Tour Day 4
We began day four of our tour with a workshop for the Wisconsin Choral Directors Association conference in downtown Milwaukee. Dr. Miller told us to arrive tired, because the warm-up was a part of the presentation, and we happily obliged. As promised, when the workshop began, we had a fun, highly kinesthetic warm-up. Dr. Miller spoke about how he works with a choir to develop sound and ensemble, and some individual students sang to give aural examples of how he voices. Our placements in the choir are based on formant tuning: the women are lined up left to right, where the soprano with the highest formant is on the extreme left and the alto with the lowest formant is on the extreme right. The men are in the same order, but reversed, with the lowest formant bass behind the highest formant soprano, and the highest formant tenor behind the lowest formant alto. To show the color spectrum within each section, Dr. Miller asked a high formant voice from each and a low formant voice from each to sing a couple measure of a solo piece, and it was just another reminder of the astonishing talent and dedication. There is absolutely natural talent in the group, but that is not what keeps an individual engaged over the long term. It is each person’s willingness and desire to develop the skill necessary to become a professional that really takes this choir to another level.
There was a good amount of laughter and conviviality during the workshop, and at the end I met Blake Henson, an alum of Westminster and a successful composer who lives and works in Wisconsin. When I was teaching (at Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, Arizona – GO CABS!!), I programmed a piece of Blake’s, Arise My Love, which quickly became a favorite of the students’. I emailed him, at this point having no personal connection to Westminster, but simply to ask for more information about his inspiration for the piece. He responded with a kind email that I shared with the students, and they were amazed that he would have taken the time to communicate with them – he instantly became a choral rock star in their world.
When I became a student at Westminster, I studied with Dr. Andrew Megill, to whom Blake dedicated Arise My Love, and the piece became even more special to me. Then, this summer when working as a counselor for Vocal Institute (a two-week program at WCC for high school students), the other counselors and I sang it for the students during a counselor recital. To meet Blake and to see that he is as kind and warm a person as his music would suggest was really a treat.
After the concert, we loaded the bus and headed to Madison for a concert at the Overture Center for the Performing Arts. We were hosted here by Sam Hutchison, a Westminster alum from the class of ’72, who greeted us like family. It was directly to rehearsal to sound-check the space, but we had to take a few moments to be awed by the organ. We shared a concert in Madison with Alan Morrison, professor of organ at Westminster and headliner in the Organ Concert series at Overture Hall. He played a few bars from one of his pieces for us so that we could hear the instrument, and it sounded as mighty as it looked.
The concert was tremendous, and I felt so fortunate to have members of my family in the audience. During the second half, Dr. Miller almost always mentions this blog, and he also mentioned that I had family in the audience. He asked for them to raise their hands, and I watched as my mother, youngest brother, and father gingerly began to raise their hands. It was precisely at this moment that my other brother, whom I did not know was in attendance, shouted ‘here!’ from the opposite end of the hall. I couldn’t help laughing, first out of surprise, and then grinning for joy at the surprise. The only thing better than making this music with people you love is sharing it with people you love.