What Sweeter Music | December 2023

Ryan Phillips, M.M.

The 40th anniversary of the Arizona Repertory Singers is upon us. I continue to be proud of leading such joyous and imaginative singers. This 2023-24 season has brought a rejuvenated energy into our rehearsals, one that has facilitated faster learning and deeper musical understanding within each singer.

The repertoire for this Winter concert was specifically chosen as pieces that hold the most value for ARS and our audiences. Forty years of collected repertoire is an accomplishment in itself, and it is our goal to show you the best! Some of our current singers have rehearsed many of these pieces through the years, and some have encountered this music for the very first time. In our Winter concert, you will hear the luscious harmonies of Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium, the joyous polyphony in Sweelinck’s Hodie Christus Natus Est, and be ‘invited to a party’ in Abreme la Puerta by Cristian Grases. Every piece in the program demonstrates who we are as an ensemble and holds a special place in our hearts. All of our repertoire this year is about “Celebrating our Choral Legacy,” and we are honored to share the celebration with you during our concert.

Much has gone into the preparation of our holiday performances during this special anniversary season, and I would like to take a moment to offer my sincere gratitude for everyone on our board, various committees, and our singers for their tireless work and energy. Since we began preparations for the 2023-24 season, everyone involved has shown what ARS truly means to them, and I am humbled by their meaningful work. I hope you enjoy our performance and that the Arizona Repertory Singers inspires you as you celebrate this holiday season.

2023-24 Season

The 2023-24 season represents a momentous occasion for the Arizona Repertory Singers: our 40th anniversary.

Founded in 1984, our ensemble has remained “Uniquely Tucson,” a description held dear to our hearts. For 40 years, our choir has delighted audiences in our beautiful desert oasis with our signature choral performances of varied repertoire, instrumentation, and styles. In selecting our concert venues, we offer multiple concert dates with varied locations so that everyone in the Tucson area may find a performance location close to home.

This year promises exciting opportunities for the Arizona Repertory Singers as we impress upon our listeners what “Our Choral Legacy” is built upon. Our legacy not only includes our collaborations with other ensembles (in recent years we performed alongside the University of Arizona and the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus), but also the repertoire that we choose to perform. Every performance this season showcases music from our vast library. A small committee of long-term singers helped to select pieces that are “uniquely ARS.” For our holiday concert,What Sweeter Music: 40 Years with ARS,” choral favorites such as Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium and John Rutter’s What Sweeter Music will be performed alongside Steven Landau’s engaging composition Hark! in 7/8 and an audience favorite two years in a row, Brightest and Best by Shawn Kirchner.

This spring, we break tradition with only one performance at the end of April: a gala concert event. This anniversary gala will feature a newly commissioned piece by a prominent composer, a raffle, and an afterparty of hors d’oeuvres, desserts, and mocktails to celebrate the Arizona Repertory Singers achievement of bringing quality choral music to Tucson for 40 years. This performance will take place on April 28 in the beautiful auditorium at Catalina Foothills High School. Through this performance, we broaden our theme of “Celebrating Our Choral Legacy” to include the legacy of all choral music in Tucson, especially to those that raise young voices in song. We will honor both Dr. Julian Ackerley and Dr. Marcela Molina, directors of the Tucson Boys Chorus and Tucson Girls Chorus, for their work in nurturing thousands of young singers and instilling a love of music in our community’s youth. I hold this dear to my heart because I am an alum of the Tucson Boys Chorus. My growth under Dr. Ackerley’s direction allowed me to pursue music as my life’s passion and grow into the role as the Arizona Repertory Singer’s music director.

KidSong | Spring 2023 | CONDUCTOR’S CORNER

Whether we have children as adults, or recall our own childhood experiences, fond memories of youth exist for many of us. Present times have taught us about life, relationships, struggle, and the joy of music. We have all experienced a range of emotions in our lives that help us recall the amusement of childhood games, periods of sadness and grief, and the comforting embrace of a loved one while listening to a lullaby.

With KidSong, the Arizona Repertory Singers hopes to remind you of all your experiences of growing up and the importance of childhood, while including many different languages to articulate the diversity of our world. You will feel the joy of childhood games like tug-of-war in Ken Steven’s “Hela Rotan,” the joy of songs learned as a child in the exhilaratingly complex “KidSong” by Stephen Caldwell, and the comfort of lullabies from around the world including Paul Smith’s arrangement of a Japanese melody in “Edo Lullaby.” You will also experience the immense grief borne from the death of a child through Dan Forrest’s “Good Night, Dear Heart.” In a personal addition to this program, I have arranged the well-known Welsh lullaby “All Through the Night” for our choir. This lullaby was sung to me by my mother when I was a child and holds a special place in my heart.

On the evening of March 15, 2022, at our rehearsal, the singers hosted a party for my wife, Julia, and me with two beautiful cakes to celebrate the upcoming birth of our boy-girl twins, Alder and Aspen. Unfortunately, Julia couldn’t make the party because she had suddenly checked herself into the hospital over worries about the babies. With leftover cake in my backseat, I rushed to the hospital. The doctors decided to deliver the babies that night, and at 1:19 am the next morning, our beautiful twins were born. In addition to our two older boys, Christian and Noah, we were now a family of six!

I have learned a lot about children during this last year of parenthood. The feeling I experienced when seeing innocence, pure joy, and the sweet nature of a child learning about the world cannot be matched. There is so much love and wonder to absorb from the youth of our world, we hope this journey of KidSong will inspire and offer you a reminder of your own youth.

Women In Winter | HOLIDAY 2022 | CONDUCTOR’S CORNER

In the fall of 2020, during the height of awareness for underrepresented communities, the Arizona Repertory Singers posted a statement on our website that vowed to make a change to become more inclusive. Each semester, I made it a priority to program music by people of color. This expanded our mission of togetherness and sought to break down divisions within the choral music community.

At the end of our spring 2022 season, I asked members of the choir if they had any specific concert themes in mind for the following year. Afterward, one of our sopranos came up to me and remarked, “I think it would be wonderful if we did a concert featuring music from women composers.” This gave me pause—has this ensemble done something like this before? That same day, I looked through our library and saw a grand total of four holiday pieces by women composers; the rest by men. This is a concert that needed to happen.

I recognize that many ensembles have featured women composers on their programs before, but never have I seen them done with holiday repertoire. I was thrilled by this new challenge and an opportunity to fill our library with new beautiful music!

ARS is honored to offer a meaningful seasonal message with beautiful music from a diverse collection of women composers. This program ranges from the hearty strength of Elaine Hagenberg’s “Sussex Carol” to the quiet sensitivity of Sarah Quartel’s “This endris night” to Rosephanye Powell’s joyous spirituals. It is always my goal to not only think of what our audiences will enjoy, but also our singers; and the proof is in the pudding. After a month of rehearsals, one of our altos came up to me and said, “normally when we rehearse music for each semester, there’s one or two pieces that I do not care for. I cannot think of a single piece we are singing this year that I do not enjoy!”
And we hope you will do just that. Please enjoy our concert of music by women composers, Women in Winter!

Conductor’s Corner | Spring 2022 | The Beauty of the earth

Throughout my adult years, I have always tried to do better in many aspects of my life, whether that is being a better musician, an encouraging teacher, a loving husband, or a more involved father. In all of these cases, being present and showing love, kindness, and gratitude is what betters ourselves. Because it emboldens love and kindness, gratitude is always my number one takeaway. Let me ask you: How do you show gratitude toward others? Your community and country? How about your planet?

Our planet has housed life for billions of years, yet the human race has managed to alter the environment so drastically through energy and manufacturing emissions, that it might not be suitable for life within the next few lifetimes. How can this have happened? We show gratitude for so many things in our lives, but do we show it for our planet? We have a duty to do all that we can to preserve our planet; buy used, drive electric, run solar power, conserve resources, etc.

This program is the Arizona Repertory Singers’ small contribution to raise awareness of our responsibilities related to climate change. Each piece speaks directly to the predicament in which we have found ourselves, the animals that we have affected, or the home for which we must rededicate ourselves and our service. Through this music, we hope you find the motivation, and make the effort to save your home, our home, and the home of our future generations.

–Ryan Phillips
Music Director and Conductor