12th World Symposium on Choral Music

On Being Sharp

New Zealand recently played host to Executive Director of the American Choral Directors Association and Vice President of IFCM Tim Sharp, who was here as a guest adjudicator and workshop clinician for the New Zealand Choral Federation’s Big Sing high school choir events.

While he was here, he also managed to squeeze in an interview on Radio New Zealand’s Upbeat, Arts and Culture programme.

You’ve recently been in New Zealand – how did it go?

It was an amazing experience as I witnessed such fine musicianship on the part of the New Zealand conductors and their exemplary choral performances.

The schools evidenced a choral discipline second to none, and I was also pleased with the opportunity to share my choral thoughts with over 400 young singers.

We’ve seen a fantastic response to the WSCM2020 so far – it’s looking like one of the biggest Symposia yet. What do you think this is down to?

At the risk of not appearing humble enough, I would have to first say that the United States and American choral directors are turning out and registering in high numbers for this incredible event. I am pleased that the members of ACDA are responding at a very high rate, and I expect this level of registration to continue. For this, I have to congratulate the artistic team for assembling what rightly deserves to be called a truly 'world-class' choral event.

There is no event in the choral world as fine as the WSCM. I believe that New Zealand is an exotic and desirable location, and its reputation for friendliness, beauty, and significantly, excellent choral performance is a leading factor and is known throughout the choral universe.

Who comes to the Symposium and who, in your experience, receives great benefit from the Symposium? In what ways?

The WSCM has always been an event that the choral leaders of the world want to attend. The reason it is so important to us is that we witness best practices, experience amazing performances that we see in no other setting, gather literature that we would never know about, network with people that are just as zealous as we are about the choral experience. It also attracts those who are looking for the out-of-the-ordinary and the extraordinary.

I know that the World Symposia have changed my thinking for the good, and have increased my network to a global choral community. No other experience does this for me, and I have attended many international festivals and events around the world. 

How has the event changed over the years, in your opinion?

The WSCM has had its highs, and its lows.

The changes that have occurred come naturally because of the desire to move the event around the world and throughout the continents, and it has changed due to local leadership and a variety of issues related to resources. The great news is that the administrative and artistic team at work for this WSCM is one of the best I have witnessed in my many years of observation.

The event always showcases choirs from around the world, so this piece of variety is consistent and can be expected.

The sheer beauty of New Zealand will add a dimension in 2020 that is unparalleled in my experience.

As someone who’s been to New Zealand a few times now, how will our unique location as a small but beautiful nation in the South Pacific with a strong indigenous heritage impact the discussions and vibe of the Symposium, do you think?

I believe that the theme that emphasises the people and the land will resonate throughout the choral world.

With choral music, we are story-tellers at heart with our ensembles, and this reality has been captured by the New Zealand architects at work for the 2020 WSCM. I have personally been moved by the Māori experience and how the people of New Zealand have learned to live and work and perform in empathy with their heritage.

As a person from Oklahoma in the United States where I live among 39 native American tribes, I find it important to observe and experience this sort of cultural collaboration through the eyes of another country, and New Zealand is a model for all of us.

As a member of the Artistic Committee for this coming WSCM, I know for a fact that the theme of the people and the land has been in the forefront of all our decisions and planning, and I believe everyone will relate to the programmatic results.

What else, aside from the Symposium and surrounding events, will you be doing in Auckland while you’re here?

I am a trout fisherman, so I plan on stealing away to go fly fishing. I have seen the size of the trout that inhabit the lakes and rivers, and I want to add the water of New Zealand to my fly-fishing bucket list (or "creel" list as we would say).

I am also a fan of New Zealand wines, having already found some favorites such as a Pinot Noir from Central Otago called Mt. Difficulty. I fully expect my list to increase.

What choirs and presenters are you particular excited about seeing and why?

It is always my first hope to hear the choirs of the host region. For this reason, New Zealand, Australian, and other Asia-Pacific choirs will be at the top of my checklist.

As Executive Director of the American Choral Directors Association, I will also be very keen to be on the front row when the choirs from the United States and Canada perform. Although I get to hear them often, my excitement at hearing them at the WSCM is to see what they bring to the world stage at this incredibly prestigious moment for them.

And of course, the opportunity to hear new expressions and types of choirs will capture my attention. Since I love process as much as I love performance, I will be very alert to the pedagogical elements I see and hear in all the choirs.

And lastly, I will be fascinated to see the programming that takes place from every choir I get to hear.

What’s on your plate between now and July 2020?

This summer I have set foot on six of the seven continents as I went around the planet twice for choral events. It has been an amazing summer.

We will launch our membership campaign for ACDA in September, and I look forward to continuing to energize what we are doing to address our ACDA mission of inspiring excellence in choral music education, performance, composition, and advocacy in the United States.

Into the New Year, my office is responsible for assisting our Regional Chapters in holding their conferences, and of course, I will travel to each of those events in February and March, 2020.

On my personal agenda, I have three new books that will be published between now and January 2020: Knoxville Music Before Bluegrass, Relevance in the Ensemble Arts, and Sacred Choral Music Repertoire: Insights for Conductors. Editing at 36,000 feet is a great use of time and rarified altitude...closer to the angels I suppose.

I am excited about the release of this scholarship and promoting these various ideas that mean so much to me and my work.

I am also an active conductor myself, so performances with my Tulsa Chorale will include Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Hodie", Beethoven's "Mass in C" and the premiere of a new Christmas work I have written, Angel Band for choir and Appalachian mountain instruments. 

What podcast/s are you enjoying at the moment?

I enjoy revisiting Simon Sinek's TED talk, "How Great Leaders Inspire Action" and Daniel Pink's "The Puzzle of Motivation." Not a podcast, but probably should be, is a book I am reading right now and enjoying very much – David Epstein's "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World."

If your life depended on it and you had to pick one, what is your all-time favourite piece of choral music?

For me and for many of us, Johannes Brahms' “A German Requiem" is my desert-island choral work.

It feels like a mineral bath every time I hear it and is absolute balm to my soul. Besides its ever-evolving beauty, it is brilliantly structured and composed, is my favorite type of counterpoint, and sets scripture in a way that feels universal. The work explores the full range of human emotion and represents the artistic potential of choral music expression.

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