"Where do you find all that interesting music?" I get this question a lot. In fact, as your Repertoire and Standards Chair for Ethnic and Multicultural Music I’m delighted to get this question. For a long time I’ve placed a priority on programming diverse, exciting literature from as many periods, cultures, and performance practices as possible. In Twenty-First Century America it is our responsibility to embrace our constantly diversifying culture by expanding our own musical horizons as well as those of our singers.
Of course, let me be clear, I do not believe that this needs to be done by ignoring the great choral literature we all grew up with. There’s no substitute for Mozart, Brahms, and Palestrina. But we can and should be willing to expand our ideas of programming. And that is getting easier all the time. So, where do we find all that interesting music? ACDA can help.
Our recent state convention was a wonderful event for those looking to expand their awareness and confidence with new literature. Co-headliner Francisco Núñez is at the very forefront of multicultural choral literature in America today. All of his sessions had a focus on this music to one degree or another. And many of us were able to speak with him directly to ask questions and seek his guidance. His presence at our convention was a real "shot in the arm" for those of us seeking to do more of this music. Many thanks are due President Richard Ingram for bringing Francisco to Michigan.
Also at our convention we held three different reading sessions of multicultural music, with each session devoted to different levels of difficulty. The sessions were well attended and hopefully helpful in introducing new music. Many ACDA conventions now have multicultural reading sessions. The Ethnic and Multicultural Resource Room at our recent national convention in Oklahoma City had hundreds of titles available for perusal as well as recordings, instruments, and experts on hand to share their knowledge. In addition, more choirs singing at our conventions are choosing to program multicultural literature. And virtually every concert at every convention is now professionally recorded and can be purchased.
So where do you start? Find a live performance or a recording of a piece you think would be good for your choir. Spend time with the recording and get yourself used to the sounds. Or find a piece in a reading session or at a music dealer and spend time with it yourself. Try not to be intimidated by non-traditional notation or languages that are less familiar to you. Go slowly and learn. Present good recordings to your students, both of the piece(s) you’re actually going to perform and of other like music. Don’t be afraid to ask your singers to make vocal sounds that are different from those we make when singing Western Art Music. Most of all, don’t be afraid and have fun! And if there is anything I can do to help, please contact me.
What am I listening to these days? 1. Rapa Iti by The Tahitian Choir. 2. Les Mystere des Voix Bulgares by the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir. 3. Blink by Moira Smiley and Voco. 4. Michigan State University Women’s Chamber Choir live at the ACDA National Convention in Oklahoma City (this is actually a DVD but it’s amazing and it’s a group from our own state). 5. Africa by Perpetuum Jazzile.
Michael A. Mitchell is Associate Professor of Music at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan where he serves as Music Area Coordinator and Director of Choral Activities while conducting the Oakland Chorale, the University Chorus, and the Symphony Chorus. In addition, Mitchell supervises the graduate program in choral conducting and teaches choral literature, graduate conducting, and a course on the history of Rock Music. For nine concert seasons he served as Artistic Director/Conductor of the Detroit based Cantata Academy Chorale, also leading that group on three acclaimed European concert tours. Dr. Mitchell has served as Resident Guest Conductor of the professional ensemble Academic Choir Ivan Goran Kovacic in Zagreb, Croatia and also was the first American to lecture at the Slovak University of Music and Art in Bratislava, Slovakia. Before coming to Michigan, he taught at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and was a choral director and music supervisor in the public schools in Texas. Dr. Mitchell studied conducting, music education, and voice at the University of Texas at Austin and received his doctorate in conducting at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory, where he served as assistant to the eminent conductor Eph Ehly for three years. His other teachers include Andre Thomas, Jerry McCoy, Patrick Gardner, Mary Breden, Leonard Johnson, and Gary Hill. As a doctoral student he was the winner of the UMKC Chancellor’s Award for Academic Merit and was a finalist in the American Choral Directors Association national conducting competition. His dynamic, energetic approach to music has made him a frequently invited guest conductor throughout the country. He also has extensive experience as a church and studio conductor, and has received several commissions as a composer of choral music. He is a member of The American Choral Directors Association and currently serves that organization as Repertoire and Standards Chair for Ethnic and Multicultural Music for Michigan. He is also a member of the National Collegiate Choral Organization, Chorus America, the American Music Center, The College Music Society, The Michigan School Vocal Music Association, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.