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Q&A with BIG ARTS Chorus director Steve Cramer

By Staff | Dec 24, 2009

Steve Cramer is a gregarious part-time resident and lover of music and song. He is the director of BIG ARTS Community Chorus and encourages other folks to join and have fun.

Where did grow up?

I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis (Richfield) in a post WWII tract development of bungalows.

What brought you to Sanibel?

We brought the kids to Sanibel when they were young and continued to do so through their school years. Then we visited as often as possible after they were off to college.

Do you live somewhere else besides Sanibel?

Yes, we still have a town home in Edina, Minn., another suburb of Minneapolis.

We hear you are retired public school music teacher. What was a career in music education like?

It was both great and hard work, like any good career I presume. I was very proud of the performance levels that my students achieved, and how music inspired their lives and engaged them in school, but, at the same time, it was always a challenge to continue to motivate the under-achievers and those who simply didn’t want to sing but who were forced to be in a music “class”. Most of my years were spent teaching junior high (middle school) singers, with five years in a high school (before it closed in 1982), and I think you know that middle school years are very “interesting” in many ways.

What are some of the rewards and challenges of being a public school music teacher?

I think the greatest reward was the opportunity to see the singers grow, not only in their musicianship and performance levels, but to see them become so much more confident and to see them branch out to other areas of involvement in school. They and their parents have come back over the years to explain that effect and how music impacted their college years

and then their careers and families. I mentioned the obvious challenges above, but the rewards far out weighed the challenges.

How did you inspire your students to appreciate music?

I always loved the singing performance aspects of music. So, since the choral program in my school district was performance based (rehearse and prepare for concerts), I was able to practice effective rehearsal techniques and strategies to get the kids to “sing their hearts out”. That process and product inspired them to want more and better concerts, which obviously raised their appreciation and inspiration.

Any music success stories or celebrities come from your school?

Yes, many wonderful stories and musical leaders emerged. I will not use names here, but there are many prominent conductors, singers, performers who went on to “fame and fortune”, but mainly to be leaders in their communities.

What made you decide to retire?

After 34 years of performance directing, musical theater productions, community chorus directing, international choral tours and festivals, and school chorus tours, contests, trips around the USA, etc. I decided that I’d rather leave teaching “on top of my game” rather than something else. Luckily in music when one chapter closes there are other great opportunities available.

Word on the street is that you devote your energies and talent to BIG ARTS Community Chorus. Can you describe what you do with the chorus?

It was four or five years ago that one of the chorus members (a great Sanibel resident named Bob Boling) asked me to join him for a rehearsal of the chorus. I thoroughly enjoyed that rehearsal, and the spring concert happened to be the next week so I sang in that too. “Long story….short”, when the director position came open three years ago I said “yes” and have been directing since. My belief is that efficient and effective rehearsals of appropriate choral literature is the best way to inspire singers and bring a good final concert product to the stage. So that’s what I try to do every season of concerts with the chorus. We start with warm-ups at 6:30, rehearse “tricky” portions of songs, then sing through the songs to see and hear the progress, enjoy the experience of singing together. Then we “repeat the above” to gain confidence from repetition.

How does one join the chorus? Do you have to have a great voice? Is there an audition?

To state the answer in simplest terms, one joins the chorus by coming to rehearsal on Tuesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. There are absolutely no auditions…..ever. I think the only thing the chorus members might want me to say would be that if a person tries the chorus and decides to stay, that he or she will be diligent and committed to helping the ensemble be the best that it can be. I think that’s why the membership numbers have doubled in the past three years (to over 60 on the roster) and why so many strong new singers have joined us. By the way, in case one of your readers is worried about not having sung for a long time, I do make sectional CD’s (soprano, alto, tenor, or bass) with their singing part on it. They put it on in the house or in the car or on their I-pod and become familiar with their parts. That can be so helpful in feeling comfortable coming to rehearsal, no matter what a person’s level of musicianship.

When is the next BIG ARTS Community Chorus event?

Our spring concert is March 23, a Tuesday evening. We also will sing a couple of community events around that time.

What inspired you to joined the musical profession?

I was in a wonderful boychoir when in elementary school, then became song leader in church as a teenager, took piano lessons, sang in high school, college, and grad school choruses and operas, etc. When I went to college I planned to become a biology major but took music theory as my required music class, which I loved while most others dropped out. That told me a lot I guess. After 3 months I knew that I just had to take many more music classes, took some music education classes, decided to do the student teaching, graduated and immediately got my one and only job teaching in Bloomington, Minn.

What is your favorite song to sing? Why?

That’s a tough one. I have many favorites, but I guess the one song that I sing the most often is the “The Lord’s Prayer” by Mallotte. I warm up with it every day and it inspires me with it’s message and melody and range of notes and emotion.

When you are not singing what can you be spotted doing?

Here on Sanibel my wife and I, with our Bichon named Mozart, can be spotted walking the beach from Gulfside Park to the Lighthouse, or me on my bike or running the beach and bike paths.

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

Maybe that we have five kids and five grandkids?

What is your family life like?

Back in Minnesnowta it’s busy, busy, busy, since four of the five kids and all of the grandkids and my Mom are there, and I sing in the Minnesota Chorale (symphonic chorus of the Minnesota Orchestra)

Singers on the whole tend to be pretty at peace and happy folks. This is of course a generalization. You seem like a happy soul. What do you attribute your joy of life to?

As I alluded to earlier, I really believe that music can bring peace and happiness for everyone. I believe it does that for me…..I know it does. On a stressful day I can flip on public radio or a classical CD, or sing a song in the car, and I can physically feel my blood pressure come down…..kind of like opening the windows of the car coming over the causeway bridge while watching the pelicans and feeling the warm gulf breeze. We are so lucky to be able to be here, to enjoy this “small town” community of Sanibel, and to be a part of BIG ARTS and the chorus. If you’ve read this far please give our chorus a try. We start Tuesday evening, Jan. 5, 2010. For more information please call BIG ARTS or me on my cell at 952-237-9694