I spent most of today conducting the MMEA Western District Honor Choir, and it was very fun! It was more fun than I’ve had in a long time, and I owe that largely to the singers, who were willing to go along on a pretty wild ride to get some fantastic repertoire together in very few hours. It was a crazy, intense load of work, but I’m totally jazzed by how much progress we made from the first moments of “holy crap, what have I done choosing this repertoire?!” to the final moments of “oh, whew! we’re gonna be okay… and some of this is going to be good.”
It’s a very happy program: Dello Joio “Jubilant Song,” Vecchi “Fa una canzona,” Bruckner “Locus iste,” Brahms “Waldesnacht,” Handel “Music spread thy voice around,” and Alice Parker’s kick-ass arrangement of “Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal.”
Not unambitious. I found myself making compromises: how much should I work to shape the tone in limited time? Maybe it would make the recording sound more polished if I sang everything on [u] all day, but the singers may get more out of it if I spend the time working on singing honestly and performing with authentic embodiment of expressive intention. Frankly, I care more about what they get out of it–how much they walk away loving singing, how connected they feel to music from every historical era and in four languages. So we increased plain old accuracy, then aimed for expressiveness. It’s not always perfectly in tune, and it’s not always the loftiest, most spacious and resonant tone. But it was fun.
Planning a program is complicated, and my choices were largely influenced by what was in the MMEAWD’s library that had not been performed in the past four years. But I also wanted songs that were about good feelings, music that would feel fantastic to sing, music that would give the singers opportunities to find the memories in their life that gave them the warm fuzzies, to feel those good feelings again.
Jubilant Song is the opener, and also the theme–the joy of our spirit is uncaged! Walt Whitman struck gold with that line. I wanted to give two hundred Massachusetts high school singers an change to uncage the joy of their spirits.
Here is a recording of the performance I sang in in 1995, conducted by James Jordan. It’s live, so it’s not perfect, but it sure is spirited! And it’s added to a slide show of pictures of my dogs because they make me as happy as the song does!
It’s funny: I taught high school for five years, then went back to school and I’ve been a student since 2004. As a graduate assistant, I’ve been following the advice of professors and doing what other conductors want. Today was like all the best parts of teaching high school again: the fun singers, their flexibility, and–most of all–the freedom to speak in my own voice. Again. At last.
Even Allan, who plays piano for the choirs at school, said, “I’ve never seen you like that before!” He and I have been working together for four years, but he’s always known me as Assistant Conductor Amelia. This is one of the reasons I’ve been writing the blog in grad school: I haven’t had the outlet to be expressive on my own terms even though I stand on podiums in front of college choirs all the time. Maestro Amelia is always in me, creating a backlog of expressiveness that Assistant Conductor Amelia has no opportunity to do anything about. And that’s where Blogger Amelia comes in.
Then today, I thought I would give some high school singers the opportunity to uncage the joy of their spirits.
They uncaged mine.