From the President (Dec. 6, 2009)

Dear Colleagues,

This weeks message is a mixture of five things that I have experienced or thought about this past week. I hope some of this makes you stop and think…………..

It has been a busy week; for me and others this week tends to be one of the busiest and hectic of the year, and there is no doubt in my mind that many of you were or are in the same place. Performances and the first of two weekends of New England Music Festival Associations Solo & Ensemble Festival make this a very stressful time, and next week may well be the same, church musicians are preparing for special services that require more music than usual, and school performances are happening all over the state at all levels.

It was so gratifying to see many students arrive on Saturday at Hartford High School in White River Junction to perform their ensemble and solo pieces for adjudicators. This annual December pilgrimage is one that I have been participating in since 1975, and it continues to be a viable process for many of my students; it is valuable to perform and receive verbal and written comments and is often a motivating factor for many of my students. Of course the hope is that students will receive a qualifying score and be invited to the Concert Festival in March. However, this is NOT the sole aim of these experiences. It is a shame that schools in our state have dropped out of this valuable experience, for whatever reason, because of the timing of the event and the time necessary for preparation. However, New England continues to be present and available for music educators that wish to expose their students in this way. However, the reason for mentioning this is to note that there are many, many vocalists in this state that take their music seriously and diligently work toward this opportunity every year. I heard many outstanding solo and ensemble performances during the day, and I feel so proud to be a part of this experience.

I want to acknowledge a group of musicians that are so dedicated and busy this time of year, and I would like to call this paragraph “In Praise of Pianists (Accompanists).” Accompanists are a special bunch, quietly and efficiently going about their business every year. I am specifically speaking of those school music educators that are also pianists. They do all the things that every other educator do, but than they work with others students, coach them in some situations, practice many hours away from school, and all for the benefit of their own students and others students! They do double duty; even triple duty. Although I hesitate to say this, instrumental teachers have it pretty easy in this respect, unless they are keyboard players, and that is a rarity! They fill out the forms, many of their students study privately and their private teachers help them prepare their selections. They do little more than take the bus to the audition site and support the student. But the teacher/pianists give of their ability and talent, their expertise and experience in a way that their instrumental counterparts do not and cannot. I hope that we all take the time to congratulate our accompanist/teachers and somehow acknowledge them for the commitment and dedication that they quietly exhibit every year.

It was a great weekend in the Burlington area for performances; indeed the last two weeks have been filled with opportunities, and the next two weeks are just a exciting. Choral music is alive and well here, and I am sure the same is true elsewhere. I wish some of you would take the time to report in on what is happening in your area; I for one would like to hear from you.

I attended the Saturday evening performance of Bella Voce’s concert last night, “Glad Tidings! Songs of Joy and Peace.” This performance was over too soon for my taste! Don’t get me wrong though; there was ample music and it was a beautiful evening as well, but when one finds choral excellence like this, it is never enough. The music was of the highest quality and was performed with the finesse and passion seldom encountered in our area. This is not to slight any other performing ensemble, for there are many fine ones on our state. But this group continues to grow in sophistication and excellence. Dawn Willis has taken this ensemble and molded them into something quite exquisite. Her own arrangement of “How Great My Joy” was an appropriate opener and immediately caught my attention for its phrasing and intonation, as well as clear declamation of the text; in fact, there was never a time during the entire performance when I did not clearly understand the text. I do believe this was even better than last spring’s performance! Clear diction, with beautiful vowels and excellent intonation are not things that just happen. It takes work from all and knowledgeable attention from the director. I feel quite confident in stating that this group is “tight!” Several of their selections were accompanied by guest harpist Grace Cloutier, and the setting of John Rutter’s “Dancing Day” (consisting of six carol settings and two interludes for the harp) was a highlight of the evening. The women’s artistic performance was only superceded by the artistic accompanying on the harp. Grace Cloutier is quite simply put an artist on her instrument, and the combination of the Bella Voce women and her playing was stunning. Bella Voce now has a select auditioned group from within the ranks of the chorus, and their name is “Cantiamo.” They performed three selections with the same attention to detail as the larger group, with beautiful tuning and the charm and grace that can only be achieved from a chamber ensemble. The performance ended with some beautiful settings of seasonal music that had the audience almost immediately on their feet; I am generally quite reluctant to give standing ovations for anything but excellence, but I had no problem being one of the first to do so. Congratulations to Dawn Willis, Director, Glory Reinstein, Assistant
Conductor, Kate McRae, Mentored Conductor, and all soloists for a beautiful Christmas performance that celebrated the season as I think it should be celebrated. I could not have asked for anything more.

On Friday night the Colchester Community Chorus performed their annual Christmas Concert in the Auditorium of Colchester High School under the direction of Carol Reichard. Once again this very special ensemble sang seasonal music to a large audience that has come to expect exceptional performances from this non-auditioned community group. Carole has a knack of putting programs together that work well, always bringing a serious note to the first half of the program and a lighter side after intermission. Notable in the first half was a very expressive reading of John Rutter’s “What Sweeter Music,” a not so easy arrangement that has several difficult sections to negotiate. It was the perfect piece to follow the “Welcome One and Welcome All” processional that started the program. The a cappalla setting of Bach’s “In Dulci Jubilo” was performed with great energy and  commitment, and it was obvious that the chorus not only enjoyed the setting but appreciated the genius of Bach and the opportunity to rehearse and perform the work. The Mathias “Nativity Carol” followed in a spirited performance of a not so easy selection, and the choir rose to the occasion that came to a climax on a very exciting and conclusive E Major Chord! In addition to other pieces, the first half concluding carol setting of the “Sussex Carol” for choir and four hand piano was done with excellent diction and spirit. The second half consisted with several selections, of not being the Amy Bernon setting of “Beautiful December” for women’s choir, beautifully performed and expressively delivered. Also of note was John Leavitt’s setting of “Christmas Pipes,” a selection everyone might like to take a look at for next year’s programs. The concert ended with the well known John Rutter setting of “I Wish You Christmas,” leaving some with a tear in their eye and leaving the audience wanting more. The Colchester Community Chorus is an example of what we would like to have our Community Choirs be; the coming together of individuals that love to sing and that understand the choral art. These individuals, combined with a director that is an outstanding musician, pianist and choral director, make this groups impossible to resist. Congratulations to Carol Reichard and the Colchester Community Chorus.

Sunday afternoon brought on an outstanding performance at St. Michael’s McCarthy Arts Center of Gary Moreau’s Vermont Choral Union. In my opinion this group continues to get better and better; and this from an ensemble that was already quite experienced and impressive. The program was in many ways daunting, consisting of at least a dozen selections, all of the highest quality, some consisting of several movements. Of note was William Byrd’s “Propers For The Nativity,” this is music of some complexity and not easy to perform with the ease and sophistication shown by this 30 member ensemble. The music flowed from the choir, and even the most complex rhythmic intricacies seemed natural; all the product of a choir that has been well rehearsed and also one that is comfortable with this style and period of music. This was followed by beautiful settings of “Angelus Ad Pastores Ait” (Gabrieli) and “Hodie Christus Natus Est” (Sweelinck), all delivered with excellent intonation and attention to detail. The second half started with three sensitive setting of well known carols, some Poulenc and a beautiful closer entitled “O Lux Beatissima” of Howard Helvey. Since the re-emergence of the Vermont Choral Union (formerly the University of Vermont Choral Union under the direction of James G. Chapman) under Gary Moreau, this group has again taken its place as one of the foremost choirs in this area; indeed, the ample audience that filled the auditorium this afternoon is proof enough that word is getting out and this ensemble is gaining steam. Don’t miss their spring concert; come for yourself and hear the beautiful sounds that are coming from this group!

I might add that two weeks ago I was informed that at the end of the year Mary Ellen Harlow will be retiring from public music education. We all know Mary Ellen as the person behind an excellent choral program at Mill River Union High School in North Clarendon. Mary Ellen has been a long time member of Vt ACDA and a force in choral music in the state. I first met Mary Ellen at one of my first New England Music Festival in Keene, New Hampshire; we had dinner and a local restaurant (Henry David’s) with many other directors, and we have been friends since that time. Mary Ellen has consistently brought excellent ensembles to the Mid-Winter Madrigal Festival, and has consistently prepared student groups and soloists for both the New England Solo & Ensemble Festival and the All State Scholarship Auditions. She also consistently sends records numbers of students to these festivals and has always held standards high for her students. I do not pretend to know all of her accomplishments, but I know enough to say that she will be missed by all of her choral colleagues. I personally will miss our e-mail communications, her presence at festivals, her smile and infectious laugh and her sense of modesty for her work and accomplishments. I  would encourage anyone to write in this venue if you wish to contribute any words about this excellent and dedicated choral music educator.

We have a great organization in ACDA; please not that all the above accomplishments have been created by Vermont ACDA members, and they are just a smattering of all the great work that is happening in this state.

Have a great week……….

Most Sincerely,

Frank Whitcomb

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