Stella Hastings is a highly regarded vocal musician. She’s also a pretty good juggler.
Hastings is an associate professor in Pittsburg State University’s Department of Music and she is also a busy mom. In addition to handling those important roles, Hastings still manages to dash down to Austin, Texas, occasionally to perform with Conspirare, a five-time, Grammy-nominated choral organization that attracts some of the best voices from around the world.
“My life changed the first day of this ensemble,” Hastings said.
Hastings has been part of Conspirare, which is celebrating its 20th year, from its beginning.
“There are a handful of us who are left over from that inaugural concert,” Hastings said.
Today, Conspirare includes Company of Voices, its core professional choir; a volunteer Symphonic Choir and Conspirare Youth Choirs. Craig Hella Johnson, founder and artistic director for Conspirare, was one of Hastings’ professors at the University of Texas-Austin.
“He’s the most open spirit I’ve ever met,” Hastings said. “He brings out the best in everybody around him.”
Hastings said Johnson works with the ensemble’s personnel manager to offer contracts to singers for specific performances.
“When I am offered a contract, I do everything in my power to accept,” Hastings said. “For this season, I was offered five contracts and I took three. I take my role here very seriously and I try to strike a balance between my teaching and my commitment to the students and the program here. Plus I have a family, so I took just one gig in the fall.”
That performance, “Samuel Barber: An American Romantic,” has just been released on compact disc by Harmonia Mundi.
Hastings also joined Conspirare Oct. 30-Nov. 6 for a series of performances in France as part of the International Polyfolaia Festival. Conspirare was one of just a dozen ensembles from around the world invited to perform.
Hastings said part of Conspirare’s goal in France was to tell a uniquely American story. For that reason, the choir included a number of African American spirituals from their 2011 CD, “Sing Freedom! African American Spirituals.”
“This ensemble talks a lot about who we are and what our place is in the world,” Hastings said.
Hastings calls being part of such a select group of musicians “humbling, because my skills are put to the test at the highest level. I work really, really hard to keep my skills up.”
Hastings said her experience with Conspirare makes her a better teacher for her own vocal students.
“What I do is not that different from what an undergraduate student who’s involved in multiple ensembles does,” Hastings said. “Every day they have up to three, four, sometimes even five hours of singing they have to do. And a lot of times, it’s in a lot of different styles. I’m able to go them in a one-on-one lesson and say, ‘Listen, here are the basic vocal exercises that will help keep you in shape, no matter how exhausted your instrument may get or your body may get. I know what it feels like when you have a cold. I know what it feels like when you’re tired.’ I’m able to give very hands-on information because I just lived it.”
Hastings said she’s not sure what’s on the horizon for Conspirare or for herself as part of the ensemble.
“Every year is just great,” Hastings said. “It’s like, how could we possibly beat this? And then every year it’s done and it’s fantastic. I just know that I have to keep up my basic skills so that when I get called, my skills are in place and I get to continue to be a part of this.”
For information about Conspirare, including samples of their music, visit their website at www.conspirare.org. For more information about the PSU Department of Music, go to www.pittstate.edu/music.