Posted on August 16, 2010 by Michael
The Sixth Annual Michael O’Neal Summer Singers performed Salute to America to a large and enthusiastic audience yesterday afternoon. The chorus of 150 non-auditioned, volunteer singers presented a polished, energetic, and completely captivating performance of The Testament of Freedom (Music: Randall Thompson; Words: Thomas Jefferson), Song of Democracy (Music: Howard Hanson; Words: Walt Whitman), and arrangements of America, the Beautiful, God Bless America, and Battle Hymn of the Republic. Rounding out the concert was a two person version of Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever on the mighty Moller organ of Roswell UMC. The two persons performing that showstopper were Tom Alderman and Allen Baston. Tom also serves as the principal accompanist of MOS and provided phenomenal organ transcriptions of the Thompson and Hanson pieces. If there is an organist anywhere who could have performed this music more magnificently, I have not met him or her!
Our Summer Singers chorus (MOSS) is always a joy to conduct, but this summer was a special treat. I don’t think we’ve ever had a MOSS more dedicated and involved than this one. With six Monday evening rehearsals spread out over two months, it was imperative that the singers work on their own between rehearsals if they expected to perform their best. It was clear to me that these chorus members took their personal and collective responsibilities very seriously, for they sang a concert I will remember for years to come! Thanks to all who sang and all who attended. Aren’t we lucky to have choral music in our lives?
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Allen Baston, Howard Hanson, Michael O'Neal, Randall Thompson, Salute to America, song of democracy, Stars and Stripes Forever, The Michael O'Neal Summer Singers, thomas jefferson, Tom Alderman, walt whitman | 5 Comments »
Posted on July 23, 2010 by Michael
I recently asked my readers to suggest some topics they would like to see discussed in this choral blog. I’ve received many great ideas and will be including as many as I can in the next few weeks and months. Today I’m going to talk about learning a new piece of choral music. The question was whether it was best to learn the words and music at the same time or one at a time. There is no easy answer to this and I think if you’re considering as an individual how to learn your music, you may just have to experiment to find what works best. Still, I believe you’ll find most conductors have a specific approach to teaching a piece and therefore I’ll discuss mine.
First, however, I’ll mention that Robert Shaw, the single most important influence on my own musical life, would sometimes wait until very close to a performance to add text. His successful “count singing” technique was so effective in rehearsals that his choruses would often sing with a precision that other choirs could only hope to achieve. Mr. Shaw used to say that “God was not pleased with wrong notes” and his desire to make sure that the music was performed exactly as the composer had written it helped create those legendary Shaw performances. This is not to say that Robert Shaw was not concerned about text. He probably cared about words and their meanings more than any other musician with whom I have worked. He did, however, think it was important to have to have all pitches, rhythms, dynamics, etc., learned well before you start adding words.
While I follow many of Mr. Shaw’s practices (it’s hard to argue with success!), I don’t spend as much time on count singing as he did and I also believe in adding the text sooner rather than later. I think the average singer in a community chorus or church choir rehearsing once a week needs to have more time for the words to become part of the music and, perhaps even more importantly, part of his soul. That’s why I’ve spent so much time in our Summer Singers rehearsals talking about the texts of Randall Thompson’s The Testament of Freedom and Howard Hanson’s Song of Democracy. With the text of the former piece by Thomas Jefferson and of the latter piece by Walt Whitman, we have words which are most likely pretty important! It is my belief that involving those texts early in our rehearsals helps them really “live” in performance. Now getting to that performance must still involve many steps, and we will count sing, sing staccato with words, speak rhythmically with words, sing and tune chords without concern for meter, etc., etc., before we finally reach performance day. All this to say, I think that in the learning process the sooner we can begin to understand the “gestalt” of the piece, the more complete will be the ultimate performance.
Filed under: Choral experiences, Choral rehearsal | Tagged: church choir, community chorus, Michael O'Neal, Randall Thompson, robert shaw, song of democracy, testament of freedom, thomas jefferson, walt whitman | 10 Comments »
Posted on July 2, 2010 by Michael
I love words. I also love music. It is perhaps the love for each which has drawn me so closely to choral music throughout my life. I can think of no other art form that provides such a beautiful blending of words and music. Over the years I have often been profoundly affected by the power of a meaningful text wedded to equally beautiful music. I’m writing this two days before our country’s July 4th celebration and find myself reflecting on the words a 78 year old Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to John Adams. I first heard these words as they were set by Randall Thompson in his The Testament of Freedom, composed during the midst of World War II. The text reads:
I shall not die without a hope that light and liberty are on steady advance…And even should the cloud of barbarism and despotism again obscure the science and liberties of Europe, this country remains to preserve and restore light and liberty to them…The flames kindled on the 4th of July, 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume these engines and all who work them.
Another text I remember well was also set to music by Randall Thompson. It was one of the Robert Frost poems Thompson selected to include in his collection entitled Frostiana. It became during my high school and college years a reminder that each step one takes in life carries with it certain opportunities as well as consequences. As poignant as the words were by themselves, I know they spoke more deeply to me through the music on which they were carried. You may remember The Road Not Taken, and the way it began: Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both…
I’m sure there are words and music that have been important in your life. What are some of word/music combinations that have made a difference to you?
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Frostiana, John Adams, Randall Thompson, Robert Frost, text and music, The Road Not Taken, The Testament of Freedom, thomas jefferson, word/music combinations | 10 Comments »