SALT LAKE CITY — Students at The Madeleine Choir School recently had the benefit of some world-class instruction. Stephen Layton, former director of music at Trinity College in Cambridge, England, spent two days working with the school’s choirs to help perfect their technique.
The Jan. 25-26 visit came about through Craig Jessop, a Utah State University professor who directed the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square from 1999 to 2008. Jessop met Layton last year while on tour with choral conducting students, and extended an invitation to have the conductor come to Utah.
When Jessop learned that Layton would be able to visit for a month, he reached out to his contacts at all the Utah universities and his friend Greg Glenn, pastoral administrator of The Madeleine Choir School, to see if they would be interested in having the maestro work with their students.
Glenn welcomed the offer, and over the course of the two days, Layton conducted several rehearsals with the school’s choir members in both small and large groups, working on vocal technique and musical expression. Layton also employed a number of techniques to help the students improve their performance, Glenn said.
“For example, he asked the students to focus on a friend when they’re singing and direct the sound to them, and that’s developed a real sense of vocal presence, but also a real connection between the singers,” Glenn said. “It quickly developed into a real nice ensemble sound that was blending well.”
Layton worked with the choirs on specific pieces that they will sing at the cathedral during Mass on Ash Wednesday and on the Vaughan Williams: Mass in G Minor, which they will sing Feb. 25.
“That’s a piece that we have had lost from the repertoire because of the pandemic, and so we’re thrilled to bring it back,” Glenn said.
The Madeleine Choir School is the only non-college level educational institution that Layton had plans to visit. The students are already seeing great benefit from his work with them, Glenn said. “He’s really one of the best choral conductors from England, and so he has done a lot of work, for example, with phrasing and with vocal tone and phrasing. That’s been a real step forward [for the choirs]. He’s used different techniques than we have used and so that’s been a very successful thing.”
In addition to sharing his expertise with Utah’s educational institutions, Layton led the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square in “Antiphon” from “Five Mystical Songs” and “He, Watching Over Israel” from “Elijah” by Felix Mendelssohn during the Jan. 28 Music and the Spoken Word broadcast.