To his peers, Corban College choir director Matt Strauser is something of a musical pioneer.
As part of his course requirements for his D.M.A. in 2004, he was seeking a chance to direct a professional orchestra. His colleagues chose close-to-home gigs, but he enrolled in a little-known orchestral workshop in eastern Bulgaria.
There he found a renowned eastern European choir that’s been performing for 50 years, a maestro who’s led the choir that entire time, a country with rich musical traditions, and virtual hothouse for growing skills and friendships with talented Bulgarian musicians.
The discovery was too good to keep secret. Strauser took Corban’s chamber choir to the workshop last year, and he’s taking 23 vocalists again this year.
“I was looking for something that would give students a collegiate-level musical experience, while providing some close connections with people of another culture,” Strauser said.
The chamber choir will leave Salem on Dec. 29 and return on Jan. 13. They’ll spend the first part of their trip sightseeing and singing in another former Iron Curtain country, Czech Republic. Then they’ll move on to the workshop in Varna, Bulgaria, where they’ll be the only American choir performing alongside the renowned Morski Zvutsi Choir.
“Bulgarian music is really good music,” Strauser said. “It’s pretty, dancing, fun music. This whole workshop is a very challenging musical experience.”
One Corban choir member, Tim Saffeels, will get at least an hour to direct the workshop’s professional orchestra, a unique honor for an undergraduate student. On the podium, he’ll lead the musicians in playing works by Mozart, Schoenberg, Corelli and Mahler.
“This is pretty huge because it really gets me experience with a professional orchestra,” said Saffeels, a junior majoring in music education “It’s one of those experiences where you can look back and know that God was helping you.”
“A lot of people will work in music their whole life and never get an opportunity like this,” Strauser added. “It’s all about the study you do to get ready to direct – that’s life-changing. The few moments of fear on the podium are just part of the experience.”