Guest Conducting Blog

Living in Nashville, I get to work with choirs from all over the country who come to visit Music City. I thought I might take a moment after each experience I have and thank the wonderful students and directors who allow me to work with them on our shared choral art!
- Tucker

AVA Honor Choir

Hi Alabama Vocal Association! Here are a bunch of rehearsal videos that I’ve made to guide your practice of our honor choir music for this coming January. I find that these videos sometimes give you better information than just rehearsal notes. If you have questions about anything you see in these videos, of course ask your teachers, but feel free to email me and I’ll do my best to resond and answer in a timely fashion! Check back here often, as I’ll be adding more and more videos as we get close to the festival. 



Fox Chapel High School (PA)

In a busy day filled with multiple clinics (three different schools with 10 choirs overall!), the Fox Chapel High School Choir brought incredibly challenging repertoire prepared with a high degree of excellence. And yet, the clinic had a bit of a rocky start. At times, every note can be in place, every rhythm can be crisp, and the tone can be well-produced, and yet still something is missing. What was missing was the passion that must be inherent in every great ensemble, and thus the communication of the text. 

We tried a variety of different methods for achieving better communication, including interpretive discussion, singing in a circle with no conductor - only eye contact, and fleshing out what was truly important in the music. I think it’s easy to forget that we are servants of the music and one another, and the Fox Chapel choir quickly turned their choral clinic into a reaffirmation of why they love music - and each other. There were tears a-plenty, and for all the right reasons. Benjamin Murray is only in his second year as the choral director of this historically excellent program, but he’s already doing exemplary work with these fine students. 

Their performance of Clausen’s ‘My Luve’s Like a Red Red Rose’ was very moving and emotional, and the men showed a wonderful vulnerability in the middle section. The women sang with listening ears, which made them more together and added palpable intent. Facial expression was at a premium, and the students truly 'looked like the music’. A question and answer period even revealed some long held feelings about how special the group was, and how much they meant to each other. 

Every once in a while, these choral clinics turn into something that teaches me more than I actually teach them, and this was indeed one of those times. It taught me that we can never get complascent about the way we serve the music and each other. It is my hope that these choristers continue to push their personal envelope of expression, and truly communicate the music above all else! This was one of the finest choirs I’ve heard come through Nashville!

Whitman High School (Bethesda, MD)

Mary and I had excellent clinics with four choirs from Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland today. Since this was such a big group, they decided to rent out Ingram Hall for the occasion. The best part about that was that each of the choirs got to watch each other get their instruction, creating a wonderful learning experience for everyone. 

Whitman singing a piece of my friend Tim Takach

I was thrilled to first work with their fine men's chorus, which comprised all of the men that were traveling with the high school. I particularly enjoyed their performance of 'Bright Morning Stars 'by Shawn Kirchner, a piece that I'll be doing for the Arkansas All-State male chorus later this year. The students saying with well produced tone, a beautiful mixture of head voice, and a great deal of intent. Perhaps my favorite part of the clinic was when we had a huddle and discussed the various risks that are involved with men singing in choirs, and how 'worth it' those risks truly are.

Perhaps my favorite part of the clinic was working with their chamber singers. The first piece, a Monteverdi canzone, presented a variety of challenges to the choir. Our first idea was to reduce the numbers so that we could hear the interplay of the voices more clearly. It was then that four intrepid singers stood up and sing with me as we sing the Canzone as a quintet. The realizations about the musical direction were immediate and obvious. The chamber singers then sang ‘A Boy and a Girl’ by Eric Whitacre, which was "an elegant solution.” Their energetic closer brought the clinic to a resounding close. There is definitely fine teaching going on by Jeff Davidson at Whitman High School! Congratulations!

Avon Lake High School (OH)

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It was my distinct pleasure to host The Avon Lake High School Chorale at the Blair School of Music on March 27th, 2015. Their director, Michael Lisi was traveling with their middle school feeder director, Braden Pontoli, and a group of over 100(!) students. 

I was immediately impressed with their discipline, full robust tone, and the accuracy of their musical portrayal. All of the notes were well represented and beautifully sung. Of course - we discussed - that’s only the beginning of the musical journey. We worked two pieces of music, including Halloran’s WITNESS, an old favorite that can be done in a variety of ways. We worked to add some authenticity to their interpretation, as well as finding the inherently interesting aspects of the writing that is sometimes buried in the texture. 

It’s great to work with a choir who has such strong fundamentlas and well-rounded muscial training. It was also encouraging to see so many men involved in this choral program - it’s obvious that there’s excellent cooperation and planning between the elementary, middle, and high school programs. Congratulations to the director and choir on such fine work. Remember the things we talked about - taking some risks to communicate the text, making your face look like the music, and at all costs - convey the message of the music to your audience. -TB

Mississippi Community College Choral Festival

Just returned from conducting the Mississippi Community Choral Festival in Meridian with my Vanderbilt colleague Ben Harris at the piano. This festival included nearly every community college choir in Mississippi converging on one central location - not unlike a state contest festival. With a total of almost 800 students, the population is divided in two and two clinicians are brought in to run rehearsals and prepare a short program. The other clinician was none other than Dr. Debi Chandler from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, who also happens to be a dear friend of mine from our days at Florida State University.

The repertoire for the event was ‘The Last Words of David’ by Randall Thompson, ‘Luminescence’ by Andrea Ramsey, and ‘Amazing Grace’ arranged by Keith McCutchen. 

Several aspects of this festival were completely new to me. First, I had never worked with an honor choir quite this large (nearly 400 students), and second, I’ve never had the opportunity to work with community college students in a setting such as this. Finally, the concert was to her performed in the MSU Riley Center with the choir occupying the entire bottom level of the concert hall, with the audience in the upper levels. This was my vantage point… not a bad view!

The choir was very well prepared on the Thompson and the hymn, but Ms. Ramsey’s piece was a little more difficult and took some more time. I was consistently impressed with the students’ work ethic and fastidiousness through some tedious and painstaking rehearsal. Moreover, these community and junior college students personify the idea of ‘music making for life’. This choir represented a large swath of ages and experience levels, and yet each of them had continued to make music a significant priority in their life. I was pleased to speak with so many of these students about what they wanted to do with their life, and each of them said that continuing to sing in a choir was a high priority.

In addition, each choir performed a short set for one another over the course of the festival. Everyone did a great job, but I heard particularly fine performances from Coahoma Community College – Kelvin Towers, Director; Pearl River Community College – LaDona Tyson, Director; and Jones County Junior College – Joel Dunlap, Director. Kelvin, your musical choices were exquisite, and your women sing with absolute clarion precision. LaDona, what a beautiful balanced tone you get from your choir, and great repertoire choices that perfectly accentuated your choir’s strengths. Joel, what a fine job your choir did on very challenging repertoire, and please let your final female soloist know how moved I was by her incredible performance.

The concert went extremely well - especially Amazing Grace! - and my experience with these students was one I’ll not soon forget. Their unique combination of spirit, musicianship, and work ethic made for a particularly memorable experience. My sincerest thanks to Ms. Vicki Blaylock for inviting me to work with these fine students, and to my student assistant Louise who was fantastic throughout the process. Louise, if you even need a reference letter, just email me! Finally, thanks to my friend and colleague Ben Harris for accompanying the festival, and keeping me alert during a harrowing drive home through the snow and ice!

PS - Bubba and Big D reunited! Can’t wait to see you in SLC my friend. What a special thing it was to see you in action again!

Maret School (DC)

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It was a pleasure to host the Maret School from Washington DC, and their director Will Breytspraak, for our Core Choir rehearsal on Wednesday February 11th. The choir observed the Chorale's first Haydn rehearsal after our sold-out Choral Prism concert, and though the choir was mostly reading we discussed the importance of solfege and music literacy in Maret's high school program. After the business part of rehearsal was over, the Chorale performed two pieces for the Maret choir, Ethan Sperry’s Balleilakka and Jake Runestad’s Nyon, Nyon. The Maret students posed insightful questions about the music to the Chorale, as well as aspects of studying music in college. 

After the Chorale was dismissed (many of them stayed afterwards, however!), we then moved on to the clinic portion of our afternoon. The Maret choir opened with a fine performance of Muie Rendera - singing with vitality and precision. Among other things, we discussed the altos ‘having some more fun’, ‘keeping the groove’, and steady tempo. A fine performance of ‘Lonsome Road’ followed (with a very fine soloist and student pianist!), where we talked about genuinely connecting to emotion during performance. Finally, we sang through ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ with me at the piano, and we talked again about keeping the tempo, and some different ideas of how to appraoch this well-loved and oft-performed arrangement. We closed the clinic with a sing-through of 'Seasons of Love’, which was a great way to put all of the aspects of our clinic into practice. 

Congratulations on the fine work Will Breytspraak and the Maret choir are doing. If you all continue to sing with passion and dedicate yourself to detailed preparation, there’s no limit to what you can achieve!

-TB

NYSCAME (NY)

What a pleasure it was to work with the NYSCAME 11-12 Senior High All-County Chorus in November. Not only was this a wonderful opportunity for me to connect with a group of incredibly talented students, but with many old friends from the Crane School of Music as well. But we’ll get to that in a moment - first the program.

Handel - Zadok the Priest
Attaignant - Tourdion
Verdi - Va Pensiero
Szymko - The Peace of Wild Things
Ramsey - Luminescence
Runestad - Nyon, Nyon

To the students: I thought you sang the Handel very well - and with elegance and proper style. The opening was just glorious! Next time I hope you do it with organ or full orchestra - it really is something special. Tourdion was very fun and I really feel like you internalized the dance rhythms. The Verdi was the biggest surprise to me… could you hear people humming along in the audience? I though you handled the Italian particularly well (good dentalized [t]s!) and you sang beautiful long phrases. My thanks for your serious treatment of the Symko and Ramsey pieces - if you couldn’t tell it was a tough couple of days for me with a horrific shooting at my alma mater, and you sang those pieces with intent and passion. My sincerent thanks! The Runestad was a blast - I was afraid the risers were going to come down on our foot stomps! Remember some of the things we talked about (vowel/tuning; if it hurts; music of dead guys; emotional vs. physical capitol) and I hope to see each of you again! For those of you who are auditioning for Vanderbilt, be sure to get your pre-screening video in soon, and do email me to let me know whcih weekend you'll be coming. Consider the weekend of February 6 - when we’ll be having our Choral Prism concert. To one particular student - and you know who you are - I hope my audition for you went well!

Finally, to my Crane friends who I haven’t seen in fifteen years (!) or more, what a pleasure it was to see you, meet your incredible students, and see the fantastic work you’re doing with them. I hope to bring the Vanderbilt Chorale for a tour to the area in the next couple of years, and I would love to visit you and your students again. To Dennis Creighton, Brian Hough, Eric Blatt, Cathy Lubrano, Brian Reich, Ryan Flatt, Kelly Beery Gatto, Christine Paroz Creighton, Mark Hegreness, and Shoshana Hershkowitz - thanks from the bottom of my heart. Seeing you brought back so many great memories, and it brought out the best in me - that’s for certain. 


© Tucker Biddlecombe 2016