Immaculata Magazine Summer 2014 - page 39

“Conducting is a time when you can be alone with a musical score,
trying to interpret what’s on a page,” says Carole Ann Maxwell ’67,
D.S.M. Then the choir and orchestra bring the music to life, “hopefully
with the interpretation you had in mind when you were alone with the
score. There’s always that wonderful moment … when it’s synthesized, it
all comes together, and you work as a team to make glorious music.”
Maxwell has been the director of choral and liturgical music for
Fairfield University since 1980 and, in 1984 when a group of graduating
Fairfield singers wanted to continue making wonderful music with her,
she founded and became the artistic director of The Mendelssohn Choir
of Connecticut.
At Fairfield, Maxwell directs the Glee Club, the Chamber Singers,
the Bensonians (the a cappella men’s chorus), and Sweet Harmony
(the a cappella women’s chorus). In addition, Maxwell is charged with
directing the music at all liturgical events at the University. Whew!
The Glee Club has performed throughout the U.S. and in some of
the great European cities, including Rome, Florence, London, Madrid,
Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Berlin. The Glee Club has had the
privilege of being the guest chorus for a Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s
Basilica in the Vatican, at the Duomo in Florence, and many other
cathedrals in Europe.
Because of her musical excellence, Maxwell has been sought after
as a guest conductor for numerous community and professional choral
ensembles. Thousands of gifted singers audition and travel great
distances for the opportunity to work with her.
Maxwell got her start when the IHM Sisters recognized her abilities,
first in high school at Villa Maria Academy, and then at Immaculata
with Sister Regina Therese Unsinn, IHM, and Sister Cecile Marie
Phelan, IHM. Maxwell remembers Sister Cecile’s knack for “making the
musical page come alive” when she conducted. Sister helped her students
learn “to first read a page of music mentally, and then prepare how to
get it across to the group of singers,” Maxwell said. “The conductor’s
physicality is important as a visual for the choir … From the tip of your
toes to the top of your head, your entire body is used in the process of
making music.”
During Maxwell’s time at Immaculata, the school sent students to
be part of a collegiate ensemble that sang every Sunday at the Cathedral
of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. She remembers with fondness
the many years she served as the ensemble’s assistant conductor. That
experience and her learning experiences at Immaculata nourished her
love of the choral arts and honed her skills in conducting.
Sister Cecile brought top conductors, many from Temple University
where she had studied, to work with her students. At Sister Cecile’s
suggestion, Maxwell went on to Temple for her master’s degree in choral
conducting, studying under the tutelage of Robert Page, one of the
great choral conductors of the time. Maxwell continued her studies in
the choral arts first at the University of Illinois, studying under Harold
Decker, and then earned a Doctor of Sacred Music and Conducting from
the Graduate Theological Foundation in Indiana.
“What I received from Immaculata, and
through the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart,
was what drove me and made me want to
continue [in music],” Maxwell said. “It was
those two Sisters who really had the savvy
and know-how to bring out the passion for
conducting, to give me the foundation for my
love of the choral arts, and my desire to spend
my life on the conductor’s podium.”
What Maxwell does now is a lot, both in
terms of the range of music she conducts—
everything from Baroque to pop music—and
the venues at which her choirs perform. For
example, Maxwell has conducted in Carnegie
Hall several times, at Avery Fisher Hall at
Lincoln Center in New York City, and at
the Vatican in front of Pope Paul VI. In
addition, Maxwell is a favorite concertmaster for opera and orchestral
At Sister Cecile’s invitation, Maxwell returned to Immaculata
to conduct Leonard Bernstein’s
Chichester Psalms
as one of the first
performances in Alumnae Hall. In 1992, Immaculata presented Maxwell
with its prestigious Distinguished Music Alumna Award.
Maxwell talks about some of the artistic choices conductors have
to make. Conductors need to be aware of how the composer meant the
piece to be performed, and also consider how to interpret the score today.
“Every century has its own stylization,” Maxwell said. Should singers use
vibrato or not? Should the orchestra include instruments that would have
been used at that time, such as a harpsichord, or should they use a modern
piano, or an electronic organ? “It’s what the conductor chooses to do with
what is on the written page,” Maxwell said. She takes into account not
only the composer’s original intent, but also combines that with present-
day techniques, discovering “a new take on the music.”
In addition, Maxwell promotes contemporary music written by the
composers of today. Recently, she commissioned Korean composer Jin
Hi Kim to write a piece for The Mendelssohn Choir of Connecticut
to perform for the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
That piece,
Child of War
, debuted in April under Maxwell’s direction.
Kim drew her inspiration for the work from the famous, heartbreaking
photo of Kim Phuc, the Vietnamese girl seen screaming after a napalm
attack burned off her clothes. The choral piece uses Asian instruments
and words of forgiveness from Phuc’s biography. For Maxwell, this
performance brought back bittersweet memories of her United Service
Organizations performance tour to Southeast Asia during the
Vietnam War.
Like Sister Cecile Marie and Sister Regina Therese, Maxwell takes
both a professional and a personal interest in her choir members, seeking
to encourage them in their craft and in their lives. “It’s important to know
that something I said, or something I did, or something I elicited from
someone else, actually helped them through their life process.”
Carole Ann Maxwell ’67
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