This month, the first students in the new Master of Music in Vocal Chamber Music program arrived on the main University of Redlands campus for four days of rigorous practice and performance. The two-year program accepts eight students each year and operates on a schedule that allows students to continue professional performing careers during their studies. Here, U of R Artist Professor Christopher Gabbitas, former member of the renowned British a cappella group The King's Singers, reflects on his experience working with the new group.
Arriving at the University of Redlands in early October for the Master of Music in Vocal Chamber Music residence weekend was a mixture of excitement and nerves—for all of us.
For the previous five weeks, the nine students and I had discussed the development of choral music from medieval chant through to the late Renaissance, and we were gathering to rehearse our 45-minute program for the first time, with just three days' practice before our first public performance!
We needn't have worried. A rapport was struck up almost immediately, and for four days we spent the best part of 12 hours together each day, rehearsing, discussing, and socializing. The key to a good choral performance is listening: without honing your ears to fit in with the balance, blend, and tuning of an ensemble, the sound can easily fracture and all sense of comfort lost. And that's key for an audience—to feel safe, comfortable, and relaxed as they listen to your performance.
As this is the first semester of this unique new degree, I spent time asking the students how they felt about our work thus far. We're settling into a weekly routine of readings, listening list, videos, and an online discussion board, with the aim of learning about the extra elements—chief among them repertoire, music history, and programming—that professional chamber singers need in order to hone their craft.
Next semester we approach commercial music-making, a key element of what makes this degree unique. Students will learn the skills and techniques needed to survive in the real world, such as contract negotiation, appointing a supportive board, and setting up a nonprofit organization.
All of us are so grateful for the University's support in providing resources for Professors Nicholle Andrews, Joseph Modica, and I to write this groundbreaking new degree, and, if this first weekend is any indication of where we're heading, it's going to be a great journey!