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Linda Brown handing in baton

June 09, 2002|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH
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Staff Writer

Linda Brown well remembers when she moved to the Imperial Valley in 1991 a local resident's criticism that the area was a "cultural wasteland."

Brown, the outgoing artistic director and conductor of the Imperial Valley Chorale Society, would beg to differ.

"Imperial Valley is a cultural ‘richland'; it's all here for cultivation and harvesting," Brown said Friday morning.

Brown should know.

She took the Master Chorale component of the chorale society to perform at Carnegie Hall, not once but twice. As well she led the Master Chorale on a successful tour through many of Europe's cultural capital cities last year.

The woman responsible for writing the grant that gave Imperial Valley the Southwest Academy of Visual and Performing Arts is regretfully handing in her conductor's baton after 11 years.

Brown leaves to take up a position teaching chorale music at Whittier's Rio Hondo College in the fall.

"It has just been a wonderful opportunity all along the way to work with fabulous people. I was put here, whether by divine intervention or luck. I just don't know which," she will tell you with an infectious laugh.

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"There were just all these tremendous people with all this talent and the chorale gave them an opportunity to showcase those talents," Brown says with justifiable pride.

Under Brown's leadership, the chorale grew from a college credit class at Imperial Valley College in 1992 into its present-day form of three performing groups — the Master Chorale, the Junior Master Chorale and the Chamber Singers.

Listening to Brown talk about her years with the chorale it is easy to detect where her greatest love lies — with the children of the Junior Chorale.

Ask her to give you an example of a special moment with the children and her voice almost immediately takes on a tremulous tone.

"Well, there have been so many … oh no, now I'm getting a little teary," she said apologetically. "When there's a kid, a high school student, who wanders into the chorale not sure if they want to be in a choir — and they're a little bit negative and gruff about the whole experience at first — then to have them enjoying it so much and they go on singing and enjoying music for their whole lives … it just becomes the best part of the experience."

And the woman, described by chorale president Bill Gay as being "an artistic director who is very demanding in a positive way with a loving, soft demeanor overlaying a will of steel," has a wonderful sense of humor.

When asked the minimum age requirement for her junior chorale members, she breaks into a huge grin.

"Well, they're supposed to be in the second grade but I've had my suspicions about a few of 'em over the years," she said, agreeing that perhaps more than one youngster's parent may have fudged the age requirement by a month or two.

And then get her to tell you about the time during a performance of "Oklahoma" in 1999 when, "Somehow the singers on stage got ahead two measures from the orchestra."

Laughing hard as she relives every music conductor's nightmare, Brown describes how the performers that one night ended up singing the song in a round because of a timing misstep.

"They were not looking at me so there was no point where we could all come back together (in correct timing). Finally I just thought well, I'll just listen and see how interesting this gets because there was nothing to be done about it by that stage."

And as a humorous afterthought Brown suggests that the audience may have been wondering what was happening, too.

"I'm sure the audience was thinking to itself, ‘Hmmm…I've never heard it done that way before.'"

Ask Brown, who has a reputation for meticulous planning in her work with the chorale, what her favorite moment of the performance is and she replies quickly, "I love that moment right before the curtain goes up; it's that moment when you know you've done every bit of preparation you could possibly do — and then you just go for it."

And if you ask Brown what she regards as her "legacy" to the Valley, she thinks hard for a moment before replying in what is clearly a humble tone, "Well, I've been able to create some opportunities for the performing arts that weren't here before I came and they will go on — I guess that is a legacy. People are enjoying the arts because I was here."

And those performances at Carnegie Hall?

For their debut performance in June of '96 the chorale sang Bach's "Magnificat" and for their return performance in June of '97 they performed Bernstein's Chichester Psalms — in Hebrew.

Not bad for a group of people from a "cultural wasteland." And for that you can thank Linda Brown.

>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or dingo87@earthlink.net

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