Blogging the 2011 Chorus America Conference: A Wild Wild Ride

Blogging the 2011 Chorus America Conference: A Wild Wild Ride

Greetings from beautiful San Francisco!

So sorry to have my first blog released on the third day of the conference, but it has been a wild wild ride!!! One of the wonderful aspects of the Chorus America world is its sense of family and the collegiality and friendships that we have all developed over the years. Coming back each year feels like a festival reunion. And to have this all hosted by one of North America’s leading choral ensembles—Chanticleer (known for their fierce dedication to New Music)—has helped to put a real focus on composers, commissions, new media and inventive initiatives. But it means a level of meeting spontaneity that made blogging (on east coast time in a west coast world) challenging!!!

I’ll be back to the computer this afternoon to fill in the details of the past days and will continue posting through Monday to get all the juicy thoughts in, but let’s start with the opening discussion by Grant Gershon and John Adams—a wonderfully rich conversation in the “Inside the Actor’s Studio” mode.

Mention was made of the difference in methodology between instrumental performances of new music (which are basically 85% performance ready at first reading) and choral performances—in which initial rehearsals were referred to as “Blood on the Floor” types of experiences with a very slow burn through months (or weeks at the pro level) of learning culminating with a performance in which the musicians actually REALLY know (and LOVE) the music. For sure, that’s been my experience of presenting new music with choral ensembles—something about the struggle to get the material assimilated presents a level of personal understanding simply not possible within a professional orchestral model.

John Adams suggested that the only people who knew his music better than choral singers were dancers (!) and that he was often astonished at how dancers learned and processed his music—indeed presenting analyses that suggested patterns and connections of which even he, as composer, was unaware!

There was a great moment when Grant Gershon asked John why “Wild Nights” was in a constant 4/4 meter and John replied that his relative inexperience in writing for choirs at the time lead him to the mistake of not including the occasional 3/4 or 3/2 meter just for visual differentiation from the conductor. A good lesson to remember for all of us!

Finally on setting text, the following quote got a bit of a chuckle from the assembled masses:

“I’m on the other end of the spectrum of what a bel canto composer would be, who takes one syllable and takes off on it. I’m much more like Bob Dylan or Stevie Wonder—when you listen to Bob Dylan, he says a sentence in beautiful American English, that to me is a far more natural way of dealing with text.”

Julian Wachner

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