Indianapolis. I've read that chapter first (quite enlightening viewpoint of our city) of course, and will let you know about the other chapters in the coming posts.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


They had no idea what was about to happen...75 singers, two grand pianos, crash cymbals, bass drum, a set of timpani and glockenspiel. It was a stunning event by the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir at Indy's International Airport this past Saturday, timed to coincide with the arrival of thousands of race fans for the next day's 100th anniversary running of the Indy 500. Check it out!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's Official...

Rehearsing Mozart Requiem with the OJSC in 2008

... I'll be going back to Bolivia this summer to conduct Mozart's "Coronation" Mass! Some of you know I've been twice before; it'll be great to return and see the talented singers and instrumentalists I've come to know over the last few years.

My first trip to Santa Cruz de la Sierra (now having surpassed La Paz in population, SC is Bolivia's largest city...over 1 million inhabitants) came in 2005. Roland Schlieder is conductor of the Orquesta Juvenil de Santa Cruz de la Sierra, and an alum from Butler, where he studied conducting with me. Knowing of my (somewhat rusty) Spanish skills, he invited me down for that first visit to help him prepare his chorus for performances of Part One of Messiah. In that week of rehearsals, workshops and masterclasses, I was very impressed by the eager dedication to learning the singers demonstrated. And, they were a most friendly lot...treating me like a king, taking me to the best restaurants in the city, and making sure I felt welcome.

One of our many live tv interviews in 2008

I returned in 2008 to rehearse and perform Mozart's Requiem. With Roland's great orchestra, and a talented quartet of soloists (from Bolivia, Panama and the U.S.), and the great choral singers, we had a great experience together. Jon was even able to fly down for a few days and join us for some of the concerts.

So I'm looking forward to going back. I'll be there for nearly two weeks, so that will be my longest stay thus far. I'll teach masterclasses in conducting, voice and score study, in addition to leading rehearsals for the choir and orchestra. Now to start scraping off some of the rust from my Spanish!

Dining out with my Bolivian friends!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sondheim and Kennedy Center

Wrapping up a long weekend in DC...and a break from the rain! Got some needed yard work done (finally!).

Yesterday, we were lucky enough to get the last two tickets to the brand-spankin'-new production of Sondheim's "Follies" at the Kennedy Center. With a $4 million budget, this production has been purported to be the largest musical ever presented at KC, and possibly headed for NYC after its local 6 week run concludes.

Set in the early 70's, the story revolves around a reunion of former Broadway showgirls, who reprise their song and dance numbers, and revisit old yearnings and loves.

We loved the show. From beginning to end, everything was top notch. But nothing was more impressive than the glittering cast--Bernadette Peters, Elaine Paige, Jan Maxwell, Ron Raines, Linda Lavin (you remember the 70's TV show "Alice"?), Terri White...and on and on. They were terrific.
Elaine Paige

Among the great many numbers in the show are "Too Many Mornings," "Losing My Mind," and "I'm Still Here."

The set was hauntingly beautiful. One staged element that was particularly effective was the inclusion of theatrical "ghosts" that wore glamorous if faded glittering gowns...they slowly, silently skulked about the catwalk and periphery taking in the deeds of the "living" characters. In several production numbers, the ghosts shadowed the dancing of the real actors...a wonderful "split-screen" effect that left one to ponder the relationship between events some decades apart.

I found some great YouTube clips online of the 1985 concert production of "Follies" with Barbara Cook, George Hearn, Mandy Patinkin and Carol Burnett. You'll be glad you checked it out. Also, I need to give a special shout out to the very kind and understanding folks working the main box office at KC...I'll spare the details, but they very graciously got me out of an pickle of my own making...THANK YOU!

Jon takes in the view from the Kennedy Center Terrace. National Cathedral and Georgetown appear over his right shoulder.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Top Ten Bach List


1) Our dedicated board didn’t shirk from the challenge of mounting TWO PERFORMANCES of this masterpiece…in Hilbert Circle Theatre…with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

2) This has given nearly 100 of our most dedicated and talented singers the chance to hone their skills far beyond that which any other work may have offered…we will accrue musical benefits from this for a loooong time to come.

3) The board home events—truly fabulous events, intimate, warm, fun, classy…a wonderful way to engage a new cadre of friends to the organization.

4) Our soloists….wow! What a quartet of INCREDIBLE musicians! They were terrific to work with…fun, easy, so professional and musical.

5) Community marketing effort for this event was TOP NOTCH…we had terrific saturation, community-wide event recognition, and we spent our $$ incredibly wisely.

6) THE ISC STAFF IS WORLD CLASS! I can’t imagine any organization anywhere that’s blessed with such talented, dedicated employees. We are incredibly blessed indeed in this regard.

7) Great audiences…quantity AND quality. How about those “War Whoops”(as Michael Davis calls them) for the singers in the choir??!!

8) We showed our collaborating partners, and the community at large, that we are fully capable of bringing works like this to life…with authenticity, and artistic, musical and financial success.

9) We gave life to the voice of Bach for nearly 2,000 people…most of whom heard this piece live for the first time at our performances.

10)Exposed to this incredible repertory, each of us was challenged in ways we could never have anticipated, and rewarded with a surprising abundance of riches we are still discovering on a daily basis.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

WOW! That was amazing (ite missa est)

Photos in today's post courtesy of Tim Carlson

I've waited several days to write this post, simply due to the fact that I've been struggling for the words I might actually use. Performing this work...finally, after so many years of study, questioning, beyond anything I've done before!

The experience of bringing the B minor mass to life was exhilarating. Final rehearsals, coachings with the fabulous four soloists (from left to right, above: Maria Jette, Jennifer Lane, Brian Stucki and Derrick Parker), and working with the magnificent musicians of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. After all that prep, the final "putting together" went smoothly. And boy, did it sound great!
Sharing a moment with Scholar-in-Residence Vance George

It's a good thing all was in such good shape. Our time in rehearsal with orchestra, soloists and chorus on stage did not permit any unplanned minutes. In fact, our final rehearsal, calculated at 2.5 hours (7:30-10 pm) had to include a mandatory break for all (not that we didn't appreciate it!), leaving just 2 hours and 15 minutes to "rehearse" a work that is 1 hour and 55 minutes in length. I always like to do a full run-thru on dress rehearsal night, and we finished that up at 9:43 or so. Spent the next 10 minutes touching up a couple of transitions and balance place, and even let everyone go about 45 seconds early!

ISC troops in action!

On performance night...I was just so proud of everyone. Soloists, orchestra, audience who came to hear one of the most amazing musical works ever. But mostly I was proud of and happy for the singers in the Symphonic Choir. They've worked so hard to achieve this, learning this most demanding repertoire alongside Rachmaninoff Vespers, Handel's Messiah, our Festival of Carols, Haydn Creation and a wonderful ISO Pops concert in March. Their work, dedication and talent guaranteed our success.

In my own preparation, I wondered how it might feel to conduct--finally--the "Dona Nobis Pacem," the last movement of Bach's mass. How would it be to lead and hear the brilliant musical strains of that D major "Palestrinian Arch," with the glorious trumpets on top? It was miraculously incredible! Though all on stage were exhausted, somehow each mustered the energy to bring this piece to its magnificent conclusion. And the crowd was with us...standing ovations and (as Michael Davis says) "war whoops" for the chorus. It was amazing.

After Saturday's performance, I was surprised with a beautiful gift from my singers and ISC staff: a pair of sterling silver cufflinks from Tiffany & Co., engraved with the initials "S.D.G." for Soli Deo Gloria, Latin for "To God alone be the glory." Bach was in the habit of inscribing the last page of each of his manuscripts with those initials. It was a perfect way to commemorate such a significant occasion.


Friday, April 15, 2011

It's Time!

Phenomenal week of rehearsals this week. So gratifying to see all this coming together in full form!

I can't wait for you to hear our soloists! When soprano Maria Jette sings (you might recall her memorable appearance with us a couple years ago in ISRAEL IN EGYPT), joy flutters across the stage. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane possesses a beautiful rich voice that lends such warm beauty to the Agnus Dei, and her exuberant Laudamus Te is amazing. Tenor Brian Stucki really commands the hall with his rendition of the Benedictus. And bass Derrick Parker's midnight-hued voice makes the Quoniam so memorable.

And our instrumental soloists...the players in the Indianapolis! Principal flutist Karen Moratz is incredible! So is concertmaster Zack DePue, whose obbligato playing in the Laudamus will lift you out of your seat. Roger Roe's oboe solo in the Qui sedes is simply gorgeous. And Robert Danforth's horn work in the Quoniam...well, you simply have to hear it to believe it. Finally, let's not forget the brass...the entire section of three trumpets, and especially principal trumpet Marvin Perry, are the icing on the cake of the numerous virtuosic choruses, casting a radiant brilliance upon all in the Hilbert Circle Theater.

What a thrill, to get to hear this and be so close to it! You can join us...tonight and tomorrow, Friday and Saturday April 15-16, 2011, at 8 pm at Hilbert Circle Theater.

See you there!


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Five Days and Counting! Guest Author-Dr. Michael Davis

Artistic Director Eric Stark, Bach Scholar-in-Residence Vance George and Assistant Artistic Director Michael Davis--the artistic leadership team at the helm of this week's performances of the MASS IN B MINOR

I've been blessed for over 10 years to have at my side my best musical partner, Dr. Michael Davis. Michael brings decades of experience in professional music making to our work with the Symphonic Choir. For many years a member of the professional Robert Shaw Festival Singers in residence at Carnegie Hall, Michael and I are in constant dialogue regarding the progress of the Symphonic Choir. From auditions to rehearsal planning, repertoire to scheduling, Michael's contributions span many areas of the ISC. During one of our regular "post rehearsal seminars" (which often involve libation and a late dinner!) we were looking back at the years of work that so many people have given to this organization...years of work and dedication that make taking on a masterpiece of the magnitude even possible. With Michael's permission, I wanted to share some of his eloquent thoughts with you readers.

Michael Davis: Can you believe it.....production week for the B-minor Mass is finally here! We started talking about this day during our initial conversations for ISC many years ago now. We started rehearsing this piece with the choir 7 months ago--compared to our typical 6 week cycle. We started doing actual musical run-throughs two weeks ago. After all that time, planning, and preparation, Bach's voice is really starting to dance around the room.

The energy that continues to accumulate is astounding! As I reflect on what lies ahead of us in this next week I feel my personal artistic spirit rejuvinate and re-engage, eager to meet the unique demands and rewards that only this piece can offer. That energy and excitement seems to be overtly shared by the chorus. The room is literally buzzing with excitement and anticipation. Everyone feels something special is happening with us and to us.

If you'll pardon my mixed comparison of sports and finance, bringing this work to life has been a longer term investment with a deferred return. We all have been carefully budgeting, sacrificing, and investing substantial amounts of personal time over many, many months to create this nestegg of musical richness. And that discipline is truly starting to release the magic of this work and there is no question that all of us will be deeply rewarded on many levels as we put these performances up next week.

This process has also reminded me of marathon training. We have spent so much time building techniqe and learning how to negotiate the most difficult of vocal terrains. As with endurance training, this deliberate process has built quiet strength that is so subtle it is barely noticable until we start kicking the tempos closer and closer to performance standards and realize..."ok that felt like a longer stretch, but give me one more pass and I'll keep that pace."

There is no question this coming week will set new watermarks of artistic achievement for this organization. As always, I am thrilled and equally humbled to be a part of it--so bring it on coach and see you Monday!


ES: Well said, MD! (And I particularly like his usage of Bach's abbreviation of "S.D.G."..."Soli Deo Gloria" To God Alone Be the Glory.)

Friday, April 8, 2011


One week...that's the time remaining before our performances of Bach's MASS IN B MINOR! It still feels far away-maybe that's an indication of the work yet to be accomplished.

Here's the schedule for the week:
Monday and Tuesday nights-final choral rehearsals with the most dedicated singers a person could hope to work with
Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning-solo coachings with Maria Jette, Jennifer Lane, Brian Stucki and Derrick Parker
Wednesday afternoon-rehearsal with orchestra and soloists
Wednesday evening-rehearsal with orchestra and chorus
Thursday afternoon-Choral Colloquium with Vance George and the students in my MH 520 Seminar in Choral Literature class (public invited! 2:25-4 pm in Lilly Hall room 141 at Butler)
Thursday evening-final dress rehearsal for chorus, orchestra and soloists
Friday and Saturday-8 pm performances, preceded by our Words on Music with Vance George and me at 7:15, Hilbert Circle Theater

One never undertakes a project of the complexity lightly...and the MASS IN B MINOR requires the very utmost in preparation from all participants. Demanding, yes...rewarding, without question!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Promise of Living

We've been singing some Copland lately...on tour especially, where we closed our concerts with two choruses from his opera THE TENDER LAND. Its story centers on family members at a farm in the midwest, as daughter Laurie graduates from high school and ultimately leaves her family behind to see what the world has in store for her.

The chorus "The Promise of Living" closes act I. We performed it on tour with our chamber orchestra, and have now decided to use it as our "anthem" for this spring's commencement exercises at Butler. Though its theme is farm life and bringing in the harvest, it is very meaningful in a graduation setting as well. I like it as a metaphor for our lives "in the academy," as our university president Bobby Fong likes to call it. working together we'll bring in the blessings of harvest.

The lyrics are by Horace Everett:

The promise of living with hope and thanksgiving

Is born of our loving our friends and our labor.

The promise of growing with faith and with knowing

Is born of our sharing our love with our neighbor.

The promise of loving, the promise of growing

Is born of our singing in joy and thanksgiving.

For many a year we’ve know these fields

And know all the work that makes them yield.

We’re ready to work, we’re ready to lend a hand.

By working together we’ll bring in the blessings of harvest.

We plant each row with seeds of grain,

And Providence sends us the sun and the rain.

By lending a hand, by lending an arm

Bring out the blessings of harvest.

Give thanks there was sunshine, give thanks there was rain,

Give thanks we have hands to deliver the grain.

O let us be joyful, O let us be grateful to the Lord for his blessing.

The promise of living, the promise of growing

The promise of ending is labor and sharing and loving.