2015 Buzz Magazine Interview

FEBRUARY 17, 2015
By Todd Rykaczewski

Q: What would you like the community to think about when they think of the Island Chamber Singers?

A: I would like for people to think the word quality…repertoire, choral performances with instrumental accompaniment, venue.  Also, the word professionalism comes to mind.

Q: How important is classical choral literature to a community?  Is that importance reflected in your performance of “Fate and Fortune” on April 17 and 19?

A: Classical literature is very important to a community for a variety of reasons.  First, it gives people who love to sing it an opportunity to do so.  That is how we started as a group.  I had at least three or four people ask me if there was a choral group that sang classical music.  At the time (2004) I had to say “no.”  It was from this that I decided to advertise and see if there were people who would like to be a part of a classical group.  Twenty-four people came to the initial meeting and they became Island Chamber Singers.  Many of them are still active in the group.

Secondly, it provides a means for the general public to hear the literature at a reasonable cost and at the same time develop an audience for classical choral music.  On Amelia Island, we are blessed to have the Chamber Music Festival.

We work hand-in-hand to continue making people aware of different types of classical music.  Mostly the chamber music is instrumental; our group combines the instrumental with the choral.  There is something for everyone. 

Finally, I believe the enjoyment of listening to fine music performed well is uplifting to the community and makes the overall environment more culturally stimulated and a better place to live. 

That importance is reflected in our performance of “Fate and Fortune” in that many people who have never been exposed to this music will find that they like it. It will motivate them to continue to try something new and different and expand their knowledge and musical tastes.

Q: Why did you choose to perform Carmina Burana?  Do you think “O Fortuna” still reflects well today?

A: I selected Carmina Burana because I love the piece.  There is every kind of music you can imagine; it is funny, cleverly put together; percussive; demanding of a choral group trying to sing the lyrics that are medieval Latin and High Middle German; enjoyable to sing and to listen to.  It grows on you with every rehearsal and it gets in your head.  There’s nothing quite like trying to sleep at night with “Veni, Veni, Venias” going through your head ninety miles an hour.  You wish it would go away, but it doesn’t.  One of my desires as Music Director is to introduce new music to our audiences from both the Classical and Romantic Periods but from the twentieth century as well.  I am very careful in selecting music because, though I personally love Stravinsky, his music is often extremely difficult for the general audience to appreciate.  However, we are trying to do a contemporary work in the spring each year; last year we performed Brubeck’s Mass and Songs and Sonnets from Shakespeare by George Shearing.  It was mostly focusing on 3rd Stream music which is the combination of classical and jazz.  It was fun and my singers keep asking to do it again.  Next year…who knows? 

I believe “O Fortuna” still reflects well today in that most of us live in a “wheel of fortune”.  Sometimes you feel you are at the mercy of lady luck.  As the poem says “hateful life first oppresses and then soothes as fancy takes it.”  Another reason I think it still reflects is the number of university bands who play the theme at football games.  Is that ever fate and fortune…especially if you are a Florida Gator fan. (You don’t have to mention this in the article).

Q: In your opinion, do you believe specific words in poetry have an instrument that defines them, or is the music more about the overall tone of the poem?

A: This is really an interesting question.  One of my favorite tone poems is The Swan of Tuonela by Sibelius.  The instrument featured as the swan is the English Horn and the entire piece is written in a very low range, even the violins play in the low positions.  In this sense, the instruments definitely define the poem.  Our version of Carmina Burana is for two pianos and five percussionists playing unpitched percussion instruments such as drums, castanets, cymbals and triangles as well as timpani, xylophone and glockenspiel.  It is the overall effect of all this percussion that creates the tone of the poem.  I guess I’d have to say that it depends on the piece itself.  Whereas Sibelius has created a mood with one instrument primarily that reflects the words of the poem, Orff has brought together a large contingent of percussion instruments to do the same thing.

Q: Do you believe there’s a connection between Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and his approach toward music education for children?  

A: With the exception of the percussive elements, I would have to say no.  His approach is totally different. 

Carl Orff believed that the first element of music that children experienced was the mother’s heartbeat or rhythm.  He used instruments such as xylophones, glockenspiels and unpitched percussion instruments to teach the finer points of music to teach children.  In his approach, Orff taught children in a natural environment where they sang, danced, clapped and improvised music.  There was no fear of performing as it was not a focus of the learning. 

However, in Carmina Burana, the natural environment and child’s play disappears.  In studying the score, it is obvious that Orff believed in the power of percussion.  The rhythms are often complex and driving and there is a great amount of mixed meter.  The simplest part of the work is the notes.  Yet, when faced with the fast tempos and the language, the piece becomes much more difficult.   Often his scoring is in three parts doubled between the men’s and women’s voices.  The ranges often are incredibly difficult where the soloists sing almost impossible notes for their particular voice part.  In the next to the last piece in the score, the sopranos and tenors are singing high Bs and the other voices are singing as difficult ranges relative to the sopranos and tenors. 

Orff wrote to his publisher, Schott Music, after several very successful performances that “everything I have written to date, and which you have, unfortunately, printed, can be destroyed.  With Carmina Burana my collected works begin.”  He was extremely lucky to have developed an approach to music education for children that has survived and grown worldwide and to have written such a monumental and loved piece of music.