University of Maryland Chorus (A Tribute)

Paul Traver music director

[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. Chau.—el barrio rosa]

UMCTRIBUTE

Hola. The University of Maryland Chorus was founded by Dr Paul Traver in 1967 when the National Symphony Orchestra in the District of Columbia (Estados Unidos/US) 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 created for that performance was known as the University of Maryland Chorus and The Maryland Chorus went on to develop a reputation for choral excellence especially around the DC Metropolitan area as well as internationally. The UMD Chorus performed with the Philadelphia, Cleveland, Minnesota, Detroit and Baltimore Symphony Orchestras as well as the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and the Belgian National Orchestra. The UMD Chorus 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 Handel Festival and they performed all of Handel’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.

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 wish! 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 one of my favourite Orchestra Choruses as one can read in that article) was founded and they remain the Official Chorus of the BSO. 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.

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
Concert Hall

VERDI/REQUIEM
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 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.

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. 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 as many Queer people were doing at that time and the one thing I regretted about leaving the District was having to leave The Maryland Chorus. That was difficult for me. Later, I did work with/sing with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (which was excellent, and at that time Margaret Hillis, founder and director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, was the interim 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 University of Maryland Chorus and 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 Handel 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. I planned my holiday around a series of performances of the Brahms/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) that 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—”classical 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. 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 a 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 Concert 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.

Speaking of politics (which I don’t like talking about because the general topic of politics can cause gastritis), 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 Handel Festival

Handel/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 Messiah 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 “off the cuff.” They were prepared so that everyone in each SATB section of the Chorus would be singing them at exactly the same time.

The Maryland 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 Doráti chose to use the “traditional” (ugh!) version instead. 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. 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.
Related: Paul Traver, Getting A Handel 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 Maryland Chorus in 2009.
Tue, Mar 10, 2009
“After a distinguished 40-year history marked by international appearances, celebrated Handel 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

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 members came from the community (town or College Park MD) as well as University of Maryland students (as in 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 (gown) in the area as well as members of the community (town/The District and 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 (music) 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 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, the same thing could be said about the University—it has served its purpose by educating people—but I don’t see you closing the University! 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. 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 e-mail me and I’ll correct it. 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 Maryland 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 U.S. (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.

(The University of Maryland Chorus is not listed on the side shown of the LP. They’re listed on the other side.)

 

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

Correos Electrónicos/E-mails:
pinkbarrio555@yahoo.com

Related:

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.]

Related (Choral):

Boston University Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Chorus perform The Bells (Op. 35) by Sergei Rachmaninov

40 comments on “University of Maryland Chorus (A Tribute)

  1. Lisa

    So thrilled to have stumbled upon this page!!! I am putting together (finally) a scrapbook of the years I sang with the UMD Chorus. I had found a newspaper clipping titled National Symphony Orchestra and University of Md Chorus. It was from our performance at Wolf Trap and seemed a bit dramatic. I just remember singing and how thrilled I was to be at Wolf Trap. Was trying to find the exact date we sang this as the back says 1987. I do not remember robes. Since it was outside, I remember Dr. Traver saying “at the end… do NOT move. I don’t care if a bee flies up your nose, do NOT MOVE!” Needless to say, we did not move, but I did hear a bit of commotion in the back and someone said an alto had fainted from standing so still. Ah, rumors. I will see if any of my old rehearsal schedules indicate when we started practicing for this. My awesome Mom saved everything I had from the chorus!

    Reply
  2. Marilyn

    I began working in the University of MD Chorus office with Dr. Traver in 1969. I briefly worked in the office and helped to manage the chorus as part of my degree program. I sang with the chorus from 1969 until 1976. I was a part of the first trip to England when we sang at the London Festival, Ely Cathedral and Farnam Maltings. We sang in Washington for the Queen of England at the Washington Cathedral, at Lincoln Center in NY and we were part of the first choral performance at the Kennedy Center- Beethoven’s Ninth. I remember many afternoons and evenings sitting around the office. We had a loyal crew and a tight community then. There was nothing quite like the magic of a rehearsal with Dr. Traver. My favorite performance was at Wolf Trap one summer when we sang Beethoven’s Ninth but as background to dance. We sweltered under two layers of itchy cloaks until the final moment when the chorus stood, threw off our brown wraps to reveal 100 singers garbed in gold. We worked with incredible conductors, but our hearts belonged to Dr. Traver.

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    1. Jane

      OK folks. That Wolf Trap performance was with Maurice Bejart and the Bejart Ballet Lausanne from Switzerland. M. Bejart, a dancer-choreographer-opera director, had beautifully choreographed the piece, and the entire performance with superb dancers, orchestra and excellent chorus was an artistic tour de force. At the third and final performance, just as the chorus was rising and throwing off those heavy robes to commence the Fourth Movement Finale, the heavens opened up in a massive lightning strike and torrential thunder storm. Mother Nature provided a considerable, unanticipated dramatic effect, which I took as a cosmic sign of approval. I sang with the choir from 1972 to 1982, and among all the many extraordinary performing opportunities we enjoyed, this was among the most unique.

      Reply
  3. Timothy Ettridge

    I was a member of the UMD Chorus from around ’84 or ’85 until ’93 or so. I do remember that Wolf Trap Beethoven’s 9th performance but as for what you asked about, at first I couldn’t remember anything unusual. Reading on, it sort of slowly came back to me that, oh yes, there was a kind of last minute thrown together memory about it. I can’t, however, remember the details.

    As often as we had performed it in even my one decade or so with the choir (and also considering how short the choir’s contribution is), I don’t imagine it was too hard to do it on a moment’s notice. Exactly why we had to do it on a moment’s notice, though, I can’t recall.

    Reply
    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Timothy, well that’s a start. At least you remember something about it. (smile). That’s the most I’ve gotten so far about it! Maybe it will come back to you and if so, please come back and write more about it. I’ll appreciate it. Muchas gracias. Chau.

      Reply
  4. Larry

    Just came across this page by accident. Thanks so much for the great tribute to Dr. Traver. I was in his chorus for several years in the early 1970′s. I’m now somewhat of a composer, and a lot my musical training and education took place while singing in his chorus. When I tell people about the experiences I had singing with the NSO under Dorati in the Kennedy Center, traveling to and singing in Lincoln Center with the NSO, they can’t believe it. They also can’t believe the repertoire we sang: examples: Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Wagner’s choruses from Parsifal, Beethoven’s Christ on the Mount of Olives, to mention a few. Not sure how I passed the audition to join the chorus, but singing with Traver was one of the great formative experiences in my life. Thanks for your website – Traver would have loved it, especially the credit he deserved for making us all sing well.

    Reply
    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Larry, how kind of you to say that; it’s my pleasure! I certainly relate to your feelings about Dr Traver and I appreciate hearing about your performance experiences with the NSO. It was quite an unforgettable experience. Muchísimas gracias. Thank you very much for your comment. Chau.

      Reply
  5. el barrio rosa Post author

    For those interested, here’s my article, Remembering Norman Scribner, Founder and Artistic Director Emeritus of the Choral Arts Society of Washington.

    Also, should someone come along and happen to know the answer to my question having to do with this:

    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.”—Joseph McLellan

    How did The Maryland Chorus come to the NSO’s rescue, does anyone know? What was that about? So far no one seems to know anything about it. If someone happens to know, leave a comment about it por favor/please. Muchas gracias. Chau.

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  6. Neal Campbell

    Yes, your details of the Beethoven 9 are basically correct. Each chorister had this golden robe on. Over it was this dark colored shroud and we were sort of hunched over in the bleachers so as to appear to be invisible–until “that” chord just before the chorus enters. I am sure the idea was from the imagination of the choreographer, not Dr Traver, although he could be very dramatic! In this case, he was just following/implementing orders–something that made him uniquely qualified to pull off these sorts of productions with the orchestra.

    Reply
    1. Dan

      A little more detail, assuming this is the same concert. The Baltimore Symphony was playing the 9th, with the Bejart Ballet dancing it in front of the orchestra! We were seated high above the orchestra, wearing what I recall were brown burlappy-material robes over gold choir robes. Pretty hot on August nights. The audience clearly forgot we were there, until the chorus opening in the last movement, when we stood, throwing off the brown robes, and the lights came up on the golden chorus. You heard an audible gasp from the crowd. Very dramatic!

      My other memories of the 9th were from our trip to England in the summer of ’76. We sang Bach, Brahms and the Beethoven 9th at Royal Festival Hall with the Royal Philharmonic (Dorati). One of our members reported that he’d been at the canteen during the break, and got into a conversation with someone who worked in the hall. Telling him we were an America chorus, the local said “Oh aren’t we international – we had a German chorus rehearsing here yesterday.” Referring to us, of course. In addition to the London concert, we sang at a few other venues, in an all-American concert (1976, remember?) including one at the Farnham Maltings. We got to the end of our show and they kept applauding, clearly wanting more. So someone hit the tuning pipe and we gave them the last chorus from the 9th, without score, a capella. Great memories.

      By the way, I was a townie, with no connection to the University of Maryland except the Chorus.

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      1. Harriet

        I also sang that year with the U of M Chorus and sang at Farnham Maltings and Royal Festival Hall. I remember the Wolf Trap performance of Beethoven’s 9th with the stunning dancers of Maurice Bejart’s Ballet of the 20th century. It was Washington DC 1976. The soloists in the stunning slow movement were an African American man and a Caucasian woman. The power of their love and courage was palpable by everyone at Wolf Trap. I also remember our monastery-like brown burlap cloaks, and the flash of yellow satin with that first chord just before the singers come in.
        My favourite memory of England in 1976 was singing the spiritual MY LORD WHAT A MORNING at the Ely Cathedral as the sun shone in through the transept windows.
        Dr Traver indeed ALWAYS talked about diction. Wonderful times and a wonderful education. I am a choral conductor today, and still remember him fondly.

        Reply
      2. Bill_B T2

        I was in the chorus from 1974 thru 1978, the years I was in school at UM. I first sang with Dr T briefly in 1972 & 1973 in a national high school choir called American Youth Performs (AYP) and was struck by his professionalism and the level of performance he asked of us.
        Like Dan and Harriet, I fondly remember the Bejart/Beethoven at Wolf Trap. I recall that the dancers were in a different color costumes for each movement, yellow for the 4th movement when the chorus joined in the visually stunning manner Dan described. The symphony ended with concentric rings of dancers, moving in opposite circular directions. I’ve been fortunate to be able to continue to sing in orchestral choruses and every time I perform the 9th, I still picture those brilliant yellow circles during the closing bars.
        I also recall doing the Verdi Requiem, Daphnis & Chloe, and Missa Solemnis, and Mahler 2, at least some of which were under Rostropovich, and which featured his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, as a soloist. Rostropovich’s instruction to us at one point when he wanted more sound was to picture ourselves ripping into a ‘beeg seerloin steak’.
        Lastly, London, a really fun trip. The highlight for me was at Royal Festival Hall, singing Brahms’ amazingly beautiful and emotional Schicksalslied right before intermission, and seeing more than a few of the altos/sopranos coming off the stage in tears, overcome by the performance we had just finished.
        One person I remember having an important organizational role in those days was Lludmila Petrovich.
        I was never acquainted with the Choral Arts Society but I remember the Paul Hill Chorale was also in the area at the time.
        I’ve been away from the DC area since 1981 and haven’t kept up with anything related to the chorus. I was so sorry to read about Dr Traver’s death, and also about the ‘retirement’ of the group. The period I spent in the UM Chorus, and with Dr Traver, is a highlight of my life. It very much enjoyed the article and also seeing the recollections of fellow choristers.

        Reply
        1. el barrio rosa Post author

          Hola Bill. You were in the Chorus during the years that I was discovering what an outstandingly superb Chorus they were. And as I said in the article, from the (jealous) comments I heard in rehearsals, the Choral Arts Society was discovering it too! It’s also apparent that the Bejart/Beethoven at Wolf Trap left quite an impression on a lot of people as it did me. Glad you mentioned Lludmila Petrovich. I remember her. Don’t we all remember her?! She was the nice Chorus Secretary we all had contact with. Her name came to mind recently but I can’t find anything about her online. You wrote, “The period I spent in the UM Chorus, and with Dr Traver, is a highlight of my life.” That’s a very good way of putting that. It’s a highlight of my life as well. I’ve written about The Maryland Chorus in many of my choral music articles, in part, because I enjoy talking about them and to help keep their legacy alive.

          You mentioned Paul Hill. Unfortunately, he died of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1999. He was alive when they had a change of conductors — Donald McCullough, director of the Virginia Symphony Chorus, became the new conductor — and they changed the name from the Paul Hill Chorale to the Master Chorale of Washington. Then in 2009, due to financial problems their Board of Directors voted to dissolve them (is that the same as “retiring?”). The Master Chorale gave their final concert in 2009 in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Two months before they had their final performance with the NSO in an all-Brahms concert. So they were dissolved in the same year as the University of Maryland Chorus.

          I didn’t know that The Maryland Chorus ever performed Brahms’s Schicksalslied. I would like to have heard that. Muchas gracias for your nice comment. Chau.

          Related: Brahms: Schicksalslied – Alt-Rhapsodie – Collegium Vocale Gent – Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra

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        2. el barrio rosa Post author

          Bill, I meant to ask you this: I think you were in the Chorus when they did the (what I call) Traver version of Messiah, where the Chorus added ornaments/fillers in places. Do you remember what Dr Traver said about that when you began working on it? Did he say where that version came from? And I assume everyone had to go through their scores at the very beginning and write in the ornaments before you began working on a particular chorus? Gracias.

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          1. Bill_B T2

            Sorry Rosa I don’t think I sang those concerts. Christmas gigs were tough since they often conflicted with finals.
            Also, I took a year away from UM chorus to sing with the UM Chorale (?) directed by Leon Fleming but found that I greatly preferred orchestral masterworks to the mostly pops programs that made up the chorale’s concerts.

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      3. Jane

        Just another tidbit to add to the 1976 England tour. QEII and Prince Phillip came over to the USA to help “their former colonies” celebrate our 200th anniversary of independent nationhood. As Head of the Church of England, QEII, Prince Phillip. President and Mrs. Ford attended a ceremony to consecrate National Cathedral at which we performed the Bernstein Chichester Psalms among other works. We departed for London a couple of weeks later, and became the first foreign ( i.e. non English) chorus ever to perform with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

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  7. Neal Campbell

    Fascinating material! Today Norman Scribner died, and Paul Callaway, the founder of the Cathedral Choral Society died 20 years ago this week, so I Googled to see about Paul Traver and was surprised to see that I missed his death announcement in 2011. I sang with the U of Md Chorus 1971-76 and was part of several of the events you mention. Especially memorable was the Wolf Trap choreographed Beethoven 9th and the trip to London to sing three choral works with the LSO under Dorati in 1976–and, for the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Washington Cathedral in July 1976. Golden years!

    Reply
    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Neal. Very sorry to hear that Norman Scribner died. No cause of death was given in the obit I read, and he died unexpectedly and peacefully.

      Do I have the details of the choreographed Beethoven’s Ninth performance correct? Was it a black curtain that hid the Chorus (wearing yellow or orange choir robes?) and the curtain dropped before the choral entrance? Or did each chorister have black fabric over them—although that might get too hot in the Summer at Wolf Trap!—that simultaneously fell to the stage floor? I was wondering whose idea it was to hide the Chorus until they sang (perhaps Dr Travers)? I remember looking all around for them and wondering where they were. I enjoyed that performance. I had never seen Beethoven’s Ninth choreographed before. The Maryland Chorus was superb.

      You were in the Chorus during the years that they made the greatest impression on me. Muchas gracias for your comment. I appreciate it. Chau.

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      1. Jane

        For the Wolf Trap Bejart Ballet performance, the chorus was masked behind a translucent black scrim and in heavy brown robes until it came time to rise, throw off the outer robes to reveal the saffron robes beneath. Maurice Bejart was an opera director as well as a choreographer. I have zero doubt that Beethoven would have loved the dramatic effect.

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    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Ellen, oh probably not…the way things are going!

      I heard a 30-second or so clip on their website recently from their performance of Beethoven’s Ninth. Maybe it was a problem with the recording (even though it was their own recording) but if someone had said to me, “guess which Chorus this is?” I wouldn’t have guessed the Atlanta SOC. They may be as good as they were under Shaw. I don’t know. In that 30 second sample, they had a brighter sound than under Shaw. I haven’t heard them on a CD since Norman Mackenzie became their director. The ASO is ending this season with an opera with the ASOC assisting. (Question: Why is a Symphony Orchestra and Chorus doing opera?) Other than Messiah before the holidays, I didn’t see any of the standard Orchestra Chorus repertoire in their 2014-15 season. Someone in a comment I read on a message forum said that their sound has changed—that they’ve been doing too much opera—from when Shaw was director. Then one of the ASOC choristers rushed to defend their sound today and said that Shaw would love how they sound.

      Pretty much everything I can think of today is not what it once was (not as good as it was). Even one major jazz fusion group I’ve liked for decades I learned recently that they’re no longer together. It seems that nothing good stays the same; only the bad remains the same or gets worse. Gracias for your comment. Chau.

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  8. Alejandro

    Hola, so, I’m going to be a little OT if that’s okay but since you mentioned them in this article – you don’t like the Tanglewood Festival Chorus?

    I listened to one of the links up the page you gave, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. Wow, that’s amazing. That’s the University of Maryland Chorus? I’m speechless. Now I know why you loved them. That sounds like the recording someone gave me which is either with Atlanta or Chicago Symphony Chorus.

    Reply
    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Alejandro y gracias for your comment. No, I don’t like the Tanglewood Festival Chorus as I wrote in this article. Just one example: I hope you heard in The Maryland Chorus performance you listened to up above at the link how superbly refined the soprano section of the Chorus sounded in their Beethoven/Missa Solemnis? Well, let me just say that the soprano section of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus doesn’t sound like that, unfortunately. And I explain how they do sound in that article. Too bad Dr Traver is not alive and he could go up to Boston and work on that soprano section (but of course even he could only do so much with what he has to work with, or he could audition some new sopranos!). I guess John Oliver likes that wobbling, fluttering even screechy/cackling/screaming soprano sound, depending upon what they’re performing. I spent quite a lot of time recently listening to the TFC and as I wrote in that article I linked to, their performances are “hit and miss.” But their soprano section desperately needs work. They are the worst section of the TFC, and I don’t know why they remain the “Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra” when they have the excellent Boston University Symphonic Chorus nearby that they could invite to perform with them. I also have a problem with BUSC’s soprano section but I can deal with their fluttering/wobbling vibrato a bit better than I can with Tanglewood’s. Interesting you compared the UMD Chorus to Atlanta and Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus, because that’s often who I and mi amigos/my friends compared them to. Chau.

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  9. Kevin

    The Maryland Chorus performed Verdi’s Requiem with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Chorus back in 1993. They performed with Baltimore many times. In 2002 the BSO decided to disband their Symphony Chorus for artistic and financial reasons. Ending the Chorus saved them $150,000, they said.

    I can see these people sitting in some room having a meeting about this and it went like this: “What are we thinking….Why do we have our own Symphony Chorus when we can use the University of Maryland Chorus for free and everyone here knows they’re the best? Whenever we do a choral work we can invite them, and that saves us $150,000.00. Yeah what an excellent idea. Let’s do that. Who wants to go tell the Symphony Chorus they won’t be needed anymore?”

    Since the Maryland Chorus was disband, Baltimore uses the University of Maryland Concert Choir for choral works.

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  10. Ellen in MD

    I’m glad I found your article. It must have taken you forever to write that. It’s very informative. I had no idea that the University of Maryland Chorus was no longer around. I just thought they weren’t being used for some weird reason. I’m in a church choir in MD and one of the choir members and I were talking about this on the ride home after practice one night a couple of rides ago so I looked it up and came across your article. She said how odd it was that the University Chorus doesn’t sing in the Kennedy Center or with the National Symphony anymore. She and I would go to their concerts. We thought they were the best around DC. They were always so polished, unlike my church choir. LOL. It’s strange how some things turn out isn’t it? Have you heard from any former chorus members or has anyone written you to answer your questions? Thanks for your article and all the hard work you put into it. I learned a lot.

    Reply
    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola, Ellen. I get the sense that the University of Maryland Chorus has been forgotten about. (How sad. How could anyone forget about them who ever heard them or sang with them?) This article hasn’t had any hits from the University of Maryland campus according to my stats. When I wrote the article, I thought that some of the students in the School of Music especially the choral students would read the article by putting “University of Maryland Chorus” in their search engine and finding the article, but no that hasn’t happened. The article has had only a few hits, which is surprising considering what a superb Chorus the Maryland Chorus was and how well they were known and sought after when they were in existence. They were only “retired” about 5 years ago. The article has had hits from Maryland and Virginia. No hits from the District. Once someone or a group is out of the “spotlight” (meaning no longer performing and no longer on stage,) they are pretty much forgotten about it seems. That seems to be true. Does anyone at the UMD say the words “Dr Paul Traver” these days or has he been forgotten about too? Do the students ever mention The Maryland Chorus in passing? I’ve not heard from anyone, including those who sang in the Chorus or who studied conducting under Dr Traver as a graduate student. I had thought that maybe his family members would read the article but I doubt they have. Gracias for your comment. Chau.—el barrio rosa

      Reply
  11. conservatory student

    you wrote that you heard some stuff about the maryland chorus at a choral arts society rehearsal. did you ever hear any choral arts gossip at a maryland chorus rehearsal?

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    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola. No, never. I never heard anyone in The Maryland Chorus talk about the Choral Arts Society or the Oratorio Society in any way. Dr Traver never mentioned any other Chorus. The gossip, envy or jealousy (whatever one wants to call it) was only in one direction: from the Choral Arts Society to The Maryland Chorus and not the other way around. Looking back on it, it’s sort of funny (in a humorous way) because we (Choral Arts Society) had engagements with the NSO at the time that I heard this talk that I mentioned in the article. But I guess some people in the Choral Arts Society thought we didn’t have enough engagements and that the University of Maryland Chorus was monopolising the Kennedy Center Concert Hall stage. But that was Doráti’s choice, since he preferred Maryland. It shouldn’t have been taken out on The Maryland Chorus. Dr Traver merely accepted the performance invitation. Then after Doráti left, the Choral Arts Society was “waiting in the wings” (so to speak) at the stage door for Rostropovich who seemed to prefer them. Gracias for your comment. Chau.

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  12. Tomás

    Would you happen to know why there is no National Symphony Orchestra Chorus? Why doesn’t the NSO have their own chorus?

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    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola, Tomás. From what I’ve heard, that idea has been proposed more than once over the years, with Leonard Slatkin being one of the most recent NSO conductors to suggest that. Because of tradition there, that idea has been consistently met with resistance and I understand why. If the NSO had their own Symphony Chorus then the Choral Arts Society of Washington, The Washington Chorus, and the University of Maryland Concert Choir would never have another performance with the NSO, unless they were performing some large-scale choral work such as Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, for example, and needed a larger Chorus, then the NSO might invite Choral Arts or one or more of them to join them. Then there would most likely be some resentment over which Chorus was invited to join the NSO Chorus on that special occasion. So they have left things as they are. Probably best. Similar to in Boston where the New England Conservatory Chorus was no longer invited or needed—they got “retired” too and just like with Maryland there is no “New England Conservatory Chorus” today—after the Tanglewood Festival Chorus was founded (the official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra). Gracias for your comment. Chau.

      Reply
      1. Bittersweet Chocolate

        I remember the New England Conservatory Chorus. My family and I used to watch them from WGBH Boston. I can still hear that announcer’s voice. He had a very distinctive voice. He’d say, “from Symphony Hall in Boston this is a performance by the Boston Symphony Awe-ke-tra (he said the word orchestra slowly in three syllable), Seiji Ozawa music director. Assisting is the New England Conservatory (he pronounced it the British way Conservatree) Chorus, Lorna Cooke de Varon, chorus director. The Chorus is already on stage.” Then things changed and I remember that announcer saying, “assisting is the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, John Oliver chorus director” and I was asking what happened to New England CC? They couldn’t make it? Tanglewood Festival Chorus? I like the name but I’ve never heard them.

        I didn’t know NECC was gone. They made a lot of recordings with the BSO and I had some of them. I’m sorry to hear that. Thanks for the info.

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  13. Jonathan

    The Maryland Chorus was my favorite followed by Choral Arts and Oratorio Society. They were all excellent. I’m still stunned that the Maryland Chorus is no longer around. I was thinking and maybe you know the answer. Here’s the thing…the National Symphony Orchestra was making money off of the UMD Chorus. When you sang with them was anyone paid? Do you know if the University was paid a fee by the NSO for contracting the University Chorus or was it all done for free? Shouldn’t have been done for free! Why is the orchestra paid, but not the Chorus?

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    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Jonathan, the University of Maryland Chorus members were not paid. I don’t know if the University was paid a fee or not when the NSO and international orchestras invited The Maryland Chorus to perform with them. Maybe someone who knows will come along and answer that question, someone who worked closely with Dr Traver or one of the graduate students at that time. David Taylor maybe? Gracias. Chau.—rosa barrio

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  14. Virginia

    Hello, I attended all of the concerts with the University of Maryland Chorus and National Symphony Orchestra. Didn’t miss a one. Why were none of those concerts recorded? We would have some legendary performances to listen to today if they had recorded all of the choral works they performed together.

    Reply
    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Virginia, oh don’t get me started on that! I agree with you. I wondered at the time why those superb performances vanished when the performance was over because they were not recorded. How stupid! No one could record them? Not even WGMS? Why were none of those concerts recorded? I suppose because of legal reasons. That would be my guess. Performances rights, union fees/rights (NSO), then there’s the University of Maryland that they would be dealing with legally and recording rights. I remember with the NSO’s musician’s union that during rehearsals on stage sometimes we would stop right in the middle of a measure for the orchestra to take their required musician’s union break (of course they should have a break but stopping right in the middle of a measure?) and there was a big clock on stage for the musician’s union time and the conductor was always very mindful of their breaks. As I remember, the Chorus (whether it was the Choral Arts Society or the University of Maryland Chorus) just sort of hung-out on or off stage during the orchestra’s break and waited for them to come back and then we’d pick up where we left off in our orchestra rehearsal. Gracias y chau.—rosa barrio

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  15. Janet

    My sister loved the University of Maryland Chorus. That’s all she talked about. She liked Choral Arts and the Oratorio Society and one other but her favorite was Maryland. She thought about auditioning with them after talking with one of the chorus members after a concert but she didn’t think she was good enough or could satisfy the audition but she said the chorus member was really nice and encouraging. She dragged me to one of their concerts in the Kennedy Center when they were doing Beethoven’s Ninth. I forget who the orchestra was. WOW! WOW! WOW! I’d never heard that like that before. That Chorus!!!! The University of Maryland Chorus stole the show. The applause wouldn’t stop and the Chorus even bowed at one point and the roar of the audience got even louder and it was very impressive. The audience loved the Chorus. I’d love to hear them do Beethoven’s Ninth again. Sorry to hear they’re no longer around. My sister told me they were ended by the University and she still talks about them. She’ll love your article. I’m sending her the link to it. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  16. David

    Dear rosa barrio, I read your tribute to the University of Maryland Chorus. How nice of you! What a fantastic tribute! I’m sure Dr Traver would love it. I heard them many times in Kennedy Center and I thought they were the best chorus around. I heard all the performances you mentioned. I never missed a performance when they were chosen to sing with the National SO and guest orchestras. I was there at the Brahms Requiem concert you wrote about. Their performance sounded like the recording I had by the Chicago Symphony Chorus. It was wonderful. Kind regards. David

    Reply
    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Gracias, David. I appreciate that. I enjoyed writing it. It brought back many pleasant memories. Saludos.

      Reply

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