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Conductor's Diary

Conductor's Diary: "Christmas Festival Week"

As the choir goes into "Christmas Festival Week," artistic director, David Cherwien, sends a note to the choir:

You are all to be congratulated. In these past four short weeks we have absorbed an entire program. You have come through for each other in the learning process, and in general, while there is work to do this coming week, we're in great shape. A wonderfully varied program, and sung very musically. 

April 15, 2014: Like a River

Every week, the NLC's artistic director David Cherwien, writes a short letter to the members of the choir to give them notes on how they should direct their attention preparing for the next week's rehearsal or performance. This week, his focus is on Frank Martin's Mass. 

Conductor's Diary:

April 8, 2014: Rehearsal transformations

Our artistic director, David Cherwien, writes a note to the choir the Thursday after every Tuesday rehearsal. We are preparing the program for our May 4, 2014 concert at St Andrew's Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi MN which will include the premiere of a commissioned work by Zachary Wadsworth, William Mathias' Anthem: "Let the people praise thee, O God," Charles Villiers Stanford's Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, Frank Martin's Mass, and Benjamin Britten's (seen on the left) Te Deum. Organist Aaron David Miller will be the featured guest artist on the program. For more information about the concert, click here

April 1, 2014: Paradox

From the Conductor's diary:

Paradoxically, early rehearsals are exhausting, but at the same time invigorating!  The Frank Martin Mass and commissioned work by Zachary Wadsworth are very challenging intervalically, harmonically, and rhythmically. It's just hard work getting the notes and rhythm right! The good news is that we can get on the other side of that learning curve so much more quickly with home preparation. This allows us to spend as much time as possible doing interpretive things, which is when we get off the page and start making music!

February 11, 2014: Zeroing In

David Cherwien shares his notes from the February 11, 2014 rehearsal. The two programs he references in his notes are variants of the same repertoire: a hymn festival performed in Minneapolis (City-Wide Hymn Festival on Sunday, February 23, 2014 @ 4pm in Central Lutheran Church's beautiful sanctuary) and on tour in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Winona, Minnesota and a concert to be performed on tour in Dixon, Illinois. 

January 28, 2014: Preparing for the City-Wide Hymn Festival

Each week, the choir members receive notes on Thursday from the previous Tuesday rehearsal. The notes include very specific spots in each composition (e.g. measure 14 and the third beat of the alto part, make sure to put the "T" at the beginning of beat 4). We share the general notes that are the prelude to a much longer memorandum. The rehearsal notes come from David Cherwien, artistic director of the National Lutheran Choir, and then are passed on to the section leaders (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) who add their own marginalia.

January 14, 2014: Using YouTube

How should a choir director use YouTube with her/his choir? Each Thursday, artistic director David Cherwien shares rehearsal notes with members of the NLC from the previous Tuesday's rehearsal. This week's note is about Berlin's Vocalconsort's recording of a Bach motet.


January 9, 2014: Learning new repertoire

We're off and running with a new program. Everything needs to be new for these performances -- even the recycled literature we're including for our stage concert in Dixon, Illinois. But the thought of learning all of it in one big picture can be daunting. Start with one thing and work your way through, learning these pieces one at a time. I'd suggest starting with the Bach.

November 23, 2013: Lifting People Out of Their Seats

The NLC makes a digital recording of every rehearsal which is reviewed by Artistic Director David Cherwien and the section leaders. David writes an email to the members of the NLC on Thursdays after the Tuesday rehearsal. Typically, the section leaders add their own notes amplifying David's points.

November 22, 2014: Christmas time is "crunch time"

It's a crunch time, no doubt. Every second in rehearsal is precious, and a lot happens in a short time - especially these last three weeks. The best use of any time you might be able to put to this music over the weekend would be to pick some isolated spots that are most difficult. Focus on those.

February 19, 2013: Bach Mass in b minor

Each Thursday David Cherwien, Artistic Director of the National Lutheran Choir, distributes notes to the singers after the Tuesday rehearsal. Large works with multiple movements are especially challenging because the performance needs to represent a narrative arc that is both coherent and emotional. The NLC is preparing for the powerful and uplifting Mass in b minor by J.S. Bach which will be performed at 7 p.m. in the glorious Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis on the 328th anniversary of Bach’s birthday: March 21, 2013.

February 7, 2013: Bach Mass in b minor

Every week, Artistic Director David Cherwien shares his Thursday rehearsal notes with the choir following the Tuesday rehearsal. These notes are from February 7, 2013 and are meant to be used by the choir members in their preparation of Bach’s Mass in b minor. The performance will take place at Central Lutheran Church on Bach’s birthday on March 21, 2013 at 7pm. The performance will be broadcast live on Minnesota Public Radio.


November 27, 2012: Christmas Festival

Here we are. We're at that point in our process where we have the weekend, then it's eat, sleep and dream the music for this program. I always love this week. It's intense but so worth it.

As I listened to the rehearsal, I heard myself explaining a lot. We stopped a lot. In many cases, after only one note. Do I apologize for these things? No! What's going on is three important steps:

The Idea Behind Marvel of This Night


Every year, the National Lutheran Choir's Christmas Festival is re-imagined. In 2012, the theme is "Marvel of This Night..." Artistic Director, David Cherwien describes the experience and the message of the "marvel."


November 6, 2012: Starting Anew

Artistic Director, David Cherwien, provides notes to the choir on Thursday after our weekly Tuesday rehearsals. The choir turned its focus this week to the Christmas Festival concerts that will be happening at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis MN (Friday, December 7 @ 4:30pm and 8pm and Saturday, December 8 @ 8pm) and at Christ Church Cathedral in Saint Louis MO (Saturday, December 15 @ 2pm and 5pm). 

October 30, 2012: Brevity

David Cherwien provides notes to the choir on Thursday after our weekly Tuesday rehearsals. This week's rehearsal was split between recording and rehearsing the repertoire we'll be doing on Saturday (St Andrew's Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, Nov 3 @ 7pm) and Sunday (St Bartholomew's Catholic Church in Wayzata, Nov 4 @ 4pm) for the All Saints programs.

The brevity of notes is noteworthy.


October 9, 2012: Focus

Focus. That is the "secret word" in this week's note to the choir from David Cherwien. He writes rehearsal notes on Thursdays after the prior Tuesday's rehearsal. We are quickly coming up to our opening concerts of the season which will start in Chicago-Madison-Milwaukee and conclude with two All Saints concerts in early November. 
We have include David's very specific approach to encouraging that special focus that the NLC tries to achieve every time they sing together. 
Focus. Remember the old projector days? Put the slide in, focus the picture - as it gets clearer its brilliance comes out, the details become transparent, colors more vibrant. In music not only does the same apply, when we're all "on" and clear, it sounds more simple, it weighs less, and frankly it's much easier to listen to. When we're out of focus, it's like playing the piano while holding the pedal down. What creates “out of focus?” Rhythm that isn't precise - especially when it's counter to the rest of the choir, or over-slurred melismas and runs, pitches that are approximate - especially inner "small" notes like the second note of a four-note 16th-note run)
Text – “o’s,” where the shape of the mouth doesn't change enough 
Consonants that are lack-luster and not precisely together with the other 66 singers and 
Dynamics – mostly when everything is two or three notches louder than it should be.
What is fun about the old projectors is when focusing when we think it's focused, but we adjust the knob a bit more to discover it could get even clearer!!
Two of our pieces are there - just a little out of focus. Miles better than our first couple of runs together, but we need to tweak the focus knob even more.
Mighty River, Mighty River (by Imant Raminsh) is full of counter rhythms. Triplets eighth notes against two. Words that are actually a bit tricky to do in song because of our American English "r." Examples: "Spirit" - use a "d" instead, "Fire" - stay on "ah" skip the "r," "River" start with "d" and end with schwa), our American English diphthongs ("Mighty" stay on "ah" and skip or ever-so-lightly-and-late go to the "eee" and again "Fire" not "fah-yer" but just "fah"). We need greater focus on articulating the triplets and eighths precisely - the snare drum idea actually worked - I could hear a difference when we had Shaun do that, but we need that in our heads. The main beats stay exactly precise (1 - 2 - 3) whether they are divided into two or three. The consonants need to be crisp and very forward (not with jaw movement), lip vowels need opening changes (without jaw or change in embouchure) - "oh" and "ooo" need to see lip changes - words like "flow over me" - should see lips change, but the flow of tone and placement of the tongue and jaw stays consistent - open and not tight.
The other piece is Every Time I Feel the Spirit (arr. Allen Koepke) - it just sounds like it weighs too much, and that button-y, bouyant, accent-with-tone-behind it lilt isn't there yet. We got there with I got a home in-a that Rock last year - we need to get there with this piece. Every rest you should feel - especially the accented syncopation it creates - but in a bouyant way!! (like measure 2, "mov") We need better word and/or syllable stresses, too -  "SPEE - diht" "mov" and "heart" in measures 103.
How They So Softly Rest (by Healey Willan). Lip vowels need lips to change a bit more: "oh" and "oo" should be more committed. ("So softly," "Slowly", etc and “softly” - a dark "aw" like "Sawftly"). And of course the illusive and ever-important “EH!!!!!!” eh-specially the word "dwelling" - T/B's mark something in your score so that eh-verytime you sing measure 6, your brain remembers to discipline that vowel!!! (S/A - same in measure 15).  The higher register in these spots tends to pull some toward an "ah". 
Kyrie (from Missa Brevis by Vytautas Miskinis). Nice work. Altos – measure 62: c-natural. No surprise for you, Love it so that it is a nice surprise for the audience! Soprano 1 - Add shape to the melody you develop in measures 68-75. It's a beautiful floaty-descant, but needs phrase shape. To and from "le" in "e-le-i-son." Bass 2 – concentrate like mad in measures 56-61. You're very exposed. No pot-holes, no-slips, no approximations with pitch or vowel. Nine voices sounding as one.
Yea, Though I Wander (by Schumann, arr. P.J. Christiansen) Think bowling ball launch with entrances from now on. It was fabulous!
Talveti Laulud (by Cyrillus Kreek) Psalm 104. Basses – practice starting with a clean pitch and in tune. Be on top of the pitch, not the sliver below it. Bright, yet soft. Own the corporate expression in measures 31-46. It's lovely when you all step onto that magic carpet ride. 
Psalm 141. T/B – keep measure 21 supported with a sense of direction all the way to measure 26. The more crisp from measures 27-30, but don't let the half note down in measure 29 – support it. Sounds like you're caught off guard by the half note when we get there.
Mighty River, Mighty Fire (by Imant Raminsh) The above, and: measures 14, 42, 46, check clarity. Uncertain pitches and vowels creates uncertain rhythm. Altos: bravo in the fire section. Measures 115-125: more focus. See above. Half-steps aren't centered enough. Text needs to be articulated more. Rhythm even more articulated.
All My Trials (by Norman Luboff) Bob will be conducting this.  I'll be in organ console heaven.
Ev’ryTime I Feel the Spirit (arr. By Allen Koepke) We need you to put on dance slippers and take the clod-hopper boots off. Simple. You can do it!!!! Look at measures 77-81 again. Sounds like it takes you by surprise still.  
The Call (by Joan Szymko) The piano side of forte-piano in measure 38 can be even more extreme. It will heighten the crescendo. Always lean into the word "such" perhaps more weight in the "s" and "ch" of that word without taking more time or loosing the pitch and/or sense of direction.
See you all next Tuesday!   
David Cherwien

Focus. That is the "secret word" in this week's note to the choir from David Cherwien. He writes rehearsal notes on Thursdays after the prior Tuesday's rehearsal. We are quickly coming up to our opening concerts of the season which will start in Chicago-Madison-Milwaukee and conclude with two All Saints concerts in early November. We have include David's very specific approach to encouraging that special focus that the NLC tries to achieve every time they sing together. 

October 2, 2012: the importance of "eh"


I suggest printing this note, and at some point over the weekend, sit by your fire-place with a glass or mug of your comfort juice and walk through these notes,  mentally rehearsing.


David Cherwien writes a note to the choir every Thursday after the previous Tuesday's rehearsal. This diary documents the choir's work together in preparations for each performance. 


September 25, 2012: Getting it

Three weeks before a performance is a balancing point in the preparation for a concert. The future is no longer in the distance but one might still think that there's still time before the choir "gets it." What approach might conductors take at this point in rehearsals? At the National Lutheran Choir, Artistic Director David Cherwien shares notes on Thursday from the previous Tuesday rehearsal. With the 2012 Illinois-Wisconsin tour fast approaching, here are the opening, general paragraphs to his detailed notes.


September 18, 2012: waves, not drops of water

Artistic Director David Cherwien writes notes to the choir on Thursdays following Tuesday rehearsals. This week, the choir has been preparing for two hymn festivals in Chicago and Madison and three collaborative concerts with the Milwaukee Choral Artists. Some of the repertoire is shared between programs but the choir must spend time outside of rehearsal learning notes, words, breathing, vowels, attacks, phrasing. These notes are meant to remind and reinforce what was discussed in rehearsal. 


September 11, 2012: quick & obvious progress

David Cherwien shares his notes with the members of the NLC on Thursday after Tuesday rehearsals. These notes followed the rehearsal on September 11, 2012. Rehearsals are in preparation for three concerts with the Milwaukee Choral Artists and two Hymn Festivals in Chicago and Madison.

Concerts with Milwaukee Choral Artists

Backstage at Chorus America

On Wednesday, June 13, the National Lutheran Choir participated in the opening concert at Orchestra Hall for this year's Chorus America conference. We'll be following up this performance with Saturday's Hymn Festival at Central Lutheran in Downtown Minneapolis, which is free and open to the public.