This month you’ll have a chance to experience a selection of great choral and classical music under the direction of Dr. Meg Frazier, Professor and Director of Loyola University’s School of Music, as well as the Artistic Director and Conductor for the New Orleans Vocal Arts Chorale (also known as NOVA).
First, NOVA will be performing a concert next Thursday (December 13) at Holy Name of Jesus Church featuring mostly music from Scandinavian composers. “We sort of do a different twist on a Christmas concert—we are not so much about your standard carols,” says Frazier. “Definitely winter-oriented and sacred in tone, but not specifically Christmas-based.”
Later in December, the choir will partner with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra for its annual Baroque Christmas performance, singing some of the better known portions of Handel’s Messiah including “For unto a Child Is Born” and “Hallelujah Chorus.”
Frazier has had the opportunity to work with the LPO several times over the years and truly enjoys the experience. “Carlos [Miguel Prieto] is our favorite, so we love working with him and the instrumentalists there and we’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to branch in to the choral orchestral repertoire.” There are scheduled performances at First Baptist New Orleans on December 20 and one in Covington the following day. 2019 is just as promising with a full schedule of events including a performance of Bach’s St. John Passion and another program in the spring with the LPO featuring music and pieces from popular movies such as The Lion King.
NOVA was founded in 1989 by Dr. Raymond Sprague, a professor of choral music at UNO, who wished to create a local chorale that could perform great music in the New Orleans region. Since then, the chorale has offered twenty-seven seasons of free concerts, missing only the first concert in the fall of 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. “Over the years, NOVA has bloomed— and I will go ahead and say boomed— into a multi-choir, community based organization,” says Frazier, highlighting NOVA’s two other choral components: Masterworks, which sings with the LPO, and the newest wing, VOCE, a chamber singer sized group.
Dr. Frazier herself grew up in a small town in Texas and became fascinated by music at an early age. “The first real memory that I have of music is being in church as a young child— a very small child so I was still being taken out of church for being naughty,” she says laughing, recalling her first experience with vocal harmony. “I remember [my mom] singing something different from everyone else and I didn’t have the language to name it. Now I know she was singing alto and that kind of launched everything.”
From there she went to playing piano by ear, eventually taking lessons and moving on to a major in Theory and Composition in college. “I only decided that major because I didn’t know what it was! I always wanted to do music. I always enjoyed it and loved taking it apart and figuring out how it fits together,” she says. The compositional aspect, however, proved to be less than exciting. “I’m an awful composer. I am not creative at all in that way. I have since learned that I am an interpreter— I’m able to hear what a composer wants or intends from looking at a score and tell what should happen.”
This skill has served her well in her career conducting, both at Loyola and NOVA. “My role is to stand for the composer and for the piece of music, “ she says. “Sometimes I tell the choir, ‘This piece has been around for 11 or 12 lifetimes. You and I, singers and conductor, were insignificant in this. This piece of music is the thing.”
While there’s plenty of challenging works to be found in the past, Frazier makes sure to highlight the work of modern composers from various places and backgrounds— including pieces from her own students and university faculty. “We just did a concert with two of my Loyola students, David Murray and Dylan Tran, both of whom write really beautiful, solid choral music, “ she says. “It’s a treat to be able to put something into the air for the first time. They hear it in their minds-ear, but it’s great to be able to take a score that’s new and to do that first performance of it.”
One of Frazier’s favorite parts of her conducting life is the interaction with students at the university, where she teaches choral music education methods and choral conducting. She loves watching them experience “lightbulb” moments where ideas just click together with practice and exposure to new perspectives.
Dr. Frazier continues to sing and perform herself and to find appreciation in the collaborative approach that is at the heart of choral music-making. “It’s a team sport and requires a lot of attention both to what you’re doing, but also to what your colleagues are doing,” she says. “There’s a melding and breathing-together and a creation of something that can’t exist without those other people.”
“That makes it really special for me,” she says.