Friday, January 11, 2008

Choral Intonation (Listen Closely....)

I listen to an astonishing amount of choral music. This music involves tons of different ensembles, conductors, and types of music. In all of this listening/learning I tend to listen for specific things, but more often I listen for CHORAL INTONATION.
I believe that as a conductor this is what we all try to master. Depending on your group and the style of music, your intonation will change to fit the style. Well in my search to find the best sounding choirs I can listen to, I have come to realize that the best sounding choirs have 1 element that helps make the ensemble intonation sound amazing, and most people probably overlook this when listening to choral groups. For Example; Dale Warland Singers are known througout the United States as “An Amazing Choir” especially their sound. University of Miami Frost Chorale directed by Dr. Jo-michael Scheibe i believe is one of the best choral groups at the collegiate level. Other choirs would be Ars Nova Singers (Thomas Morgan), The Esoterics (Dr. Eric Banks), Choir of the West (Dr. Richard Sparks), Seattle Pro Musica (Karen P. Thompson), University of Michigan Choirs (Jerry Blackstone), BYU Singers (Dr. Ronald Staheli) etc.
What I have determined by all this is that all the best sounding choirs have conductors who are composers or arrangers/editors. I believe that with those skills comes the ability of giving finer detail to Choral Intonation then conductors with conducting degrees. Now, dont get me wrong there are amazing choral conductors who are not prolific composers/arrangers in the United States that I have heard and greatly admire; Dr. Richard Sparks (Choral Arts NW, Pro Coro Canada), Dr. Joe Miller (Westminster Choir College), Peter Phillips (Tallis Scholars), Dr. Greg Vancil (Seattle Bach Choir), and there are a few more.
So just a thought that if you listen closely to a choir conducted someone who works as a composer/arranger, and then listen to the same song conducted by a different choir with a conductor who does not compose or arrange music you will notice the difference in Choral Intonation (with some exception to the great Choral Conductors listed above (sparks, Vancil, Phillips, etc).
But all of those conductors that I have listed are what I define as the best choral directors.


Chorus said...

Hi there - Welcome to the blogosphere. Always neat to read musicians' blogs; lots of interesting perspective out there.

I have to say though, I fear you're making a bit of a generalization that I'm not willing to agree with you on. In my experience, choral conductors who make the most positive inroads with regards to intonation have that special combination of intangible talent, good musical training, experience, and a good understanding of the identity of the choir and the singers therein. I'm sure that compositional experience helps, but I can't agree that it's the most important factor. And I think there are probably some composers out there who have no talent for conducting or intonation at all.

Alan D said...

Your comment sounds as if you are concluding that I am saying that all composers have that skill for great choral intonation, and that is not what I am saying. I am not saying that only conductor/composers are the best choral conductor or that just conductors are better than the other. I am just simply saying that of all the best known choirs out there I have noticed a slight pattern in the Conductors studies.

Thank You for your comment I appreciate it. That is the great thing about music is that every musician has a different opinion about how to study/perform music and so on. That is one of the great things I love about music is that it is constantly evolving and involves everyone in it.

Chorus said...

Yay for debate!
While you certainly didn't say that all composers have a gift for intonation, you did say the following: "What I have determined by all this is that all the best sounding choirs have conductors who are composers or arrangers/editors."

And my point was simply that all the best-sounding choirs have conductors who have that special combination of TALENT, good ears, musical experience, training, and a solid understanding of the identity of the choir. I don't believe that there is a particularly direct correlation between compositional ability and sense of intonation, though I'm sure that for some conductors, it may be beneficial.

Alan D said...

Thank You for the debate. It brought a smile to my face to read your reply. I absolutely agree with your response. I guess I got alittle ahead of myself and my fingers were typing faster than my brain. I do however feel that a great choir sounds great because; the singers work hard, the conductor teaches the singers everything that he/she can about the music, and that most of all everyone invovled from conductor to singer knows the identity of their choir.


Chorus said...


PS - I am also a huge fan of Thomas Tallis.