JEREMIAH KRANIAK: Growing the Collective Voice of the Community

Saginaw Choral Society Launches 80th Season with ‘Songs from the Heartland’

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music,   From Issue 817   By: Robert E Martin

15th October, 2015     0

The Saginaw Choral Society is entering a major threshold as they enter their 80th season of celebrating the powerful beauty delivered through the incomparable uniqueness of the human voice. And the chorus has never been stronger. 

Guided by the watchful, enthusiastic, and energetic vision of new interim musical director Jeremiah Kraniak, the SCS is busily making preparations for their kickoff concert entitled Songs from the Heartland, which will take place at The Temple Theatre on Saturday, October 24th, showcasing a dazzling litany of choral material centered around the homespun originality & creativity that emanates from our region.

Taking over the creative helm from departing director Glen Thomas Rideout, new interim director Jereimah Kraniak is a native of New Haven, Michigan and holds a B.A. degree in Music Education from Saginaw Valley State University and studied voice under the guidance of Dr. Julie Meyer. He has performed as a featured soloist with the Saginaw Choral Society and worked extensively with SVSU’s Department of Theatre, and also serves as Choral Assistant at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Presently he is pursuing his Master’s Degree at Central Michigan University and is the former instructor of the Voice/Keyboard Concentration at Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy, which he took over from former program pioneer Michael Brush.

Jeremiah’s involvement with choral music is decidedly a story of evolution, with an involvement in choral music that ironically began late in his pursuits.   “I grew up on a small farm 2 hours south of here and started my studies as a biology major with an emphasis on veterinarian medicine,” he explains. “I started at CMU and took one semester of biology and hated it, so transferred over to SVSU half way through my first year and decided to become a music major. I started out as flutist and didn’t start singing until my 4th year of undergraduate work, so singing came late to me in life.”

“I became involved in voice lessons with Dr. Julie Meyer at SVSU, who said that I possessed a voice worth developing; and while I was pursuing my Bachelors Degree I joined with a group of students who wanted to form a Chamber Choir. I’d never been in a large chorus and wanted to try Chamber Music so we started up The Cardinal Singers at SVSU. Amazingly, with only two semesters of choir under my belt, I started student teaching, which proved to be an easy transition.”

While pursuing his Education Degree at SVSU, Jeremiah came across an opening at the Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy (SASA) for the Voice Keyboard program that was taught by Michael Brush. “It seemed very attractive to develop the talents of auditioned students each day for 2 hours and teach them about music theory; and at the same time I was working with Saginaw Choral Society as a Special Projects coordinator, so I sent an email to Mr. Brush, whom I had never met, and asked how we could make this happen. We sat down and talked and through that meeting I secured an internship and eventually replaced Mr. Brush as the program director at SASA.”

“Choral music fortunately came naturally to me and some of the most talented musicians that are out there are singers,” continues Jeremiah. “While at SASA I was able to get sounds out of the students that I wanted and began to really change the atmosphere to create an environment that focused more upon choral singing, as opposed to the idea of solo instrumentation. Indeed, one of my goals in life as it pertains to Saginaw is to create an environment of choral singing for our area.  There is something very powerful about working with the human body as your instrument.”

 

Setting the Tone for the 80th Season

In setting the program and shaping the theme for Saginaw Choral Society’s 80th season, Jeremiah says that when he was first approached by the Board to assume the helm for this landmark year, he quickly composed an entire seasonal program that came to him through an epiphany about the commitment he was making personally to the organization.

“I came to the realization that if I take this on and invest my time and energy in this way I am basically committing myself to settling down in Saginaw,” he explains. “I’ve been living in Saginaw since 2004 and have stayed here 11 years and just turned 30 in June, so if I was committing myself to making Saginaw my home, I also wanted my first season to center around musical reflections of what reminds me of home.”

It was out of this that the first two featured season performances were born.

“My goal is to leave a legacy and therefore this first concert of the season ‘Songs from the Heartland’ is all centered around folk music and the concept of folk hymns and things that are familiar to people,” he continues. “We’ll be performing arrangements of folk tunes like Shenandoah along with a great men’s’ arrangement of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and will also feature Grefe Gaus Grefe on a beautiful version of Simon & Garfunkel’s America. We will also feature compositions of Michigan songwriters and Mike Brush’s arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner, with the entire program centered around material that ties into the notion of home and homeland.”

Many years ago for their annual Holiday Concert performance, the Saginaw Choral Society would feature guest artists such as Andy Williams and Robert Goulet, who would come in and perform with the chorus for unforgettable evenings of entertainment. It was with this in mind that Jeremiah also shaped the following Holiday Concert for the SCS Christmas concert.

“Moving into the Holiday Concert, I wanted to look at the notion of what ties to home do we have, and for me I feel it important that the Choral Society in particular should revive the idea of bringing back guest artists,” reflects Jeremiah.

“So for our Home for the Holidays concert on December 12th I wanted to bring in Kevin Cole and Sylvia McNair for a special performance.   Kevin Cole is one of the world’s most notable classical pianists, hailing from Bay City, Michigan; and Sylvia McNair has sung in every concert hall around the world. Kevin will be doing arrangements for the Chorus and my hopes are that this performance will span the generations.”

 

Uniting the Community Through the Power of Song

Jeremiah is quick to point out his sense of good fortune insofar as everything he does revolves around work that he loves; and one of his stated pivotal goals is to expand the numbers and reach of the chorus throughout the community.

“The Saginaw Choral Society is a chorus that has been fantastic to work with,” he states. “This summer I did some major recruiting and am immensely pleased with the results. Last year the largest concert staged by the SCS consisted of 57 singers, whereas this year we now have 85 singers on board. Once I signed on for this directorship my focus turned immediately to the chorus. I told the Board of Directors we needed to rebuild it from the bottom up and they said, ‘Fine – how do we do that?’ So at that point I reached out to chorus members, former students that I had at SASA, and a number of colleagues to pull a resource network together.  We’re in a unique position in this region because we have a university to draw from and my five years at SASA also opened different doors for recruitment, so am pleased that we are quickly growing.”

“Choral singing in general is not as attractive from the outside perspective as orchestra music, which is seen as the higher entity,” states Jeremiah. “But the nice thing about choral music is that anybody can do it. You can literally build a choir from the resources of a complete community and that’s what it’s about for me. Promoting that end of it has been very helpful.”

“I seriously want to urge anybody remotely interested in singing to contact us and come in for an audition,” emphasizes Jeremiah. “Even if you don’t feel comfortable, I can teach you to sing – all you need to be is open to learning. I would say of the 30 new singers we have onboard, 2/3 are under the age of 25.  However, auditioning can be an intimidating experience. Singing by yourself is a very intimate thing and people feel exposed, let alone having someone judge what you internalize as you.”

“Right now with the chorus we have people with Masters degrees in voice and formerly trained opera singers, all the way down to people who haven’t sung in a chorus in 20 years,” continues Jeremiah. “And every one of those voices is valuable. I can’t have two people who are wonderful opera singers singing next to each other, because the voices don’t go together very well. You need to have buffer voices – somebody who can help even out the powerful tones – so the 3 voices together feel more supportive because they are organized in a way that makes each of them valuable.”

Finally, in terms of his top goals for the organization, Jeremiah says that while his key goal of growing the chorus is off to a good start, he would like to still witness even more involvement. “I want to make people feel comfortable doing this,” he explains. “The sound of the chorus is fantastic right now and I’m thrilled about what I’m getting gout of them; but I know there are people still hiding in the shadows that have great voices. Those people should definitely contact us. Let me do the hard work and you provide the voice. I will make things work.”

“Apart from that, my other two top goals are to improve our presence within the community,” concludes Jeremiah. “The Choral Society has a unique opportunity in that way because it is a community organization made up of everyday community members. Because of that it should be everywhere and we are always striving to create a greater community presence.”

“I’ve also taken a unique stance regarding sponsorships, because ultimately I believe we need to ask what people need from us as an organization,” states Jeremiah. “If we go into a business and ask them to sponsor a performance, I feel it equally important to find out what that business needs from our endeavors. As much as I believe having a strong chorus is the ultimate root of what we do, it’s more than that – there are other ways that our 80-plus members can serve and help, so my goal is to also look at what skill sets we have and what we can offer to people beyond what it is that we currently do.  What do people need? That is one of the hardest things to identify; and nobody comes forward with an answer to that until you ask.”

The Saginaw Choral Society’s ‘Songs from the Heartland’ takes place October 24th at the Temple Theatre in Saginaw at 8:00 PM. Experience choral music at its finest from the wide Missouri to a Michigan Morn.  For tickets and more information phone 989-754-SHOW or visit www.saginawchoralsociety.com

 

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