The influence of the a Cappella Movement: An examination of the St. Olaf and Westminster tradition
Babcock, Windy F.
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The purpose of this study was to examine and compare the historical traditions, and sound concepts of two pioneering a cappella collegiate choirs, and explore the influence of the a cappella movement on the emeriti and current choral directors from the two different programs. A historical review of pioneering directors, F. Melius Christiansen from St. Olaf College and John Finley Williamson from Westminster Choir College, gave insight into the significant developments of the a cappella movement through the study of their unique traditions and choral leadership. The methodology of this study examined the professional background and beginnings, selection of ensemble members, and concepts of choral sound for the following conductors: Kenneth Jennings, emeriti director from St. Olaf College, Anton Armstrong, current director from St. Olaf College, Joseph Flummerfelt, emeriti director from Westminster Choir College, and Joe Miller, current director from Westminster Choir College. The St. Olaf Choir directors transitioned the sound from the straight-tone of the Christiansen era into a lyrical art-song approach, as well as expanded the traditional type of repertoire. Jennings’ choral sound produced a bright and vibrant tone, but maintained flexibility of style depending on the type of repertoire. Armstrong had a similar artistic approach, specifically when interpreting the text of the song. He preferred a rich and full tone where the singer had the opportunity for personal influence in the sound produced. Both directors insisted on sharp musicality from ensemble members, but focused their selection of singers on the character of the individuals. The Westminster Choir directors continued the musical heritage of excellence in their ensembles, but expanded from the full-bodied style of John Finley Williamson, to a more contemporary approach in their choral techniques and individual interpretations of style. Flummerfelt’s choral style took on a more natural approach, which allowed the individuality of his singers' sound to be heard. His focus on specific methods to achieve a blended sound translated in his selection of individuals for the Westminster Choir. The singer’s maturity of style and skill was the motivation of Flummerfelt’s selection. Miller’s techniques of focusing on the core of the tone and the kinesthetic nature of singing produced a brighter and less soloistic sound than his predecessors. Like Flummerfelt, he focused on the singer’s individual musicality, but placed emphasis on their ensemble skills as well. The information presented in this study allows current and future music educators an opportunity to look into significant traditions and styles of the past while exploring the possibilities and perspectives of conductors today.