Q: You both come from very strong music backgrounds that are steeped in elements of tradition. How did the music of the opera and the church influence your direction techniques?
AO: My direction techniques stem from my background as an instrumentalist. I came to the area after accepting a position to teach the French Horn at the University of Louisville. In 1998, I began singing with Voices, and I’ve been a member of the Altos ever since. Over the past six or seven years, a need arose in the chorus – There wasn’t always an Assistant Artistic Director to help split sectionals. Given my instrumental background, the Artistic Director asked if I would be fine leading the sectional. I’m very familiar with teaching people notes and rhythms. It’s essentially how anyone teaches music. This is how I got in front of the whole group and became comfortable in the role.
PM: VOICES is a community chorus made up mostly of amateurs, and mostly what I’ve been doing for the past years is working with students and professionals. But VOICES is a great mix of people — we have lawyers who can read music as well as pros. If nothing else, I would say my previous experience has taught me how to work with people with different abilities, and encourage them to perform the same task at the same level. I’m not going to go play basketball with the U of L basketball team — our abilities are just too different — but there are times when a trained opera singer can stand next to someone who just loves to sing, and the result is really fantastic.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your process for co-directing the concert? How did you divide up the work?
PM: Most of the work was divided by the board. Alise and I came to the process at the end of September, when a couple of rehearsals had already taken place. Because the program had already been picked, part of agreeing to be co-director was agreeing to the program. Alise and I have begun to work really closely together to prepare all the music, which is an incredible relief.
Q: What is the strongest part of your partnership? What aspect of working together are you the most proud of?
AO: We’re completely different personalities, but it’s a great compliment. He’s very calm, whereas I’m extremely high energy. It’s good to have that spectrum in front of the chorus. I know my personality can be overwhelming at times, so it’s nice that they can relax a little when Philip is up there. We also have completely different styles of teaching. I approach it from an instrumental perspective, focusing on notes and rhythms. Phillip comes from a vocal background. He has the ability to get to the nuances of vocal singing, and it produces a truly wonderful sound from the chorus. We’re a great team because it’s the best of both worlds.
PM: I’m proud that we have managed to, essentially, get the concert prepared. It’s very difficult to divide time evenly, but Alise and I have no problem with give and take. We’re more concerned with the concert being good, rather than our time or our moment to be the boss.
AO: I’m also proud that we have had consistent membership. I think the chorus feels how much we love being there and rehearsing with them. Let me tell you from past experience – you can tell whether the person in front of the chorus is vested or not. If we don’t make it fun and we don’t care, people are going to find something else to do. I think we’ve done a nice job of balancing fun with learning.
Q: How were the song selections made? Did you get to choose which pieces you directed?
PM: They were chosen by a programming committee, which includes a couple members of the chorus and a couple members of the board, plus the former artistic director made some selections last year.
AO: Some of the suggestions from the programming committee have been performed by the chorus in the past. I was familiar with them, so I was happy to volunteer for those pieces. From there, we looked at the music and figured out the songs that best suited our personalities and musical preferences. I enjoy conducting fast, upbeat pieces because that is just me. It’s my personality.
Q: What’s your favorite song or arrangement in the concert this year?
AO: Even though I just said I enjoy happy, fast pieces, my favorite is a lovely arrangement of O Holy Night. It’s the traditional hymn, arranged by GALA member, Annie Albritten. It incorporates the melody of O Holy Night, but adds a different twist. I think it’s challenging for the chorus because the harmonies aren’t what they typically think of. They are truly beautiful harmonies, though. It’s very calm, and it speaks to the musical side of me.
PM: For me, it’s a toss up between two pieces. “Sleigh Ride,” because it’s an old standard — essentially anyone who’s ever been in a chorus has sung some version of that song, and “Charlie Brown Christmas,” is fun to do because I love that movie so much.
Q: Why do you think people should come to the concert?
PM: Well, I think it’s just going to be an entertaining hour and a half or so — familiar songs, a couple things they won’t know. The programming committee did a great job of picking new treatments of old songs, so it’s a good mix of new arrangements without throwing out everything you know and like about Christmas.
AO: People are going to have fun! We have two beautiful sets for the first and second half. We’re doing very little “stand and sing” on risers. Singers will be moving around on stages, wearing fun things. Santa and his Elves will even be in attendance. It’s going to be an enjoyable concert.
Q: What should I do if I want to become involved in VOICES, but can’t carry a tune in a bucket?
PM: We have a lovely set called the Silent VOICES, people who sell tickets and so forth — they do a lot of work off stage. There are lots of ways to become involved in the chorus without being a choral participant. I also believe that everyone can sing, whether they think they can or not, so people shouldn’t sell themselves short.
AO: I agree. Sometimes people say they can’t sing, and they aren’t accurate whatsoever. If they truly can’t carry a tune, there are many ways to become involved. Silent VOICES are behind the scenes, running the stage. selling tickets, managing the reception after the concert. These people are a members of the chorus, you just don’t see them up on stage. Silent VOICES are invaluable to us.
Q: Any last thoughts about the upcoming concert and the VOICES organization?
AO: Yes, and it’s something very important to mention. One of our founding members, David Jones, is not singing with us at this time, but he’s still involved and very supportive of the group. His mother passed away this past spring.
Her name was Nancy Jones, and she was one of our most ardent supporters. Nancy came to every one of our dress rehearsals. She was our good luck charm. She would listen to us singing and say the same thing every time: You all sound just wonderful. It didn’t matter if the rehearsal was rough and didn’t sound perfect. She simply didn’t hear it. Every four years, she made the journey to our GALA performances. She was a fixture with our chorus. When we went to Denver this past year, Nancy came, and we made her a lifetime honorary member.
The day of our final spring concert, we found out she passed away after an extended illness. At our Holiday concert, we’re recognizing her for her support and performing “Let Me Be The Music” – the song she requested be sung at her funeral. For someone who was so supportive of our chorus for so long, it’s the least we can do.