Precedent and prospect: A singer’s insight into Madrigal Choir’s new artistic director

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Frequent BAMirror reviewer and contributor David Schriber, who offers the following predictions for the Bruce Borton era of The Madrigal Choir of Binghamton, sings with the choir and is on its board of directors. He also served on the search committee that recommended Borton to be the choir’s new artistic director.

By David L. Schriber

With the naming of a new artistic director, The Madrigal Choir of Binghamton begins a new era. How will Brue Borton put his own mark on Anne Boyer Cotten’s musical legacy to Greater Binghamton? What can the choir and its audience expect?

I have a good idea, for I have sung with Bruce Borton’s University Chorus for more than 20 years. It took me just one semester to realize I had by serendipity stumbled across the finest choral conductor in the area. Since that time, and especially more recently as I prepared to retire and joined several other choruses and have sung under several other conductors, nothing has changed that assessment. For many years I thought Borton was one of the best-kept musical secrets in Broome County, until the Broome County Arts Council awarded him a Heart of the Arts Award in 2008 for his contributions to music in our community.

Before coming to Binghamton, Borton was a member of and conducting assistant with the late Robert Shaw’s Atlanta Symphony Chorus. One of Borton’s treasured possessions is the autographed poster that hangs in his office. Much of the wisdom of “Mister Shaw,” as Borton refers to him with reverence, lives on in this unpretentious man from Illinois. One thing Madrigal Choir singers will certainly learn from Borton is Shaw’s theory and philosophy of choral blending. Yes, I know, Bruce; Shaw never liked the term “blend,” but that’s what the rest of us call it. It’s all about how you shape your mouth and throat and where you place the sound in the resonating cavity. A lifelong learner, Borton continues regular attendance at conferences of the American Choral Directors Association.

Borton’s warm-up exercises are more than stretching the vocal chords to avoid voice strain. Besides tonal quality, they teach pitch control, accurate intervals, and rhythm. Borton is one of those people who can beat 3/4 time on one knee while beating 4/4 time on the other. His well-equipped toolbag of warm-up and rehearsal techniques, tips, and tricks has had its own ripple effect upon the dozen or so music teachers who sing at any given time in University Chorus, including our daughter’s high school chorus teacher at the time.

A vast command of repertoire across all periods and genres enables Borton to offer creative and entertaining programming, such as his guest concert with The Madrigal Choir in October 2009 with music from five centuries, all based on texts of William Shakespeare, and featuring collaboration with guest instrumentalists and actors.

Borton always prefers performing a piece in its original language (with full text translated to English in the concert program for comprehension). This will be a good fit for The Madrigal Choir, among whose members are many foreign language skills. It should also be appreciated in our community, which treasures its many ethnic traditions.

It’s likely that Borton, who directs BU’s own biennial Madrigal Feaste, will continue Anne Boyer Cotten’s unique traditions such as the biennial costumed Ceremony and Celebration for Twelfth Night. Borton will remember and respect where this choir has come from, even as he brings fresh and new ideas of his own. He has made singing an important part of my life and a source of enjoyment and satisfaction, of celebration and even consolation. His personable style will give cohesive leadership that will knit The Madrigal Choir even tighter together. He will bring constructive challenges to stretch singers and audience alike in a manner that is pleasing and widening of horizons.

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