For Love of Singing in the Choir

Thursday, January 13, 2011 - 05:43 PM

Conspirare Conspirare (Andrew Yates)

There’s something special about singing in a good choral ensemble. And it’s definitely not the money! No... it’s something else.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of singing in church choirs, musical theater choruses, trios, quartets, quintets – you name it. If it looked like fun, I was there! Some of these groups were amateur, some were professional and some were a mix of the two. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time singing as a soloist. But, singing in an ensemble is really a very different experience. Like I said, it’s special.

I recently learned that the choral ensemble known as Conspirare is coming to the Big Apple.** Conspirare is based in Austin, Texas. The singers come from all over the country and are hand picked by Artistic Director, Craig Hella Johnson. They are not only great musicians with beautiful voices and proven soloists in their own right, they’re also extremely sensitive, caring, dedicated people who understand the power in the word “ensemble.”

Here’s a short video clip in which Craig talks to me about what it takes to be a member of Conspirare:

I was first introduced to Conspirare in the summer of 2008 when I traveled to Austin to work on their PBS television program, A Company of Voices: Conspirare in Concert. I had the pleasure of getting to know some of the singers when I was there and experienced their devoted following in a very personal way. I learned that the singers come from all walks of life and that some have very demanding jobs in addition to their singing. So, they’re hard workers. And, it’s the pleasure and satisfaction that they get from singing that inspires them and everyone around them.

To date, Conspirare has been nominated for five Grammy awards.  And, I feel sure that we’ll hear lots more from them in the future.

If you have time, I’d love for you to listen to another clip from the PBS television program. There are three pieces included: first is Morten Lauridsen’s setting of James Agee’s Sure On This Shining Night, next is Craig Hella Johnson’s arrangement of Carly Simon’s Let The River Run, and finally, Craig’s setting of The Water is Wide with a gorgeous soprano solo by Melissa Givens.

Now, if you’ve finished watching, please tell me what is it about singing in a chorus that's so very special? If it’s not the money what is it? Let me know when you can. And thanks!

**Conspirare will be presented by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute in three concerts as part of the Neighborhood Concert series - two "Community Sings" on February 22 and 23 at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens and at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, and a formal concert in the Bronx Jacobi Medical Center on February 24.

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Comments [31]

Vincent Rufino from Roxbury, NJ

I was lucky enough to be a high school choral director for 40 years enjoying the talents of thousands of students who were introduced tot he great works of the choral canon. I continue to sing in the Masterwork Chorus, whose associate conductor is a member of Conspirare. Last February Craig and Conspirare performed and held an open rehearsal at the ACDA Eastern Div, Convention in Philly. They were an inspiration for both.
Masterwork Chorus will perform a concert entitled VIVA music by Spanish and Latin American composers on January 30th at Drew University, Madison NJ.

Jan. 29 2011 09:57 PM
Kelsey Menehan

I have sung in choirs since elementary school...school choirs, church choirs, small ensembles, huge symphonic choruses. Each experience is different and the gratification that comes is somewhat different too. When a performance is stellar, those are electric moments. When we're bumbling around a bit and things are not perfect, that's part of the experience too. It's all about singing together, making something beautiful that you as one person could not achieve, and learning how to be part of a creative community.

Jan. 28 2011 01:04 PM
Saralyn Cohen from Hewlett, NY

I sang in chorus as a child at school and encouraged my children to do the same. Their music program is fantastic at their public school. My son just completed his All County chorus performance with 199 of his new closest friends from western Long Island. Not only was it a pleasure to hear them sing but to watch my son on the risers with a smile ear to ear. He finds true joy and friendship in his chorus experience.

Jan. 24 2011 11:24 AM
Nicki Turman from Austin, TX

Conspirare's Polyphony festival over the weekend in Austin proved once again the mastery that Craig Hella Johnson has with the masters. The choral responses by contemporary composer Robert Kyr were sublime, with exceptional soloists Abagail Lennox and David Farwig. Over 4 days we heard 500 pages plus covering some 300 years of polyphony, an extraordinary feat.
see conspirare.org for full program notes.

Jan. 23 2011 10:50 PM
tom from san francisco

I'm not a choral singer, just a listener, and so glad that WQXR (which I recall fondly from my years on the east coast) and Conspirare (which I've been enjoying so much over the last 7 or 8 years) have come together like this. Craig and the singers never fail to exceed the highest artistic expectations, and it's fabulous that New Yorkers will have the chance to see/hear them live.

Jan. 22 2011 07:23 PM
Yvonne W. from Long Island

Singing in a chorus is like any great team sport. You have your own part to play but you are part of something bigger. You hope you will all arrive at the goal at the same time! It is pure exhilaration. LOVE these Conspirare clips and hope to hear more of their stuff on WQXR!

Jan. 21 2011 02:53 PM
Fran C

Singing in choirs has been a part of my life for over fifty years. There is something magical about connecting with a conductor, fellow-singers and audience members through song. "Listening" is key to the experience. After "listening" to the transforming music of Conspirare's Company of Voices for many years - I thank you for bringing their song to a larger audience.

Jan. 21 2011 12:14 PM
Matt Alber from Seattle

We singers can't wait to sing in the big apple. Making music with Craig revives me. He speaks a rare language. Craig makes you feel
like you're a treasured ingredient in his soufflé,
and we all get to rise together in the process.

Jan. 21 2011 12:58 AM
Loretta Orentas from New York

Yes, the ability to sing and play an instrument are truly a gift not to be wasted.
Whatever the level, when you perform there is joy, satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment not to be rivaled. And yes, even rehearsal and daily practice, as tedious as they may get occasionally, are a therapy that no drug or therapist can equal.
I have been singing all my life, and am anxiously awaiting the 1st rehearsal of a newly formed choir next Tuesday......while I practice my other new "addiction" the flute.

Jan. 20 2011 02:52 PM
Eric Leibrock from Austin

Singing in a chorus is rarely about money, since the vast majority of choral singers are volunteers. Those of us who are amateurs and not really soloists do it just for the love of singing and the satisfaction of participating in performances of major works of art. The wonderful Conspirare singers, though, are each soloists in their own right, and professionals. This does make a difference! They are an inspiration and a model for all singers to emulate.

Jan. 20 2011 12:08 PM
John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

Bob Karli.....

I was fortunate in that my father, a baritone-tenor, was also a sax and clarinet player. His father was a piano/banjo player. I played trumpet and sing tenor. Music was so interwoven with our family, it didn't matter what you pursued.

We all could enjoy playing spoons or singing Nessun Dorma with no prejudices.

Regardless of your and your father's musical disagreements, I'm sure he was delighted and gratified, as was my father, that you carried on an interest in the art.

Jan. 20 2011 08:47 AM
Bob Karli from Austin, Texas

I have been singing in choral groups since elementary school. In high school, in addition to singing, I also played trombone. A vivid memory from those high school days is a heated discussion between my dad (a singer) and me on the relative merits of choral vs. instrumental music (I was on the instrumental side). While I still love instrumental music, I have apologized to my late father many times over, because I have discovered in over 60 years of singing that nothing compares with human voices joined in song and harmony--be it barbershop or Bach. Dad got it right. And no one does it any better than Conspirare.

Jan. 19 2011 11:07 PM
Judith Stuss from Boonton, NJ

I have sung in a choir for over 20 years. I can't imagine life without choral singing. I belong to a community chorus which performs twice a year with two (fall and sing) concerts. The real joy is at the rehearsals; learning to sing as one. People from all walks of life - middle school to retired - the minimum wage workers to doctors, lawyers and bankers. We all come together to sound as one and to pay tribute to the great composers that ever lived. I am an artist by profession, but could not live without choral singing.

Jan. 19 2011 10:27 PM
Mary C. Stephenson from austin Texas

The name, Conspirare, means "to breathe together." That is exactly the experience one has when hearing Conspirare. This is a choral group in which the singers and the audience are in an elevated place. Every experience with Conspirare enhances my understanding of choral music, the human voice, the importance of brilliance in choosing exactly the right mix of voices and in teaching and conducting the assembly.
I'm tempted to use the word "divine"....

Jan. 19 2011 10:14 PM
Hope from Austin, Texas

What's not to love about Conspirare, it's so wonderful that the radio station I listened to as a child growing up in NYC is still a mainstay in the support of exceptional music. Conspirare enables us to hear what the world sounds like when we all breathe together

Jan. 19 2011 09:11 PM
Bill Bednar from Austin, TX

As an Austin music lover, I'd like to acquaint WQXR with two more of the many things Conspirare does so well. One is the annual Christmas at the Carrillon concert, which is always sold out by October. It is a truly extraordinary collage of secular and sacred music from all genres that never fails to touch profoundly the universal human spirit. Try one of those CDs any time of year! The other lesser-known thing is the children's choir, which which Conspirare does as a component of its community service. Those kids are so good they'll knock yer hat in the dirt. I'd put them up against any youth choir in the world. Happy listening!

Jan. 19 2011 07:14 PM
Stuart Phillips from Texas

Conspirare embodies everything that is enchanting, transformative, and transcendent about hearing human voices together. I'm fortunate enough to get to hear Conspirare live relatively frequently and am thrilled that, through media such as the web, others get to hear them, too. Indeed, as a friend of mine once said, "I thought I didn't like choral music. Then I heard Conspirare, and I realized I didn't really know anything about choral music!" Craig Hella Johnson's genius and sensitivity comes through clearly when one hears Conspirare's extraordinary performances.

Jan. 19 2011 06:43 PM
Bea Ann Smith from Austin, Tx

The choral music of Conspirare's Company of Voices has lifted and nurtured the spiritual lives of so many of us in Austin, Texas for the past 18 years. I am one of the ensemble's dedicated followers. It thrills me to hear that New Yorkers will be introduced to this special group of singers with three concerts in NYC in February. It would wonderful if that audience could be expanded to the many listeners of WQXR.

Jan. 19 2011 06:28 PM
John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

I agree with Karin Bohr. As majestic as many instruments in the musical spectrum may be, nothing compares to the human voice. It has the ultimate flexibility. No other instrument can turn on a dime and go wherever it wants.

Of all the human senses and faculties, the voice is the one closest to the heart and that's what makes it so unique.

I sing regularly with a choir and nothing compares with that tingling feeling on the back of your neck when you know all the notes fell exactly in the right places.

I don't even think the director feels it.

Jan. 19 2011 11:34 AM
MIchael Meltzer

The unity and elegance of timbre of a fine string orchestra is attainable by a choir of professional voices, America simply doesn't provide the economic underpinnings for it to happen with any regularity. The Swedish Radio Choir, with its perfect-pitch professional singers and stunning sound, is subsidized.
We do have some fine professional choruses, many are church choirs, probably more in New York and Minneapolis than most other places, and fortunately Kent Tritle has been charged with putting them on the air for us.
It is up to us to follow up and attend their live performances when they are local, that is what will keep the energy going.
It would be a great service if WQXR would provide a bulletin board for smaller-venue concert activity, the NY Times stopped doing it a few years ago and that was a real downer for the New York music scene.

Jan. 19 2011 03:35 AM
Molly S from New York

Thank you, Midge, for bringing the extraordinary Craig Hella Johnson and Conspirare to the attention of WQXR's listeners. I hope we can hear them on your airwaves soon. From their classical choral repertoire to their more "populist" offerings, to use Mr. Kain's phrase below, to the groundbreaking "Renaissance and Response" program that they are performing in Austin this weekend, Conspirare's performances are exquisite, stunning, innovative. I am invariably moved to tears.

Jan. 18 2011 09:29 PM
FRANK KAIN from Brooklyn, NY

It's disappointing that you chose that particular group to represent the experience of choral singing. They admitted that they audition from all over the country, and their program is, frankly, populist -- as presented in your survey. Here in New York City, there are any number of choruses of varying levels of competence that provide a satisfying outlet for the average singer to prepare and perform the great choral music of the ages on a regular basis. We are blessed to have some of the best choral conductors in the world here in NYC, and they generously share their expertise with their varied choral ensembles. To experience the joy of choral singing it is not necessary to aspire to the level of a nationally auditioned group. Join your local church choir and see what it's all about. Once 'hooked' you'll know what to do. SING OUT!

Jan. 17 2011 10:39 PM
Patrick W from Passaic

Thank you very much for this post. What a wonderful ensemble!

Musical ability--the ability to compose, arrange, conduct, sing, or play an instrument--is a gift. Those of us who sing in volunteer choirs in churches, synagogues and other religious organizations affirm that the gift is from God. A gift kept hidden or unwrapped is wasted, and so we practice so that we might pass on the benefits of the gift to others, but we affirm that the primary audience is the One who gave the gift. The gift of music takes many forms, and I am blessed and privileged to be part of a volunteer choir with a repertoire that includes works from the baroque era, works by contemporary composers, and everything in between. One week we will sing Mendelssohn, the next week we will sing a spirited Gospel anthem. Meanwhile works by Haydn and Hoiby are in the rehearsal folder. In May we will shake the dust off the roof trusses with a Gospel service. I learned about WQXR from a church choir director many years ago. Choral music and WQXR have been important parts of my life ever since. Thank you again.

Jan. 17 2011 10:04 PM
Phyllis Sharpe from Teaneck, NJ

Like Paul H. Rounsaville I also enjoy Wqxr daily. My mother's maiden name was Helen Elizabeth Rounsavel. I think we are related in both our love of music and name.

Jan. 17 2011 07:14 PM
David Clark from New York

In either 1963 or 1964 (maybe another listener will remember), pursuant to arrangements made by Dean John Munroe and with leadership from later- Dean Archibald Calvin Epps, III, the Harvard Glee Club ventured to the south for a spring tour (I think it included one alum of the Yale Russian Chorus). In Birmingham and Atlanta, as well as others places, a large group of whilte northern males (maybe two persons of color, including Archie) piled out of a bus and jumped on a stage with the choruses of local women's colleges (entirely made up of persons of color). Instant bonding from the music. It always come to mind on this day.

Jan. 17 2011 12:05 PM
Clelia Parisi from New York

I have been fortunate enough to have been singing in NYC’s own Collegiate Chorale for more than
15 years. It is wonderfully satisfying to be in an ensemble where the balance between passionate
enthusiasm and precision come together into an experience which transports you emotionally.
It truly has been an amazing experience to work with some of the world’s most renowned soloists
and find myself, as an amateur, lucky to feel like a music “insider” when performing these diverse works.
Lucky Me! I enjoy listening daily to WQXR through the internet while I am at work and thank you for
the selections which make my day more enjoyable.

Jan. 17 2011 11:52 AM
George from New York

This blog sure has it right! The Alumni of the Yale Russian Chorus do it with Russian soul at the 92nd Y Sunday Jan 30. 3:00 pm
www.yrcalums.org

Jan. 17 2011 11:45 AM
Mary Nowak-Sturkie from Helmett, NJ

Oh thank God for the gift of breath and the ultimate utilization in song!!! After listening to the 3 samples, I still have goose bumps. After only recently taken a break from my choral activities, I am truly missing it. At the very least, I hold my memories of singing for various directors, some known publishers, others pure treasure of talent and the most endearing memory was in Italy on tour with my main choir. Thank you for sharing Conspirare, I look forward to the PBS airing and also will be hunting down available cds.

Jan. 17 2011 10:53 AM
Paul H. Rounsaville

I listen to WQXR daily and do so through the "internet". I am most grateful for the increased chorol programming pieces. They touch my soul. I was in my College Tour Choir at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa. It was a lasting influence on my life and while I am not yet singing, each week at St. Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan, I can be found in the front pew luxoriating in the exquisite and moving choral music during the services. Thanks for the increased Choral programming. Lycoming Tour Choir this past Spring went to Argentina and apparently it was a great experience. This is also my first time blogging. You and everyone, who host the daily programs at WQXR are so wonderful. Keep up the great work. Paul

Jan. 17 2011 10:49 AM
Karin Bohr from Ohio

Singing in a choir can be the most amazing feeling in the world when you're singing with a group of people who truly understand and appreciate what they are singing. It's something that's about heart rather than mind. I can't even explain the feeling I get, but there's truly nothing else like it.

Jan. 17 2011 09:23 AM
Jennie Olson from Oklahoma

I sang with these beautiful people for almost 20 of Conspirare's years. The beauty of the music is magnified by hearts and voices coming together without reservation. Not only does Conspirare "breathe together," they think, feel, hope, and seek together. It has been one of the truly beautiful experiences of my life to be part of it.

Jan. 15 2011 04:37 PM

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