Remembering Norman Scribner, Founder and Artistic Director Emeritus of the Choral Arts Society of Washington

Hola. I’m sorry I’m having to write this. I was very sorry to hear that Norman Scribner died unexpectedly from a heart attack this past Domingo/Sunday at his home in the District of Columbia. I had the opportunity and privilege of being in his Choral Arts Society of Washington (one of the major Orchestra Choruses there) when I lived in the District in the mid-late 1970s. Norman was the first choral director to give me the opportunity to be in a major Orchestra Chorus which performed regularly in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The Choral Arts Society of Washington (CASW) grew out of what began as The Norman Scribner Choir which had been formed for performances of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass (the work was partly intended as an anti-war statement) for part of the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the District.

I remember going to the CASW audition in Satterlee Hall in upper NW on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral. I don’t remember much about the audition. What I do remember was feeling absolutely thrilled when I got a phone call a few days after the audition which went something like this:

“Hello, this is the Choral Arts Society of Washington and we would like to invite you to sing with us this season.”

Oh! That was the call I had been waiting for. That was a dream come true for me. One of my goals in music was to have the opportunity to perform with the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the University of Maryland Chorus and with major orchestras in the Kennedy Center, including the National Symphony Orchestra, the resident orchestra in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. And because of Norman, he made that possible for me and I will always remember him for that. I enjoyed a couple of seasons with the Choral Arts Society before auditioning and being accepted by Dr Paul Traver for his University of Maryland Chorus.

Norman required and expected the highest standards for his Choral Arts Society. At that time, the members of the Choral Arts Society were so skilled, so good and such good sight-readers that even if one did not know the choral work being prepared, just from our sight-reading the piece one got a very good sense of how the piece was supposed to sound. Even the sight-reading sounded glorious! Often when the Chorus would sight-read a choral work it sounded like it was almost ready to be performed! Being in the CASW was intenso and I began to feel that as we moved through the many months and the selected repertoire for each season. At one point I remember feeling like I was living in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with all the rehearsal and performance requirements. It was a positive experience but at one point I felt as if I were burning out. That happens with some people and I think the average stay in an Orchestra Chorus is between 2-4 years, if I remember correctly what Vance George (former chorus director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus) said in an interview. There were also choral politics involved which I talk about in this article. There wasn’t much of a commute for me to rehearsals. I lived in the District so I took the Metrobus up Wisconsin Avenue to rehearsals, which were twice a week. We had sectionals on lunes/Monday and full Chorus was on martes/Tuesday. My weekly commute out to the University of Maryland at College Park for rehearsals was a different story. That was a lot more complicated and I knew that would be the case before I auditioned. The commute was the main reason I had waited to audition for The Maryland Chorus. I didn’t own a vehicle and the metro was in its early stages of being built at that time (the metro was mainly in the downtown area of the District) so I took the Metrobus out to Maryland. It took awhile to get out there, especially in the snow. I remember at least one occasion of having to run across the campus in the snow to the School of Music for rehearsal. I don’t think I would do what someone does today. I read that at least one chorister who sings in the Choral Arts Society comes from as far away as Charlottesville in central Virginia. That’s about a 2.5 – 3 hour drive one way to the District line. Then from there, she has to drive all the way up Wisconsin Avenue to the same rehearsal location I went to decades ago. And then after 10.00pm (end of rehearsal) she has to drive all the way back to Charlottesville. I don’t think I would do that and wouldn’t have done that in the 1970s. That’s too much of a commute and none of the choristers of the Choral Arts Society are paid. But with many major Orchestra Choruses (Choral Arts Society of Washington, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, etc) I’ve read that many people do commute far distances to have the experience of performing with the Chorus. The same is true in other countries such as with the National Youth Orchestra and Choir of Great Britain. The members of both the Orchestra and Chorus come from all over Britain and they perform in various concert halls, including at the BBC Proms.

By choice, the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) does not have its own Orchestra/Symphony Chorus and at the time I sang with them there were mainly three major Orchestra Choruses which got invited to perform regularly in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with them and guest national and international orchestras. They were the:

University of Maryland Chorus
Dr Paul Traver, Chorus director

Choral Arts Society of Washington
Norman Scribner, Chorus director

Oratorio Society of Washington
Robert Shafer, Chorus director

(The Oratorio Society of Washington is now called The Washington Chorus with Chorus director Dr Julian Wachner)

Norman retired as director of the CASW in 2012 and after an extensive search for a new director they chose Scott Tucker from Cornell University to replace Norman. Someone might be asking: Is the CASW as good today as they were when you sang with them? I don’t know. I haven’t heard them. I would imagine they would say they are. When I sang with them, I remember our “sound” being compared with the London Bach Choir and the Münchener Bach-Chor.

These days, with the occasional exception, I’m more and more getting the impression that things are not as good as they used to be in this regard. For example, I know from listening to the Tanglewood Festival Chorus that they are not as good as they once were. The CAWS was a superb Chorus in the late 1970s. At that time they were a very young-looking Chorus and we had many choristers who were students from the local universities. As I remember, the Choral Arts Society was as “young-looking” as the University of Maryland Chorus. But just like with Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the CAWS now looks like an older Chorus from the pictures I’ve seen of them. And because of that, I suspect their “sound” has changed some because older voices sound differently than younger voices.

Norman was very down-to-Earth, never arrogant despite all his accomplishments. He was very friendly and enjoyable to work with. For some reason, one thinks that people like that will never die because they’re such good people. But the way it seems to work instead is that the good people die and the bad people seem to live on forever, if you know what I mean. I won’t name names. Some thoroughly corrupt and sleazy politicians who should be rotting away in prison come to mind. There’s one in particular I’ve noticed that seems to be propped up because of heart transplant surgery, even though he already looks well-embalmed whenever I have the misfortune of seeing that man’s snarly face! You might be able to come up with a few names yourself. Norman would appreciate this I think, and I say that based on what I wrote in this article.

I remember when Norman would announce the repertoire for the coming season that was always a special event. It was always a major symphonic choral work with the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), or a major national or international visiting guest orchestra. He would say:

We’re doing the massive Berlioz Requiem in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (KCCH) with the Paris Opera Orchestra and Chorus with Michel Plasson conducting, to which the room erupted into a roar of excitement and approval.

We’re doing Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons) by Haydn in the Kennedy Center with the ________ orchestra (I don’t remember which orchestra it was) and conductor. I think Norman conducted The Seasons, so maybe that was with the NSO. That was a fun piece to perform, one of my favourites and our soprano section was splendid. Ever since serving as piano accompanist for my high school Chorus, I’ve always paid special attention to the soprano section of a Chorus and therefore I paid close attention to our soprano section in the CASW, especially on their highest notes. No vibrato at all but rather a flute-like sound, more like English choir boys/girls. Our soprano section was wonderful.

Norman would continue:

We’re doing the Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem with the Cleveland Orchestra and Lorin Maazel, conducting. (I presume we were filling in for the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus which was not touring with their orchestra. If I’m remembering correctly, Lorin Maazel was difficult to work with even though we were superbly prepared by Norman).

We’re doing The Bells by Sergei Rachmaninov with the _________ orchestra (again, I don’t remember which orchestra it was) and Mstislav Rostropovich conducting.

We’re doing Ralph Vaughan William’s A Sea Symphony with members of the National Symphony Orchestra and I’ll be conducting.

Anyway, it went something like that. Everyone always looked forward to hearing what the repertoire would be for the coming season. I always wanted to do Felix Mendelssohn’s Elias (Elijah) with the CASW but unfortunately we never performed that while I was with them.

Whenever we had our one orchestra rehearsal before a performance in the Kennedy Center with the NSO, the orchestra members were always welcoming. The conductor would say, “We would like to welcome the (either) Choral Arts Society of Washington (or the) University of Maryland Chorus” (whichever one it was) and the orchestra members would look back at us on the chorus risers and smile and applaud us.

Performing with Norman’s Choral Arts Society of Washington was a very positive experience and I thank Norman Scribner for giving me that opportunity.

From what I’ve read, a memorial service for Norman will be el 9 de abril/the 9th of April at 10.30a in Washington National Cathedral (WNC), a cathedral church of the Anglican Communion. So I’m assuming that maybe there will be a private burial or cremation before his public memorial, no? I don’t know. The funeral home handling this called this event at WNC a “funeral,” but on WNC’s website they call it a “memorial.” I would guess that the Choral Arts Society (either Full Chorus or the Chamber Chorus) will perform for the memorial. I say that because a group of choristers from The Maryland Chorus performed for Dr Traver’s funeral.

I wrote more about my experiences in the Choral Arts Society in my article about the University of Maryland Chorus at that link. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Memorial Service for Norman Scribner at Washington National Cathedral, District of Columbia:

33 comments on “Remembering Norman Scribner, Founder and Artistic Director Emeritus of the Choral Arts Society of Washington

  1. Conservatory student

    A little off-topic but maybe you’ll allow this – They’ve remodeled the Kennedy Center Concert Hall since you sang with the Choral Arts Society of Washington. These days, does the Chorus sit above the stage in those rows of cushioned seats above the stage where the audience sits any other time when a Chorus is not performing? Or is the Chorus on stage behind the orchestra as traditionally? Do you have a preference?….on the stage or above the stage? Thanks.

    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Conservatory student, the Choral Arts Society, The Washington Chorus and I presume the University of Maryland Concert Choir (et al) sit in—what they call—the Chorister Seats (overlooking the stage) as well as risers on the stage. The Chorister Seat area at Kennedy Center looks rather small (maybe 60 seats?). I don’t understand why is it so small. That doesn’t seem very well thought-out. The back row only has 6 seats on each side of the organ case.

      The San Francisco Symphony Chorus sits in the Chorister Seats too—although a much larger seating area than Kennedy Center—and that was my first experience in the Choristers Seats. But as you wrote when I sang with the Choral Arts Society and The Maryland Chorus we were on the stage behind the orchestra, and I prefer that arrangement rather than having the Chorus elevated almost on the next story (well, it’s essentially the second story of the building). I saw a video recently with that arrangement and it was rather extreme. Either it was an optical illusion or it was the way it looked but the Chorus looked so far away and back from the orchestra and they looked like they were up near the ceiling. I don’t know how they were able to stay with the orchestra at that distance (other than closely watching the conductor) because there would have been some delay in the sound I would think considering where they looked like they were. It looked odd to me.

      With Kennedy Center, I never heard it talked about when we were on stage with the NSO but I’ve since read that members of the NSO said they couldn’t hear each other in the original design of the hall. And then the Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ started failing during performances so the Chairperson of the Kennedy Center gave them the pipe organ they now have, which I’ve read mixed reviews about. From what I read some people (including organists) are disappointed with the new Casavant Bros. organ.

      For the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, the Chorus can be on stage behind the orchestra as well as (for 200+ voices, for example) way up there in the side tiers on either side of the pipe organ. With that hall, they’re essentially on the third and fourth stories of the building looking down on the orchestra. For the Proms, there’s quite a distance between the Chorus and the orchestra/conductor.

      I was thinking about Boston Symphony Hall while writing this. They haven’t renovated their hall, and why would they? It doesn’t look “contemporary” but why does it need to? I think one reason they haven’t renovated BSH is because it’s such a superb hall acoustically to begin with (designed after a well-known hall in Vienna), and they fairly recently renovated their pipe organ so you don’t want to mess with that with moving it way back—if there’s even room back there!—to make room for Chorister Seats above the stage. Why ruin an acoustically-superb hall just to make it more “contemporary?” So the Tanglewood Festival Chorus sits on the stage behind the BSO and that looks fine. It’s the same arrangement I mostly sang in. Gracias for your comment. Chau.

  2. ChorusGuy

    Thanks for the videos. A beautiful performance by the Choral Arts Society of Washington. A very nice service. I liked the Widor Toccata at the end. That’s one of my favorite organ works. The sopranos descant on the second hymn was a nice touch.

  3. Bittersweet Chocolate

    Not being familiar with the Anglican liturgies I expected this to be very down and morbid, but it turned out to be quite the contrary…. a very nice service. I really liked the processions. The Choral Arts Society sounded beautiful and the same for the organ music. I love big pipe organs!! Thanks for posting this.

    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Bittersweet Chocolate,

      From my experience as a (former) organist/choirmaster in the Anglican church, the Burial Service or memorials are not “down” or morbid at all. They’re really just like any other liturgy and usually they’re more of a celebration of the person’s life. There’s often a fiesta/party afterwards or a get together with the family in a hall after the service, as was the case with Norman’s memorial. I know what you’re referring to since I’ve been to some of those type of funerals too (the ones where people huddle around the open casket and talk about, “s/he looks very good, very natural”). If “Rock of Ages” (for example) is chosen by the family for an Anglican service it’s played as it would be played at any other service and not super-quiet and draggy, but rather boldly and more grand and gloriously with full pipe organ. That’s one thing I especially like about the Anglican Church and that’s you’ll hear a Widor Toccata at the Burial Service or memorial (whatever they call it on the occasion). In some other christian denominations you won’t hear any Toccata there, if they even know what a Toccata is! As people are walking out, they will end with a super-quiet and dragged-out version of “Abide with Me” or some “funeral hymn” where it takes the organist nearly 10 minutes to get through just two verses. Like you, mi amigo/my friend also liked the processions. He thought it was a nice service too and very much enjoyed the Choral Arts Society and Benjamin’s playing. Gracias for your comment. Chau.

  4. Alice Wong

    Hi, I’m from Boston and I read your post about the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. You gave them a very mixed review. Which Chorus is better in your opinion – Tanglewood Festival Chorus or the Choral Arts Society of Washington? Thanks.

    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Alice. Well that’s easy to answer. The Choral Arts Society of Washington is superior to the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. You won’t hear any shrill-sounding, wobbling, fluttery-fluttering-vibrato, cackling, screaming sopranos in the Choral Arts Society as I’ve heard (unfortunately) in TFC. The Choral Arts Society does not over-sing and consonants are in place, and they have an excellent tenor section. All their sections are good, but I paid close attention to the tenors and sopranos. You also won’t hear any tenor voices cracking/breaking as I’ve heard in Tanglewood Festival Chorus. The Choral Arts Society today sounds pretty much as they did when I was sang with them. The Chorus has a darker/”warmer” sound now than they did when I sang with them. To my ear they sound more like the (now-“retired”) University of Maryland Chorus (and that’s a compliment) than they did when I sang with Choral Arts as they had a bit brighter sound then, especially the soprano section at that time. It is an older Chorus today than it was then. It’s really quite remarkable that Norman Scribner kept his Chorus pretty much unchanged (superb, high-quality level) over the past decades, and now with Scott Tucker. I enjoyed their performance for Norman’s memorial.

      Maybe the Tanglewood Festival Chorus would like to come down to the District and take a master class with the Choral Arts Society and Scott Tucker. Couldn’t hurt!….especially Tanglewood’s soprano section. (jesus!) They need all the help they can get. If you heard them perform Beethoven’s Ninth at the end of the Tanglewood Music Festival this past Summer you’d know what I’m talking about. It was memorable all right, just not in a good way….unless one likes screaming.

      I also thought that Benjamin Straley, Assistant Cathedral Organist, did a good job playing for the Liturgy. He accompanied the Choral Art Society Chorus and kept the Cathedral organ under them nicely. He’s a very fine accompanist. For those who don’t know, fine accompanists are sort of rare; it’s an art form. And he played the hymns very legato. He’s a good organist and I enjoyed his playing. And he added an organ stop to the Widor Toccata on the last chord that he felt was needed. He added the stop without even looking for it…that’s how well he knows the Cathedral Organ. Gracias for your comment. Chau.

  5. Christopher

    I came back here earlier because this morning was the memorial service for Norman Scribner at Washington National Cathedral. Any info on that?

    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Christopher,

      The website for Washington National Cathedral is down at this time. I looked at the service leaflet for the Liturgy for Norman and from scanning it quickly it looked like the standard Anglican Burial Service Rite. The Bishop for the District of Columbia was there and the former rector from St Alban’s Parish—where Norman served as organist (and choirmaster?) for years—gave the Homily. The Choral Arts Society of Washington provided all of the choral music which included part of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, a piece from the Rachmaninov Vespers (CASW recorded the Rachmaninov some years ago), Brahms (it was written in English on the service leaflet) “How Lovely is thy Dwelling Place” (sung in English?), a choral piece by Norman, and a couple of other choral pieces. J Reilly Lewis played the J.S. Bach organ voluntaries at the beginning and the organ voluntary at the end was the Widor Toccata (good choice!) Cathedral Assistant Organist, Benjamin Straley, was organist for the Liturgy. I assume he played the processional hymn (Hyfrydol, text: “Love Divine, All Love Excelling.”), The Gospel/Sequence Hymn (St. Columba, Text: “The King of Love my Shepard Is”), and perhaps he accompanied the CASW for the Brahms and the Bernstein. I think I have all of that correct. Gracias for your comment. Chau.

  6. ChorusGuy

    Does the Choral Arts Society have a “signature” piece they’re known for? I read your article about the U of MD Chorus which I found most fascinating I learned that Maryland had a “signature” piece which was Beethoven’s 9th. I listened to the audio links you provided for their Missa Solemnis. Damn they were good!!!!

    I love behind the scenes stories where people write about their experiences so thanks for this article and your U of MD Chorus article. Have to go back and listen to Maryland’s Missa Solemnis some more.

    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola ChorusGuy,

      “Does the Choral Arts Society have a “signature” piece they’re known for?”

      Not to my knowledge. The CASW performs Beethoven’s Ninth on occasion (I remember that we performed it once when I was with them), but I don’t think it’s a “signature piece” for them the way it was for The Maryland Chorus. For those who haven’t read my tribute article to The Maryland Chorus as of 1987, Maryland had performed their—I think it was—thirty-eighth (38th) Beethoven’s Ninth since they were founded by Dr Traver. The reviewer from The Washington Post for that Wolf Trap performance with the National Symphony Orchestra said that the performance by the University of Maryland Chorus was the best Beethoven’s Ninth he had ever heard anywhere, live or recorded. I don’t know if it’s still true, but Beethoven’s Ninth was (still is?) the “signature” piece for Simon Halsey’s City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus in the UK. As with Maryland, whenever Beethoven’s Ninth is being performed they invite the CBSO Chorus (such as to the BBC Proms, for example).

      By contrast, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC) screams through it at the end of the Tanglewood Music Festival every Summer. I heard their 2014 performance. Ugh. That was difficult to listen to. What I heard was not what I had expected to hear: splat consonants (final t’s), screaming, cackling-sounding, shrill, fluttering sopranos on the highest notes and tenor voices cracking/struggling. I never heard any of that with the superb Choral Arts Society or the superb Maryland Chorus. TFC’s performance was not what one would expect to hear from “the official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.” So why do they remain the “Official Chorus?” Gracias for your comment. Chau.

  7. María

    Did Ms Hillis ever conduct the Choral Arts Society? I followed her closely when she directed the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus. Thanks for your nice article.

    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola María. I don’t think so. Ms Hillis may have guest conducted the CASW after I moved to San Francisco. During my first season with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus she was the interim Chorus Director—commuting from Chicago for about one season—while Vance George was being appointed Chorus Director. Gracias for your comment. Chau.

        1. el barrio rosa Post author

          Hola María. After thinking about it, Ms Hillis wasn’t here for a complete season. She was here for only part of a season until Vance George was appointed then he took over (I liked him very much). I think she left after conducting a performance of the Britten War Requiem.

          Margaret Hillis wasn’t exactly what I had expected as a person (meaning her personality). She came across to me as rather cold and impersonal. I remember during one rehearsal break I decided to tell her how much I liked her Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus, which I (like you), had followed for years. Her reaction was not what I had expected. She just smiled, seemed cold as if I were bothering her. She didn’t really say anything, so I was left standing there and eventually I just walked away. It felt very awkward. It was if she were thinking: “Not another person bothering me about my Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus. I know they’re superb so go sit down.” I had not received that type of reaction before from any other choral directors when I complimented them on occasion (such as Dr Traver). Other choral directors always were very warm, friendly and very appreciative. Un amigo in the Symphony Chorus observed/overheard my interaction with Ms Hillis and he came to me later and said, “Don’t feel badly. It wasn’t you. I watched as you complimented Ms Hillis. That was rude (of her). Did you feel like saying to her: Well excuse me for bothering you. I won’t do it again!” Yes, I did feel that way. That interaction and some other things that happened did change my opinion of her as a person, but not her as a choral director. Then at that time we had a conflict going on between the Symphony Chorus and the Symphony Administration over paid choristers. During one rehearsal I remember we were talking about paid Chorus members and she said, “professional does not mean paid.” Her comment was directed at the Symphony Chorus sitting before her. Some of us felt it was rather condescending for her to say that because her “professional” Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus members were and still are all paid, so since they are why is that not also the case in San Francisco. Ms Hillis was well-paid, we presumed. But she sided with the Symphony Administration (who brought her here from Chicago each week) and not with the choral musicians. I believe at that time 20% of the choristers were paid and to my knowledge that’s still the case. Choristers are seen as “second-class” musicians when it comes to being paid. Most aren’t paid at all, yet the orchestras make la plata/money off of the Chorus. In my opinion, the administrations of these orchestras (etc) are such parasites. The musicians do most of the work and have a life of training and experience (including music school and conservatory training) and yet these administrative parasites of these orchestras live on cushy, elitist, bloated salaries as they “rub shoulders” with pretentious, bourgeois “society people.” [roll eyes] Then these corporate parasites demand that the musicians take pay cuts and cuts in their health benefits. Disgusting. Gracias for your comment. Chau.

          Just a few examples (certainly not a complete list):

          Atlanta Symphony locks out its musicians

          Atlanta Symphony musicians agree to concessions after nine-week lockout

          US orchestra musicians face wave of concessions

          Minnesota Orchestra musicians locked out

          DSO musicians hold spirited picket in week seven of strike

          Delaware Symphony Orchestra suspends 2012-2013 season

          Germany: Orchestra musicians protest against job and pay cuts

          The real causes of the New York City Opera bankruptcy

          Philadelphia Orchestra files for bankruptcy protection

          Nashville Symphony threatened by foreclosure

          Chicago Symphony musicians walk out

          San Francisco Symphony musicians strike against concessions

  8. Claire

    I came back here to say this:

    I’ve been on your site and some other sites with articles about the death of Norman Scribner.

    One thing I’ve noticed on the sites I’ve visited including yours is there have been no comments from Choral Arts chorus members. I find that curious and a bit strange. I had expecteed to see current chorus members remembering Norman even though he retired from Choral Arts a few years ago. I’d also expected to see the many choristers that sang under him through the years commenting. Maybe that group hasn’t heard that he died? I don’t know the reason for this silence, I just find it odd.

  9. Héctor

    Hola pink barrio. I enjoyed many concerts over the years by the Choral Arts Society. Sadly, it feels like the end of an era with the death of Norman Scribner. As another commenter wrote, we’ve lost so many of the finest choral directors.

    I wish the Choral Arts Society well under Scott Tucker. I assume he was chosen with Norman Scribner’s approval and because he’s quite capable of continuing the level of choral excellence expected of the Choral Arts Society of Washington.

    Thank you for writing this article. It’s especially interesting from your perspective as a former chorister of the Choral Arts Society and to hear of your experiences. You have a very impressive musical background and excellent training. Saludos.

  10. Danny

    Our classical musical scene here in the District will certainly miss Norman Scribner. What a major loss! and I’m sure the other major choral directors including Scott Tucker would agree with this.

    I appreciate your “behind the scenes” article. Fascinating to read. Thank you.

    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Alejandro, I think so. That’s a little foggy in my memory. If we did, it was near the beginning of when I was in the Choral Arts Society. We performed his Chichester Psalms but I don’t remember whether Bernstein was conducting or not. That may have been Norman conducting. He and Norman were fairly close amigos I think. I do remember something about it, maybe it will come to me later. It may have been the season before I joined them that I saw on their flyer that Leonard Bernstein would be conducting them, but I do have some recollection of seeing him on the podium conducting us, so maybe it happened. Gracias for your comment. Chau.

  11. Christopher

    Yours is about the fourth or fifth post I’ve read about Norman Scribner since he died. Yours is the most interesting because of your personal account and one thing I’ve noticed about your post is that you don’t use the word “Maestro” at all. The other articles I read sprinkled their articles with “Maestro” nearly every other word. “Maestro Scribner” and “Maestro Shafer” and “Maestro Wachner” and so on. That’s a bit much!! I don’t like that. It comes across to me as if someone is trying to be a tay-tah-tay wanna-be “society person.”

    I’m also glad you did not say that terribly overused “RIP” or Rest in Peace that most people feel they must use when someone dies. When someone is dead, how else are they going to rest but in peace?

    I used to live in DC and used to go to the Choral Art’s holiday programs. I really enjoyed those and especially when they used the Filene Center pipe organ for the performance. Very cool. I read that Norman Scribner didn’t make it about him but rather all about the music. I really respect that. I’m sorry we’ve lost him.

    1. Claire

      Agree with your comment about the overuse of “Maestro” and “RIP.” People who overuse those words usually end their comment with “he (or she) will be sorely missed.” Can’t people ever be original and come up with something that sounds remotely genuinely sincere instead of repeating what others have said ad nauseam?

    2. Jackie Huttenhoff

      As a long term professional musician who sang with Choral Arts for 15 yrs, I feel the need to educate some of you on proper patterns of respect. The term “Meastro” is musical terminology only used when the director is very accomplished and respected. Norman Scribner definitely earned the title. He was more than “society person”, he was a world renowned music director and conductor.

      1. Christopher

        “I feel the need to educate some of you on proper patterns of respect.”

        Oh lord! That strikes me as trying to be elitist. I’m fully aware of what the word “Maestro” is and how it should be used. You missed my point. My point was that it’s so overused today where anyone is called a “Maestro” as a term of respect. I know that Norman Scribner was a “Maestro.” I wouldn’t call him “world-renowned.” That’s also overused. That means the person is known all over the world and I don’t think that he was. Norman Scribner was known in the U.S. to some degree, mostly in the DC area and among other choral directors, and in the UK some. The U.S. is not the world, even though it thinks it is.

        1. el barrio rosa Post author

          Hola Christopher,

          Well Dr Paul Traver (University of Maryland Chorus) said “there’s only one maestro,” and he was referring to Antal Doráti, whom he and The Maryland Chorus worked closely with when Doráti was principal conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra.

          Some personal experience: After I was accepted by Norman for the Choral Arts Society I told some family and amigos about it. Some of them said, “the Choral Arts Society [emphasis added], so you’re in society now Dahling.” I said: No it’s not like that, I’m the same person I was. That’s just the name of the Chorus. But I got that “you’re in society now” response many times from different people while I was in the CASW. I think to many people it comes off as class-ist and bougi, and I can’t stand class-ism or bougi people. I’m around a lot of that type of people now, unfortunately. The New Conservative Techie San Francisco is experiencing intense class warfare with the “haves” living right beside the “have-nots” due to super-wealthy techies having taken over the city (and their techie companies receiving corporate welfare from this city). So I’m very alert to class-ism and I’m repulsed by it. Class-ism and class-ist thinking is a cancer on this planet that many people have been brainwashed with. I see people as people, regardless of their financial situation/income level and regardless of what titles or degrees they have behind their name. I don’t genuflect to titles and degrees, wealth or “positions of power.” And from what I know about Norman, he didn’t come across to me as that type of person either. He was respectful of people regardless of who they were and he was very down-to-Earth, so I don’t think he would care whether he was called “Maestro” or not. I never called him that. I don’t call anybody that. To some people it does come off as pretentiousness and putting on airs (I don’t have patience for that either), regardless of the music dictionary definition of the words “maestro/a.” I’m wondering if the new Artistic Director, Scott Tucker, plans to change the name to Choral Arts or Choral Arts of Washington at some point. I’ve noticed that on their website at the top “Choral Arts” is in big font and in much smaller font, “The Choral Arts Society of Washington.” But the name of the Chorus is usually written “Choral Arts Chorus” or “Choral Arts Chamber Singers.” So maybe he thinks the word “Society” needs to go. Choral Arts is also working with Washington Performing Arts. I’ve noticed that what used to be known as “The Washington Performing Arts Society” is now called “Washington Performing Arts.” They’ve dropped the word “Society.”

          I agree with you about the misuse/overuse of the term “world-renowned.” Major international corporations are “world-renowned.” Predatory Google is “world-renowned,” for example. One can go pretty much anywhere in the world and I suspect most people have heard of Google by now. But mention to them Norman Scribner, Margaret Hillis, John Oliver, Robert Shaw, Robert Shafer, Paul Traver, Norman MacKenzie, Simon Halsey (et al) and you’ll get a blank stare with the response being: “Who? Who are you talking about? Never heard of them.” And that’s meant as no disrespect to any of those choral director, but they’re only known to certain people and a particular audience which doesn’t make them “world-renowned.” I suspect that many (if not most) people who bought all of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus recordings under Solti didn’t know the name Margaret Hillis, because Solti was conducting all the performances. They would know his name. Her name was in small print as “Chorus Director,” usually inside the booklet somewhere. It’s a very limited audience in the big scheme of things and especially these days with classical music dying a slow death. Gracias for your comment. Chau.

          1. Christopher

            You helped make my point for me. I think only people with a major interest in choral music or symphonic choral music know or remember the names of chorus directors because like you say the orchestra conductor gets all the attention since he or she is conducting the performance. In live performances the chorus director comes out to take a bow for the chorus but I think some people in the concert hall wonder who’s he (or she)? I don’t think any chorus directors are “world-renowned” including the late Robert Shaw because most people around the world have not heard of him.

            If you’re a choral person you get no recognition if you’re in the chorus, other than applause. When you tell people you’re in a chorus they say, “that’s nice.” They don’t care.

            Thanks for embedding the videos from Washington National Cathedral.

          2. FredM

            I’d never thought of it like that and I’m talking about the term world-renowned. I’ve been misusing that myself. But you’re correct in your explanation.

            I was thinking about it – Ask people in North, Central and South America, Asia, Africa and throughout much of Europe etc. who Norman Scribner was and they would not know. Only some choral directors outside the States would know who he was.

            Many words and phrases are very overused today. World-renowned is one of them. It’s used to puff up things that people like locally. “A world-renowned restaurant” which nobody has heard of outside the city its in! I think the worse example is the word “awesome” and how it’s used today. You can have a leaf blow in your face and someone will say “that’s totally awesome.” The word has completely lost it’s original meaning from misuse.

  12. FayeB

    Wow, that’s quite some experience you have!!! I live in the DC area and found your article searching “Norman Scribner” because I heard he died. So sorry to hear that. I’ve heard the Choral Arts Society many, many times. I frequently envisioned me up there singing with them but I’m not the best sight reader and I’ve never studied voice so I didn’t think that could ever happen. I’ve come to accept listening to them and enjoying them. I remember the University of Maryland Chorus. They had an unsurpassed reputation around here. It’s a shame they’re gone. They were all excellent – Choral Arts, Maryland, Oratorio. I heard how Robert Shafer was treated, so disrespectful. Things are different today. It’s a different time we’re in.

  13. Wayne

    Very nice for you to write that. Interesting to read.

    I read the comments under Norman Scribner’s obituary on a guest book. Someone wrote in their condolence that Norman is now conducting the Heavenly Choruses. No, that would be Robert Shaw or Margaret Hillis who are conducting the Heavenly Choruses. They got there first.

    1. D8

      I get the point being made, and I’m not trying to be rude or disrespectful in the least but actually it would be none of them. “Heavenly Choruses” is Christian terminology. Don’t most Christians believe in judgment day? Judgment day has to come first before going to heaven if that’s the final destination point, even though many Christians and clergy speak about the deceased having gone to heaven. That’s not the way it works according to their own beliefs.

      My sister lives in the District and years ago I visited her for the holidays. I’d never been to the Kennedy Center and wanted to go and hear a nice choral concert. She got tickets for us to go hear a concert there. It was one of the Choral Arts Society’s holiday concerts. Enjoyed it immensely.

      Fascinating to read your experience with the Choral Arts Society and the U of Maryland Chorus.

  14. Claire

    Maybe you know – Was it the Choral Arts Society that sang Handel’s Messiah with Margaret Hillis conducting in Kennedy Center? I’ll never forget that concert. So sorry to hear that Norman Scribner is gone.

    The choral world has lost Robert Shaw, Margaret Hillis, Roger Wagner, Norman Scribner, Paul Traver and Paul Hill.

    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Claire, oh you were there? You’re the first person to mention that. No, that was the Oratorio Society of Washington that sang Messiah under Margaret Hillis. I was there too and I’d never heard Messiah performed like that before. It was the best performance I’d ever heard. I wrote about in my Maryland Chorus article. The following year the CASW performed Messiah under Robert Shaw and I was in that (it was a smaller Chorus). To be honest, I didn’t care for Shaw’s interpretation after hearing Margaret Hillis’s interpretation. I much preferred her’s. Gracias for your comment. Chau.

Fin. The End.