When Matthew Tresler was in elementary school, he joined a choral group. Today, Matthew is Academic Chair of Music and Professor of Choral & Vocal Music at Irvine Valley College (IVC).
Recently, I had the chance to sit down with Matthew, where he told me that as soon as he joined that first choral group, he knew that it was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Matthew said, “It is ensemble vocal music that I find most fulfilling.” What a gift! How many of us discover our passion so early in life?
For myself, choral presentations have always had a particular appeal. For the 12 years that Matthew has worked at IVC, I have attended most of his performances. I enjoy them so much that I come back year after year.
Last December, my wife and I attended “The Holocaust Cantata,” and this past September we enjoyed “A Choral Kaleidoscope.” For the September performance, Matthew directed a 58-voice choir that presented eight pieces selected from composers around the world. Highlights for me included “Three Madrigals,” which incorporated text from three separate works by Shakespeare. I also enjoyed “Minoi Minoi,” from Samoa, which starts as a war chant before shifting into a Polynesian lyric. “I Love My Love” by Gustof Holst was inspiring, and “Amor de Mi Alma” by Randall Stroope sent me and other audience members to the lobby dabbing away our tears.
When I asked Matthew to explain what choral art is, he answered, “There is something magical about all of those voices together. You can’t create that by yourself. And if everybody tried to be a soloist, you can’t achieve the same thing.”
I must admit that I enjoy the sound of my own voice when singing in the car, so my next question had to do with what members must learn to become part of a choral group. Matthew responded within a larger context, saying, “I tell my students that it’s about becoming part of a community. You’re stepping back so that everyone steps together. We use the term ‘share’ a lot. You have to share the pulse, the beat, share the vowels, share the intonations, you have to share the intention. An ensemble means ‘things that go together.’ ” Matthew added, “That really is the crux about being in a choir. It’s sharing where all of that happens. Ideally, you don’t want to hear individual voices. What you want to hear is the voice that’s created from the combination of all those individual voices. The sum of the parts is greater than that of the individuals.”
The IVC choir brings together a community of not only college students but also adults in Continuing Education. In Matthew’s words, “All singers are welcome. Our goal is to find the best version of our voice.”
The human voice is so distinct from all other musical instruments. “With a trumpet,” Matthew explained, “every trumpet that comes off the assembly line is built the same way. But every human instrument is built differently. So, in an ensemble, we have the ability to combine those very unique individual differences in the human voice. With success, voices together become something truly authentic and you (as an audience) can connect with that.”
When I asked about preparing concerts for IVC, Matthew explained that the planning process is an important part of any conductor’s job but also one of the most fun parts of the job. Matthew said, “Right now, I start thinking ahead about next year. How many rehearsals do I have? For each choir, it takes 6 to 8 weeks of preparation and rehearsals. As far as the budget, I can only get an orchestra once a year. I want to be able to tell students in May what we are going to do next year.”
When I asked where the ideas come from, Matthew replied, “I’ve been singing in professional choral groups for over 25 years. I think through what I’ve done and what I want to do. I spend a little mental time on it every day. I want to see that students are exposed to the wide range of styles and periods available. I start with a concert theme. For example, is there a big anniversary coming up? It’s been 500 years since the protestant reformation. It’s been 400 years since the first slaves were brought to the U.S. You start with a couple of pieces and then you build from there. I’m always looking for something new.”
I always wonder what it is that a conductor actually does up there. Matthew helped solve that mystery for me, saying “Conducting is more than just what you see in concert. Conducting is mostly what happens in rehearsal. The weekly getting together and singing is the enjoyable part. And everything that happens in rehearsal leads to the performance. It’s not just getting on stage and singing. We learn what is specific about singing in a group as distinct from an individual. In rehearsal, we learn to shape the music as a choir. So, hopefully, during the performance, we can just sing through it and enjoy it. During a performance, the conductor is reminding the singers — with our gestures and the expressions on our face — here are all the things we’ve done in rehearsal.”
He then added a personal note, saying “Once my students are lined up ready to walk on stage, I remind them that they joined choir because singing is something that they like and makes them happy, so I tell them to go out and enjoy it.”
Matthew also explained his personal motivation, telling me that “live performance is a different experience. Today, with recorded music, there is so much available, everywhere, that you lose the ‘in-the-moment-magic.’ When it’s happening, it’s happening. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Live recording is a wonderful thing but it’s not the same as a live performance. I like being a singer and I like being within the sound of a choir.”
When he introduces a piece, Matthew turns to the audience with an ear-to-ear smile spreading across what is still a baby face. At that moment, you realize that you are in the hands of someone who has dedicated his life to his work and still loves it. When he turns back to the choir, and when they begin to project “the magic of all those voices together,” the audience is completely swept away.
Matthew’s talents extend beyond what I have heard at IVC’s Performing Arts Center. He is also a member of the Bach Collegium San Diego, Prism Men’s Chorus, the Golden Bridge Choir, and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Matthew is a member of SAG-AFTRA where he has sung with ensembles for films, which include — no kidding — “The Last Jedi” and “Minions.”
On March 1st, Matthew will present IVC’s “Master Choral: Spring Sing” concert. Click here for more info.
To review the IVC calendar with the complete list of upcoming theatre events, click here.