Australian born conductor Heather J. Buchanan is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Montclair State University, where she conducts the 170-voice Chorale, 60-voice University Singers, and 24-voice Vocal Accord. Choirs under her direction have won critical acclaim for their “heartfelt conviction,” “vibrant sound,” “eloquence”, and for singing with the “crispness and dexterity of a professional choir.” She has collaborated with a variety of renowned international composers and artists including Meredith Monk, Richard Alston Dance Company (UK), Mícheál ÓSúílleabháin, Tarik O’Regan, Sarah Hopkins, Chen Yi, members of the Vienna Philharmonic strings, and conductors Neeme Järvi, Jacques Lacombe, John Maucceri, and Susie Beisel Seiter with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO). Her masterwork collaborations with the NJSO include Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Mozart Requiem, Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Mahler Symphony No. 3, Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, and Howard Shore’s Academy Award winning The Lord of the Rings Symphony, with Handel’s Messiah upcoming in December 2014. Dr. Buchanan’s Guest conducting credits include the 2007 Dvořák Festival (Prague & Vienna), 2009 Pacific Basin Music Festival (Hawaii), US East Coast Premiere of the new American symphonic oratorio Parables by Grammy Award winning composer Robert Aldridge (December 2011), the HÖRgenuss 2012 festival in Ottendorf (Austria), and the July 2014 US-Australian choral festival Voices Across the Pacific with performances in the iconic Sydney Opera House and neo-gothic St. John’s Cathedral, Brisbane. She also conducted the MSU Singers with Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble for the recording Songs of Ascension on the prestigious ECM label under legendary producer Manfried Eicher (May 2011). This CD was included in the Producer of the Year section of the 2012 Grammy nominations.
Dr. Buchanan holds degrees from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, Griffith University (Australia), Westminster Choir College of Rider University (USA), and the University of New England (Australia). A licensed Andover Educator, she specializes in the teaching of Body Mapping and somatic pedagogy for musicians. She is co-editor of the choral series Teaching Music through Performance in Choir (GIA), has published a DVD-Video Evoking Sound: Body Mapping & Gesture Fundamentals, and choral octavos in the Evoking Sound Choral Series (GIA). Her chapter “Body Mapping: Enhancing Voice Performance through Somatic Pedagogy” will be published by Springer in Teaching Singing in the 21st Century (May 2014). A vibrant teacher, dynamic performer, and passionate musicians’ health advocate, Dr. Buchanan is in demand as a guest conductor and clinician in the US and abroad.
The moment you knew you’d dedicate your life to music
When Dr. Buchanan studied under Roy Wales at Queensland Conservatorium of Music, she sang some amazing works in his choir. They sang large pieces like Britten’s War Requiem and Fanshawe’s African Sanctus. She was inspired by the fact that the choir offered an environment where the sum is exponentially greater than the parts.
Worst musical moment
In general, Dr. Buchanan let didn’t always speak up for herself when she knew what was right, because of the belief that she needed to be a certain way and not make waves, especially as a female in a male-dominated field. The takeaway is to always go with your gut and do what is right for your students (choir members).
The proudest musical moment
Finishing up with a choreographed production of Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb with the Richard Alston Dance Company in the UK, and hearing the roar of applause.
Mentioned: Suzi Digby and Vocal Futures
As an Andover Educator, Dr. Buchanan is an expert in Body Mapping. Listen as she shares the importance of proper alignment while singing.
Most excited about right now
Annelies, by James Whitbourn, with Montclair State University with Singers and Chorale April 24, 2015
part of In a Dark Time
Heart-rending, soulful choral music that explores the emotional spectrum: anguish, fear, hope and equanimity. MSU Singers repertoire will include Donald McCullough’s The Eye Begins to See, a two-movement setting of Theodore Roethke’s poem In a Dark Time scored for mixed chorus, piano and cello. MSU Chorale will perform the chamber accompaniment version of Annelies by James Whitbourn, the first major choral setting of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Featuring guest artists Adriana Zabala (mezzo-soprano), KeriAnn DiBari (B-flat clarinet), Elena Chernova-Davis (violin), Katherine Cherbas (violoncello), and Steven W. Ryan (piano).
Advice for your younger self
Seek out good role models and to trust your instincts.
What makes a great conductor?
I think they need to, first and foremost, be a very compassionate humanitarian. I think they need to understand what good music-making is, and have the skills to communicate that to others and break it down for them in such a way that great music is made accessible to people, not just the domain of a privileged few.
What Every Singer Needs to Know About the Body, by Melissa Malde, Kurt-Alexander Zeller, MaryJean Allen
The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, by Daniel Goleman
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck