When Jason Asbury asked if I would like to contribute to this blog about unique community choruses, I enthusiastically said YES and my very first thought was of the Lighthouse Guild Vocal Ensemble. I had just completed a master class with this 25 voice ensemble on February 22nd, , 2017 and the two hours I spent with them was a deeply moving personal experience for me.
This ensemble has been in existence from 1913, which says something about the tenacity of the institution they call home as well as the steady artistic hands at the wheel. For the last 25 years the dynamic, loving and musically divine Dalia Sakas has been their director. She has brought them to their current artistic level, from which since 1997 they culminate their year’s program at no less than the Met Museum. These annual programs at the Met couple music with art, and bring the insight of the visually impaired to the collaborative venture where music and visual art meet. I found it astounding to work with a group of sighted and visually impaired singers committed to enriching their lives and the lives of their audience through this kind of programming.
Logistically, my work with the ensemble was much easier than I may have expected- a combination of sighted people singing from music, sight-challenged people reading from enlarged scores, singers working from braille and extraordinarily attenuated listening skills created one of the most focused workshop situations I have ever experienced.
We were able to experiment with everything from tone production, vocal register nuancing, dynamic shadings, and diction principals to great effect. It was thrilling for me to see these singers delve deeply into new territory, and give themselves over to the ideas and concepts I shared with them. Of course, as a conductor myself, I recognize that the group dynamics existing within this community of singers are a direct reflection on the caring presence of Dalia Sakas and her splendid colleagues at the school. And Dalia in turn made it possible for my interaction to be fluid and seamless.
It was a total joy to experience this very special community of singers. Situated just down the street from Lincoln Center, they are most definitely an important part of what makes choral culture in New York City so special. I highly encourage you to seek them out in concert!
Learn about a performance of Britten's Noye's Fludde by reading a feature story in the NYTimes.