Walter Bitner

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The 2017 Schermerhorn Invitational Choral Festival

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Today the Nashville Symphony hosted the first ever Schermerhorn Invitational Choral Festival at Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

Monday, February 6, 2017: three choirs from Middle Tennessee public high schools gathered for a day of music making on the stage of Laura Turner Hall under the direction of Dr. Tucker Biddlecombe, Interim Director of the Nashville Symphony Chorus and Director of Choral Activities at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music.

A wonderful day of music and camaraderie was had by all as our beautiful concert hall was filled with the joyful sound of young people singing for and with each other. Here follows some impressions and photos from the day!

The 2017 Schermerhorn Invitational Choral Festival ~ rehearsals begin (click any of these photos to enlarge them)

The 2017 Schermerhorn Invitational Choral Festival ~ rehearsals begin (click any of these photos to enlarge them)

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The Schermerhorn Invitational Choral Festival grew out of an idea I had in 2013 when I was first appointed to the Nashville Symphony’s Choral Education Taskforce by Kelly Corcoran, who was the Nashville Symphony Chorus Director at the time. Kelly and I had several discussions that year, and also conferred with Margaret Campbell-Holman and Nashville Symphony EDCE staff to develop a strategy whereby the Nashville Symphony could promote, advocate, and provide greater access to choral music education in our community.

Dr. Biddlecombe poses with LaVergne High School students Jeneylise Santiago (l) & Josephine Amankwa (r)

Dr. Biddlecombe poses with LaVergne High School students Jeneylise Santiago (l) & Josephine Amankwa (r)

When I became EDCE director here at the Nashville Symphony in 2014, one of the first things I was asked to do was participate in the drafting of the symphony’s strategic goals for 2015-2020. One of the goals we articulated in the final document for EDCE programming was the furtherance of the symphony’s Choral Education Initiative:

As part of its role as a music education leader in the community, the Nashville Symphony will provide the same kinds of resources for choral education currently being provided to band and orchestra students.

During those meetings four years ago, I had the idea of a noncompetitive festival experience in which young singers from Middle Tennessee would gather together for a day to sing and learn together in our fine concert hall. So it was with a particular personal satisfaction that I witnessed our first Schermerhorn Invitational Choral Festival take place.

(l to r) Chuck Brown, Tucker Biddlecombe, Gilbert Aldridge, Matthew Clark

(l to r) Chuck Brown, Tucker Biddlecombe, Gilbert Aldridge, Matthew Clark

Choirs from three local high schools participated:

LaVergne High School Choraliers (Rutherford County)
Gilbert Aldridge, director

East Nashville Magnet High School’s Legacy Choir (MNPS)
Chuck Brown, director

Oakland High School Chamber Choir (Rutherford County)
Matthew Clark, director

Students and their directors arrived at the hall before 10 am, when rehearsals began. The young singers spent the majority of the day singing together as a mass choir on the stage of Laura Turner Hall. Each choir prepared two pieces for the mass choir rehearsals:

  • Dies Irae from An American Requiem by John Harbison
  • Twinkle, Twinkle by Daniel Elder

In keeping with the Nashville Symphony’s mission to promote a distinctly American classical music, both of these works are by contemporary American composers:

Nashville Symphony EDCE Coordinator Kristen Freeman not only was instrumental in organizing the festival, she played djembe with the choirs on Asikatali!

Nashville Symphony EDCE Coordinator Kristen Freeman not only was instrumental in organizing the festival, she played djembe with the choirs on Asikatali!

Daniel Elder is a young Nashville composer whose works are performed throughout the US and beyond – he also sings bass in the Nashville Symphony Chorus.

The accomplished composer John Harbison is on the faculty at MIT and has won many awards, including the MacArthur and the Pulitzer. The Nashville Symphony and the Nashville Symphony Chorus will be performing and recording his An American Requiem in May.

Dr. Biddlecombe taught a third selection to the mass choir during rehearsals: the traditional South African song Asikatali.

After a busy morning of rehearsals, students ate staggered lunches of pizza and cookies in the East Lobby, then returned to the stage for two more hours of rehearsals before each choir took a turn on the stage singing for their peers. Towards the end of the day, the Vanderbilt Chorale – which Dr. Biddlecombe also directs – arrived and gave a brief performance and discussion with the high school singers about the experience of studying music at the college level. Finally parents and friends arrived for the closing performance of the festival, with all four choirs performing the three festival selections as one mass ensemble.

Thank you to everyone who made this possible!

warm ups

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Dr. Biddlecombe was appointed Interim Director of the Nashville Symphony Chorus in July 2016 and will begin his tenure as Nashville Symphony Chorus Director beginning with the 2017-18 season.


1 Comment

  1. CM says:

    Looks like an amazing day. I would have loved it when I was in high school…I would love it now as a parent and educator.

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