CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Pen pals may be a thing of the past — and some people will even argue that email is old-fashioned.
But thanks to an email friendship that began five years ago, Charleston music lovers will have a rare opportunity to see, hear and visit with an award-winning Canadian choral music composer.
The Charleston Civic Chorus will host Eleanor Daley as its guest conductor and accompanist at its 3 p.m. May 18 concert at the Charleston Baptist Temple.
“It goes back to 2009. We were preparing Eleanor Daley’s ‘Requiem’ for our spring concert and I had a few questions. I looked up her email and we’ve been email buddies ever since,” said Dr. J. Truman Dalton, artistic director and conductor of the Charleston Civic Chorus, a 36-member group he has led since 1981.
“He contacted me with some questions about my ‘Requiem,’ and since then, we’ve stayed in contact. Really, we’ve developed a friendship even though we have never met,” Daley said in a recent telephone interview from her home in Toronto.
Over the years, Dalton and Daley have shared ideas of musical repertoire and a harmonious friendship developed.
Daley will be with the Charleston Civic Chorus for a three-day residency beginning May 16 and culminating in the performance of 18 of her choral works on May 18.
“This will be my first visit” to West Virginia, Daley said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
The audience will be able to meet her at a reception in the church parlor immediately following the free performance.
Choral groups and arts organizations throughout North America and Europe regularly commission the composer. Her commissions from Europe include festivals in Norway and Germany, and England’s Oxford University Press. Oxford is one of 11 Canadian, U.S. and United Kingdom-based printing houses which publish Daley’s music.
“I was really impressed by her craftsmanship, her words and her high-quality, meaningful text. Last summer, I suggested to our board bringing her in as a guest conductor. We’ve never done this before — with one notable exception: In 1970, we brought Dave Brubeck in and we performed ‘The Light in the Wilderness,’” Dalton said of iconic jazz pianist and composer Brubeck and his first oratorio — a large musical composition for orchestra, choir and soloists.
About Daley he said, “She has a gift of writing very expressively. For the spring concert, we’ll be showcasing 18 different pieces from her collection. She has over 140 compositions published. She’s a working church choirmaster and choir director at Fairlawn Avenue United Church in Toronto, Canada. She’s been there since 1982,” Dalton said.
During that time, he said, she has established a thriving choral program for which much of her music has been composed.
The 59-year-old Daley holds a bachelor’s degree in organ performance from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, and holds multiple diplomas in piano and organ, from the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto, and Trinity College, in England.
Daley’s best-known works are “Rose Trilogy” and “Requiem.”
“Rose Trilogy,” commissioned by the Oriana Women’s Choir, received the Association of Canadian Choral Communities National Choral Award for Outstanding Choral Composition of the Year in 2004.
“Requiem,” recorded by the Amadeus Choir in 2000 for their CD “Songs of the Spirit,” received the same honor in 1994. The CD won the Canadian National Choral Award for Outstanding Recording in 2002.
Choirs in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Germany have performed “Requiem” extensively.
Despite Daley’s international fame — with performances throughout North America, Great Britain, Europe, South Africa and the Far East — the Charleston Civic Chorus will charge no admission for the concert.
“That’s been the tradition of the group — since it was founded in 1952 with conductor Harold Ewing — to not charge admission to the concerts, and we continue that tradition,” Dalton said.
Through his work with the chorus, Dalton said he enjoys his part in spreading the philosophy that “The voice is the only instrument made by God,” and added that he is proud of his part in bringing the renowned composer to Charleston.
“She has a marvelous gift of making melody — which not many have — and the harmonies are challenging, but not far-out challenging. Her compositions are fairly traditional. She does a mixture of time signatures. Her choice of text really caught me as being really wonderful,” Dalton said.
As for the text of each piece, what Daley describes as “the poetry I choose to go with my composition,” she said it’s the words that help her to create the music.
“The music comes from the words I am setting. It’s like word painting,” she said — and confessed that she is not a singer, except in the shower.
“I’m a soprano in my dreams. I have a great deal of respect for the singers because without them the music would not come to life. You can write all the music you want, but without someone to sing it … I tend to write things that people would want to sing again. I try in every piece I write to write something that feels rewarding and touches one’s heart or excites them,” she said.
Charleston Baptist Temple has been the performance and rehearsal home of the Civic Chorus for over four decades. The sanctuary is considered by musical groups to have excellent acoustics, and the 48-rank Holtkamp pipe organ is said to provide an ideal environment for the enjoyment of choral singing. Randall Peters is the pianist and organist for the chorus.
Charleston Baptist Temple is at 209 Morris St. For more information, visit the Charleston Civic Chorus’ Facebook page and their website charleston-civic-chorus.com.
Reach Judy E. Hamilton at email@example.com or 304-348-1230.