Malcolm J Merriweather, baritone & conductor

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and conducting, and pursue a career in music?

My mother always cites that I have been singing since I was three months old. With that being said, I consider my tenure in the Choir of Men and Boys’ at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo, NY to be an experience that lead me to a career in music. As a boy chorister, we rehearsed three times per week and sang services at the Cathedral. The rigorous schedule was necessary to keep a high standard of performance for weekly services, concerts and other appearances. I was singing alongside really fine singers and instrumentalists and receiving a world-class music education. I felt like the luckiest kid in the world to be exposed to such a high level of music-making in a beautiful cathedral (designed by Richard Upjohn—same architect of Trinity Wall Street).

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

There are so many people that have guided me to the career that I lead today. My parents were always supportive of my musical endeavours as a child and young adolescent. I had outstanding music teachers at school and received critical instruction at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo. At Syracuse University, Dr. Barbara Tagg encouraged me as a conductor. She gave me conducting responsibilities with the Syracuse Children’s Chorus and even helped me with my graduate school audition video. At the Eastman School of Music, I studied voice with the great coloratura dramatic soprano, Rita Shane. She developed my technique as a singer and supported my duality as a conductor. When I moved to New York, Jack Goodwin, Music Director Emeritus of the New York Choral Society, mentored me. I have also benefited from close studied and mentorship from Kent Tritle.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Really, I haven’t had any career challenges; but, sometimes life gets in the way of the music. Family, relationships, bills, turmoils of public transportation in New York City—all part of life as a musician. Sometimes it’s about taking it a day at a time.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am really proud of the performances and recording of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony with the Choirs and Orchestra of Manhattan School of Music, Oratorio Society of NY, and the Cathedral Choristers from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine conducted by Kent Tritle. I prepared the choristers and lead them during performances.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I love a variety of music. I would say that my strength is in the repertoire that makes up the symphonic choral genre: Mozart, Requiem; Handel, Messiah.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I am striving to make meaningful and lasting connections with performers and audiences remembers. When programming, I look to make close thematic connections with contemporary. For example, our concert, “We Remember” on November 7, 7:30pm at Alice Tully Hall honors two stewards of humanity from the twentieth century: President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The concert is night before the presidential election—so we are reflecting on the legacy of these two men through a piece by Steven Stucky entitled “Take him, earth,” written to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of JFK. “In honor of Martin,” a five movement work by David Hurd sets poetry by Jamie McKenzie that reflects on the life of MLK during the civil rights movement of the mid-century.

Concerts with the Dessoff Choirs are also about fostering community and exposing are patrons to new and different experiences. In May, The Dessoff Choirs will present “A New Amorous World” combining with the United Nations International School and two conductors from Port-au-Prince. The concert of intergenerational and international collaboration will feature music from the Far East and Middle East.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

My favorite performance venue has to be the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. The acoustics and world-class organ are thrilling.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Some of my favorite musicians are:

Kent Tritle, Jessye Norman, Rita Shane, Dietrich Fischer-Diskau, Janet Baker, Herbert von Karajan, Gregg Smith,

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable concert experience was conducting the Cathedral Choristers in Britten’s “War Requiem” from the high balcony at Carnegie Hall.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Work ethic, planning and balance are some of the ideals that I keep in the forefront of my mind.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I would like be in New York with the Dessoff Choirs performing in Carnegie Hall.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Rehearsing and performing Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”

What is your most treasured possession?

My most treasured possession is my mink fur collar which belonged to my teacher, Rita Shane.

What is your present state of mind?

I just got home from a rehearsal and I am happy with my students from Brooklyn College.


Conductor, baritone and educator Malcolm J. Merriweather serves as the Music Director of New York City’s The Dessoff Choirs, known for their performances of great choral works from the pre-Baroque era through the 21st century. He is also the current Director of Choirs at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, and Guest Artist in Residence at Union Theological Seminary, the Choral Associate at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and the Music Director of the “Voices of Haiti” 60-member children’s choir in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, funded by the Andrea Bocelli Foundation. Frequent trips to Haiti allow him to oversee training and performances for participating children that range in age from seven to thirteen.

More about Malcolm J Merriweather

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