Tag Archives: Choral Arts Society of Washington

A Perfect Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis: Cappella Amsterdam

Hola. A resident of my former home city, the District of Columbia, sent me the following e-mail which I thought I’d respond to here with his permission:

“Hola former DC resident. I was born and raised here in the District and I think we were once neighbors. You wrote somewhere that you lived in Foggy Bottom. Small world, that’s where I’ve lived most of my life. I’m writing to ask you a favor, if you don’t mind. You wrote about that memorable concert way back when of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis over at the Kennedy Center with the University of Maryland Chorus with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam. Sorry I forget the conductor’s name. You know what? I was there for that concert so I know what you’re talking about. Wow! What a performance. The memory of that evening has stayed with me all these years. I had not heard Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis before and the UMD Chorus brought tears to my eyes that night, no kidding. They gave a stunning performance. It’s depressing to think they were liquidated, some info I also learned from reading your blog. Anyhoo, do you know if those performances were recorded and how I’d go about getting a copy? Thought you might know having been in the business. Or I was wondering if you might be able to recommend a performance of the Missa Solemnis that you especially like and that may be just as good as the Maryland Chorus performance?…..is that possible? :-) I could spend hours on Youtube going through every performance on there, but I was hoping to avoid that and have you direct me to a performance you especially like. I’ve read about your orchestral choral background and know you were in the UMD Chorus and Choral Arts Society of Washington. Wow! You were at the top of your field so I know the performance you recommend would be the best which is why I thought I’d bother you by asking. Maybe you could talk a little about what was it like for you singing in the Kennedy Center and at Wolf Trap? Much appreciate it and thank you for taking the time to read my e-mail. Looking forward to hearing from you.—Kevin”

Hola Kevin, no bother at all. I love talking about music with someone as interested as yourself. I don’t get the chance to talk about music or my background — most people glaze-over and looked dis-interested; they have absolutely no interest in it — and the only time I talk about my background is on pink barrio. Other classically-trained musicians can probably relate to that. So that’s why it was refreshing and a pleasure to get your e-mail. Muchas gracias for that and for your very kind words. I appreciate that. I feel very fortunate to have accomplished what I did and to have been given those opportunities, making at least two musical goals/dreams come true. And the same goes for my membership later with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.

If I remember correctly, Maryland and the Concertgebouw gave three performances of the Missa Solemnis over three consecutive nights. None of the live performances in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in those days were recorded, or recorded at all for that matter, which is something I could never understand. When I was in the Choral Arts Society of Washington and later the University of Maryland Chorus there were never any microphones hanging above the Concert Hall stage to record our performances. I remember being frustrated about that because I so much wanted to have a recording of our performances. There were some really legendary performances given in those days, and they were lost as soon as the performance ended. I couldn’t understand it really because I knew that up the East Coast in Boston, WGBH-Boston was recording for PBS performances of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New England Conservatory Chorus and then later with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (not one of my favourites today, I might add), as well as the Boston Pops Orchestra from Symphony Hall in Boston. One would have thought that DC’s WGMS (known as “Washington’s Good Music Station, AM-Bethesda/FM-Washington”) would have been contracted to do the same thing and record performances from the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, but that was not the case.

To answer your question about performing at the Kennedy Center and at Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts: Walking out on the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap stages for the first time was really thrilling for me, and something I had wanted to do for some time. I had just graduated from a Conservatory of Music in the area, and in part, getting to do what I wanted to do with my music. But after awhile I did burn out — which is fairly common with symphonic orchestral choristers — because of the busy/demanding performance schedule which took lots of time and none of us were paid. (Today, very few Symphony Choruses are paid. The only two I know of are the Chicago Symphony Chorus, and about 20% of the choristers of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.) In all three: the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the University of Maryland Chorus and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, I sang with some really wonderful choristers, some wonderful people and we had that bond of our shared-interest in symphonic choral music, and we became friends and often talked music when we were together. None of them were stuck on themselves or the least bit arrogant — very friendly people and most of them were Queer and we also shared that common bond — despite having the privilege and honour of being in some of the best Orchestra Choruses in the US. None of the people I knew were like — what I call — the Classical Music Snots. Those dreadful people. Aren’t they the basura who wanted to be a professional musician but didn’t possess the talent, and who were kicked out of Conservatories and Schools of Music? They serve as know-it-all armchair critics for any and all varieties of musicians. They pick at this and pick at that. Can’t stand them! I don’t like being critical of other musicians because I know what is involved for them to master their art and the “stress of performance” (especially solo performance) and the only time I’m critical of anyone is usually with a Symphony Chorus or choristers who sing with vibrato because vibrato prevents perfect intonation in a Chorus.

Before I give you my recommendation, there are a couple of stories (some chisme/gossip) connected with those performances. I’ve told them before in another article, but they’ll be new and maybe interesting to first-time readers:

During the choral season you’re talking about Kevin, I was in the Choral Arts Society of Washington (CASW) and I remember Norman Scribner, the Founder/Director of the CASW, saying during one of our rehearsals, “a Chorus which shall remain nameless is performing Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis this week at the Kennedy Center.” He was referring to the UMD Chorus. I thought it was funny the way Norman announced it, but I later came to realise it had to do with the superb Choral Arts Society’s one-way jealousy of the superb 150-voice University of Maryland Chorus (also known as The Maryland Chorus) having so many performance engagements in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall at that time — especially with the National Symphony Orchestra (the resident orchestra of the Kennedy Center), under conductor Antal Doráti (Doráti preferred The Maryland Chorus) — and for Maryland to get this very prized engagement with the visiting Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam was very special indeed.

Then, it was either at that same rehearsal or another rehearsal that I heard some chisme/gossip. A chorister in the back row during our break was telling the choristers around him in a rather loud manner about something that had supposedly happened. He said, “Did you hear that Paul Traver stormed into the Kennedy Center and demanded that his Maryland Chorus perform with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam?” (Which they did do.) It was either for the Missa Solemnis or on another occasion for Beethoven’s Ninth, one of the signature pieces of The Maryland Chorus. They performed that many, many times over the years with (inter)national orchestras.

This was written about them on their 36th performance of the Ninth in the late 1980s:

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: The Washington Post, Joseph McLellan

But after talking with Dr Traver, Founder and Director of the UMD Chorus, a number of years later about these performances, what I had heard at Choral Arts rehearsal was merely rumour. I asked him how Maryland got that engagement with the RCO Amsterdam. He told me that the University of Maryland Chorus had been recommended to conductor Claudio Abbado by Margaret Hillis, Founder and Director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Abbado had called her asking for her recommendation for a Chorus in the DC area for these Missa Solemnis performances at the Kennedy Center. She had worked with Dr Traver and The Maryland Chorus during a choral workshop at the University of Maryland at College Park, and she recommended them to Abbado. Quite nice of her.

Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis is one of my favourite choral works. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to perform it although I know it so well — I was prepared to perform it had one of the Orchestra Choruses I sang with programmed it — but I feel as though I did perform it, if that makes sense. Kevin, I think it’s fair to say that The MD Chorus “owned” the Missa Solemnis when you and I heard them perform it.

Like you, I remember that performance to this day. It was thrilling. I think part of the review of their performance the following day was: “Dr Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus was glorious throughout.”—Washington Post Classical Music Reviewer.) I remember that a friend of mine who worked in the classical records store over in Georgetown remarked, “That Maryland Chorus can sing the shit out of choral music!” Yes, and their performance was equal to the one I have to recommend to you, Kevin, I’m pleased to say. My recommendation is based on the following:

1. Choral Excellence
2. Orchestral Excellence
3. The Soloists and Conductor

This Chorus, Cappella Amsterdam, reminds me of a smaller Maryland Chorus. So I recommend this performance from Amsterdam with the Cappella Amsterdam Chorus and the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century conducted by Daniel Reuss (who is known as a choral director and very enjoyable to watch him conduct). This Chorus is absolutely splendid. Superbly prepared. I have nothing but positive things to say about them. The same for the orchestra.

And let me say outright here and this is specifically directed at the Classical Music Snots (CMS) who might show up here: No one needs to write a comment such as this: “The Missa Solemnis conducted by [big-name conductor] is much better than this performance that you’re recommending. It has [big-name soloists].”

Then go watch that one with the big-named conductor and big-named soloists! Go away! I don’t care what you think, pendejo. Kevin asked for my opinion, not yours. But The Classical Music Snots usually write that tripe. They love to name-drop as if it makes them look like such (self-appointed) “philosophical” snooty authorities (Dahling). They usually write in pretentious language trying to put on airs, desperate to impress somebody. From my unfortunate experience with the CMS, they are there for the soloists of the performance — as if they think this piece is opera when it’s not; it’s a Mass setting — and they couldn’t care less about the Chorus from my experience.

I’m well aware that most people are not “choral people” (I’m a choral person; it’s my background and part of my training) so even for major symphonic choral works they go on about the conductor and soloists. For a major symphonic choral work, the name of the conductor is one of the last things I look for. And that’s because with many pieces, it doesn’t matter who the conductor is they all sound roughly the same; they’re using the same scores. (With some of the finest orchestras, they play without a conductor). I’m not into dropping the name of big-name/international conductor to try to pump myself up like the Classical Music Snot trash do. I can’t stand them. They ruin classical music for so many people because of their pretentiousness, their snootiness and having to nit-pick other musician’s performances to death as if waiting for them to make a mistake, often critiquing them measure-by-measure. Find yourself a new hobby (maybe flower arranging), los pendejos! I’ve listened to some of the performances they’ve (Classical Music Snots) recommended and would have written them a comment in response such as, “Obviously, no one has an ear for choral excellence and that’s not the reason you’re watching this symphonic choral work, because that Chorus in that performance that you’re going on about needs work. They have bad intonation, their diction sucks, wobbling soprano voices, cracking tenor voices in their upper register, just for starters.” And yet you’re calling this the best performance, Mr/Ms Classical Music Snot?

In this performance, Daniel conducts this work pretty much the way everybody else does that I’ve heard for decades. Someone left a terribly disrespectful comment regarding the Chorus, which AVROTROS Klassiek has since deleted. He wrote: “The least heard from the Chorus the better.” What? To that idiot, the Missa Solemnis was all about the soloists and the orchestra.

Mi amigo/My friend asked me: There’s not a thing you would improve on in this performance from Amsterdam, if you were the Chorus Director? If I were being nit-picky, I could use more consonants from the Chorus. It could have been the mic’ing or maybe Daniel preferred the consonants to be a bit quieter. Some Chorus Directors as well as conductors do. It depends upon the piece they’re performing. For example, conductor Antal Doráti did that on one occasion with The MD Chorus for our performance of the Mozart Requiem with the NSO. Dr Traver had prepared us for the Mozart with the usual “Maryland Chorus crisp consonants” (Maryland was known for their diction). But then in the dress rehearsal with the National Symphony Orchestra, Doráti changed that and told us to use the Italian pronunciation of the text. Well, that meant that a final “t” on the end of a word (such as “et”) was pronounced more like a “d.” We immediately made the change as if we had been trained that way all along, but a friend of mine from the Oratorio Society of Washington came to the performance asked me about it later. He said he didn’t hear any consonants and “The Maryland Chorus is known for their diction. What happened?” I said: Yeah I know you didn’t. I didn’t really hear any either — other than the hard “Key” for the “K” of the word “Kyrie” — and I was right there in the Chorus. I told him that at the last minute Doráti asked for the Italian pronunciation of the Latin text of the Requiem, so that’s why you didn’t hear the usual crisp “Maryland Chorus diction.” I personally didn’t like the change Doráti made and I suspect Dr Traver didn’t either, but there was nothing he could do about it since he wasn’t conducting the performance. I don’t remember reading a review of that performance, now that I think about it. I wonder if the reviewer remarked, “What happened to the University of Maryland Chorus last night at the Kennedy Center and their usual sparkling diction? I didn’t hear any consonants last night in their Mozart Requiem.”

Imagine a Beethoven Missa Solemnis with a strong soprano section that does not wilt midway through (think: the Credo), and no failing or cracking tenor voices

You don’t have to imagine it. You can listen to it here. The 42-voice Cappella Amsterdam Chorus is one of the finest I’ve heard. The Missa Solemnis is typically performed with a much larger Chorus, usually between 150-200 voices or more. Although as you’ll hear in this performance (if one has an ear for music), a larger Chorus is not necessary when one is fortunate to have forty-two highly-skilled and carefully-selected well-trained choristers. These choristers are among the finest in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. I recognise one of the alto choristers from Philippe Herreweghe’s Collegium Vocale, Brussels, that performs in Paris with the Orchestre des Champs Élysées. In this performance, the Cappella Amsterdam sound like a large Chorus. They sound much larger than they are, especially in the Gloria and the Credo. For those interested, the Chorus is seated on the risers in SATB (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) formation.

The reader might be interested to know that the Missa is considered an impossible piece to perform, especially for the Chorus because of the difficulty of the work. The soprano section, for example, is often up in the stratosphere sustaining long notes in the top of their register. By the time they get to the end of the Credo, one often hears straining voices. But not with this Chorus.

I have some thoughts about that: I suspect the reason straining is heard in some other choral ensembles is that the weaker choristers are pulling down/decaying the sound of the finest choristers. But when you have 42 top-notched choristers as is the case with Cappella Amsterdam, the result is no straining or wilting of voices and a perfect performance. I especially love their tenor and soprano sections since they are usually my two favourite sections of a Chorus. Those tenors. Ah! Exquisite. I’m not positive about this, but I think Daniel may have fortified his soprano section with a couple more choristers than the other sections have.

Mi amigo and I watched this together. His response was: “This piece is nonstop. The Chorus and Orchestra never have a break.” The Chorus does have a break in the Sanctus which I’ve always heard sung by the Chorus and I prefer that — it sounds grander with the Chorus — rather than the soloists singing it. Although my Editions Peters score indicates that the Sanctus is mostly to be sung by the soloists. I told mi amigo: Yes, and it’s usually in the Credo that one wonders: Does the soprano section have another sustained high B Flat perfectly on pitch in their reserve to give us when needed without any wilting or decaying of sound? With Cappella Amsterdam there was no concern about that, but with most other Orchestra Choruses it can be a concern.

Cappella Amsterdam is accompanied by the equally superb Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century. And the Chorus Director, Daniel Reuss, is conducting the performance.

Also, a superb Chorus has the ability to sing beautifully quietly, and there’s no more stunning example of that in this performance than the end of the Sanctus on the text “Osanna in excelsis” starting at 57.00 in the video. Absolutely exquisite. Nearly brings tears to my eyes every time I hear that in this performance it’s so beautiful. Even Daniel looks stunned by what he’s just heard from his Chorus and Orchestra after he gives the release of the final “s” for excelsis at 1.00.50 in the video. (I’m probably getting way too technical for most readers. I read this to mi amigo/my friend who has some choral knowledge and he started glazing over; he said I was getting too technical for him.)

I should mention the soloists even though I’m typically not into soloists with symphonic choral works. The soloists are:

Carolyn Sampson [sopraan]
Marianne Beate Kielland [alt]
Thomas Walker [tenor]
David Wilson-Johnson [bas]

All of these soloists are superb in their own genre. They are probably the best soloists that Daniel could have chosen for this performance in regards to singing with as little vibrato as possible. My favourites are the alto and tenor soloists. I like them a lot. Followed by the bass soloist. I would have chosen a different soprano soloist who is less overpowering and who could sing without vibrato at loud(er) volume levels. It seems that with most symphonic choral performances, they insist on bringing in screaming, glass-breaking soprano soloist, many of whom seemed to have just walked off the set of La bohème and now are over for this other job with this symphonic choral work.

If you’ve read anything else that I’ve written along this line, you may remember that I don’t like the use of wobbling and fluttering vibrato in a symphonic choral music setting especially when the Chorus is singing with a “straight/flat tone” (which helps with the perfect blending of voices). In this performance, at times the soloists don’t sing with vibrato and at other times they do (especially the soprano when she’s singing ff or fff). I think the soprano’s voice could cut through everyone on that stage. Other than to draw an audience for the performance, I’ve never understood why opera or opera-style soloists are invited as soloist for symphonic choral works. This is not opera. Mi amigo — who can’t stand vibrato either — had difficulty listening to the soprano soloist. But fortunately, the Chorus sang with a beautiful “straight tone” and the soloists should have too, so that they match in sound.

Nearly all of the soloists for this performance (according to their smiles) seemed to enjoy listening to the exquisite Chorus standing behind them. Maybe it wasn’t possibly due to space problems, but I would have placed the soloists in places inside the orchestra — as I saw them do at Boston University’s School of Music for their performance of Rachmaninov’s The Bells — either that or seated them back near the Chorus.

My recommendations for CD performances of this work are also based on choral excellence as the # factor:

Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Sir Georg Solti (Margaret Hillis, Chorus Director)

or

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Robert Shaw, Chorus Director and Conductor

Chau.—el barrio rosa

Previously:

What happened to the renowned University of Maryland Chorus?

BSO and the University of Maryland Concert Choir perform Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem, Op.45

University of Maryland Chorus (A Tribute)

CHORUS SINGERS ARE PROFESSIONALS, TOO
“‘So many times a professional chorus saves a concert from the good or bad intentions of a conductor,” says one singer. ”When we’re being prepared for a concert by our own conductor, the chorus is wonderful. Then a conductor with a symphonic background takes over and doesn’t know he can get a wonderful, spontaneous sound from a chorus. Zubin Mehta is pretty good at it. He appreciates what we can do, but he is one of the few. In many cases we feel as if we’re fighting a battle. We’re trying to make good music and someone up there is trying to do something not terribly musical.” “

Musicians need to stand for something!

Hola a todos. Musicians all over el mundo/the world need to stand for something, despite any possible consequences. Just as concert pianist Valentina Lisitsa did when she expressed her pro-Russian feelings. After making her views known, her scheduled performance with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra was cancelled for her 2015 soloist engagement to perform the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 in c minor. You can hear her play the Rachmaninov with another orchestra in the video below. I have no details on this performance (which orchestra?) as they are not listed in the video description. One of my commenters (Conservatory Student) refreshed my memory about this story which I too had read about sometime back having to do with the cancellation of Valentina’s performance with the TSO. Valentina was taking a stand for her principles and convictions. Also in 2015, there was another musician, pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim announced his plans to take his Berlin orchestra, The Staatskapelle Berlin, to Iran despite protests from the #2 Terrorist State on the planet, Israel. One might be asking: “Who’s the #1 Terrorist State on the planet?” That would be Los Estados Unidos/The United States, the World’s #1 Arrogant Bully and World Police Operative. The US is constantly dictating to other nations what they will and will not do usually from a place of blatant hypocrisy. That’s because the US often lectures/makes demands of other countries not to do what the US has been doing for decades. One example of that: The US demands: “You must get rid of your nuclear weapons,” while the US has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in el mundo and with no intention of getting rid of them and the US is the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons on a civilian population while pretending to be a christian nation. The US of Hypocrisy is such a barbaric nation! A third example of a musician standing for his principles and convictions was when Pianist Evgeny Kissin protested against BBC’s anti-Israel bias.

These days, most musicians don’t seem to possess the integrity, principles and convictions of the three musicians I’ve listed. Most musicians are the “go with the flow” type of sheeple. They follow the herd and therefore are part of problem. They are wet-doilies. They are the spineless musicians who stand for nothing like what one finds at Washington National Cathedral. Musicians such as organists Benjamin Straley, George Fergus, the Director of Music/Choirmaster Michael McCarthy and the Men of the Cathedral Choir along with the parents of the Boy and Girl Choristers, all of whom could have refused to perform for the vile and repugnant Führer Trump, (the parents could have refused to allow their child to perform for that basura). But the musicians of Washington National Cathedral stood for nothing as I wrote about in this article.

World history shows that revolutions happen, in part, because of musicians and music. Here en los Estados Unidos/in the US, the 1960s revolution — the most recent revolution here — was in major part because of artists and musicians of all genres, from the classical music tradition to the rock field. Related: The Sixties and Protest Music.

The world would not have pacifist Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem if he had held to the ludicrous view that politics must be completely separate/divorced from music. I’m well aware that the Classical Music Snots (whom I can’t stand) like to divorce music and politics. I know of one art’s writer in Turkey where bombs could be falling outside her window but she wouldn’t dare bring herself to write about it because she’s of this backward thinking that politics and art have no connection. Utterly moronic. Apparently la mujer/the woman never learned that much of music and art is indeed inspired by and connected to politics and what was going on in the lives of composers when they wrote their music and the artists who performed them.

During the Vietnam War Era, we had radical Leftist — and I’m using that language in a very positive sense — composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. He wasn’t shy about standing for his convictions. But unfortunately, the musicians at Washington National Cathedral have chosen not to emulate Queer boys Leonard Bernstein or Benjamin Britten.

In the District of Columbia where I used to live, Richard Nixon was inaugurated as US president and there was an inauguration concert in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. There’s a story connected with that:

The Anti-War University of Maryland Chorus

The following is from David Taylor, assistant conductor of the University of Maryland Chorus at that time:

“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.”—David Taylor, University of Maryland Chorus

I have always had the highest regard for the late Dr Traver as a choral director and founder and director of the University of Maryland Chorus. He achieved superb results with his Maryland Chorus just like Margaret Hillis (Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus) and Robert Shaw (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus) achieved with their highly-regarded Orchestra Choruses. And from what I know about Richard Nixon, he was no fascist and no hate-filled arrogant bully like Donald Trump turning the presidency into a dictatorship ruling by executive orders essentially dissolving congress. But regardless, in this situation with Nixon, Dr Traver was wrong in my opinion and he refused to take a stand unfortunately and I strongly disagree with his decision. The University of Maryland Chorus should have refused to go on stage to perform for and in the presence of Richard Nixon. They should have boycotted this event. Let’s tell it like it is: This concert was about Nixon. It was not about The Maryland Chorus or Beethoven or Doráti as the Chorus was led to believe. The concert would have been cancelled because the Philadelphia Orchestra could not perform Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis without The Maryland Chorus. And with the audience seated in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, there would have been no time to find another Orchestra Chorus in the District prepared to perform the monumental Missa Solemnis. Some of the audience would have been pissed — but they would get over it! — with the UMD Chorus for standing for their anti-war convictions, while others would have applauded them for standing for what they believed. I knew nothing about this incident when I sang with them. I learned about this while writing my tribute article to them.

A brief aside: Years later, while I was a chorister in Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington, I heard the University of Maryland Chorus perform the Missa Solemnis with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam with Claudio Abbado conducting in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Their performance was glorious. They were superb. Their performance reminded me of the performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Margaret Hillis. The following day on the local classical music station WGMS, they interviewed the soprano soloist for the performance, Sheila Armstrong. She said in the interview, “this is one of the finest Choruses I’ve ever heard.”

I have considered this: Had the UMD Chorus refused to perform for this concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the presence of and for Nixon, would that have been the end of future engagement invitations with the National Symphony Orchestra and guest international orchestras? I doubt it, because they were Doráti’s favourite Chorus and he invited them to perform with the NSO as often as possible. From what I know about him, he too was an anti-war person and stood for peace. Although he didn’t initiate or suggest a boycott of these performances as conductor, he may have supported them in their decision. We’ll never know. It’s much easier for an individual to stand for what s/he believes than a (large) group of people, as in the case of The Maryland Chorus, where some choristers wanted to perform for Nixon and others didn’t. What does one do in that case? Well, the decision to perform or not is decided by the Chorus Director. If only the choristers who wanted to perform went on stage, it would have been a much smaller Chorus — perhaps more the size of a Chamber Chorus — and in that case the Philadelphia Orchestra would have been too large and needed to have been reduced in size so as not to overpower the Chorus. And there may have been problems with downsizing the Orchestra, such as union issues with the orchestra. I have heard a performance with a smaller Orchestra and Chorus such as in this historically-informed superb performance from Europe: Beethoven – Missa Solemnis in D major, Op.123 | Philippe Herreweghe conducting: La Chapelle Royale & Collegium Vocale Gent (combined Choruses, from Belgium) accompanied by Orchestre des Champs-Élysées (Paris).

It disgusted me all during the Obama years to read about musician after musician and other corporate media television talking heads going to the Kennedy Center for the annual “Kennedy Center Honours” event with the Obamas in attendance as well as to la casa blanca/the white house to rub shoulders with war criminal Mr Nobel Peace Prize Obama who had killed thousands of innocent people — including wedding parties — with his many wars without shedding a tear. But that along with Obama’s expansion of most of the illegitimate Bush regime’s despicable agenda didn’t matter to these musicians, most of whom were probably Democratic partisan. Obama had no trouble turning on fake tears for corporate media network cameras after some gun-violence tragedy in the US. Yet I never saw him tear up over his own violence through his barbaric wars killing thousands of innocent men, women, pregnant women and children. He pretended to be pro-GLBTQ while killing innocent GLBTQs around the world through his many wars — for the thick people: gay people/GLBTQs live all over the world — which is something the shallow GLBTQ Obamabots never considered. He’s a terribly hypocritical human being. But one devoutly partisan Democratic Party disciple after the other swarmed to the white house to perform for him and/or to speak in his presence.

Other than some Latino/Hispano/mexicano musicians and actors who stand up against hate directed at inmigrantes indocumentados/undocumented immigrants/migrant workers, it seems that most musicians and actors don’t stand for anything these days. And when they do, it’s too often based on partisan nonsense, rather than being objective and what is the right thing to do. For example, if one is being objective: war is wrong. As opposed to being a partisan Democrat: War is okay when a Democrat is in office, which was/is the thinking of the Obamabots. I recently asked one shallow and superficial Obamabot about his Obama’s 8 wars and his response to me was, “Who cares!” Yet these hypocritical basura protested illegitimate George W Bush (as I did) over the same reprehensible policies.

It disgusts me whenever I see musicians of all genres and actors performing before these scum of the Earth trash politicians just because they’re on television and considered a celebrity in our shallow pop culture. I suspect many of these musicians and actors would come up with the lame excuse, “I like to rise above politics.” Translation: And stand for nothing. Just be this empty vessel as if one has been lobotomised. “I like to rise above politics” is nothing but an easy-out for shallow people where one doesn’t have to stand for anything. Politics greatly effect our lives, so this BS about, “I like to rise above politics” is just a pathetic excuse for weak people who don’t have any convictions or principles, and I can’t stand people like that. El mundo/The world needs a lot more people like pianist Valentina Lisitsa and conductor Daniel Barenboim and others that I’ve mentioned and linked to in this article. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Related:

Neil Young asks Obama to stop ‘violent aggression’ at Dakota pipeline protest

When Musicians Boycott to Protest Politics

122 musicians sign letter to president Obama about Standing Rock protests

Protest Music for the Trump Era

The Trinity Choir Is In The Wrong Church

The End Of Trinity Wall Street As We Knew It. This article is about the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, conducted by Dr Julian Wachner, in lower Manhattan. Julian is Director of Music and the Arts at Trinity Wall Street (TWS), a parish church of the Anglican Communion.

Hola a todos. I am so disappointed and disgusted. After watching part of the Liturgy on el 18 de septiembre de 2016 (18 September 2016, and the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost) I turned to mi amigo/my friend and rhetorically asked: Why do so many things have to go in the wrong direction? He knew what I was talking about and said:

Well, it’s usually because we have idiots running things. They’re in positions of power and think they know best, even when they have no expertise or training in the field of study they’re making decisions on. This is especially true when it comes to the music in churches. And the often musically-illiterate clergy think they know best so they proceed to insult the highly-trained musicians by their decisions. And with many, if not most churches, in the minds of the clergy it’s all about the “spoken word” and not the music, even though I think most people are there for the music.

Yes, I think most people are there for the music too. If you look at the videos for Washington National Cathedral in the District of Columbia, their full Liturgy videos get 1-2,000 hits, but their Homily videos only get 100-200 hits. Quite a difference. So that would seem to confirm that most people prefer the full Liturgy which includes the music as opposed to only listening to the Homily.

I was looking forward to the return of the full Trinity Choir after Labour Day 2016. During the Summer months The Trinity Choir is reduced in size to about 8 voices (2 choristers per voice part – SATB), or what I call the Trinity Chamber Chorus. Other than watching parts of their 2015 Messiah performance at TWS, I’ve not heard The Trinity Choir in almost a year and I’ve missed watching and hearing them. They are such a splendid Chorus and with impeccable diction. In my opinion they’re in the same league with the Chorus of Les Arts Florissants (William Christie), the Collegium Vocale Gent (Philippe Herreweghe) and the now-retired University of Maryland Chorus (Dr Paul Traver), as three examples. Choral Excellence. The Trinity Choir, along with the Choir of Men and Boys at St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in Manhattan are the two best Anglican parish choirs (at least with webcasts) in the US, in my opinion. And I would point out that St Thomas takes their music seriously, unlike TWS, and I’m not referring to Julian who is outstanding. St Thomas doesn’t shove their superb Choir into the back of the church where you can’t see them.

About a year ago, I stopped watching the Liturgies at Trinity Wall Street for a couple of reasons: One, because of their inept production/camera crew. Instead of creating an enjoyable and peaceful/calming experience, the Liturgies became too frustrating for me to watch. I honestly think their camera crew would be much better suited for a museum where they could spend hours focused on the walls, the windows in the building and the ceiling of the museum. At least there would be artwork one could look at. As a choral person with years of Symphonic Chorus experience (I’ve listed this many times before, but for any new readers: Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington, Dr Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus – Margaret Hillis/Vance George, Chorus Directors), I thoroughly enjoyed watching and listening to the exquisite Trinity Choir and their consistently high level of choral excellence as well as the artistry from their organist, Avi Stein. Choral people like to see/watch Choruses perform. So I became very familiar with the choristers of The Trinity Choir. I didn’t know most of the chorister’s names but I knew their faces. Julian had a “core” group of choristers who were there every week, and then there were others who were there less frequently, having other musical commitments. The choristers of The Trinity Choir are among the finest one will find in NYC and beyond. Julian attracts and requires the best choristers. His standards of choral excellence remain consistent. Watching them perform was a critically important part of the experience of the Liturgy for me and mi amigo/my friend. That’s why I complained many times about inept production disrespecting their own Choir by not showing them when they sang at times throughout the Liturgy, especially for their Communion Anthem. Production felt it more important to show parishioners receiving communion. They find that interesting, do they? Their Choir was to serve as background music which we found very irritating.

Some Background/History (if this is your first time here): When I first started watching their Liturgies, their camera crew was very respectful of their Choir and kept the cameras on them when they performed. I had no complaints at that time with production. But as is usual and with the attitude being “let’s mess with something that shouldn’t be messed with,” something changed for some unknown reason. It’s as if some crazy person at TWS said, “People don’t like to watch singers/choirs sing.” Nonsense. Production at TWS seem to think that their Choir should be background music. Heard and not seen, and they’ve since taken that to a new level (which I’ll get to later). With that anti-artistic attitude — heard and not seen — one might as well just play music from CDs, not to give them any ideas and don’t think that can’t happen! I would like to remind TWS that singing is merely an extension of speaking, so why do we need to see the priests speaking? To be consistent, shouldn’t the priests be heard and not seen as well? Why is important to see them, if it’s not important to see their Choir?

As I said earlier, production thought it was more important for viewers to see the parishioners coming and going to receive Communion than it was to show their own Choir singing the Communion anthem. Oh, they would occasionally show the choir during Communion way over there in the distance as the camera parked at the very back of the Nave. But there’s one thing they never do at TWS: They never disrespect their priests by wandering off and showing the ceiling of the Nave, stained-glass windows, baskets of flowers, or the High Altar when a priest is speaking. They keep that camera locked on the priest until s/he has spoken their last word at that point in the Liturgy. Why don’t their highly-trained and regarded musicians receive the same level of respect? Again (to hammer this point for the thick people who may show up), production never wandered off to show stained-glass windows, slowly scanning the High Altar, showing baskets of flowers and their unchanging ceiling which they have the deepest affection for — don’t ask me why since there’s nothing special about it and it looks like any other Nave ceiling and it never changes — when the priests were/are giving the Homily or during the Consecration or any other time. I got tired of seeing the same ceiling and stained-glass windows week after week when I wanted to see their outstanding Choir. Production seemed obsessed with the windows in the building, and they still do. I don’t understand this at all. Another reason I stopped watching their Liturgies was because they began this nearly-weekly repertoire of gospel/spiritual music for the Offertory and/or Communion Anthems. One might be asking: In an Anglican Liturgy? Yes. I never was clear who’s idea this was, whether it came from the clergy or from Julian. I came to suspect it was Julian’s idea and not that of the new rector since this was going on before he arrived. Regardless, it was really misplaced and caused a clashing of styles because you would have gospel/spiritual music one moment and a superb High Church organ improvisation from Julian with incense the next. It was like being in a southern baptist church one moment and then quickly running across the street to an Anglo-Catholic parish the next. Loco. Two very different forms of worship right back-to-back. It did not work. And I think some choristers knew it didn’t work. Consequently, their Liturgies became more a frustration for me than a pleasure to watch. It also frustrated me to see the talent of The Trinity Choir wasted on gospel and spiritual music, when they excel at High Renaissance choral works, and those works were being neglected. I’m not putting down gospel or spiritual music at all. Both have their place, but not in an Anglican Liturgy in my opinion. And there’s a very different/advanced skill level required for High Renaissance compared to gospel music. There’s no shortage of churches out there featuring gospel and spiritual music on a weekly basis, so if one wants to hear that genre one could go to those churches. But churches with High Renaissance performed as superbly as The Trinity Choir performed those works are most rare by comparison. So why join the herd and try to be like those other churches? So I stopped watching their Liturgies. I was also linking to their Liturgy videos in my articles about the Choir. Then I realised I was ending up with lots of dead links because Trinity deleted the videos of their Liturgies after roughly 3 months. I’ve yet to understand why they don’t upload their videos to YouGoogleTube — like they do at Washington National Cathedral — where their videos can remain indefinitely since they (TWS) own the copyright to them. I had also linked to their superb performances of Messiah and Israel in Egypt. Both of those oratorio performances were deleted too. By doing so, they were deleting legendary performances (if you had heard them you’d know I’m not exaggerating) of choral works — especially the High Renaissance music I mentioned earlier — and all of those performances were deleted. Unconscionable. That also told me that TWS does not have a serious respect for their music. They consider their music more filler or fluff as so many churches do. Because only someone with no ear for music and a lack of appreciation for choral excellence would delete those outstandingly superb performances by their own Choir. For those who don’t know, this is a Choir that performs at Lincoln Center every holiday season (Messiah). How many church choirs do you know of that perform at Lincoln Center For The Performing Arts?

This brings us up to the current time. Well, The full Trinity Choir is now back for the 2016 Fall Season. But most unfortunately we can no longer see them or see Julian conduct or see Avi. I am thoroughly disgusted with what has happened since I stopped watching their Liturgies.

Again, The Trinity Choir is not your typical podunk church choir which often comes with wobbling and slightly flat sopranos whose voice range is closer to altos than that of highly-skilled sopranos, weak/straining and flat tenors without any breath support, quivering altos and hollow-sounding basses. A real joy to listen to! [sarcasm intended]. So why is The Trinity Choir now stuck in the back of the Nave up in the Gallery? What is wrong with these people who make these insane, insipid, asinine, ludicrous decisions? [SCREAM!] I don’t understand them at all. People who make these ludicrous decisions in churches — and respectfully I don’t think this came from Julian — are not there for the music. To people like this, the music is just something to “fill up” the Liturgy at the appointed time per the service leaflet. They have no ear for quality music. They can’t tell the difference between The Trinity Choir and The Family Choir, and there’s a major difference between the two. I remember reading an article about TWS (pre-Julian) that said that they were considering abandoning/closing their music programme altogether. That shows what little respect this parish has historically for music. Appalling.

So now, the camera view they show of the Choir is completely useless. One just sees bodies standing in the back Choir Loft in red cassocks and white surplices. You have no idea which choristers are there. And because production doesn’t need to show a Choir now (which must please them and make them feel relieved), they now have the luxury of giving lots of time to their fixation and obsession with slow panning of the stained-glass windows, of the ceiling, and more stained-glass windows, additional stained-glass windows, and what about this stained-glass window over here?, and the slow panning of the High Altar for the umpteenth time, and of course flower baskets. I take it that production must live under the illusion that they have no regular viewers who have seen all of these scenes many, many times before. Then they’re back to the useless camera view of their Choir stuck back there in the distance in the gallery/Choir Loft behind the faux pipes. They consider this an improvement, do they? Loco.

And they didn’t move any mics for this pathetic arrangement. Or if they did, they didn’t know what they were doing. So the choral sound is now different. It’s as if the acoustics are eating up all the crispness in the highs and lows of the sound in the choral works. It’s a much more muffled sound with the Choir in the back, as if the echoing is eating up or consuming the sound. The sound quality is not nearly as good as it was when the Choir sat near the High Altar. When the Choir sat in front of or on the sides of the High Altar the sound was superb. Very crisp, clear and the highest of quality. They used to have small microphones hanging about a foot above the heads of the choristers when they sat in front of the High Altar. Then those microphones seem to have disappeared; I no longer saw them. With the Choir stuck in the back Gallery, they should never attempt a professional recording from that location. Although upon reflection, I think the back Gallery would be an ideal location for a Homily, then we can all get on our phones and do something else while that’s going on, no?

It seems that someone there said (probably in some perfunctory committee meeting – you don’t leave this stuff to some committee with no ear for music!): What can we do to solve this problem? Because some person online keeps going on about not being able to see our Choir and wanting to keep the camera on them when they perform. Oh I know, here’s what we can do: Put The Trinity Choir in the back gallery/Choir Loft so we can’t show them at all. That’s it! Problem solved. And we can buy a new organ console (I’m assuming that’s what they did) for the back gallery to control the main console for the Digital organ in the Chancel/Sanctuary area. Problem solved.

No, the problem is not solved at all and anyone with an ear for music knows that. In fact, it’s the worst thing they could have done. All of these fine musicians (Choir, Julian and Avi) have become invisible with the lowest of profile. Heard but not seen. I’m just curious how long they’ve been stuck back there in the Gallery/Choir Loft. (Sigh.)

Trinity Wall Street is an odd church in that it was not built with a Quire area. When I began watching their Liturgies, the Choir was sitting in front of the High Altar. Technically, nothing is to be in front of the High Altar but as far as I’m concerned we can make an exception to Anglican protocol in this instance so that we can see this outstandingly superb Choir perform. A Choir of this caliber does not belong stuck in the back of a church. Period. They deserve to be seen as they were when I was watching their Liturgies. The Trinity Youth Chorus Schola sat in front of the High Altar last Domingo/Sunday (18 September 2016). Since it was acceptable for them to sit there, why can’t The Trinity Choir sit there every week? After their new (icy) rector arrived, the Choir began sitting in the traditional Anglican choir style facing each other split on both sides of the High Altar. That worked, although because of inept production/camera techniques — and because they didn’t adjust the production lighting — it was difficult for viewers to see the back row of each side of the Choir. It was sort of dark back there. On occasion, we were looking at the backs of the choristers from over near the organ console. So it appears that rather than refine their camera work — I had suggested they go over to B & H Photo in Manhattan for production assistance and training — they’ve chosen to abandon showing their musicians altogether. And apparently to them that solves the problem. Ludicrous.

Then there’s Julian: I really don’t think TWS knows what they have in him. He gets results that Margaret Hillis and Dr Paul Traver got with a Chorus. When The Trinity Choir sat in front of or split on either side of the High Altar, I also very much enjoyed watching Julian conduct. He has a very unique conducting style. You can see and feel the music in his conducting as you hear it. I remember one occasion for Ash Wednesday when they performed “O Saviour of the World” by the Anglican composer John Goss. Julian lifted up on his toes and signaled to the best tenor section in NYC up there on his right — which included my favourites Steven Caldicott Wilson and Eric Dudley — and prepared them/signaled to them to bring out that approaching tenor line. They did. Viewers heard the tenor section soar that line above the rest of the choral texture. It was beautiful. But you would not necessarily get those same results and that detail from any other choral director. Julian is a pleasure to watch and it saddens and disgusts me that I/we can no longer see him. It is really outrageous.

Off topic but still making my point about Julian: I read the review from The Washington Post from when Julian’s The Washington Chorus, performed Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the NSO (I think it was the NSO). His Chorus received a stellar review for their performance. I think it’s accurate to say that when I lived in the District, the University of Maryland Chorus “owned” that monumental work when they performed it with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam conducted by Claudio Abbado at the Kennedy Center. I was there for their performance. “Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus was glorious throughout!” was part of the review of their concert. And you might find this interesting: After I moved to San Francisco, in a phone call with wonderful Dr Traver — who was most generous with his time — I asked him how The Maryland Chorus got that Missa Solemnis engagement and he told me that Claudio Abbado contacted Margaret Hillis in Chicago and asked her to recommend a Symphonic Chorus in the Washington Metropolitan Area for the Beethoven. She recommended the UMD Chorus because she had previously worked with them and Dr Traver on the University of Maryland at College Park campus. But back to TWS: How can TWS shove a choral conductor/expert who recently received the prestigious Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence for his Symphonic Chorus in the District (The Washington Chorus) behind a wall of faux pipes where you can’t even see him in a back Gallery of a church? Outrageous.

I also thought it was odd way-back-when, when they removed the camera from the organ console. Why would they do that? That was also a sign of a lack of respect for the music. So viewers were no longer allowed to see Avi play his organ voluntaries, the hymns or anything else, compared to before when Eric William Suter (who filled in there for awhile; I enjoyed him) and Janet were there (the organ student from The Juilliard School). We used to have the pleasure of seeing the musical interactions between Avi, and right across from him in camera view was Julian in front of the Choir. That’s the type of scene a choral musician likes to see. The interaction between all the musicians.

But now, there’s none of that. Dead. And they consider this a positive change?

Also with this terrible arrangement, The Trinity Choir no longer processes which in my opinion makes their Liturgy seem lower church. I miss the traditional procession complete with the Choir. This is no improvement. Did all of this come from this new rector? And this current arrangement gives no “profile” to the choristers whatsoever. They become beyond anonymous because viewers can’t even see who’s there. It’s terrible and in my opinion not even worth watching.

It’s all about the clergy now. Well, I can’t imagine Julian is too pleased with this.

Since they apparently consider this an improvement, I have some other ideas they might consider as an “improvement:” I suggest they stick the priests in the back. See how they like sitting back there, heard but not seen. Also, when a priest is speaking during the Homily (for example), in mid-sentence have the cameras wander off the priest and begin showing stained-glass windows, slowly scan the High Altar showing every crevasse possible, zoom in on a basket of flowers for awhile, then back to more stained-glass windows, and then slowly scan the ceiling for the entire length of the Nave. By then, the Homily might be over. If they were to ever do this (which of course they won’t), I wonder if the priests would feel at all disrespected? If so, maybe they would be able to understand more fully how the superb musicians feel.

If only the musicians of TWS were in a parish that respects them in the same way that St Thomas Fifth Avenue have the highest regard for their superb Choir of Men and Boys, their organists, and they focus their Liturgy on their Choir and organists with a Festal Choral Eucharist every Domingo/Sunday. If only The Trinity Choir, Julian and Avi received that same level of respect that they certainly deserve. Sadly, it’s as if they’re all in the wrong church. Fin. The End. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Here’s an example of how camera work should be done when one wants to be respectful of the musicians (from hr-Sinfonieorchester/Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra, one of my favourites):

or here (in a choral context, Les Arts Florrisants):

Thought you might enjoy this short piece (also Les Arts Florrisants):

UPDATE: After comments closed for this article, I received an e-mail regarding TWS’s production work. The person did not defend production but wanted to say that organist Diane Bish in her programme The Joy of Music used some of the same camera techniques that TWS uses (stained-glass windows especially) and maybe that’s where they’re getting this from. Perhaps. But I would like to point out that with The Joy of Music it was in a very different context. Unlike with TWS, Diane was in a different parish or cathedral church every week so the camera techniques that Haney Productions used for her programme worked well for her because each week the building was new to the viewer. With TJOM, viewers were not stuck looking at the same windows, ceiling, and columns as they had seen for months as is the case with TWS. Haney Productions did an excellent job producing Diane’s programme and the scenes they did show in her videos were never at the expense of the music or musical artist guests, as is the case at TWS or at Washington National Cathedral (both now have terrible camera crews when it comes to respecting the music; I don’t know what happened because at one time they didn’t). I actively watched all of Diane’s programme that were shown over the years and I don’t remember a time where I asked, “why are we looking at this instead of Diane?” Any scenes they showed while the music was being performed they showed quickly in order to get the camera back on Diane or her guest musicians. Unlike Trinity and WNC where production seems to think it’s all about them and their cameras rather than the music, which they seem to think is secondary/background. I appreciated the e-mail and I have talked about this specifically in a past article about The Trinity Choir, I just didn’t write about it in this article. It was already long enough. Gracias. Chau.—el barrio rosa

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:

Service Leaflet

J.S. Bach Organ Voluntaries:

Anglican Liturgy: