Vocal fest: mix of polished virtuosos, shy beginners

The mid-winter festival culminates in a concert, 'Bach to Broadway'

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2001

A t a time when many in Juneau are heading south for a dose of warmth and sunshine, Byron McGilvray is preparing for his annual midwinter pilgrimage to Southeast Alaska.

This will be the 14th year McGilvray has left his home is sunny East Texas to lead Juneau Lyric Opera's MidWinter Vocal Festival. The 10-day singing workshop features two choirs, a group voice class and private lessons. The choral singers work intensively preparing for the festival's finale concert, "Bach to Broadway," which features performances by selected soloists, a large festival chorus and a smaller chamber ensemble.

McGilvray directs three choral groups in Texas and he coaches accomplished professionals but also has a talent for helping beginning singers with the basics, said Kathleen Wayne. Wayne is an experienced soprano and has been featured in many Juneau Lyric Opera productions.

"I don't think he's lost the thrill of teaching beginners," said Wayne, a singing teacher herself. "He gets so excited to see someone get something. That's the thrill of teaching, to see someone (succeed) who thought they couldn't sing."

Wayne has participated in many of McGilvray's workshops and choirs over the years. She also takes a few private lessons when he is in town.

"He's a great diagnostician," she said. "You form bad habits without someone around to monitor you."

Wayne recently opened her own voice studio and said she studies McGilvray's teaching techniques when he's in town.

"I can glean from his years of experience to see how he solves problems," she said. "He's a magnificent talent for diagnosing vocal problems. And he doesn't even look at you, he does it by listening."

McGilvray retired several years ago as a professor with the vocal department at the University of San Francisco. He returned to East Texas, where he grew up, and is director of the choral and vocal department at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens. He teaches voice and directs the school's three singing groups, Cardinal Singers, Chamber Singers, and Encore, a vocal jazz group.

McGilvray began conducting at the age of 16, when he directed a church choir in his hometown of Conroe, Texas. From there he went on to conduct at public schools and at the university level, and has since conducted in 42 countries and 48 states. He holds a bachelor's degree from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, a master's degree from Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth and his doctoral degree from the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri in Kansas City.

Lena Simmons, a Juneau Lyric Opera board member who helped organize the upcoming festival, said every year attendance has increased and McGilvray builds upon the growing experience of the returning singers. Three years ago a second choir was added.

"We started that because we had requests from people for a smaller group setting, rather than 80 people," she said. "This gives people a chance to do more difficult music."

She said the material for the "Bach to Broadway" concert will be selected during the first few days of McGilvray's visit,

"He brings a big pile of music and we get together around the piano and play it all and decide: definitely, maybe, and definitely not," she said. "Then we put together a nice mixture."

The "Bach to Broadway" concert will be 3 p.m. Jan. 13 at Chapel by the Lake. Auditions for the small chamber ensemble will be Jan. 2 and rehearsals start Jan. 3. No auditions are required for the festival chorus or the group voice class. The festival chorus first meets Sunday, Jan. 6, and the group classes start Jan. 7. For more information contact Juneau Lyric Opera, 789-4604 or www.juneau.com/opera.

Riley Woodford can be reached at rileyw@juneauempire.com.

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