SFBC is thrilled to welcome Chris Wemp as our new Assistant to the Artistic Director! We are excited to have Chris working with our singers, starting in our 2020-2021 season.
We caught up with Chris to learn about his connection to choral music and how he’s sustained his musical practice during the pandemic.
Chris directs and coaches intergenerational music ensembles at numerous Bay Area churches and offers private lessons to develop music ensemble leaders of the future. Since 2018, he has directed the Diocese of San Jose choral ensemble, which performs throughout the diocese’s annual 3,000 California Catholic Ministry Conference.
In August SFBC hired Christopher Wemp as Assistant to the Artistic Director. (An SFBC singer noted how unusual it felt to hire someone during a pandemic!) We decided to reach out to learn more about Chris Wemp and his connection to choral music.
How did you learn about the San Francisco Bach Choir?
I knew about the SFBC through my choral mentor at Santa Clara University, who recommended me to Magen. Magen approached me last season but I had to turn her down last year because of my work and the commute. The pandemic has allowed me to take on the role this year because I don’t have the commute from San Jose!
What is your connection to choral music?
My study at Santa Clara allowed me to study abroad and I went to El Salvador. While I had been privileged to study music (piano) since third grade and go to college for music, I quickly realized that access to music lessons and musical instruments was really challenging in a place like El Salvador. Access to the human voice was available everywhere. I experienced how a choir is an empowering experience as a vehicle for creating community and for creating music. A choir has the most positive impact. Everyone deserves a place to sing.
I’ve mostly worked with church choirs. Church choirs have an openness to receiving new members. At the same time, a church choir can limit the level of musicianship.
The SFBC has a deep repertoire and has the musical standards to explore music in some depth. It is exciting to work with the choir and Magen. This choir contains singers who are willing to self-advance. Those singers who are willing can stretch and grow with a potential for excellence.
What have you experienced so far with the SFBC? What have you noticed about this choir?
Even before rehearsals began, I joined several sessions SFBC provided for the community [Many Voices, Summer Nights; Bach & Brew]. It was really impressive to see how many participants joined each week. At a time when most choirs were dark, SFBC was unique in providing something to keep singer engagement going. The weekly offerings were excellent in part because of the volunteers and staff. It seems to me that SFBC is pretty current with technology and able to flip to new areas because of that expertise. I was impressed by the Tuesday events – it is clear SFBC is connected to talent by the range of people who presented on those Tuesdays.
And since the rehearsals have begun? Tell us about SFBC as a rehearsing choir.
There is a fearlessness to the SFBC. Not only is there a capacity to pull off rehearsals (there is a reliable volunteer crew that is focused and cool under pressure – so often musicians fear tech), and there is an openness to change.
I sense a willingness within the choir to give permission to fail, learn from that misstep and do better the next time. Singers are willing to sing and participate on-line, to do recordings and to ask good questions during rehearsals. There is a well of goodwill at SFBC. Everyone is interested in helping everyone else. Positive attitude and allowing things to happen is how everyone shows up each week. I’m impressed by the flexibility and patience I have experienced so far with everyone at SFBC.
What are you doing to sustain your musical practice during the pandemic?
My wife and I perform at a local church each weekend (she sings, I play the piano), socially distant from the congregation. I am working on a competition for sacred music with younger composers. And I do some virtual music lessons over Zoom for voice, piano and composing after I finish my day job with a homeless organization.
Thanks for spending time with our new Assistant to the Artistic Director. Chris is looking forward to hearing the choir sing in person when that is possible!