What a choral music season we have had. A collective choral sigh was heard as singers freed themselves from the solitary confinement of the virtual world. New awareness was gained, however, about the possibilities of a wider audience base through live feed and video-on-demand. A colorful array of choral sound floated into the air–though sometimes to land on unfilled seats. But one thing was common to all vocal artists. Singing together again was pure joy.
Read through these key words from the 2021-22 choral scene to trigger some musical flashbacks: Gratitude, MacMillan, Resilience, Whitacre, “aufersteh’n,” Bocelli, Takach, Ukraine Benefit, Fauré, Sound Mind, Vivaldi, Bluegrass, Geter, premieres, Perseverance, Verdot, cantatas, NWACDA, Abya Yala, Morrow, canceled, postponed, rescheduled, resurrected.
The music makers
The season could not have happened without the choral music donors and granting organizations who supported the choral arts as live performance returned. These dollars help make the music available to the community. Several choirs gifted that financial support right back to the their audience, offering concerts for free and/or including live-feed or video performance options for free to those who remained isolated.
The visible music makers – the singers, accompanists, conductors, composers – get the applause and take the bows. But in every choir there are folks who volunteer their time and talent quietly, invisibly, tirelessly. Sometimes they are singers, sometimes not. But they, too, help make the music. Let’s turn the spotlight on them.
Asked to name a key volunteer in Choral Arts Ensemble, conductor David De Lyser said “it would be hard to choose one person. CAE is grateful to the many non-singing volunteers – accounting, graphic design, ticket table staff, ushers and Board members – who help keep the ensemble running.”
Conductor Paul Klemme of Willamette Master Chorus also thanks many–but specifically named Andrew Jones, who spent hundreds of hours producing WMC’s high-quality virtual concerts, and Ron Peters who, Klemme said, “does everything” and has been with WMC for 25 years.
Wendy Bamonte named several folks who pour their talent and their passion for choral music into the Portland Symphonic Choir – Dale Webber, Katherine Lafever, Willa Perlmutter, Trisha Williams, Dan Knauss.
Do you know a Ron, a Willa or a Dale in your choral organization? Pop down to the comment line at the end of this article and give them a shout. Cheers to them all!
There is one person who single-handedly helps choruses and patrons know what is happening in choral music from Southwest Washington to Salem. Dr. Tom Hard has no formal musical training. He didn’t make the Glee Club at Harvard until his senior year, but meanwhile got hooked on Gilbert and Sullivan; at MIT he sang in the choral society. Later he came to the Pacific Northwest for a chemistry research position at Portland State, and in 1977 joined the Portland Symphonic Choir.
In 2004, as Chair of the PSC Music Committee, Hard was scheduling the upcoming PSC season, contacting other choirs to avoid conflicts. He then sent the collected information back to the choirs. “Mark Powell (Cappella Romana Executive Director) suggested that I put it on the web,” remembers Hard. So he took a night course in web programming and launched the PDX Choral Calendar.
When you want to know when, where and what choral performances are going on in Portland, the PDX choral calendar is your easy-to-use first stop on the web. Choirs send Hard their performance dates and, plop, onto the calendar they go with links to the choral group website. Some 2022-23 dates have already been added.
Hard does this because he loves choral music – listening to it, singing it and making sure it continues for all to enjoy. He still sings in Symphonic Choir and in the Bach Cantata Choir. Thank you, Tom.
Closing out the choral season
How fitting that Oregon Repertory Singers and Portland State University get to close out the choral/orchestral Oregon Symphony season on June 11, 12 and 13 with an “Ode to Joy”–that is, Beethoven’s Ninth. Also on the program is Pachamama Meets an Ode, composer Gabriela Lena Frank’s choral/orchestral response to Beethoven’s final symphonic work. Frank’s eleven-minute composition, which premiered just this year, imagines a dialogue with the “Great Man” and even channels a bit of the “Dies Irae” from Verdi’s Requiem.
Beethoven’s Ninth, with its grand choral finale, is a work very familiar to OSO and its audience–but let’s still be thankful for this season’s choral collaborations. Thankful that those same ORS and PSU singers masterfully managed a masked Mahler and Messiah last fall; thankful that “Comfort and Joy” with the Oregon Choral and Gospel Christmas with the Northwest Community Gospel Choir lit up the holiday season; that the Pacific Youth Choir contributed their untarnished tones to the Kids Series; and that Damien Geter’s An African American Requiem, commissioned and nurtured to life by Katherine FitzGibbon and Resonance Ensemble, received its jaw-dropping OSO premiere in May.
Yes, be joyful for this magnificent OSO 2021-22 choral/orchestral season because in 22-23 there will be a significant change. There is only one choral/orchestral masterwork on the calendar: OSO will partner with PSU choirs to present Carl Orff’s Camina Burana. An appropriate response might be “O Fortuna.”
“It was primarily a financial decision,” said Charles Calmer, OSO V.P. for Artistic Planning. He explained recently that to accommodate the large choral forces in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall the stage must be built out. Indeed, the hall is ill-designed for choral forces and if you attended the Mahler Second you know what Calmer means by built out. That expanded set has to remain in place for the run of rehearsals and performances–essentially, according to Calmer, locking out other rentals of the hall. A significant financial stake.
The good news is that Comfort and Joy, Gospel Christmas and the Kid Series with PYC will continue in 22-23. But this choral cutback is worthy of reflection and further discussion.
Let’s just throw out two questions as a starting point. First, have choral masterworks with fewer instrumental or choral forces been considered? Second, since OSO already ventures out of the ASCH to perform in Salem and Newberg, is it possible to perform outside of the box…yes, the physical box…in our Metro area? We’re one of the most vibrant choral cities in the country, and have one of the nation’s most applauded symphonies. Such possibilities. Can we talk about it?
Other changes in the choral community include John Baker, formerly Associate Conductor of Pacific Youth Choir, assuming an interim Artistic Directorship following Mia Miller’s retirement. And Aurora Chorus has completed their conductor search, naming Rebecca Parsons as their new Artistic Director. Born in Vancouver, B.C., Parsons–also a composer and pianist–was active in Kokopelli Choirs Edmonton, AB and collaborated with the South African University of Pretoria Youth Choir before coming to Portland. Parsons just completed her Master’s Degree program at Portland State University, where she conducted University Choir and the Rose Choir.
“I’ve known about composer (and AD Emerita) Joan Szymko since I was a young singer and then met her in PSU workshops,” she said. “I look forward to forming a relationship with the Aurora singers and embracing the existing values of this choral community.” Welcome, Rebecca!
Summer singing is to the summer sweet
The close of the season means most of the choirs take a break. But choral singing does not end in Oregon in the summer. Here’s a glimpse at the nearby summer choral offerings.
June 17th is the opening day for Oregon Bach Festival, and J. S. Bach’s grandest choral works are on the schedule. Can you recall the last time you attended a live performance of the Mass in B minor? …the St. John Passion? …or the St. Matthew? OBF revives the Oregon Bach Festival Chorus and Orchestra this summer to perform – for the first time in 35 years – all three!
OBF has titled this season “A Celebration of Voice.” In addition to the Bach blockbusters is one evening celebrating OBF’s choral legacy and “the voices that have defined OBF for more than five decades” (festival brochure notes). Three pivotal OBF and University of Oregon choral conductors – Sharon Paul (UO), Anton Armstrong (The Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy) and Kathy Saltzman Romey (OBF) – are on hand to lead their choirs. Seems like a fitting moment to shout out good wishes to Royce Saltzman, choral conductor and educator who, in partnership with his friend Helmut Rilling, founded the OBF. Visit the OBF website for the full 17-day calendar with performers, dates, times, Covid protocols, and venue details.
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Chamber Singers will perform in the final concert of the Trinity Music’s Song Recital series on June 25th. Funds raised at this event will go toward Trinity Choir’s upcoming tour to the UK. More information on Trinity Music Events can be found here.
July brings a chance to drop by, grab some music and sing: Portland Symphonic Choir’s Summer Sing offerings continue this year with Jacob Funk, Director of Choral Activities at Clark Community College. Funk will introduce the Vivaldi Gloria (RV 589) on July 13; Judy Rose–Catlin Gabel Choral Director and composer–will conduct Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass and other works by Black women and BIPOC composers on July 20. PSC Summer Sings are at First United Methodist Church, Portland. Check the PSC website for details.
What’s the word on Byrd in Portland? Yes! The William Byrd Festival is scheduled for August 5 through August 21. Holy Rosary Church is the home site, but several concerts will be performed at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and St. Philip Neri. British conductor and organist Mark Williams returns to perform and to conduct host choir Cantores in Ecclesia. Renaissance music of England returns to the warm August days in Portland. Super! Keep watch here for specific dates and times.
Let us conclude in song. In homage to our choral season–and with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan and their famous Pirate King–a choral parody is offered below. Before you take on the new lyrics, brush up on this Pirates of Penzance song below. And, above all, sing with verve and joy!
Though hard to make a season plan
some choirs dug in and said “we CAN!”
So in the fall we heard them start
with masks and seating six feet apart.
With HEPA filters to clean the air
(ti-didilly, didilly, dum, du, dum)
the audience slowly returned with care.
(ti-didilly, didilly, dum, du, dum)
And after voices quiet so long
The choirs returned to their glo-o-o-rious song.
Our singers wanted to sing
(to sing, they had a desire to sing)
For it is, it is a glorious thing
to lift your voice and sing. Yes.
Our choirs just wanted to sing,
(to sing, hooray for they got to sing)
And it is, it was a glorious thing.
our singers got to sing.(Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, lyrics…not by W. S. Gilbert, let’s just leave it at that)
Some of our area choral musicians are involved in a vocal and instrumental youth recital at the Old Church Concert Hall, downtown Portland on Sunday, June 12, 2 pm. The performers are students of Music Fusion NW. Tickets at the door. Vaccinations and masks are required.