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.