By Brian Hathaway
The Master Chorale is well known in the Tampa Bay Area for making beautiful choral music with the Florida Orchestra. Whether it be well-known choral “war horses” like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” or less familiar works like Schoenberg’s “Friede auf Erden” or Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem,” we reach out to a large audience to provide memorable musical experiences that hopefully leave them wanting to hear more.
There is another side of The Master Chorale that is somewhat less well known. Outreach events are part of The Master Chorale’s mission too. These are events where we reach out to the community to provide music for special events. Usually, the size of the ensemble is smaller as well as the size of the audience. These events are tailored to meet a certain need, such as Christmas music at seasonal events or parties. Outreach is a very important component of our mission because it allows us to connect on a more personal level with a more flexible program.
I was allowed an opportunity to participate in such an outreach event three weeks ago. This one was a little different, though. The Master Chorale provided 28 singers to perform at a management conference for a major corporation at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Naples. What is amazing to me is how quickly the event came together. This story says it all when it comes to our motto: “Friendly, flexible, fast, and fun.
The Master Chorale was contacted by Jim Papoulis about the time we were preparing to perform Faure’s Requiem with the Florida Orchestra with an unusual request….could we put together a choir of about 30 singers to perform the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth with an orchestra on Wednesday, February 11th in Naples? Of course, about the last thing we need during concert week is a short notice request to assemble singers for an extra performance….a travel performance to boot!
However, Jim Papoulis is a major force in the contemporary music world. Some of the projects he has completed include writing a composition for President Obama’s inauguration in 2009, an orchestral ballet work for the Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe, and acting as composer and Music Director for a PBS special about Martin Luther King, Jr. He has worked with music notables such as Shania Twain, Maroon V and Aretha Franklin, as well as the London Philharmonic and the Moscow Philharmonic. Now he wanted to work with us! It was too good an opportunity to pass up, but the timing was very short; get singers to volunteer during concert week, rehearse with Sofia Papoulis on Tuesday evening, then travel and perform in Naples with Jim Papoulis and the orchestra on Wednesday. Whew…this was going to happen FAST!
We met Sophia Papoulis at USF for rehearsal on Tuesday evening. Raymund Ocampo (one of two Master Chorale Assistant Conductors) and Robert Winslow (Master Chorale Principal Accompanist) were there to prepare us before she arrived. Fortunately, many of us had sung Beethoven’s Ninth before, so this wasn't entirely new territory, but there were some unusual edits to the music that we needed to adapt to and it had to be a seamless performance with the orchestra and a sound track. After rehearsing for about an hour, Sophia arrived and we continued our rehearsal under her direction. It was critical that we get the musical balance right and we went through several arrangements of the singers to arrive at the best vocal balance. We made Sophia feel welcome as we gave our best effort to the task at hand. She remarked how welcome she felt and how FRIENDLY we all were. She also commented on our professionalism, noting that every time she looked at us, we were looking back at her. It must be that all that advice from Dr. Bass, Raymund Ocampo, and Chris Hathaway (one of two Master Chorale Assistant Conductors) was paying dividends!
After rehearsing until 10 PM, we had to hustle to our homes and pack what we needed for the trip. Departure was at 7:15 AM sharp in order to meet our 10 AM rehearsal time in Naples. We arrived somewhat bleary eyed before 7 AM, coffee cups in hand and boarded the bus. What amazed me was that, in spite of the standard rush hour frustration that comes from trying to get to anywhere in Tampa, everyone was at the bus on time! This group was not only fast and friendly, but FLEXIBLE too! We were off to Naples.
After arriving at the Ritz-Carlton, Sophia greeted us and led us to the rooms where we would change into our concert clothing and then rehearse with the orchestra. After a few vocal warm-ups, we gathered with the orchestra and rehearsed the music. The challenge during rehearsal was that, even though the orchestra and choir were the size of chamber ensembles, we would perform with a sound track that would give the assembled audience the sound of a full symphony orchestra and symphonic choir. Singing with a sound track is always a challenge because it is totally unforgiving. You have to stay with the track’s tempo or you are a goner. After several run-throughs with the track, we made our way to the ballroom where the management conference was under way.
Oh, I forgot to mention something…our appearance was to be a surprise at the conclusion of the conference as the CEO made his final remarks! The only way to get there was through a labyrinth of passageways that took us through kitchens, storage areas and a back stage space where we had to stay hidden until we came out into the ballroom on cue. The CEO made his speech, first accompanied by a single violin, and then the curtain pulled back and the entire orchestra was revealed on a hidden stage, the sounds of Beethoven’s Ninth rising to the assembled throng. We then entered and sang “Freude, schoner Gotterfunken Tochter aus Elysium….” The audience was on their feet as we sang. Now during my professional career, I have been to many management conferences defined by the number and quality (or lack thereof) of PowerPoint presentations about a variety of arcane topics, but this was different! To end a management conference with Beethoven’s “All Menschen werden Bruder” theme…now that was something different! It was fun to be a part of it. With my Master Chorale brothers and sisters, we made our way back to our rehearsal rooms for a quick lunch and back on the bus to Tampa.
While we were eating our lunches, including what I consider to be the largest and heaviest chocolate chip cookie I had ever seen, Sophia came back to talk with us one final time. In her remarks, she thanked us for our hard work and flexibility, but most of all she enjoyed working with us because we were just FUN to be around. She remarked that she would just love to hang with us some more.
Maybe with the doors this outreach event opened for The Master Chorale, she may just get that opportunity. If she does, she will see more evidence that we are FRIENDLY, FLEXIBLE, FAST and FUN.
By the way, on that bus ride back to Tampa, I made like the “cookie monster” and ate that monster cookie. It was sooooo good!
The Master Chorale Beat