Choral Conversations — Sally Albrecht


Sally Albrecht is Director of School Choral Publications for Alfred Music Publishing. She has composed over 300 choral pieces and is well known for her work with choral movement. She has received an ASCAP award every year since 1987. Luckily for us, Sally has kindly taken time from her busy schedule to give this interview for us.

When did you begin in music?   I sang with the rest of my class in grade school (St. Dominic’s Catholic School in Shaker Heights, Ohio).  We sang for church every morning and put on an extensive St. Patrick’s Day show each year.  I was finally allowed to start taking piano in the second half of 4th grade, when my 5 fingers could reach out far enough to play 5 notes!

Did you have an “a-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician?   In high school, as I was trying to make the big decision between music and math, I decided to ask my music teacher what he thought.  I said “I think I’m going to major in music.”  To which he replied “Of course, you are.”  That was it.  That was the turning point for me.  I actually ended up with a double major in music and theater at Rollins College, and went on to get a master’s in each at the University of Miami.

 What kind of things inspire you?   Children singing.  Long walks.  Quiet time.  Moving water.  Great movies.  Great acting.  Great dialog.  My husband (Jay Althouse).

What inspired you to become a composer?   I have been a choral editor for almost 30 years now.  I work on a lot of other composers’ pieces.  Because of my job, I am able to see what is popular, what is fresh, what works.  I started composing myself in 1982.  At first, I only wrote one or two chorals per year.  That has increased over the past 15 years to 8-12 chorals per year.  I’ve also written many children’s songbooks and musicals, featuring from 5 up to 40 songs each.  I am also fortunate to collaborate with my husband, Jay Althouse.   He has an exceptional background in theory.

What would you say defines your style?   I work to compose memorable melodies with logical voice-leading and stimulating, singable texts.  I want my music to be successful with developing choirs, to be accomplishable without too much blood, sweat, and tears — so that the director can work on musicality, diction, phrasing, tone, emotion.  I often write for a specific choir or event.  Sometimes, having definite and clear goals and parameters for a piece makes it more inspiring to write.

Tell me one thing that people might not know about you?   Jay and I enjoy collecting folk art;  native art by untrained artists, primarily American, some from Haiti and Mexico.

What are you working on now?   Right now, I’m in final preparations for a week-long Alfred school choral recording session, so I’m finishing up several chorals and putting the final touches on them as well as preparing the alternate voicings.  As far as new compositions, on the docket is a seasonal musical based on a Mexican folk tale, and a songbook that I think boys will especially enjoy.  I don’t want to give too much away!

What is your all time favorite choral piece (by another composer) dead or alive?   Dead:  Mozart’s Requiem.   Alive:  Mark Hayes’ setting of Simple Gifts.

 Do you have any advice or tips for those interested in composing?   Study the music of different types of composers, old and new, young and old, dead and alive.  Spend some time every day writing and listening to what others have written.  Just as a clarinet player or singer works on his/her instrument every day, you need to work at writing every day.

Would you say that music comes to you more often through slow, careful planning, or by sudden inspiration?   The core idea or the “hook” of a song is usually sudden inspiration.  Then I let it develop as I walk, swim, fly, or drive, continually jotting down ideas, rhymes, rhythms.

What are your favorite texts to set to music?   My favorite are those that I develop myself.  I’ve had some fun setting Shakespeare, too.

What is your favorite thing about composing?   The moment when a song is done, written, when it has all come together.  Then, after that, the joy of hearing it (or, better yet, conducting it) in performance.

Quickfire questions (partially stolen from James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio)

1. What is your favorite word?   Incredible.  I use it much way too much!

2. What is your least favorite word?   Impossible.  I’m just a positive thinker, so I always look for a way to make things happen if at all possible!

3. What sound or noise do you love?   It’s a tie between ocean waves and a soft rain.

4.  What sound or noise do you hate?   An airline announcing “Ladies and gentlemen, this flight has been canceled.”  I can handle delayed, but really hate hearing canceled!

5. What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?   Interior design.  I love seeing how fabrics and colors combine, and I never tire of walking through other people’s homes and seeing how they are laid out and decorated.  I’m a house tour groupie!

6. What is your favorite composition?   Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  I love the depth and the variety of the music, the wonderful imagery it develops.

7. What is on your iPod?   Well, I just recently got my first iPod late this summer — using credit card points, of course.  I’ve loaded the 2010 Alfred choral music on it.  That’s as far as I’ve gotten.

8. Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, living or dead, that you haven’t yet?  I’d like to set a text by Christina Rossetti.  Perhaps next year?!

9. If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only have the music of one composer, other than yourself, who would it be?   George Gershwin.  From Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris to Porgy and Bess and all the awesome songs he wrote with his brother, Ira.  Ah, those lyrics are, well, to use my favorite word, just incredible!  His music offers a lifetime study in melodic development, text-writing, and prosody.

Sally Albrecht is an extremely talented composer, musician and clinician.  If you haven’t been to one of her clinics, you should get to one!  Sally, thank you for letting our readers get to know a little bit more about you.

Click here for a sampling of Sally’s published works.

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Wendy McKee
Wendy McKee
Wendy Martinez-McKee worked as a director, soloist and private voice teacher in the Chicagoland area for 20 years. Ms. McKee holds a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from DePaul University, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude. Wendy is the founder and Music Director of Brava! (a professional women's ensemble) Ms. McKee has worked as the Artistic Director of the Palatine Children's Chorus, and Allegro, a community chorus also in Palatine. Wendy also enjoyed a brief, but memorable association with the Northwest Choral Socitey. She directed one of the ensembles of the Contemporary Children's Choir in McHenry county. In addition to maintaining her own studio, Wendy taught private voice for the community group ArtReach. Wendy also served as the Music Director for St. Paul UCC in Palatine for 7 years.


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