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April 13, 2005

Singers fall silent after 33 year run

Pioneer Press (MN):

According to the adage, the only sure things in life are death and taxes. Unfortunately, both will come this week to the Dale Warland Singers, which will officially close its books after three decades of noteworthy music making. Never heard of the group? You're not alone. This 40-member choral ensemble toiled in a genre that in what passes for today's culture doesn't merit an MTV music video or a reality TV show.

That's a shame, because the group was one of the premier vocal ensembles in the country and in no small way is responsible for St. Paul's reputation as a place that supports the arts. "They were one of the major artistic forces," said Barry Kempton, general manager of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which often collaborated with the group. "They had a genuine national reputation, perhaps best known for their huge contribution to the body of new choral works, particularly by Minnesota composers."

Warland founded the group in 1972 with simple goals: form a professional chorus that would set a high standard, and encourage and perform works by new composers. More than three decades later, it's fair to say he succeeded. "The Dale Warland Singers helped to set the bar of artistic excellence for choruses in the Twin Cities very high indeed," said Ann Meier Baker, president of Chorus America.

The choir has worked with 150 composers and commissioned 270 works; performed with the Minnesota Orchestra, Minnesota Opera, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the Dave Brubeck Quartet; traveled to Frankfurt for Bach's 300th birthday, toured Norway and Sweden, and appeared at every major choral festival in the U.S. "They are one of the primary reasons why Minnesota is known as a strong state in terms of choral singing, support and commissioning of contemporary music, and classical music making," said SPCO's Kempton.

The group has won nearly every award available for the genre, and in 2003 received a Grammy nomination for "Walden Pond," a collection of original works by American composer Dominick Argento. Ironically, there was some initial dissent in the group over the work. "It was not a popular project," said Gayle Ober, the group's executive director. "It took a long time to make and it was an expensive project that required us to raise nearly $70,000 outside the general operating fund to complete it." The project was even turned down by the Aaron Copland Foundation, which encourages original American works. But Warland persevered and, as a result, the group got its first and only Grammy nomination.

Indeed, for all the group's accolades, nearly everyone agrees that Warland was the one with the vision and drive to bring it all together. Warland, who turns 73 this week, is reluctant to talk about his success. When pressed, he says he hopes "people will remember our inspiring performances." They can, through 27 recordings. Two more have been recorded but not yet released. In May the group will release "Harvest Home," a disc of American folk song hymns. A second untitled work of cathedral music is also in the can. It is tentatively titled "Cathedral Classics II" 1994's "Cathedral Classics I" sold 26,000 copies, almost unheard of for this genre. Some of the cuts got wide play on public radio and ended up in movie scores.

There's also the group's library, which has been donated to the University of Cincinnati, perhaps Warland's only regret. "I was hoping to leave it in Minnesota, but Cincinnati had an outstanding proposal," he said. Otherwise, he doesn't seem the least bit melancholy that the curtain is dropping on what's arguably his signature life work. "There's nothing wrong with starting something good and eventually stopping it," said Warland. Indeed, there's a lesson there for us all. Rather than be glum about the demise of the Dale Warland Singers, Minnesotans should be proud that they had them at all. And take a moment this week to reflect on this remarkable homegrown group.

Posted by acapnews at April 13, 2005 12:40 AM