Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Guess I'm a Choir "Parent"

Choral/piano rehearsal with Maestro Krzysztof Urbanski in attendance-Verdi Requiem, October 2013, Hilbert Circle Theater

Sometimes I'm asked what it's like to be the guy who prepares the choir for another conductor.

I understand the curiosity--the singers and I work together for a month or six weeks, sweating over every detail, getting it just right. And then, at the moment it all is about to happen, I take my place on the sidelines, and the maestro takes over.

Ok, I'll admit it...I love to conduct concerts myself. Sharing the moment with the musicians, plumbing the spiritual and musical depths of the world's great masterpieces of Bach-Handel-Mendelssohn-Brahms-Britten-etc. And a bit of a control "freak," it feels good to have the chance to see "my" vision to completion.

But, I've been blessed by the chance to work with really great orchestra conductors...sure, they have their own individual perspectives. And of course we don't always share the same opinion or manner of doing things. But that's what keeps it interesting.

This week, we are in final rehearsals for our performance of the amazingly powerful Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi. And just in time, too...the world will note his 200th birthday the night of our final dress rehearsal.

We are honored to share the stage with our amazing orchestral partners at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. And I am very happy to be preparing the chorus for Maestro Krzysztof Urbanski, music director of the ISO, and a truly gifted musician and conductor.

Watching Krzysztof work is a joy. His ears are incredible...he hears everything. And his conducting is powerful yet clear, inspiring and full of music. Then there's his brain...usually working completely from memory, he knows each detail of the score, and often brings fresh, even new, interpretive ideas to our rehearsals. The result is a new and interesting way to look at the music we know well, sometimes from years of previous performances. It never gets old.

Training the choir, working with them, encouraging the singers...then turning them loose to do their best with someone else. Sometimes I imagine this is what parenting feels like. Raise the kids, teach them best as you can, then hope for the best as they make their way on their own, just out of reach. Risky at times? Sure. Rewarding to see when it "clicks"? You bet!

If you're there at Hilbert Circle Theater on Friday or Saturday (and I hope you are...it's going to be simply stunning), you'll see me in my usual place in the side box. Hanging on every note, trying desperately not to be too obvious as my hands and arms involuntarily conduct along with the music. And beaming with pride when it's over, watching my happy singers receive the applause of the crowds.

Just like my brother at his kids' cross-country meets and basketball games, I'm lucky to be the "parent." Great music, terrific singers, learning from the maestros, and the chance to scale the peaks of the musical mountains together, savoring the view and lessons learned.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

From the Podium of Dr. Michael Davis

(Note: as part of our preparations for the upcoming MOOD INDIGO performances on September 15, we welcome the genius behind these sold out performances, and ISC Assistant Artistic Director, Michael Davis a moment on the blog to share his thoughts about this delightful concert.

MD: Thanks, Eric, for your very kind comments.  Can you believe we are about to kick off our 12th concert season together?  And this year's repertoire will be just as exciting as the first one for me to be sure! 
Hearing 180 singers rehearse the Verdi Requiem is nothing short of breathtaking, but hearing 22 singers rehearse all of those familiar melodies for the upcoming Mood Indigo is equally thrilling.  And as much as I'm enjoying it now, I can hardly wait to hear what the amazing musicians in the Combo will bring to the musical party!  
This show continues to be all about connections, and our guest artists are a perfect example. 
When I was participating in the Robert Shaw Choral Workshops in NYC almost two decades ago I would always visit the Iridium Jazz Club where the legendary guitarist and innovator performed every Monday night--Tom Doyle was the producer and sound engineer.   Les and the Les Paul trio, with Tom pulling multiple aspects together at the back of the room, took Cabaret entertainment to a new level.  I was fortunate to see their shows over 15 different times and it was inspiring each and every time.  
Fast forward to 2013.  After 46 years working with a cavalcade of musical icons behind the musical curtain, Tom is going to be at the front of the house sharing his extraordinary talents on guitar and sharing a few personal highlights from those 46 years with Les.  Joining him will be his equally talented wife Sandy, who is a singer, guitarist, flutist, percussionist, and all around great person too. 
As for me, you'll find me pinching myself each time I realize we are creating our version of those very special evenings in Manhattan for our friends right here in Indianapolis one more time.  I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I do!!  See you at the Landmark Center soon!

Monday, August 26, 2013

How Well Do You Know Michael Davis??

ISC Assistant Artistic Director Dr. Michael Davis with board member Peter Fellegy

With our MOOD INDIGO concert fast approaching, it seems a great time to shine the spotlight on the artistic genius behind it. Dr. Michael Davis conceived of and led the first all sold-out MOOD INDIGO series of performances during the 2012-2013 season. The success (and fun!) of those concerts convinced us early on to repeat them in the current season.

Lady Be Good...the inimitable song styles of Michael Davis

Michael, MD, "Doug," ... he goes by many names around the ISC shop. But all who know him love his warmth, sense of humor and affable demeanor. What some may not know as well is the incredible musical history-decades, really, of professional music making-Michael has amassed. It's a wealth of smarts about musical style and repertoire that continues to serve us all so well.

Born in Arkansas, Michael's musical talents manifest themselves very quickly, learning piano, organ, guitar and violin (well, he says "fiddle" as you might guess) at a young age. Playing regularly with local professional swing band musicians, Michael learned the rep and the style before he got his drivers license. 

Michael brings his amazing talents to the stage for us in our MOOD INDIGO performances on Sunday, September 15, 2013, at the beautiful Indiana Landmark Center. Next week, watch this space for a special article about the concert itself, by guest author Dr. Michael Davis.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Table for 200??

Where would YOU seat nearly 200 of your best friends?

First warmups of the 77th season for the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir

That's the task we have faced in preparation for last week's inaugural rehearsal of the 77th season of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir.

Working with audition and membership coordinator Ann Gerritsen (who also serves as our resident expert on Excel Spreadsheets!) along with conducting fellow Bryan Stenson, we developed our seating chart: 180 voices, 8 sections (first soprano, second soprano, first alto, etc...), 9 rows, 20-21 chairs in each row....you get the picture.

At T minus two hours and thirty minutes (that is, 4:30 pm before our 7 pm start time), we staff (Michael P, Andrew L, Kris S, yours truly) plus ever-dedicated singer and tenor section leader Karl S started wrangling chairs, music stands, podium, piano, tables and more. Adjust the rows, scooting this way and that...watch the sight lines.

In short order, we had it....a choir director's dream! All 180 seats neatly arranged with sufficient room to maneuver, ability to see the conductor through the "windows," even a convenient aisle down the middle. The rehearsal hall that had looked like a war zone (three months of summer music camps had taken their toll), was now a gleaming harbinger of the great musical rehearsal to come.

By evening's end, of course, all that would change. Updates to our roster, adjustments for voice type/height/etc, additions, deletions, changes. We knew we'd have to re-do it for next week. Such is the life of the singers in the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. Though it may not be where you were last week, we WILL have a seat with YOUR name on it for our next rehearsal.

No matter where we are in the room, the drama of the Verdi Requiem (and the joy of singing together) is certain to find us. To music!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Day #5 - 6 Cambridge & Coventry

The beautiful courtyard at King's College Cambridge

Two hour drive from Aldeburgh to Cambridge, followed by 30 minute city orientation tour. Punting on the Cam, shopping in the city market and a cup of warm coffee (to ward off the June chill!). Highlight of the day was Sunday Evensong Service at King's College Chapel. Our very own Dr. Marilyn Keiser played a beautiful and dramatic Rheinberger Passacaglia Variations as the Prelude.

Ansty Hall, 1687, just outside Coventry

Touring the burned out remains of Coventry's gothic cathedral 

Awoke in the beautiful Ansty Hall; following breakfast drove to the moving St Michael's Cathedral in Coventry, where the skeletal structure of the gothic remains (bombed in WWII) serves as a somber entry path to the contemporary new building. Britten's War Requiem was commissioned for the festival which opened the new cathedral fifty years ago in 1963. Attending the daily noon-time "Service of Reconciliation" was a profound and meaningful end to our time in Coventry.

Chapel behind the main altar in Coventry

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Days #3 & 4 Aldeburgh Music Festival

This trip continues to amaze! Following a relaxing 2.5 hr drive out of London, our team arrived in the charming seaside town of Aldeburgh. On the southern shore of the North Sea, Aldeburgh was home for Britten and Pears during much of their lives, and is where they established the annual Aldeburgh Music Festival.

Our Victorian seaside hotel, the Wentworth, overlooks the pebbly beach, and has inviting living room areas throughout the main floor to encourage reading, chatting with friends, and taking afternoon tea!

Aldeburgh's charming Wentworth Hotel on the sea

Britten's first opera of international renown is Peter Grimes, and is based on a poem called "The Burrough" by 17th century Aldeburgh resident George Crabbe. You can almost hear the strains of the famous "Four Sea Interludes" from Grimes in the coastal breezes as you explore this picturesque town. In fact, the opening prologue of the opera is set in Moot Hall, the real-world version of which sits just down the road from our hotel in all its 16th century splendor.

Tim, Marilyn, Sherrie and Michael as we enjoy another elegant dinner at our hotel

Last night, after a wonderful dinner of guinea fowl, local asparagus and chocolate brownie at the hotel, we traveled the short distance to the town of Snape, to see the opening performance of this year's Aldeburgh Music Festival, Peter Grimes, presented in concert version.

Beautiful headstones for Britten and Pears in the Parish Churchyard
Aldeburgh's Moot Hall is featured prominently in Peter Grimes

Today we had time to explore the home Britten and Pears shared for many years, the "Red House," just re-opened after a year of renovations and restorations. Standing in the Britten's composition studio, knowing it was where he wrote such works as the War Requiem was one of those moment-of-a-lifetime experiences!

Snape Maltings Concert Hall
Living Room at Britten's "Red House"

This evening, after a VIP tour of the Snape Maltings concert hall grounds, we enjoyed a performance of Britten's Les Iluminations and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta by Bartok.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Day #2 All Around London

What a day! A magnificent tour of the Royal Opera House (including the special box for the Royal Family, and their gathering chamber backstage), a private concert inside the Handel House Museum, an incredible afternoon tea on the top floor of Fortnum & Mason, all capped off with a terrific performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, still in previews at the Drury Lane Theater (go see this show when it comes to NYC!!).

Michael Sells gives us an overview of the important history of London's Royal Opera House

Handel House Museum in London

Admiring the terrific view of Covent Garden from the rooftop terrace of the Royal Opera House

Heather and Tim contemplate the tempting array at the Fortnum & Mason afternoon tea

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Day #1 Britten in Britain Tour


June 5

Our group of cultural tourists, 29 strong, have been arriving in Covent Garden district of London over the last few days, with the final travelers checking into our Fielding Hotel this morning. All present and accounted for, we kicked off the official start of the "Britten in Britain" cultural heritage tour with a wonderful dinner this evening of lasagna, sausage skewers, roasted chicken and fish stew.

Executive Director Michael Pettry, Artistic Director Eric Stark and General Manager Andrew Lannerd take in the view of Saint Paul's Cathedral from the foot of the Millennium Bridge

Though the "official" activities have just begun, that doesn't mean we haven't already been busy taking in the many cultural offerings of this fantastic city. "The Audience" with Helen Mirren, "Singing in the Rain" at the Palace Theater, the Tate Modern, Saint Paul's Cathedral, The National Gallery, Saint Martin in the Fields, The London Eye, and ballet at the Royal Opera House...just a few of the samplings our group members have enjoyed. And, several have enjoyed special activities to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, including a magnificent service at Westminster Abbey.

We are honored to have Dr. Michael Sells as our cultural leader on this trip. Professor Emeritus at Butler University, and formerly of the faculty of the University of Southern California, Michael had a significant career as tenor soloist, performing works of Britten, Bach and others with such conductors as Helmuth Rilling, Roger Wagner, and William Hall. A lifelong devotee of the music of Benjamin Britten, we were thrilled that he agreed to join us and share his unique professional and personal insights with us all.

Michael Sells and I raise a toast to Benjamin Britten

2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Britten. And, with our own commemorative performance of his magnificent War Requiem ahead of us in May 2014, this trip gives us a chance to celebrate the meaningful choral contributions of this singular composer as we anticipate getting to live with his music in rehearsals and performance in the season to come.

So, stay tuned to this blog for regular updates from our tour. And, join us in Indianapolis on May 3, 2014, for our performance!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Visit to an Old Friend

2013 marks the centennial of the birth of British composer Benjamin Britten. A favorite among devotees of choral and vocal music (and one of the great opera composers of the 20th century), Britten's music for the voice is a dramatic and nuanced reflection of the texts he set.

In observance of the occasion, the Symphonic Choir has programmed Britten's most ambitious work for chorus and orchestra, the haunting War Requiem, for performance at the end of the upcoming 2013-2014 concert season.

In addition, and in order to gain new insight into the life and music of this most impressive composer, we are conducting a cultural tour of Britten's homeland for June 2013. Dubbed our "Britten in Britain" tour, I am honored to be joined by my dear Butler University colleague Dr. Michael Sells as we travel with 30 friends from the Symphonic Choir community to such locales as London, Aldeburgh, Cambridge, Coventry and Bath.

So, in the coming weeks and months, we'll dedicate some of this blog space to reports about our trip-the sights, sounds and (of course!) food-and the music we'll be presenting next May. 

For many of us, a chance to re-examine some of the music of this inspiring composer will refresh and deepen our appreciation. For those to whom his output may be less familiar, you're in for a delightful treat.

In both our tour of England and our study and rehearsals for our performance, we are grateful for the opportunity to draw closer to the music that means so much to us. Like a visit to an old friend, we grow in understanding and appreciation of the inspiration we've experienced.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


The Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra together perform LUX AETERNA by Morten Lauridsen

It really was a most amazing weekend. To have the opportunity to sing each night in rehearsal the extraordinary music of Bach (Magnificat) and Lauridsen (Lux Aeterna), joined by our fantastic cast of soloists and great friends from the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra. Well, that in itself would be an overabundance of musical riches!

But to have composer Morten Lauridsen with us for the week of rehearsals and our final performance...that took it all to a completely different place.

On Wednesday, Lauridsen spent hours at Butler, hearing the talented singers from the Chorale perform his daring Madrigali. Sitting with our composition faculty and students, sharing stories from his life as a composer. Encouraging our choral conducting students. Later, working with the fine singers at Northminster Presbyterian Church.

On Thursday, spending two hours in my Choral Literature class, musing on the writing of such works as Dirait-on, O Magnum Mysterium, the Lux. Even sitting at the piano and playing snippets for us. Then a workshop at Second Presbyterian, before coming to our final dress rehearsal of Lux Aeterna. His generous compliments to us following our run-through propelled us all to both higher musical achievement and deeper understanding.

The concert, on Friday, when he spoke to the audience of the inspiration behind the Lux...the loss of his own mother, the solace and tranquility offered to him at his idyllic home on Waldron Island. The stunned silence of the audience upon the work's conclusion, followed by the tumultuous applause to acknowledge the composer.

All our performances stay with me for a bit after the lights go out and the tuxedo is sent to the cleaners. But this one lingers longer...nudging my consciousness with its wistful, hopeful voice. Pretty cool.

With composer Morten Lauridsen following our performance

Friday, April 12, 2013

In the Presence of Masters

What a week it's been.

Each night, rehearsing with chorus, orchestra and soloists.

Each night, going home with the timeless sounds of two master composers ringing in my ears.

Bach's exuberant Magnificat...a feast of triumphant solos for flutes, oboes, strings, and a crown of three (!) trumpets, whose concert high-E links the mortal with the heavenly.

Lauridsen's gentle Lux Aeterna, written at the time of his own mother's passing. A contemplation of light, its beams lead us to joy.

We've been fortunate to have Morten Lauridsen with us for final rehearsals, masterclasses and seminars. When he sits at the piano to play an excerpt from his works, it's like getting a peek of Van Gogh at work. And you are there.

Across the centuries and in person, music offers its restorative presence to those brave and hearty enough to plumb its depths. We look forward to sharing the joy, light and hope with you at the performance tonight.

Composer Masterclass with Morten Lauridsen, Butler University Graduate Conducting Student Trevor Fanning (far right) and Director of Choral Activities Henry Leck

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Composer Morten Lauridsen, Waldron Island, Washington

Okay, I admit it. I had a hunch, a couple years ago, when programming the works for our upcoming Symphonic Choir performance on April 12, that JS Bach (1685-1750) and Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943) would pair together nicely.

But I never knew just how well-fitted their respective works--the Magnificat (1723) and the Lux Aeterna (1997)--would be for each other. 

Across the centuries...two masters unite in expressions of vocal beauty and profound spiritual meaning.

Word painting (Bach-Fecit potentiam/He has shown strength; Lauridsen-Quemadmodum speravimus in te/As we have trusted in thee) abounds. When a composer is so skillfully able to represent textual meaning in musical notation-strongly unified hammer chords, or a heaven-ward rising line-we know we are in the presence of once-in-a-generation greatness.

Musicological pastiche pervades. Bach displays Italian concerto-style, pastorale, stile antico (old style); Lauridsen employs Gregorian chant, Lutheran chorales, pointillistic expressiveness. The layers go on and on.

I hope you'll be able to join us: Friday, April 12, 2013, 8 pm in Clowes Memorial Hall on the Butler University campus. Composer Morten Lauridsen will be with (and will speak from the stage); Sebastian has elected to let his music do the talking.