A staged version of Mozart's Requiem featuring The University of Montana's Chamber Chorale and Orchestra conducted by Dr. Gary Funk. Staging by Sylvia and Gary Funk. Choreography: Charlene Campbell-Carey. Other credits on Video.
A staged version of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana was performed by The University of Montana Chamber Chorale and University Choir conducted by Dr. Gary Funk, staged by Sylvia and Gary Funk. Accompanists: Barbara Blegen/Stephen Hesla and University of Montana student percussionists. Other credits on video.
A staged production that combines excerpts from Requiem Masses by Gabriel Fauré and Maurice Duruflé with folk music of the Caribbean. The production features the University of Montana University Choir and Chamber Chorale. The performance was conducted by Dr. Gary Funk with staging designed by Sylvia and Gary Funk. Accompanist: Barbara Blegen. Other credits on video.
This is Part II of Requiem for Haiti – a staged production of excerpts from the Requiems by Gabriel Fauré and Maurice Duruflé combined with Caribbean folk music conducted by Dr. Gary Funk. The performing ensembles include The University of Montana's University Choir and Chamber Chorale. Staging was designed by Sylvia and Gary Funk. Accompanist: Barbara Blegen. Other credits on video.
This is a staged performance of Dona Nobis Pacem by Ralph Vaughan Williams featuring the University of Montana Chamber Chorale conducted by Dr. Gary Funk. Staging was designed by Sylvia and Gary Funk. Other credits on video.
For four decades, I taught, rehearsed and conducted choral ensembles at high schools, colleges and universities. During that period of time, I adjudicated many choral ensembles and soloists. What I observed was that almost every singer sang with little dramatic engagement. There seemed to be a divide between the human beings who were performing the music and the expressive content of that music.
It was the potential of choral music to stimulate emotional responses through the mere realization of well-composed music that attracted me to choral music in the first place. Even in choirs that I led myself, however, I noticed the same symptom of detachment plagued the performers.
If "great" music wasn't reaching them on its own, what sort of pedagogy might encourage their emotional investment.
I began exploring the idea of choral movement after I witnessed our own choirs being dramatically changed while attending workshops at the Orff Institute in Salzburg. There, the teachers explored movement with the University of Montana Chamber Chorale. I was astounded by the increased engagement of the choirs and the improvement supported my notion that it was possible for students to tap into themselves while singing.
I began to implement a new pedagogy by staging shorter 4-5 minute works for choir. The results were similar as in Austria. Providing choristers with a "whole body" approach to performance of choral music, the singers' faces changed, their musicianship improved and the performances became much more compelling. They sensed a powerful reason for deep involvement.
"Choralography" had been explored in the 1970s, but that pedagogy had been "pooh-poohed" by the academy as being artificial, unnecessary and simliar to the "show choir' approach to choreography. Just sing the music the professors said.
What I was exploring, however, was quite unique. Providing singers with a story line, characters and a purpose gave them permission to become expressive. It was as if, when they participated in staged versions of choral music they could access their expressive being. Amazing.
Today's musical academy makes it considerably more challenging to provide musical experience so significant that they stir students to untie themselves from firmly established inhibition and musical taste. Even when students sense that there is more to be had from life and from music, they find themselves nearly helpless in the struggle to progress in that direction.
This causes great frustration for them and desperation for their teachers. They all want to move away from those forces that demand we live hollow, inexpressive, detached lives in the "safe zone". Never in my decades of teaching choral music had I observed such powerful barriers constructed by a society that accepts its role in putting up those walls.
For many years, music was the conduit that exposed singers to their inner beauty by allowing them to touch elegance. All that was needed to get there was to sing the lovely notes of Mozart, for example. Today, I don't believe that great music, by itself, is often enough to penetrate the tough enamel that prevents many of people from seeing out, seeing in and sensing the truth as presented by artistic genius.
I developed a new choral pedagogy that has found remarkable success. The approach combines storylines, staging, body gestures and facial expressions while singing choral music. This pedagogy provides profound experiences with the best music that allows music to penetrate to the core of the singers and changes their perceptions of themselves. Rather than merely singing the music, this pedagogy encouages students with the opportunity to become the music.
Societal and cultural forces have always shaped the attitudes and commitment levels of students toward learning and have influenced their readiness to be stimulated and moved by the arts. The prevalence of "pop" music, most of which is sung, saturates the air waves and to a great degree forms the aesthetic preferences of its young audience well before high school or university students attend their first choral rehearsal.
Despite this long exposure to "pop" music, young people yet desire something more from music than that which is typically received from passive listening to music borne out of popular culture. It is as if the dullness of short-lived, 3-minute songs sends a message of its own to its audiences: "There's got to be something better than this!"
All of us want to discover or uncover the secrets that make something beautiful, that make effort worthy of expending. We want to explore what the composer originally explored and through that expedition they hope to find meaning and value for themselves. They want this deeply.
Their musical preferences and poor work ethic, however, make it nearly impossible for them to unshackle themselves from the chains of "pop" music.