Andy Crane has found that it’s easier to arrange for nearly 40 college-age singers to participate in an international competition overseas than it is to get a compact disc produced.
Dr. Andrew Crane, director of choral activities at East Carolina University, is going into his third year at the university by getting the ECU Chamber Singers ready to compete in the Tolosa Choral Contest in the Basque region of Spain in November — the only American ensemble invited to enter the international competition.
Crane says the competition is well known among choral directors, and choirs from all over the world will be participating. In addition to taking part in the competition, the Chamber Singers also will present separate programs during the week at other venues.
For the competition, the Chamber Singers will sing in two 18-minute programs, and the competition will require that the ensemble perform, among other things, one composition from before 1700, one from 1810-1980, one American composition and a piece by Basque composer Josu Elberdin, “Cantate Domino.” Crane also has chosen for the singers’ other repertoire such selections as Paul Hindemith’s “Un Cygne,” Heinrich Schutz’s setting for Psalm 100, Daniel Elder’s “Ave Maria,” Eric Whitacre’s “Little Man in a Hurry,” Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of “Old Joe Clark” and songs from Bernstein’s West Side Story. Other music by Basque composers also will be performed.
The approximately 36 Chamber Singers taking part in the competition likely will consist of all or nearly all the singers returning from the 2012-13 year, plus up to four incoming freshmen, Crane says. The singers began learning the repertoire during the summer. Also during the summer, the singers who will make the trip have been raising funds for their travel expenses, mainly air fare. The competition provides lodging and food for entrants, as well as transportation.
The invitation to compete in Spain is yet another feather in the cap of the ECU Chamber Singers, a group that in recent years has performed at the American Choral Directors Association national meeting and released two compact discs, all under former director Dr. Daniel Bara.
Some might have had concerns that the transition from Bara, who took a similar position at the University of Georgia, to Crane, who came to Greenville in 2011 from California State University-San Bernadino, would have some impact on the highly regarded choral music program at ECU. But the program has flourished under Crane’s direction, and the quality of performers and performances has not been affected.
In addition to directing the program’s premier ensemble, Crane also directs the University Chorale, a larger group consisting of both music majors and non-music majors. Another established ensemble, the St. Cecilia Singers, is under the direction of Dr. Jeffrey Ward. A new ensemble known as the ECU Collegiate Choir is to be led by graduate students, and Crane says he would like to see a men’s chorus start. Crane also heads the university’s graduate program in choral conducting.
“There was no graduate program at Cal State, and I enjoy mentoring graduate students. The art of teaching is so important in the area of choral conducting,” he says.
Crane says he experienced no evidence of “sophomore slump” during his second year at ECU. “In some ways, it feels like it has just been one continuous stream, rather than two separate years,” he says. And he has instituted some new programs at the university since his arrival — most notably a choral leadership conference for high school students and the organization of the graduate-led Collegiate Choir. At the end of the next school year, Crane will apply to the American Choral Directors Association for another Chamber Singers performance at the ACDA annual meeting.
Establishing and maintaining close ties to high school choral programs also is an important aspect of the ECU program, Crane says. Last season, the Chamber Singers were joined by a high school chorus from Southern Pines for a concert in Greenville in February, and Crane has been in contact with several top-level high school choral programs about joining the Chamber Singers in a performance of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms next April.
With two years under his belt, Crane feels “well acclimated” to the ECU program now, and he continues to be impressed with the caliber of student who comes into the choral music program. He said he inherited “excellent students, lots of talent around and a high level of quality” when he came from California. While he notes that his best students in California were similar to the best students at ECU, he says there are more students at that highest level at ECU.
He also has become acclimated to this part of the East Coast. He has developed a fondness for some Southern foods, although he is not as keen about the heat and humidity, “and there are lots of bugs.” The cross-country change in jobs was made easier because Crane’s wife is from North Carolina.
Now, about that CD…
Crane and the Chamber Singers recorded a compact disc last fall that was intended for release during the holidays. The recording remains unreleased, caught up in a “debacle” of technical glitches, he says, but he hopes that it will be ready in 2013-14. The ECU music program has added a recording engineer to its staff, and that person has been working on the Chamber Singers’ disc, Crane says.
In the meantime, Crane is looking forward to the 2013-14 season, which will include not only participation in the international competition, but also a performance of Bruckner’s Mass in D-minor with the ECU Symphony Orchestra in late November and performances in Wilmington in October and Portsmouth, Va., in April. He also will take part in a guest conducting residency at the Conservatory of Italian Switzerland in Lugano in mid-September and will work with the 2014 North Carolina Middle School All-State Chorus.
“The hardest part of my job is that I’m much busier than I’ve ever been, but the easiest part is that the students work so hard, and they are so willing to do what is asked of them.”
Among the programs to be presented by the ECU Chamber Singers in 2013-14:
Sept. 14 — North Carolina Music Educators Association, Fletcher Recital Hall, Greenville
Oct. 23 — High School Choral Invitational, ECU venues, Greenville
Oct. 25 — Preview concert before traveling to Spain for Tolosa Choral Contest, Fletcher Recital Hall, Greenville
Oct. 27 — “Music at First” series, Wilmington
Nov. 23 — Bruckner Mass in D-minor, with other ECU ensembles, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Greenville
Dec. 3 — “Christmas at St. Paul’s,” with other ECU ensembles, Greenville
Feb. 16 — Winter concert at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Greenville
March 23-24 — Tour in Raleigh and Greensboro, venues TBA
April 6 — Portsmouth, Va., Community Concert
April 11 — Concert with high school choirs, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Greenville
April 29—Spring concert with University Chorale at Memorial Baptist Church, Greenville