I've known Brad Ellingboe for several years. I've publicized the awards he's received as a composer. I've pushed to garner some recognition for CDs his choirs have produced. I've watched him transform into a fundraiser so his students can travel to perform for national audiences, raise money to create a children's opera, or help the university recognize 100 years of chorus at UNM. He's passionate about music, yes, but more so about students.
I knew he was a composer because year after year I publicized his ASCAP awards -- he's well-known as a composer and arranger of choral music.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers selects recipients based upon the "unique prestige value of each writer's catalog of original compositions, as well as recent performances…" Brad was always on their radar, providing a catalog of works that was difficult to overlook. The choir at my church often performed his arrangements, and I enjoyed each one.
Brad is never anxious for personal recognition, but his accomplishments garner attention. What he did want, however, was for the arts to get some of the attention directed to athletics and others on campus. "We win all our concerts," he tells me with a grin.
We moved from casual colleagues to friends as we chatted over coffee, talking about UNM and Santa Fe political situations.
Brad has been in UNM's College of Fine Arts since 1985, where he is professor of music and director of choral activities. His duties include directing choirs, teaching private voice lessons and graduate choral conducting.
And yet I still hadn't his voice raised in song. He said that he decided to perform solo in celebration of 25 years at UNM. Celebrating in this manner, he noted, was equivalent to "sticking a fork in my eye." That's Brad.
Brad occasionally brings by comp tickets after I've done some publicity work. In this case, it was for the UNM Concert Choir to have the funds to travel to Denver to perform for the prestigious American Choral Directors Association conference next month. http://www.unm.edu/~market/cgi-bin/archives/004696.html
I got the tickets, but not much info, just Brad, bass-baritone, performing with Louise Bass, piano, and assisted by David Schepps, cello, and John Clark, piano.
I called my mom and we knew that it would be a rare opportunity to hear Brad sing. I'd seen him with a baton, heard him speak - always glibly into a microphone, but never heard him sing.
OK, I'm an idiot...we were a bit late, so we missed a bit, including Mozart's "Per questa bella mano, K. 612," and four numbers from Don Quichotte, a French libretto based on Cervantes' Don Quixote.
I felt like the ship had departed without us, but we quickly got on board. Next stop, Germany, where Brad shared "Vier ernste Gesänge," or "Four Serious Songs," by Johannes Brahms. I haven't studied French or Italian (that Mozart number, mentioned above, was in Italian, not Mozart's native language, German), but I've studied a bit of German. I've been to Germany and to Austria...and Brad took me there again, sailing on his notes, on his words.
Brahms' songs are based on Biblical references, primarily Ecclesiastes and Corinthians. He eloquently and lyrically sang of "dust to dust," and "the tears of the oppressed," but I wasn't truly understanding the German until "O Tod, o Tod, wie bitter bist du." "Oh death, oh death. how bitter you are..."
But the Brahms number that caught me was from Corinthians because it was the same passage that was to be part of the service at my church this morning, but 2 Corinthians was read by mistake, but everyone knows this one...it's read at weddings: "And now abides faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." To read the words, to hear the words is inspiring, but to hear them in song is divine. To hear Brad sing them...heavenly.
Brad moved to music that lives in his heart: The works of Edvard Grieg. Our ship landed in Norway. Brad once told me that he speaks a second language that is useless in New Mexico: Norwegian. Maybe it doesn't come in handy too much here, but it is part of his heritage, he's a Grieg scholar and even conducted Grieg's work at Carnegie Hall. Carnegie Hall! The words flowed from his tongue, the music was a part of him. It didn't matter if the audience knew what the words meant because the music spoke their intent.
Finally, Brad finished with some American favorites. We'd traveled to Europe and back. Now, instead of landing on foreign soil, we were in a piano bar. The piano didn't have the tinny sound of a cheap instrument pounded upon by many trying to "make it." The air wasn't thick with smoke and the clink of bar glasses didn't punctuate the music, but I was in a bar. Where's my rum and coke?? He could be Sinatra, or Johnny Mathis, for a moment maybe we were attending a Broadway debut.
When he finished, when the last note of "My Favorite Year" floated to the ceiling of Keller Hall, the audience rose to their feet. Brad and Clark, his pianist for the American songs, took their bows and exited the stage. They returned to the crowd's delight. Their encore was Willie Nelson's "You're Always on my Mind." He did Willie proud...and he wasn't even stoned.
Brad's wife Karen was sitting behind me. He sang that song for her. As we put on our coats to leave, she dabbed her eye with a tissue. Like the audience, even she wasn't immune to the sentiment he offers through song.