|Professor Scott Tucker Leads Choral Music At Cornell University|
Request for Interview
|Professor Scott Tucker Leads Choral Music At Cornell University|
March 29th, 2010
Professor Scott Tucker is the Priscilla Edwards Browning Director of Choral Music at Cornell University where he conducts the Cornell University Chorus, Glee Club and World Music Choir.
CelebrityDialogue: Professor Tucker please share with our viewers your educational background.
Professor Tucker: I spent my undergraduate years at Tufts University and the New England Conservatory of Music in what was a five year, double degree program (Psychology and Trumpet Performance). I had started conducting early on (in high school) and went back to the New England Conservatory for my graduate degree in conducting after a few years as a free lance musician in the Boston area.
Professor Tucker: After my graduate degree, I started working at Milton Academy, a private school, and lived that life for a while; teaching General Music to middle schoolers, conducting choirs, coaching basketball...you name it. I also started working as Assistant Conductor to Jim Marvin at Harvard University, which was a whole new level of education for me. The most important lessons I learned about choral music were under his tutelage. I started at Cornell in 1995.
CelebrityDialogue: In which age did you develop a passion for music? Did your family support you?
Professor Tucker: I started playing the trumpet when I was nine. I had some early success with it and that gave me something in my life that I was proud of and that I could work at with a passion. My mother's father was an amateur musician, he and she were very supportive. My dad was as supportive as he could possibly be considering music was never a big part of his life. My sister is also a professional musician, so we obviously both benefited from an atmosphere where we could pursue our passion for music.
Professor Tucker: I conduct two of the choirs, administer the rest of the choral program and teach conducting and some theory. We also have graduate students who have either a minor or major interest in conducting and I work with them quite a bit.
Professor Tucker: Choral music is the art of ensemble singing. It is a very broad category of music covering 1200 years of western art music, and cutting across almost every non-western culture.
Professor Tucker: Briefly? I will try. Western choral music traces its roots to gregorian chant. Music notation as we know it grew out of this tradition where the neumes people used as memnonic devices gradually mutated over time into the notes and five lined staff we use today. We have Charlemagne to thank for the many chants that were written down as he was very anxious to unify how chant was used through the church. Anyway, though church singing was by no means the only type of group singing, it is the easiest to trace because it was written down through the ages, and has served as a foundation for the much more harmonically and rhythmically complex choral music sung today both sacred and secular. Obviously I am leaving out huge swaths of the story, but that at least is a start
Professor Tucker: I conduct two choirs at Cornell; the Glee Club which is an all male-voiced chorus founded when the University opened in 1868. (The word "Glee" is an English term for a part song, usually for male voices) and the Chorus, an all female-voiced choir which was founded in 1921. These two choirs perform and tour separately, and they also combine to make a large symphonic chorus.
Professor Tucker: There are many subtle changes with any change of conductor; changes in emphasis, tone color, etc, but I suppose the most noticeable changes have to do with repertoire and service.
Professor Tucker: We have five official choruses staffed by the Music Department, but also a slew of student run ensembles. Most of these are a cappella groups, specializing in their own versions of pop music. i advise a couple of these groups every year and they are great fun. We also have a Gospel Choir and a Jazz Choir, both of which are student led, and a few other clubs that come and go, specializing in certain cultures.
Professor Tucker: To sing a major choral-orchestral work, such as Bach's Mass in b Minor, or the Verdi Requiem, in a professional setting with an excellent orchestra such as the Syracuse Symphony, is an experience that the students never forget. It is not the only important experience (sometimes a moment in rehearsal, or singing arm in arm outside a pub strikes a moment of perfection) but the performances in large concert halls with fine orchestras inspire a great deal of pride within the groups, and helps them to sing at their best. More importantly, to me as an educator, these major works of art take root in the minds and hearts of the students and stick with them all their lives.
Professor Tucker: In my time, the most acclaimed artists we have performed with have been Samite Mulondo, the great Ugandan-born humanitarian musician and head of Musicians for World Harmony, Anonymous 4, the early music specialists, and Peter Schreier, the German Tenor.
Professor Tucker: We have performed in many beautiful concert halls, as well as hundreds of schools, churches, outdoor venues...you name it! Just this year the Glee Club sang at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and Alice Tully Hall in NYC. Equally memorable, though, are small performances, sometimes for dignitaries, such as the Supreme Court or the Attorney General (Janet Reno was a Cornellian), and sometimes for children such as those at the Epiphany School in Boston, or the Stax School in Memphis.
We do tour internationally. The Glee Club and Chorus each tour internationally roughly every four years. In my time the groups have been to Taiwan, Venezuela, Brazil, Italy, and China. There are many highlights for me wrapped up in these tours, too many to mention, but maybe the greatest thrill was singing for President Lee Teng-Hui at the Presidential Palace in Taiwan.
Professor Tucker: Lots of ways. These students are 98% non-music majors, yet they sing at a very high level of musicianship. They are now, and will continue to contribute mightily to arts and arts education as they become established in their communities after they leave Cornell. They leave here with deeply ingrained values and with music playing a significant role in their lives. The way in which that benefits society is immeasurable. More concretely, there are projects such as the New York Young Men's Singing Workshops that I already mentioned, and benefit concerts such as the one just given by the Glee Club and Chorus in January for Haiti Relief.
Professor Tucker: Sometimes I will travel as an adjudicator of choral competitions, and sometimes as a conductor, either of my own groups, or as a guest. My favorite location is Italy, but only because it is my best language and of course there is the food and wine......
Professor Tucker: When I was an undergraduate, I won a Presser Scholarship, this was for a music major with the highest academic record achieved in subjects outside of music performance. I was proud of that one, because I was not very studious in High School. (In fact, when some of my old High School friends heard that I had become a Cornell Professor, they could not help but giggle.) In graduate school, I was awarded a St Botolph Award, something my Professor, Lorna Cooke DeVaron, arranged, and which helped me greatly. Since then, I have won two distinguished teaching awards, one at Milton Academy, where I taught for nine years, and one at Cornell, named for Stephen and Margery Russell. At Cornell, I also won an Outstanding Adviser award for my work with student run groups.
They are not exactly awards, but the professional accomplishments of which I am most proud are the two recent appearances of the Glee Club at the American Choral Directors Association eastern and national conferences.
Professor Tucker: I see lots of talent, but worry a little about the difficulty "youngsters" have focusing for long periods of time without texting, emailing, calling, checking facebook, twittering, etc. Maybe all of this scattered attention will lead to something good that I can't recognize in my old-fashioned frame of mind, but I still believe in the value of long-term sustained concentration.
Stepping off high horse now...
Professor Tucker: Work on informing your musical imagination. The best conductors (choral or otherwise) are those with a pure vision of what they are looking for, and can back it up with legitimate argument. There is absolutely no substitute for spending hours with a score and asking yourself many times; "Why did the composer make this choice?" This will lead you to good focused research, as well as a clear command of the score itself.
Work on your ear. Know your intervals, your chords, your functional harmony, etc. It is your ability to hear that gives you authority at the podium, not your title.
Work on your communication skills. Verbal and physical.
Work on your own vocal technique. Those tenors are not being willfully flat, they need help negotiating the passaggio. You will never solve certain choral problems without a working knowledge of the voice.
Foreign Language study is very very helpful.
Piano skills are also helpful. Learn to read open score.
Listen to great choirs, observe conductors, great and otherwise.
Don't wait until you are an expert. If you are young and interested in conducting, start a choir, give a performance, then get honest feedback from those involved. Nothing will teach you more.
Professor Tucker: Choral Music is an enormous category of music, and encompasses many styles and periods. I believe it is the most natural and even primal the most musical genre. The best way to promote it is through participation. Everyone should sing in a choir.....it just makes us better people.