When people ask me about growing up in Oregon, Illinois, I inevitably talk about the land, the hiking and climbing I indulged in, tramping and running all over the countryside in grade school and high school. I will sometimes also talk about the art, and the unconscious way growing up in a small town unusually littered with art work – remnants of the great Lorado Taft's Eagle's Nest Art Colony – sowed seeds of an awareness of art to which I wouldn't become consciously sensitive until after I had gone to college. But if Oregon gave me any truly extraordinary gift, something irreplaceable and indescribable, it was the utter immersion into song I experienced there.
When I was a sophomore, my high school choir was invited to represent North America in the International Youth Music Festival in Vienna, with a week of performances in the city and a week's touring through West Germany, Austria, and France. (And my Mom even letting me head off to England with my friend Jeff Wingert by ourselves for a full week after: too cool!) This musical opportunity was largely due to the recommendation of Weston Noble, widely recognized as America's premiere choir educator, who recognized our choir director, Byron "Mac" McKinstry, as having created an exceptional vocal music program. This was particularly so considering that our high school choir required no auditions, and welcomed people who had very little singing talent, yet made the collective result something special. As a student, I only began to recognize how unusual this was when I realized that the choirs we regularly competed with in contests were composed of singers who were only accepted through a process of auditions.
As part of raising the funds throughout my junior year to take some 80 students and their chaperons to Europe, our "Voices to Vienna" drive produced this Christmas recording. Having done a lot more recording in my life since then, I now have to wince at how low-tech the recording was, being little more than a standard tape recorder hooked up to two room microphones. The tape deck itself can be heard clicking, for crying out loud. The microphones, having been set up with little input control, cannot handle the signal oftentimes, and thus you get the "clipping" of the choir overwhelming the microphone and the distorted sound of too much power.
Underneath it all, there's still something good. Maybe it helps to have that personal connection, of course, but I think there's a bit more than that. Mac gave me an education in the American spiritual tradition that has proved unsurpassed by anything I received in my continued university and post-university musical formation. In selection and performance, despite the quality of the recording equipment, I remain staggered by what Mac coaxed out of a bunch of kids from a small town in northern Illinois, and my life will be forever enriched by it. Despite the fact that the entire European trip was canceled due to fears of terrorism (the night the parents had to make a final decision was the night the United States bombed Libya, which made everyone presume – wrongly, it turned out – that there would be significant reprisal against U.S. targets) this recording personally gives me some kind of return on the deep investment into the music we were making at the time.
The latter part of the recording, featuring the OHS Madrigal Choir, is of considerably finer quality, having fewer voices to deal with and being recorded not in the Old Gym with the equipment described above, but with a higher-quality recorder that, mercifully, did not click. The version of "Deck The Halls" is not quite the traditional one, and features a "fa la la..." run that I've always thought so much more fun than the one you usually here, if slightly roughened here by the valiant leadership of bass Gregory Towne trying to keep the sopranos from going sharp. Some of the traditional hymns are quite lovely: I love the full mystical set of lyrics included in this version of "What Child Is This?" and Jennifer Zimmerman's opening solo in that one always melts me. I've been involved with professional recordings since high school, half a dozen or more, but there's still so much soul in this one that, despite its technical flaws, I cannot think any less of it. Like I said, it's for some high school friends who might want it in digital form, but anyone is welcome to give it a whirl: you might find some Christmas spirit in it for yourselves.
Oregon High School Voices To Vienna: Christmas In A Small Town
Directed by Byron McKinstry
Oregon High School Mixed Choir
"Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful)" arr. J. Reading
"Christmas In A Small Town" Rick Peoples
"Simple Holiday Joys" J. Fisher, arr. Pooler. Flutes: Debbie Farber, Deanna Massey, Jamie Russell
"O Holy Night" Adolphe Adam. Soloists: Deanna Massey, Jeff Wingert, Lydia Easley
"A Special Night" Don Besig
"Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming" arr. Noble Cain
"Hark, I Hear The Harps Eternal" arr. Alice Parker. Solo: Michael Cullen and Mike Novak
"Allelujah" J. S. Bach
"Cantique de Jean Racine" Gabriel Fauré
"Little Innocent Lamb" Marshall Bartholomew
"Do You Hear What I Hear?" Harry Simeone
"Ring Christmas Bells" arr. Hawley Ades
"Roundelay Noel" Gordon Young
"Jingle All The Way" arr. Lou Hayward
Oregon High School Madrigal Choir
"Masters In This Hall" Traditional
"The Gloucestershire Wassail" Traditional
"Deck The Halls" Traditional
"Angels We Have Heard" Traditional. Soloists: Gregory Towne, Jeff Wingert, ???
"The First Noel" Traditional. Soloists: Jim Lauer, Rhonda Richardson and Carol Carpenter?, ???, ???
"What Child Is This?" arr. Sir John Stainer. Soloists: Jennifer Zimmerman, Gregory Towne, ???
"O Come, O Come Emmanuel" Traditional. Soloists: ???, Tim Stouffer and Don Rodgers, ???, Jeremy Easley, Joanna Easley?
"Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful)" arr. J. Reading