CMAA Colloquium 2007
Many around the blogosphere have sung the praises of the recent Colloquium out in DC, and I would like to add my name to the list. The week was very well-organized and tons of fun. Let me reiterate a few positives that people have already mentioned, and then I'll add a few critiques/areas for improvement.
1) Repertoire. The rep was great. The chant Propers were wonderful, obviously, but the polyphony was carefully selected and held my interest throughout the week. The Croce and the Bruckner especially were nice discoveries.
2) Conductors. Scott Turkington and Dr. Buchholz were both top-notch. I liked the fact that Scott seemed very well-versed in the chant research of the Solesmes school and could speak to different styles of interpretation. Dr. Buchholz was an absolute stitch and made rehearsals very enjoyable.
3) Speakers. Dr. Mahrt was especially wonderful, though I can't remember a talk in which I wasn't engaged for the duration. Dr. Mahrt was probably the first speaker I've encountered who absolutely oozed erudition, but had no hint of pretensiousness. A rare combination, unfortunately.
4) Participants. What a great lot! I met a lot of wonderful people from all areas of the liturgical world and some great musicians to boot. It was great to actually feel the enthusiasm that permeated the whole week. It was an inspiration and an encouragement to myself and to my position.
5) Organists. Wow, did we have some great organists there! During at least one mass, Scott Turkington, Dr. Buchholz, and David Hughes took turns at the console and each was spectacular. To be able to improvise like that! I have a (holy) envy for all three of them!
6) Coffeehouse. This was an absolute hoot, though I believe I skipped out before the best part (Did anyone record David Hughes' performance?). This was a great opportunity for everyone to let their hair down and enjoy a relaxed atmosphere of singing and sketch comedy. The booze sure helped out as well! : )
I'm sure there's much more to say in this vein, but there's no need to re-invent the wheel; others have already preached the wonders of the week. Let me move forward to some areas I felt were lacking.
1) Chamber Choir auditions. The chamber choir was loads of fun; it's always great to work with a smaller, advanced group of singers. Unfortunately, it was pretty clear that the selection of singers was a bit unbalanced. Any person with a discerning eye could tell that there were some names on the final list that were not on the audition list; in other words, some people seemed to make the group without having to audition. These folks were all members of the CMAA executive board so I'm sure they were very busy during the scheduled audition times; nonetheless, I think the situation left a sour taste in many folks' mouths. I think you just have to be upfront and tell people, "Listen, we let a few folks in without auditioning because they have been faithful to this organization for a while and they deserve it." Or whatever the reason is . . . just don't be sneaky about it.
Update: A few CMAA members explained the situation and I am convinced that I came to the wrong conclusions. Briefly, the Chamber Choir idea came up late, was not expected to be a big deal, but it was. I'm certain that it will be done differently in coming years. My apologies to anyone that I may have offended by my harsh words.
Also, we could have used a bit more time to rehearse with this group; the Palestrina on Saturday afternoon was a bit shaky at times since we hadn't touched the piece in about 48 hours I believe.
2) Pre-mass organization. I know that the CMAA folk had never dealt with such a number of participants before but the only time it really showed was immediately before mass. No instructions were given well in advance of mass in regards to where everyone should be seated. I know it was a daunting challenge as we had 3 different scholas, and two polyphonic choirs (a large and a small), but the chaos was a bit unsettling and not conducive to preparation for mass. You just didn't get the feeling that the powers-that-be had thought some of these logistical issues through before the fact. Hopefully, with a year under their belt, it will be a bit more organized next year.
3) Elgar's Ave Verum. Who the heck selected this setting for the Requiem mass?!? I love this piece, but it could have hardly sounded more out of place at this mass. For those not in attendance, the Requiem mass was chanted from start to finish, with the Propers, the Ordinary, and the priest's parts done sublimely. I'm not sure I've ever experienced a liturgy more beautiful . . . and then at the end of communion we fire up the organ (for the first time in the liturgy, mind you) and do an English anthem. What?!? Why not the Byrd setting? Why not the chant? How did this happen? We might as well have sung "Amazing Grace" . . .
4) Focus on texts. Halfway through one of our final rehearsals for the male advanced schola, a fine priest finally spoke up and said to Mr. Turkington, "Look, you haven't said one word about the text during our rehearsals and how the music related to it; what gives?" I think many of us were thinking it as well; not once before that did the link between text and tune come to the forefront. One thing I love to learn about from folks more educated in chant than myself is this kind of thing; what kind of word-painting is going on? why was this particular mode used for this chant? what does this neume convey in this textual context?
Update: A reader felt that I was unfairly criticizing Scott in this portion of my post. I e-mailed Scott and he was not offended in the least and was glad that I was forthright in my words. Another apology if anyone else found this out of order. BTW, I have changed the wording slightly in each of these modifications for archival purposes.
5) Articulation in the Crypt. Man, is that a lovely acoustic . . . so lively, but the potential for disaster in a choral group of that size. With a choir of 140 in an reverberant acoustic such as that, it's imperative that the conductor be insistent about rhythmic precision and make some articulation adjustments. You just can't do everything legato and expect it to sound polished during mass. The rhythm was quite sloppy at times.
6) Round table discussion. I think we should have one of these every year. There seemed to be a nice amount of time throughout the week for people to meet colleagues and discuss ideas, but not enough time to pick the brains of the big-wigs that were present. The end of Dr. Poterack's talk was a good start, but I think a panel of experts who will field questions for an hour or so would be a great use of time. Some peope are well-versed in the current issues, but others are not and they'd like some answers, I believe.
I'm sure there's more, but those are my thoughts at 6:30 in the morning. I hope the negatives don't make it sound like I had a bad experience at the Colloquium; it was an 11-hour drive not wasted! Kudos to the CMAA for a wonderful week!