My experience at the ISM so far has been a lot of fun. I think the best part has been meeting so many interesting, smart, and kind individuals. Since I’m here for conducting, most of my studies are in music. A lot of my musical experiences in the past five years or so has been as a church musician, even though I’m not necessarily a person of faith.
I approach the idea of spirituality mostly in terms of community and singing with others. For instance, I have a small group that I sing with based in Hartford, Connecticut, and while we hold ourselves to a high musical level, we’re also really good friends. We’re always beaming after each rehearsal. Even if not spiritually transcendent, it is certainly a change – there is something we feel amongst us. The act of being connected is palpable. We can each tell what the other is thinking and feeling, even though we’re not directly communicating with words.
Where the role of a conductor and a conductor’s communication with an ensemble are concerned, there’s so much that has to do with what the conductor is thinking. The difficulty is in translating your thoughts into body language to the ensemble. It’s the act of being focused on the exact sound or emotion that you’re thinking of. If you’re really concentrating on that, they’ll understand. It starts with the very first beat and breath. Obviously your hands and gestures need to match your intent, but just really be focused on the emotion and intent, and the body will follow through. Then the choir will come in together with a collective breath, with the exact sound you’re looking for. It’s almost like telepathy.
Matthew Cramer is a first year choral conducting student in the ISM. He is a graduate of the Hartt School of the University of Hartford and hails from Nyack, New York.
A unique course offered through the ISM is REL:825, Vocal Development and Music Skills in Ministry, which is open to students desiring to improve their vocal skills, regardless of their musical background. Tara interviewed ISM alumna Awet Andemicael, M.A.R. ’10,with whom she took the course last fall. Andemicael is an operatic soprano, and current Ph.D. student in theology at Yale University, as well as a guest lecturer in Sacred Music at the ISM.
It was very exciting for me to see the kind of progress in vocal development that each of you made throughout the semester. Thinking about the vocal and musical dimensions, I came into this class with a strong sense that the purpose of it is the development of that particular student. So it’s not about impressing me or creating a studio of singers who are going to take on the world. Some of you may do so, but the point is for each of you to make significant progress based on your own frame of reference, your own innate skills, and your own needs for ministry. It was so amazing to hear the differences in your vocal tone and see the level of confidence all of you had at the end of the semester compared to the beginning. I was really impressed with your final projects! It wasn’t just the creativity of the projects, but the way you sang and presented yourselves – it all was thrilling!
Each time I’ve taught the course, it was different, because the students were very different. But I think this last time, there was something special about that particular group of students which made it an extraordinary experience for me. Each of you brought something special to the table. It was partly because of the size, because the class was much smaller this time, which created a unique intimacy and level of comfort. Also, everybody in the class seemed to be there for a reason, and worked so well with everyone else, that it was extraordinary to see what the Holy Spirit was doing in each of us and among us. My desire for all of you was certainly that you would improve your musical skills and have greater insights into the intersection of music and theology. I have a very deep desire for each of you to come to know the Lord more fully, more richly, and for you to have a sense of being one little corner in the Body of Christ.
Personally I’m more at ease in a context that has cultural diversity, ethnic diversity, and gender diversity. I grew up with a fair amount of diversity in my general neighborhood and where I went to school, and I have become for various reasons quite accustomed to being the only person of color in a certain context. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people from majority cultures I truly appreciate and admire, so this is not to put them down, but sometimes it can drain you a little bit when you’re constantly aware that you’re different from everyone else. So I thrive in a context where there are people of different backgrounds, even if their backgrounds are quite different from mine. I hope I can be effective in making people feel comfortable in a learning context, whether they come from the same ethnicity as mine, or a different ethnicity, or whether they’re a minority or majority. Every student is unique and important. It was such a special treat for me to have such a wide range of backgrounds in our class, and I think it very much enriched the learning experience for all of us.
Interviews by Tara Jamali, M.A.R. ’17.