Tag Archives: “University of Maryland Chorus”

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

Benjamin Straley Can Play the Shit Out of Organ Music

Update 2017: Benjamin Straley performed for Donald Trump. One would have hoped he would have higher standards than that! Read more about that here at the top of the page.

The following article is about Cathedral Organist Benjamin Straley and Washington National Cathedral in the District of Columbia (Los Estados Unidos/The US). Washington National Cathedral (officially known as the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Paul) is a cathedral church of the Anglican Communion.

First, a request to production: Can you kindly please keep the camera on Benjamin when he’s playing his organ voluntaries and Communion improvisations? He deserves the same respect given the priests when they’re speaking. There’s plenty of time during the Homily or Baptism or before and after the Liturgy to show scenes of the cathedral. Muchas gracias.

La Dalia Rosa

La Dalia Rosa

Hola. When I lived in the District in the late 1970s (which doesn’t seem like that long ago in a way; I have vivid memories of that era), un amigo/a friend of mine worked at the classical records store near Wisconsin and M Streets in Georgetown. Like me, he had a strong interest in symphonic choral music. This was during the era that the superb University of Maryland Chorus had frequent performances with the National Symphony Orchestra under NSO conductor Antal Doráti. The Maryland Chorus was Doráti’s favourite Chorus — they had quite a legacy under him — so he would invite them as often as possible to perform with the NSO. Whenever mi amigo and I talked about the DC orchestra choruses — University of Maryland Chorus, the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the Oratorio Society of Washington (now known as The Washington Chorus) were the three major ones — and the repertoire each Chorus was scheduled to perform with the NSO and guest national and international orchestras, the University of Maryland Chorus always came up and mi amigo would often say to me, “You know, that Maryland Chorus can sing the shit out of choral music.” LOL. Yes, they could and I knew exactly what he meant. They were outstanding and his #1 favourite (mine too). That was the ultimate compliment for them and that’s how the title of this article is meant regarding Cathedral Organist, Associate Director of Music and Artist Benjamin Straley.

Our Benjamin has been promoted!

Yes! I have some buenas noticias/good news. Our Benjamin is now The Organist and Associate Director of Music at Washington National Cathedral. Isn’t that wonderful?! Well I think it is. The other guy (I’ll just refer to him as the former organist, or “the FO” from hereon) who was originally the Principal Organist was fired a few months ago by the Bishop of Washington (District of Columbia). Yes, Fired! Mi amigo/my friend said: “Imagine being fired by the Bishop; how embarrassing.” Well, Mary the Mother of god works in mysterious ways, doesn’t she? Her wonders to behold. I don’t like to encourage unemployment but I was very pleased to hear that the FO is gone because I never did like his hymn playing in particular. And whenever I saw him play he always looked so uptight, stiff and rigid as if he were afraid of the organ, or something. He didn’t look relaxed while playing the way Benjamin does. The FO reminded me of this:

Our Rose: “It looked good, but he was under-powdered.”

Do you remember our Rose (Hyacinth’s sister in the British comedy “Keeping Up Appearances?” Who could forget Our Rose? I remember a scene from KUA where our Rose was going through a box of pictures of her past “gentlemen friends” (that’s what they called them). They were guys that our Rose had had sex with. Our Daisy, our Rose and our Onslow were all in the living room together and our Daisy picked up one picture and asked our Rose: “what about him?” Rose put her glasses on to have a look at the picture closely, she paused and then said to Daisy, “It looked good, but it was under-powered.” LOL. Then Daisy showed Onslow the picture and said, “He was under-powdered.” (Implying Onslow was too?) That scene comes to mind when I think about the former organist at WNC. It looked good on paper meaning his résumé, but from what I saw and heard of him the two did not seem to match. The FO was “under-powdered” as an organist and conductor. I wouldn’t expect that considering his background, which again looks good on paper. Whereas Benjamin looks completely relaxed and makes his playing look effortless. That’s the sign of an artist. So I came to click off the videos when I saw the FO was playing. He was too frustrating for me to watch and listen to. And his choral conducting, phew! … good lord!….if one can call what he did “conducting.” On the occasions I saw him conduct he was embarrassing to watch. I didn’t know whether he was trying to conduct or trying to take orbit and fly out of the cathedral the way he flailed his arms around unnecessarily so. One doesn’t need all of those body-theatrics to conduct. He didn’t conduct like any of the respected conductors I had the privilege of working with (see here and here, as two examples). Robert Shaw (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus) and Margaret Hillis (Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus) didn’t conduct like that. After the FO was hired I kept asking: How did this guy get hired? I couldn’t understand that. He’s the best they could find after — from what I read — putting Benjamin through multiple audition sessions? Who wouldn’t hire Benjamin immediately upon hearing him and watching him play? There was no qualified organist at a parish church in the District that wanted to work at WNC? I imagine some people liked the FO, but obviously I wasn’t one of them. And if Benjamin happened to not be there, Jeremy Filsell was there (the Artist in Residence) and he’s superb (you can watch him play Tu es Petra by Henri Mulet at the bottom of this page). I always looked forward to Benjamin being at the organ console, and still do. I don’t click off the videos of their Liturgies when our Benjamin is there.

So why did the Bishop fire the FO? I don’t know. She had credible reasons, I would assume. But as usual, some people who live for chisme/gossip have speculated about it, but I’m not going to pass along the reasons they gave since it’s all speculation. Whatever her reason(s), she made the correct decision by keeping Benjamin as far as I’m concerned, so the Bishop would appear to have an ear for music and know something about music. Also, I read that the Bishop disband The Cathedral Voices, a volunteer choral ensemble, that the FO “conducted.” I didn’t know that Bishops could fire people in their cathedral or go over the head of the Choirmaster in this instance, but apparently they can. I bet that went over well! Or did she ask Michael McCarthy, the Choirmaster, which organist he wanted to keep and he said Benjamin? I would have answered Benjamin for many reasons, including he’s superb at organ improvisations which are very important to an Anglican Liturgy.

Speaking of improvisations, in the video below, I was so pleased that Benjamin played two improvisational interludes during the processional hymns, which gave a more “grand and glorious” High Church feel to the Liturgy. (You wouldn’t have heard these interludes from the FO if he were still there). Benjamin’s interludes add a lot to the hymns, and then he changed the harmonies on the last verse of the last hymn with special emphasis on the bass/pedal notes (by changing them).

I know Benjamin has a lot more to do now with a lot more service music playing — I hope he doesn’t burn out — but maybe he or someone can work on the trebles/boys. The girl choristers are the best choristers at WNC, along with the Men of the Cathedral Choir. Sorry chicos. I would like to say the boys are the best but they’re not, unfortunately, but they might be able to change that. The problem with the trebles/boys is that they often sound weak especially in their high register. It’s almost as if they don’t have much of a high register — how can boys not have much of a high register ??? — and I’ve noticed this for a long time. They don’t sound like the superb trebles at St Thomas Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and I use them as a point of reference. Listening to the trebles in the first video below (other than the boy who was part of the quartet near the beginning), I don’t hear much of a high register from the boys. From listening to them when I’ve been able to, much of their repertoire seems to fall in a lower voice-range for the boys. Is that deliberate? High soaring trebles lines — like one hears at St Thomas Fifth Avenue — are not something I hear from the boys at WNC. Perhaps this also explains why I can’t remember the boys singing a descant for any hymn. I’ve heard the girls — they’re excellent — sing a descant on occasion, but not the boys. And frankly, WNC is not big on descants for some reason, unfortunately. It’s as if WNC considers descants too, “High Church” for Low Church WNC. Recently, WNC used, “Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven” for the processional hymn and I said to mi amigo/my friend while watching the Liturgy: There’s a descant for this hymn, but don’t expect the boys to sing it. Did they? No. And Benjamin didn’t play the descant on the organ either.

WNC’s Brief Experiment with High Church

Awhile back, for a couple of weeks I guess it was, WNC briefly introduced some High Church aspects to the Liturgy. It made me think they were trying to become more High Church. Yeah well, so much for that. And at the time, I wondered if this idea came at the suggestion of Benjamin (who I sense prefers High Church)? Two things that come to mind that they added: Incense and chanting the responses before and after The Gospel reading. Well, it was rather obvious to me by their behaviour that none of the priests had any interest in the incense. None. It seemed to be a bother to them. The priests rushed through it as fast as they could and often there was no hint of smoke coming out of the thurible, as if the coals hadn’t been prepared properly. Most of the priests — especially the low, low, low church Dean — almost literally ran around the free-standing altar to get the censing of the altar over with as quickly as possible. At the time I thought: Why are they even bothering? The same for the censing of The Gospel (I remember Gina rushing through the censing of The Gospel). By contrast, one thing I’ve noticed about Roman Catholic priests in televised broadcasts on the español language networks — usually from La Ciudad de México or from Rome — is that the RC priests take their time with the incense. They don’t rush it. They are respectful of the incense. Then there are the priests at Low Church Washington National Cathedral who can’t be bothered with any of it, or that’s the impression they give. Of the High Church changes they made for a short time at WNC, only the chanting of the responses remain a part of the Liturgy today, and who knows for how long that will be around. The responses they use before and after The Gospel reading at WNC are rather dull and boring. The responses they use at St Thomas Fifth Avenue before/after The Gospel are far better, especially the response after The Gospel reading with the soaring treble line. It’s rather glorious. But unfortunately, I would not describe any of the sung responses at WNC as “glorious.”

They have made at least one improvement at WNC: The acolytes no longer stop in the Quire area — that always looked awkward to me — but rather they continue on towards the High Altar and then turn and disappear. And they return the same way. That looks much better. They look very polished.

Shouldn’t the Dean Set an Example of Anglican Protocol?

I and others think so. Which causes me to ask: What’s up with the Dean carrying The Gospel like it’s a library book or notebook under his right arm when he went to read The Gospel in the first video below (starting at 24.05 into the video)? It’s also Anglican protocol to bow to the High Altar after picking up The Gospel. He didn’t bow to the altar either. For some time I’ve had the distinct sense that this Dean is in the wrong denomination, or is he bored by it all, or does he no longer agree with Anglican protocol? If he were anti-gay (which he’s not), I think he’d fit in nicely in a Southern Baptist Church to tell you the truth based on his behaviour. The Gospel is supposed to be held up high (the same way it’s carried in the procession), not carried like a library book under the arm. I know he’s very, very, very Low Church (if that), but really! Then you have Gina. She “works” The Gospel. She’s good at it. Watch her sometime. I take it she has practised some for endurance or works out at a gym to build up for keeping The Gospel up during the length of the Gospel/Sequence hymn. Then when she lowers it, opens it and chants, “The Holy Gospel of our lord jesus christ, according to ____” she doesn’t appear to be at all tired from having held up The Gospel during the Sequence/Gospel hymn and she makes the three signs of the cross (which again the Dean doesn’t do either). I swear, el hombre! Sigh. I’ve also noticed that the Dean doesn’t bless himself or bow to the processional crosses, which devout Anglicans do sort of on automatic-pilot (if you know what I mean), or one would expect that of someone who spends as much time in church as he does. Shouldn’t a Dean be setting an example for others? This Dean sets an example of what not to do when it comes to Anglican protocol. Why does WNC keep hiring these Low Church Deans? The previous Dean was also Low Church.

[Updated: This section about the (former) Dean has been updated as of 15 de enero de 2016. I read another article about the former Dean’s retirement and that article implied he had chosen to retire and had announced his retirement back in agosto/August of 2015. I forget the exact name of the group (the governing body) at the Cathedral, but they voted in favour of The Bishop becoming the Interim Dean. He said he and The Bishop were close allies. That was the sense I had all along. The former Dean made some statements in the interview that concerned me. He described WNC as “stodgy” when he arrived. Well, if he felt that way about it, why did he take the job as Dean to begin with? That could explain why he was/is so Low Church. Then he said as part of the 10-year plan that the new Dean will oversee, he said there will be some “programming changes, including the music” at WNC. Programming changes? Is he referring to the Liturgies? I don’t think of the Liturgy as a “programme.” And what change is he talking about with the music? Sigh. Oh here we go! (Benjamin are you listening?) Is the former Dean covertly talking about them bringing in Praise Bands to WNC to attract the younger and dumbed-down? If so, Praise Bands in an Anglican cathedral? I. Don’t. Think. So. A conservative critic (an Orthodox Anglican?) of the current WNC claimed that WNC is only appealing to “the liberals in NW” (meaning the North West quadrant of the District where WNC is located). I don’t know what the former Dean is talking about but what he said concerns me. Would could he possibly be talking about when it comes to a change in the music?

Previously:
After writing the paragraph about the Dean (Shouldn’t the Dean Set an Example of Anglican Protocol?), I’ve read that he will be retiring at the end of 2015 with two years remaining on his contract. The article I read didn’t say he’s being forced out, but that was the impression I got from one article I read. Is he being forced out by the Bishop? I don’t know. But from another article I read, he announced his retirement back in agosto/August and that article didn’t imply he was being forced out. The Bishop will become the interim Dean for the next couple years and she will also continue in her role as Bishop. (You go, muchacha! All right!). The search for a new Dean will begin in the Fall season of 2016. Does this new information possibly explain why the Dean carried The Gospel like it was a library book and was lax on other Anglican protocol? No, he’s been lax on Anglican protocol long before this happened.]

The Orthodox Anglicans

I see that the Orthodox Anglicans (OA) have their conservative bowels in an uproar over what goes on at WNC. Why do those idiots care what goes on at WNC? I didn’t know anything about the OA’s until recently. They’re Low Church (ugh) and anti-gay conservatives (or at least the anti-gay, closet case moderator on their forum is. Note to OA forum moderator: “Straight” people who are secure with themselves and their own sexuality don’t hate on gay people and gift wrap it in the bible. Closet cases do that. You’ve exposed yourself, hombre.) That bible is constantly used by bigots to justify and condone all types of hate and prejudice in your fundamentalist/literal interpretation of it. Those OA fossils are of that tired, outdated thinking that, “marriage should be between a man and a woman” (so they can later get a divorce?… with the divorce rate in the US being well over 50% ?) That “man and a woman” stuff sounds so hick and so outdated. The OA also oppose women priests. The Orthodox Anglicans are really quite mentally-twisted and backward-thinking people. I can’t stand people/outdated fossils like that.

Fortunately, Washington National Cathedral is not a conservative cathedral church and that’s why the OA can’t stand WNC. They have women priests at WNC and have for years. (By comparison, St Thomas Fifth Avenue doesn’t have one woman priest. Something is quite wrong with that.) And WNC is pro-GLBTQ and my very reliable gaydar tells me that some of the Men of the Cathedral Choir are Queer boys. Caliente! But the OA were whining about how they disagreed with what the Bishop talks about in her Homilies and that she doesn’t talk about the gospel of jesus. *roll eyes* Well, we already have plenty of churches rattling on about the gospel of jesus every week so we don’t need that at WNC too. It’s good that the Bishop does something different at WNC, and I’m sure you would agree! And didn’t these thick Orthodox Anglicans grasp the “gospel of jesus” the first time around? Do they really need constant regurgitation of the “gospel of jesus?” As an Anglican Atheist, I don’t care to hear it at all, so I support the Bishop here. She seems to be a very bright mujer/woman and with an ear for music. The OA say the Bishop needs to go because she’s on a power trip. The Bishop is on a power trip? I’ve seen the Bishop in the videos many times and I’ve never picked up on that from her at all. I don’t know whether she’s on a power trip or not, and don’t really care. So far, I agree with the changes having been made at WNC. It’s interesting that the sexist Orthodox Anglicans never accuse guys of being on “a power trip” when they make similar/major changes at a church.

I read that the FO has since found employment/another church job in Maryland, outside the District in Bethesda. I guess they like dull and boring out there at that church where the hymns are played as “dry as dust.” But I’m pleased that our Benjamin is The Organist at WNC. As I’ve said many times, he’s one of the best organists I’ve ever heard and WNC is very fortunate to have him, and I take it that the Bishop recognises that. I’m glad Benjamin has been promoted. He deserves it. He should have been The Organist since Day One. Chau.—el barrio rosa

At the very beginning of this video below from the Second Sunday in Advent, Benjamin has some time to fill and he improvises on “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645″ before he plays the original Bach piece by that same name which is listed in the service leaflet. As usual with Benjamin, he sets the mood perfectly. I really enjoyed his improvisation. He looks at the score of the original Bach piece on occasion (I think checking for the melody line), but he’s improvising and I know his improvisational style. He has a “signature” style to his improvisations. Then at the end of the Liturgy, his Organ Voluntary is Fugue, Op. 12 by Maurice Duruflé. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Here’s Benjamin’s recital on Navidad/the First Day of Christmas 2015. He played beautifully. I think this recital demonstrates that he can indeed, “Play the Shit Out of Organ Music.” I love his Latin-coloured socks! Very colourful and pretty:

Related:

Pro-GLBTQ: Special Service in Response to the Supreme Court Rulings on Marriage Equality

WNC Artist in Residence Jeremy Filsell plays Tu es Petra by the French composer Henri Mulet for his Organ Voluntary at the end of this Liturgy. One of my favourite pieces.

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:

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

The Boston Symphony Orchestra should invite the Boston University Symphonic Chorus to perform with them and give the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC) some time off. TFC might sound better after they reworks/refine their rough-sounding, non-smooth-sounding, fluttering (and shrill) soprano section, no? Why have an “Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra,” when they are inferior to the Symphonic Chorus at Boston University?

Hola. ¿Qué tal? This article is about two Orchestra Choruses in Boston: The Boston University Symphonic Chorus and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, as well as some general choral information, and my experiences that some people might find interesting (all 2 or 3 of you). It’s a lengthy article, in part, because I’m critical of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and I give examples of why. Well you can’t fairly criticise someone without giving legitimate reasons why.

I and mi amigo have been watching two video performances from Boston’s Symphony Hall with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra (David Hooser, conductor) and Symphonic Chorus (Dra Ann Howard Jones and Scott Jarrett, Chorus Directors.) One video (below) is a performance of the choral symphony,The Bells, by Sergei Rachmaninov (in Русский/Russian: Сергей Васильевич Рахманинов/Колокола), and the other work is the oratorio Elijah by Felix Mendelssohn (in Deutsch: Elias). We enjoyed both performances. I think the Symphonic Chorus was better for the Rachmaninov. It was also a larger Chorus, and some of the same choristers were in both performances.

Dra Ann Howard Jones, Director of Choral Activities at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts School of Music, was recommended to BU by Robert Shaw. She worked closely with Shaw in Atlanta and was assistant conductor of the superb Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus (one of my favourites) for fifteen years. Dra Jones is unfortunately having health problems so Interim Director of Choral Activities at BU, Scott Jarrett, has been preparing the Symphonic Chorus and conducting some performances in her absence.

We very much enjoyed the excellent BU Symphonic Chorus. Because of their overall young age they remind me of the superb University of Maryland Chorus (from my past) which performed regularly in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the National Symphony Orchestra. The Maryland Chorus had quite the legacy under conductor Antal Doráti. They also had engagements with many other national and international orchestras. Like the University of Maryland Chorus—which was considered a “town and gown” Chorus (meaning membership was open to the town of College Park Maryland/the public and UMD students upon audition)—the Boston University Symphonic Chorus is an auditioned ensemble open to BU students, faculty, staff and friends, according to BU’s website.

Boston University has an outstanding Symphony Orchestra. I’ve never heard such an excellent student Symphony Orchestra and they are very interesting to watch. They have a beautifully smooth string section and with the skilled camera work in these videos one gets to see the perfectly synchronised bowing of the violins, for example, and we noticed that some of the page turns were perfectly synchronsised such as at 5.13 in the video. One of the orchestral members, Ceylon Mitchell (piccolo) uploaded the Rachmaninov video on YouGoogleTube and you’ll see Ceylon playing at approximately 18.49 into the Rachmaninov video. Muchísimas gracias/thank you very much to Ceylon for the video of the performance. From what I can tell from looking at the two performances, it looks like the violin section has a rotating rather than a fixed seating system. The concertmaster was the same for both performances. I also noticed that Rachmaninov wrote a very busy part for the First Chair flautist. He rarely had a break. And don’t miss the French Horn section at 25.32 in the video. Our favourite movement was the Presto. And with Rachmaninov’s writing he had the string section sounding like a “machine” beginning at 22.56 in the video (and watch the heads and facial expressions of the violinists in that part).

As with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the one problem I had with the Boston University Symphonic Chorus was their soprano section. From what I’ve read about BU, they consider themselves to be a “solo school.” (Translation: Producing soloists. Does that mean opera soloists?). But even with soloists there are times where a soloist needs to or is supposed to blend with other voices and turn off that godawful, heavy, wobbling vibrato. Ugh. Can’t they do that? With the soprano section, what happened to the concept of sounding like one voice, or perfect intonation in good choral singing? A section (such as the soprano section) cannot sound like one voice when various choristers use or cannot turn off heavy, fluttery vibrato. With the human voice instrument too much vibrato is a major turnoff, at least to me and others I’ve talked with. I expect to hear heavy vibrato in opera and with an Opera Chorus, but neither of the works being performed by the Boston University Symphonic Chorus in these video below are opera (one’s a choral symphony and the other is an oratorio). I was wondering if the soprano section of the Boston University Symphonic Chorus (BUSC) were trying to emulate the rough-sounding, non-smooth-sounding, non-refined-sounding fluttery soprano section of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus? Who would want to emulate them?

Regarding vocal/choral vibrato from Vocal Technique Instructor, Karyn O’Connor:
“There are situations in which vibrato is an undesirable effect. In choral work, vibrancy rates among individual choir members may differ either slightly or enormously, and vibratos that aren’t synchronized can destroy the quality of a soft, unison passage. Wide-swinging vibratos that aren’t squarely on pitch in one singer can throw off the pitch of other singers standing next to them in the group. Most choir directors make the decision to have everyone sing in a ‘straight tone’ to avoid such inconsistencies in the overall sound of the choir. A straight tone can help singers in a large group blend more easily with each other. Therefore, tempering how much vibrato a singer uses or has, if any at all, is a valuable skill in an ensemble situation.” [Source: Singwise: An Information Based Resource For Singers By Vocal Technique Instructor, Karyn O’Connor].

When they were founded back in 1970 by John Oliver to be the Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I liked the Tanglewood Festival Chorus very much. But since then, either they have changed or I’ve changed, or both. I do have a very different “ear” now for listening to choral music and Orchestra Choruses than I did back then because of my own Orchestra Chorus experience (see bottom of the page) and from listening very closely to performances by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Founder/Director Margaret Hillis, as well as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Founder/Director Robert Shaw and other national and international Orchestra Choruses and choral ensembles. Have they (Tanglewood Festival Chorus) been doing too much opera repertoire over the years or something? I don’t know, but I don’t enjoy them now. And they don’t sound like the same Chorus to me as they did in their early recordings (such as in the Berlioz Damnation of Faust, for example). I hadn’t heard them in years until a small group of them sang for senator Edward Kennedy’s funeral. I vaguely remember briefly watching/hearing them in that video on YouGoogleTube and I thought: That’s Tanglewood? What’s happened to them? I listened for a bit but had to turn it off. I couldn’t listen to it. I thought: I don’t remember Tanglewood sounding like that when they were founded back in 1970. I heard wobbling, fluttering vibrato in the sopranos, and in that church space where the funeral was held it did not sound good at all. They sounded more like an amateur church choir of untrained women’s voices – wobbling. They may have sounded better if they had used the entire TFC. Then a small group of the TFC sang for another funeral, Thomas Menino’s Funeral this year – 2014 and you can hear the sopranos wobbling/fluttering in that video. Does that sound like an Orchestra Chorus to you, or members of? Does that sound like members of the “Official Chorus of the BSO?” It doesn’t to me. I take it that the standards have been lowered, not that anyone would admit that. I saw another video of the TFC, which you can see here. In that video, members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus are singing a holiday piece complete with some bobbing up and down movements and other silly facial expressions/acting gestures from members of the Chorus. I found it to be childish and amateurish to tell you the truth. I was waiting for the June Taylor Dancers to come out at one point to do some “chorus line,” dancing for us (if anyone remembers them; I vaguely remember them so I looked them up and they were on The Jackie Gleason Show). I played that video for mi amigo and he said, “I wouldn’t expect what I saw and heard in that video from any ‘professional’ Orchestra Chorus.” Well I wouldn’t either. Neither of us could watch all of that video because we were so turned off by it. Making little childish facial expressions and gestures and “ump-pah-pah” bodily gestures while singing turns me off. Leave that to musical theatre/musicals.

The way I remember it when the TFC was founded, they were a very young Chorus. They looked like the New England Conservatory Chorus they replaced (I bet there’s a story there! Some chisme/gossip). Today, the TFC is an older Chorus and older voices can sound differently than younger voices. In the past couple months I heard TFC perform several choral works with the BSO and, again, they’re clearly not as good as they used to be, in my opinion. I heard things from the TFC that I would not expect to hear from the Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra or any Orchestra Chorus for that matter. For those who don’t know, Orchestra Choruses are supposed to be the very best around to match the orchestra they serve as the resident/permanent Chorus for. So recently when listening to TFC, once again, I thought: What’s happened to them? I don’t think I will be asking that again. I can list a few examples of what I heard: I heard the tenor voices cracking/breaking in one part of Beethoven’s Ninth (I’ve never heard that from any other Orchestra Chorus), I heard shrill/screaming/fluttering-wobbling sounds coming from their soprano section in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“The Resurrection”) as well as Beethoven’s Ninth on the highest notes of both works. The sopranos sounded like they were cackling/screaming on some of the highest notes in the Beethoven. The entire TFC sounded like they were struggling some at the very loud choral ending of the Mahler. Someone may say, “you’re nitpicking.” I’m telling you what I heard from listening objectively and without any partiality, and I see no need for anyone to make apologies for an Orchestra Chorus or rush to their defence. Tell it like it is. These things are not what one expects from a well-prepared, highly-trained Orchestra Chorus. In some of their performances I heard consonants that were not together, as if John Oliver said: “oh that’s close enough.” In Beethoven’s Ninth, I heard final “t’s” that were splat; that were not together in one place on the word “zelt”. That should have been drilled/set in rehearsal (“Chorus, the ‘t’ of zelt goes on the _____ beat. Mark that in your scores in red.”) Upon reflection, maybe that’s the problem. They didn’t use their scores and sang “from memory” and some couldn’t remember where the “t” of zelt was supposed to be? Also, apparently it’s tradition that every Summer on the last day of the Tanglewood Music Festival—which is a little over 2 hours west of Boston on the Tanglewood estate in Stockbridge and Lenox MA—Beethoven’s Ninth is dragged out every season and performed by the BSO/TFC. (A brief aside: Has anyone noticed that Beethoven’s Ninth is becoming as over-performed as Handel’s Messiah and yet they call the Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto “a war horse!”). With TFC’s 20014 Beethoven’s Ninth performance, on the last page or so of the choral score—the very fast section at the end; I don’t have the score in front of me—is where I heard what I would call “choral screaming” especially from that soprano section again on the notes in the top of their register. I played it for mi amigo and he said, “the sopranos sound like they’re screaming; they’re not musical.” I thought the same. At the end of the performance the audience predictably applauded wildly, as expected for Beethoven’s Ninth. Apparently they like screaming there at Tanglewood, or they can’t tell the difference between singing and screaming, no?

In TFC’s performance of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem, the tenor section of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus was the best section (and at times they were the loudest section which was an interesting effect), followed by the basses. But unfortunately it went downhill from there on with the altos and soprano sections coming in as the worst. I do not like the sound of the soprano section of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. They don’t have a refined sound. I can’t recall ever hearing the sound that they have before. It’s a very unique sound, and not in a positive way. They don’t have a smooth, polished sound. They have this rough sound, this fluttery sound, which was especially noticeable in Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem, “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place.” They were fluttering all through that. Ugh. It was hard to listen to because of the soprano section. jesus! Who likes that sound? Overall, the soprano section is the worst section of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which is odd, because from my choral experience the soprano section was usually the best with a very smooth, polished sound. I guess one way to describe them is that they sound like they’re trying to be the soprano section of an Opera Chorus (perhaps) than that of a Symphony/Orchestra Chorus, and they’re supposed to be the latter. It’s as if someone is not clear on the concept that they are an Orchestra Chorus.

The problem with the soprano section of the Boston University Symphonic Chorus is that they also have too much fluttering vibrato especially in their upper register. I’m beginning to wonder if this a Boston thing, or what? I don’t understand it. I noticed no vibrato from BUSC’s soprano section when they were singing quietly and lower in their register. Their fluttery vibrato was especially noticeable in Elijah in the chorus, “Holy, Holy, Holy is god the lord,” which begins (at 1.49.59 in the video) with the semi-Chorus and the full Chorus answers and that pattern continues for the rest of that particular chorus. But when the men came in with, “Go, Return Upon thy Way,” the men sounded good and without vibrato. So what’s with the heavy fluttery vibrato in the sopranos (it was especially noticeable in the first two rows or so of the semi-Chorus)? Fortunately, there was less vibrato in the Rachmaninov, but I still heard some in the sopranos. Does Dra Jones like that fluttery vibrato sound of the sopranos? If so, that’s very curious because the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus doesn’t sound like that at all. No section of the ASOC sounded like that under Robert Shaw and I’ve never cringed listening to the ASOC, so I find it curious that Dra Jones allows excessive vibrato/fluttering or likes it. How could anyone like it unless one is heavily into opera, which I’m not? And again, they weren’t singing opera. They were singing an oratorio and that vibrato sounded awful. As is the case with TFC’s soprano section, they sounded like your average, untrained women in an amateurish church choir with their wobbling voices, and I suspect that’s not how the BUSC soprano section wants to sound.

An oratorio is not opera so the Chorus for an oratorio should not sound like an Opera Chorus. It should sound like a Symphony/Orchestra Chorus. That’s one reason why there are two different types of choruses. One of the indicators of a superb Chorus is to be able to sing beautifully softly/quietly and Boston University Symphonic Chorus does that.

With BU’s performance of Elijah, at times I could have used more diction and more spitting of the consonants so that the consonants reach the last row in the hall as we were trained to do (especially in the University of Maryland Chorus, known for their diction). On occasion I thought I heard some US r’s (r’s as pronounced in US-English, as opposed to The Queen’s English). I know I did from the bass soloist which I thought was questionable. For those who don’t know what that refers to: in well-trained choral singing if you have the word “Lord,” for example, it’s sung as “Lawd.” No US “r’s.” That US “r” twang sounds hideous and untrained. Mi amigo says it sounds hick. Yeah, you could say that too. I could have used more pipe organ. He was playing but I couldn’t hear it—except on one chord that’s usually heard in Elijah—and they have a recently renovated pipe organ in Symphony Hall. I was wondering how the semi-Chorus was chosen. Are they considered the best voices in the BUSC or are they part of another Chorus in the School of Music (such as the Chamber Chorus, the Concert Chorus, the Women’s Chorale, or the Boston University Singers)? The semi-Chorus consisted of the first two rows of the Symphonic Chorus closest to the orchestra.

In Elijah, my favourite soloists were the tenor and the alto. The soprano soloist for the Rachmaninov had heavy vibrato. I could hear the pitch in my ear that she was supposed to be singing but due to her vibrato she was fluttering back and forth on at least two pitches. That’s the negative thing about vocal vibrato: The pitch/note that is indicated in the score is contaminated or clouded by other notes because of vibrato (I hope you know what I mean by that), whereas when one is singing with no vibrato (or with a straight tone) the pitch/note is purer and there is no doubt as to the note being sung, as one would hear the note played on a piano.

In the classical tradition, I’ve never understood why it seems to be a requirement that opera soloists/singers be dragged in as soloists for performances that are not opera. Why have heavy vibrato opera soloists for an oratorio when fortunately the Chorus for the performance does not sing with vibrato? Why can’t the soloists come from the Chorus? Some people would answer that by saying: “Because no one will come to hear the performance. You have to drag in big-named opera stars as bait to get the sheeple to come.” Really? And this seems to be an international standard. For example, I recently watched a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s’ A Sea Symphony with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and BBC Proms Youth Chorus. The Symphony Chorus and the Youth Chorus were superb. Excellent diction. (I even heard the “f” of “following” in the text). No vibrato at all in the Chorus, including the refined, smooth-sounding soprano section. The rough-sounding, fluttery soprano section of Tanglewood Festival Chorus might want to watch that video as they could certainly learn from them. But the two soloists sang with vibrato, especially the soprano. For me, she was a bit much to listen too and also watch because of her theatrics. It was almost as if she thought she were in a play.

Shouldn’t the soloists come from the Chorus?

Chorus = no vibrato.
Soloists = no vibrato.

How difficult is that to arrange or to understand?

I’m also glad that the Boston University Symphonic Chorus uses their choral scores. They don’t look like a bank of robots regurgitating the score on cue like the Tanglewood Festival Chorus look. I read what John Oliver (TFC’s Founder and Director) had to say about their “from memory” routine:

“Memorization is not a trick. It internalizes the music for you; it makes the music, somehow, a part of your own physical being. And you can express so much more like that. If you don’t see a singer’s face and you don’t see the posture of a singer, the address of a singer to the audience, you’re really not getting what a singer can deliver in music and what composers expected the singers to deliver.”

Ludicrous! I wonder how long it took him to come up with that? I read that paragraph to mi amigo and he said: That sounds like gobbledygook. Why do some people come up this “philosophical” nonsense and try to pass it off to unthinking people who unfortunately don’t posses critical thinking skills? Such people would respond to hearing that quote by saying, “Oh good, that sounds real good. Yeah that makes sense.” But fortunately, some people possess critical thinking skills and they would respond to that BS by saying: Well, I had no trouble seeing the faces or the posture of the BUSC choristers or the soloists using their scores. Is Oliver saying that composers in general expected singers to perform “from memory?” Really? I’ve never heard that before. Where did he get that? So when soloists represented by international artist agents are contracted for performances and use their scores, no matter how beautiful their performance they are not “delivering what the composer expected?” I think that will be noticias/news to them.

It’s Ludicrous! Although I suspect some gullible people fall for it.

As for performing “from memory,” Tanglewood Festival Chorus stands there with arms down all staring straight ahead at the conductor and showing little emotional involvement in what they’re singing (no body movements at all). They look like a wall/bank of statues.

Whereas Boston University’s Symphonic Chorus look like they’re involved in their music they’re performing, some move around a bit, some move their scores slightly in keeping with the tempo which I like to see as they’re getting into their music, and they are more musical, in my opinion.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra always use their scores/orchestral parts so why shouldn’t the Tanglewood Festival Chorus use their choral scores? Is the TFC trying to appear to better than the BSO musicians or better than another Chorus by singing “from memory?” There’s no sense to be made from that “performing from memory” nonsense—with its double-standards—of the classical music tradition where it’s perfectly acceptable (and expected) for some musicians to use their scores when performing but not others, and also depending upon what it is they’re playing and the setting. The double-standard is ridiculous and hypocritical. Does one know the score better when performing “from memory?” No, not necessarily. With some artists performing “from memory” can make them less comfortable and more nervous which can cause mistakes and memory lapses. With TFC, it looks like one is trying to impress somebody. It looks pretentious. I’ve seen some other choruses perform “from memory” on the odd occasion and to me they all pretty much look the same. It doesn’t matter which Chorus it is: A motionless bank of robots/statues. Fortunately, none of the Orchestra Choruses I had the privilege of performing with sang “from memory.” We used our scores.

The Tanglewood Festival Chorus performed The Bells last month in Symphony Hall. I listened to their performance On Demand, and I still heard their screechy (especially on the highest notes in the soprano section), non-refined, rough, fluttery soprano sound. For The Bells, the TFC had a rather bright sound. A bright sound is not Russian. The Russian choral sound is a very dark sound, especially in the basses. I did hear some “Russian bass” sound in the Presto movement, but I noticed that the entire Chorus had a bright sound especially in the first movement. It didn’t sound “Russian” at all. I thought that the Boston University Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Chorus (with a darker choral sound) performed the The Bells better than the TFC and the BSO. The playing from both orchestras was excellent but I preferred BU’s superb performance.

Overall, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus seems to be “hit and miss.” Some performances are better than others. I’ve already spent too much time on them so I didn’t bother to check their schedule to see how many choral works they perform each season in Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood. I was wondering: Do they perform too many choral works a season and don’t have the time to be thoroughly prepared for each performance? Or is John Oliver accepting anybody he can get these days—their soprano section certainly sounds like that’s the case—as long as they’re a fairly good sight-reader? They (TFC) need to take off some time and work on refining that godawful soprano section, I can tell you that! They rely on screeching, shrill and a bright sound (when singing loudly). The Boston University Symphonic Chorus relies on power, precision and a darker tone. They sound like a more powerful Chorus even though they are not quite as large as the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

I was talking with mi amigo while writing this article and he said: “Perhaps that’s the problem with an orchestra having their own Chorus. The Chorus and the Chorus Director know they will be used/performing with that orchestra regardless of how they sound (mistakes, blemishes, screaming/shrill/fluttering/cackling/unrefined-sounding sopranos and all!). They have no competition when they are “the official Chorus,” so the level of choral excellence doesn’t necessarily have to remain high.” Yes, perhaps. But then there’s the possibility of an orchestra disbanding their own Chorus. That happened with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. They no longer have a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Chorus, and one reason given for disbanding was that their Symphony Chorus wasn’t that good. I never heard them. So after the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra disband their own Chorus, they invited the stellar University of Maryland Chorus to perform with them when they performed a choral work, until The Maryland Chorus was “retired”/liquidated by the University of Maryland at College Park about five years ago. These days, Baltimore SO invite the Baltimore Choral Arts Society on occasion as well as the University of Maryland Concert Choir, which is an all-student/music majors Chorus and which seems to have replaced the “retired” University of Maryland Chorus. But I doubt that the Boston Symphony Orchestra has any intention of disbanding their Tanglewood Festival Chorus, no matter how they sound, which reflects on the orchestra. Doesn’t the BSO notice how the TFC sounds, and especially that soprano section? Ugh. Or have they gotten used to it? I don’t know how one could get used to that. They make me cringe whenever I hear them.

We’ve very much enjoyed both The Bells and Elijah from BU, and felicitaciones to the Boston University Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Chorus. They should be very pleased with their performances.

Regarding their other performances: We’ve wanted to watch BU’s other performances but on our systems we can’t get the Vimeo videos to play smoothly, no matter what we do. Even though I don’t like GoogleTube—because parasitic and predatory Google has absolutely ruined the former YouTube particularly with all the (obnoxious) ads embedded in videos—the BUSO and BUSC should have kept all their videos on GoogleTube. I don’t watch any of the ads on GoogleTube. I can’t stand ads. I minimise the video and bring it back up when I think the ad has played. And if I accidentally see what’s being advertised, I make a mental note: Don’t buy that.

If I had a choice to go hear the Tanglewood Festival Chorus or BUSC, I would choose Boston University’s Symphonic Chorus. Even with fluttery vibrato, to me vibrato sounds better with the younger voices of the BUSC.

Enjoy these two performances by them in the videos below. Chau.—el barrio rosa

I made reference to this superb performance in the article (Ralph Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony, performed by the BBC Symphony Chorus, the BBC Proms Youth Choir and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo).

I didn’t mention this piece in the article, but thought you might enjoy it. I’ve watched this many times and have thoroughly enjoyed both the Orchestra and Chorus. It’s a splendid performance of Toward the Unknown Region also by Ralph Vaughan William with the National Youth Orchestra and Chorus of Britain, Codetta and the Irish Youth Chamber Choir. This performance reminds me of the first performance I heard of this work years ago by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in the UK.

[My choral background: I had the opportunity and privilege of performing in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall as a member of the Choral Arts Society of Washington (Norman Scribner, Founder and Chorus Director), the Oratorio Society of Washington, now called The Washington Chorus (Robert Shafer, Chorus Director), the University of Maryland Chorus (Dr Paul Traver, Founder and Chorus Director) with the National Symphony Orchestra and guest national and international orchestras, and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Margaret Hillis and Vance George, Chorus Directors) in Davies Symphony Hall.]