What are you passionate about?
One of the things I am most passionate about is repertoire. One of the biggest joys of being a choral director is the rich, deep, old and new canon of music that can be sung by singers of many levels to create transcendent experiences for them and their listeners! You can never run out of it! From perusing the choral public domain library to commissioning new works, you could conduct for many lifetimes you will never run out of repertoire—what a gift! On the other hand, there is no excuse for settling—for doing something that is not written with craft and integrity. Pieces of great power and beauty come in all styles and voicings from unison a cappella to the War Requiem and everything in between.
Good programming can bring people out to concerts away from their warm houses and electronic devices, good programming can get teenagers out of bed on Saturday mornings and keep octogenarians healthy!
One really exciting thing supporting new repertoire right here in New Jersey is PROJECT : ENCORE™ of Schola Cantorum on Hudson (PE), a continually expanding database of new, post-premiere choral works endorsed by a panel of internationally known conductors and intended for use by both composers and conductors of new music. I encourage you to use their database as a rich source of new repertoire.
I hope that many of you can attend our division convention in Baltimore. Conventions are always a wonderful inspiration of repertoire that you can actually hear and see live. If you do go, please find me, and also let us know your favorite pieces you heard so I can share them with those that had to stay home. Let’s come together and share our passions! Over the next few months, I would love to hear from you the pieces that have worked in some transforming way for you. Please email me at email@example.com and please look for me in Baltimore!
For the last 17 years my chorus, Harmonium Choral Society, has run a composition contest for NJ High School Students that creates repertoire. It is SO gratifying to see how many former winners are still in music and many active as composers. Please tell any High School students you know to consider entering the contest NOW—the deadline in March and lots more information can be found here. I am very excited that NJACDA is running its first college student composition contest now as well (link on the home page).
Finally, I must share how passionate I am about a relatively new piece Harmonium is about to perform. It is Annelies, a setting of The Diary of Anne Frank by British composer James Whitbourn. The chamber version is a very community-choir-affordable piano trio (Piano, violin, cello) plus clarinet. You can see a list of many performances across the world this spring on the composer’s website.
Here is another New Jersey connection: the Westminster Choir College Williamson Voices’ Naxos recording of Annelies, conducted by James Jordan, has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Choral Performance category. The recording also features soprano Arianna Zukerman, The Lincoln Trio and clarinetist Bharat Chandra.
Annelies is beautiful, it is emotional, it is sometimes frightening and often very intimate. (Most of the text is in English but some Dutch and German is also incorporated.) The work straddles the achingly fine line between the horrors of the war and the hopeful and creative spirit of the young Anne. I have chosen two lovely young sopranos as Anne soloists for my two performances, both in their 20s and working as elementary music teachers.
As we began rehearsal I realized that the chorus would be able to handle the notes fine, but the emotions the piece brought up rose very close to the surface and drew us in. There are grandchildren of Holocaust survivors in the choir, and people who can trace deceased ancestors to Auschwitz. We have decided to gather some of these personal stories into the program, to share our connections with our Harmonium family. It seems to me that the farther we get from the Holocaust, the more it seems like academic history to our children, and we wanted to put this back in the context of family history. With my own 15 year old daughter singing in Harmonium, it is impossible hard to feel anything but close to Anne. I have been sharing our journey via email with the composer, and he agrees. “I am so pleased you are going to the trouble of finding a context for the work in this way: in my experience it makes a lot of difference both to singers and to the audience to have highlighted these personal connections. And it makes the point more forcibly that it is a part of history that we all relate to in some way.”
In addition, we are using multimedia to enhance our performance with visual projections of scenes from Amsterdam, the Annexe, the war and Anne’s life. I hope I have piqued your interest in this work as a journey YOU may wish to take with YOUR choir. If you would like to hear our performances on March 1 & 2 in Morristown, visit our site for more information.
Be in touch—and stay passionate!
Dr. Anne Matlack
R & S Chair for Community Choirs, NJ ACDA