Leonardo Dreams of His Singing Machine

Paul Head
President Elect, Eastern Division

I attended my first ACDA regional convention in 1984, albeit in the Western Division. At the time, I was a junior in college, persevering through music history and advanced theory toward a career teaching high school. I still remember the sense of awe as so many wonderful choirs assembled in one place, reiterating again and again – the sky’s the limit kid! Learn your Roman numeral analysis and get out there. Fly, Leonardo. Fly!

Particularly heartfelt was a performance by the Brigham Young University Choir – the last under the direction of Ralph Woodward who would retire just a few months later. To say that concert was emotionally charged would be an understatement, as there was scarcely a dry eye in the house by the time they were finished. The singing was intelligent – a Heinz Werner Zimmerman piece comes to mind – but fully evocative of the human spirit. These were people who loved making music together, and for those few minutes, we got to make music with them.

I remember talking about the concert the next morning with my peers and my mentor, Charlene Archibeque, as we bantered about the performances of the previous day. I also recall daydreaming over my omelet about what it might be like to be invited to perform at such an event – an honor to be sure, but also a bit stressful perhaps? Most of us come to these things looking for a few new ideas, a shot in the arm to update our vaccinations against complacency, and if we’re lucky, we take home a few moments of pure inspiration, moments as likely to be found in the unison singing of children’s voices as in the more esoteric artistry of music from eastern Europe. If you’re like me, you spend most of the conference trying to decide if having lunch with a long lost friend is worth the risk of missing the “musical highlight of the conference!” But alas, is there anything more personal or subjective than that?

Dave Fryling had asked that I might say a few words about preparing my choir to sing for this auspicious occasion, a task I find a bit more frightening that actually preparing the choir. The genesis of our program comes from the title of a Craig Hella Johnson arrangement of a song by Annie Lennox called “1000 Beautiful Things.” As it happens, this was the over-arching theme for a program we did last year of the same title. In this rendering, we will feature two recent works inspired by Hildegard von Bingen, a Brahms part-song paired with the eerie compositional meanderings of Latvian composer Peteris Vasks, and conclude with a new David Childs setting of the e.e. cummings poem, “i thank You God for most this amazing day.” The underlying thread that binds these pieces together is the realization that little has changed in the human experience since the beginning of recorded history. Joy, grief, melancholy, euphoria, and hundreds of their close cousins repeatedly assume the leading roles in the stories of each of our lives.

I think back on that BYU performance in 1984 and can only hope that we might touch a few souls in the way that choir touched so many, but what I can tell you is this: Such an opportunity to sing great repertoire for an audience that truly understands the art causes us to pause, time and again, to ponder the wonder and magnificence of 1000 beautiful things.

We look forward to sharing those with you, on stage and off, in Boston a few months from now.

And no… we’re not singing “Leonardo!” I just thought it was a clever title.

See you in Boston!