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Saint Mary’s professor conducts eighth performance in Carnegie Hall

| Friday, November 17, 2023

Choral music conductor Nancy Menk recently returned from Carnegie Hall in New York City after conducting her eighth performance in the historical hall. 

Menk first started performing in first grade, participating in choir throughout high school and college.

She has conducted the All-State Choir in Heinz Hall in her hometown of Pittsburgh, in addition to singing in the hall with the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. Menk also sang with the Saint Mary’s Women’s Choir in the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles after the group was selected for the National American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) convention.

Not only has Menk worked in these renowned spaces, she also commissions new composers to help them gain exposure.

“That’s one of my favorite things to do is to work directly with a composer and to bring their music to life in a first performance,” Menk said.

She said she enjoys working with brand new material and helping find it a voice that will reach many people. 

“Performance is my life, it’s what I do,” Menk said. “Preparing other performers to present music is what I do and what I love to do.” 

For her eighth performance at Carnegie Hall, Menk conducted a group of 125 vocalists and 26 instrumentalists in Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria.” The vocal group is composed of women of all ages from around the world.

To create a unified sound, Menk collaborated closely with several other directors to achieve the desired performance. The directors made decisions on every detail, including pronunciation for Latin songs, the best beats to breathe on and the articulation of vowels and consonants.

Menk said that if someone is aiming for a similar career path, no subject is entirely beyond the realm of conducting. She advised prospective conductors to learn as much as they can by taking courses in literature, foreign languages, history and music history.

Each course is relevant to understanding of the world of music, Menk said. Literature aids in giving a story to work with. Foreign language classes help in diction, specifically with Latin songs. History and music history helps one gain an understanding and respect for the art of vocals and music. 

“You need to know how to make a piece from the Baroque sound different from a piece from the 20th century. If you haven’t studied history and music history, you don’t really know how to do that,” Menk said.

The more one takes the time to educate themselves about the material, the easier it will be for them to understand and work with the material to truly gain an appreciation for it, she said.

Menk explained that being a conductor involves taking everything one has learned over the course of their life and putting it into use. 

She said she lives by a key piece of advice: “Bloom where you’re planted.”

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