15 Minutes Inside a Conductor’s Repertoire Selection Process
Date: February 22, 2012
I think that many composers that are not choir directors do not fully understand the process involved in making repertoire selections. People have stated concerns about the Showcase being primarily listed by title and not composer. I work from text and as a conductor am not all that interested in who composed a new piece. If I like a choral work I may then seek out other pieces from the same composer but the title is what catches my attention.
I am going to perform an experiment for you to shed some light on my process. I am going to apologize in advance for the brutal honesty of this experiment. If those whose works are mentioned object you may message me and I will take this down in a few days or edit this post. If I didn’t think this would be of significant value to our community I would not publically post it. Each director has their own needs and expectations. What I liked or why I did not choose a piece is not the point of this experiment. I know that some of my perceptions were incorrect, but that happens. Feel free to point out my misconceptions so that we can discuss them. Please follow along on the SATB page. Perhaps open a second browser page.
My early goal in life was to be a High School Choir Director. Although I think of myself as a composer I am by education, experience and 25 years in the profession first and foremost a conductor. I now teach at the elementary level but for many years I taught at a 2,000+ student urban high school.
Needs to fill:
I am imagining I am looking for new repertoire in the Composition Showcase for my high school Vocal Ensemble and Concert Choir. Vocal Ensemble was a small mixed choir of our best musicians. They starred in our madrigal feast, sang at jazz festival, sang carols in our community and performed the highest level of SATB music. All of its members where also members of my Concert Choir. Concert Choir sang a fall concert of easier repertoire, a winter/holiday concert and a choral masterworks concert where we often premiered new works, sang oratorio repertoire with orchestra and performed modern classics such as Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium. They also had a Pops concert in the spring. I routinely spent a lot of time looking for repertoire in the summer months for all of these performances as well as listening to CDs of other choirs, and choral sampler CDs from publishers/distributers.
I opened the SATB page in the Composition Showcase
First to catch my eye was Earthly Light. The title sounded less than religious which I felt was a plus. I noticed it had accompaniment options for instruments which made me think it might work for our Choral Masterworks concert. I clicked on the CHOIR link, was annoyed that I could not also click on the PDF link because of how ChoralNet or my browser is set to open a sound file not in a new window. I listened to the first 25 seconds and was ready to move on because songs with vocables rarely capture my attention, especially for the Choral Masterworks concert.
I went back to the list and started on my way. I stopped at Greg Bartholomew’s From the Odes of Solomon. I noticed who it was by and I like Greg’s “The Tree” so I gave it a look. I was about to click on the CHOIR link but saw the $7.+ cost and decided to move on thinking I might come back.
I then clicked on I AM the Vine. I have heard a setting of this text and wanted to check if it was the same one. It wasn’t. I listened and was ready to click the back button until I heard the harmony start. Then I stayed a few seconds more. After about 25 seconds I moved on.
I skipped over the next few entries simply because my time was short.
I stopped at Night. The recording was too quiet with the background noise where I was so I could barely hear it. I was about to move on but the harmony I could hear caught my attention enough to check out the PDF. I saw the text was by William Blake. I like William Blake. I read through the text and tried to see/hear some of the score and put this in my definite maybe pile for Choral Masterworks. Thought I need to rip a copy of that recording and make it louder.
Saw Psalm 150 and that it was by someone called Hildigunner Runarsdotter which tickled my multicultural interest. Saw the score was reasonably priced so I clicked on the CHOIR link. Annoyed that I could not leave the description up when the sound file window opened. So I didn’t give it its due and moved on. Too late. I was writing this and the dynamic change and flow caught my attention and I listened longer than I really would have. Added this to my definite maybe pile.
Riders On the Earth really caught my attention. I had forgotten about our Area Choir Festival in my description of my choirs. The title seemed promising. Riders ON the Earth was a neat idea. I clicked on the recording and couldn’t hear it well enough with the background student noise. Added it to the check later pile.
Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us made me think I should look at that for my church choir but I didn’t.
Silver Night caught my attention. Clicked on the CHOIR button as I noticed it was for a reasonable price. The recording was again too quiet for me so I clicked stop, went and got my external USB speakers and plugged them in, came back hit play and was hooked in the first 10 seconds. I kept listening already sure that this was a piece I wanted to perform. Started thinking, “could this year’s choir handle the a cappella?” “Was that women’s divisi?” Annoyed that I couldn’t have the description open while I listened. Did something no one else will do: I opened another browser window and navigated back to the SATB showcase page clicked command F to search for “silver”. Got a call from my wife to pick up something on my way home and was reminded I had to hurry. Clicked play again, noticed the SSATBB and put the piece in the “If not this year, then some year soon” pile.
Left it play and went on to see Julia’s Song of the Klutz. Thought I wonder if there is an SSA version, that sounds like something for my sophomore girls choir. Clicked on the PDF and read the text while Silver Night played on. God I love Silver Night. (thought to self) Saw that John Carter was credited for inspiration, made me think for the second time in a week ‘Is that the same John Carter as a book I read called “John Carter on Mars”’ many years ago? Read some text, The text had me ready to hit the buy button until I saw the word “Pussycats” and decided it wasn’t worth the hassle my boys would make about it, unless it was available in SSA. Clicked the back button, saw it wasn’t available for SSA. Moved on.
Clicked play on Silver Night again.
Looked at There’s a Certain Slant of Light. Liked the title but when I saw VIRTUAL, I wasn’t willing to stop Silver Night to listen since I was already late. Felt the same about There Will Come Soft Rains, remembered I had to hurry home and gave up the process. Packed up to leave listening to the end of Silver Night.
Pleased I had found one probable piece I would return to the Composition Showcase as a valued resource just as I always put in the sampler CD from certain publishers.
I will let you all have at it before I make any other comments.
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