Last night, Carl and I watched one of our favorite local PBS programs, “Long Story Short,” with host Leslie Wilcox. I was very happy to see that the guest was local choral conductor, Nola Nahulu. You can replay the interview or read a transcript by clicking here.
Wilcox begins by saying “Choral music plays a vital role in Hawaii’s artistic, spiritual, and cultural life. And many of our choral singers look to conductor Nola Nahulu.” I understand that members of the Director of Music and Liturgy Search Committee recently called Nola for her help in finding Carl’s replacement at LCH.
Carl and I have known Nola for over 30 years, in fact, he said that she regularly sang in the LCH choir as an alto when Dr. Malcolm Tait was the choirmaster, in 1976-1977. I knew her, of course, because of her work with the Hawaii Children’s Chorus and the Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus. Did you know that I briefly worked in the Hawaii Children’s Chorus office and served as one of the accompanists? (Yes, that was EONS ago!)
So many of LCH’s youth have been active in HYOC, among them Naomi Castro, Karyn Castro and Marisa Castello (when she’s home in Hawaii) who now sing in the LCH choir as adults. Here again is the picture of the HYOC group who sang in the Bach St. Matthew Passion, which shows Naomi in the chorus. Also in the chorus is Hilary Scherer, whose mother, Ulrike Scherer, now sings in the LCH Choir alto section.
One of the most interesting parts of Nola’s interview was when Leslie Wilcox asked, “How do you conduct?” Nola answered, “It is much more than beating patterns. I’ve decided that we can actually shape sound, just by what we do with our face, our body, and our arms. And we can shape all the way through performances, instead of getting it so robotic, especially for choral music.”
I especially liked this quote: “As a conductor, if they sound great, that’s because of you. If they sound terrible, that’s because of you.”
How true this is. When I was a freshman in college, I was in an experimental choir which had a different conductor every week. It was amazing to hear that with every conductor, the choir sounded differently, even though it was the same group of singers every week! Later I was in the concert choir with Dr. James Vail, who was an organist as well as a choral conductor. He was able to elicit so many nuances of tone in the choir, just as though he were pushing and pulling organ stops.
I also remember being in a class with Dr. Charles Hirt, the “dean of choral conductors” at USC. He had us try to conduct using only our eyes, mouth and shoulders (no arms or hands allowed!)
The art of choral conducting is not just hand-waving!