Dr. Steven Walker and his East Central University Chorale was twice paid the ultimate compliment after the group captured the top prize at the recent Golden State Choral Competition in Monterey, California.
Not only did the ECU Chorale fare better than numerous professional and more experienced choral groups, they thoroughly impressed famous composer Dr. Morten Lauridsen, with one of his own and most difficult pieces of music – “Chanson Eloignee.”
When Lauridsen learned that the ECU Chorale was performing his piece, he offered to hold a private session to critique their performance the day after the first and most difficult round in which the Chorale won.
“Dr. Morten Lauridsen introduced himself and then explained the difficulty of writing “Chanson Eloignee,” said Vickie Reifsnider, a lecturer and music theatre director in ECU’s Communications and Performance Studies Department. “He told the group that this piece is rarely chosen to be performed, because it is too difficult for any nonprofessional group to sing.”
Reifsnider, who was in attendance at the competition, added that Lauridsen wanted to listen to the ECU Chorale before trying to explain his vision for the musical work.
With Lauridsen leaning against a brick wall and hands in his pocket, he listed as Walker led the group in the performance of “Chanson Eloignee.”
“After the performance, the room stood still. No one moved, not even Dr. Lauridsen. A few seconds later, Dr. Lauridsen stepped away from the wall, with his hands still in his pockets, and took a few steps closer to the group. He still never said a word,” Reifsnider said. “Three minutes went by and he looked up, choking back tears and said, ‘I am stunned.’ Then turned back and looked at Dr. Walker, removed his right hand from his pocket and said, “Maestro, bravo!’
Reifsnider said that he then looked back at the ECU Chorale members and pointed to Dr. Walker saying, “This is the real thing. This man knows this piece inside and out. The way he makes it breathe, the way he makes it come alive, contrast and dynamics, the movement, the fluidity of tempo. I could listen to you people all day long. Now do me a favor, do this piece as often as you can.”
Reifsnider said Lauridsen went on to tell the group that he couldn’t speak for a moment because he had a lump in his throat and was holding back tears, because once he heard them bring his most difficult piece to life, he knew that God had him write this piece of music with this group, the ECU Chorale, in mind to sing it.
Lauridsen then asked the group to sing it for him again.
“He walked back to the brick wall, put his hands in his pockets and then leaned against the wall and listened to the ECU Chorale, under the direction of Dr. Steven Walker, bring his music to life once more,” said Reifsnider
For the past 26 years, Reifsnider says she has told Dr. Walker that “he was one of the best chorale directors of our time,” and on Nov. 23, it was confirmed twice within one day.
“Congratulations on winning the 2016 Golden State Choral Competition and bringing home the trophy,” Reifsnider said. “But more importantly, congratulations on singing with internal rhythm and making a composer remember why God gave him a song.”