What’s Your Sign?: The Camerata Peace Project

Because inclusion and belonging are the overriding theme for our Peace Project concert on Sunday, we want to make this beautiful concert accessible to a group that you wouldn’t normally associate with music — the deaf community.  However, it turns out that music plays a significant role, both therapeutically and recreationally in the lives of deaf people.  That is why we will have a song signer at our concert on Sunday.

So, how can the hearing-impaired enjoy music?  According to one   young man, they “Feel” the music and “listen with the heart.”  Here is a heartwarming video called “How Deaf People Enjoy Music:” https://www.facebook.com/aimediaAUS/videos/10155189131339220/?id=100010747232096

Deaf people often retain some degree of hearing.  In addition to sound, the tactile, the visual, and the kinesthetic all play important roles in deaf perceptions of music.  Song-signing performances use four principal forms of expression: music, lyrics, the signs of ASL, and other gestures independent of the signed language (i.e. dancing, swaying, pulsing, etc.).  One of the earliest records of song signing can be found in a film project by the National Association of the Deaf, produced between 1910 and 1920

The song signer portrays musical elements like rhythm, pitch, phrasing, and timbre through productive musical signs and non-linguistic gestures.  In fact, many song signing videos have gone viral on YouTube, and people are beginning to understand that signing can enrich the musical experiences of the deaf and hearing alike.  Song signing presents us with an opportunity to expand our understanding of familiar songs and to experience them in new ways.

Join us for The Camerata Peace Project on Sunday for an incredibly rich experience, including song signing!  Here is a link for tickets: http://longbeachcameratasingers.org/lbcs/camerata-peace-project/


Peace by Piece: The Camerata Peace Project

How we spend our time IS very important.   As we have seen this week, some people spend their time planning the cruelest deeds imaginable.  Not us, no not us.   We spend our time making our community better.

And making our community better is exactly what Long Beach Camerata Singers is all about. That is why our first concert this year is The Camerata Peace Project – how timely is that??? Now more than ever . . . we need to keep reminding ourselves that decency, goodness and belonging are alive and well, and that is exactly what we will be singing about in our concert on Sunday.

 Without pause or second thought, all of the singers are working together to create a work of art. Musical performance is without question an endeavor towards peace. On Sunday you will hear music representing many styles, religious traditions, cultural differences and generations. We hope that this afternoon will be unlike any “concert” you have ever experienced …and is instead a visual and sonic representation of community at its very best. 

The concert is comprised of a series of individual pieces from many different traditions — Pop/Folk (Gilkyson’s “Reqiem”), African-American (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”) Hebrew (“Hine Ma Tov”), Russian (Rachmaninoff’s  “Bogoroditse Devo”) and so much more.  Peace by Piece . . . each piece of music will add to your understanding and sense of belonging.      

Please come and spend an afternoon with us! Our music and our message has no meaning without your ears!  We promise you will leave moved and inspired 


An Anthem of Compassion: Eliza Gilkyson’s “Requiem”

Camerata’s Peace Project Concert on October 8 will be filled with fantastic repertoire.  My very favorite piece is “Requiem” by Eliza Gilkyson.  This absolutely beautiful piece of music is full of lament, and, ultimately,  hope.  It also has a very interesting history.

Gilkyson wrote “Requiem” in 2004 in response to the Asian Tsunami disaster.  In an interview with NPR, she revealed that she wanted to write a mass, and even considered using Latin text.  She researched female deities of many religious and cultural traditions, but kept coming back to Mary.  She used lower case exclusively in the text to signify the universal female comforter.

The composer recorded “Requiem” on her Paradise Lost album using  only two voices — hers and her daughter’s.  Her intent, exquisitely fulfilled, was to pair an innocent upper voice with a more world-weary lower voice.  Use this link for the NPR interview and the Gilkyson recording of the piece:  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4847831

The story of Gilkyson’s “Requiem” doesn’t stop there.  As a matter of cosmic coincidence, both Gilkyson and  Craig Hella Johnson, Artistic Director of the professional choir Conspirare, resided in Austin, Texas, and the rest is history.  In 2006 Johnson produced a piano-and-chorus arrangement of “Requiem,” the very arrangement that Camerata will be singing on October 8.  In a blog posting by Conspirare, Johnson describes the piece as “an anthem of compassion.”  Click here for Johnson’s remarks and a Conspirare performance of the piece: https://conspirare.org/inspire/requiem/

Please join us on October 8 to hear the Gilkyson/Johnson version of “Requiem,” as well as many more wonderful choral nuggets.  To purchase tickets please visit Camerata’s website:  http://longbeachcameratasingers.org/lbcs/camerata-peace-project/


Peace Be With You: The Camerata Peace Project

When our new Artistic Director, James Bass, suggested that we perform a concert around the theme of Peace, we were intrigued.  That concept has grown into a community effort that we are calling The Camerata Peace Project, and it will take place on Sunday, October 8 2017.

This first Peace Project — the first of five annual events — will revolve around the theme of diversity and inclusion, the the importance of a sense of belonging.  The centerpiece of the concert is “We Can Mend the Sky” by contemporary composer, Jake Runestad.  Also included are “Requiem” by Eliza Gilkyson, Rachmaninoff’s “Bogoroditse Devo” and Bernstein’s “Almighty Father.”  We will explore the repertoire more fully in future posts.

Instead of a pre-concert lecture, we have arranged a community roundtable discussion.  We have invited representatives from many stakeholder groups around the area to discuss these issues, including LGBT, Developmentally Disabled, African American, Children, and more.  We will focus on how our diversity is expressed through music and how music leads to inclusion.

According to Dr. Bass, “When we come together to sing, it is almost exclusively in a peaceful manner.  There is no other place like the concert stage to cultivate human relationships:  Relationships with the past, with each other as performers and with the audience. We will ask our audience to  put the thoughts and concerns of the outside world away and join us in a musical celebration of human relationships and of peace.”

Prepare to be uplifted by this beautiful concert; prepare to be moved; prepare to think about important issues; prepare to count your blessings; prepare to appreciate the goodness that comes through human connection.

Please join us on October 8!  Here is the link for tickets:  http://longbeachcameratasingers.org/lbcs/camerata-peace-project/

All About Camerata’s New Artistic Director, James K. Bass

Artistic Director transitions are important moments in the culture of a chorus.  There is the sad good-bye to the departing individual, the wishing-well-but-holding-on phase.  There is the selection process, where hopes and dreams are lit aflame.  Finally, there is the Choice.

The Choice, in the case of Long Beach Camerata Singers, was Dr. James K. Bass, three-time GRAMMY®-nominated singer and conductor, and  Professor and Director of Choral Studies at the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA. He is the Associate Conductor and Director of Education for the Miami based ensemble Seraphic Fire and is the Artistic Director of the Long Beach Camerata Singers.

Bass is an active soloist and ensemble artist. In 2017 he made his Cleveland Orchestra solo debut singing with Franz Welser-Möst and the orchestra in Miami and in Severance Hall, Cleveland. He has appeared with numerous professional vocal ensembles including Seraphic Fire, Conspirare, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Trinity Wall Street, Apollo Master Chorale, Vox Humanae, True Concord and Spire. He was the featured baritone soloist on the GRAMMY nominated recording Pablo Neruda: The Poet Sings with fellow singer Lauren Snouffer, conductor Craig Hella-Johnson and the GRAMMY winning ensemble Conspirare. Bass was selected by the master conductor of the Amsterdam Baroque Soloists, Ton Koopman, to be one of only 20 singers for a presentation of Cantatas by J. S. Bach in Carnegie Hall and was an auditioned member of Robert Shaw’s workshop choir at Carnegie.

During his tenure as Artistic Director for the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, the official chorus of the Florida Orchestra, he was responsible for five recordings and multiple world premieres. In 2012 he served as chorusmaster and co-editor for the Naxos recording entitled Delius: Sea Drift and Appalachia featuring the Florida Orchestra and conducted by Stefan Sanderling.

His professional career has coincided with the development of Seraphic Fire as one of the premier vocal ensembles in the United States. During the summer of 2011 he co-founded the Professional Choral Institute. In its inaugural year of recording, Seraphic Fire and PCI received the GRAMMY® nomination for Best Choral Performance for their recording of Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deuthches Requiem. As the Director of Education for the ensemble he has been involved with annual events that service more than 2000 students in the Miami-Dade county area each year. In 2017 Seraphic Fire and UCLA launched a new educational initiative entitled the Ensemble Artist Program that aims to identify and train the next generation of high-level ensemble singers.

Bass received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Miami, where he was a doctoral fellow, and is a graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy.

Indications are that The Choice was a good one!  Welcome to Camerata, James!

Camerata Singers Opening Night Gala, October 5

Like many arts organizations, Long Beach Camerata Singers has an annual Opening Night Gala.  This year our event will take place on Thursday, October 5, 2017, just a couple of days before our first concert of the season, The Camerata Peace Project.  Our event will be held at The Modern, Long Beach’s newest and coolest event space.   The Gala will raise much-needed funds for our 2017-2018 season, but it also offers an opportunity for us to award our Beverly O’Neill Arts and Leadership Award.

So, what is the Beverly O’Neill Arts and Leadership Award, and why is it important in our community?  Beverly O’Neill, now in retirement, had a long and distinguished career in Long Beach, first at Long Beach City College and later as Mayor of the City Long Beach.  A little known fact about this greatly beloved figure, is that she began her career as a music instructor at LBCC and spent many years as a choir director.  As the first recipient of our award in 2015, also our 50th Anniversary celebration, Mayor O’Neill agreed to lend her name to future awards as a show of solidarity for her love of the arts and choral music.

Our 2016 award recipient was another very popular  figure in Long Beach, Steve Goodling, President and CEO of the Long Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.  Among many other accomplishments, Steve transformed the Center Theater in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center into the Beverly O’Neill Theater and made it available to multiple performing arts group, including Long Beach Camerata Singers.

This year we will honor the Port of Long Beach and the Harbor Commissioners for their long-standing support of the arts in Long Beach.  The Port has donated millions of dollars to the arts in our city over the years and the Commissioners as well as much of the staff have provided tireless support for many organizations, serving on boards and attending performances.   Long Beach Camerata Singers has benefited greatly from their generosity.

We will gather, on October 5, with hope and gratitude for the state of the arts in Long Beach!  If you would like to join us, please use this link for more information:  http://longbeachcameratasingers.org/lbcs/opening-night-gala-camerata-peace-project/

Looking Forward — Looking Back — With Gratitude to Rob!

As we begin a new chapter at Long Beach Camerata Singers with Artistic Director Dr. James K. Bass, we would like to take a moment to look back at the journey that has delivered us to this place.  It is not an easy task to transition a community chorus into a symphony chorus and many were part of that effort.  The main architect of Camerata’s transformation, however, was our beloved and recently-departed Artistic Director, Dr. Robert Istad.

Rob became Camerata’s Artistic Director in the summer of 2009, taking over from Jonathan Talberg. The season had already been planned and the choir stood at about 45 people. We had 2 part time employees and our revenue for that season came in at a little under $75,000. Rob was teaching at Cal State Fullerton at that point, and had a freshly minted DMA certificate on his wall.

It was pretty clear to the board that Rob had a vision of how Camerata could progress artistically and as a force in the community. But more importantly, Rob turned out to possess a great organizational and business sense, along with his artistic abilities. This confluence of skills on the artistic side, plus a board that was motivated to see the organization grow, provided just the right environment to move Long Beach Camerata Singers forward.

So, what was Rob’s vision and how did he take Camerata from there – a small community choir – to here – Long Beach’s professional-quality choral organization?

First, Rob focused on artistic quality. He recruited great singers, both for our paid ranks and within our volunteer ranks. His reputation allowed him to attract great talent for us.

Second, he programmed some fantastic concerts – The great classics, such as Carmina Burana, Mozart Requiem, St. John Passion, Bach’s Magnificat, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, and of course, Messiah. He hired talented, top-level soloists and made sure that we worked with reputable orchestra contractors to provide quality musicians to accompany the choir.

Next, he made sure that we had well-trained staff to run the day-to-day operations, freeing the board to do fundraising and the singers to polish their skills.

Another great visionary change that Rob urged us to make was to move our concerts from churches to a formal performing arts facility. We made that move in 2013, to the Long Beach City College Auditorium and, last season, to the Beverly O’Neill Theater.

All of these changes created synergy in the community and in the organization. The size and quality of the choir increased; we added new, talented board members; we attracted more donations from individuals, foundations and corporate sponsors. And, finally, Rob helped negotiate an artistic partnership between the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra and Long Beach Camerata Singers.

So, there are the accomplishments, but what of the man?  Everyone loves Rob, and there’s a reason for it – he is a genuinely nice person, enormously talented, but still focused on the needs of others.   He has taught us volumes about how to treat people with respect, about how powerful it can be to recognize the worth of others.   He speaks frankly about problems and concerns, but he is not sarcastic or unkind in his conduct.

Rob is smart, funny, silly, talented, thorough and detail oriented, but it is this quality of treating everyone he encounters with respect that stands out as a great, shining reflection of his inner character.

So as we stand on the brink of new adventures and achievements, everyone at Long Beach Camerata Singers would like to acknowledge Rob’s contributions to bringing us to this point.  Thanks to your tireless efforts, we are well prepared for this new journey!

Observations and anecdotes about classical music in Southern California