Tech goes to the Grammys

Photo Courtesy of Laura Inman / Inman’s Grammy recognition will no doubt give a face to and strengthen the relatively small music program here at Tech.

With the Grammy Awards coming up on Sunday, Feb. 10th, the musical world has been abuzz with speculation over who will take home each prize; old talent and new faces alike will be broadcast for the world to see at this biggest musical event of the year. And this time around, all Georgia Tech members have an incentive to tune in, because one of our own has been nominated for not one, but two Grammy Awards. Dr. Laura Inman is an Assistant Professor of Music here at Tech, and in collaboration with the group Kansas City Chorale, she has been nominated for the awards of Best Engineered Classical and Best Choral Performance. The Technique recently had a chance to talk with Dr. Inman about the journey that led her to this great accomplishment, as well as her experience in recording the Grammy-nominated album in question, Life and Breath.

“I was thrilled when I heard and so happy for Kansas City.”

What is your background in music, and how did you come to be an Assistant Professor of Music at Tech?

I’ve been involved in music as long as I can remember. My family was very musical, played various instruments, sang in choirs, and we always had a variety of music blaring from the speakers (from Béla Fleck to Bach). At an early age, I just knew I’d eventually be a Swingle Singer. I began studying voice seriously at the University of Louisville, where I earned a degree in music education, as I’ve always loved to teach. I had an incredible conductor/mentor at UofL who inspired me to further study conducting. At UofL I sang in every choral ensemble, from Cardinal Singers to vocal jazz- looking back, I’m certain that I was obsessed. I continued studies at Arizona State University and earned a Masters and Doctorate in Conducting. Phoenix was a fantastic place for me as a singer, as well. Shortly after moving to Arizona, I auditioned and sang for eleven years in a professional choir, the Phoenix Chorale, directed by the extraordinary Charles Bruffy. Charles also conducted the Kansas City Chorale, which is how I became connected with the group. Last fall I begin applying for tenure-track university positions, and happily accepted the choral offer at Georgia Tech. I conduct two choruses, Chorale and Women’s Chorus, and will teach a musicianship course in the fall. I have the best students imaginable.

How did you first come to participate in the Life and Breath album?

Kansas City Chorale was set to record a great disc of choral works by composer René Clausen. Bruffy invited a few singers from the Phoenix Chorale to join the project and I was fortunate to be one of those singers. Both choirs have a very close relationship and have performed many concerts together. We have also recorded two discs (as a joint choir) that have won six nominations as well as a Grammy in 2007, for Gretchaninov’s Passion Week. Both choirs are considered among the best in the world.

How would you describe your experience performing with the Kansas City Chorale on the album?

Recording is an intense experience, and is one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes the sessions can be grueling- hours and hours on just a few pages of music. This particular recording was grueling, but equally very inspired and gratifying. Singers are in “the zone” just like athletes. Every session felt like a runner’s high…recording is an expensive project, as we hire the highest quality engineer and producer team. They are only booked for 3 days, so everything has to be done in a small amount of time. Not only does the music have to be in excellent shape, but the amount of physical stamina and sheer concentration the singers must execute for success is astounding. Sometimes we’re in the middle of recording the most perfect passage and the wind blows, the microphones pick it up, and we have to re-take. There is much finger crossing! Bottom line is – Clausen’s music is beautiful, and Bruffy conducting is magical, and the singers are superb. So, it was a great and unforgettable experience.

Recording is an intense experience, and is one of my favorite things to do.

How would you classify the style and theme of the music on this album, and what was your part in bringing that music to life?

The style of the music is a cappella choral with great texts and beautiful, intricate, writing. Each piece is distinct- there are solos portions throughout that feature astoundingly beautiful voices. Some tracks sound soothing and ethereal, while others are very dramatic and virtuosic. My most favorite track is the Credo from his Mass (track 7) that contains many harmonic shifts, rhythms and textures. I also love track 11 “Prayer” which is a stunning serene setting of a text by Mother Teresa. I sing soprano 1 (along with 2 others), which is responsible for the high notes. Of course, ours is the most important (at least we think so, haha!). All voices in a section must support and compliment each other, TRUST each other, and always express artistically. Sopranos walk the high tight-rope much of the time, as our notes can be in the stratosphere, where there is no room for human error. There is a warmth and glow to the voices that can only come from everyone being in the moment and singing 100% with all musicality, talent, etc.

Life and Breath has been nominated for two Grammy awards. What was your first reaction when you heard the news?

The nominees were announced December 5th. I had actually just landed in Dublin, where I was singing a 3-week tour with the Irish group Anúna, consequently I didn’t have internet access for nearly a day after the news broke. I was thrilled when I heard and so happy for Kansas City. It’s always an honor to be nominated among so many amazing musicians and to participate in the festivities.

As both a teacher and a musician who has achieved success in both fields, what do you have to say to students, especially those here at Tech, who aspire to a career in music?

I was told many times along the way to choose one focus: either conducting or singing, which never made sense to me. Why should I choose just one thing? My advice: Don’t be afraid to do what makes sense to you, and create your own path.