Collaboration in a Conference Performance

Imagine if conference performances afforded you a chance for collaboration beyond the confines of your ensemble.

Conference performances are high-stress, high-profile opportunities, and as such can be perceived as ego-driven. For me, the best performances are the ones that subsume the ego and put genuine music-making at the core of the performance.

I tend to think of – and assess – this at the ensemble level. My favorite conference performances are always the ones that exhibit intra-ensemble communication, musicality, connection. The feeling when a fine ensemble brings the music through them to the audience is the pinnacle of an outstanding conference performance.

Friday my bar for connection was raised several feet by the Chippewa Valley High School Mixed Varsity Choir and their conductor, James Pecar. They finished on a high note with a heartfelt (and tear-inducing) performance of James Taylor’s Shed A Little Light (arranged by Greg Jasperse), and then began their final piece, Ukuthula – a Zulu folk song.

The program notes indicated, “Following the exuberant call to action of Shed a Little Light, Ukuthula expresses the quiet conviction of ultimate success in the mission, coming from the hearts confident of their purpose…The title, Ukuthula, comes from two Zulu root words meaning ‘to be’ and ‘quiet,’ but its meaning has the deeper connotation of rest and peace.”

What made the piece most remarkable, though, was what happened after they began. As the Mixed Varsity Choir began encircling the conference attendees, the choir to follow them in the concert, Paw Paw High School Voices of the Future (Brett Yzquierdo, conductor), rose and processed down the center aisle, singing. The concert set transition was made musically, with these two choirs singing together.

When the program order was finalized, they had begun a long-distance collaboration, making their concert session incalculably richer. Suddenly, these weren’t two choirs to be compared and critiqued, but one choir, joining together for the sake of powerful music.

As various soloists added improvised lines over the choir’s singing, I wept at the beauty of the collaboration and the hope that it gave me.

I was moved by the entire concert session, but this one moment will stay with me for the rest of my career as a shining example of what choirs can do together. With limited time together, and while preparing the most high-profile concert of their year, they kept the big picture in mind and made their performance about music.

Thank you, James. Your vision inspires me.