The only people busier than Santa’s toy-makers right now are holiday music-makers.
And one of the busiest local musicians is Dr. Gerald Kreitzer, 62, of Cedar Rapids. Among the many choirs he directs is the Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale, which is performing this weekend in Orchestra Iowa’s Holiday Spectacular at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids.
Now in his 38th year of teaching and directing music at the high school and college level in South Dakota and Iowa, Kreitzer spent 22 years as director of choral music at Cedar Rapids Washington High School. Shortly after retiring in 2011, he joined Mount Mercy University as director of music activities.
He also directs the Chancel Choir of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Cedar Rapids and serves as chorus master for Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre productions.
His holiday musical planning begins in the spring and summer, but since fall, he has been rehearsing his ensembles for three Mount Mercy concerts, three Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale concerts, and for the Christmas Eve service at his church. In addition, he and his four daughters have recorded nine CDs of Christmas music over 13 years.
“Busy, but love it,” he said, building “a lifetime of memories.”
Here are more of his thoughts on this season of song.
Q: What is “the most wonderful time of the year” like for choral directors and musicians?
A: As you can imagine, music is so important and integral in this holiday season. It permeates everything we choral directors do, from preparing school concerts and community outreach performances for local groups to special events with our church choirs and community groups.
Vocal and instrumental musicians get asked to play more during this time because so many special gatherings, parties and concerts are happening. I know the (Washington High School) Madrigal Singers used to sing — and still do — between 20 and 25 times in December.
Q: Why is music so important at this time of year for singers, audiences and congregations?
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A: Holiday music has been so integral in Christmas, Hanukkah (and other) traditions for hundreds of years. The music, both sacred and secular, is so popular and ingrained in our lives. There is great excitement when the season comes around. Everyone young and old knows and loves the music and all can participate in it.
No other time of year is so defined by the music. It’s everywhere around us — at school, church, the stores, on the radio, TV specials, everyone’s favorite CDs.
Q: How do holiday programming requirements differ between high school, college and churches? Any music off-limits at the various settings? Specifically, with separation of church and state, can public schools sing religious holiday music or has it all moved toward secular?
A: A lot depends on the leadership of school boards and school administrators, as well as parent groups that have strong voices. I was lucky to be at WHS under Dr. Ralph Plagman for 22 years, who understood that programming sacred music was not actually promoting or advocating a certain belief, but was the study and performance of choral literature significant in music history.
I was always respectful of those students who felt they couldn’t perform those pieces, and tried to also program music from all religious backgrounds. I do know there are certain schools and districts that prohibit sacred music in schools. That would be hard for me. Colleges and Universities don’t seem to be affected by those difficulties.
Q: What role does music play in the educational experience and in worship settings?
A: Music should be an equal player in educational systems along with science, technology, English and math. The Iowa legislators have added the arts into the comprehensive curriculum. It is proven that students involved in the arts excel in academic and social development.
Music and worship have been partners since the beginning of time. The wealth of music for worship is phenomenal. And the variety matches the various forms of worship, from traditional to contemporary praise bands and beyond. A well-known adage is, “Those who sing pray twice.” Music enhances the spoken word, which is why we even have opera.
Q: How does the level of musical difficulty and preparedness differ between the generations — can high school, college, church and community choral groups handle the same degree of difficulty?
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A: Good question! A lot certainly depends on the background, tradition and strength of the program you’re dealing with. You have to be careful no matter where you are, to program music that is rewarding, challenging to the better musicians but able to be performed well. So there is some tailoring that needs to be done.
On the other hand, there are great high school programs whose ensembles can perform virtually anything a college or community group could do. The difference might be the depth and quality of sound, but not the execution and musicality.
Q: Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale is singing with Orchestra Iowa this weekend in the Holiday Spectacular. What does an opportunity like this afford to community ensembles?
A: Orchestra Iowa is one of the Midwest’s finest ensembles under Maestro Tim Hankewich. The Paramount Theatre is a crown jewel of performing venues. It’s one of the performances we most cherish and look forward to.
Q: Why do you keep up this grueling schedule?
A: Love of music and the people I get to work with. It can be hectic, but I can’t imagine doing anything else. The joy that people get singing energizes me.
Q: What do you hope audiences, congregations and musicians get in return?
A: I hope they all get uplifted and even inspired by the music. I hope their lives have been enriched a little bit.
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