Take five with Bruce Borton and the Madrigal Choir

EDITOR’S NOTE: After a months-long search for the perfect replacement for retiring founder and longtime director Anne Boyer Cotton, The Madrigal Choir of Binghamton — and its audience – last spring chose Bruce Borton, who is also the director of choral activities at Binghamton University. As the choir readies for the debut of the Borton era this weekend, we offer this quick “take five” interview, which author and choir member Therese Walsh had with Borton, focusing on the choir’s immediate and long-term future.

By Therese Walsh

QUESTION: What are your immediate plans for The Madrigal Choir of Binghamton?

ANSWER: The season I have planned looks backward and forward, which I think is appropriate for the transition year we face. I have entitled the season “New Beginnings.” The first concert will revisit the origins of the madrigal choir Anne Cotten started years ago around her dining room table (in 1978). We will sing madrigals and chansons from the Renaissance to the modern era. (The performance will be at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 9 Leroy St., Binghamton.)

On the weekend after Thanksgiving we will be continuing the tradition of “Lessons and Carols,” which has proved to be the most popular performance for the group over the years. It will include the first performance of a new work by Alice Parker, commissioned by The Madrigal Choir in honor of Anne Cotten. In March, we are planning a concert about “beginnings” of various sorts – new days, new years, new loves, new worlds. At the center of the concert will be a setting of the creation story by Canadian composer Ruth Watson Henderson. The final concert in early June is titled “Crossroads” and will feature works from the major transition periods of music history. Composers like Monteverdi, Schutz, C.P.E. Bach, Beethoven and more recent composers like Charles Ives introduced major, often earthshaking, changes to the prevailing styles of music of the time. These were the individuals who faced musical crossroads and boldly set out in new directions.

Q: What will change for members — and possibly for audiences — this season?

A: I hope we will be continuing to perform the kind of music that has appealed to the Madrigal Choir audiences and singers in the past. But with any change of leadership there are bound to be changes in repertoire, in programs, in style. I have spent a long time studying past programs and it is amazing the variety of music presented by the group over the decades. So whatever changes may be in store may be more incremental than dramatic.

Q: In what ways to do you intend for the choir to remain true to Anne Cotten’s vision for the choir as you move forward with the group? In what ways do you hope to grow its shape into something different?

A: We certainly intend to continue with those traditions that have come to be associated especially with The Madrigal Choir. We will continue to present the Christmas season “Lessons and Carols” performances that are very popular. We also plan to renew the bi-annual “Twelfth Night” performances beginning in January 2013. I think the core repertoire – a cappella chamber choir music – will remain a staple for the group in the future. We may explore relationships with other community groups like the Binghamton Community Orchestra with whom the group had a very special performance last year, The Armed Man. I would hope to continue performances with the local school ensembles and with local music professionals. One intriguing suggestion that has been made is to do a program of chorus and dance – that would be fun and to my knowledge has never been done locally.

Q: In what ways do you hope to stretch the choir — its members’ abilities, its repertoire, etc.? Where do you see the group in another decade?

A: The Choir has been involved recently with a couple of premieres of new choral works. Barry Seaman’s Bajahns presented a couple of seasons ago resulted out of a chance hearing by the composer of one of The Madrigal Choir’s recordings. That led to his offer of a new piece especially for the group. I have been involved with a number of premieres over the years, and I think it can be a really exciting, rewarding experience for the ensemble and the audience – especially if the composer is in attendance for the performance. I would like to see us do more in commissioning new works for chorus – maybe even establish a Madrigal Choir choral series, all made up of works commissioned by the group. Creating the first performance of a new work is challenging but invigorating. I am really looking forward to getting started on Alice Parker’s new piece this fall.

Right now, I think the short-term goals of learning about my singers and developing an effective working relationship are occupying my thoughts. Whatever long-term goals we pursue will likely develop from ideas within the membership. It is THEIR choir, after all. I am just the hired help. But I certainly can make suggestions that I hope would be supported by the choir and by our audience. In fact, I will actively seek input from both singers and listeners as future plans develop. I am trying to get through the first year. Ask me next year about the “next decade.”

Q: What is your mantra moving forward?

A: I think most of all, I view myself as a teacher. I have been performing in all sorts of amateur and professional situations most of my life, but I guess I would like to be remembered for what I could share with my students, my singers and my audiences. The performances are great, but what I treasure most of all in these experiences are the rehearsals – the learning process for me and for the performers. If the audience can catch a little of the joy we experience in the delivery, then I have been successful.

Therese Walsh is a Binghamton native, member of The Madrigal Choir of Binghamton and an author. Her debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Crown, Random House), was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2009, was nominated for a RITA Award for Best First Book, and was a TARGET Breakout Book in 2010. She co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006, a blog about the craft and business of genre fiction, named as one of the top 100 sites for writers by Writer’s Digest in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and again in 2011. She is also the founder and president of RWA-WF, the women’s fiction chapter of RWA. Before turning to fiction, she was a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine and then a freelance writer. She has a master’s degree in psychology. She’s currently deep in edits with what will become her second novel.

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