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Magnificat Young Professionals Choral Collaboration

Date: Sat November 2, 2013 7:00pm

Saturday, Nov. 2, 7 p.m., First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Francisco, the Choral Institute for High School Singers presents four high school choirs, along with the Volti adult professional choir.

Piedmont East Bay Children's ChoirEach choral group will offer a selection of its own repertoire, then join together — 160 voices in all — to sing Francesco Durante’s Magnificat. Durante was a prominent 18th-century church composer and teacher, and a student of Alessandro Scarlatti.

The four high school choirs come from Acalanes High School, the Head Royce School, the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, and San Francisco School of the Arts.

This concert is the culmination of the annual Choral Institute summer program, in which high school choral students from around the Bay Area spend two weekends at a retreat in Sonoma County working with voice teachers, recitalists, conductors, and composers, many from the Volti choir. The work includes both sectional rehearsals and one-on-one study. Recent composers-in-residence have included Kirke Mechem, Eric Tuan, Stacy Garrop, and Morten Lauridsen.

“The purpose of the institute is to help schools develop their programs,” Volti founder and conductor, Robert Geary, told us earlier this week, adding that he hadn’t been thrilled initially when one of the conductors suggested Baroque — he, himself, is more tuned to new music, Volti’s bread and butter.

“But it turned out to be a great choice, because the kids really got into it and it also offered an opportunity to explore techniques of the baroque period,” Geary says.

And why is this such a special concert?

“Because if you want to hear the very best of high school music these days, this is it. These groups perform at a high level, and when you hear them you don’t hear a ‘high school’ choral group; you hear excellent singers. Or put it this way, we don’t need to apologize. The School of the Arts, for one, sings at a level that most colleges don’t reach. It’s absolutely remarkable how Todd Wedge has taken a program that once was in shambles and turned into what it is today. He has nurtured a real sense of pride.

We asked Geary his sense of how choral singing programs are doing in general. “Anecdotally,” he replied, “a lot of public schools in California have taken a real beating because of the lack of funding. In programs where kids sang every other day or three times a week, now they sing once a week. Some schools have lost programs altogether.

VoltiOn the other hand, he pointed to the four choirs in this program as examples of how public schools can mobilize support in local communities and produce great work.

And where would he suggest high school students interested in studying choral music go to college? He lists USC, where his son went; the UCs (including both Berkeley and UC Davis), along with Cal State Fullerton, where Geary himself studied music; the University of Washington; the University of Oregon; and Chapman College. And even more than those, St. Olaf College in Minnesota, which in recent years has become one of the top-ranked, small, liberal arts colleges in the country. But above all, he recommends Westminster Choir College, a part of Rider University in Princeton, New Jersey.

“If someone asks me, ‘I want to be a choir director, where should I go?’ I would probably say Westminster. If they said, ‘I want to be a musician, and focus on choral music, then there are many places to consider. But these days, I think the mecca for choral music is at Westminster.” Two members of the Volti choir graduated from Westminster.

As for the concert, Geary noted, “this will be a fast-paced, exciting concert with five choirs sharing a program. That’s a different experience than one choir working through its repertoires. It’s got the variety of large and small choirs and a professional choir.”

The First Unitarian Universalist Church is located at 1187 Franklin Street, S.F.; Tickets are $15; students up to age 25 are free.

Mark MacNamara, a writer and journalist based in Asheville, North Carolina, has written for such publications as NautilusSalonThe Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Vanity Fair. From time to time, his pieces in San Francisco Classical Voice also appear in  Noteworthy examples include a piece about Philip Glass’s dream to build a cultural center on the Pacific Coast; a profile of sound composer Pamela Z and an essay on the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. MacNamara recently won several awards in the 2018 Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards presented by the San Francisco Press Club.  His website is

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