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The reputation of the East Carolina University choral music program, the ECU Chamber Singers, and their former director, Dr. Daniel Bara, extended across the country to the West Coast and helped bring his successor in as director of choral activities at ECU.
Dr. Andrew Crane, who most recently served as director of choral activities at California State University at San Bernadino, fills the vacancy created by Bara’s departure before the 2009-10 school year. Bara left ECU to take a similar position at the University of Georgia; Dr. Alfred Sturgis, director of the North Carolina Master Chorale in Raleigh, served as interim director in 2010-11.
Crane, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from Brigham Young University and a doctorate from Michigan State University, says he was familiar with the ECU choral music program, in part from having heard the Chamber Singers at the national conference of the American Choral Directors Association in Miami a few years ago.
“Everyone likes to attend the conference and see different music groups. I heard the choir (in Miami), and I’ve always been impressed with what he (Bara) had done,” Crane says.
Crane brings a variety of choral music experiences to Greenville. He has served as a guest conductor, clinician and adjudicator of choirs throughout the country, and he has performed as a tenor soloist in choral-orchestral repertoires. Before moving to North Carolina, he performed with such groups as the Los Angeles Bach Festival, Lansing (Michigan) Symphony Orchestra and San Bernardino Symphony, and he has appeared with orchestras in Italy, Austria and Hungary. He is an active member of the American Choral Directors Association and has published articles and reviews in Choral Journal and Classical Singer.
He has been busy since coming to Greenville last summer. The Chamber Singers, a group of about 40 of the best choral singers on campus, performed their first concert under his direction in October, including a contemporary work that he commissioned specifically for the ensemble — “Spirits,” based on a text by Robert Bridges and composed Bryan T. Murphy, associate director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In addition to preparing for a holiday program in December, Crane has started work with the singers for a performance of Henryk Gorecki’s “Beatus Vir” in the early spring as part of the 12th annual NewMusic @ ECU Festival.
So far, Crane likes the ECU students’ work ethic and musical skills.
“I’ve been very impressed with the fact that we have a lot of students with great voices — 80 to 100 voice majors is a big pool from which to draw,” he says. “In general, they are good about sight-reading, and they have a really good work ethic. They come to rehearsals on time, they are very committed, and they are willing to do whatever I’ve asked them to do.
“Because of that, we’ve accomplished a lot in the short time I’ve been on board. Whoever they are, whatever background they come from, we get them going, and we have maintained a really high standard.”
Crane had some familiarity with this part of the country, because his wife is from Elkin, near Winston-Salem, and he had traveled here several times from the West Coast. But his wife’s hometown and the ECU position “just happen to be a wonderful coincidence. I came here because of the job at ECU. It’s a great position.”
He has begun to draft plans for the Chamber Singers that include a tour of North Carolina venues in spring 2012 and a possible European tour in 2013. He would like the Chamber Singers to record a Christmas disc in the spring, and he is interested in commissioning new choral works for the ensemble to perform. (Under Bara, the Chamber Singers released two CDs on the Gothic label.) And for the immediate future, he is working with John Kramar and the ECU Opera Theatre and will be the conductor for the spring production of Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte.
“I want to continue the tradition of excellence that Dan had here, and I would like to keep growing the number of vocal music majors and growing the quality of musical performance.”