The Cool Factor

SBO Staff • April/May 2014ChoralCommentary • May 15, 2014

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Choral heavyweight and music director emeritus of the L.A. Master Chorale Paul Salamunovich passed away on April 3, 2014. Salamunovich’s career in choral music spanned nearly seven decades, during which time he was revered as a university faculty member, church music director, sacred music expert, extraordinarily prolific clinician, and performer. An expert in Gregorian chanting, the Grammy-nominated conductor even led choirs in a private performance for the Pope at the Vatican, receiving a Papal knighthood in the Order of St. Gregory the Great from Pope Paul VI in 1969 and “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice,” the highest laity award from the papacy, in 2013.

Any of these honors are significant enough to make Salamunovich a widely respected and well known figure among choral experts. And those choral conductors and educators who are less immersed in the world of sacred music are likely to recognize Salamunovich from his nearly 1,000 appearances worldwide as a clinician, or perhaps from his four consecutive appearances at the ACDA’s biennial national convention.

That’s all well and good, but what about choral students, or even choral laymen and enthusiasts? It so happens that even if they don’t know the name, they’ve probably heard his work, too, as Paul Salamunovich also arranged and conducted the choral music for countless film and TV productions, including, among many others, such blockbusters and hit series as The Godfather, A.I., Air Force One, and ER.

Now that isn’t just laudable or respectable; it’s also pretty cool.

In this issue’s cover story, Music Educator Grammy Award-winner Kent Knappenberger talks in depth about the challenges of integrating boys into a choral music program, which can be near impossible if the students don’t connect with the repertoire. “I think a lot of the subject matter that was in the text available for middle school music was not really engaging to boys,” he says. “It wasn’t so much that they needed to sing songs about baseball, but they didn’t need to sing songs about, say, a bird coming to their home and taking their dreams up to the sky… If I were a 13-year-old boy in this group, I might want to stick a fork in my eye if I had to sing that song.”

In order to become interested in something, it’s critical to be able to identify with it in some way. And that’s especially true when introducing students to styles and works that may not seem immediately relevant to today’s musical sensibilities. Perhaps Salamunovich’s more visible accomplishments on both the big and small screen might be an entry point around which one can build interest in both his body of work and the specific areas of expertise which, though certainly antiquated in some respects, informed his prolific – and decidedly modern – career.

Eliahu Sussman

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