Quotes from multiple Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus performances, submitted by Ellen Weldon Dukes


Bach:  St. Matthew Passion

·       The real drama is the drama of the mind and not of the event.

·       John, the philosopher, writes of a lynching.  Matthew, the reporter, does a philosophical treatise of the event.


Barber:  Prayers of Kierkegaard

·       Kierkegaard – on the edge of hysteria and necessity and believing in spite of it.


Beethoven:  Missa Solemnis

·       Don’t worry about notes.  The Lord will provide the notes.  You just be there when He hands them out.

·       Bloody your page with your pencil.

·       Just like income tax.  No more than expected but all that’s expected.

·       If you really got any guts at all, splatter it here.

·       Sing soft.  Use half a tonsil.

·       I don’t want more volume.  I just want more false teeth clattering.

·       That’s lots of steam but not much music.

·       This is what Onward Christian Soldiers would have sounded like if Sullivan had been Beethoven.

·       Break your thorax but not his meters.

·       You don’t defeat war.  You somehow outgrow it.  The grass that covers the graves.

·       You’ve got to get over the idea that dancing is dirty.  There’s no celebration of life.

·       2/18/87:  It’s as though he took a day to write each note.  Such enormous detail.

·       2/19/87:  Imagine writing 30 seconds on one note and making it mean something.

·       Each note should have human energy and spiritual effort.

·       When in doubt, make music.  Your contract is not between you and me.  Your contract is with the composer.

·       Regarding singing the Gloria:  You have to be a weightlifter and sprinter at the same time.

·        Regarding the Credo:  Beethoven either ruins Christianity or takes it to a level where none of us can understand it.


Beethoven:  Symphony No. 9

·       The pitch flopped like a barn door banging in the wind.

·       You sound like every note is a bone and if you don’t put your foot on it first, someone else will get it away from you.

·       Four elements that make up great choral text singing:

1.     A word equals several sounds.  Need to line up the sounds.

2.     Physiological delight in forming sounds, as though there is physical ecstasy, as though he invented each word.

3.     Desire to communicate a message

4.     Involvement with the poetic equivalent of the meaning must occur simultaneously among all of us.

·       You think that once you’ve stepped on a note, it’s going to stay dead.

·       If you are going to pull a cat through a keyhole, make sure the cat is the shape of the keyhole.

·       Still not the most virtuous of sounds.

·       The Ninth and the Missa need not break voices.  They have a better chance of breaking minds.

·       The B Minor – it’s like Bach is teaching voice for 120 performers.

·       Sound like the whole world is filled with mutilated soldiers.

·       The Ninth makes religion out of humanism.  The Missa makes humanism out of religion.

·       Page 34 – 44, Allegro energico:  The only nobility in the world based only on vulgarity.

·       Building inexorability of rhythm quality.  Sing like Danny Kaye imitating German.


Beethoven:  Fantasie c-Moll, Op.80

·       The point is to invite and then if it doesn’t work, attack.

Beethoven:  Mass in C Major

·       Don’t brutalize time.  Cleanliness = truth = godliness.


Berlioz:  Requiem

·       You don’t want to communicate only the discipline rather than the integrity of the work, as with the final consonant too much emphasized.

·       The psychological function of choruses equals unanimity and integrity.

·       The problem comes when the Lord asks you to shout in tune.

·       Great choral singing depends on the absolute integrity of each line.

·       It’s more fun to sing in tune than out of tune.

·       Clean up the note when you have it.

·       You can’t audition the human spirit.  You can’t tell whether they care or not.

·       Just to sing in tune is only the beginning, but it’s one hell of a beginning.

·       God became flesh.  The thing that happens in great religious art is that the flesh becomes spirit.  That’s the thing that scares hell out of me.


Bloch:  Sacred Service

·       Music is an organization of time.

·       An artist is only someone who really cares.


Brahms: A German Requiem

·       It’s the triumph of matter over mind – of the things that matter over the things that don’t mind.

·       But the Brahms, that’s for real.

·       A crescendo is not a subito splat.

·       Love the note instead of trying to assault it.

·       When I say crescendo, do it with a sense of ensemble.  Don’t squirt your voice like a tube of toothpaste.


Britten:  War Requiem

·       The quality of tone is also an atmosphere of the human spirit.

·       Regarding singing the Dies Irae:  The boys (the boy choir) are going to be under the lights and I want you to blow them into the School of Art.  It may not do much for the little boys but it will sure help the School of Art.

·       In this sense tragedy is the only hope we have.  If it’s bad enough, maybe the killing will stop.


Faure:  Requiem

·       The simple music separates the artist from the goats.

·       Nothing is quite as convincing as virtue, is it?  When things are right, they are so right.

·       Comment after doing the first page:  It ain’t how complicated.  It’s how profound.

·       To the men on page 32:  Imitate a great voice.  Don’t be satisfied with a sound that only a mother could love.

·       A French baritone is a tenor without any high notes.


Haydn:  The Creation

·       Sing the hell out of the softs.

·       You are making the kind of sound that saves souls but kills Haydn.

·       You are all singing like you have microphones shoved down your throats.

·       You begin to show off and you lose any sense of nobility in your voice.


Mendelssohn:  Elijah

·       The melody is the tension of what happens between changes of pitch.


Rachmaninoff:  The Bells

·       Regarding page 9 – It sounds so smoochy.


Stravinsky:  Symphony of Psalms

·       Jubilation when it doesn’t involve people is an abstraction.


Verdi:  Requiem

·       You’re not scared enough.  See, that’s what you get in the Bible Belt – no fear.

·       Regarding page 30 with the quiet dies irae:  People should have the feeling they don’t know whether they’ve heard it or not.

·       The Agnus Dei should be a sweet, childlike thing, like Blake’s Little Lamb.

·       In a Verdi opera, there’s nothing between the pen and the heart.

·       His sense of Verdi creativity leaps off the stage and into the heart.

·       Regarding the opening section:  If you can stand there and not at least bow your spirit, you gotta be deaf.  You’re almost forced to bow your head.  Almost as though the finger wrote and didn’t stop.  As though everything gave him the idea for the next thing, set up by what has been before.  No surprise he left unturned.  The second time you sing the Requiem, it’s a different piece.

·       To the men, regarding the beginning of the Te decet on page 2:  Have it so it smells some place between garlic and sunshine.


Walton:  Belshazzar’s Feast

·       Breathe in the time in which you are leaving the note, not the time you are approaching it.

·       Walton is almost x-rated choral music.