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, waiting...is 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 Symphony...wow! 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. www.indychoir.org

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!