Category: Multicultural Perspectives

From Conference to Mozambique

ACDA conferences, both regional and national, often tend to serve as mileposts as we head along our career path: “Do you remember the national conference when we heard…. Did you hear the interest session at the regional when we first learned about….” The 2012 Eastern Regional conference in Providence, though, was less a milepost for me than a giant direction sign: “STOP! Turn here!”

At that conference, many interest sessions and concerts were devoted to the concept of choral music as community service. I listened enthralled to the sessions devoted to intergenerational choirs, prison choirs, adaptive choirs, choirs for the homeless, choirs for promoting peace in war-torn regions. The more I heard, the more I realized that this was an aspect of our profession I knew so little about but that spoke to me with increasing delight at every session. But how to begin?

It was providence again indeed when I saw a guest choral director posting on Choralnet in December of that year. The Manda Wilderness Community Trust, located in far northwestern Mozambique, was looking for this choir director to come for their annual Choral Festival, held in late July. The position would involve working with the local village choirs, teaching the ensembles a piece to perform en masse, then coordinating the festival and possibly organizing a workshop for the choirmasters for a few days after the festival. I applied New Year’s Eve 2012, and after a few challenging attempts to interview via rainy season solar-powered skype sessions, the trust offered me the position that following February.

I spent the next few months learning the local language, Chinyanja (a variant of Chichewa), finding a piece for the choirs to sing together, and hiking, hiking, hiking to get myself in shape. This remote region is known even in Mozambique as fim do mundo (“the end of the world”), so I knew there were not going to be many forms of transportation much more than walking!

In May, I arrived at Nkwichi, the headquarters of the Manda Wilderness Community Trust. For two-and-a-half months, I logged four hundred and fifty miles of hiking as my guides and I travelled from village to village, sleeping in tents at the compounds of each village mfumu (chief), eating the local food, speaking the language, and working with the choirs – just as here, each with its own distinctive way of working and its own community culture.

With each chorus, I would listen to them perform then ask if there was anything they felt they wanted assistance with. It was important to me never to impose my own ideas of what I felt they might need; and I was glad I came in with that mindset, because by the end of my time there I realized what I would have missed in the culture had I come in with that attitude – not to mention how foolish it would have looked.

I had brought video and audio recording equipment with me, and I used it to record two to four pieces at each and every session. My primary reason for doing this was to show the choirs how they looked and sounded, as they had never had this opportunity to see themselves before. Naturally, however, this meant that in the course of visiting fifteen of the sixteen villages in the region, I amassed a huge video collection of the local choral culture. This I carefully transcribed and translated each time I would return to Nkwichi, with much assistance from the knowledgeable local employees of the trust.

In addition to recording established repertoire, I felt it would be good as a guest director to encourage local composers to consider creating new works for the repertoire. In this endeavor I received enthusiastic support from local choirmaster and trust employee Richard Stephano. At each village in my final honorary speech (an expected custom), I would invite the choirmaster to encourage any choir member who had a composition to come and perform it with their choir when they came to the festival. I would record it, transcribe it, and then submit to earthsongs for consideration for publication upon my return to the United States. How exciting it was when three choirs came to the festival with new works to add to the repertoire!

My last three weeks were spent organizing the festival (Did the rubric sheet make sense for adjudication based on local customs? Were the judges acceptable to the choirs? Did we have enough nsima and mchicha to go around for the meal at the festival?), as well as delivering the workshop with the choirmasters. The total experience was of course life altering. Upon my return I could not wait to begin sharing all I had learned.

I am very grateful that earthsongs enthusiastically embraced the idea of publishing all three composed pieces. Part of my interest session will be the presentation of one of these works, written by Jaime Chiphanga of the Mcondece village choir. Based on my personal experience and observations, I will walk interested colleagues through an authentic rehearsal and performance process for these pieces, all of which would be appropriate for concert or for worship settings and are designed to work for choirs of all ages.

It would be an honor to share this wonderful culture and its music with you in Boston this coming February, four years after that transformational Eastern Division conference in Providence. May your time in Boston provide you with your own revelatory insights, inspiration and meditation, that we may each live a life of service through music wherever that leads us.


MARK CONLEY, a conductor, composer and singer, has conducted numerous ensembles from professional opera companies to high school and middle school ensembles. He has also served as music director for numerous theater companies as well as performing as an opera and oratorio soloist. At the University of Rhode Island he serves as Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities. He made his Carnegie Hall conducting debut in the spring of 2009. The Summer of 2013, he served as guest choral director for the choral festival in the Manda Wilderness of Mozambique, working for three months in this remote region in order to help present a choral concert in late July. He blogged about his experiences at

This L’il Light of Mine

Dr. Anthony Leach
Division R&S Chair, Music in Worship

Many of you know that the African American Music Festival at Penn State began in 1995 with a single concert presented by Essence of Joy. The following year I invited choirs from the School of Music to participate and then in 1997, I coordinated an extended series with guest lecturers, recitals and of course a concert by EOJ. In 2003 the Celebration of African American Spirituals Festival featured commissioned works by Moses Hogan, Keith Hampton, Marvin Curtis, Rosephanye Powell, Robert Morris, Roland Carter and Glenn Burleigh. Lawrence Burnett was our guest lecturer. This festival also brought to campus collegiate and high school choirs as guest performers.

In February 2005, I decided to only present EOJ in a single concert. My friend and colleague, Dave Dietz, choral director at Central Dauphin High School, Harrisburg contacted me to see if he could bring his Women’s Choir, CD Chanson to campus for the festival. I informed him that we were not hosting a festival but he could bring his choir to University Park for Dr. Lynn Drafall and me to share time. Dr. Drafall worked with the choir during the morning. I observed the process and was very moved by their choral sound. Nathan Trimmer, PSU and EOJ alum was student teaching with Dave Dietz so he was present for the session. During the lunch break, I went to my studio with a melody in mind but no text. As I continued to work at the piano, the text for This Little Light of Mine came to mind and I began to flesh out a choral arrangement for women’s choir. The arrangement is dedicated to David Dietz and CD Chanson as well as Nathan and Aimee Trimmer.

I returned to room 110 for the afternoon session and taught the choir by rote my arrangement of This L’il Light of Mine. It worked! The kids loved it. Neal and I scored it later in the month for SATB choir because Essence of Joy and the Oriana Singers were sharing Spring Campus Concerts later in the semester. This piece became the transitional piece to get one choir off stage while the other choir emerged. Success!

Since 2005 I’ve shared this piece with the Essence of Joy Alumni Singers as well as festival choirs in Pennsylvania. This past August, I presented two interest sessions at the 10th World Choral Symposium coordinated by the International Federation of Choral Musicians. This festival was held in Seoul, South Korea. I invited several members of EOJAS along with two guests to travel with me as we shared several of the commissioned works that EOJ has premiered since 2003. In that audience was Anton Armstrong, conductor of the St. Olaf Choir. We are very dear friends and colleagues in choral music. He asked if he could share my choral arrangement with the St. Olaf Choir and also at Carnegie Hall this spring when he will guest conduct a high school national honor choir. Absolutely, no problem!

[pdfviewer width=”600px” height=”849px” beta=”true/false”][/pdfviewer]Preview the first two pages of Dr. Leach’s This L’il Light of Mine

So tonight, I along with several friends are traveling to Pittsburgh, PA for a concert presented by the St. Olaf Choir in Heinz Hall. This L’il Light of Mine has been sung across the USA as this choir has shared its musical offering on its annual spring tour. There is also a ‘side’ story for this piece that is worth sharing. When I invited Moses Hogan to participate in the 2003 commissioning project, he consented to do so but shared that he would not be able to do an arrangement of This Little Light of Mine. He did not say why but instead completed ‘Let the Heaven Light Shine on Me’ since all of the composers were invited to create a work that focused on either This Little Light of Mine or the concept of light as revealed through text. While listening to the 2002 Christmas program presented by the St. Olaf Choir, a strange thing occurred. The choir sang This Little Light of Mine arranged by Moses Hogan. Well now you know the rest of that story!

So in the end, Moses Hogan and I have created settings of this text that reveal regional differences in melody and harmony depending on where one lives within the USA. EOJ, EOJAS and Essence 2 presented my arrangement last November  during our ‘Give Us This Day’ concert held at Bellefonte High School. I had no idea in February 2005 that this piece would have ‘legs’ beyond that rote session with CD Chanson. Well here we are ten years later and the piece is quickly gathering momentum beyond our Penn State experience.

For that I remain humbled and grateful!

If you are interested in This L’il Light of Mine, contact Dr. Leach directly.


In an ideal world…

Dr. Elisa Macedo Dekaney
R&S Chair for Ethnic and Multicultural Perspectives

In an ideal world, music from world cultures and from our own folk tradition should be an integral part of a rich and diverse choral repertoire. Historically, our repertoire choices have been focused on Western European traditional music. This may have narrowed our vision about what should be considered quality music. What could our choristers and students in choral settings in the United States gain from experiencing the diverse musical traditions of our globe? Let’s think musically.

There are music theory systems in other parts of the world as sophisticated as our Western European music system. Take for instance North Indian or Hindustani classical music, with its hundreds of ragas (melodic organization) and talas (rhythmic organization), a music theory system so complex it would take us many semesters of music theory classes to fully understand it. How about heterophony, rarely encountered in Western music? Not homophony, polyphony, or monophony, but the less familiar texture that brings yet another perspective in music performance because singers can contribute to the overall piece by adding spontaneous ornamentation to a melodic line. Let us not forget the ability to sing microtones in Chinese Opera or with overtones in Aboriginal music and Tuvan throat singing. There is also the purposeful tuning of instruments in pairs in Indonesia to allow the presence of beats (not really something desired in our western ideal of intonation) and the intricate layers of rhythmic patterns present in multiple examples of African music, to name a few.

So, why should we incorporate music from various world traditions (in addition to our beautifully crafted Western European tradition)? Simply stated, because we are traditionally exposed to the elements that are common in our music traditions, but there are multiple important music elements still foreign to us. Performing and learning about these elements will only enhance our understanding of what music is and what it represents to millions of humans around the world.