Professor cheers Grammy success

  Tuesday, March 24, 2015 2:00 AM

Pittsburg, KS

Professor cheers Grammy success

Stella Hastings portraitUntil this year, the choral group Conspirare had been nominated for a Grammy Award five times, but had never won the top prize. Stella Hastings, associate professor of music at Pittsburg State University, said she felt pretty good about the group’s chances when they received their sixth nomination for their CD, “Sacred Spirit of Russia.”

Hastings, one of the original members of the ensemble, still performs with the group whenever her schedule and opportunities align. Although she didn’t sing on the recording up for consideration this spring, Hastings said, she couldn’t have been more excited, because Conspirare is “very much like a family.”

The classical music Grammys don’t get the high-profile attention that popular music does, so Hastings planned her awards watch for the middle of the afternoon at a local restaurant bar.

“My husband was away that afternoon so I hired a babysitter because I had a feeling we were going to win,” Hastings said. “I made a little afternoon of it for myself.”

Hastings said she ordered some hummus and a glass of wine and pulled out her headphones to watch the webcast on her smartphone. While she waited, she chatted with the staff and the handful of patrons in the bar, warning them that if Conspirare won, there would be shouting and possibly tears.

Then the announcement came.

“I was crying I was so excited,” Hastings said. “I was so moved. I looked over and the couple sitting next to me, both the woman and the man, were teary. They clapped. It was so neat.”

Hastings said her long association with Conspirare, which is Latin for “to breathe together,” began as a happy accident in the fall of 1992. As a senior voice major at the University of Kentucky, Hastings auditioned for and won a graduate assistantship at the University of Texas in Austin, where she planned to begin graduate studies in voice the following year.

After her audition, Hastings waited in the hallway for her then-boyfriend-now-husband Todd Hastings, who was finishing up a jazz rehearsal. As she waited, a secretary invited her in to meet Craig Hella Johnson, the director of choral activities at the university.

Johnson invited Hastings to sing for him and afterward told her about the new group he was forming for a concert series.

“The day after I graduated from the University of Kentucky, I headed down there for the first rehearsal,” Hastings said.

Almost immediately, as the choir began singing Bach’s B minor Mass, Hastings knew her life was changing.

“The choir started singing and it was as if a light came down from above,” Hastings said. “Not only is this where I’m supposed to be, but I am here to study with this man. It was a life-changing event for me.”

Hastings sang in the ensemble’s inaugural 1993 concert in what was initially an annual two-week festival in Austin.

Over the years, Hastings has continued to sing with Conspirare whenever possible. Schedules and the type of repertoire usually dictate whether and when she performs.

“The caliber of the singers with this roster is just ridiculously good,” Hastings said. “Often times the personnel manager calls me and sometimes I’m able to flex and sometimes I’m not. There are some years when I don’t get any contracts. There are some years when I get three to five or six contracts and I have to be judicious.”

Hastings said her experience singing with Conspirare helps her teach and counsel young performers who sometimes have a lot on their plates.

“When they have weeks like the one they’ve just experienced with three nights in a row of three-hour rehearsals and the concert on the fourth night and they also still have all of the singing for their lessons and all of the singing for their other rehearsals and all of the other stuff going on,” Hastings said, “what I’m able to bring back to them is how you can work your technique to maintain stamina when the going gets tough.”

Hastings said she hopes to have another Grammy watch, perhaps for a Conspirare CD she sang for last January. That CD, which should be released this spring by Harmonia Mundi, is called “Path of Miracles” and features the choral works of British composer Joby Talbot.

“It’s a choral work based on the walk of Santiago, the walk of faith,” Hastings said, “that we recorded in a large cathedral in Austin. It’s very, very cool.”



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