Armbrust directs music with community appeal

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, April 24, 2008

Crys Armbrust while often seen about town is rarely idle. He is constantly planning and working to bring life, vitality, and most of all, music to the people of the Tryon community. I was first introduced to him as the driving force behind the Nina Simone Project and organist, but it wasn&39;t until he started directing the Community Chorus that I finally got to see his work in action. With plenty of returning chorus members, as well as a healthy balance of new singers he is able to build on the sound that is already there and shape the music into something truly special. We met briefly for coffee one morning so I could find out more about the music and his vision for the upcoming Community Chorus Spring Concert on May 2 and 4 at the Polk County High School auditorium.

First of all, what all do you do?

Currently I am working on the Nina Simone Project, directing the Community Chorus, acting as Project Manager for Tryon&39;s North Carolin Small Town Main Street Project, amongst other private endeavors including a bit of composing. Previously I directed The Choristers of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross. I Played organ there for five years and my father played the eleven years before. Prior to that, I taught 17th & 19th century British Literature at the USC Columbia campus. In addition, I was the founding assistant master of USC&39;s residential program at Preston College a residential arts and humanities program for eight years.

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I have been deeply immersed in music in this area for past decade. I am interested in all music, and the community chorus is a perfect venue for performing a variety.How did you make the selections for this concert? I started with the general categories of music, Traditional, Broadway, and Patriotic. Having defined those categories, I came up with possible selections and the final selections are some of my favorites. Most of the pieces on the program have wide audience appeal. Which one do you hold the highest in regard?&uot;The Testament of Freedom.&uot; Randall Thompson&39;s score is beautiful. I love the selection of texts from Thomas Jefferson&39;s writings.

When did you first encounter it?

I first performed it about 25 years ago in a male chorus arrangement. I formerly sang with the Palmetto Master Singers 100 voice male chorus under the direction of Arpad Daraz a student of Zoltan Kodaly.

Which selection has most audience appeal?

I think the selection that might have the most emotional impact might be Tom Fettke&39;s &uot;The Majesty and Glory of Thy Name.&uot;

for the Broadway selections, much of the music is new to me. Is there a regional connection?

My own pieces of course. Our featured artist Jennifer Prince certainly has been influenced by her regional gospel roots. Otherwise, I attempted to incorporate some of the standard choral works in the repertory. I was guided in the selection as well to choose standard works that choristers might not have other opportunities to perform unless they are part of a large ensemble. The Randall Thompson works come to mind. It would be a stretch for a small parish choir to do the Alleluia or the Testament.

Was the chorus involved in selections?

Having been engaged with the board before hand, I was pretty much given a blank slate for the selection. The real value of a choral leader is his or her knowledge of stylistic periods and the range of works composed during those periods. Part of the selection of course is attempting to appeal to the broadest possible range of listeners. First and foremost the Community Chorus exists to generate money for the Rotary scholarships. To wit the chorus desires to sell as many tickets as possible. Every seat should be filled.

What is the age range of the selections?

This particular program presents music from the eighteenth century to 2008. Each selection in this program is a gem in and of itself.

Which are the oldest?

The part song &uot;Magdalene Cease from Sobs and Sighing.&uot; Certainly the tune &uot;Poor Wayfaring Stranger&uot; influenced &uot;Stranger Where is Your Home.&uot; &uot;Black is the Color of my True Love&39;s Hair&uot; will be performed as a solo by Wanda May.

The most recently composed piece is Jennifer Prince&39;s &uot;This is the Day that the Lord Has Made.&uot;

What about the pieces you composed?

The premier of &uot;Stranger Where is Your Home&uot; was at the Washington National Cathedral and subsequently performed at Canterbury Cathedral with Holy Cross Choristers. Both pieces were written for local individuals and members of the chorus. &uot;Stranger Where is Your Home&uot; was written for Diane Lee and &uot;Rise Up My Love&uot; for Gloria Underwood.

You mentioned some orchestration in development for the concert.

Gerald Siddons has done re-orchestrations for brass quintet, flute and extended percussion. That will be for the finale. Pam McNeil will be accompanying on piano. There may be some flute from Barbara Tilly on few pieces as well as an appearance from the brass and percussion on &uot;Battle Hymn of the Public.&uot; There are also several a cappella pieces.

What do you enjoy about directing?

The wonderful thing about singing is that it builds communities in non-threatening ways. It can create atmosphere in a moment. There&39;s a quote from Sidney Lanier, &uot;Music is love in search of a word.&uot; Music is a creative act and even a re-creative act.

Every time we sing a song, we remake that song. What is on the page is a flat indicative series of symbols and you&39;ll never replicate a live performance. It&39;s different every time.

So if someone came both Friday and Sunday they&39;d see two different shows? Absolutely! I had the pleasure of singing with Robert Shaw (founder and
director of world renowned Robert Shaw Choral from Atlanta, GA) several times. While at this point I could not tell you the program we sang, words of inspiration prior have lingered to this point since 1985. He told us, &uot;Someone tonight will hear a piece for the first time, and someone tonight will hear a piece for the last time. Give those individuals your best performance.&uot;

Anything we should know about your musical self?

I have an over-arching sense that all things are possible and long as one has a plan and back up plan.