NDSU music students learn from top choral composers
Published November 2, 2015
A student stood on stage, flanked by an NDSU choir and a string quartet. She had just performed a solo, in Hebrew, and the auditorium was silent as everyone waited for the Grammy Award-winning composer to speak.
He gently explained the correct pronunciations of the Hebrew words in his original piece. “Can you do it in a whisper?” he asked. “But, you know, a stage whisper?”
The student tried again. “Great,” the composer said, after hearing the dialogue performed as he directed.
The exchange was brief, but powerful. For junior Hana Trump, the student who had performed, it was akin to a one-on-one with Beethoven.
“It was amazing,” Trump said of working with visiting composer and conductor Eric Whitacre. “It’s not everyday that I can talk with a composer about what he was thinking when writing a piece or how he intended something to be performed. This really is inspiring.”
Whitacre was the headliner of the NDSU Choral Symposium. The three-day event brought several top choral music professionals to campus to teach students effective techniques, and how to manage the challenges of composing, conducting and writing modern choral music.
NDSU students learn from world-class faculty and also have the opportunity to interact with nationally and internationally known guest scholars and artists. Challey School of Music students spent three days learning from some of today’s top choral music professionals during the NDSU Choral Symposium.
NDSU students learn from world-class faculty and often have the opportunity to interact with nationally and internationally known guest scholars and artists. The symposium is the latest in a series of Challey School of Music events that have given students access to the best-of-the-best. Classical guitar virtuoso Christopher Parkening, Los Angeles philharmonic trumpet player Thomas Hooten and vocalist Kristin Korb also have been recent guest performers or lecturers at NDSU.
Whitacre gave the event’s keynote speech and worked with NDSU choral ensembles for a performance of his music and the work of other composers that closed out the symposium. World-renowned vocal ensemble Cantus – featuring NDSU alumnus Matthew Tintes – also performed.
Whitacre was the symposium’s star. The 2012 Grammy Award winner for Best Choral Performance filled Festival Concert Hall with energy as he gestured, joked and sometimes leaped his way through rehearsal sessions with students.
He explained how he wanted voices on one of his pieces to create tension like the motions of a pulling on a bow and shooting an arrow. He let students in on the secret of how another of his arrangements leaves audiences breathless by design. And he got emotional as he told the story of how courting his wife inspired his popular “Five Hebrew Love Songs.”
Whitacre also had a question and answer session with students, discussing his process of setting other people’s words to music, the stories behind his songs and future plans to hopefully produce music by an up-and-coming pop artist.
“Being able to work with someone like Eric Whitacre speaks to the opportunities that NDSU provides on a regular basis,” said Jeff Stone, a music graduate student. “The chance to work with unbelievably talented people like this is almost surreal. It also speaks to the strength of the School of Music that we are able to bring in people like Eric Whitacre and others.”