Rick was honored this last weekend as a 2016 inductee to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. We here at Choral Arts Ensemble were not surprised, being exposed to his talent and passion for the choral art on a daily basis. He's also an engaging and thoughtful writer and speaker, and so we include here the transcript of his acceptance speech from the ceremony on November 4, 2016 at the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm, Minnesota.
Thank you. In this state so full of terrific musicians, I was surprised and humbled by this recognition.
I’ve been lucky to be involved with choirs my whole life. As a general rule, Lutherans like to get you into Cherub Choir right after toilet-training. And that’s been a great blessing for me. Choir develops neurons in young brains, it’s a great way for kids to learn cooperation without competition, and to get a first whiff of the power of beauty. For adults, it’s absolutely refreshing, consoling, invigorating, life-affirming.
W.H. Auden said that people do not sing when they are feeling sensible. Perhaps true, but “feeling sensible” is overrated: it’s a state of comfort and self-satisfaction that should be challenged as often as possible. If more Americans were singing together in choirs, our politics would not be where they are today.
So I’m grateful that I grew up around adults, including my parents, who valued music, and sang for conductors who were talented and passionate, and learned from teachers who were generous and inspiring.
The list of teachers is very long—I need to name a few for my own sake: Bob and Connie Hansen (from St John Lutheran in Sioux City), Bob Larsen (high school), F John Adams & Jameson Marvin (Harvard), Earl Rivers, John Leman & Elmer Thomas (Cinncinnati Conservatory of Music), Don Hoiness, Dale Warland (after that), and many more. The list of talented musical collaborators, performers and recording engineers and composers, from whom I’ve learned so many things, is much longer still, and grows by the day.
I am here tonight because I direct two choirs in Rochester, the Choral Arts Ensemble and the Honors Choirs of SE Minnesota. Both started with a small group of musicians who simply loved to sing. Then supported by selfless volunteers, endlessly resourceful staff, smart Board members (some of whom are right over there), and a community that values the arts, both groups have developed into wonderful performing arts organizations with a national reputation.
Nancy Astor, first woman seated in Parliament, said “I married beneath myself, as all women do.”—which brings me to my wife, Jan. She has accompanied both groups for longer than we’ve been married! Jan is a superlative musician. Now, that is usually overlooked, because an accompanist is doing great when nobody notices. Gerald Moore was one of the great vocal accompanists of the 20th Century, and the title of his autobiography says it all: Am I Too Loud?
Jan can handle ridiculously varied styles, has a great sense of pitch and apparently was born with an internal metronome. She has saved me and the choir countless times in concert. AND she gives me invaluable, if sometimes painful, reality testing about my ‘choices’ in rehearsal and performance. As Red Skelton remarked, “all men make mistakes, but married men find out about them sooner.”
Finally, I owe an unpayable debt to all the marvelous singers. Choral singers are an especially talented and kind subset of humanity. Choir singing is NOT easy—many soloists cannot do it. You need unshakable vocal technique, an appreciation of styles, a command of languages, exacting sense of rhythm and pitch and tone, an keen sensitivity to poetry, expression, musical gesture. All that while patiently—even cheerfully, in most cases—allowing artistic vision to be externally imposed by an obviously fallible conductor. It’s as if you are a character in the middle of a tough video game, and someone else has his hands on the controller.
My regard for these colleagues, then, is nothing short of religious. SO—To the singers, with apologies to Saint Paul:
1 If I master all technical details, and plumb all spiritual depths, but have not choir singers, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 And if I have musical powers, and understand all rhythms and all harmonies, and if I have all inspiration, so as to find the perfect interpretation, but have not choir singers, I am nothing.
3 If I keep the ideal tempos, and if I make the most exquisite gestures, but have not choir singers, I accomplish nothing.
4 Choir singers are patient and kind; they bear all things, believe some things, hope most things, endure all things. Choir singers never fail.
Rick was surrounded by supporters from both Choral Arts Ensemble and Honors Choirs who made an evening of it.