Brad Pierson

Brad Pierson

Director of Choral Activities, University of Toledo

March 28, 2017


University of Toledo Choirs, whateverandeveramen., Glass City Singers


Tell us more about some of your past projects?

As a music director I have the opportunity to work on a variety of projects at any given time with a number of people. Some of my favorite past projects include my semi-professional group whateverandeveramen. With this group I always trying to think of interesting ways to bring choral music to the community in a way that might be different from the “status quo.” Some of my favorite projects with this group have been our #TwitterCommission – a concert featuring music inspired by actual tweets or Twitter in general. One of the songs premiered on this event was written by British composer Paul Ayres. He set a text that was exactly 140 characters long, and which included exactly 140 notes to be sung by each singer. This group has also often performed in bars, art galleries, parks, and restaurants. Our Robert Burns Nights are also a favorite for this group.

What current projects are you working on?

One of my most recent undertakings is the creation of Glass City Singers. This is a community based group being offered through the University of Toledo. It is an auditioned ensemble for singers ages 16-30. In looking at our community choirs, not only in Toledo, but throughout the US there are most often a few types: children’s choruses for younger singers, or larger community groups that are offered for singers of all ages. These larger traditional community ensembles often sing “standard” repertoire, and many of the singers in these groups are also involved in multiple choirs at churches and elsewhere. I felt like there was an opportunity to offer something new that met the needs of specific groups of singers that might not be met elsewhere. Glass City Singers focuses primarily on 21st century repertoire and we hope fills a niche in Toledo that wasn’t already being met.

What advantages does being in Northwest Ohio/Toledo offer your efforts?

I spent a lot of time living and working in Las Vegas and Seattle, and though I grew up in Illinois, I was a bit nervous about moving to Ohio after being in these bigger cities on the west coast. I have found Toledo to be a vibrant and exciting artistic community with a lot of great people! I live in the Old West End and I am excited about all the new developments Downtown and Uptown. It seems like a really great time to be in Toledo.

Tell us about one of your greatest successes.

I’d have to say that the “success” that gives me the greatest sense of pride is the former students I have who have gone on to also become choir directors. It is humbling to think that I provided an experience that made them want to pursue this career.

Tell us who or what gives you inspiration?

If someone doesn’t find inspiration in something new every day, I think they are missing the point. Every day I wake up is a good day. This morning I am feeling inspired by one of my colleagues with who I presented at a conference in Wichita, Kansas yesterday. We are discussing opportunities for future collaboration over coffee. Somedays I may be inspired by a person, or a song I heard on the radio, or a new book I’ve read – the point is, there are inspiring things all around us, you just have to be willing to be open to them. 

Tell us about your background.

I was born in Iowa, grew up in Illinois, and graduated from high school in Las Vegas. I have a B.M. from University of Nevada-Las Vegas, an M.M. from California State University-Los Angeles, and a D.M.A. from University of Washington. I taught high school in Vegas for 6 years, and I was an Assistant Professor of Music Education at Western Illinois University before making my way to Toledo. 

Do you have a motto or favorite quote you try to live by?

I took Ben Folds’s lyric “whatever and ever amen” to name my professional group – reinterpreting that line to speak more about the way we react to life, and being optimistic. I love this lyric from Frightened Rabbit “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth,” and I suppose I aspire to that. I also regularly tell my students “Life demands results, not excuses,” a good reminder that if you want to be successful, you can’t allow hurdles or roadblocks to get in your way.

Favorite place for local culture?

We’re doing some pretty great things at the University of Toledo! I hope more of the community considers checking out concerts, exhibits, etc. on campus. I also love that many of the area coffee shops and bars/breweries are bringing more arts oriented events. whateverandeveramen. recently hosted a Robert Burns Night at Black Cloister Brewing Company.

Toledo’s “best kept secret” is . . .

I think the whole city could be considered a bit of a “best kept secret.” I think that people around the country, and even around Ohio, probably don’t realize how many great things are happening here!

My favorite place to chill locally is . . .

Some of my favorite spots are Black Cloister, The Attic, Swig, Barr’s Public House, and any of the many great coffee shops where I can get a nice pour over.

My favorite natural space in the Toledo area is . . .

I’m really enjoying Middlegrounds Metropark.

When I’m not working hard, I can always be found at . . .

If I’m really lucky I can just find time to sit outside on my front porch swing, reading and enjoying a coffee or a craft beer. 

If you could change anything about the current landscape for creative, progressive people . . .

Funding --- just like with anything, money matters even when you wish it didn’t. I’d also like to see more continued collaboration between the arts and public spaces like bars and coffee shops --- putting the arts in front of people as a part of their everyday life rather than only as event specific activities.

Any exciting collaborations (past or present) you would like to tell us about?

whateverandeveramen. was fortunate enough to commission a piece by Gabriel Kahane. If you don’t know Gabriel’s music – go to Culture Clash and purchase a vinyl copy of his album The Ambassador. You can thank me later.

Name one person (living or deceased) who you would love to collaborate with.

This, of course, is impossible to narrow down to one, so I will cheat and give you two. Ben Folds is my favorite artist and I would love to collaborate with him. He is a major supporter of music education, and I would be interested to hear what he would come up with if writing for a choral ensemble. I wrote my dissertation on a german composer named Hugo Distler (1908-1942) – I’d love to meet with him to learn everything I could, and to find out if I am actually making smart choices interpreting his music!

Name a CD, book or website you can’t live without.

I am actually really thankful for Facebook. We live in an amazing time where I am able to connect with musicians, singers, composers and colleagues from all around the world. I have opportunities to send a message to a composer whom I have never met to ask them about their music when I am working on it with my choirs. It wasn’t that long ago that this wasn’t possible. Could I live without Facebook and other social media? Of course, but the way that it connects people around the world is really quite incredible.

3 words that best describe me or my work are . . .

Honest, motivated, passionate.

Give us 5 Desert Island Album picks.

Whatever And Ever Amen – Ben Folds Five
Transatlanticism – Death Cab for Cutie
Fashion Nugget – Cake
Live at Radio City – Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds
The Weight is a Gift – Nada Surf

… this will change tomorrow

My biggest vice is . . .

Delicious craft beer.

I’d like to see __________ in Toledo.

More community and professional integration with the public schools.

What’s the last dream you recall having?

I don’t have any idea.

The last lyric that moved me was . . .

The University of Toledo Concert Chorale is currently working on a piece called “And So I Go On” by composer Jake Runestad. It is a gorgeous piece which was commissioned in memory of a fellow choral conductor who passed away suddenly a few years ago. It is a beautiful text, and it is a wonderful setting.

One movie character I identify with is . . .

Not sure I can think of one specifically, but Kevin Spacey is my favorite actor.

The best gift I’ve ever received was . . .

The best “gift” I ever received was having parents who would support me unconditionally, which allowed me to pursue an education and career that has been so fulfilling for me. Growing up, going to college was considered a “where” not an “if” and I am very thankful for that.

My most inspiring moment was/is . . .

The most inspiring times for me are any time I get to work with young singers, and you have that moment where they “get it.” The look on a student’s face when they feel like something has been unlocked for them is pretty incredible.

I want my last meal to be _______________.

Pizza. It could be every meal.

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