MYS Oregon to Iberia

The fascinating puzzle: At the American Choral Directors Association conference with Oregon Repertory Singers Youth Choir composer-in-residence Stacey Philipps

Philipps traveled with ORSYC to this year’s conference, where the choir performed music from her “Gathering Rounds” collection.

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At the American Choral Directors Association conference in Spokane. L to R: Aubrey Patterson, Oregon Repertory Singers Youth Choir Artistic Director, and Stacey Philipps, ORSYC composer-in-residence. Photo courtesy of Oregon Repertory Singers.
At the American Choral Directors Association conference in Spokane. L to R: Aubrey Patterson, Oregon Repertory Singers Youth Choir Artistic Director, and Stacey Philipps, ORSYC composer-in-residence. Photo courtesy of Oregon Repertory Singers.

The American Choral Directors Association Conferences are just the most fun for choral directors. And for choral music educators – all levels. And choral singers and composers? You bet. How about just a lover and supporter of choral music? Gosh, yes, because that’s all of the above anyway, right? Which is why so many of your choral-lovin’ Oregon and Washington neighbors traveled to Spokane, Washington for the 2024 Northwestern ACDA Conference in the last week of January.

Northwestern ACDA President Steven Zielke, Director of Choral Studies at Oregon State, told OAW in recent email that there were 350 registered conference attendees which included our choral friends from Montana, Wyoming, Alaska and Idaho. In addition to that were the musicians of 19 auditioned, encounter choirs (those involved in workshops) or invitee choirs. One of those was the Portland Phoenix Choir, directed by Justin Smith, who reportedly gave a stirring performance of Oregon composer Carolyn Quick’s Catch at Hope

And here are some encouraging numbers that herald a positive outlook for choral music. 210 choral singers from 8 Northwest universities performed Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms in the Combined Collegiate Chorus. And how many in the six youth Honor Choirs (mixed 9/10; TB 11/12; SA 11/12; HS jazz, children’s and middle school)? 550! Yes, 550 young singers from six states, young musicians in school and community choirs, were mentored by some of the nation’s leading choral educators. The Tenor-Bass 11/12 Honor Choir, coached by composer and choral clinician Rosephayne Powell, was but one of the outstanding displays of choral excellence by the next generation of life-long singers.

Karen Porter was there. Porter is founding director of Cantico Singers and also conductor of children’s choirs at Voices for the Performing Arts in Sherwood, OR. Over three days she attended interest sessions and performances that not only thrilled her but provided inspiration for her work with both the adults and children. In recent conversation with OAW she praised “I Am A Musician: Fostering a Child’s Artistic Identity” presented by Oregon educator Kendra Friar and her Nova 2, the twenty-three 3rd-5th grade musicians of the Pacific Youth Choir who presented on Friday morning.

Pacific Youth Choir's Nova 2 ensemble, conducted by Kendra Friar, at the American Choral Directors Association conference in Spokane. Photo courtesy of Pacific Youth Choir.
Pacific Youth Choir’s Nova 2 ensemble, conducted by Kendra Friar, at the American Choral Directors Association conference in Spokane. Photo courtesy of Pacific Youth Choir.

As the Nova singers were pulling into Spokane on Thursday, another Oregon youth choir was appearing in a revelatory encounter workshop, “Think Choral, Shop Local! Commissioning in Your Community.” Aubrey Patterson, Oregon Repertory Singers Youth Choir Artistic Director, co-presented. She not only spoke to the 50-ish attendees about ORSYC’s unique Composer-In-Resident program, she and the young singers performed the most recent composition by their Composer-In-Residence, workshop co-presenter Stacey Philipps.

You might recognize Philipps’ name, or recall hearing her stirring music. This past year Resonance Ensemble released their 15th Anniversary CD, LISTEN on which Philipps’ “Witch Trial” is featured. Oregon Repertory Singers also recorded Philipps’ “Sudden Light” for their 2018 CD release “Shadows on the Stars,” a showcase for some of the finest Pacific Northwest composers. And you might have enjoyed the Northwest-weather-inspired “One Hundred Percent Chance of Rain” for piano, violin and cello. Philipps spoke of how her creativity is inspired by events, nature or feelings in a November 2021 Oregon Arts Watch interview.

Getting to know the group

Today, as ORS Youth Choir Composer-In-Residence, a primary focus of Philipps creative passion–that which informs and inspires some of her choral compositions–are the ORS youth singers themselves. It is for them (and sometimes with them) that she creates. And, like so many things in creative life, it came about from an encounter, an idea, and, she said in recent phone conversation with OAW, an attitude of “yes! and…” She named Aubrey Patterson as that “yes, and…” collaborator with whom the CIR program began.

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Philipps reached out to some Northwest colleagues working as Composers-in-Residence, John Muehleisen for one, for advice on what a CIR position should look like. She found out, she said with a chuckle, “it’s a fancy title and it varies with each choir. But the key is extended time and repeated visits.” Getting to know the group.

You might be thinking, as did some workshop attendees, “yes, but, how can this work with a youth choir?” Singers’ voices change, new children enter and exit mid-year, others graduate. And vocal and musical skills, especially in a non-audition youth choir program, are always under development. When a CIR writes for an adult choir, as does Muehleisen for Seattle area Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble or Jody French for Southern Oregon Repertory Singers, there is some stability and balance in the vocal sections and members are auditioned in with a certain skill set. Philipps took it back to basics. 

During the pandemic, Philipps’ first years as CIR, she got to know some of the young musicians online, trying to learn what would really grab them. In the first rebuilding year the choir had one or two developing tenors, one or two baritones. Much of her creative process was re-pitching the vocal lines or rekeying a piece because, she recalled as an example, “Nobody had below an E-flat.”

“The thing I love about writing music besides the fascinating puzzle of it is the collaboration and communication that goes on.” She feels that her pieces, once they’re “out there” with all of the markings and instructions – are fully in the hands of the performer. But in writing for the ORSYC she invites the voices of the children into the creative process. In one of her early pieces “Like Birds, Like Stars” the children witnessed their CIR in the process of creating: she shared her ideas with them and they shared theirs. Composing in response to their ideas.

Today’s current ORSYC that traveled to the ACDA conference? A singing community of close to thirty high schoolers, enthusiastic and proud and fully supported by an ORS board and Youth Choir Artistic Director who have faith in the unique CIR program. And the basses might even have that low D. Judging by the enthusiasm of workshop attendees, said Philipps, there might now be others out there willing to explore shopping local for their youth choir choral repertoire. 

Oregon Repertory Singers Youth Choir in a big wagon. Photo courtesy of ORSYC.
Oregon Repertory Singers Youth Choir in a big wagon. Photo courtesy of ORSYC.

Philipps and Patterson made sure to emphasize the added value in having children recognizing that composers and other creators of art are real people, people in their communities. “It normalizes art making,” said the composer, “right here where they live; it deepens the musical culture, builds a bridge between choir and community.” 

Gathering rounds

Staying connected to community is one of the reasons Philipps started gathering rounds, or rather started composing Gathering Rounds, and has now finished Gathering Rounds 2, too. 

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Uh, yeah, let’s start at the beginning.

In 2021 Philipps heeded her creative impulse to offer the singing world accessible compositions in the most basic of multi-part musical forms – the round. We have all sung them – “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”; “Frère Jacques” (Are you sleeping) or “Kookaburra.” Ha! You’re singing them right now aren’t you? Grab a couple friends, your kids and gather ‘round. Voila! “Gathering Rounds.” A title as well-crafted as the year’s worth (about one for every week) of imaginative and meaningful songs found in the collection.

Rounds are such powerful choral learning tools. Kendra Friar used them in her abovementioned ACDA workshop to demonstrate how children and adults can successfully make music together. Would Friar’s PYC Nova 2 singers enjoy some of Philipps’ Gathering Rounds? Sure; there are some lovely two- or three-part songs just right for them. How about those ORSYC high-school musicians just back from Spokane? They already love them. Patterson can consult the vocal and rhythmic difficulty level indicator provided for each round and choose the right one for her singers. Two weeks later, the musicians might be ready to progress to a higher level or dig into a new skill set. These rounds are authentic additions to the choral curriculum toolbox.

Certainly there are some classic rounds, or canons, composed by well-known composers of the past – Williams Billings’ “When Jesus Wept” for example. But take a close look at the text Philipps researched and selected for her rounds: the poetry of women, past and present. For each page of song there is a page about the poet: her life, passions and work. And the melodic lines delightfully complement the poem theme as you can see in this example “A Bee”: 

Gathering Rounds thus honors two artistic genres and integrates subject areas. Imagine this at an upper school level: an integrated curriculum program, select poetry reading paired with performance by a full choir or even small vocal ensemble. Oh, the places you could go with this collection.

“Volume 1” begins with Violet Helen Friedlander’s poem “New Year,” progresses chronologically to end with “Velvet Shoes,” a winter wonderland poem by Elinor Wylie. Adult choirs looking for short seasonal pieces – perhaps to use as choir formation transitions or as a semi chorus offering – will find what they need among these rounds.

Philipps has not stopped with “Volume 1.” Positive feedback about her initial collection has inspired “Volume 2,” which directly addresses pedagogical musical concepts for less experienced adult and singers middle school age and up. Plus a few fun challenges. 

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Philipps wanted Gathering Rounds Volume 2 to be ready for the ACDA workshop. Job well done! “Volume 2” is available for pre-order. Here’s where you can get all purchase possibilities for both volumes of Gathering Rounds.

Philipps offers 16 of her rounds to us for free: 12 from “Volume 1,” 4 from “Volume 2.” You can order them at the same site above. This includes the lovely “Come Full Circle” which was offered by ORSYC musicians at the ACDA convention and was received enthusiastically. 

Did Philipps get a chance to enjoy some of the other ACDA sessions? Her quick answer: “Rosephanye Powell; the way the ensemble connected with her.” Powell herself was moved by her first experience conducting a TB honor choir. Nice for Philipps to see another world-class composer being moved by working with young people and how those young musicians were enriched by working with her. 

If Philipps ever doubts the value of her work as composer and advocate for music in our community she need only draw from one poem she set in Gathering Rounds, Volume 1. The text to her round “Daylight and Dark” is drawn from Dorothy Parker’s poem “Philosophy.” The melody ends, a bit off-beat, on a high note up-beat. Perfect portrayal of Parker. Perhaps perfect for Philipps.

If I should labor through daylight and dark,
Consecrate, valorous, serious, true,
Then on the world I may blazon my mark;
And what if I don’t, and what if I do?”

CONNECTIONS

Our choral friends in Eugene, the Eugene Concert Choir, are celebrating “Music of the Americas” in collaboration with Américas Ensemble. You can read an OAW preview of this February 25 concert here. OAW recently received additional information about the Américas performers and about the instruments you will see and hear in this concert from ensemble member Juan Eduardo Wolf. 

Wolf is currently interim director of the Latin American Studies Department at University of Oregon but the four-member ensemble is not related to the University. It consists of four musicians in the Eugene-Springfield community who have performed different types of Latin American Music together in different combinations over the years. You will hear Rafael Arias, specialist in flutes from the Andes, guitar, and mandolin; Reilly Gault, percussionist specializing in music of West Africa and the Diaspora; Ricardo Llamas on the upright bass; and Wolf on various Latin American plucked strings and percussion. In addition to providing instrumental support for the choral journey through the Americas, the Ensemble invites you to travel to new regions through a few tunes on their own.

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“Music of the Americas” is Sunday, February 25, 2:30 pm (with a special Kid’s Concert offering on February 24th), both at Silva Hall, Hult Center, Eugene. Tickets and more detail (and a special discount promo code) can be found here

Vancouver Master Chorale invites you to “Come to the Cabaret of Love” on February 24 and 25. Enjoy some love ‘flavored’ choral music by Morten Lauridsen and “Only in Sleep” by Eriks Ešenvalds. But be prepared for the choir to lay down some Freddie Mercury (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) and for the male singers to doo-wop to Billy Joel. Special solo numbers by members of the choir; a special guest appearance by The Ukuladies duo; Grammy award-winning guitarist Doug Smith and flutist wife Judy Koch; Russian singers The Tsibikova sisters; and The Bard Owls folk/rock group.

Tickets and more information about the Vancouver Master Chorale “Cabaret of Love” being performed on Saturday, February 24, 7:00 pm and Sunday, February 25, 3:00 pm at First Presbyterian Church, Vancvouver, WA can be found here. 

March is Music in our Schools Month. Check out the National Association of Music Education (NAfME) website for information on nation-wide events, ideas for local advocacy for school music and lesson plans. Celebrate school music and school musicians.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Daryl Browne is a music educator, alto, flutist and writer who lives in Beaverton, Oregon.

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