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January 26, 2007

Austin Chronicle (TX):

Grammy-nominated Conspirare brings together 600 voices in search of our national sound.

Hey, Walt Whitman, you crowed about how you could hear America singing, but you never bothered to name that tune. What were those "varied carols" being sung by the mechanics and masons and mothers and deckhands and hatters and seamstresses and all? Appalachian folk songs? Shaker hymns? A few of Stephen Foster's greatest hits, mayhap? Or and I know this is after your time, but still ... some standards by the Gershwin brothers or Mr. "God Bless America" himself, Irving Berlin?

What I'm getting at here is: What makes an American song American? What's the sound that belongs uniquely to our country? Is it something found only in musical forms that were planted and sprouted here, like, say, spirituals, ragtime, jazz, soul, rock & roll? What about certain composers and songwriters whose work seems ineffably to capture in melody the land of the free and home of the brave? I'm thinking of folks such as Aaron Copland, John Philip Sousa, Woody Guthrie, Scott Joplin.

And Walt, your Americans were all singing their separate songs, but what does it mean when people in this country get together and sing, when they pool those voices into a mighty red, white, and blue chorus? Does it sound any different than one in Canada or South Africa or Spain? What is the state of the choir in America today?

These may not be questions on which the fate of the republic hangs, but their answers may still tell us something about who we are as a nation, about the unique ways in which we express ourselves and how that has evolved over our 400 years as a culture. At the very least, they'll make for some lively discussion in our town this weekend as hundreds of choristers gather here for what may well be the largest choral festival in the nation this year.

It's called Crossing the Divide: Exploring Influence and Finding Our Voice , and it's yet one more example of how Conspirare, the esteemed professional choir based in Austin, has developed into one of the leading vocal ensembles anywhere. Conspirare whose name you might recall hearing around the time the Grammy nominations were announced, scoring a nod for its second CD, Requiem We Are So Lightly Here, in the category of Choral Performance is one of just seven choruses in the country that the National Endowment for the Arts chose to host a choral festival as part of an initiative called American Masterpieces. The idea is to support major projects centered on the nation's "cultural and artistic legacy."

Conspirare had the idea of rooting around in the roots of America's choral music traditions, and the NEA liked the idea to the tune of $75,000 the largest grant the federal agency made in the choral music category of the initiative. So now eight diverse choruses from around the state will be in Austin January 25-28 to perform separately and, on Sunday, in a 600-voice massed choir. In between and around the concerts will be workshops and forums that explore that "American voice" through its many varied musical traditions, as well as through the words of American poets. (Did you catch that, Walt? They hear America lyricizing!) More

Posted by acapnews at January 26, 2007 12:05 AM