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Interest & Literature Sessions

The following sessions have been selected as interest sessions for NCCO8, November 7 - 9, 2019, in College Park, Maryland.

Innovation with a Social Conscience in the Music of Melissa Dunphy

Composer Melissa Dunphy has become an important voice in choral music, with commissions and frequent performances both nationally and internationally. Dunphy's vocal music is her forte; it is always beautifully and singably written, sets unique and often political texts in ways that highlight both their messages and their artistic expression, and possesses a dramatic arc that engages performers and audiences in ways that are both intellectual and visceral.

In this literature session, conductor Katherine FitzGibbon and composer Melissa Dunphy will engage in a dialogue about six of Dunphy's works. FitzGibbon and Dunphy collaborated this spring (2019) on a commission for FitzGibbon's Resonance Ensemble, resulting a powerful new treble work called LISTEN which set the Senate testimony of Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford to music. They will discuss each work (also including American DREAMers, What Do You Think I Fought for at Omaha Beach?, O Oriens, Wild Embers, and Lola Ridge Songs) and play or read through excerpts, with FitzGibbon providing commentary from the conductor's perspective about considerations (both musical and political/social) for rehearsal, education, community outreach, and performance; and Dunphy describing each work's inspiration, structure, and process. Scores will be provided.

SPEAKER: Dr. Katherine FitzGibbon, Lewis & Clark College


Katherine FitzGibbon is associate professor and director of choral activities at Lewis & Clark College. In 2014, she won the Lorry Lokey Faculty Excellence Award, honoring “inspired teaching, rigorous scholarship, demonstrated leadership, and creative accomplishments.” She has conducted choirs at Harvard, Boston, Cornell, and Clark Universities, and at the University of Michigan.

In June, Chorus America awarded FitzGibbon the Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal in recognition of her work with Resonance Ensemble. Chorus America’s press release noted, “As founder and artistic director of Resonance Ensemble, FitzGibbon has captained a bold organizational shift—from its original mission exploring links between music, art, poetry, and theatre, to a new focus exclusively on presenting concerts that promote meaningful social change.” With Resonance, she has commissioned works by Melissa Dunphy, Damien Geter, Renee Favand-See, and Joe Kye, and collaborated with the Portland Art Museum, Bethel A.M.E. Church, Pride Northwest, the Institute for Christian and Muslim Understanding, Third Angle New Music, poet Renee Mitchell, and others.

Dr. FitzGibbon is a board member of NCCO and her choirs have performed at the NCCO, ACDA, and OMEA conferences. She holds degrees from Princeton University, the University of Michigan, and Boston University.

SPEAKER: Dr. Melissa Dunphy


Born and raised in Australia, Melissa Dunphy immigrated to the United States in 2003 and has since become an award-winning and acclaimed composer specializing in vocal, political, and theatrical music. She first came to national attention in 2009 when her large‐scale choral work The Gonzales Cantata was featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Harper's Magazine, National Review, Comedy Central, and on Fox News and MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.

Dunphy's first song cycle Tesla's Pigeon has been recognized with several awards. Her choral work What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach? won the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers Composition Competition and has been performed around the country by ensembles including Chanticleer, Cantus, and the St. Louis Chamber Chorus. Dunphy has received awards from ASCAP, the Lotte Lehmann Foundation, Boston Metro Opera, and Boston Choral Ensemble, and her commissions include pieces for Choral Arts Philadelphia, PhilHarmonia, Resonance Ensemble, and Cornell University Chorus.

Dunphy has been composer‐in‐residence for the Immaculata Symphony Orchestra, Volti Choral Arts Lab and Choral Institute, and the St. Louis Chamber Chorus. Dunphy holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and West Chester University, and is a lecturer at Rutgers University.

Beyond Elijah Rock: The Non-Idiomatic Choral Music of Black Composers

Many of our choral ensembles and choral literature courses lack informed representation of non-idiomatic choral music of black composers. In this session, we will explore the various forms of this specialized music from black composers including part songs, motets, cantatas, and oratorios. Some of the works may have the influence of idiomatic music such as spirituals, gospel, and jazz but are not intended as works in those styles. Available resources will include a list of black composers who are writing or have written in this style and additional songs available through various publishers.

SPEAKER: Dr. Marques L. A. Garrett, University of Nebraska–Lincoln


A Virginia native, Marques L. A. Garrett is an assistant professor of music at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Glenn Korff School of Music. He earned his PhD in Music Education (Choral Conducting) at Florida State University.

An active conductor, Dr. Garrett has served as a guest conductor or clinician with several church, community, and collegiate choirs throughout the country and served as the festival conductor for the Harry T. Burleigh Spirituals Festival at Tennessee State University.

A versatile voice that performs both as a baritone and countertenor, Dr. Garrett has sung with several community, church, and university groups as both a chorister and soloist. He was the baritone soloist for the Germantown Concert Chorus's performance of Haydn's Missa in Augustiis and the countertenor soloist in the European premiere of Dan Forrest's Jubilate Deo in Limerick, Ireland.

Dr. Garrett is an avid composer of choral and solo-vocal music whose compositions have been performed to acclaim by high school all-state, collegiate, and professional choirs including the Santa Fe Desert Chorale and Seraphic Fire. GIA Publications, Walton Music, Santa Barbara Music Publishing, and others have published several of his compositions.

Beating the odds: helping students from underserved backgrounds survive and thrive as collegiate music majors

Dwindling funding and teacher shortages throughout the United States disproportionately affect school districts serving minority populations, perpetuating a lack of minority access and representation within the field of Western classical music. Higher education institutions are poised to reverse this trend by admitting such students and creating a scaffolding system to help them succeed at the collegiate level.

The presenters discuss how they have found success overcoming these challenges through a two-pronged approach. In the classroom, Dr. Jorgensen will discuss reimagining curricula and instructional techniques to both introduce and reinforce basic concepts without sacrificing introduction of the advanced content required of college-level music majors. Outside of the classroom, Dr. Christi McLain will introduce how her experience working in a competitive NCAA Division I football program has helped her develop an infrastructure in which at-risk music students can develop the discipline and organization required to function in a collegiate music program. Together, this divided approach has allowed for at-risk students entering college not only fill in the gaps of their education missed during their primary and secondary education, but also develop the skills and knowledge traditionally expected for college graduates to succeed in music.

SPEAKER: Dr. Christi McLain, Coker University


Soprano Christi McLain currently serves as coordinator of vocal studies and community music program director at Coker University. As a performer, she has performed with organizations throughout the United States, Germany, Austria, Ireland, and Luxembourg. Recent appearances include Nancy Meneely in the new American oratorio Letter from Italy, 1944, the world premiere of Ellen Gilson Voth's Owl Moon, Mary Warren in Ward's The Crucible, Laetitia in Menotti's The Old Maid and the Thief, Eva Delvingné in Dan Shore's An Embarrassing Position, Marianne in Der Rosenkavalier, and soprano soloist in Fauré's Requiem, Dvořák's Te Deum, and Schubert's Mass in G. Solo credits include work with the Phoenix Symphony, the Hartford Symphony and Chorale, the Masterworks Choir of Florence (South Carolina), Opera Theater of Connecticut, Hartford Opera Theater, Connecticut Lyric Opera, Connecticut Concert Opera, and the Farmington Valley Symphony Orchestra.

SPEAKER: Dr. Jerron Jorgensen, Coker University


Tenor Jerron Jorgensen currently serves as director of choral activities and music education coordinator at Coker University in Hartsville, South Carolina. Jerron has worked as a soloist with opera companies and orchestras in both the United States and abroad, and specializes in contemporary works, oratorio, and buffo tenor roles. As a chorister, he has performed with numerous professional choirs including GRAMMY®-nominated True Concord Voices & Orchestra in Tucson, and the Taylor Festival Choir of Charleston. On the podium, Jerron recently conducted Coker Opera's production of Lucinda y las Flores de la Nochebuena by Evan Mack and Joel Thompson's Seven Last Words of the Unarmed with the Coker Singers. Jerron holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Voice Performance from The Hartt School, University of Hartford; a Master of Music in Voice Performance from Arizona State University; and a Bachelor of Arts in Voice from South Dakota State University.

Maestras of Masterworks

Choral conductors are showing an increased interest in programming music by women as we embrace the desire for balanced representation in choral repertoire. Yet, a recent study by National Public Radio shows that only 2% of music featured on major concert stages is by women. This session explores the lives and music of remarkable women from the last 1000 years who composed multi-movement masterworks for choir. From the notorious British suffragist, Dame Ethel Smyth (1858–1944), to the world-traveling Venezuelan phenomenon, Teresa Carreno (1853–1917), fascinating stories exist about women who defied expectations and crafted significant works for choirs. Repertoire for treble, bass, and mixed ensembles is available, along with instrumentation options ranging from a cappella works to those involving full orchestral accompaniments. Learn where to find these often overlooked gems and leave with a database with dozens of suggestions for major works by women. Celebrate the maestras of masterworks and discover brilliant music that will dazzle choristers and audiences alike.

SPEAKER: Ms. Jami Lercher


Jami Lercher is a third-year doctoral student in choral conducting at the Frost School of Music, University of Miami. At Frost, Jami has served as the Graduate Teaching Assistant for Women’s Chorale and Undergraduate Conducting, and has studied under Dr. Karen Kennedy and Dr. Amanda Quist. Jami also serves as the artistic director of the South Florida Jewish Chorale. Originally from the Midwest, Jami received the Bachelor of Music Education degree from Iowa State University under Dr. James Rodde. She received the Master of Music degree at the University of Wales, Bangor, through a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship. Prior to her doctoral studies, Jami taught high school choral music for twelve years at Roseville Area High School, a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul. She sang with the Minnesota Chorale for eight seasons, and was active in ACDA-MN as the 9–10 Grade SSAA Honor Choir Co-Chair.

Rehearsing Democratically: Empowering Ensembles from Within

To many who serve as choral directors, the words democratic and conductor stand comically antonymous. After all, what place does collective bargaining have in a profession requiring efficient autocracy? Yet most Western nations prefer democratic republics for the same cliché reason conductors should; our collective potential is far greater than any single voice alone.

Rehearsing Democratically: Empowering Ensembles from Within is divided into two parts. Part I shares a philosophy on cultivating democratic choral classrooms that addresses fostering inclusivity, vulnerability, purpose, ownership, and worthiness. Part II applies philosophy to pedagogy in a facilitated discussion that assesses common rehearsal methods. Together, we'll look at rehearsal techniques that may be inadvertently constraining the fullest capacities of some singers, while also sharing new practices that enable a more robust and educative investment from all members in the rehearsal process.

SPEAKER: Dr. Matthew Olson


Matthew J. Olson is director of choral activities at Carleton College and serves as artistic director of Bach Roots Festival (formerly Oratory) as well as assistant conductor of The Singers -- MN Choral Artists. As recent Chorusmaster with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Star Tribune hailed that The Singers were "scrupulously prepared" by Olson in a performance of Bach's St. John Passion described as "one of the most satisfying you could ever hope to hear." Recently, he guest conducted Magnum Chorum in performances of Brahms' Requiem, and The Singers in widely acclaimed performances of Joby Talbot's 17-part choral symphony Path of Miracles.

A passionate music educator, he frequently serves as a clinician for high school choral festivals, and his choral compositions and arrangements are published by Colla Voce, Santa Barbara, and via his website. He studied choral and orchestral conducting at St. Olaf College, The Oregon Bach Festival, Michigan State University, The Canford Conducting School (U.K.), and The University of Minnesota.

Marcel Tyberg Masses: Music Lost in the Holocaust

Marcel Tyberg was tragically killed at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Since his life was ended so prematurely, his two Masses for choir and organ represent the entirety of his sacred choral output. In 2016, the South Dakota Chorale performed and recorded these for the first time since Marcel played them himself. This session will present an opportunity to read and hear the music in a new edition of the Messe di Fascile in Fa Maggiore (Easy Mass in F Major) prepared from the manuscripts by Brian A. Schmidt and published by Walton Music/GIA Publications. (scores will be provided.) This Mass setting is fit for use as a concert piece or liturgically within the context of a choral Mass. The choral and organ writing is accessible and beautiful---certainly within the reach of an average church choir. Tyberg's compositional style is lusciously neo-Romantic---reminiscent of Bruckner and Rheinberger---with melodic and harmonic elements of Jewish music infused occasionally. His settings of these Mass texts range from intimately devotional to broadly expressive and have a genuine impact on the listener.

SPEAKER: Dr. Brian Schmidt, Baylor University


Brian A. Schmidt is Associate Professor of Choral Music at Baylor University and conductor of the Baylor A Cappella Choir and Chamber Singers. He also leads the graduate choral conducting program, teaching private lessons, literature courses, and graduate conducting recitals. Schmidt is also founder and conductor of the Grammy-nominated South Dakota Chorale, a professional choir based in Sioux Falls, SD. Since 2009 he has grown the ensemble’s artistic presence through commercial recordings and an international recording contract in 2014 with PENTATONE, a Dutch classical label. Previously Schmidt served at Duke University Chapel where he conducted the Duke Vespers Ensemble and founded several new ventures including the monthly Bach Cantata Series and Cappella Baroque (a professional period-instrument orchestra) along with publishing recordings on the MSR Classics label. His choirs have appeared on Division and National ACDA Conferences and Boston Early Music Festival. He was selected by ACDA to represent America in the International Conductor Exchange Program with Sweden during the fall of 2015. Schmidt graduated from the University of North Texas, where he completed MM and DMA degrees under Jerry McCoy and Richard Sparks, along with early music studies under Lyle Nordstrom and Lenora McCroskey.

Peruvian Choral Music: A New and Diverse Repertoire

Choral composition in Peru spans more than five centuries, but Peruvian choral music is little known outside Latin America. Most of this music remains unpublished and inaccessible to North American musicians. Conductors and scholars seeking novel and culturally diverse repertoire will find worthwhile and distinctive options among the works of Peruvian composers. This presentation introduces a selection of works that exemplify three portions of this repertoire: Colonial, Modern, and Indigenous based, with a focus on the works of modern composers. In addition to new repertoire, this session will suggest areas for further scholarship.

SPEAKER: Dr. Richard Williamson, Anderson University


Richard Williamson is professor of music and director of choral activities at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Williamson's choirs have performed on four continents and in such major venues as the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington National Cathedral, and Carnegie Hall. His professional recognitions include a Fulbright fellowship and AU's Boles Award for Excellence in Teaching. He has published compositions with various firms, presented at numerous conferences, and published articles in Choral Journal, Teaching Music, and others. Williamson has also taught music in the public schools and served as a church musician.

Performing ‘Māori’ Music: Perspectives from a Pākehā (non-Māori) who grew up immersed in this music

The performance of traditional Māori music has been of interest to Western audiences since the middle of the 19th century. Since this time, Western performers and composers have frequently appropriated indigenous elements, including texts, melodies, and rhythms, into their music; in most cases with little understanding of the original ritual or social contexts. At the centre of any Western presentation of Māori music is the need to develop close, equitable, and reciprocal relationships with Māori composers, or their whānau (extended family). With the rising interest of indigenous cultures in choral music, Western conductors and composers need to carefully consider how they engage with both traditional Māori music as well as Māori-inspired Western works. At the forefront of our thinking when choosing whether to perform these works should be the question, ‘who does this music benefit?’ This presentation will give some background to the Māori musical tradition, the presenters own personal experience with Māori music, and some thoughts about how to approach performing this music with integrity and respect.

SPEAKER: Mr. Jono Palmer


Jono Palmer is a dynamic and enterprising young conductor from Auckland, New Zealand. He is currently a doctoral student in Choral Conducting at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and works as an associate instructor for the Choral Department. He maintains a link to New Zealand in his work as artistic programme coordinator for Choral Connect, the NZCF Association of Choral Director’s National Conference, and as a part-time high school teacher.

His choirs have won national and international acclaim, including two Gold Medals at the 2015 Grand Prix of Nations in Magdeburg, Germany, and many awards at regional and national festivals of NZCF The Big Sing. As a conductor, Jono has been selected for masterclasses at the 2017 World Symposium of Choral Music and the 2017 NCCO National Conference. In October 2018, he competed as one of six finalists in the Grand Final of the inaugural London International Choral Conducting Competition.

Jono has a MM in Choral Conducting from Indiana University, a BMus(hons) in Performance Voice, and a BA in Ancient History from the University of Auckland. In 2012, he was awarded the Conductor’s Development Prize at the Auckland Regional Big Sing Festival.

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