Do you ever have something float into your mind, seemingly at random, only to have a cluster of related bits fly up all around, too?
I recently had that regarding the Los Angeles Master Chorale, of all things.
I had long assumed that it had grown out of a marvelous ensemble, the Roger Wagner Chorale, which I heard twice in my early concertgoing exposure. The touring group consisted of 24 excellent professional voices blended into velvety perfection by a choral conductor who, at the time, was considered one of the two best in America.
Robert Shaw was the other and went on to eclipse Wagner. That’s another story.
In the day, both directors assembled programs ranging from Renaissance to Broadway and Hollywood – Shaw had even been groomed to be successor to Fred Waring at the Pennsylvanians before being veered off into hard-core classical by Arturo Toscanini and George Szell.
A close friend of mine told of his high school choir director’s annual summer trek to study under Wagner, returning with a sharpened sense of diction – something I never really considered until becoming a choir member myself – along with some mysterious but nifty tricks to obtain it. (Wish I knew more now.) And then Wagner faded from sight, not without leaving some highly regarded musical tracks on well-known movies.
In southern California, the Master Chorale had somehow taken on a life of its own and was best known in the wider concert world for its work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I rather assumed it had morphed into the orchestra’s in-house choir, like the Tanglewood Festival Chorus with the Boston Symphony, but somehow had roots with Wagner. From time to time I’d hear broadcasts concerts.
More recently, in trying to practice for Quoddy Voices on Zoom, I found myself exploring some incredible warmups and performances on YouTube. I chanced across several of a Palestrina motet I’d performed with Revelsingers in Boston, and it was fun to get out my score and sing along. One tape, though, turned out to be 21 minutes of grueling rehearsal with a rather overbearing, name-dropping guest conductor who never let them get beyond the fourth measure, mostly because of diction issues regarding the Latin. Who did he think he was, I objected. The piece itself barely runs three minutes.
Turns out he was the Master Chorale’s recently retired leader, and before that Wagner’s right-hand man. And that sent me piecing all of these random thoughts together in a kind of corrective surgery – or is it more like one of those clear-glass globes you turn over in your hand to launch a snowstorm?
By the way, I had the pleasure of watching Shaw live four times in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Bloomington. Maybe I’ll get around to posting that experience someday.