Posted on February 27, 2012 by Michael
This post is being written in the early morning of the day after an amazing concert by The Michael O’Neal Singers. There is no doubt the members of the chorus were tremendously ”aided and abetted” by the excellent Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra, and four outstanding vocal soloists (Katie Baughman, Heather Witt, Adam Kirkpatrick, and John LaForge), but this post is directed toward my beloved chorus. I am filled with thankfulness today for singers who have poured their hearts and souls for the past seven weeks into the preparation of one our great choral/orchestra masterpieces, the Mass in C Major by Ludwig van Beethoven. During the rehearsal process I have observed with appreciation as the singers have exibited a growing understanding of the music and an empathy with the intentions of the composer. All this resulted yesterday afternoon in one of the most satisfying concerts it has ever been my privilege to conduct. A major goal of any conductor is to be “in sync” with his or her ensemble. I felt that connection with MOS yesterday and I am enormously grateful for the experience.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Adam Kirkpatrick, Beethovhen, Heather Witt, John LaForge, Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra, Katie Baughman, Mass in C Major, Michael O'Neal, MOS, singers | 11 Comments »
Posted on November 16, 2011 by Michael
It was my good fortune to sing for many years under the baton of Robert Shaw. As the unofficial, but widely accepted, Dean of American Choral Conductors, Mr. Shaw was in a firm position of authority to remind choristers of their responsibilities to their ensemble, and even more importantly, their responsibilities to the composer and the music. I’ve never forgotten his lectures on the subject, which came in both written and oral versions. They were always sincere, heartfelt, and often stinging, for they usually came in response to a less than acceptable rehearsal by his chorus. Those of us in the chorus often felt ashamed following such admonitions, as we were reminded that the music deserved no less than our best effort, and that we were risking the success of the upcoming performance and showing a lack of respect for our fellow singers when we came to rehearsal less than fully prepared. It was also noted by most of us that Mr. Shaw always came to rehearsals fully prepared and it seemed only proper that we should do likewise.
Following a recent rather challenging rehearsal in which I felt an inordinate amount of time was spent correcting notes and intonation, I was led to write a note of my own to my chorus. First, I told them that much good had been accomplished as we fine tuned (both literally and figuratively) a number of spots in the music. The progress made during the rehearsal was substantial and I appreciated very much how hard everyone was working. Still, much of that work should have been done outside of the rehearsal and that brought me to my next point. It was to understand the importance of corporate and individual responsibilities in a choral rehearsal. This was something Robert Shaw discussed often with his singers and it recognizes that what we present to an audience is a group effort made up of personal contributions. I reminded my chorus that a favorite phrase of mine is that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” That phrase reminds us that in a choral performance we must perform as a unified whole. But prior to achieving that unified whole there is an individual responsibility that must be accepted by each of us. Our corporate responsibility as a chorus to do honor to the composer and the music will always be controlled to a degree by each singer and his commitment to that corporate responsibility. Therefore, the old adage about a group being only as strong as its weakest member resonates strongly in choral ensembles. We become our best self (chorus) when each singer decides it really depends on him or her.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: choral singing, chorus, Michael O'Neal, responsibility, robert shaw, singers | 2 Comments »
Posted on March 4, 2011 by Michael
I’m feeling especially grateful these days for the people I have the opportunity to conduct in choruses on a weekly basis. There is my community chorus of 130 voices, preparing to perform A German Requiem by Johannes Brahms in little more than a week. These singers are going to be presenting one of the most profound musical expressions ever created. Then there is my church choir of 100 voices. This group brings solace, comfort and beauty every Sunday to an appreciative congregation. Finally, I have my senior adult choir of nearly 50 voices. This wonderful group of singers (oldest is 92) reminds me that we are never too old to sing or to make a difference in the lives of others. In appreciation for all my singers, as well as singers everywhere, I would like to share something written by Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
We give thanks for singers, all types of singers. Popular singers, concert singers and tuneless singers in the band. Whistlers and hummers, and those who sing while they work. Singers of lullabies, singers of nonsense and small scraps of melody, singers on branches and rooftops. Morning yodelers and evening warblers.
Singers in seedy nightclubs, singers in the street. Singers in cathedrals, school halls and grandstands, backyards, meadows, bedrooms, corridors, stairwells and places of echo and resonance. We give praise to all those who give some small voice to the everyday joy of the soul.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: A German Requiem, alan jones, grace cathedral, singers | Leave a Comment »
Posted on May 20, 2010 by Michael
Here is a letter I recently wrote to my singers in appreciation for all they do. I would imagine the sentiments I feel would be mirrored by many conductors across the country. Singers, thank you for what who contribute to so many people in so many ways.
Dear MOS Friends,
First, I want to thank you for a most remarkable concert this past Friday evening. When you receive a standing ovation in the middle of the concert you figure you must be doing something right! I appreciate, more than you know, all the hard work you put into this concert, especially during the week of the performance (three rehearsals plus a performance is quite a commitment). You sang beautifully and I am very proud of you. Next, I want to express my appreciation for the entire year of rehearsals and performances. Agreeing to be a member of MOS carries with it an acceptance to make many personal sacrifices in order to fulfill what is certainly a demanding schedule. I am very grateful to all of you who have honored that commitment and helped make this one of our finest seasons of music making.
Now we look forward to a new season and to all the possibilities of beauty it will include. Many of you have already gone through the reaudition process (and lived through it) and I’ll be seeing many more of you in the next few weeks. I hope you understand this is something every serious chorus undertakes (some do it every year) and it is essential for our long term growth and improvement.
Don’t forget it’s not too late to sign up for Summer Singers! The group is shaping up nicely (currently about 140), but I’d be happy to have some more of my MOS regulars, especially MEN!
Thanks again for everything you do to enrich my life and the lives of so many others.
Filed under: Choral experiences, Choral rehearsal | Tagged: choral singing, MOS, practice, rehearsal, singers, singing, Summer Singers | 2 Comments »
Posted on November 10, 2009 by Michael
Our recent Fanfare for a New Day concert was a very enjoyable time for me. It was a great and rare pleasure to study and prepare all new music (at this point in my career I often find I’m conducting things for a second, third or fourth time!). I thought that MOS performed extremely well, especially considering the relatively few rehearsals we had to learn the music. The comments I heard from both singers and audience members seem to suggest it was a meaningful experience for them as well. This leads me to a question addressed to anyone in attendance at the concert – performer or listener. What are your reactions to the concert? What worked for you and what did not? Which pieces were favorites and which weren’t? With several weeks now having passed since the performance, is there any of the music that is still “resonating” with you? Even as we are now in the midst of preparation for our December performances, it can be useful to take a few minutes to reflect on this recent concert. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: choral concert, concert, Michael O'Neal, MOS, singers | 7 Comments »
Posted on December 23, 2008 by Michael
MOS just completed its third Messiah Sing-Along and it was for me an extraordinary experience. What made it extraordinary was the level of involvement I sensed from the singers in the room (and essentially everyone in the room that day was a singer!). Looking out at 650 smiling people and knowing that these folks had gathered for the express purpose of singing one of our great pieces of choral literature was a thrill. All of us involved in choral music understand how satisfying it is to sing for others. Still, I believe that to sing with others is even more satisfying, and it is indeed rare when we have the opportunity to sing with 650 people!
For those of you in attendance, how did the afternoon feel to you? Did you also feel the level of anticipation in the room that I felt? Was it fun singing with so many people? What other Messiah Sing-Along experiences have you had over the years and what do you remember most from them?
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!
Filed under: Choral experiences, choral masterworks, Musical preferences | Tagged: audience, choral music, live performance, Messiah, Michael O'Neal, Sing-along, singers, The Michael O'Neal Singers | 5 Comments »
Posted on December 10, 2008 by Michael
Yesterday afternoon’s concert by The Michael O’Neal Singers, The Michael O’Neal Chamber Singers, and the Atlanta Symphony Brass Quintet was a perfect reminder of why I enjoy live performance so much. Admittedly, the fact that everyone performed beautifully added much to my enjoyment, but it was more than that. What struck me most about the concert was the communication that took place between and among performers, conductor, and audience. And let’s face it. This communication can never take place when listening to a CD or mp3 or watching a DVD. Perhaps you can imagine the communication or even recall it (if the recording is one in which you participated), but you can’t experience the communication unless you’re present when it is happening. In a world in which we find ourselves increasingly experiencing music alone as we listen to our iPods and view YouTube videos on our computers, it is refreshing to create live music and experience it with others. What are your thoughts about live vs. recorded performances? Pros and cons are cheerfully accepted.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Atlanta Symphony Brass Quintet, audience, communication, live performance, recorded performance, singers, The Michael O'Neal Chamber Singers, The Michael O'Neal Singers | 1 Comment »
Posted on November 3, 2008 by Michael
This is the third “installment” to my blog and I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to read it thus far. Let me also offer a special thanks to those of you who have contributed comments. I have found your observations to be both insightful and stimulating and have discovered myself spending even more time considering the topics because of your input. In fact, my subject for this week grows directly out of one of those comments, and I would encourage all of you to use this blog in a similar way. If you wish to “comment” on a “comment” instead of something I’ve said, then please do so. I imagine this blog can only be made richer and more useful with a growing number of readers willing to participate by sharing their thoughts.
Now, to my “thought” for the day. I found Olga Espinola’s remarks about memorization to be illuminating. As the only member of MOS functioning without “visual” sight, I believe she is in a unique position to discuss the topic of memorization. As you may have noticed, Olga sings every concert without the aid of a printed score. Yet, every time I look at her at the end of the first row of sopranos she appears to be totally involved in the experience of making music. Her blog comment mentions what happens when one moves beyond mere memorization and muscle memory to the point of truly “feeling” a piece of music. She states, “You’re no longer focused on the notes, breathing and breaking at just the right places, counting beats…because that’s all a part of you now. Instead, you can rejoice in the sharing, the dialogue among the voices and instruments, that intangible energy generated by all the participants…I guess freedom and elation might come closest to describing what it is like for me.”
What I find especially meaningful about Olga’s observation is that it really goes beyond the subject of memorization. Obviously, much of what she says might be more easily accomplished when music has been memorized, but it seems to me that it could also be experienced while singing with the benefit of a score. The most important thing is to be free to make music “beyond” the printed page (whether that page is in one’s hand or in one’s mind). When we possess that freedom we also have the opportunity to communicate with each other (performers, conductor, audience) in such a way that something miraculous and magical may occur. What do you think?
Filed under: Choral experiences, Musical preferences | Tagged: audience, choral music, chorus, communication, live performance, MOS, singers | 6 Comments »