BLUE HILL — Bronwyn Kortge has become ubiquitous to the music scene of Hancock County. The very moment, perhaps, you are reading this the conductor might be rehearsing the Bagaduce Chorale for its performance of Mozart’s great Mass in C minor this weekend at the First Congregational Church of Blue Hill and at Ellsworth High School.
Or, she might be working with the ECMI Youth Chorale, which also will perform at the same winter concerts.
If it’s before dark, however, she may be over at Mount Desert Island High School, putting together a program for her concert choir or her award-winning show choir. There’s also a chance she has carved out a little time for her husband and teenage son, whom we hope will forgive her for bring a bit distracted. She must figure out how to fit her large choir and a small orchestra into the church’s narrow pews, find enough music stands for them and other such concert arrangements.
Oh, and she also directed vocals for MDI High School’s fall musical.
“In theater parlance,” Kortge says, “this is the equivalent of hell week. We still have a myriad of logistics to work out and while I think we’ve put together a terrific orchestra of both amateurs and professionals, I have yet to work with them.”
With increasing budget concerns, she has been enlisting more talented college and high school musicians, which give them an opportunity to play with and perhaps learn a thing or two from the pros, but also requires more direction from her.
“With all professionals I can count on them to know all their cues but with students I find I have to pay more attention,” she says. “So, it’s a learning thing for me, too, giving the entrances and exits and dynamics to the singers and remembering to direct the trumpets and strings too.”
When asked why she puts herself through all this again and again with group after group, she responded:
“Oh, well, of course I adore all of it, but at this stage I keep recalling Mary Cheney Gould [the late Chorale founder],” noting how happy Cheney was to be free of production concerns after stepping down as director and becoming the piano accompanist.
“Then again, I also recall one of my mentors saying that there is no finer feeling on this planet than to stand before a chorus or orchestra and to feel that wonderful wave of sound roll over you,” she reflected. “So yes, there’s that, too. And the knowledge that you are the conduit, bringing the composer’s vision to the chorus and from them to the audience. That’s an extraordinary thrill. I’ve never hang-glided, but I think it might be like that.”
She pauses for a moment, as if imagining herself soaring over a beautiful landscape, before adding, “And it’s an extraordinary responsibility, knowing if things mess up, if it crashes, it’s all on you.”
At a Chorale rehearsal last week in Blue Hill there was irrefutable evidence that she has the easy stuff — the singing— well in hand. That is if you can call blending the voices of 60 or 70 amateur singers into one joyful noise for a challenging Mozart masterwork and — along with the children’s chorus director Danielle Woerner — getting 15 or so kids both confident and accomplished enough to pull off John Rutter’s “Children’s Mass.”
Kortge’s caveats and talk of crashing, one can’t help envy her standing at the head of this talented group and, with her arms and hands, her baton, her facial expressions and her own lovely voice —which the public doesn’t get to hear nearly enough these days— coaxing from them such exquisite sounds. It’s as if these sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones and basses were the strings of some giant musical instrument she has mastered. And oh my! The look on her face when they come to a passage she has worried about and ace it.
I’ve never hang-glided either, but I imagine that’s the look you would have after landing safely.
The joint Bagaduce Chorale and ECMI Youth Chorale concert will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14, and at 3 p.m. on Saturday Dec. 15, at the First Congregational Church of Blue Hill and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16, at Ellsworth High School.