From Broadway to Juneau: Choral workshop, performing this month, returns for 29th year

Renowned instructor, accompanist bring out best in novices, experienced singers alike

Renowned chorus conductor and retired music professor Dr. Byron McGilvray likes to tell the success stories of the novices in his Juneau choral workshops.

 

One man, a 6-foot-9 football referee, was gifted singing lessons from his wife for his birthday, McGilvray said. He wasn’t comfortable performing at first.

“He was so nervous he was shaking when he came in,” McGilvray said.

But through hard work, the neophyte learned he had talent. The man went on to perform in local operas and musical productions.

In its 29th year, Juneau Lyric Opera’s Midsummer Vocal Festival has taught scores of Juneau’s budding vocalists to take the next step: joining a chorus, or auditioning for a local production.

McGilvray and his trusted co-instructor, accompanist Janis Capelle, have taught the workshop together since the start. There’s one every summer and winter. This summer, his chorus is learning Broadway show tunes and pop culture pieces. A performance is scheduled for July 21 at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

Saturday morning at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, McGilvray drilled workshop participants, with Capelle at his side on the piano.

He stopped the group of 21 singers during a warmup to talk about mouth shape.

“Don’t move the corners of your mouth, just make your jaw longer,” McGilvray said. “Maintain a little smile.”

The group then sat down to rehearse “Seize the Day” from the 1992 musical “Newsies.” Some singers have participated since the first workshop in 1989. Some are brand new.

“I have a few who have been here for every one,” McGilvray said. “That speaks to the fact that it’s meeting some musical and artistic expressive need that they have.”

Alaskans are unique in their eagerness to try new things, McGilvray said. Because professional singers and musicians don’t often come through Juneau, locals take a bootstrapping approach to the arts.

If you don’t do it yourself, it won’t get done.

“Becuase of this can-do attitude, people who were, to start with, maybe marginally qualified become very qualified and have a great deal of expertise. Because you see, the talent pool, as far as ability to do something or to learn something, it has no locale. People here have just as much potential, you just have to have the opportunity to express that potential,” McGilvray said.

Capelle, a former staff accompanists at San Fransisco State, where McGilvray was the coordinator of choral studies, said the fundamentals of beautiful singing apply to any genre. Anyone can learn. She delights in proving people wrong who don’t have confidence in their skills.

“I find that a lot of people who come and say ‘I can’t match a pitch, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket,’ it’s like, OK, let’s try this,” Capelle said. “It’s usually a psychological thing that stops people from feeling they can do this art.”

Saturday was solo auditions day for the workshop. In a meeting room at the church, a group of a dozen sat waiting for their turn to demonstrate what they’ve learned, hoping to land a solo at the July 21 performance.

Several said they didn’t think they could sing, but McGilvray and Capelle proved them wrong.

Participant Charlie Vice said McGilvray treats him like a professional. Though he’s just in his second workshop and still learning, McGilvray’s commitment pushes him to improve.

“(McGilvray) values you. It’s not just like you’re some number filling in a role. No, he values you and makes sure that you know you’re needed,” Vice said.

Like the football referee, Daniels is another one of those reluctant singers the workshop has instilled confidence in.

“When I first started at this, I never thought I’d do a solo. I thought it was just terrifying,” Daniels said.

She now auditions for productions at Perseverance Theatre.

“I just took (the training) with me everywhere I went,” she said.


• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and kgullufsen@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.


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