Posted on October 27, 2011 by Michael
I love to read. The habit started early in life and seems to be growing with each passing year. I’m especially drawn to nonfiction, primarily because it gives me the opportunity to learn something new. One of my favorite writers is Malcolm Gladwell, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, and author of such best sellers as Outliers, Blink, and The Tipping Point. Gladwell is essentially a social psychologist who helps his readers think about such diverse topics as the nature of genius, how little things can make a big difference, and the importance of going with one’s “gut feeling.” In his fourth book, What the Dog Saw, Gladwell has just collected many of his previous essays from The New Yorker and created a series of stories and reflections that allow the reader to see the world through the eyes of others. I don’t want to give away more of the book because I would prefer you read it, but I will let you know that the title of the book comes from an essay about Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer” of television fame.
You may ask, what, if anything, does all this have to do with choral music? Well, while I do have thoughts from time to time on subjects non-musical, this one does have a choral theme. While reading What the Dog Saw and considering how instructive it can be to see through the eyes of others, it struck me that this is what we do everytime we sing a piece of choral music. We are seeing and hearing through the eyes and ears of the composer and librettist. The person or persons who wrote the music and the words we are singing had a message to share. We become the vehicle of the sharing when we sing, both with others and with ourselves. Isn’t that amazing? The MOS chorus has recently completed a very successful performance of The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass by Carol Barnett (composer) and Marisha Chamberlain (librettist). For many of my singers this became a transformational piece in that they were able to see music and life in a somewhat different manner following exposure to this unique work. I’m not saying it made a major difference in anyone’s life, but I am suggesting that in some small way we were all changed by the rehearsal and performance of this music. Ultimately, I think that is one of the points suggested by Gladwell in his book – that we can be changed (for the better) by taking the time to see the world through the eyes of others.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Bluegrass Mass, Carol Barnett, Cesar Millan, choral music, Malcom Gladwell, Marisha Chamberlain | Leave a Comment »
Posted on October 14, 2011 by Michael
My life as a musician has been filled with many amazing and gratifying experiences. Many of those experiences have come about through my association with excellent musical mentors. From a high school choral director who instilled in me a life long love of choral music, to a college choral director whose connection with singers was a model for me to emulate, and finally to a twenty-year musical relationship with the foremost American choral director of our age, Robert Shaw, from whom I learned to strive to always give my best effort – I have been fortunate indeed in my musical life. But it all began as an eight year old choir singer in my church and in Sunday evening services where I would sing gospel hymns similar to the ones that will “bookend” the opening concert of The Michael O’Neal Singers 2011-2012 Season. As the centerpiece of the concert, MOS will perform The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass by Carol Barnett. The “bluegrass” style was something very familiar to my early days of music making, and while I have journeyed far from that style in the ensuing years, I return to it in this concert with the joy that seems to be in every measure of such music. Carol Barnett explains beautifully what led her to compose the piece with librettist Marisha Chamberlain. Here are Barnett’s words:
“To bring the solemnity of the classical-based Mass together with the down-home sparkle of bluegrass – now there’s an assignment. My highest hope is that listeners coming from one tradition – classical or bluegrass – and perhaps dubious about the other, might discover something new and wonderful in the combination, as I have. Composing the music for ‘The World Beloved’ has given me the chance to write cheery sacred music – all too rare in a medium rife with staid and even lugubrious settings. It’s brought me back to memories of music heard while visiting my grandparents: country music with a church flavor that told stories and came out of a scratchy old record player. Grandma would not have allowed dancing, but under the table I tapped my toes.”
It is my hope that our audience will be tapping its toes as well, as we perform a concert quite different from our normal fare.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: bluegrass, Bluegrass Mass, Carol Barnett, classical, robert shaw | 5 Comments »
Posted on September 24, 2011 by Michael
MOS is beginning its 23rd Season of music making and is doing so with a newly “tweaked” mission statement. I say “tweaked” because the new mission statement contains only minor adjustments from our previous statement. However, we hope this new version will even better express who we are and what we endeavor to accomplish as a community arts organization. Here it is:
The Michael O’Neal Singers organization seeks to engage, educate and enrich Atlanta-area singers and audiences with compelling choral experiences which are innovative, multicultural and multigenerational.
So, how do we go about doing all these things? Obviously, “to engage, educate and enrich” means we will be striving to attract and hold the attention of our audiences and singers, to inform and enlighten them, and ultimately to add greater value and significance to their lives. Our mission statement further suggests that we will do this with “compelling choral experiences.” The word ‘compelling’ has been used with serious intent, for it suggests something having a powerful and irresistible effect. We wish to have that effect on our audiences and singers with experiences which are “innovative, multicultural and multigenerational.”
To be innovative, multicultural and multigenerational requires a definite plan. We’ll be innovative this season by performing two recently composed large works – The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass by Carol Barnett and Let My People Go: A Spiritual Journey Along the Underground Railroad by Donald McCullough. We’ll be multicultural by performing Let My People Go with a highly respected African-American ensemble fromSouth Fulton. Finally, we’ll be multigenerational by partnering with community ensembles comprising children, youth and adults.
These are ways MOS is making an effort to be relevant to our 21st century culture and community. To do less would be a disservice to both.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Bluegrass Mass, compelling, mission statement, MOS, multigenerational, The Michael O'Neal Singers, underground railroad | Leave a Comment »
Posted on August 30, 2011 by Michael
MOS has just begun its 23rd season with rehearsals for a fascinating work by Minnesota composer Carol Barnett. In her own words, The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass is an attempt to “bring the solemnity of the classical-based Mass together with the down-home sparkle of bluegrass.” The work was written for the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers, Philip Brunelle, Conductor, and it is they who performed the premiere with bluegrass band Monroe Crossing in January 2007. Since that time the piece has received numerous performances around the country and audiences have been provided with an ingenious pairing of two very distinct musical idioms – sophisticated classical choral sound and jubilant bluegrass harmonies.
The 135 members of the MOS chorus read through the work at our first rehearsal last night with excitement, anticipation, and probably, if truth be told, even a little trepidation, for “bluegrass” is a bit out of the comfort level for most choral singers. Still, it is the unique quality of pairing diverse styles that attracted me to the piece in the first place. I love the initial challenges and subsequent rewards that come with approaching new music, and this brings me to ask a couple of questions. First, for those of you involved in this rehearsal, what are your initial thoughts about the piece? And, a second question, what other “unique” pairings of musical styles have you experienced in the past (or would like to experience in the future)? I look forward to your responses.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Bluegrass Mass, Carol Barnett, Monroe Crossing, MOS, VocalEssence | 6 Comments »