June 30th, 2016
L. Brett Scott has touched many sides of the choral world in his career so far, and it figures that plenty more is in store. “My association has gone from a symphonic chorus, to research, to a community choir, and now includes a larger choral-orchestral ensemble again,” he says.
As he has balanced shifting roles, academia has been a consistent home for Scott, now Associate Professor of Ensembles and Conducting at the University Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He has also found a way to stay connected to Chorus America through his various career phases. “My relationship with Chorus America has changed over time depending on my situation, but it’s been a constant. And I think that shows the broad umbrella that Chorus America is.”
Before our 2016 Conference in Cincinnati, Scott spoke with Chorus America president and CEO Catherine Dehoney about his many activities in the choral field and the Conference coming to his home city.
Q: What trends are you seeing in your incoming students and the choral conducting profession going forward?
LBS: Our focus at CCM is to prepare our students for whatever choral career they feel drawn to. Even in 2007 when I started teaching here, especially for the doctoral degree program, it used to be that students imagined themselves teaching at a college or university, but that’s really not the case anymore. Now we’ve had several of our graduates go on to significant church positions, we’ve had recent alums start their own choirs (I’m thinking of Brandon Elliot and the Choral Arts Initiative). We try to prepare them to do whatever they want, and I think that’s reflective of where the career is going. All of us do multiple things. And even if your job is primarily in academia, you do other interesting things as well. We want our students to be comfortable in a variety of settings.
Even if they don’t anticipate ever going in a certain direction, you never know what it is you’ll end up doing. I think there’s a greater acknowledgement of that among today’s students. They realize they may not get a great university job right out of school. They may find themselves working at a great church job, or with an oratorio chorus, or starting their own chorus using their entrepreneurial skills and drive, and they need to be prepared for all of those things as well.
Q: You will be taking on a new leadership role with the National Collegiate Choral Organization (NCCO). What are you looking forward to in that role?
LBS: My official title is president elect, and in January of 2018, I will take over as president. It’s still a relatively new organization, about ten years old. We are looking to provide resources that will help the collegiate conductor in their job and address issues specific to the collegiate world, but also help them develop as a conductor generally. For example, the use of language in the rehearsal, given some of the social changes and realizations that are happening, such as gender identity, and how that affects the conductor. And things like bridging the gap between high school and college to keep people singing.
Q:Your time as the editor of Chorus America’s Research Memorandum Series (RMS) will soon come to an end. What prompted you to take on this role?
LBS: I had written a few articles for the RMS. I knew David DeVenny, a previous editor, and he had encouraged me. I realized the value of it – it filled a niche that was not being met anywhere else. It’s wonderful to have a thorough list of resources for a given topic in the field. My first published article in the US was through the Research Memorandum Series. It led me to editing, for other things as well. When David approached me and said that he would be stepping back from editing RMS, I thought this was a worthwhile effort that should be supported. That’s why I applied.
The Cincinnati Camerata
The RMS is a wonderful entry to the world of writing and publishing, particularly for people at the beginning of their career to dip their toes in. When I was in school, there were very few choral conductors who considered publishing research to be any significant part of their career. For a long time, the thinking was, “Well, I’m a conductor – I don’t do research.” With the new generation that’s coming up, I there is a bit more emphasis on the research end of things. The RMS is a great opportunity; an outlet to show them their work can be published. There’s also a realization that there is a lot of research that can be done in our field, and that it is of value to the entire community.
Q: Outside of your activities at CCM, what choral ensembles are you involved with in Cincinnati?
LBS: I direct the Cincinnati Camerata, a chamber choir of 30-32 singers. Their focus has been on a cappella and chamber music, with a long history of supporting new music. They have done premieres almost every year, and have a choral composition competition that has been in existence for about 15 years now. We also have a longstanding tradition of presenting a ‘Marian’ concert in December of music associated with Mary in many aspects, but it’s not a Christmas or holiday concert per se. Many of the singers have music degrees; it is a good opportunity for many music teachers and others who aren’t doing music professionally to sing a variety of music at a high level.
I started directing Musica Sacra two years ago. This group has been in existence for 50 years - it’s one of the longest-standing choirs in Cincinnati. It was founded by Helmut Roehrig at a time when there weren’t any choirs in Cincinnati focused on sacred choral-orchestral repertoire. I also have professional group which is more of a recording choir, called Coro Volante, that will be launched early next year.
Q: Tell us about one big success in one of your choruses that you’re really proud of.
LBS: The Camerata does a lot of collaborations with other community organizations. We just did a concert opera with NANOWorks, Cincinnati’s contemporary opera company, and concert:nova, our contemporary instrumental ensemble. We had Cincinnati Public Schools students participate as the children’s choir, the opera department at CCM provided the stage director, and many CCM students were soloists in the production as well. I thought it was a great example of how collaboration can work. It was a lot of work, but something that is important to us. Even as an amateur organization with a fairly limited budget, we want to be instigators of collaboration and do interesting things that we couldn’t do on our own.
Q: What’s something you have your eye on for the future?
LBS: Musica Sacra tends to do shorter programs, and I’d like to see us start cycling through the Handel oratorios. There’s no one in Cincinnati who is really doing that, other than the Messiah – maybe there have been a couple performances of Israel in Egypt. There are multiple organizations that focus on Bach, but no group really doing the major Handel works.
"My relationship with Chorus America has changed over time depending on my situation, but it’s been a constant. And I think that shows the broad umbrella that Chorus America is."
In the Camerata, in a couple years we are going to build a program around the Catulli Carmina, the second part of the Carl Orff triptych (which also includes Carmina Burana). I’m working with dance faculty at CCM, a dance troupe in Cincinnati, and concert:nova again, as well as the Young Professionals Choral Collective – this music is right up their alley. It’s the first time we’ll have worked with a dance company. We’re also in talks with the Contemporary Arts Center to have them host the event in one of their galleries. That’s the next big project.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge facing a chorus of yours today?
LBS: I think the Camerata is going through that tricky transitional phase right now. We’re trying to do bigger projects, and the main thing is that our budget is too small and we’re too small to qualify for a lot of grants. We want to keep growing and take on interesting things, but there comes a certain point where you’re not quite big enough to get a lot of the resources that you need, but big enough to stretch the resources that you have. I think it’s sort of normal growing pains. Finding sustaining funding is going to be our next big challenge as an organization.
Q: Can you tell us about a particular time where your Chorus America membership has helped you?
LBS: My first Chorus America Conference was in Pittsburgh in 2004. I was working at the University of Rochester, and to my surprise I had landed a symphonic chorus job with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, which is a type of position I had never imagined myself doing. It was a very active chorus, and a different world. At the Conference there was so much that was relevant to what I was doing outside of the university – dealing with a board, finances, and the like – and just hearing the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh was wonderful. I really enjoyed it.
Q: What are you looking forward to most about the Chorus America Conference coming to your own city?
LBS: I’ve talked to Craig Hella Johnson and I’ve been encouraging everyone to come to The Big Sing. We’ve been talking about bringing Conference to Cincinnati for so long, it’s so exciting that it’s finally happening. My colleague Earl Rivers has been talking about doing this ever since I arrived in 2007. It’ll give people a chance to see what a wonderful singing city we are. There are so many groups of every kind, especially for a city this size. You can sing every night of the week – and I think some people probably do!
Q: In what ways will you be a part of Conference?
LBS: The Camerata is going to be one of the workshop choirs for the Let My People Go! in-depth session with Donald McCullough and William Caldwell. Our singers are all working people and many of them are taking time off work to do this, just because they feel that it’s that important. It’s a chance to work intensely on a body of repertoire that’s not really familiar to us – spirituals aren’t something we do very often.
Q:How did you come to work in choral music?
LBS: I was a pianist initially. I grew up in rural Manitoba in a town with one high school and 4,000 people. I never thought I would end up here. My mother was musical – she was the one who drove me an hour each way to the next city for piano lessons every week.
After my undergraduate program, I realized that I didn’t want to spend eight hours a day in a practice room. Looking back now, choral music had always been of interest to me. I always loved Renaissance music, and I formed my own little madrigal group in high school. I did the same thing in my undergrad years – I got a small chamber choir together. I didn’t know anything about conducting – it was just music that interested me. So I made the jump to choral conducting for my master’s degree, which I did in Saskatchewan. I was lucky enough to stay on after I graduated as an adjunct, conducting one of the choirs and teaching. After that, I wanted to get my doctoral degree, and at that time there wasn’t really an established doctoral program in Canada (though there are now). So I ended up in Cincinnati with Earl Rivers, and we’ve been in the United States ever since.
Q: When you take off your choral hat, what else is an important part of your life?
LBS: My wife and I have four children ranging in ages from 3 to 14. They all do music, but not classical music, and I’m not sure we want them to. We’re not saying no, but we’re not saying they have to. Three of them actually do Irish music. And then we do all the usual things, like driving them to soccer and all the things that come with having kids of various ages. My wife is actually the current soprano section leader for Vocal Arts Ensemble. So we very much have musician lives – a lot of evenings and weekends. Neither of us have normal schedules, but that kind of makes it easier when both parents have the same deal.