Dr. Paul French is something of an Ashland institution. Having helmed Southern Oregon Repertory Singers for 26 years, he is looking ahead to the next season of this august company. I spent some time speaking with Dr. French to hear more about what might be in store for the Valley this coming season.
JG: Paul, What has been the most profound aspect of being involved in the evolution of the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers for you, personally?
PF: It has been incredibly fulfilling for me personally, to be part of the growth of Repertory Singers. Because I so strongly believe music to be a lifelong activity, it is a real joy to be able to work with members of the community over time. Many have sung with Repertory Singers 20, 25 years, and a few since before I joined in 1990. And then to be able to share our music with the community, and to hear back from audience members how important we are to their lives; it is very humbling and I am genuinely grateful.
JG: Have you had any particular composer or group of composers that have had a strong influence on your career?
PF: I have fairly eclectic musical taste and have been influenced by many composers. Joni Mitchell helped me love words and poetry, Josquin opened my eyes to the timeless beauty of Renaissance music, Mahler thrills me with his heroic grandeur and heart-wrenching melodies. I love Handel’s elegance and the inventiveness of so many contemporary composers. I truly believe that today is the golden age of choral music. It is literally impossible to keep up with the wonderful, life-enhancing music being composed today. But the most important has to be J.S. Bach. He is who I listen to when I’m in trouble.
JG: What has been gratifying about the last (2017) season?
PF: So many great things happened last year. Artistically, the singers were consistently able to get beyond the notes and deliver the heart of the music to the listener. I thought this was especially true of our performance of Durufle’s “Requeim” last fall, the first orchestral performance of this beautiful work in the Rogue Valley. Organizationally, we took a huge step forward in hiring an executive director, something we have been working toward for a number of years, and laying the groundwork to begin a new concert series — the James M. Collier New Works Festival — which will begin this year.
JG: Tell us what is exciting for you about the 2018 season.
PF: This next year will be a watershed year for the organization. In March we will present the first performances of a new Rogue Valley tradition, our annual James M. Collier New Works Festival. Why are we doing this? The reality is, we’ve already been doing a tremendous amount of new pieces and the audience reaction, as documented in our audience surveys, has been overwhelmingly positive. The music is described as, “unbelievably beautiful,” “transcending,” “life-enhancing.” This is not music that tries to teach you a lesson; this is music that will feed your souls. Featured composers will be Jodi French, Craig Kingsbury, Will Todd, and Eriks Esenvalds.
—Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at email@example.com.