Yoga Balls, Indian Heads and Half/Whole Steps


Perhaps this has been the most wide-ranging week of my career in music! As the headline indicates, one never knows what to expect in the life of a choral conductor.

Let's start with the biggie…the one I'm still struggling to believe (that is to say, every time my phone rings, I'm sure it's someone from the Governor's office apologizing for the mix-up, but that award was meant for someone else…). On Tuesday night, in the midst of our regular Symphonic Choir rehearsal, a troupe of ISC board members, Butler colleagues, my family and friends gathered around me on the podium as Indiana State Representative Dan Forestal announced that I was to receive the state's highest civilian award, Sagamore of the Wabash, for service to the state through music and teaching (funny, no one said anything about my memorable sense of humor…). I'm still struggling to find the appropriate words, but for now let me just say that no one who works in this profession ever believes for a moment that success is anything but a collaboration between dedicated performers, administrators, patrons and supporters. I'm grateful and humbled to be surrounded by the very best of these, and pledge to do my very best to continue to advance choral music and the ISC.

Now the unusual…this week, I was invited to lead a choral workshop at IPS School #19, where the music students work with Ms. Erin Quandt. Erin has a great group of music loving middle schoolers, and I knew I was in for a treat as I drove over that morning. What surprised me upon my arrival was the total lack of desks/chairs in any of the rooms. Erin explained this is a movement-based curriculum, and every class must have the kids physically active at some point. In the music room, they achieve this through yellow yoga balls…imagine sitting on one at the front of a group of wiggling kids, heads bobbing up and down. We did some fun counting/bouncing exercises, lifting the balls over our heads and deep breathing, and more, before moving on to the repertoire Erin had been preparing. It was a blast…lookout, ISC…there may be 150 yellow balls in your future as well!

Finally, I don't go anywhere these days without my score to Britten's War Requiem. With our performance just under two weeks away (May 3, the Palladium, with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra), score study is of precious importance. On Saturday, I spent some time again playing and singing through the Agnus Dei…its melodic tri-tone sinuously curving up and down for tenor soloist and chorus. Britten uses the tri-tone to great effect through the War Requiem, I believe to suggest the seemingly permanent irreconcilability of humanity's warring ways. In the end of this movement, as the chorus sustains a beautiful F-sharp major chord, the tenor soloist excruciatingly wends his dissonant way around, first in F himself, then in G, before finally settling in with the choir. Offering just a hint of hope, his words at that poignant moment are those suggested by Britten's own partner (and tenor for whom the part was written) Peter Pears: Dona Nobis Pacem. Grant Us Peace.

This Easter Sunday, I'm grateful for the unexpected blessings in my own life…native american honorifics, bouncy yoga balls, timeless expressions of hope.