Australian born conductor Heather J. Buchanan is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities in the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University (MSU), New Jersey, USA, where she conducts choirs ranging in size from 24 – 175 voices. She conducts both mixed-voice curricular choirs, MSU Chorale (symphonic choir), and the MSU’s flagship choir University Singers, and two extra-curricular project choirs, Vocal Accord and Prima Voce (SSAA). Choirs under her direction have earned critical acclaim for their “heartfelt conviction,” “vibrant sound,” “grace and precision,” being a “marvel of diction, tuning and rhythm, “impeccable dynamics and diction,” “eloquence,” “new-minted enthusiasm and vibrancy,” and for singing with the “crispness and dexterity of a professional choir.” Her collaborative partner is pianist Steven W. Ryan.
During her tenure, the MSU choral program has been recognized for its innovative programming and ongoing successful professional-level collaborations in national and international venues. Since 2003, MSU choirs have collaborated with a variety of renowned national and international performing artists and composers including Meredith Monk, Richard Alston Dance Company (RADC-UK), Morten Lauridsen, Robert Livingston Aldridge, Sarah Hopkins, Chen Yi, Mícheál ÓSúílleabháin (Ireland), Tarik O’Regan, Robert Cohen, Moscow Tchaikovsky State Conservatory, Joseph Flummerfelt, members of the Vienna Philharmonic strings, and conductors Neeme Järvi, Jacques Lacombe, Xian Zhang, George Manahan, Patrick Duprè Quigley, Roderick Cox, John Maucceri, Jeffrey Schindler, and Susie Benchasil Seiter with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO).
Dr. Buchanan’s choral-orchestral collaborations with the NJSO include Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Mozart’s Requiem, Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Mahler Symphony No. 3, Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azbakan, and Howard Shore’s Academy Award-winning The Lord of the Rings Symphony, with Handel’s Messiah annually since December 2014. The MSU Chorale has also sung on two limited edition NJSO recordings under the baton of Jacques Lacombe: Carmina Burana (2008) & Verdi Requiem (2014). In January 2019, the MSU Chorale was invited to perform Beethoven Symphony No. 9 at Carnegie Hall for the humanitarian aid concert Beethoven for the Rohingya presented by Music4Life International conducted by George Mathew and an orchestra comprising players from several nationally ranked orchestras including the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera. In June 2020, the University Singers collaborated with the NJSO on the world premiere of Gratias Tibi (José Luis Dominguez), a virtual choral-orchestral piece honoring the first responders and front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the Alexander Kasser Theater, the state-of-the-art home venue for the MSU Chorale, Dr. Buchanan has conducted a range of masterwork and interdisciplinary performances with several regional, state, and US premiere performances. Repertoire highlights include: the regional premiere of the new fusion oratorio Considering Matthew Shepard (Craig Hella Johnson) for the December 2019 Crawford Concert; Dona Nobis Pacem (Ralph Vaughan Williams); NJ premiere Jubilate Deo (Dan Forrest); NJ premiere and World premiere chamber orchestration version of Appalachian Requiem (Michael Conley); Highlights from Carmina Burana for the Cali School of Music’s 10th Anniversary; Duruflé Requiem; the tri-state premiere of Alzheimer’s Stories (Robert Cohen) for the 2015 Crawford Concert; Annelies (James Whitbourn), a special Holocaust work based on Ann Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl; Rutter Gloria and other holiday music recorded and broadcast on NJN television network (December 2012); Lux Aeterna (Morten Lauridsen); the East Coast Premiere of the American symphonic oratorio Parables by Grammy Award-winning composer Robert Livingston Aldridge; the regional premiere of Let My People Go! by Don McCullough; and David Fanshawe’s electrifying African Sanctus in celebration of the composer’s 70th birthday and the 40th anniversary year of the work’s premiere.
The University Singers performs a wide variety of sacred and secular repertoire with a special interest in contemporary and emerging composers. Their noteworthy relationship with the iconic world-renowned composer and performing artist Meredith Monk began in December 2006 with an historic collaboration, Ms. Monk’s first with a collegiate choir. In March 2009 University Singers gave two performances of Songs of Ascension at the Guggenheim Museum (New York City) with Ms. Monk and Vocal Ensemble, conducted by Dr. Buchanan, which received outstanding reviews. They subsequently recorded Songs of Ascension on the prestigious ECM label under legendary producer Manfred Eicher, released May 2011. This collaboration was included in the Producer of the Year section of the 2012 Grammy nominations. The University Singers’ first solo commercial recording I Sing Because… was released in March 2020. The album explores contrasting facets of the human experience: some comfortable and familiar such as peace, joy, fun, love, friendship, praise, and hope; others painful and confronting – scorn, derision, loss, grief, and the ever emotionally fraught topic of suicide. Internationally the University Singers has accepted invitations to perform in prestigious European venues including Rachmaninoff Hall (Moscow), the Russian Museum (St. Petersburg), the Ferenc Liszt Zeneakadémia (Budapest), and the Church of St. Nicholas (Prague) during tours of Central Europe and Russia. In February 2012 the University Singers gave their American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) Eastern Division Conference debut performance in Providence, RI, featuring World Premiere performances of music by Chen Yi (Distance Can’t Keep Us Two Apart – the 2012 ACDA Raymond Brock Memorial Commission), and Martin A. Sedek (She Walks In Beauty). Since December 2014, the choir has performed Handel’s Messiah annually with the NJSO, and in October 2020 fifty members of the choir were scheduled to perform Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 8 with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Australia (postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic).
Dr. Buchanan’s guest conducting and residency engagements are wide-ranging and include US and international venues. Recent highlights include Passion of Italy 2017 (Rome & Florence); The 2016 Fall for Dance Festival in NYC; Firenze 2015 (Florence, Italy); the Australian Voices across the Pacific choral festival (July 2014); the Queensland Conservatorium’s 2014 State Honours Education Program (Australia); Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb with RADC for Peak Performances 10th Anniversary, again at Sadler’s Wells (London) for the RADC 20th Anniversary Season opening; the 30th Anniversary Pacific Basin Music Festival (Hawaii); CODA Festivals at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts; and headlining the 2017 and 2020 Australian Choral Conductor’s Education and Training Summer Schools (Melbourne). Upcoming seasons include Carnegie Hall (April 2021) for Manhattan Concert Productions and London in July 2022 for KI Concert’s #EraseHate music festival.
Dr. Buchanan holds degrees from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music Griffith University, Australia (BMus), Westminster Choir College of Rider University (MM), and the University of New England, Australia (PhD). As a Licensed Body Mapping Educator since 2002, she specializes in the teaching of Body Mapping, a neuro-anatomical educational approach developed for enhancing music technique. In June 2017 she was awarded the Barbara Conable Teaching Award by the Association for Body Mapping Education in recognition of exemplary teaching, innovative ideas, support to colleagues, active involvement in Body Mapping, and personal growth. Dr. Buchanan’s qualitative Body Mapping research has the distinction of being the first published in this field. Her publications include the DVD Evoking Sound: Body Mapping & Gesture Fundamentals, octavos in the Evoking Sound Choral Series (GIA), and founding co-editor of the landmark GIA choral series Teaching Music through Performance in Choir, Vols. 1 – 3. Her chapter “Body Mapping: Enhancing Voice Performance through Somatic Pedagogy” was published in Teaching Singing in the 21st Century (Springer Publications 2014). From July 2012 – 2016 she served as the Repertoire and Standards Collegiate Chair for Eastern Division ACDA. A recipient of a prestigious Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship (1996-97), Dr. Buchanan is a twice honored Paul Harris Fellow (1997 & 2003) and received a Rotary Foundation Education Award in 1998. A vibrant teacher, dynamic performer, and passionate musicians’ health advocate, Dr. Buchanan is in demand as a guest conductor, somatic educator, and choral clinician in the US and abroad.
Updated September 8, 2020