Category Archives: history

Collaborating for the Holidays

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Our upcoming concert featured in the Hawaii Tribune Herald here http://hawaiitribune-herald.com/news/community/collaborating-holidays-soprano-keyboardist-perform-hilo-community-chorus

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The Accidental Conductor by Tom McAlexander

Tom McI never intended to become a choral conductor; yet in 1996, at the age of 57, I found myself to be one. Now how could that happen?

I came from a singing family–we were always singing around the house. From around the age of 12 I’ve always sung in a choir, beginning in a church choir, then in high school and college, singing in the choir and ensembles. Later I graduated to a large, auditioned community chorus. But I was always just one of the tenors with no thoughts of conducting. Until that day. . . .

After retiring and moving to Volcano, Hawaii, I joined the newly-formed Volcano Festival Chorus, a group of about 20 singers created to sing the Advent/Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah at the Volcano Arts Center’s annual Christmas program. It was led by Camille Almy, who had retired and moved to Volcano after a long career in opera and choral music on Oahu. Over the next couple of years we became close friends, and when she decided to move to California to be near one of her daughters because of health issues, she asked me to take over for her. At first I declined, not wanting to be a conductor. We then had a meeting to discuss the list of people who fit the criteria for the job: 1) know something about choral music; 2) have the time to do the job; and 3) be willing to work for nothing. After about an hour of discussion, we had come up with only one name–and so I became the new volunteer director of the Volcano Festival Chorus, a position I held from 1996 to 2011.

We had two concerts each year, a holiday themed concert in December and another concert in May. My first concert in December of 1996 was a marathon–twenty-three songs, including the 13-minute Fantasia on Christmas Carols by Vaughan Williams. Our first spring concert was music of Cole Porter, followed by music of George Gershwin. Later concerts ranged from Disney movie music to Beatles tunes to grand opera. I had no fear. The Volcano Festival Chorus is now part of Kilauea Drama and Entertainment Network, and is conducted by Roch Jones.

I never intended to become the conductor of the Hilo Community Chorus; yet, early in the twenty- first century, I found myself in that position. For several decades the community folk were in a union with the chorus at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, but when Ken Staton returned as professor/choral director after a long hiatus, I volunteered to help him in any way he needed. He soon found that there was a large influx of students who wanted to sing in the choir–about 130 of them–and there was not a room large enough to hold all of them and the community folk, so he asked me to rehearse them while he rehearsed the students and we would put them all together for the last few weeks (when the stage of the theater was available), and then they would all sing together in concert. This worked pretty well for a few years, and then Ken retired. By this time we were weaning ourselves from the University Chorus and we quickly formed a Board of Directors and were off and running as the Hilo Community Chorus with me as the volunteer musical director.

While the two groups were still together in the spring of 2007, Ken decided to present Karl Jenkins’ Requiem. Meanwhile, in New York, a new group was forming (Distinguished Concerts International New York) to present concerts at major concert halls, and Karl Jenkins was on the board of directors. They were looking for American choruses who had presented his Requiem. They found us through the publisher and invited us to sing with them at Carnegie Hall. About forty of us (students and community folk) went to New York in January of 2008 for that performance, along with other choruses from around the world. Since then, a number of us have been back several times for performances at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, which included more music of Karl Jenkins, Orff’s Carmina Burana, and Handel’s Messiah. We have a standing invitation to sing with them any time they perform with mass choruses. Chorus members have also traveled to China, South America, and Turkey for DCINY performances.

Our first full concert was in the fall of 2008–a concert of Spirituals and Appalachian Gospel Songs. It was memorable to me because I had Whipple surgery for pancreatic cancer in early August of that year, and got out of the hospital about a month before the concert. I conducted all of the spirituals except one, and Melanie Oldfather conducted the gospel songs. The one spiritual that Melanie conducted was “Ain’t Got Time to Die,” which I sang as a solo with choral accompaniment.

Later concerts included an all-Vivaldi concert (conducted by my old choral conductor, Barry Hemphill), Karl Jenkins’ Stabat Mater (conducted by Jonathan Griffith, principal conductor of DCINY), Messiah, Parts II and III, and a 9/11 commemorative concert featuring music of John Rutter and Karl Jenkins. Of course the group always presents a holiday-themed concert in December. I still serve as their volunteer conductor, and in May of 2014 the Chorus presented a concert featuring Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass and Laudidsen’s Lux Aeterna.

Since 2007 the Chorus has also co-sponsored an annual Messiah sing along at the Church of the Holy Cross in Hilo. The Chorus sits in the audience and serves as section leaders, soloists are chosen for each performance, and I serve as conductor.

I never intended to become a church choir director, yet in 2012 when our organist/choirmaster left Christ Lutheran Church and our new organist didn’t really want to conduct the choir, I volunteered to become choir director. That year we presented the choir’s first cantata, Joseph M. Martin’s Season of Praise. In December of 2013 the choir combined with the chorus to sing Martin’s new cantata, Appalachian Winter, with a ‘bluegrass style” consort, both in concert with the Hilo Community Chorus and in church service, with some of the HCC singers.

I never intended to be a choral conductor, yet I truly believe that I am now doing what I am supposed to be doing at this stage of my life: conducting a community chorus and a church choir. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. As to why I would want to be a volunteer conductor, I have often wondered why myself until I recently had a conversation with my 83-year-old brother. He has been a professional steel guitar player in East Texas for nigh on to 60 years. I asked him if he was still playing, and he stated that he and a few of the boys still played every Friday night at nearby nursing homes. When I asked if they paid him, he said, “No…but I get to play.” So the answer came to me in that conversation: I do it because I still get to play.

Performance History

Prior to 2007, the Chorus was a part of a choral union with the University of Hawaii at Hilo Chorus. When Ken Staton returned to UH-Hilo in the early part of the century, the community folk began rehearsing separately from the students, and we performed as a joint chorus until Ken’s retirement. Most of our few individual performances were a part of their programs. The first separate “concert” on record is a pre-concert performance in December of 2007. We were still singing with the University combined group as of December of 2008, although we had our first HCC-only concert in October of that year. The weaning process had begun. -Tom McAlexander

Performance History, Most Recent First

APRIL 26, 2015, OLD CHESTNUTS, FIVE CENTURIES OF CHORAL FAVORITES

If Ye Love Me- Thomas Tallis
Gloria – from Gloria by Antonio Vivaldi
Thine Be the Glory – from Judas Maccabeus by G. F. Handel
Ch’io mai vi possa – from Siroe by G. F. Handel
Hallelujah, Amen – from Judas Maccabeus by G. F. Handel
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – from Herz und Tat und Leben by J. S. Bach
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded – by J. S. Bach
The Heavens Are Telling – from The Creation by F. J. Haydn
Ave Verum Corpus – by W. A. Mozart
Laudate Dominum – from Vesperae solenne de confessore by W. A. Mozart
Hallelujah – from Mount of Olives by L. Von Beethoven
He, Watching Over Israel – from Elijah by Mendelssohn
How Lovely Are the Messengers – from St. Paul by Mendelssohn
O Divine Redeemer – by Charles Gounod
Panis Angelicus – from Messe à trois voix by Cesar Franck
How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place – from A German Requiem by J. Brahms
God So Loved the World – from The Crucifixion by J. Stainer
Chi bel sogno de Doretta – from La Rondine by G. Puccini
Easter – from Five Mystical Songs by R. Vaughan Williams
The Last Words of David – by Randall Thompson
Ave Verum – from Stabat Mater by Karl Jenkins
The Lord Is My Shepherd – from Requiem by John Rutter
At Dawning – Charles Wakefield Cadman (for Mena Wang)

DECEMBER 21, 2014 8TH ANNUAL MESSIAH SING-ALONG

Part I
Part II “Hallelujah”
Part III “Worthy Is the Lamb/Amen”

DECEMBER 7, 2014 TAPESTRY OF LIGHT, AND OTHER FAVORITES OF THE SEASON

Christmas…In About Three Minutes – Mark Weston
Light the Lights – Andy Beck and Brian Fisher
“Wassail” to You – arr. Earlene Rentz
Jonathan’s Bell Carol – Andy Beck and Brian Fisher
Christmas Wish – arr. Audrey Snyder
A Joyful Night – Ruth Morris Gray
Suo-Gân – arr. Jack Noble White
I Saw Three Ships – arr. Brian Lewis Under
Winter Moon – Andy Beck
Swing into Christmas – arr. Mac Huff

Tapestry of Light – Joseph M. Martin
Carols of Hope and Light
Longing for the Light
An Advent Garden
The Holy Child of Mary
O Wondrous Night
A Celtic Noel
Carols of the Quest
A Celtic Gloria
Bethlehem Light
Carols of Celebration

MAY 10, 2014 ETERNAL MUSIC, ETERNAL LIGHT

Lord Nelson Mass – Franz Joseph Haydn

I. Kyrie
II. Gloria
III. Credo
IV. Sanctus
V. Benedictus VI. Agnus Dei

Lux Aeterna – Morten Lauridsen
1.Introitus
2.In Te, Domine, Speravi
3.O Nata Lux
4.Veni, Sancte Spiritus
5.Agnus Dei; Lux Aeterna

DECEMBER 15, 2013 7TH ANNUAL MESSIAH SING-ALONG

Part I
Part II “Hallelujah”
Part III “Worthy Is the Lamb/Amen”

DECEMBER 8, 2013 APPALACHIAN WINTER, AND OTHER SONGS OF THE SEASON

Everywhere Christmas Tonight – Joseph M. Martin
The Boar’s Head Carol – Stephen Hatfield
Nutcracker Jingle – Chuck Bridwell
Here We Come A-Caroling – Douglas E. Wagner
Carol, Singers, Carol! – Linda Spevacek
All on a Cold Winter’s Night – Douglas E. Wagner
And All the Town Be Merry! – Linda Spevacek
Holy Carol – Jan Reese
Irish Carol – Linda Spevacek
Throw Open Your Shutters! – Amy Feldman Bernon
My Wish for You this Christmas – Douglas E. Wagner

Appalachian Winter – Joseph M. Martin
Prelude
‘Tis the Season for Singing
Long Time Ago
Hope and Expectation
Carol of the Winter Wind
Mountain Carol
Gentle Carols of Bethlehem
While Shepherds Watched
A Rustic Star Carol
Children, Go Tell It on the Mountain

MAY 12, 2013 THE AMERICAN SPIRIT

The Testament of Freedom – Randall Thompson

1.The God who gave us life
2.We have counted the cost
3. We fight not for glory
4. I shall not die without a hope

Old American Songs – Aaron Copland
At the River
I Bought Me a Cat Long Time Ago Simple Gifts
The Little Horses
The Boatman’s Dance

Freedom: a Medley of Spirituals – Mark Hayes
Fix Me, Jesus – Robert Benson
Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel – Mark Hayes
Wade in the Water – Zeke Israel
My Lord, What a Morning – Russell Robinson
Spiritual Jubilee – Linda Spevacek
Great Day – Ron Kauffmann
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – Moses Hogan
Here’s One – Tom Fettke
Listen to the Lambs – Howard Helvey
Little Innocent Lamb – Mark Hayes

DECEMBER 17, 2012 6TH ANNUAL MESSIAH SING-ALONG

Part I
Part II “Hallelujah”
Part III “Worthy Is the Lamb/Amen”

DECEMBER 2, 2012 LET CAROLS RING

Rejoice and Be Merry – John Rutter
Sweeter Still: a Holiday Carol – Eric William Barnum
Old Brenton Carol – W. Michael Bultman
Two December Carols – Carl Schroeder
Sing of Christmas Cheer – Brian Lewis
Christmas Wish – Audrey Snyder
Let Carols Ring – Linda Spevacek
Christmas Is – Robert T. Townsend
A Family Christmas Spectacular – Douglas E. Wagner
Goin’ to Bethlehem – Jay Althouse
Christmas Madrigal Roundezvous – Linda Spevacek
Carol of the Star – Donald Moore
Make We Joy Now in this Fest – Malcolm Archer
The Snow Carol (Still, Still, Still) – Audrey Snyder
Christmas Bell Roundelay – Linda Spevacek
Were You There on That Christmas Night? – Natalie Sleeth
A Festive Fa La La – Mary Lynn Lightfoot
Three Carols from France – Vicki Tucker Courtney
All on a Starry Night – Joseph Graham
A Sussex Christmas Carol – Penny Rodriguez
Wassail Song – Earlene Rentz

MAY 6, 2012 MESSIAH – GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL

Part II
Part III

DECEMBER 18, 2011 5TH ANNUAL MESSIAH SING-ALONG

Part I
Part II “Hallelujah”

DECEMBER 3-4, 2011 THE MANY MOODS OF CHRISTMAS (WITH VOLCANO FESTIVAL CHORUS)

Suite One (sung by Volcano Festival Chorus)
Good Christians Men, Rejoice
Silent Night
Patapan
O Come, All Ye Faithful
We Need a Little Christmas (with audience)
Jingle Bell Rock (with audience)
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (with audience)
Christmas Song (with audience)
White Christmas (with audience)
Suite Four (sung by HCC)
Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light The First Noel
O Little Town of Bethlehem
I Saw Three Ships
Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly
Suite Two (sung by combined choruses)
O Sanctissima
Joy to the World
Away in a Manger
Fum Fum Fum
March of the King
Frosty the Snowman (with audience)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (with audience)
Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (with audience)
Christmas Island (with audience)
Mele Kalikimaka (with audience)
Suite Three (sung by combined choruses)
What Child Is This
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella
Angels We Have Heard on High

SEPTEMBER 11, 2011 IN REMEMBRANCE

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep – Robert Prizeman

Requiem – John Rutter
1.Requiem aeternam
2.Out of the Deep
3.Pie Jesu
4.Sanctus
5.Agnus Dei
6.The Lord Is My Shepherd
7.Lux aeterna
Gabriel’s Oboe – Ennio Morricone
A Mass for Peace – Lani Smith
1.Lord, Have Mercy
2.Glory to God
3.Holy, Holy, Holy
4.Lamb of God
Sheep May Safely Graze – J. S. Bach
Adagio from Enigma Variations, Op. 36 – Edward Elgar
The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace – Karl Jenkins
3. Kyrie
10. Agnus Dei
12. Benedictus

FEBRUARY 26, 2011 CONCERT FOR UNITY; EAST MEETS WEST

(First half of program by UH-Hilo Kapili Choir)

Gloria by Karl Jenkins (conducted by Jonathan Griffith)
I. The Proclamation: Gloria in Excelsis Deo
II. The Prayer: Laudamus Te
III. The Psalm: Tehellim – Psalm 150 (Hebrew)
IV. The Song: “I’ll Make Music”
V. The Exaltation: Domine Deus

DECEMBER 20, 2010 4TH ANNUAL MESSIAH SING-ALONG

Part I
Part II “Hallelujah”

DECEMBER 4-5, 2010 EVENING IN DECEMBER (WITH VOLCANO FESTIVAL CHORUS)

Season of Wonder – Joseph M. Martin (sung by VFC)
Sing, Wassail – Douglas E. Wagner
Ding, Dong! Merrily on High – Paul Carey
On Christmas Night – Mark Burrows
Evening in December – Victor C. Johnson
Lullay Alleluia – Ruth Elaine Schram
audience sing-along: Winter Wonderland, Silver Bells, The Christmas Song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Snowscapes – Douglas E. Wagner
Rejoice! (A Festive Carol Celebration) – Douglas E. Wagner

MAY 15, 2010 A COLLABORATION OF TWO CHOIRS (WITH KANILEHUA CHORALE)

Requiem – Gabriel Faurè (conducted by Mark Sheffield)
Stabat Mater – Karl Jenkins (conducted by Melanie Oldfather)

DECEMBER 14, 2009 3RD ANNUAL MESSIAH SING-ALONG

Part I
Part II “Hallelujah”

DECEMBER 5, 2009 CHRISTMAS JOY (JOINT CONCERT WITH VOLCANO FESTIVAL CHORUS)

(Volcano Festival Chorus sang first part of program.)

Gloria by Antonio Vivaldi Gloria
Et in terra pax hominibus
Cum Sancto Spiritu (with Volcano Festival Chorus)
Thirty Second Fa La La – Donald Moore Goin’ to Bethlehem – Jay Althouse
Merry Christmas Mozart – Arthur Frackenpohl A Bach Merry Christmas – Mark Weston Christmas Goes Baroque – Greg Gilpin
Winter Frolic – Mario Lombardo
Listen as the Snowflakes Fall – David Lantz III
Wishes and Candles – Stephen Paulus
My Wish for You This Christmas – Douglas E. Wagner

SEPTEMBER 13, 2009 VIVA VIVALDI

Sonata in G minor for alto recorder and continuo, Opus 13a No. 6 Trascrizione da Concerto per Grande Organo

Credo in E minor (RV 591)
Credo (quartet)
Et incarnatus est (chorus) Crucifixus (quartet)
Et resurrexit (quartet; chorus)
Motet in D major (RV 642)
Gloria in D (RV 589) (conducted by Barry Hemphill)
Gloria (chorus)
Et in terra pax hominibus (chorus) Laudamus te (soprano; mezzo)
Gratias agimus tibi (chorus)
Propter magnam gloriam (chorus)
Domine Deus (soprano)
Domine Fili Unigenite (chorus)
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei (mezzo; chorus) Qui tollis peccata mundi (chorus)
Qui sedes ad dexteram (mezzo)
Quoniam tu solus Sanctus (chorus)
Cum Sancto Spiritu (chorus)

DECEMBER 15, 2008 2ND ANNUAL MESSIAH SING-ALONG

Part I
Part II “Hallelujah”

OCTOBER 11, 2008 WHEN THE SPIRIT SAYS SING!

Ain’-a That Good News – William L. Dawson
My Lord, What a Morning – Ruth Elaine Schram
Hold On! – Eugene Thamon Simpson
I Want Jesus to Walk with Me – Lloyd Larson
I’m Goin’ to Sing – Robert Shaw & Alice Parker Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen – Howard Helvey Ride On, King Jesus – Bruce Trinkley
Down to the River to Pray, arr. Sheldon Curry
The Unclouded Day/Will the Circle Be Unbroken
O Come, Angel Band (My Latest Sun Is Sinking Fast) We Shall Rise
Precious Memories
Down to the River to Pray
Deep River -John Leavitt
Ain’t Got Time to Die – Hall Johnson
Wade In the Water – Mark Hayes
Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel – Larry Shackley My God Is a Rock – Robert Shaw & Alice Parker

SEPTEMBER 14, 2008 HYMN SING FOR HOSPICE

(Hymn sing-along with Holy Cross congregants) Down to the River to Pray, arr. Sheldon Curry (performed by HCC; conducted by Melanie Oldfather)
The Unclouded Day/Will the Circle Be Unbroken
O Come, Angel Band (My Latest Sun Is Sinking Fast)
We Shall Rise
Precious Memories
Down to the River to Pray

DECEMBER 16, 2007 MESSIAH SING-ALONG

Part I
Part II “Hallelujah”

DECEMBER 2007 (PRE-CONCERT PERFORMANCE BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY CHORUS/HCC CONCERT)

A New Year Carol
Up! Good Christen Folk, and Listen Jesus Christ the Apple Tree
Sans Day Carol
O Little Town of Bethlehem
The Infant King