crouch profile
courtesy of photographer Andrew Wilkinson

In an interview with The Daily Princetonian, Gabriel Crouch, Director of Choral Activities in the University Department of Music, reflected on what music means to him as a teacher at the University and principal singer of the Tenebrae Choir. The choir's album, “Music of the Spheres: Part Songs of the British Isles,” has been nominated for a Grammy award in the category of “Best Choral Performance.”

“I don’t get too excited about awards because I’ve experienced things in my life that made me feel like I’ve done something valuable and worthwhile, but nobody noticed, and then there are things that I’ve felt embarrassed about, but other people get excited for,” Crouch said. 

Crouch joked that he owed it to himself to say this, since this is what he told himself when he hadn’t been nominated for other works. While he appreciates the nomination, he noted, it does not change his perception of whether he has created good work or not.

The Tenebrae Choir is a London-based professional vocal ensemble founded and directed by Nigel Short, and its repertoire covers works from the 16th to the 21st century. Crouch has been involved with Tenebrae Choir since its establishment in 2001.

“Every day I sing with Tenebrae is an honor,” said Crouch. “This nomination doesn’t change that at all, and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of the choir.”

He explained that he enjoyed just being a performer in Tenebrae Choir, rather than having to worry about the logistics and administrative details.

“I should confess that I’m only a small cog in this very big wheel,” said Crouch. “It isn’t my project or baby. I’m just contributing something small with some singing with 17 or 18 other people as well. I’m just a participant, and I get to be involved in this really great music-making.”

More than once, Crouch humbly confessed that while he is happy to be interviewed about the nomination, he is also “slightly embarrassed,” since he only “turns up to sing and try [his] best.”

Crouch’s favorite memory with Tenebrae Choir is the 2005 performance of “Path of Miracles,” a piece by Joby Talbot that is based on the most enduring route of Catholic pilgrimage, the great pilgrimage to Santiago.

“It was a tough undertaking to bring the piece to life,” explained Crouch. “It felt like we were part of something that was really meaningful, in terms of the choral world, and it’s something we’re all very proud of.”

Because Tenebrae Choir is based in London, Crouch is only involved with the choir when he visits Britain during the summer or during a couple of weeks during the winter. The Tenebrae Choir only rehearses before upcoming concerts, sometimes for just six hours before a concert.

However, Tenebrae Choir will be local and perform in the Princeton University Concert on March 15, 2018 at 8 P.M. in the University’s Chapel.

Crouch therefore spends the majority of his time leading choral activities at the University, where he has taught for the last seven years. The choral program he oversees has three full choirs, as well as vocal consorts, and he is responsible for “helping the talented singers and [their] personal singing careers.”

Currently, Crouch conducts Glee Club for six hours a week, runs Chamber Choir for three hours a week, and runs a series of small vocal consorts as well. He also teaches conducting, chamber music, and an opera performance course, a total of six hours of teaching each week.

His most memorable moment at the University thus far has been the Glee Club’s 2015 performance of “Mass in B Minor” by J.S. Bach. Crouch recounts the performance of the piece as “really intense” and one that he will “always remember.”

“This performance affected me so much, not because of how lucky I was to check this off my bucket list, but because I got to be with all the students in the Glee Club on that rehearsal journey,” he said.

Crouch describes working with the University’s choral program as a “very unusual privilege,” since most choral teachers who are in similar positions as he is work with singers who want to become professionals. Instead, Crouch works mostly with students who are not focused on careers as musicians but rather on having a “nourishing, fulfilling experience.” Consequently, Crouch feels the urge to “find something beautiful in every rehearsal and every concert.”

“The rehearsal process becomes the most important part of my musical life here,” said Crouch. “Even though it is important that we perfect our music, I think the learning process of building art is the most important. This is a special moment because we are amateurs; we love [music] because of compulsion, not because of career or [desire for] credit.”

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