Miami soon to be sharing songs of homegrown Seraphic Fire as founder Patrick Duprč Quigley readies ensemble for touring
In less than seven years, music conductor Patrick Duprč Quigley has built the Seraphic Fire choir to earn the applause of South Florida audiences and national recognition.
The ensemble performs Baroque, Renaissance and contemporary music, but Mr. Quigley always makes sure the pieces connect with South Florida's diverse community.
Seraphic Fire, the choir, and one-year-old Firebird Chamber Orchestra, also a product of Mr. Quigley's artistic vision, perform in venues throughout the tri-county area, with ticket sales soaring amidst a weak economy.
This year, the choir and the orchestra will also perform for audiences in the Midwest. With a New York-based management company on board, plans are also in the works for a national tour.
But Seraphic Fire and Firebird will squeeze in time to record their first album, being produced by a Grammy-winning producer, with a 2010 release date.
The appointment last month of Lorenzo Lebrija to oversee Seraphic Fire's business operations will allow Mr. Quigley more time to direct. "It leaves me a lot of time to focus on the programming and the music and the musicians," he says.
He will need the extra time: Mr. Quigley and his musicians are embarking on the Miami Choral Project to take music to Miami-Dade's low-income communities, where they will teach children music and form choirs.
Mr. Quigley discussed the origins, accomplishments and plans for the ensemble with Miami Today staff writer Yudislaidy Fernandez at his office in Coral Gables.
Q: How did Seraphic Fire get started?
A: I moved down to Miami from Connecticut in August 2002. I started out as the director of music in the Church of the Epiphany in South Miami and I started Seraphic Fire there with some of the paid members of my choir as well as local professional singers. It's grown to where now it is its own independent organization and we have musicians from around the country that sing and play with us many weeks out of the year.
Q: When was the Firebird Chamber Orchestra formed?
A: The Firebird Chamber Orchestra had its first season this year. We were given a grant by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to start the orchestra and so that the orchestra could play part of the repertoire that is usually played by smaller ensembles, music pre Mozart and music post 2000.
Q: What is your role now in the choir and orchestra?
A: I'm the artistic director so I conduct all of the performances. I choose all of the music. Until Lorenzo Lebrija takes over in 10 days, I've also done for the past seven years the entire business side as well, marketing and development.
Q: Was that part difficult, handling the business side?
A: Somewhat, but I worked in a PR (public relations) firm and at a print shop in the summers in order to make my way through music school and to be a musician. I also wrote for Slate Magazine for a while. I've had experience in those other realms, which I think has really helped me to be successful as a musician.
Q: What is your role now that you have this new person stepping in and managing?
A: I'm now in charge of the artistic vision and execution for the ensemble. I'll continue to conduct all of the performances. It leaves me a lot of time to focus on the programming and the music and the musicians.
Q: How do you select the music?
A: I try to program music that, one, hasn't been performed in Miami very often or at all, two, has some connection to the Miami community and, three, try to do music which in it of itself is just great music and really needs to be performed.
Q: What is the size and makeup of the orchestra?
A: Our performers come in from all over the country. We fly them in for three days of rehearsals and then three or four performances. That is both the orchestra and the chorus. With the chorus we usually perform with somewhere between 12 and 17 singers and with the orchestra it is usually between 11 and 20 players.
Q: What are the origins of the name?
A: The Seraphim are sort of fiery angels which speak in tongues of fire. The name Seraphic Fire came from the first piece that we performed called Invocation by William Billings, an early American composer. The first line of the piece is "Majestic God our muse inspire and fill us with seraphic fire," so we decided it was a cool name and that's what we stuck with.
Q: What types of music are you working with and where are you performing?
A: We focus a lot on Baroque music, music of the Renaissance and then contemporary music, usually music that we've commissioned. Over the past seven years, we've commissioned a number of young composers to write pieces for us. We do perform new music but most of it is written specifically for the ensemble.
We perform throughout the tri-county area.
Q: What about specific venues?
A: Our home is at the First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables. We perform at Miami Beach Community Church and at Lincoln Theatre in Miami Beach. We are regularly performing at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts this year. We perform at All Saints Episcopal in Fort Lauderdale and the Harriet Himmel Theater in Palm Beach.
Q: Talk about the Miami Choral Project:
A: It is new and very exciting for us. The Miami Choral Project is a very ambitious education program that we're attempting and it's trying to create societal (change) through music, through teaching children music. We are planting a number of choruses in different communities throughout Miami-Dade County and these are choirs which will be based in communities with children from those communities.
There is no cost for the children to participate in it. They will learn music but at the same time learn about being part of an ensemble, about being part of a team and how to create something together in community with other people.
Q: How will you finance this project?
A: Seraphic Fire, unlike the majority of classical music ensembles, is largely earned income base. Because we are a small ensemble and a small administrative core, we actually are able to make a large portion of our income through ticket sales, CD sales and through touring, which is not the case for many classical ensembles.
During this time, we are very lucky that people are continuing to come to classical music events, sometimes in larger numbers than they were before. I think that people find real comfort and joy in music.
The rest of the financing comes from grants. We have two large grants from the Knight Foundation, one for Firebird and one for the Miami Choral Project. We receive funding from the Funding Arts Network, from Miami-Dade (Department of) Cultural Affairs, the Miami Beach Cultural Arts Council, from the City of Coral Gables, from the Dunspaugh-Dalton Foundation, from all over, and as well as a very committed base of donors.
Q: How are you being affected by the worsening economy?
A: For the past two years, even in the face of a declining economy, we've had 100% increase average each year in subscribers. In addition, our audiences have increased even now. We had our largest audience ever in the concert last weekend. I think that we probably work a little bit harder for grants now.
We work a little bit harder for donations, but at the same time our earned income stream is going up during this time. No one is doing magnificently but we are not in any trouble. We are not worried about tomorrow; we are planning for two and three years out right now. We haven't had to revise anything.
Q: What are some of the consequences for the community of the drastic education cuts in arts and music programs?
A: We judge Ancient Rome not on how much money they made but on the art that they left behind. We judge Renaissance Europe not by anything except for the literature and the art and music that was left behind.
I think at this point we are getting rid of that which will be our society's legacy. We are going in the wrong direction. One wonders what we'll do without the thing that really brings a lot of people joy. When we are moving to a joyless and cultureless society, it makes you wonder about the point of society to begin with.
Q: What about the work that you have done in other countries, as a conductor?
A: I've been all around. I worked a little bit with University of Notre Dame Glee Club and the Yale Pro Musica in London, across Europe, Israel and I worked a little bit with two orchestras in China.
It's wonderful to get outside of our borders and experience culture in different contexts.
We know how someone is going to react for the most part to a piece of music we perform in Miami or when we perform it in Ohio. We really don't know how it is going to be taken when we perform it at St. Paul's Cathedral in London or when we perform it in Germany because there is such a different frame of reference.
It is always exciting, when abroad, to see the different reactions that people have to music that we know how our audiences will react to.
Q: Did you do that for a period of years before starting Seraphic Fire?
A: Most of my international work was done while I was in school.
Q: Have you visited places outside the US with the choir and orchestra?
A: No, we've not taken the choir international yet.
Q: Is that something that you plan to do?
A: It is certainly in our five-year plan.
Q: What do you think having international exposure can do for the choir?
A: I think bringing something like Seraphic Fire, which is really very high quality music and brings together some of the best musicians from around the country, it's an all-star group from the United States, it really shows off not only Miami and the chorus, but shows European audiences, shows South and Central American audiences, show Asian audiences that the United States has really come into its own in terms of the maturity of its arts, of its vocal music.
Until about 40 years ago, the concept of the professional chorus really didn't exist in this country. We're now maturing as an arts community that we have professionals performing the great choral works of the world. I think that we have proven ourselves with orchestras. We've proven ourselves with dance and I think taking an ensemble like Seraphic Fire internationally shows the rest of the world just what we nationally can accomplish.
Q: What are the plans for the choir and orchestra in the next two years?
A: First, next month we are recording our first produced CD. We have a number of CDs, most of which are based on live recorded sessions. We're traveling to Michigan to record Claudio Monteverdi's "Vespers of 1610." We are recording it with a Grammy-winning producer and recording team to release on a label. It will be released in 2010 for the 400th anniversary of the publication of this monumental piece of music.
We are in tour in a month in the Midwest. There will be a lot more touring in the future. We are still working on our future touring plans, but we're managed by Herbert Barrett Management out of New York. They set up a lot of domestic touring for us. I think next year a lot of our focus is going to be on really having a great start to the Miami Choral Project and also having a few more collaborations between both Seraphic Fire and Firebird.
We are performing (George Frideric) Handel's "Israel in Egypt" next year, which is a really wonderful piece of music for double chorus and orchestra, the weekend before Passover. That's one of the things I'm really excited about.
At the end of the next season, we will be releasing a CD and performing the Monteverdi Vespers. We're opening with beautiful music by (Giovanni Pierluigi da) Palestrina. The orchestra will be playing (Antonio) Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" next year. It's going to be a really exciting year for us.
Q: How was the experience of recording with a pop star?
A: About four years ago, we recorded the opening track for Shakira's album "Oral Fixation Vol. 2." We are one of the few classical ensembles that get to say we're on a platinum-selling album and Billboard pop charts.
Q: The recent news that arts associations or organizations are filing bankruptcy or hurting economically could affect the overall arts scene?
A: I think that every loss of cultural organization is lamentable. As we see this, we as a community need to really start to examine if we can say that's for someone else to take care of anymore, both from a government and a private sector standpoint.
Corporations need to think about what type of employees they are going to be able to attract if there isn't a vibrant culture life here. Developers need to think about who is going to come and live here if the arts aren't around to attract people, so that people don't go somewhere just to work and to eat, but also to live and to experience.
That is my biggest concern when I hear that our larger cultural organizations are having problems is that why aren't we as a community saying it's not just about the New York Philharmonic coming to Miami, it's about that option for people who are here to have pride in and to say, "Look, this is a major American city with an international arts scene and I can live here.'
If we don't have that, then I wonder what people are going to say. I wonder how people are going to answer that question.
Q: What are some of your personal goals, not just for your group but for you as a conductor?
A: I think that I'm in a place now that I didn't really expect that I would be even seven years ago when I started this. I know that there is a lot of planning and dreaming one can do but what I have learned is to always be open to opportunity and to exciting new projects and to be willing to take the jump into that.
At this point, instead of making grand plans, what I'm really focusing on is being open to things that I've never thought of before. That has served me very well thus far.
I think that is my goal, to continue to be open, to continue to learn, to continue to be able to say, "Wow that is not really what I was expecting to do, but I'm going to go do that because that is amazing.' If you aren't willing to take risks there is not going to be any gain. It's about taking the right risks and learning from the mistakes.
Q: Tell us about the Robert Shaw Conducting Fellowship you received:
A: The National Endowment for the Arts and Chorus America give an award to one conductor every three years who shows the promise for a significant career. That conductor is between the ages of 25 and 40. I was lucky to receive it when I was 26 and that really helped give me the confidence to launch Seraphic Fire as an independent entity.
Q: Talk about your family and background?
A: The reason that I use all my names is not just to seem pretentious but also because Duprč is French in original nature. I come from Cajun Country in central Louisiana. Duprč is actually a Cajun name; there are not that many of us left and fewer that speak that language. My mother comes from Opelousas, Louisiana, which is in the heart of Cajun Country, and my father is sort of Irish Catholic from Indiana.
I grew up in New Orleans and lived there until I went to college, and my family still lives there.
Q: How long have you've been in Miami?
A: I've been in Miami seven years.
Q: Do you have any hobbies?
A: My goal when I'm not doing music is to try to be outside as much as possible. I really enjoy kayaking. I'm a runner. I swim my laps at the Flamingo Park pool.
I really enjoy cooking. I try to cook at least two meals a day, if not three. It's one of those things that really allow me to center.
I'm a politics junky. I read every blog in the world.
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