Adesso Choral Society: Giving a Voice to Contemporary Composers
The Benefits and Importance of Singing Today’s Music Now
A letter from Margaret Collins Stoop, founding director
Choral singing has long played a role in the strengthening of communities.
The oldest extant choral music (music meant for a group of singers with two or more separate lines sung simultaneously) is that of ancient Greece. The first evidence of music notated specifically for chorus is found in England, in the Old Hall Manuscript, the most significant and complete source of English sacred music. Published in 1420, the manuscript contains choral works believed to have been written as early as the late 1300s, reflecting England’s long and distinguished history of fine choral music. A recent study conducted by Harvard professor Robert Putnam, entitled Making Democracy Work, reveals that choral societies were one of the best predictors of how well newly formed regional governments worked in Italy.
Choral music has played a significant role in American history as well. The uniquely American institution, the singing school, had its beginnings in the colonies in New England, but it ultimately spread across the country. In the rural frontier areas it offered a means to communal identity, and the social as well as the musical aspects of choral singing brightened the routine of lives that were otherwise often harsh and dreary.
In 2003 and again in 2009, the American Choral Directors Association [ACDA] conducted a study on the impact of choral singing on children, adults and community. The study concludes that singing in a chorus is strongly correlated with qualities that are associated with success throughout life, including greater civic involvement, discipline and teamwork. Another recent study by a group of scientists in Roehampton, UK, found that singing can prolong life: singing releases endorphins, oxygenates the blood and stimulates circulation. Scientists at the University of Frankfurt in Germany have found that antibodies in the blood increase dramatically in choral singers after a sixty minute rehearsal.
Singers of choral music know instinctively that singing is good for them. It stimulates their brain, improves their mood. It makes them feel good. It makes them happy! The beauty and pleasure of making one voice of many is unparalleled.
The singers of the Adesso Choral Society, a select chamber chorus founded and based in Ridgefield, CT, have an added factor in their enjoyment. Not only are they enjoying all the benefits of choral singing, making one sound from many voices, but they take great pride and pleasure in giving voice to today’s composers. To sing music with the composer sitting appreciatively in the audience is one of our group’s greatest thrills. The composer has given us the gift of his music, and we can give back to the composer by allowing him to hear his work realized.
As a composer myself, I know the joy of hearing one’s own music performed. What a gift! How grateful I am! Without the singers and instrumentalists to perform it, my music would not have been heard. Unfortunately, I also know firsthand the frustration of finishing a work only to have it sit silently on the shelf.
Few of Western history’s time honored composers wrote in obscurity. Most were well known in their lifetimes. Even Johann Sebastian Bach, popularly believed to have been an obscure church musician, enjoyed widespread fame in his lifetime. Up until the time of Beethoven, virtually all composers wrote specifically for an occasion or a musician. They were court musicians, hired to entertain the nobility, or they were church musicians, depended upon by the religious community to lend structure and beauty to the liturgy. History’s composers had musicians poised to perform their music. Music was so woven into the fabric of a noble life that it was not until 1772 that a public concert was held, when Telemann famously charged admission and admitted whomever could afford the ticket. Throughout history, composers’ music was being played and heard by the composers themselves.
The climate of concert hall music has changed dramatically throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. Sadly, many composers do not hear their work come to fruition. Orchestras no longer regularly perform new works; rather, it is the exception, not the rule, to present a new work. Rarer still are second performances of works. And in the arena of choral music, this is even more true. Despite a clearly developed style of American choral music and singing, including such composers as Horatio Parker, Randall Thompson, Roger Sessions and - most recently - Eric Whitacre, choruses do not regularly perform new music.
The fact that new choral music is not often performed is no indication of the amount of new choral music being written. Many fine composers live right in our neighborhoods: Allen Brings, John Mucci and Dave Brubeck are from Wilton, CT. Eugenie Rocherolle, formerly of Wilton, now lives in Old Lyme, near Elizabeth Austin in Storrs. At Hartt School of Music are Steve Gryc, Robert Carl, and Ken Steen. Howard Rovics lives and teaches in Bethel.
Ron Perera, reknowned for his operas as well as his choral music, lives in Northampton, MA. These are all fine musicians, and this is just to name a few. They deserve to have their music heard.
Adesso has a very exciting season planned for 2010-2011, in which they will perform the works of no less than ten living composers. The group will kick off the season by performing in Ballard Park at Ridgefield’s Cultural Festival on October 2, 2010. In January 2011, they will perform once again in the resonant sanctuary of Jesse Lee Memorial Church in Ridgefield. In March 2011, the group’s director, Margaret Collins Stoop, will conduct the Fairfield County Chorale performing a work of her own, Gnosis. In May 2011, Adesso will travel to Manhattan for two performances. On May 1, the group will present a concert of music by composers from Long Island Composers Alliance and from Connecticut Composers, Inc. in a special collaboration of the two guilds. The concert will be held at Park Avenue Church at 86th Street and Park Ave. On May 28, Adesso will share in the honor and privilege of joining a gathered choir in Carnegie Hall to sing a work by composer Jenni Brandon.
There are necessary costs incurred in presenting new music. These include but are by no means limited to, hall rental, hiring of musicians, insurance, licensing, and music purchase. These costs cannot be met by dues alone. It takes the generosity of people like yourself to help make the performance of new choral music possible.
Won’t you help Adesso give voice to new music?
Adesso Choral Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit incorporation. All donations are tax deductible.
For more information, visit www.adessochoralsociety.com