Mastering Music at Pomona and Beyond
Two Sagehens. One professor. Two of the 100 voices in a prestigious big-city chorale. The main road to the acclaimed Los Angeles Master Chorale started at Pomona for baritone Adrien Redford ’13 and soprano Hayden Eberhart ’07, with Professor of Music Donna Di Grazia as their guide.
Redford had been in middle school choirs and attended a performing arts high school but planned to major in media studies. Then came the Pomona College Choir and Glee Club, which became the hubs of his social life. With those ensembles came a conductor who doubled as a cheerleader. “It felt great to have a place to express myself artistically [and] Donna was—and still is—very focused on encouraging singers to see beyond the ink on the scores and to internalize the music to bring forth an earnest, personal performance,” says Redford, who adds that’s still very much a part of his practice today.
Eberhart was similarly inspired. Singing with the choir and Glee Club with Di Grazia was the most meaningful part of her time at Pomona, she says, the evidence being that nearly all of her Pomona friends were members of the Glee Club, or “Gleeps.” (She married a Gleep as well.) Eberhart points to Di Grazia as the reason she came to Pomona in the first place.
“I met her on Stover Walk during ‘prospie’ weekend, and she knew who I was. I had sent in a tape with my application, and talking to her made me feel as if I wasn’t just another prospective student, but that Pomona was where I belonged,” says Eberhart. That sense of belonging at Pomona grew into a sense that she belonged to music. Immediately after Pomona she took her training to USC to get her master’s in voice. Following her time there, she auditioned for the Los Angeles Master Chorale in 2009. Eberhart got in.
Di Grazia wasn’t just a cheerleader; she was a networker. While they didn’t overlap at Pomona, Redford and Eberhart crossed paths there when the now master chorale member Eberhart was a guest performer with the Pomona College Choir for the choir’s Mozart Requiem performance. But Eberhart’s appearance turned out to be more than just another guest visit; for Redford, it was an inspiration. “I discovered that graduating didn’t mean the end of my musical career,” says Redford.
Auditioning for the master chorale terrified him, Redford says. But a few years after graduation, Di Grazia urged Redford to reach out to Eberhart. Eberhart, along with current Pomona College music faculty and chorale member Scott Graff, offered Redford guidance as he competed for one of the coveted 100 chorale spots. He auditioned, and the spot became his.
In the following years, Redford and Eberhart not only shared the stage but overlapped in working in the chorale’s administrative office. They often chat about their days at Pomona and are “always raving about how awesome Donna is,” says Redford. Part of the fun of touring together, says Eberhart, is seizing photo opportunities to send pictures of the two of them back to Di Grazia.
Currently, the chorale is on a two-year global tour performing Orlando di Lasso’s a cappella masterpiece, Lagrime di San Pietro, with stops from Melbourne to Mexico City. The piece is conducted by Grant Gershon and staged by Peter Sellars. The composition is about the seven stages of grief that St. Peter experienced after denying knowledge of Jesus Christ on the day of his arrest, prior to his crucifixion.
“The story is biblically rooted but is actually a very human story. Anyone can remember a time they let someone down, or they disappointed their parents, partner or best friend. This piece is about denying someone you love and seeing the hurt you’ve caused and living with that forever,” says Redford, who calls touring Lagrime di San Pietro intense and emotionally and technically demanding.
Working on the piece started with a focus on technique and tuning. But “now it’s become a personal story from each of us, and the audience can tell. It’s so great to take this very human narrative around the world and for the art to cross the barriers of language and culture. Music truly has no borders,” Redford says.
Eberhart is wowed, too. “I honestly feel that this is the coolest thing I have ever done and probably will ever do—at least as a musician—and I don’t think I could ever get tired of it.”
What makes it hard is what makes it fun for Eberhart. “Everyone in the group is such a strong musician and singer, I feel that I am constantly challenged not to be complacent and to continue to improve not only my singing voice, but my musicianship as well,” she says.
Eberhart and Redford frequently talk about how they wouldn’t be a part of the master chorale without Di Grazia and the choral program at Pomona College. “The music program is like a hidden wonder of the Southland and is easily one of the best places to get a music education,” Redford says. “Hayden and I are very fortunate to be where we are now, but who’s to say we can’t be joined by more Sagehens in the future?”