Paul Traver music director
Update: 30 August 2022: The University of Maryland Concert Choir (which replaced the University of Maryland Chorus as the symphonic choral ensemble on campus) has no engagements with the NSO for the 2022-23 season that I saw. Do they have any performance engagements with the UMD Symphony Orchestra that they could record and upload to YT like some other Schools of Music and Conservatories do? The Choral Arts Society of Washington has only one engage (the perfunctory Messiah performance) and The Washington Chorus has only two engagements (Carmina Burana — one of The Big Three — and Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“The Resurrection”). As has been the case for many seasons now, the Kennedy Center’s National Symphony Orchestra — and some other major symphony orchestras in the US — has all but abandoned the performance of symphonic choral works. Sad. The best symphonic choral season I saw for 2022-23 was for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. End of Update.
Hola. The University of Maryland Chorus was founded by Dr Paul Traver in 1967 when the National Symphony Orchestra, the resident Orchestra in the John F Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts in the District of Columbia requested that Dr Traver of the University of Maryland’s School of Music form a Chorus to perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (Choral). The Chorus he formed for that performance was known as the University of Maryland Chorus. Well, that performance was so successful that plans were made to keep this Chorus together. The UMD Chorus went on to develop a reputation for choral excellence especially around the DMV (the District, Maryland and Virginia) as well as inter(nationally). The University of Maryland Chorus performed with the Philadelphia, Cleveland, Minnesota, Detroit and Baltimore Symphony Orchestras as well as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam and the Belgian National Orchestra. They performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Wolf Trap, the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, and London’s Royal Albert and Royal Festival Halls. They were quite in demand. Also, for over twenty years The Maryland Chorus was the resident Chorus for the Maryland Händel Festival and they performed all of Händel’s oratorios in the order in which they were composed. After Dr Traver’s retirement from the University of Maryland in 1999, Edward Maclary became Director of Choral Activities at the University of Maryland’s School of Music. The Maryland Chorus continued to perform the symphonic choral orchestral repertoire, and they also performed with the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra until their “retirement” in 2009.
Source: Maryland Chorus Celebrates 40th Anniversary with Holiday Concert
Were you fortunate to hear the University of Maryland Chorus in one or more of their performances? Were you ever a member of The Maryland Chorus? If so, I’d like to hear from you, and you can put your comment in the comment section at the bottom of this page.
Note: Muchas gracias to all those who have commented below. I very much appreciate it and especially to the former choristers of The Maryland Chorus. A special request: If you were in the Chorus in the Summer of 1987 and know the details of how the University of Maryland Chorus “saved the National Symphony Orchestra and their Beethoven’s Ninth performance at Wolf Trap,” please write a comment about it. Oddly, no one knows anything about that, including one person who was with the Chorus at the time. Strange. On that occasion, their performance of Beethoven’s Ninth was the best performance that the reviewer from The Washington Post had ever heard, live or on a recording. So I’d really like to know the details/circumstances regarding that performance. It’s as if the University of Maryland Chorus filled in at the last minute for the Chorus previously scheduled to perform with the NSO. Did their bus break down or something or what? Although maybe The Maryland Chorus had a couple of days’ notice. That would make more sense. It’s still odd that the originally-scheduled Chorus couldn’t make it for some reason. Gracias.
As you can see, the University of Maryland Chorus was not your average University Chorus or your average Chorus. Most University Choruses are not honoured with the national and international invitations and opportunities that the University of Maryland Chorus (also known as the UMD Chorus and The Maryland Chorus) received and was rewarded with over the years, and frankly most University Choruses don’t sound like the UMD Chorus either! They can only dream of that! The average University Chorus usually performs with its University Symphony Orchestra on occasion and may go on tour by themselves (even if they are not that good). I know of one other collegiate Chorus (in the early 1970s) that served the same purpose as the University of Maryland Chorus and that was the New England Conservatory Chorus under chorus director Lorna Cooke de Varon. At that time, the New England Conservatory Chorus was the resident Chorus for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and also the Boston Pops Orchestra and appeared in major television broadcasts from Symphony Hall in Boston and also made many recordings with the BSO under numerous conductors. This was before the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (not currently one of my favourite Orchestra Choruses as one can read in that article) was founded and remain the Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. So in that sense, the UMD Chorus and the New England Conservatory Chorus (also known as the NEC Chorus) were similar in that they both served as an Orchestra Chorus for a major symphony orchestra. Most University and Conservatory Choruses aren’t fortunate or privileged to have that experience on a regular basis, so that was unique to the UMD Chorus and the NEC Chorus.
(Related: Is it Chorus or chorus? There is a difference, which most people don’t seem to know, even those who should know better.)
I was prompted to write this Tribute to Dr Traver and his superb University of Maryland Chorus after reading that the guestbook for Dr Traver’s obituary had been closed. The notice on that page said that someone could pay The Washington Post some dinero/money to renew the page. How tacky is that?! So I’m setting up a page here. If someone wants to write a personal tribute to Dr Traver and The Maryland Chorus, feel free to leave a comment below of any length (there’s lot of space here). I was very sorry to hear that Dr Traver had died. I never did hear how he died or if he was ill before his death. He died on his cumpleaños/birthday (on March 27, 2011) at age 80, about six month after he was honoured at an event held by The Washington Chorus and Dr Julian Wachner (see Related at the bottom of the page). I did find his obituary on another site.
My personal Tribute and many recollections:
Back in the 1970s (which doesn’t seem that long ago in a way and it was the disco days/era and disco music is still played around here), a group of us students from the Conservatory of Music where I was studying went to the Kennedy Center one night to hear an orchestral performance in the Concert Hall. I don’t remember what we went to hear. It was not a choral work I do know that. Being a “choral person” I would have been more interested in hearing this concert if there had been a Chorus with the orchestra. But while I was at the Kennedy Center, I walked around The Hall of Nations or one of those halls and I saw the National Symphony Orchestra’s Subscription Series for that season on the wall so I looked for the choral performances which were scattered throughout the season. It looked something like this:
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND CHORUS
Paul Traver director
NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Antal Doráti, Music Director
MAHLER/SYMPHONY NO 2 (The Resurrection)
UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND CHORUS
Paul Traver director
NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Antal Doráti, Music Director
BEETHOVEN/SYMPHONY NO 9 (Choral)
UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND CHORUS
Paul Traver director
NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Antal Doráti, Music Director
They may have been the exact pieces I saw at that time. My first thought was: Well hell, I must be studying at the wrong school because our Chorus is not performing with the National Symphony Orchestra. Well, no one else’s was either. Just the University of Maryland Chorus. I then thought: Maybe I should transfer to the University of Maryland at College Park. My thoughts continued: The University of Maryland Chorus — I’ve never heard them — must be quite good to be performing regularly with the NSO. They appear to be the Resident Chorus for the National Symphony Orchestra. Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington probably had one or maybe two performances with the NSO that season as did Robert Shafer’s The Oratorio Society of Washington (today known as The Washington Chorus). But the University of Maryland Chorus was the main Chorus being selected for Kennedy Center Concert Hall performances under maestro Antal Doráti. I later found out that this was because The Maryland Chorus was Doráti’s favourite Chorus and he chose them as often as possible for performances. They were also the Chorus with the NSO for the “Official Kennedy Center Souvenir Recording” where they performed music of Robert Russell Bennett. Doráti and Dr Traver had a very good rapport.
As some may know from reading other things I’ve written on this site, later on I lived in the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia, in the late 1970s. At that time, I had the privilege of working with the major Orchestra Choruses in the District, specifically the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the Oratorio Society of Washington and the University of Maryland Chorus. It was a major pleasure and a goal achieved to finally have the opportunity to be a member of the UMD Chorus.
(Related: It’s District of Columbia, not Washington DC. There is no Washington in DC. They mean the same thing; they’re synonymous, it’s redundant).
I can’t remember when I first heard them. It was probably the following Summer after I had seen that NSO Subscription Series listing and — being determined to hear them — I think I went to hear them perform at Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts. They performed there too in those days. They probably performed their Beethoven’s Ninth one warm Summer night. Regardless of when it was that I first heard them, the University of Maryland Chorus was absolutely outstanding and after hearing them I completely understood why they performed regularly with the NSO.
I had a friend who worked at Olsen’s Records (I think that was the name of it…it was a classical records store) on Wisconsin Avenue near M Street in Georgetown in the District and he would say, “that Maryland Chorus can sing the shit out of choral music.” I agreed with him. True! Yes, they could! He went on to say, “they’re the worst dressed but the best sounding Chorus [and he may have said around here].” I didn’t agree with the “worst dressed” part. (Why are some people so judgmental about shallow and superficial stuff as to what someone is wearing? Who cares what they wear?!) He was a casual, “jeans and flannel shirt” type guy. I never did know what he meant by that. Other than the Men of The Maryland Chorus not wearing black jackets usually, they looked like some other choral groups.
The Maryland Chorus was well-known for their Beethoven’s Ninth which they performed on many occasions. They also performed with international orchestras who came to perform at the Kennedy Center. I remember they performed their Beethoven’s Ninth with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam in the Kennedy Center and they also performed Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with one of the major orchestras from Europe, it may have been the Concertgebouw as well. That concert was glorious! I remember that performance quite well. It was superb. “The Chorus was glorious throughout” was likely the review of the concert. That was said about one of their performances. Dr Traver had them prepared superbly for their Beethoven Missa Solemnis.
Dr Traver demanded and required the best and he got that from his Maryland Chorus. Of all the choral directors I ever had the opportunity and pleasure of working with (aside from my chorus director in high school), Dr Traver was the one person who made the greatest impression on me by his musicianship and the superb results that he achieved with his Maryland Chorus. Despite his accomplishments with the Chorus, he wasn’t at all stuck up or arrogant. He was very down-to-Earth, comical on occasion in rehearsals, he had “people skills,” he even called me here in San Francisco on one occasion as I had some questions for him regarding choral groups and he was very generous with his time and I appreciated that.
I sang with The Maryland Chorus for one season — the last year I lived in the District before moving to San Francisco — and because there had been a change of conductors for the NSO (Rostropovich was now the conductor and not Doráti), the University of Maryland Chorus was having fewer Kennedy Center performances unfortunately. The season I sang with Maryland things changed. (Wouldn’t you know it!) We unfortunately had only one performance at the Kennedy Center and that was with Antal Doráti conducting. I don’t know for a fact, but I sensed that Rostropovich preferred the Choral Arts Society of Washington, perhaps because they were the first Chorus he worked with when he arrived? I sometimes think that the first Chorus a new orchestra conductor works with becomes the conductor’s favourite or preferred Chorus.
I left the District and moved to San Francisco, and the one thing I regretted about leaving was having to leave the UMD Chorus. That was difficult for me. Later, I did sing with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (which was excellent, and at that time Margaret Hillis, founder and director of the renowned Chicago Symphony Chorus, was the interim Chorus Director followed by Vance George who was appointed Chorus Director). But the San Francisco Symphony Chorus wasn’t the UMD Chorus just as the Choral Arts Society Chorus wasn’t the UMD Chorus and it was clear to me that my strong preference was for the UMD Chorus. They had made the greatest impression on me. Each Chorus is unique. But I kept up with what The Maryland Chorus was doing as best I could (no Internet in those days). I’d go to the public library in San Francisco and look at The Washington Post Arts section to see what was happening with the Chorus. Dr Traver’s Maryland Händel Festival was starting at around that time and the UMD Chorus was the featured Chorus for that. They performed all of the oratorios of Handel in the order in which they were composed. I also kept up with The Maryland Chorus through my former private piano teacher whose son had left the Cathedral Choral Society to sing with The Maryland Chorus (on my recommendation), so she kept me up-to-date on what they were doing. I remember asking her about Maryland’s performance of William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast at the Kennedy Center which was/is one of my favourite pieces. I asked: Was the Chorus split? She said: “No, not visibly.” (The work is for double-chorus for those who don’t know). She went on to say that the reviewer that she had read was nit-picky and too critical. She said she thought the UMD Chorus was superb.
After I had lived in San Francisco for two years, I went back to the District on a holiday and I planned my holiday around a series of performances of the Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem with the University of Maryland Chorus and the National Symphony Orchestra with Doráti conducting. I think I went to at least two of their performances of the Brahms. The first night, at the beginning of the Requiem after their stunning choral entrance — there was this hushed rumble from the Chorus — I didn’t hear final consonants initially. That was very unusual for The Maryland Chorus. Well, the next day, the Washington Post had a review of the concert and spoke splendidly about the University of Maryland Chorus. The reviewer had also noticed the lack of final consonants at the beginning of the work. The reviewer said the UMD Chorus was not the problem but rather Doráti for not giving the Chorus precise direction for the final consonants. Apparently Doráti and/or Traver read the review because the next performance was perfect with nice, clear, crisp final consonants at the beginning. The UMD Chorus was especially known for their diction so that’s why this instance was a bit odd. Didn’t Dr Traver say that “If you can’t sound good (as a Chorus) you can at least have good diction?” (Can anyone confirm?) I’m not sure he said that but it’s true. It sounds like something he would have said.
A few things comes up on the Internet about The Maryland Chorus these days. This article from 2012 in one of the District’s publications is the last mention of the UMD Chorus I’ve been able to find and it refers briefly to the Chorus having been “liquidated.”
Warning: You might not want to read the comments for that article as half of them were written by — what I call — the Classical Music Snots. I made the mistake of reading them. What snooty prudes! I don’t know why classical music tends to attract so many pretentious, snooty, snotty, uptight, elitist, “prim-and-proper” people with no sense of humour who think they are better than anyone else and who try to give the impression they are above having bodily functions even. When really they are no better than the rest of us! I’m glad that the writer of the article ignored their trolling and didn’t respond.
One other thing that does come up (per subscription) is an article from The Washington Post from the late 1980s. Here it is:
National Symphony Orchestra & University of Maryland Chorus
“…an excellent performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was presented to an overflow audience Saturday night at Wolf Trap. This excellence, however, was a last-minute development, and primary credit goes not to the National Symphony, which was the orchestra for the occasion, but to the University of Maryland Chorus, which came to the orchestra’s rescue. The Chorus—one of the best—celebrated its 20th anniversary and its 36th Beethoven Ninth by singing the final movement as well as I have ever heard it sung, live or on records.”
Source: National Symphony Orchestra & University of Maryland Chorus (Joseph McLellan)
And I thought the one I heard them do on one occasion in the Kennedy Center was the best, live or on records/CDs! I would like to have heard the performance Joseph wrote about. If anyone has any details about that performance and how exactly the UMD Chorus “saved” the NSO, I’d like to hear that story and you can e-mail me at the address at the bottom of this page. (Gracias.) I get the idea that perhaps another Chorus was supposed to perform with the NSO, but couldn’t at the last minute for some reason, so The Maryland Chorus filled in for them. Is that what happened? That would be quite a challenge to get 150+ voices together on short notice to fill in for another Chorus. That was the Summer of 1987 at Wolf Trap. So if anyone know anything about that, e-mail, por favor. Gracias.
I also remember listening to WGMS (remember that station?….”Washington’s Good Music Station” it was called, “AM-Bethesda, FM-Washington”). I was listening to WGMS one afternoon because The Maryland Chorus was performing Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with (I think) the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall and I wanted to hear what they had to say in the interview about the UMD Chorus. The interview was with Sheila Armstrong, one of the soloists. The interview went on and on without any mention whatsoever of The Maryland Chorus and I was getting pissed because the Missa Solemnis is a choral work. Don’t you think you should mention the Chorus for a choral work? What’s the phone number for this station I’m thinking?…even though I never called them. At one point finally, Ms Armstrong said (it came out of nowhere, she sort of interrupted the interviewer): “Oh and I do want to make mention of the Chorus. This is one of the finest Choruses I’ve ever heard.” I nod my head in approval to my radio. The interviewer added, “We should mention that the Chorus is that of the University of Maryland.” That’s all they said about The Maryland Chorus in that interview but that was good. The interview was oddly mainly about the soloists.
Remember the choreographed Beethoven’s Ninth at Wolf Trap with the University of Maryland Chorus assisting? That was unusual. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was performed with dancers (choreography) from a major dance company and the National Symphony Orchestra, as I recall. After the performance started, from my seat I was looking around for The Maryland Chorus since it was Beethoven’s Ninth (Choral). I never saw the Chorus until it was time for them to sing. That’s because during the entire performance (until they sang) they sat on stage behind a black curtain which dropped to the floor quickly just before the first choral entrance. So there was this fast black curtain drop to the floor and spotlights on the Maryland Chorus. On the stage, all one saw was a wall of yellow-orange (like the sun). The UMD Chorus didn’t normally wear choir robes — thank goodness — but I think that’s what they wore for this performance. If I’m wrong, someone correct me, por favor. It was a very nice effect with a “wall” of yellow-orange Chorus behind the orchestra and dancers and I liked it very much.
University of Maryland Chorus Performance Attire
Speaking of what the UMD Chorus wore for performances: Usually the women wore long black skirts with white shirts and the guys wore black pants with white shirts. The guys usually didn’t wear black jackets especially in the Summer at Wolf Trap. Dr Traver didn’t want anyone getting too hot and fainting. On one occasion that I remember the Maryland Chorus wore blue shirts (a medium shade) and black skirts/pants with black bow ties for the guys and no jackets. That looked really nice. I liked that a lot. They wore that for a United Nations’s Peace Concert (blue for paz/peace) in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall where they performed The Fun and Faith of William Billings by Robert Russell Bennett with the National Symphony Orchestra, Antal Doráti conducting. I could tell that the Maryland Chorus members didn’t get the blue shirts all at the same place because there were a couple of shade variations with the shirts, but overall they matched and they looked very nice/polished. I had never seen a Chorus in blue (a medium-dark shade of blue) and black before so that made an impression on me. It was a nice change from the traditional and ubiquitous white and black look. Then in the late 1970s when I sang with the Maryland Chorus, Dr Traver had the women wear black wrap-around-type dresses. He later told me they hated them. I liked them; they looked nice. They were a crepe fabric and the style was more like a bathrobe (wrap-around with a black belt made of the same fabric as the dress).
Choral Politics in the District
There’s politics of some sort in nearly every thing I can think of, unfortunately. And I had heard some choral politics stuff about the UMD Chorus when I was in a Choral Arts Society rehearsal one night. I overheard some basses on the back row talking sort of loudly. It had to do with Dr Traver supposedly “storming into the Kennedy Center and demanding that his Maryland Chorus perform with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam,” (which they did do by the way). If that rumor is true, did his actions cause the management of Kennedy Center to not want to use The Maryland Chorus in the future? I don’t know. I can hear it now: “Dr Traver, your Maryland Chorus can do the Concertgebouw performances, but don’t count on doing much more after that….” (sort of a pissed-off reprimand). That maybe true since after Doráti left (I spoke about this earlier), the University of Maryland Chorus was indeed invited less to perform with the NSO and international orchestras. Politics suck including music politics. Also, at a Choral Arts Society rehearsal one night Norman Scribner announced, “a Chorus that shall remain nameless will be performing (such and such work) at the Kennedy Center.” I thought: Why is the Chorus nameless? I asked the chorister next to me, ‘who’s he talking about?’ The chorister whispered in my ear, “the University of Maryland Chorus.” Oh. Then a friend of mine from the Choral Arts Society went with me to one of The Maryland Chorus/Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam Beethoven/Missa Solemnis performances (did you get all that?) in the Kennedy Center. As I remember, she had not heard them before and at some point after the performance began (probably in between movements) I whispered to her, “What do you think? Aren’t they wonderful?” Well, her devout allegiance to the Choral Arts Society was seemingly interfering with her hearing the UMD Chorus objectively. So she said to me, “well anyone can sing loudly!” (I thought: well that’s a damn odd thing to say). I then sensed a wall of resentment, envy or even jealousy. I started to say to her (but didn’t), “well yes, anyone can sing loudly—including our Choral Arts Society (which I was still a member of)—but not necessarily the way The Maryland Chorus does. Conveniently, she seemed to not hear when they sang quietly and superbly in the very beautiful quiet, hushed sections (marked pp or ppp in the score) during the performance. My friend’s reaction reminded me of a devout partisan and especially these days I can’t stand partisans. I don’t remember her giving The Maryland Chorus any good words, praise or credit at all because her fervent allegiance was to the Choral Arts Society. I’m personally not into devout allegiance to anything. If I like something I like it, and I can say something good about someone else when they deserve it. I did not adhere to this thinking that if you’re in one Chorus that you can’t say or are not supposed to say anything good about another Chorus that might be your competition. That’s so silly. But she didn’t seem able to do that. In that same performance, I kept noticing that one of the sopranos on the front row of The Maryland Chorus had a smile on her face during the entire performance. Fortunately, she was still in the Chorus when I sang with them so I asked her about that. She was a very nice person when I asked her about it and she told me, “It was such a pleasure for me and for us to sing with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and I was just in ecstasy. I thoroughly enjoyed our performances with them and to sing that piece (Beethoven/Missa Solemnis).” And her face showed that. Very nice. The University of Maryland Chorus gave an impeccable, very polished, glorious performance of the Missa Solemnis. There was no failing soprano or tenor section in that Chorus. They handled Beethoven’s high notes effortlessly.
Speaking of politics (which I don’t like talking about because the general topic of politics can cause high blood pressure), I found this very interesting:
The Anti-War Maryland Chorus (right-on!)
From David Taylor, Assistant Conductor of the University of Maryland Chorus:
“Although my day job is now lawyering for the CFTC, in those days I was a graduate student in conducting at the University of Maryland and assistant conductor of the University of Maryland Chorus. Your post brought to my mind an experience I had involving President Nixon, Leonard Bernstein, and the Nixon inauguration in 1973, that I thought you might find of interest. In 1973 and throughout most of the 1970s, the University of Maryland Chorus performed several times each year with the National Symphony under its great music director Antal Doráti. In January of that year, the Chorus sang four performances with the NSO of Beethoven’s great Missa Solemnis (an amazing musical experience I will never forget). Given the times, those performances intersected with both President Nixon, the Vietnam War, and Leonard Bernstein. As luck would have it, our Beethoven performances were slated for the week of the inauguration. It had been a tradition for decades that during the week of each Presidential inauguration the NSO played (outside its normal subscription season) what was labeled the Inaugural Concert, as part of the festivities of inauguration week. The performance was usually attended by the President-elect, and after the building of the Kennedy Center it always took place there. Normally, this would have had nothing to do with the Beethoven concerts. However, it turned out that President Nixon had been a life-long fan of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and for what was going to be his final inauguration he expressed a wish to have the Philadelphia play the Inaugural Concert, which they did. The NSO leadership was very gracious about this change, and responded by dedicating the week’s regular NSO subscription concerts to the inauguration of the President. Of course, the anti-war movement, further fueled by the developing Watergate affair, wanted to protest the Nixon inauguration. One musical consequence of this, as you may remember, was the hasty arranging of a sort of “Anti-Inaugural Concert” consisting of a performance of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Mass in Time of War at the National Cathedral by a large chorus (I believe it was either the Cathedral Choral Society, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, or parts of both) and a pick-up orchestra, conducted by none other than that famous musical leftist, Leonard Bernstein. I was not present, since we were singing Beethoven at Kennedy Center, but was told by people who did attend that the Bernstein performance drew a huge attendance, including 2000+ inside the Cathedral and thousands more listening on loudspeakers outside. There were also nearly consequences for our Beethoven performances. A significant number of the approximately 140 members of the University of Maryland Chorus shared the sentiments of the anti-war, anti-Nixon protesters and were upset that the NSO had dedicated the Beethoven concerts to the President’s inauguration. Quite a few of them initially refused to go onstage to sing something dedicated to President Nixon. Paul Traver, the conductor of the UMD Chorus (and my major teacher) and I had to do a considerable amount of fast talking to convince them that they owed it to the Chorus, to Maestro Doráti, and to Beethoven to sing as scheduled. In the end that view prevailed, and the Missa Solemnis—one of humanity’s greatest choral treasures, and a work that dwarfs Bernstein’s Mass into utter insignificance—went forward magnificently and without incident. But it was a close-run thing.”
Source: Leonard Bernstein’s 1972 Counter-Inaugural
The Maryland Händel Festival
Händel/Messiah: The Maryland Chorus’s version of Messiah was unique in that Dr Traver had the Chorus sing ornaments/fillers in specified places in the score. I had never heard Messiah sung like that before and I really liked it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in The Maryland Chorus for any of their Messiah performances. And someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I remember about it (from hearing the story told), Dr Traver worked with Erich Leinsdorf and I think the ornaments/fillers added to the Chorus parts came from him. I remember Dr Traver saying that he couldn’t imagine Messiah being performed any other way. I agreed with him. But regardless of where the ornaments/fillers came from, to me it made this oratorio much more interesting to listen to because not only did the soloists ornament their vocal parts, but with “Dr Traver’s version” (I’ll call it) of Messiah so did the Chorus. Just to be clear, to my knowledge Dr Traver used the Editions Novello and the ornaments/fillers added to the choral score were hand-written in the score by each Chorus member and rehearsed/drilled just like the rest of the piece. So in other words, the ornaments in the choral score were not random flourishes sung spontaneously. They were prepared so that everyone in each SATB section of the Chorus would be singing them at exactly the same time.
The UMC Chorus recorded Messiah on CD with the Cathedral Choral Society. In that performance, unfortunately, there were no choral ornaments. I attributed that to conductor Antal Doráti. I guess he didn’t agree with Dr Traver’s version — I’m presuming Dr Traver tried to get Doráti to use “the Traver version” — and that didn’t fly so Doráti chose to use the “traditional”/boring version instead. The same version that one has heard umpteen times for decades. The only ornament from “the Traver version” that I heard in the Doráti version on CD was the slow trill in the alto line at the end of “Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs.” I had specifically bought that CD thinking it would be “the Traver version” since Dr Traver and Doráti were very close friends. But I also bought that CD with hesitation: Because in my opinion putting the Cathedral Choral Society with the University of Maryland Chorus was not the best idea. A better idea would have been to combine the Choral Arts Society of Washington with The Maryland Chorus. Yeah well! But since there was friction (politics) between Maryland and Choral Arts (as I wrote about earlier above), that combination was not to happen due to silly, immature choral politics.
Related: Paul Traver, Getting A Händel on Retirement
And as you may know, and I mentioned it up at the top of this article that the University of Maryland “retired” the University Chorus in 2009.
Tue, Mar 10, 2009:
“After a distinguished 40-year history marked by international appearances, celebrated Händel Festivals, and annual holiday concerts, the acclaimed Maryland Chorus will be officially retired by the UM School of Music at the end of the Spring 2009 semester. The Chorus’s final performance will take place on Sunday, May 10, 2009 in the Clarice Smith Center’s Dekelboum Concert Hall.”
Source: Maryland Chorus Retires in May ’09
How sad to read that.
I was very sorry to hear that. Oddly, the Chorus’ name was retired as well which means that there will not be another “University of Maryland Chorus” ever for respect of the Chorus and Dr Traver, according to the University. That’s sort of weird because many universities have a University Chorus. I never thought about this when I was in The Maryland Chorus or when I lived in the District, but the University of Maryland Chorus was known at the University as a “town and gown” Chorus, meaning The Maryland Chorus choristers came from the community (town = College Park MD) as well as University of Maryland students (cap/gown). Now that I think about it, the Choral Arts Society was the same but it wasn’t known as “town and gown.” Choral Arts Society had students from the various universities (cap and gown) in the area as well as members of the community (town = the District and DC suburbs). The community people who were members of The Maryland Chorus had to pay the University of Maryland a fee to sing in the Chorus. It wasn’t that much and I don’t remember what the exact fee was. Also, the “sound” that The Maryland Chorus had was because of who was in the Chorus, auditioned by Dr Traver. I will assume that Dr Traver had no problem with the fact that the Chorus was “town and gown,” but I’m now thinking that possibly the University did have a problem with it in that they wanted only students in the University of Maryland Chorus. If the Chorus had been an all-student Chorus, The Maryland Chorus “sound” would have been different. So when they “retired” The Maryland Chorus, the University of Maryland wrote on their website that when a large symphonic Chorus is needed for a large-scale choral work that they will combine choral groups for such a performance. Other than possible legal reasons, why didn’t they just keep the “University of Maryland Chorus” name and announce that there is now a new requirement for membership in The Maryland Chorus that one must be a student at the University’s School of Music? But with the way they wrote it, for large-scale symphonic choral works — and depending upon what they’re performing — it means that possibly 3-4 different UMD choral ensembles would be listed on the programme if they were performing some large-scale major work (Berlioz/Requiem or Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, for example), instead of just saying “University of Maryland Chorus.”
Here’s an example: The University of Maryland Chorale and University of Maryland Chamber Singers performed Messiah with the NSO a few years ago at Kennedy Center. See what I mean? So on the programme, two different choral groups were listed. Before they were “retired,” the University of Maryland Chorus would have had that Messiah engagement with the NSO. The University also wrote that The Maryland Chorus had served its purpose and that’s in part why the Chorus was being “retired.” I thought: Well no disrespect intended, but using that rationale, the same thing could be said about the University of Maryland — it has served its purpose by educating people — but I don’t see you closing the University of Maryland! Dr Traver was living although retired (Professor Emeritus) when the UMD Chorus was retired. I would love to know what he thought about his Chorus being liquidated/ended/”retired.” It’s sort of odd that he would retire and turn his Maryland Chorus over to someone else, although I realise that’s the way that’s done. Maybe there’s more to this that I don’t know. I suspect there’s more to this story. Chisme/Gossip. When Dr Traver retired Dr Jesse Parker (I remember seeing his name; he trained under Traver) became The Maryland Chorus director, I believe. I think Jesse was the director for approximately 10 years and then Edward Maclary became “Director of Choral Activities” at Maryland’s School of Music. He trained under Robert Shaw and Margaret Hillis. Maclary had The Maryland Chorus until the Chorus was “retired.” If part of that is not correct, someone can correct me in the comments. Speaking of “retired” Choruses, it looks like the New England Conservatory Chorus (which I mentioned up at the top of the page) was also “retired” (why?) although I don’t know when. I think they now use the NEC Concert Choir for large-scale choral works at NEC.
Chorus Directors Retiring
A little off-topic but on the subject of Chorus Directors retiring and turning their Chorus over to someone else: Norman Scribner recently retired as founder/director of the Choral Arts Society of Washington and turned the Choral Arts Society Chorus over to Scott Tucker. Granted, retirements do happen, it’s just that I didn’t expect Dr Traver to do that for some reason. Margaret Hillis of the Chicago Symphony Chorus died and Dwayne Wolf (whom she had prepared to take over the CSOC) took over the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Norman MacKenzie took over the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus upon the death of Robert Shaw, the Dean of Choral Music. One Orchestra Chorus still with its original founder/director is the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and John Oliver, Chorus Director. John Oliver started the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in the 1970s and they are the Official Chorus for the Boston Symphony Orchestra y Boston Pop Orchestra. As I said earlier, Tanglewood replaced the New England Conservatory Chorus. (I wonder how Lorna Cooke de Varon felt about that?)
Speaking of Chicago Symphony Chorus founder/director Margaret Hillis, I once asked Dr Traver how he happened to get the engagement for the UMD Chorus with conductor Claudio Abbado in the Kennedy Center (I forget which orchestra Maryland was singing with). He told me that maestro Abbado contacted Margaret Hillis in Chicago for a recommendation of an Orchestra Chorus in the DC area. Ms Hillis had worked with Dr Traver and the University of Maryland Chorus previously. so she told Abbado to get the UMD Chorus from her experience working them. That was nice of her! And I’m sure I went to that performance and it was glorious.
At its “retirement,” the University of Maryland Chorus was much smaller in size than when I sang with them. So I was wondering whether that was part of the reason for the “retiring.” During the 1970s and when I sang with them, we had approximately 150 plus voices. When they were “retired,” they were down to about 85 voices, as I recall. That’s quite a reduction in size. So I got the impression that they were losing members (because Dr Traver was no longer there?) and because classical music and the arts are slowly dying in los Estados Unidos/the US (examples of that include: New York City Opera announces bankruptcy and Minnesota Orchestra musicians mark anniversary of lockout with large demonstration). I was wondering: Are people too busy with their toys/gadgets and their texting addiction to sing and attend rehearsals requiring a long attention span? I was wondering if there was just less interest in The Maryland Chorus, considering they no longer performed regularly at the Kennedy Center as they did under Doráti. I got the impression that Leonard Slatkin (who followed Rostropovich with the NSO) also preferred the Choral Arts Society (the first Chorus he worked with, I think).
Who replaced the “retired” University of Maryland Chorus?
It looks like it has been the University of Maryland Concert Choir, an all-student Chorus, which replaced them. Personally, I like the name University of Maryland Chorus much better. I never was too big on “Concert Choirs” (the name) and I was in one Concert Choir. The name sounds so collegiate or something but they are usually considered the best choral ensemble on a campus along with the Chamber Singers or Chamber Choir. But anyway, University of Maryland Concert Choir is their name and they’ve had numerous performances with the NSO (most recently Mendelssohn’s Elijah). I’d like to have heard that but of course it’s not on GoogleTube), and I read that the UMD Concert Choir will be performing Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Now one would think that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Chorus would be performing the War Requiem, but the BSOChorus no longer exists. That’s true. Strange isn’t it? Get this: The BSO ended their Orchestra Chorus some years ago I remember reading. (Eyes rolled towards the ceiling and back down). I mean, how costly is it to have an Orchestra Chorus when each chorus member buys their own scores? They couldn’t afford to pay a Chorus Director or what? Sigh. Oh well. I don’t know the reason the BSO Chorus was ended, but I thought it was odd. So now, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra just invites a Chorus to sing with them when they are performing a choral work and in this case, the University of Maryland Concert Choir has been invited. Good for them. Chau.—el barrio rosa [El 29 de septiembre de 2013.]
Unfortunately, the audio links I had here of The Maryland Chorus’s performance (on CD) of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis are no longer available. But…
If you would like to hear a superb performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, I recommend this from Amsterdam, with the 42-voice Cappella Amsterdam Chorus and the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century conducted by Daniel Reuss. This Chorus is amazing, and I don’t say that very often these days. They remind me of a smaller University of Maryland Chorus. Absolutely superb.
About the image at the top of this page:
I created that image as a Tribute to Dr Traver and the University of Maryland Chorus. It’s similar to the poster that Dr Traver had made for the Chorus back in the 1970s. We had posters and T-Shirts with that image on them. There is a picture of the 1970s version on FB but because of the problems I have with FB (please read that article for more details on what I’m talking about), I’m not linking to the images of the original poster. I liked the 1970s versions and I wore my Maryland Chorus T-shirt often, but I like my updated version better. It’s more colourful. I think Dr Traver would like it too. Chau.—el barrio rosa/pink barrio
Why I Sing: Juey Ong
“When I studied Computer Science in college, I had to pick a minor subject. Since I had music lessons growing up in Singapore, I chose to study Music. That was how I made my Carnegie Hall debut in 1986 with the University of Maryland Chorus.”
University Chorus will perform with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
“The Chorus of roughly 100 singers is composed of University of Maryland faculty, staff and students as well as members of the community.”
[Note: This is from 1993 when the UMD Chorus seemed to be getting smaller in size as I mentioned earlier.]
The Washington Chorus set to honor Twelve Great Chorus Founders Nov. 9
“…and Paul Traver-founder of The University of Maryland Chorus.”
[Note: Dr Traver died about 6 months later after he was honoured at this event held by Julian Wachner, Chorus Director of The Washington Chorus.]