I’m honored and delighted to announce that, beginning in the fall of 2023, I will be serving as the Director of Choral Studies at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts! I’m thrilled to return to college teaching, and to work with these outstanding students and historic choral ensembles at one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the country. Additionally, as several of my dear friends work in the Five Colleges, I am excited to be joining some incredible colleagues in the Pioneer Valley region.

It is always bittersweet to close one chapter of your life and begin another one. We uprooted our lives in Connecticut and moved to New Jersey almost exactly 10 years ago so I could begin my doctoral studies at Rutgers with Patrick Gardner. Since then, I’ve had some unbelievable opportunities and experiences – performances at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall (including a premiere with the Voorhees Choir, conducted by Brandon Williams), travels to England and the Netherlands with the Rutgers University Glee Club, singing and conducting with C4, ACDA performances with the RU Glee Club, Kirkpatrick Choir, and C4, serving as sabbatical replacement conductor with the SUNY New Paltz choral department and the Rutgers University Voorhees Choir, directing Amuse Singers in New York and North River Sing in Jersey City, serving as music director at Grace Church Van Vorst for nearly 10 years, and now currently serving as one of the eleven conductors in the premiere of Jonathan Dove’s “Search For Spring” at Lincoln Center this May. And of course, my long-term appointment as choir director at Rutgers Preparatory School has been one of the most gratifying and life-changing teaching experiences of my life, introducing me to some of the most amazing and inspiring students I’ve ever met. Meanwhile, in our personal lives we finally bought our first house in central New Jersey, and in 2021 we welcomed the birth of our daughter Mia. Life here has been good to us, even through a global pandemic.

I’m very grateful to be continuing in my capacity as artistic director and conductor of the West Village Chorale, where we are busy preparing for our May 21st performance of Bach’s monumental Mass in B Minor – stay tuned for more information about that! But of course, I look forward to many more years of exciting, inclusive, and genre-bending work with this outstanding chorus in New York City. And there’s a lot more to come from Terpsichore Ensemble as well, perhaps not only in the New York/New Jersey area but also up in New England!

Tori’s family is from Massachusetts, and mine still lives in Maine, so it also feels good to be making a move closer to our roots. And it’s reassuring knowing that, at the very least, I will be back in New York every Tuesday during the regular season. But it’s still hard to say goodbye to the life we’ve built here, and to the friends and neighbors who have become family.

I am excited to see what this new chapter will bring for us. Thank you for your support and encouragement, and for coming along for this journey.

With Tian Hui Ng (Mount Holyoke) and Arianne Abela (Amherst College), both fellow Yale MM ’10 grads
Posted by: Colin Britt | January 4, 2022

2021: A return to in-person singing, and more

If 2020 for the choral music world was like jumping off a cliff, I would argue that 2021 has felt like free soloing back up the side of the same cliff. We definitely made some tremendous strides towards a “new normal,” but as I write this the pandemic continues to close down theaters, concert halls, schools, and houses of worship. We have a long way to go.

Nevertheless, it was beyond thrilling to return to live singing again for many of my groups this year, and to even perform for an in-person audience this December. Since end-of-year reflection is a natural instinct for all of us, please allow me to share some highlights from this year:

In May, the West Village Chorale began in-person rehearsals back at our home at Judson Memorial Church. We required that each member be fully vaccinated, and decided to pre-record and then livestream the concert. This program, named “If I Can Sing” for a pivotal lyric in Elaine Hagenberg‘s “Refuge,” included works by Abbie Betinis, Johannes Brahms, Glenn Burleigh, George Harrison, Shireen Abu-Khader, Shawn Kirchner, Stephen Schwartz, U2, and Healey Willan. It was an emotional return to choral singing for so many of our members, and I’m thrilled at how effortless it felt to jump back in doing we love. Here is a clip of us singing “Nia” from the Nguzo Saba Suite by Glenn Burleigh:

In the fall, we began the year with our “new normal.” My students were all allowed back on campus at the same time, which was the first time I had my full ensembles together in over 18 months. Yes, we had to be masked, but when you’ve gotten used to rehearsing in alternating cohorts with 3 sopranos, a tenor, 2 basses, and no altos every other week, to hear a full choir again is … well, it’s music to my ears. We had a great first semester “back,” and we were able to rehearse for and perform a full concert back at our regular venue, the Rutgers University Voorhees Chapel, only days before the current wave of shutdowns began.

The West Village Chorale began our season with an in-person reading session in our performance hall, where we could safely distance all of the 50+ singers in this concert. Then, we followed a hybrid model of rehearsing for several weeks with alternating (but equally balanced) cohorts; Team Red Rainbows and Team Blue Unicorns really stepped it up this cycle! Our concert was a holiday pops program, and featured lively favorites like Sleigh Ride, The Christmas Waltz, All You Need is Love, Go Where I Send Thee, Mary’s Boy Child, and Carol of the Bells. We were joined this year by subtle cheetah brass, and we even had a few audience singalongs. I’m so grateful that we were able to have a live in-person concert after almost two years, and again that we managed to squeeze in this performance before the Omicron wave started. I look forward to sharing some of the videos from that performance as well.

Photo: Christopher Greenleaf

It was also an exciting year for premieres! First, on May 1 the Amherst College Choral Society, directed by my dear friend Dr. Arianne Abela, gave the hybrid double choir premiere (you read that right) of one of my newest works, “Unmute Yourself.” Arianne reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to write a piece for hybrid choir, where the in-person students could record together on campus, while the remote students would record themselves separately and then be edited into the final product. The concept of this piece had been swirling around in my head for about a year: the double meaning of the title, both a common phrase we said every day to friends or coworkers on Zoom, and a metaphorical, more abstract meaning we might say to ourselves about the injustices in the world, felt like a theme I had to explore. I worked with the college singers to come up with short phrases that they wanted to express and not remain muted anymore, and their words are set contrapuntally to the repeated chorale-like mantra. The final text, “I will not be silent,” was offered by one singer and felt like an appropriate response to the refrain. I’m thrilled both by the musical interpretation of this unusual composition and by Stephanie Tubiolo’s brilliant-as-always video editing.

Then in July, the New Haven Chorale gave the [fully virtual] premiere of another piece written for quarantine, “I sing because.” This was another piece conceived using words from the choir, this time responding to short prompts, such as:

  • I have lost ____
  • I miss ____
  • I have learned ___
  • I am thankful for ____
  • I sing because ___

This piece went through an extensive revision process, in part because my original intent – to depict the pandemic chronologically from the first days of the quarantine – ended up being a) really depressing to sing, and b) about 6 minutes too long. Once I began chipping away at the sculpture, the central themes of longing to sing together became clearer and more critical to the overall shape of the piece. The piano part, built around an unrelenting repetition of quarter notes on a single pitch, helps to convey the numbness and monotony of the early months of the pandemic, while the cello (played exquisitely by David Blasher) adds both warm reassurance and gnawing grief in pivotal moments. The final product, both conducted and accompanied by Dr. Ed Bolkovac and edited by Peter Robinson, is an extraordinary and very moving testament to the power of choral singing. I’m so grateful to the New Haven Chorale for commissioning this deeply personal and ultimately hopeful work.

In September, I got on a plane (for the first time in nearly 2 years) and flew up to my home state of Maine, where I got to conduct the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra in their performance of “One Day in September,” one of my earliest pieces (dating back to 2002!). This piece commemorates and memorializes the events of September 11th, 2001, and the piece was programmed on a special outdoor performance in Brunswick, Maine. It was a real treat getting to conduct this lovely orchestra, and of course any opportunity to get on a plane is a treat!

In early November, I got on a plane again and flew out to western Montana, where the Missoula Community Chorus under the direction of Dr. Coreen Duffy was preparing for their first live concert since the pandemic. The performance, titled “The Way Through,” featured the winners from the chorus’s competition of the same name from 2020, which solicited new works written during the early months of the pandemic. I am so honored and grateful that my composition How can we sing, written 5 days into the shutdown, was the first prize winner! An honorable mention was a piece I wrote for my students at Rutgers Prep that we never got to perform, titled “We will,” which again set words written by my students. Here is a brief rehearsal excerpt:

Rehearsal of “We Will” by the Missoula Community Chorus

I hope to share the performance recordings from both of these pieces, but it was such a powerful and soul-filling experience getting to hear both of these pieces sung live for the first time. Also, Missoula is beautiful!

This fall, I was commissioned by my former teacher, Dr. Patrick Gardner, and the Rutgers University Glee Club to write a setting of Hildegard of Bingen’s “O frondens virga.” The request was charmingly specific – a cappella, a chantlike melody over a chordal accompaniment, featuring some counterpoint, and then finally building towards a “rock-em, sock-em chord” at the finish. Borrowing from a technique of choral “piano pedaling” I first heard in Christine Donkin’s “Magnificat,” I kept the melody in the first tenor part while the lower voices sustained individual notes from the chant, creating a wash of sound. Then, the final verse builds in harmonic and contrapuntal complexity, before building to a radiant 7th chord on the final sunrise. I’ll share a recording of the performance later, but here is the dress rehearsal, conducted masterfully by master’s student Mike McCormick.

I have some other exciting things to share, most especially our new project choir Terpsichore Ensemble, but definitely the most important new thing in my life to come out of 2021: I became a father to a beautiful little girl!

All in all, for a pandemic year it ended up being a pretty exciting one!

Happy new year, everyone – I hope 2022 brings you health, happiness, and success!

Posted by: Colin Britt | March 12, 2021

The pandemic, one year in

One year ago today was the last time I made music with other humans in the same room, unmasked, and the last time I felt any sense of normalcy. I started the day with a growing sense of uneasiness and apprehension – the night before had been the first time any of my close friends and colleagues really started to comprehend the gravity of the pandemic. (Tom Hanks had tested positive, for Pete’s sake!) And as that awful Thursday progressed, I saw every part of my professional life shut down – my church choir, my adult choir, and my school.

One year ago, I said a tearful goodbye to my students, giving them hugs and wishing them safety and health as the pandemic loomed. And as I walked out of my classroom, carrying my textbooks and binder (and a pilfered roll of toilet paper), I snapped this photo.

One year later, so much has changed. We have adapted to the challenges of teaching in a pandemic, using Zoom, Kahoots, and YouTube. We wear masks. The chairs are spaced 6 feet apart. Our students are divided into cohorts, and no ensemble has more than 40% of the singers in person. Our concerts have virtual, recorded with individual student videos edited together by experienced audio and video editors.

And yet there is hope. The vaccine is gaining steam and accessibility, and many of my colleagues, adult singers in my ensembles, and even students have received one or both doses. One year ago, we had no idea how much our lives would be changed by this, but I also couldn’t have known that just shy of 365 days later, I would receive my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

This week at my school, I had auditions for my select ensemble, and I realized that I would once again have a balanced group for next year. We scheduled dates for our ensembles to have in-person, prerecorded concerts (without in-person audiences). We announced our second-ever musical, a virtual revue themed around the idea of resilience. And as the weather thawed out from this year of winter, our campus began to feel a bit like what I remembered from The Before Times. There was an energy, a sense of optimism, a glimmer of what comes next.

The CDC recently announced that households that have been fully vaccinated can safely gather together without taking precautions like masking and social distancing. I believe that we will soon see guidelines indicating that, after being vaccinated, all of our choirs may again be allowed to sing together indoors. Maybe we’ll have to hold off on indoor audiences for a little while longer. But the idea of being together with my singers again, making music with those we love, is the brightest light I could have imagined at the end of the darkest tunnel I have been through.

Posted by: Colin Britt | December 20, 2020

“The Same Word” – short film launch!

The Same Word – First Impressions

In August of 2016, I received an email from an acquaintance of a Yale friend, a German journalist named Dorothee Schwarz, who was reaching out to me to ask if I’d like to be a composer on an international collaborative large-scale musical project, called The Same Word. (The piece transcends convenient titles, but I’ve taken to calling it an interfaith oratorio for short) After a bit of disbelief and convincing myself that this was in fact real and that she really wanted to work with me, we agreed to meet up in New York to discuss the project further, a meeting that finally happened in January 2017 right after the inauguration and subsequent Women’s March. We quickly bonded over our shared convictions about interfaith cooperation and multiculturalism, as well as our world outlook and musical interests.

The project was immediately tantalizing to me – a large-scale choral/orchestral work that would set excerpts from four of the world’s main religions, highlighting their commonalities and similar themes as a way to promote acceptance and understanding. Each of the four composers would represent one of these religions – I would represent the Christian tradition, Suad Bushnaq the Islamic tradition, Na’ama Tamir Kaplan the Jewish tradition, and Steven Tanoto the Buddhist tradition. There would be visual art, a performance tour, a documentary… It seemed too good to be true!

Fast forward to October 2018, when I was flown out to Hamburg to meet with the rest of the artistic team for the first time over a whirlwind 36-hour visit. Three of the four composers joined with Doro (the visionary and librettist), Martin Schneekloth (the musical director), and several of the documentary crew. We had just enough time to get to know one another while planting seeds for the next steps in this collaboration.

Fast forward again to August 2019, when Doro, all four composers, our visual artist, musical director and assistant MD, and documentary crew met together in Israel for a 10-day immersion in Jerusalem and Haifa. We explored the Old City, including a tour under the ramparts of the second temple, a visit to an excavation taking place near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a stop at the Tower of David, a visit to the Hebrew Music Museum, a morning on the Temple Mount, and a very painful but necessary trip to Yad Vashem to remember the atrocities of the Holocaust. We went to restaurants, cafes, markets, concerts, shops, and concert halls. We also took a day trip to Tel Aviv and Jaffa, and spent two days in Haifa at the foot of Mount Carmel and the Bahai Hanging Gardens. And we had hours and hours of thought-provoking, life-affirming, invigorating conversations about music, language, history, and of course, the piece we were going to write.

Then in January of this year, we reconvened for a third time in New York. While the primary goal of this visit was to nail down a libretto and establish working habits and structure, we still managed to get in a little sight-seeing and research, including trips to the Rubin Museum, the Museum at Eldridge Street, the 9/11 Museum and Memorial, a Buddhist shrine, MoMA, and very scenic – if chilly – walks on the High Line and across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was especially fun to get to play tour guide with these wonderful humans, and to give some guidance on the subway system (no, you CAN’T swipe a second time to get a better take!!!). And, of course, we shared some amazing food and wonderful laughs.

And then we went our separate ways to begin work on the piece.

The plan was to finish one movement, Creation, as a way to prove our ability to collaborate on a work of this magnitude, while also giving our team something to show as a way to build interest in the project. We spent most of the summer working on this movement, while fine-tuning our approach to collaboration, and then in September, the first movement was rehearsed and recorded in Hamburg.

I can’t wait to show you this amazing piece, and I’m so proud of what we all contributed to bring it to life. In the meantime, you’ll be able to watch the “trailer” of the project at the top of this post, and get a little sense of how this team has come together. (You can also hear me whine about synthesizers in classical music)

This is such an exciting project, and I am so honored and grateful to be part of this team.

Posted by: Colin Britt | December 14, 2020

What is choral music like in 2020?

“Dona nobis pacem” by Mark A. Miller, performed by the West Village Chorale

This is usually my favorite week of the year.

The third week in December always begins with the West Village Chorale giving a holiday concert, with an audience packed into New York’s Judson Memorial Church ready to hear glorious music and sing along with popular carols. Then, on Monday night would be my winter choral concert at Rutgers Prep, with the six choral groups on campus coming together at Voorhees Chapel on the Rutgers University campus to share their work from the last three months. On Wednesday, I always take my select group from RPS caroling at area retirement homes and the Bridgewater mall, a fun excuse for our kids to get off campus and bring some joy to these communities. Then on the last day of classes, we go caroling around our campus and share holiday music with kids from pre-k through grade 12. And, of course, there are holiday parties and gifts and hugs.

This year, there will be none of that.

277 days ago, I wrote about packing up my classroom, canceling every performance in my spring schedule, and watching helplessly as the world shut down around me. I was despairing, frightened, and mourning the loss of what could have been.

Six and a half months ago, I wrote about how we as a choral community would have to find ways to move on, and how we wouldn’t let the pandemic eliminate our industry or define our response to the challenges we faced. In hindsight, I’d say this was one of those times when you say something over and over again hoping for it to become true — but I don’t think any of us had a choice.

So where are we now?

“As there are flowers”, performed during the pandemic by the ECU Chamber Singers under the direction of Dr. James Franklin

In the last eight months, I’ve felt anxiety and depression, but I’ve also been astounded and inspired by the creativity, resilience, grit, and optimism of my colleagues, mentors, students, and friends in the performing arts. I’ve desperately missed live choral music, but I have seen some staggeringly beautiful performances and astonishing innovations in the face of the greatest existential threat any of us have ever encountered in our careers. We can’t make the kind of music I know my choirs are capable of, but I’ve watched singers tackle new challenges such as self-taping and wrestling with Google Drive, and in some of the most inspiring cases I’ve seen them grow into more confident singers and performers. I’ve learned new things from my students and beamed with pride as they’ve overcome the awkwardness of singing with masks in an outdoor tent and put up with lawnmowers and 18-wheeler engine braking on the nearby highway to sing.

And I’ve learned some new skills too, including audio and video editing I never would have dreamed of tackling nine months ago. I’ve put together over 80 virtual videos for my adult, church, and student choirs, and I haven’t yet resorted to throwing my laptop out the window. I’m not by any means a great video editor, but I’m actually rather proud of several of the finished products.

Mark Guerette and Colin Britt sing U2’s “MLK” in remembrance of September 11

Yesterday, the West Village Chorale gave a completely virtual holiday concert. With the incredible audio production help from Jim Bilodeau and video editing by Liam McNamara, Wei-Ting Duo, and myself, we were able to present virtual performances of 14 small- and large-group numbers. At the same time, the concert was a holiday program that I’m extremely proud of, in that it represented composers who look like this country and sent a message of resilience in the face of despair and injustice.

We’re not out of the woods yet, but it feels good to know that we can move forward together and navigate this strange new world. We can find ways to create beauty and community and joy. We can still touch people with our art, while still sustaining arts organizations with a business model that’s actually stable. We can still teach students and encourage them to make connections and grow as musicians. And, as my friend and former college choir director Ed Bolkovac reminds me, we will never, ever, ever take singing together in person for granted again.

See you in 2021.

Posted by: Colin Britt | December 11, 2020

“I wonder as I wander” sung by Voices of Ascension

“I wonder as I wander,” performed in 2019 by Voices of Ascension

Last year, I had the privilege of conducting a family concert with the outstanding New York ensemble Voices of Ascension. On that program, we performed my arrangement of “I wonder as I wander.” I am beyond thrilled with their performance, and was delighted to know this recording exists, and to be able to share it here!

As we enter this time of year usually filled with in-person concerts and end-of-year celebrations, it’s nice to be reminded of a time when our lives were filled with live music. I wait anxiously and hopefully for the day when we will again be able to sing together.

Posted by: Colin Britt | November 18, 2020

Virtual choir recording of “How can we sing”

The virtual recording of “How can we sing”

Eight months ago this week, I began work in earnest on my first piece in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a setting of Psalm 137 called “How can we sing.” As soon as the shutdown began, I found myself unable to get the words “how can we sing in a foreign land?” out of my head, and I felt that these lines from the psalmist were calling to me.

After completing the piece in exactly three days, I reached out to friends, colleagues, and former and present students to ask if anyone would be willing to participate in a virtual choir recording of this work. I was blown away by the response I received – almost 50 singers from literally every corner of my life submitted audio and video recordings to bring this piece to life.

Of course, life in 2020 had other plans, and it wasn’t until the end of the summer when Jim Bilodeau and I actually had time to edit the project. Jim beat me to it and finished editing the audio file before the 2020/21 school year started, but of course I took the longest. And while I wish I’d been able to finish this project back at the height of my personal anguish in the late spring… little did I know back in March just how long this musical exile would last.

A tremendous thanks to Jim for his brilliant audio engineering, and to all of these incredible singers for giving this piece a voice.

Posted by: Colin Britt | May 19, 2020

Day 68: How to move on

It’s been 68 days since I packed up my books, choir music, and laptop from my classroom and left the Rutgers Prep campus. It’s been 68 days since the last time I conducted a choir of any kind. It’s been 68 days since I gave a hug or handshake to anyone except my wife.

And it’s been 68 days of reading alarming news reports, blogs, and social media posts that all point to the dangers of communal singing of any kind – performances, rehearsals, and informal group sings all seem to be hyperactive germ orgies where the one thing that enables us all to use our voices at the same time is now the last thing we should do. How can we sing, when our audiences aren’t allowed to attend? How can we sing, when choirs in Washington and Amsterdam suffered staggeringly high rates of COVID-19 following rehearsals and performances? How can we sing, when indoor gatherings of more than 10 people are banned or discouraged by the CDC?

I’ve spent 68 days feeling intermittent despair, grief, anger, and a sense of numbness at the uncertain state of my profession. But lately, that simmering brew of negativity has stopped being able to fill the part of my soul that was eviscerated when I lost the ability to teach and make live music in my classroom. Some of it’s a matter of necessity – I still have a responsibility to teach my students, to provide music in worship services, and to provide for my household. But some of it’s a rediscovered sense of purpose, a drive to innovate and reinvent. We can lament the immense sense of loss we feel – and I do lament it – but we also have to find a way forward.

Early on in the quarantine, I was irritated by some memes being thrown around on Facebook that seemed to poke fun at the compulsion to create so-called “virtual choirs.” There’s a charming one of Batman backhanding Robin as Robin suggests something to the effect of “If Eric Whitacre can do it, so can you!” Since they first surfaced, I’ve come to the conclusion that these memes weren’t created to belittle the desire to create virtual choirs, but rather to knock some sense into the people who casually suggest that it must be easy to throw one of those things together. It most certainly is not easy. It’s time-consuming and tedious and frustrating, and it requires expensive software and a huge leap of faith that your singers know how to operate a smartphone. But it is possible.

I believe the middle ground here is not in saying “never” to one of these projects, nor is it giving up the idea of collective music-making entirely and trying to replace it with solo projects or written work. Rather, it is in accepting that there is room for trying new ideas and experimenting with different strategies. And it’s admitting that there is in fact something oddly beautiful about these kaleidoscopic arrays of singers wearing earbuds and singing in their kitchens or back porches. After watching one of our videos, one of the singers in my church choir marveled that there’s something strangely intimate about this new way of making music together – “We never get to watch one another when we sing in a choir.” It’s a different sensation, of course, but it can be community-building in a surprising way.

If you’ve made it this far into the blog, I’ll endeavor to share a few of the lessons I’ve learned over the last several weeks. Some may be obvious, but they weren’t entirely obvious to me before we found ourselves in this situation.

  1. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. This paraphrase of an adage attributed to Voltaire has never felt truer in my career. We kid ourselves if we think we’re going to find the perfect solution to the absence of live choral singing. But if we accept that perfection is not realistic, we can still create something good, and maybe even something beautiful.
  2. You will fail multiple times. We all need to be reminded of that. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had my computer crash, or I’ve lost a file that I had spent hours on, or that a project just wasn’t working because singers and conductors are human. And it’s ok.
  3. You will have to learn new skills. Bit by bit, I’m starting to get the hang of Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro. I’m also getting better at creating guide tracks and conductor videos, and at collaborating with instrumentalists. I’m getting better with Zoom and live streaming too, and I’m finding new ways to run rehearsals that don’t crash and burn because I don’t know how to screen share.
  4. You will need lots of file storage. I’m at something like 500 GB and counting of videos on my external hard drive. These things take up a lot of memory, even at their lowest resolution.
  5. Learn from other choruses and conductors. This is an ongoing process, but I’ve been so encouraged and amazed by some of the innovative and creative things these groups are doing. C4, for example, is embarking on a virtual concert series in pursuit of the lowest internet latency (the single biggest reason why simultaneous virtual singing has been impossible). That’s pretty freaking cool.
  6. Community comes first. One of the biggest voids in all of our lives during this pandemic has been the lack of community gatherings we normally experience in choirs. That’s a huge reason why community choirs are so popular – the community part of that term is a/the driving force. But it’s possible to continue that community online, on social media, or while practicing social distancing. And our singers miss the community as much as, if not more than, making music together.
  7. ASK FOR HELP. Above all, my biggest lesson learned in this process has been that doing this alone is impossible. If making one of these videos or recordings is daunting, that’s ok. There’s a vast community of trained and self-training people who have figured out how to do this, or have taught themselves new skills. And if you’re lucky, you might even have friends who do this sort of thing for a living, and who can lend a hand when you know your skills aren’t adequate to achieve what you’re trying to create. Ask.

During the last 68 days, I’ve had some of the worst moments of my career. But I’ve also had some of the greatest moments of inspiration, and some of the most beautiful and touching experiences with the students and singers I love so much. There is a path forward, and we will forge it together.

I’ll leave you with a virtual performance my students made of “As there are flowers,” one of the pieces we were preparing for our spring concert and Disney Performing Arts trip. We won’t be able to have those performances, but thanks to their grit and determination, and in a huge part to audio engineering by my friend Jim Bilodeau, we still found a way to sing. Together. And we made this.

Posted by: Colin Britt | March 14, 2020

Cancellations and choral music in the COVID-19 era


Less than one week ago I was writing about my exciting trip to Rochester for the ACDA Eastern Division conference, and about some very exciting upcoming concerts, including the West Village Chorale‘s performance of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil and the premiere my new commissioned piece for the Maine Bicentennial, So Also We Sing.

What a difference a few days make. Within the span of about 6 hours on Thursday, each of my teaching jobs and choruses made the difficult but necessary decision to close down and postpone our upcoming performances until the coronavirus pandemic has receded. My church choir will not be singing together or rehearsing for the foreseeable future, and the church itself will be broadcasting services on a youtube channel, rather than risking the health of parishioners by continuing in-person services. The West Village Chorale has postponed our Sunday concert until an undetermined future date, and Tuesday night rehearsals are likewise suspended. And in possibly the saddest and most painful moment of my teaching career, I had to tell my students with tears in my eyes that I honestly didn’t know when I’d see them again. The uncertainty and fear we all face seems unprecedented, and for those of us in the choral world, it’s paralyzing.

When I think back about the worst days of my life – 9/11, the sudden death of a close personal friend, Sandy Hook, and certainly natural disasters and political unrest – on each of those occasions our communities were able to come together in solidarity, and to comfort one another. We could hug and kiss each other, hold hands, and cry, and those of us who draw comfort and inspiration from music could lift our voices together in communal song. It’s what we do with our art – we unite, we galvanize, we uplift. But not with this virus. This silent, invisible danger threatening us all prevents us from doing that. It feels eerily like a hurricane or blizzard descending on our community, except we can’t see it coming, and we don’t know who among us might be infected. So we retreat from contact and interaction, we quarantine ourselves, and above all, we certainly don’t gather together.

Asking musicians not to join and engage with one another is kind of like asking a bird to stop flying. It won’t kill them, but it feels like there suddenly seems to be less of a world out there. These necessary and life-saving measures will most assuredly limit the spread of this dangerous virus, but all of us who have devoted our lives to performing with and for one another now face an emotional and existential test unlike any we’ve encountered in our lifetimes. And those of us who teach music now find ourselves struggling to adapt to a cold and distant world of online instruction; it may fill the hours normally spent in the classroom, but it will never even come close to replacing the act of singing or playing together in person.

I realize that some of these are the epitome of first-world problems. I for one am incredibly fortunate to have a strong support system in place, and to work for institutions who will continue to provide for their employees as this social distancing phase unfolds. There are thousands upon thousands of artists who will not have it as easy as me, and I encourage you to visit one of their fundraising sites to support those artists who find themselves without any income for the foreseeable future.

And my heart goes out to the millions of people who will have an even harder time than we will – single under- and unemployed parents trying to care for children who now have no guaranteed meals because schools have also been shuttered, people with compromised immune systems, the elderly and infirm who are at the highest risk from this virus, and of course people already suffering from its effects. This is going to hit all of us in some way. But for a large number of us who have devoted our lives towards healing and bringing light and hope into the world with our music, this is a new and particularly agonizing challenge we’re now facing.

But we will overcome it. Together, even if not physically. We are strong, and resilient, and we will find a way.

If you’ve read this far without giving up, please enjoy the performance given at ACDA by the Rutgers University Voorhees Choir (conducted by Dr. Brandon Williams) of “Imagination,” my setting of a text by Phillis Wheatley, who was the first African-American woman to publish a book (while still enslaved!). If you’re looking for inspiration in these trying times, try drawing some from these incredible words:

    Imagination! who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th’ empyreal palace of the thund’ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul.
Be safe, everyone. See you on the other side.
Posted by: Colin Britt | March 8, 2020

ACDA performances and premieres!

I just returned from a fabulous ACDA Eastern Division conference in Rochester, where I saw some incredible performances (including the Rutgers Voorhees Choir and Glee Club), caught up with dear friends, and met some delightful composers and conductors.


With Greg Hankins (piano) and Dr. Edith Copley (conductor)

Oh, and I also had a premiere! I was incredibly honored to be the commissioned composer for the 2020 ACDA Eastern Division High School Honor Choir. This was such a delightful and humbling experience, and I couldn’t have asked for a better first performance! Dr. Edith Copley led 170 of the best high school singers in the Northeast in the premiere of my piece “Listening,” which sets a powerful Amy Lowell text:

LISTENING Amy Lowell (1874 – 1925)
’T is you that are the music, not your song.
The song is but a door which, opening wide,
Lets forth the pent-up melody inside,
Your spirit’s harmony, which clear and strong
Sing but of you. Throughout your whole life long
Your songs, your thoughts, your doings, each divide
This perfect beauty; waves within a tide,
Or single notes amid a glorious throng.

The song of earth has many different chords;
Ocean has many moods and many tones
Yet always ocean. In the damp Spring woods
The painted trillium smiles, while crisp pine cones
Autumn alone can ripen. So is this
One music with a thousand cadences.

The students sang with such beauty and understanding, and Dr. Copley’s interpretation was absolutely sublime. Here’s a video (courtesy of Viraj Lal) of the premiere:

But that’s not all! The Rutgers University Voorhees Choir, under the incredible direction of Dr. Brandon Williams, performed my piece “Imagination,” which I wrote for them last year (and they premiered at Carnegie Hall in April 2019). I’ll have a bigger excerpt to share later, but here’s a quick snippet from their sound check:

It was a very exciting conference indeed! Congratulations to all of these amazing singers, instrumentalists, and conductors on their brilliant work!




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