Who is Thomas Aláan?
I joke that I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades because I have my hands in so many pots. Musically, I am a teacher, conductor, and performer, while outside of music I also do photography, graphic design, educational programming, and I am on a non-profit board. I’ve been Director of Women’s Schola at Holy Name Cathedral since 2009 and Assistant Conductor of Choirs since 2011... it’s hard to believe that I’ve been there six seasons! I’ve always been a teacher at heart, having grown up in a family of teachers. I did my M.A Vocal Pedagogy at Texas Woman’s University at the same time my colleague, Brandi Berry, was at the University of North Texas just across town. It wasn’t until about two or three years ago that I started pursuing a performance career, and it was about that time that Brandi and I reconnected and I signed up with the BBE.
What turned you on to early music?
I confess that my first experience with early music would make most historically informed performers grind their teeth. When I was in Jr. High, my dad purchased Vision: The Music of Hildegard von Bingen. Like a typical teenager, I was mortified of anyone perceiving me as “not cool,” so I enjoyed this music in the privacy of my bedroom behind closed doors. While I now know that Hildegard didn’t perform with synthesizers, the CD did introduce me to early Western music. (Don’t tell anyone that I still listen to the album sometimes.)
For a more “pure” introduction to early music, I can credit my high school music history class. Yes, we were so geeky that we used the Stolba textbook which I kept and again used in college. I remember organum, both parallel and melismatic, and that I thought it was the most beautiful music imaginable.
How did you get into singing?
I sang when I was in elementary school but had to quit when I went to Jr. High so I could continue with band. I got back into singing in 10th grade when I joined choir at my high school. I continued with choir through high school and went to college to become a music teacher, double majoring in saxophone and voice. While I more naturally took to the saxophone, I loved the challenge of singing and was eager to learn as much as I could. I was singing as a tenor back then. I made the switch to countertenor when I was in graduate school when I realized singing in the lower octave just wasn’t working for me. I consider switching fach to be one of the best decisions I ever made.
What is one of your favorite pieces of (early) music and why?
Allegri’s Miserere Mei, Deus stands out to me above anything else before the 1800s. When I listen to it, I experience a sense of timelessness, or at least as close to timelessness as I think I can comprehend, and I feel I could be content with just this one piece for all eternity (or at least in a "stranded on a desert island" scenario). The static chords, dissonances, the sense of hanging and weightlessness. Of course the famous soprano high C that occurs throughout. Who doesn’t love those high C's (aside from the soprano herself)?
What are you most looking forward to about touring?
This is the first time I’ve ever toured with a group, so I'm really excited. If I have to nail down one thing, it will be performing in so many diverse and beautiful venues. I love visiting churches when I travel, so getting to sing in these stunning cathedrals and churches will be the definitive highlight for me. That I get to do it with long-time friends, Brandi and Matt, and my new friend and colleague, Phil, just makes the experience even more special.