I have participated in many, many choirs throughout my career. I have learned something from all of them, and some taught me skills that changed my life. But there is something special about Atlanta Master Chorale. It is without a doubt musically the best choir I’ve ever had the honor to sing with. There is something more, though. Something indefinable is propelling us forward. We all feel it and we are all driven by it. That is perhaps why so much administrative, marketing, and technological work is eagerly taken on by volunteer choristers. It is certainly why so many talented professional Atlanta musicians are committed to the group. And maybe, it’s why it’s just so darn fun. Every single one of us is there for a reason. We are a community of people coming together in a desire and willingness to share our hearts. Every note, every rehearsal, every concert is a love offering: to the music, to our audience, to our community, and in March, to the nation.
The American Choral Directors Association. Almost every choral director and aspiring choral director in the country proudly holds membership in this organization. On their website, you will find the following statement: “The mission of the American Choral Directors Association is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition and advocacy.” Professional and student choral directors use their ACDA membership to find mentors, colleagues, jobs, musical and academic resources, networking opportunities and more. As a member, you even get the Choral Journal in the mail every month. The most prominent feature of ACDA however, are the conferences. At the conferences, attendees expand their craft by participating in workshops run by the top professionals in the region. Directors listen to concerts given by the area’s top choral groups, making note of repertoire and technique that can be brought home to their own singers. They meet with their long-lost colleagues for networking and fellowship. Often, being a choral director can be a lonely job in that there are usually only one or two directors at each institution. ACDA conferences bring those who have the passion and love for choral singing together, showcasing the top choirs in the region, and allowing several wonderful opportunities for all educators, composers, and performers to bring skills and inspiration back to their communities.
Conferences have three tiers. The first tier is the State Conference. The state’s top choral groups, conductors, and professors from state universities often present material and music. I attended my first ACDA conference as a Student Member during my studies at the University of Michigan. Bravely tramping through the January snow, my friends and I were able to participate in workshops held by professors from other universities, to network for jobs, and to gain knowledge of the different sounds and philosophies of programs in our state.
The second tier is the Regional Conference. The country is mapped out into seven different regions for the purpose of these conferences. It is a huge honor to present or have your group perform at the Regional Conference in your area.
Finally, there is the National ACDA Conference. The National Conference only occurs every two years. It is thrilling to attend these conferences because as a choral director, you participate in several days of master classes with literally the best in the country. The amount of knowledge, technique, and inspiration gained is extraordinary. To be able to perform at the National Conference could be called a lifetime achievement for a choir.
So, how are choirs selected to perform? Is it the reputation of the conductor? The size of the audience? The history of the institution? Actually, the process is the complete opposite. Choirs submit three recordings from the previous three years. To perform in the 2017 National Conference, recordings from the 2015-2016 season, the 2014-2015 season, and the 2013-2014 season must all be submitted, along with a significant amount of paperwork. The idea is, the choir must maintain an expert level of artistry three years in a row. The sum of the recordings must stay within a 15-minute time limit. All groups are assigned a number to ensure anonymity. Then, a panel of highly respected conductors from around the country evaluate the submissions in a double-blind audition and choose the few who will perform to represent the different categories.
The category that Atlanta Master Chorale submits under is Professional/Community Choir. I have written a lot about the professional caliber singers and music educators in our group, but we are in fact a true community choir. This means that our choristers are unpaid (and in fact pay dues), we rehearse voluntarily on a once-per-week basis, much of our administrative work is done by choristers on a volunteer basis, we give concerts and workshops to support our hometown, and we all live, work, and raise our families in Atlanta. Professional Choirs differ in that the choristers are paid professionals, very often flown into the “home city” for an intense period of rehearsal before the concert, after which they return to their spheres and resume their everyday lives.
Early this spring, our mountain of submission forms was completed (by two of our enormously talented and generous choristers), our recordings were submitted, and our work was judged in a double-blind audition against all other community and professional choirs in the nation.
We got in.
Atlanta Master Chorale will be performing in the American Choral Directors Association National Conference in March, 2017.
Dr. Nelson has compared this enormous honor to the Choral Final Four, the Choral Super Bowl, the Choral World Series. But as he points out, unlike the sports metaphors, we are not competing with our choral colleagues around the nation at this point. Instead, we are sharing, giving, inspiring. We are not a college choir who meets five days a week, nor are we a professional choir employing the best singers from across the nation. Instead, we are a community choir who meets for enjoyment. Yet we have managed to achieve a remarkable and professional level of craft. Every field of endeavor has a few examples in that field who set the standard. We are being given the chance to set the standard for the 200,000+ community choirs in the nation.