DOWNEY – Her singular focus is to use all the skills garnered over the years to make the best use of the voices for their ultimate in performance. Founder and musical director of the Downey Master Chorale, Margaret “Meg” Zeleny knows surely where she’s coming from. After more than 50 years as a professional singer and choral conductor, she considers herself still “a work in progress,” very much like her year-old “baby,” the Downey Master Chorale.
“I did not have a life of privilege,” Meg confided. “But within a struggling family was the inherent sense of direction that music gives to those who persevere and treasure its rewards.”
She may be a study in contrasts, her bar consistently high. Her approach is unbending. She pleads, cajoles, chides, confronts, inspires. And how! Her rehearsals are engaging, efficient and enjoyable. She leaves no one indifferent.
Meg has been a conductor/mover/shaker, ever since age 12. While in junior high she organized some 30 of her peers to sing at their parish services. Her initiative so moved the pastor that the latter hired a director to channel properly such energies.
The succeeding years carried her much further; she became conductor of her high school chorus, often conducting them in public appearances. While finishing a degree in Education and English, she taught in the Twin Cities’ parochial schools, forming choirs wherever she could.
“Music energizes me,” she intimated. “It defines me. It is an ever-expanding tapestry depicting my life.” What keeps her going has always been a love for the art, a passion for sharing the wealth and “paying it forward.”
A native of Minnesota, Ms. Zeleny has been a professional singer and conductor for over five decades. Her conducting posts have been varied. She has taught voice and choral at the University of Redlands, Whittier College, Long Beach City College, Pasadena Conservatory of Music, Interlochen Music Academy (MI), and the R. D. Colburn School of Performing Arts, where she chaired the Choral & Vocal Department for 10 years. She holds Bachelor of Arts in English, Education and Music; MFA in Music: Vocal Performance and Pedagogy. As a doctoral candidate, she specialized in Orchestral & Choral Conducting.
Meg was attracted to the unique sound of the Roger Wagner Chorale and, in 1969, managed to secure a position on Wagner’s national tour out of Los Angeles. This led to her establishing residence in the Southland, giving her the chance to learn as much as possible from the Maestro.
In 1981, she was given an Artist-in-Residence grant from the California Arts Council. This allowed her to form her own professional ensemble: the Pasadena Repertory Singers. She single-handedly carried them through the 1986 season with a gala celebration of the Centennial of the City of Pasadena.
She has studied under some of the world’s best: Robert Shaw, Roger Wagner, Zubin Mehta, Helmot Rilling, James Dixon, and Paul Salamunovich, to name a few.
Meg does not rest on her laurels. After over 50 successful years, she still sees that light begging to be followed. She believes “interpretation and fidelity to the composer’s/arranger’s intent” are paramount.
“It’s never too late to start; never too much to ask,” she interjected. “The great fortune of finding a good teacher with a belly full of fire is something to hold on to. The more you give to study and practice of the art, the more you receive, and when a group is studying and practicing, there obtains a special camaraderie that is self-motivating.”
According to Meg, a good director knows mentally, musically, emotionally, dramatically and artistically the “language” of the music and its universal appeal. “Then with patience, clarity, humor and multi-faceted insight brings the choir to its highest possible level of achievement,”
In the words of a reviewer, “Margaret is a true choral specialist. Her instincts, reflexes and perceptions emanate from the prime human instrument, which she understands and can coach in all styles and ranges with solid technique. Every gesture, comment or textual interpretation is permeated by the musical idea.”
Preparations have been in high gear for the Downey Master Chorale concert on Sunday, Dec. 21. Time: 2:30 p.m. Place: Downey Adventist Church. For tickets or further information, call (310) 941-3042, call Downey Adventist Church at (562) 869-6013 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Auditions for new members with choral experience are on-going.
For the chorale’s Christmas Concert 2014, she has chosen master works and traditional favorites all designed to capture the true rationale of the season. For instance, among others, the concert will feature “Christmas Cantata” by Daniel Pinkham, “Ave Verum” by W. A. Mozart, the ever-popular “Deck the Halls,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
Pat Aspiras is a member of the Downey Master Chorale.
Published: Dec. 11, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 35