May 28, 2012

Experiences with Well-known Directors...

A recent image of the All-City Choir
On Sunday, May 1, 1954, the Schenectady Gazette ran an article with the headline, "11th Annual 'Music for Unity' Program Blends Student Practice With Perfection."  The article described the event, 
William L. Dawson

William L. Dawson was the guest conductor of the massed choirs yesterday in the 11th annual presentation, of the "Music for Unity" program of Schenectady schools  singers.  It was Dawson's fourth visit to the city and by now he needs no introduction to most of the audience or performers.

Director of music at Tuske
gee Institute, which today has a registration of 1,800 students, Dawson knows voices and singing, and how to achieve the utmost from any group.  His conducting is a revelation and each time he comes, directors and students get invaluable aid not only in technique but in inspiration.  Two spirituals, arranged by the guest, were included in the group which he led along with the magnificent "Gloria" from Mozart's "12th Mass," among others."

I had the pleasure of singing in that concert as part of the All-City Choir, a singing group started in 1929 by Kenneth G. Kelly, who was the city's Supervisor of Music at the time.  It was a fairly small group that was selected by individual audition and to be selected was considered quite an honor.  At the time I participated we were under the leadership of Rufus Wheeler, who served for many years as Schenectady's Supervisor of Music.  We rehearsed weekly after regular school hours in the old Nott Terrace High School.  And this particular concert was the first of several over the years in which I had the opportunity to sing under the direction of a well-known and widely-recognized conductor.  My recollection of William Dawson (whose arrangements are still widely used) is that he was a gracious and patient conductor.  He worked long hours preparing us for this concert, even though we were well rehearsed in the repertoire before he ever arrived to do the final preparations.  And the concert was inspiring.

The next occasion on which I sang under a renowned director came about 6 years later when I was singing in the University of Rochester's Men's Glee Club.  This was an old organization with a proud tradition, having been started in 1876.  About twenty years before I auditioned for the group, there had been an international competition among men's glee clubs.  It had been sponsored by band leader and chorus director Fred Waring, who  had a popular and successful weekly radio show.  The Rochester club bested more than 140 other groups to win the Fred Waring National Glee Club competition, and performed for President Franklin Roosevelt.  Dr. Ward Woodbury was our director, and he was a great and inspiring one.  We tackled some very difficult pieces and under his leadership, we gave some fine performances.  Elsewhere on my blog, I've described our appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Fred Waring

In 1960 or '61, we performed a concert for which Fred Waring came to Rochester to be a guest conductor.  I seem to recall that it might have been for the eighty-fifth anniversary of the glee club's founding.  Fred Waring himself had founded the "Pennsylvanians," a very successful singing group, after a successful career as a band leader.  He had a popular radio show and an award-winning TV show.  He also ran a successful music publishing house, and to add to his credentials, he was the inventor and manufacturer of the Waring blender!  We all looked forward to the opportunity of being under the direction of such a well-known musical figure.

Dr. Woodbury prepared us most thoroughly as he always did.  And then the "big man" arrived to take over the final rehearsals.  It was not a pleasant experience.  He was impatient to the point of rudeness.  And his directing style was not easy to follow.  There are conductors who communicate with their performers 
with uncanny clarity -- the beat is evident, the dynamics of the music are clear, emotion is apparent in every move.  Dr. Woodbury was that kind of director; Fred Waring was not.  I don't have fond recollections of that concert.
Howard Hanson

Within a year of that concert came another occasion, however, which still inspires me.  The Glee Club joined the Rochester Philharmonic and several other choral groups from the city to perform the Mozart Requiem at the Eastman Theater.  And the conductor was none other than Howard Hanson, the Director of the Eastman School of Music, a position he had held for nearly forty years.  He was spectacular!  His passion for the music was contagious.  He exuded confidence.  He knew the music intimately and could focus totally on grooming the assembled choirs and orchestra.  And the result was spectacular, performed before a capacity crowd.  I still feel privileged to have contributed my tiny voice to that marvelous chorus.  I received much more than I gave.

So I have had the opportunity to be led by three very different recognized musicians in three very different kinds of concerts.  I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

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