As of this writing, we are closing in on the planning cycle for the 2018 Eastern Division Convention in Pittsburgh, March 7-10, 2018. We’re making all our lists, checking them twice, counting up the hotel rooms, laying out the floor plan for our exhibitors, checking the specs for our main stage performances, tuning the pianos for our auditioned choirs, populating the content in the app, planning the meals for 500+ honor choir kids, and checking to make sure all the other bridges are in place in hopes of creating an experience that will be a source of inspiration and rejuvenation for our constituency. That’s YOU!
As I near the end of my term as Eastern Division President, this is an intense, but at the same time, poignant moment for me. I suspect you’re like me, in that you probably don’t dedicate a great deal of your brain capacity to ACDA on the day-to-day basis unless you’ve been volunteered (read: coerced) into taking on a task for the good of the order: heading a committee, planning a festival, or writing an article for the monthly newsletter.
I had a few hours to sit with Joseph Flummerfelt a few weeks ago, our Keynote Address speaker for the Friday night Plenary Concert. I did my masters with “Flum” back in the mid 90s, having left my “cushy high school job” (Ahem!) in California with the aspiration of joining the ranks of collegiate teaching. In this case, that involved convincing my wife and three small children that fireflies and snow flurries would be well worth abandoning the tepid climates of the California Wine Country, all for the cause of touring with the Westminster Choir, singing with the New York Philharmonic, but most importantly, searching for a glimpse of insight and wisdom that might help me unveil some sort of revelation or supernatural experience that would empower me to pursue another 25 years of teaching in hopes of engaging more young minds in the virtues of studying the Choral Art.
During my chat with Joe Flummerfelt, I recounted our first experience together when I came to a one-week summer conducting institute where we would study the Faure Requiem and the Mozart Coronation Mass. That was in 1993, but I think I could recount – almost verbatim – the extemporaneous soliloquy Dr. Flummerfelt gave us on Mozart as the harbinger of the Enlightenment. He pointed out the pas de deux between the violin soloist and the vocal quartet in the Credo that not only provided us with a glimpse of Mozart’s emerging operatic mastery, but also created a virtuosic tapestry that, we realize now, was a significant bridge in Mozart’s day from the general acceptance of blind faith in the Aristocracy and the Church, to the inevitable perception and realization of the genius and virtuosity of man incarnate! Suddenly, the liturgical words “and he was made human” had taken on a new context, simply in the course of Mozart leading his audience (congregation) into a new realm of emerging socratic discourse under the veil of oppression that dominated so much of 18th century Europe. (Yes, I’m assuming you may have to read that a few times to fully digest that sentence!)
Nearly twenty-five years later, I still find myself pondering those moments where so many of my preconceptions about making music, interpreting Mozart, the essence of liturgy, the sordid history that entangled the governing bodies of Europe and the Church, and even the “meaning of God,” as I examine every score and prepare each rehearsal for my own students. And I also recounted to Dr. Flummerfelt my recollections of a particularly moving address by the late Robert Shaw at a national convention in Phoenix, I think, where he charged us – the musicians, the thinkers, the makers of great art – to rise above the noise of the commercial influences and fleeting desires of the modern age. (This was well before Facebook, Twitter and Smartphones, mind you.) Our responsibility – as choral directors – was to rise above all this. To raise the bar for our singers and students in a crusade to recognize genuine beauty, instill deeply rooted values, and let the deep minds of Bach, Brahms, and Britten lead us to ponder the deeper questions of the human experience. I still get goosebumps as I recount this story here, and I still shudder a bit when I realize our role as people who have tremendous potential for instilling wisdom and thoughtfulness into the hearts and minds of our singers, even if we are still pondering the hard questions posed twenty-five years prior – as the study of art is a step into an infinite journey of inquiry. Good musicians are never satisfied with one-dimensional answers or formulaic solutions, but instead, are constantly preoccupied with “going deeper” (That should resonate with my Flummerfelt colleagues) in a quest to reveal what the poets, scribes, and composers have committed to paper so that we may bring inestimable truths to light.
While this may all seem a bit lofty and esoteric, I would like you to know that this is why I think it’s important you come to Pittsburgh next Month. I asked Dr. Flummerfelt to challenge our thinking while enlivening out souls in his Keynote Address, but I’m most hopeful that it will not be a stand-alone event in this weekend of absorbing great music, considering new approaches to age-old challenges, and expanding your musical and cultural repertoire of choral literature (notated and otherwise) accompanied by ways to fully engage yet another generation of singers in the altruistic mission of revealing beauty and thoughtfulness through the immersion in great music. This is a deeply personal and intimate experience for each one of you; the wide eyes of a singing child, the spontaneous exchange with a composer like Tarik O’Regan, the spinning overtones of a fabulous choir like Tenebrae, learning a new song in Swahili from our friend Noah in Kenya or in Arabic from our friend Micah in Jerusalem, the reconceptualization of a teaching strategy to reach your unsuspecting ninth-graders, or the sheer joy of tight harmony with The Swingles.
If you’ve already registered and bought your plane ticket, start preparing your ears for delicious sonic overload and your mind to go beyond the parameters you’ve come to take for granted.
IF YOU’VE NOT yet registered for the conference, leave the philosophical realm for a few moments and realize that after next Wednesday, not only will registration rates go up again, but we will also begin releasing unsold hotel rooms, which in effect, will nearly double the cost of your stay in Pittsburgh. And know also that while airfares are still relatively low today, if history is any indication, the next few days will see these fares double and triple making it simply prohibitive to find your way to Pittsburgh without a car, as this is not a destination known for last minute flight deals.
If you made it this far into my musings, PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO SHARE THIS POST! Share it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or even by email to a friend – even to people you know who are not currently affiliated with ACDA or simply aren’t able to attend this year’s conference. In the short term, I’m eager to gather as many of our members together as humanly possible to celebrate the collective efforts of the extraordinary committee that has assembled this exhilarating program. But as my presidency comes to an end, I’m also eager to reiterate Dr. Flummerfelt’s and Mr. Shaw’s message on to you. “We, the choral directors of America, have an awesome responsibility, not only to act as curators of the choral art that will otherwise remain banished to the museum, but to use that art to empower and enliven the souls of those around us in a way that will change their lives forever, and thereby, have an exponential impact on the future of the human race.”
I know that sounds lofty, but truthfully, that’s why I do what I do for a living. We can’t afford to miss this opportunity to celebrate our ability to do this thing together!
Once again, we still have a few rooms left at the Penn Omni Convention Hotel at a Special Rate. That rate will expire soon and you’ll end up paying more and walking in the cold.
And thanks to our good friends at National ACDA, we were able to extend the registration deadline of $299 to midnight on February 14th. That’s the last possible extension, as the very next day, the “Close In Late Registration rates” will kick in as we start printing badges, stuffing packets, and committing your name to those who choose to be counted amidst the inspired and engaged!
Click through right now to REGISTER! Who knows, it might change your life!
Paul D Head
Eastern Region President
P.S. On a lighter note, the Pittsburgh Police Department has agreed to grease all the light poles in downtown Pittsburgh should the ecstasy of hearing a live performance of New York Polyphony send you into the streets as a crazed mob of post-Renaissance frenzy. 🙂
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