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Composer Mark Hierholzer, Director of the Fredericksburg Chorale, presents his latest “Dialogues and Dances” at the Zion Lutheran Church this Saturday. The concert features new music and improvisations that articulate his vision of art that reflects beauty and truth. Photo by Phil Houseal


Details:
The next concert in the ongoing series “Dialogues and Dances” will be presented by the Fredericksburg Chorale on Saturday, Oct. 22, at 7:30 p.m. The performance will be held in the Zion Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall, 426 West Main Street. Web: www.fredericksburgchorale.com

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Dialogues and Dances

by Phil Houseal
Oct 19, 2005

Mark Hierholzer wants to change the way you experience music. In the process, he might change the way you experience life.

This Saturday, Hierholzer - a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, published composer, director of the Fredericksburg Chorale, Mixed Choir and Arion Maennerchor, and “piano-playing son of a [gun]” - presents the latest in his series of “Dialogues and Dances” at Zion Lutheran Church.

Hierholzer’s innovative approach to composition began early in life, inspired by listening to 78-rpm records of Toscanini and Horowitz.

“My parents, while not particular fans of classical music, were very discriminate about things,” Hierholzer recalled. “There was good music; there was bad. It was quite unforgiving.”

Later he realized it was this discriminating attitude that led him to believe there are things in this world that are good; there are things that are bad; and “you strive to work toward the good things.”

One of the good things he has sought to create is a more vibrant way of writing, performing, and relating to music.

“I think that there’s been a tradition in choral music to create a certain choral ‘sound,’” he said. “The interest is in the sound, and less on the communication of ideas. Modern culture has said there is no meaning in life. Once you have said there is no ultimate meaning to our existence in the universe, you cease to have anything to say musically. The only thing you can do then is make noise, and then you just sit around and talk about what kinds of noise you make. We never come from a choral recital and ask ‘what was the choir communicating?’”

Communication is paramount in Hierholzer’s creative process.

“Generally I write the words first,” he said. “The tone, inflection, stop, and rise of the words becomes the foundation of the music. You try to keep the sound of the word as intact as possible. The challenge is that the music does have a powerful role in conveying the idea, but that it never overpowers the words.”

Another challenge is convincing his singers to risk a new way of singing.

“The tone quality the modern choir makes is less than thrilling,” Hierholzer said. “Human voices aren’t the same; they don’t naturally blend. You have to work at getting the guys to blend with the girls. Therefore the guys start to sing like girls and the girls have to do something to make themselves not sound like girls either. It removes us from our humanity.”

Hierholzer exhorts his singers to allow their singing voices to sound as distinct as their speaking voices. The reception to this new way of vocalizing is mixed.

“I would say that it depends on the age group,” he said. “Kids tend to respond much quicker; they don’t ask questions. They see something that’s lively and they like it. Adults, because they are in a set pattern, are more prone to be resistant. But many have said  - and this is what I love to hear - ‘I initially hated this; now I find it really thrilling.’”

Audiences respond in much the same way.

“Many walk away saying ‘this isn’t what I came to hear,’” he admitted. “Then others say ‘I’ve never heard anything like it.’”

“If you are doing something that is really valuable, you are going to have people walking away, there’s no question about it. If you do that thing that makes everyone happy, half of them are going to be asleep in the process.”

Therein lies the risk. But it is a risk Mark Hierholzer embraces.

“True beauty always has a component of danger as well as an element of benevolence in equal measure. About a year ago I was at the coast, sitting on the second story balcony. It was an amazing image at night of the ocean out there, just roaring. There was something so powerful about it even in calm weather that brings people to that place of awe.

“In the foreground there was a swimming pool. Now, a swimming pool is fun, but you wouldn’t say the swimming pool was beautiful. There is just no comparison. One thing is beautiful beyond speech, and one aspect of that is the absolute danger of it.

“Great art, I believe, is always trying to grasp that truth that is built into the fabric of our universe. You can never really remove danger from beauty, and in short that is what these pieces are about.”

Hierholzer’s “Dialogues and Dances” are a way for the audience to share that risk.

“When you articulate ideas that you believe are good for yourself, you have to believe they are good for other people,” he said. “I believe it can be good for people to let go of those things that are familiar and go to the place that for me, makes living ‘living.’ In this culture, it’s easy to say ‘I like this and you like this and that’s fine.’ I’m not willing to say that.

“If you allow yourself to get out of that routine, you’ll find yourself open to listening. It’s going to be thrilling.”

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