As you may know, the composer for the 2017 Ketterling Carol is Daniel Kallman. As you may not know, the delivery date for his Christmas "present" is this weekend. So even as we type and read, Dan is putting the finishing touches on his version of the Wexford Carol ("Good people all, this Christmas time, consider well and bear in mind...").
Composers have a weird out-of-sync experience as an occupational hazard: they are usually looking for just the right Christmas sonority while it's 90 degrees outside, and they often find themselves creating buoyant, sunny celebrations of spring in coldest, darkest January.
It's always a joy to receive a new commission, written specifically for Choral Arts Ensemble, and almost always for a specific person or celebration, and even for a specific space and acoustic. One slowly unwraps the gift, taking in the voicings, the general tempo and affect, the textures, the way the composer has divided up the text.
But musical notation is an imprecise business, really. The exact timbres and articulations and subtleties of phrasing--the things that REALLY make a piece sing--need to be slowly discerned over repeated sessions of study. One hopes to get inside the composer's head (or ear, I guess), to understand just what has been imagined, and how to re-create it. It's quite a fun, if daunting, challenge--made MUCH easier if you are dealing with live composers within phone or Skype range!
Of course, then it's a matter of finding the right rehearsal approach and techniques so the whole choir comes to share that same aural image. But both singers and conductors love that progression from first exposure ("this is different!") to relative comfort ("OK, I guess we won't crash and burn") to fluent mastery ("this piece will give the audience goosebumps"). We come to appreciate and love the music and it becomes part of us--we find ourselves humming a passage in the shower, or on the drive home.
It's likely you know Dan Kallman and his music--both are simply wonderful. A band teacher's son, Dan is effortlessly, joyously musical. For years, the Dale Warland Singers benefited from Dan's gorgeous baritone voice and flawless pitch. Children's choirs, church choirs, community and university choirs, bands and orchestras all around the country have been delighted to sing and play his music. He was one of the first composers commissioned by Choral Arts Ensemble, and he wrote a terrific new piece for the Honors Concert Choir to take on its first European tour, and several more since--all gems.
So, even as the baseball season is still upon us, we at CAE get to open our first Christmas present (and, come to think of it, Dan Kallman kinda looks like Santa Claus). We can't wait to see it, and to share it with you this December!