Since he first stepped to the helm as Artistic Director of The Saginaw Choral Society two years ago, Glen Thomas Rideout has quickly solidified a reputation for fusing an energetic and expansive vision that embraces different idioms of artistic expression into energetic performances and a fresh focus on the dexterity of choral music that appeals to a broad spectrum of ages and musical styles.
To kick of the 2012-13 concert season for The Saginaw Choral Society Rideout and the SCS will be collaborating with noted jazz pianist & composer Michael Brush for a performance entitled Shades Of Blue that will be held on Saturday, October 27th at 8:00 PM at Saginaw's Temple Theatre. Intent upon integrating the emotive textures generated both visually and musically by the color blue, this innovative program will explore shades of bluegrass, rhythm & blues, and the soaring permutations of blue skies that will also incorporate representations by local visual artists.
With two seasons at the directorial helm behind him, Rideout has had ample time to assess both the depth & potential of the Choral Society, which both factored into his plans for the upcoming season. “Last season we explored so many different ways of crafting a choral concert - more narrative styles, many forms of collaboration, so many genres of music, even a fog machine - that part of that exercise focused on teaching me where and when the choral society sings best and where our growing edges are located,” he reflects.
“What I've discovered is a remarkable flexibility on the part of the singers. The choral society comprises some of the community's brightest, wisest and most devoted musical minds. I am so fortunate to be in the company of singers so intently focused on building an uncompromisingly- excellent musical sound. And these singers have offered me so much of their trust. We've brought so many different facets of the choral repertoire to the stage in one year. From Mozart's Requiem to Meredith Monk's Astronaut Anthem, these singers dove right into the work without batting an eye. I'm continually impressed with the continually growing ease of singing in the many styles of choral music making. The new challenge is adding to that toolbox. It's finding more means to master the styles we know and to discover more. As our audience grows, we'll have to continue the tradition of being the relevant, engaging, uncompromisingly excellent voice that thrills Saginaw and the world beyond.”
Having worked with the SCS for a fair stretch of time now, Rideout can readily pinpoint their strengths, which he feels are clear. This is a chorus who values engaging and thrilling its audience; it's one that works so diligently to be fresh and vibrant for all ages and walks of life; and its made of singers whose capacity for precision and musicality grows exponentially each time we gather. But mainly, it's made of people who care for the people around them as much as for the musical product itself.”
“We're always working to solidify and improve. No choir's beyond that. The practice of making choral music is just that--a practice. It is a discipline, like religious devotion or basketball practice or a voice lesson. The honing and improving are never at an end. And that means our potential for success is never an empty jar.”
In approaching the conceptual task of pulling together this new fresh season, Rideout says the act of walking with his dogs was helpful. “I take LONG dog walks, listening to my favorite music and noticing the incredibly powerful and beautiful world I'm blessed to inhabit. My time with Thomas and Rex (the best canine companions for which a conductor could ask) is invaluable to my creative process. Over the year, I began to notice how much of my understanding of the world is related to color. I know the changes in the seasons by their hues, for instance. The earth is constantly changing its coat to a different, equally resplendent one. This season is a celebration that came out of those walks. A ferreting exploring of our relationship to colors, and color's relationship to our emotions and experiences. And our choir brings that journey to life with its resplendent palette of musical shades and vocal hues.”
Digging deeper into these thematic textures, Rideout decided to begin the season with the upcoming Shades of Blue production, which is the first concert that came to mind after he settled with 'living color' for the season's direction. “You get a lot of time looking at the sky when you're waiting for Thomas and Rex to finish sniffing out a squirrel's latest path,” he laughs. “The wide sunlit sky. The deep moon-drenched sea... our whole world is covered in shades of blue. Bluegrass, rhythm & blues, blue bossa... so is our music. So we begin the season visiting music's love of this evocative color. And these singers, I can say with confidence, are opening their season with a new sense of sound clarity and vocal color that's sure to rivet.”
“Getting to work with Mike Brush, the fantastic Saginaw jazz pianist has been an absolute joy. He's making an already excited program even more thrilling. You've not heard Blue Rondo a la Turk until you've heard SCS sing it with Mike and a jazz combo!”
And as for Mike Brush, who was honored last October for a lifetime of musical creation, 2012 has been a busy and important year, finding him expanding his skills at creative arrangement into full blown-orchestrations of original material.
“I consider it an honor not only to have been asked to be featured in "Shades of Blue" with the Saginaw Choral Society, but in this specific concert that connects with my stylistic interests,” explains Brush.
“I was given two places in the program to suggest songs. At first, I took some time to think about songs to play, concluding that I would suggest songs that I had written. I found a blues song written some time ago and wrote a new one. The new song is titled "Blue" with three verses that each speaks to a different aspect of blueness. The first is intended to address blue as 'the blues'. Without using the obvious, it can take the subject deeper - 'indigo'. The second verse is 'royal' blue that addresses the blue in courage. While naturally encompassing service to country, it is meant to include every act that defends virtue and truth. Verse three is 'azure' or sky blue. It is about hope in our inability to comprehend the great expanse of sky, and its inspiration. I love the writing process and where it seems to take itself. This song began with the vague idea of blue and unfolded into the three sections and their unplanned content, implied key changes and mode for each verse, and leading to a thematic conclusion.”
“Blue is intended to be a more formal song, in that it is to be performed mostly as written, while also containing improvisational passages,” continues Brush. “It will be sung by David Brown. David graduated from SASA in 2011 and was in the Voice/Keyboard class for most of his time there. He is a gifted singer, possessing a rare expressive quality. After all the years of working together, David has come to understand the intention behind many of the songs I have written and he has sung. He was a great choice, and with Ryan Fitzgerald and Steve Nyquist accompanying the song I look forward to its performance.”
As part of its goal to synthesize and integrate the realm of the visual arts into those of the aural, The Saginaw Choral Society is also working with Kara Brown, a local freelance artist & educator at Greenpoint Studio, who is assembling an exhibition of visual art dealing with the 'Shades of Blue' theme in order to merge with the musical arts so concert goers have a richer experience.
“Actual artworks will be featured in a promenade available for concert-goers to experience live at each event this season,” explains Kara. “Glen Thomas set out to develop a color scheme to highlight the musical selections of this season, so for Shades of Blue I invited local artists to participate in each concert; this invitation is still open for upcoming concerts, so artists may contact me if they wish to participate. After reviewing works submitted, I select those that fit not only the color, but also the tone of individual musical works featured in each concert.”
“This first concert includes nine artists, with fourteen works on display. The promenade is located in the Leopard Lounge at the Temple Theater. Guests may view the works before the concert as well as at intermission during a special cocktail time; drinks are following the color scheme as well. I aim to exhibit about fourteen works per concert. This concert includes work by artists Kathy Brush, Jon Elliott, Linda Kreager, Matt Krease, Allise Noble, Susan Pack, Tara Snyder, Doug Thornhill and myself.”
“Some works on display will be for sale. Interested patrons may give their contact information to me at each concert, and I will put them in touch with artists if they are not available at a particular concert.”
What was the most challenging component involved with pulling together this exhibition; and what were some of the factors that Kara feels distinguish the strength of this collection that she will showcase.
“At times when introducing a new concept, it may take time and press to establish interest. I have a very large contact list of community artists that I invited and as the momentum builds on the events, I believe more and more artists will be interested in trying this unique approach to melding the arts, especially to enforce the idea that the arts are vital to a community and that we can work together to enhance the experience of those that are attending these arts events.I am striving to include a spectrum of artists from our community, including professionals, amateurs, instructors and their students.”
“In moving forward with the submissions, I encourage visual artists to listen to the particular selections of music for each concert. They can strengthen their works by interpreting the words or expressing the mood of a piece of music. I want the viewers of the exhibitions to reflect on music they had just heard and give them another option to their own experience with the music.”
“Anyone interested in receiving information on how to participate in the three upcoming exhibitions should contact me, Kara Brown at email@example.com. The next submission deadline is October 29 for the December concert.”
Following this upcoming performance, the SCS will close out 2012 with their Holiday concert, A World Of Carols 2. “The World of Carols concept offers us an incredibly rich, and quite sustainable repertoire. Consider that at the end each year, for so many peoples and cultures, the world comes alive with celebrations of light. Kwanzaa and Chanukah, Christmas and Solstice warm our hearts and offer light to our communities. It has become a world tradition to end the year seeking the company of friends, of family, of community. And so many voices that hardly ever emerge from shower walls begin to sing Silent night, holy night and Siyahamba. We've done this all over the world for hundreds and hundreds of years, singing old songs and crafting new ones in languages familiar and foreign to us.”
“World of Carols, for me, is one of the easier concert themes to constantly re-imagine and re-visit. For every person, there's a unique and wonderful set of traditions and songs. So many ways to find and share joy! This year we're exploring Russia and Bavaria, Israel and Brazil. So, there's everything from Christmas bossa nova and chant native to the African continent. But, my favorite part of any year-end concert is hearing the room fill with the sounds of the songs that, despite our differences of faith and tradition, so many of us know and love. Very few memories are as dear to me as hearing our audience sing carols along the choral society. What a poignant, joyous metaphor for our community to build.”
The season continues into 2012 with a program entitled The Food of Love. Conceptually this topic opens a broad spectrum of musical & topical terrain to cover with the subject of love, especially the particular art of creating the perfect love song. How challenging was it to develop a set-list for this type of production?
“I'd been interested in crafting a concert about love, and I was particularly interested in the myriad facets and kinds of love,” reflects Glen. “Not just the burning passion of a love newly found, but also the depth of a mother's love for her child, the sudden new shape love takes when a relationship ends, the persistent love, spiritual faith and devotion. Love has a way of morphing and often growing inside of the body in countless ways.”
“Our human fascination with these 'love shapes' is so prevalent in the music of the ages. Justin Bieber and Beyoncé and Schumann and Brahms are woven into the ancient tradition that experiences and explains love through song. The quests for true love and true music are intimately woven into every voice. And so, each one's love is filled with music. And every inch of the world's truest music is steeped in love.”
“The great challenge of this program is narrowing this huge world of love song into one cohesive narrative. There's so much great music to be sung! We'll explore the world's great love songs - from enchanting lullabies and Hebrew love songs to scintillating tangos and hilarious break-up songs, from Motown to the Middle East. There's a story for everyone in this program, no matter what shape your love is taking.”
“I'd mention, also, that this program will showcase a very large collaborative effort between SCS and the choirs of White Pine Middle School & Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy. With so many moving parts (and moving choirs!), we'll be working quite diligently on the creating a seamless tapestry of loving wonder.”
And finally, closing out the season will be a presentation entitled Blaze of Glory, focusing upon John Rutter's Gloria, which Ridout says is one of the most riveting settings of ancient Catholic text. “I just wanted Saginaw to get its hands and ears on this experience. A tour de force with full brass choir and explosive percussion, the piece is a choral roller coaster,” enthuses Glen. “No one should miss this performance. We pair Rutter's work with a chant from the Puerto Rican Catholic church tradition, a soaring and markedly different view on these ancient words.”
“Some readers may remember that we began last season with the first story in the Judeo-Christian scripture (Creation). This year, we'll end with the season with the final story of the Bible, John's Revelation--an epic narrative of Jehovah's glorious return. So thrilling and poignant this story, it surpasses the bounds of belief and creed. And so colorful the images John depicts, it seems to cry for fascinating music. The choral society gives voice to magnificent horses and beastly creatures, fiery tumult and glorious victory.”
Tickets for 'Shades of Blue' featuring The Saginaw Choral Society & Michael Brush are available by calling 989-754-7469 or going to www.templetheatre.com. The Concert prelude begins at 7 PM in the Loepard Lounge featuring 'Promenade in Shades of Blue' by local visual artists and the concert performance begins at 8:00 PM.