Sunday, June 17, 2012
Composers, Conductors, and Choirs
The prospect of interviewing Lydia Adams was a formidable one. In my mind, the choral heavy weights in Canada consist of the three professional choirs in our country: The Elmer Iseler Singers, Pro Coro Canada, and the Vancouver Chamber Choir. Thus, the choral influence of each of these respective organizations is due in large part to their Artistic Directors. I knew I better not mess this up. The choral shame would be too much to bear. Adams is the conductor and Artistic Director of the Elmer Iseler Singers. She met with me following her joint concert with the Elmer Iseler Singers and the MacMillian Singers at Podium 2012, which honoured the work of Canadian composer Ruth Watson Henderson.
In beginning our interview with post-concert reflections, the topic of Canadian choral composers and their relationships with conductors surfaced. There is a delicate balance of coexistence between conductors and composers because you cannot have one without the other. A choral composer’s work is given meaning when a choir performs it and a choir needs constant musical inspiration from a composer. In Adams’s mind, it was important to recognize the work of Ruth Watson Henderson and Canadian composers in general because “they write and work so had and how much are they really recognized as being an important voice for Canada? They really are the voice. They are the creators.” While the choir does become a conduit for the composer's voice, the bond between a choir conductor and a composer is also crucial because their collaboration both function to elevate the other. Adams cites her inspiration for keeping a professional group like the Elmer Iseler Singers moving forward is the work of new composers: “It's easy because there are constantly new composers coming forward. I am on the constant search for new composers.” Of course, not just any new composer talent will suffice. “They have to know how to write for voice. They have to know how to set text… somebody who goes for something deeper.” It seems so simple in theory but the prospect of composing music that addresses the aforementioned criteria seemed daunting to me, but then again, I am not a choral composer.
Upon being asked what she hopes to contribute to the history of the ensemble, Adams humbly announces that she wants to be remembered as someone who made great music. There is a concise beauty in Adams’s statement. It is comforting to know that the simple goal of making music continues to guide one of Canada’s influential choral voices.
An interview post part of a Podium 2012 Series cross-posted on Sound and Noise and the ACCC Choral Bytes Blog