During this challenging time, conductors in the Washington, D.C. metro area are finding creative virtual musical opportunities to enrich and entertain their members. Conductors Gretchen Kuhrmann of Choralis, Stan Engebretson of the National Philharmonic Chorale (NPC), and Vicki Gau of the Cantate Chamber Singers developed The Interview Series, where members can tune in for live interviews with stars of the choral community.

“In a time where choirs have been forced into a virtual space crowded by everyone, we were looking for truly meaningful ways to connect with our singers and not waste their time while they couldn’t sing together,” said Kuhrmann. “This joint lecture series with three DC choirs made a tremendous amount of sense and the topics and speakers are not only timely but also highly relevant while we navigate this uncertain time together.”

Engebretson explained that the idea for the series started with three friends who happen to be choral directors and share Tuesday night rehearsals. “[We] wanted to bring great voices of great conductors into our sessions for inspiration and a chance to learn new wonderful music,” said Engebretson.

Kicking off the series on September 22 was an inspiring discussion with Craig Hella Johnson, choral conductor, composer, and arranger. Johnson is founder and artistic director of Conspirare and serves as Artist-In-Residence in Choral Music at Texas State University. 

The event was hosted via Zoom so singers from across the county could connect and listen to one another. The discussion was followed by a Q&A session with Johnson.

“It’s such a joy to look at the screen and see this huge community of choral singers coming together, and to hear from a choral luminary like Craig,” said Gau. “It gives me hope.”

As part of the event, Johnson shared his journey as a musician and the process of composing “Considering Matthew Shepard,” a haunting oratorio honoring the life, death, and legacy of Matthew Shepard, the openly gay university student who was violently murdered in 1998. 

“I have been a fan of Conspirare and Craig Hella Johnson’s marvelous leadership for years,” said Engebretson. “He is a remarkable musician with a deep sense of profound issues in his compositions and is a forward leader for our choral world.”

Other special guests included Baltimore Choral Arts (Blake Clark, conductor) and soprano Julie Keim, lyric soprano with Conspirare.

The Interview Series will continue through the fall.