Fueled by energy, new choir director takes over Men’s Chorus, Concert Choir

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    By CLARENCE TANG

    Impulsive, energetic and maybe even a little erratic. That’s how Rosalind Hall, the new conductor of Men’s Chorus and Concert Choir, describes herself.

    “The worst part about (being interviewed) is that I don’t have a chance to see what they’re going to write before it comes out,” she said. “Heaven only knows what I might say.”

    She shouldn’t worry too much about her impulsiveness. Ever since taking over Mack Wilberg’s position in the school of music, her energetic nature has been less a liability and more a breath of fresh air for BYU’s already highly acclaimed choral program.

    “She has had a very significant impact,” said David Randall, director of the school of music. “She’s brought an enthusiasm and another view … that’s been refreshing. We’re very pleased with what she’s done.”

    Born in Merthyr Tydfil, a small village in South Wales, Hall grew up in a very musical community, where, as a matter of tradition, everybody sang and participated in musical events.

    “Wales is known as the land of song,” she said.

    As a result, Hall grew up immersed in a tradition of strong male-voice choirs and music festivals, most particularly the national music festival in Wales — the Eisteddfod. Hall remembers one particular Eisteddfod, when she had her first experience as a choral conductor.

    “When I was 17, in my final year of grammar school (equivalent to a senior in high school), the music teacher was taken ill and was unable to conduct the choir for the Eisteddfod. They asked me if I would conduct it, and I did,” she recalled. “We won each round of the festival and finally won the nationals. We had never won before.”

    The experience — exhilarating and inspiring — was also a turning point in her life.

    “That’s when I realized how much I loved choral conducting — it was just an accident, really,” she said.

    The next year, she started studying for a music degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, but soon transferred to the Royal Academy of Music, in London, England, to receive better training as a singer.

    There, she studied with distinguished musicians as Sir. David Wilcox, who conducted the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in its 1996 recording of Handel’s “The Messiah,” and singer Constance Shacklock, who sang “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” as the Reverend Mother in the acclaimed movie-musical “The Sound of Music.”

    At 22, after graduating from the Royal Academy of Music with two qualifications — a bachelor’s degree and a licentiate of the Academy (equivalent to a degree in vocal performance) — Hall continued post-graduate studies at London University in pursuit of a music education diploma.

    “That year, I met my husband,” she said. “We were married the next year, and I settled down to be — what I thought — a housewife for the rest of my life.”

    But things were not to turn out as she expected.

    In 1988, after visiting BYU for Education Week, she and her husband both decided to pursue master’s degrees at BYU — she in choral conducting and he in teaching English as a second language. The following year, they moved to Provo with their nine-year-old son and have never returned to England.

    “We always intended to move back to England after two years,” she said. “But as soon as we started living here, we loved it so much and we didn’t really want to go back, and as opportunities came up….”

    One of those opportunities is her current position at BYU. Although she felt some trepidation at being asked to carry on where Wilberg left off, she has quickly made a contribution by doing what she does best — being herself.

    “It would be foolish of me to do anything else,” she said.

    Both her choirs have responded readily to her dynamic personality and her style of leadership.

    “She tells us how important this year is to her. She’s put everything into these two choirs, and you can tell,” said Josh Gardner, a member of Concert Choir, a junior from Billings, Mont., majoring in business. “It makes a huge difference — it makes me want to sing the best that I can and give my all every day like she does.”

    Hall’s work with the Men’s Chorus has been especially exciting for her.

    “In some way, I’ve capitalized on (my background) in that the wonderful male-voice choir tradition in Wales has never been exploited by the Men’s Chorus,” she said. “The whole male voice tradition is untouched except for the three hymns we’re performing — and there’s much more where that’s come from.”

    She loves conducting, she loves music and she loves being at BYU, but her greatest love is for the students she works with.

    “I feel strongly that the choral program here is so much more than singing songs,” she said. “My goal for both choirs is when the choir members come to choir rehearsal, they get a sense of being home — a safe harbor where they can renew themselves and find enormous spiritual nourishment.

    “The concert is the icing on the cake, but for me that’s the most important element.”

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