Personal Recollection of Michael Korn (1947-1991), by Janice Bryson
Ahead of our celebration of the legacy of Michael Korn on March 23, 2018.
Korn, the innovative Philadelphia musician, organ virtuoso and choral conductor, is the founder of the Philadelphia Bach Festival, Philadelphia Singers, as well as the national non-profit association Chorus America. Learn more about him here.
We invite you to share your own comments and memories of Michael Korn below in the comments section!
Once I asked him who his favorite composer was, thinking surely he would say Bach since he conducted so many wonderful concerts of Bach’s great works. But I was wrong. His response was "which ever composer I am conducting." He was totally involved with his music and thoroughly studied a score.
He often conducted major works from memory which is a testament to his talent and passion for music. That was the wonderful and artistic side of Michael's uncompromising genius. The bad side of that uncompromising genus mostly showed itself in his younger years when he thought you had to start out big and go from there which only produced big financial deficits which we spent years digging out of.
There were a number of years early on when we never knew for sure we would get paid for a concert and there were lots of times when checks bounced which did not endear him to any number of singers. But is wasn't intentional. He would issue checks on the expectation of a funding promise that would never materialize. Thankfully, people believed in his artistic vision and drive, and finally, the Board and some singers stuck it out with him to get the organization through its darkest days in 1974-1976.
Michael frequently monopolized conversations. One of his favorite expressions was DARLING, the pronunciation of which he would drag out and use when he was prefacing a story. If your phone rang late at night, and the first thing you heard were ice cubes clinking in the background, you knew it was Michael on the phone with a scotch in his hand. He was a night owl and loved to talk late at night on the phone about future plans. He always had lots of stories to tell, especially about Max Rudolf and Pavarotti.
I devoted 18 years of my life to helping him make The Philadelphia Singers a success both artistically and administratively. When the organization got into financial trouble, several of us helped out by singing concerts without pay to get The Singers through and survive to give another season. He appreciated that and realized he needed the unselfish help of others if he and The Philadelphia Singers were to make it.
His dedication to his goals and drive to accomplish those goals impacted me significantly. His ability to rally people around his cause was crucial to his survival. And above all, it was his standard of artistic excellence that impacted me the most and drew people to him. There were lots of singers who did not like him because his rehearsals could be so demanding on your voice. In rehearsals he would frequently yell "no vibrato!"
After Michael became the Chorus Master/Associate Conductor of the Opera Company in 1979, he worked hard to create enough professional choral work in the City to help young singers to survive financially relying only on a singing income by offering them season contracts with The Philadelphia Singers, Opera Company of Philadelphia and outside contracted service concerts. These income sources were in addition to their own church and synagogue jobs and teaching jobs. He truly wanted trained singers to be able to make a viable livelihood just from singing, and he was largely successful in doing that. Sadly today, there is not one person in Philadelphia that controls all of the sources of professional choral work like he did so that rehearsal and performance schedules can be coordinated not to conflict.
Michael Korn Concert Tribute, March 23, 2018
Michael Korn Biography
"40 Years of Entrepreneurial Spirit"
Remembering the founders of Chorus America: Gregg Smith, Michael Korn, Barbara Tagg, Malcolm Merriweather, and many others - by Don Lee, managing director of the Voice Magazine, publication of Chorus America (Vol. 40, No. 4, Summer 2017)
Photos above: courtesy of Janice Bryson. Portrait photo: by Trudy Lee Cohen
About the Author:
Janice Bryson has a B.M. in voice performance from the Philadelphia Musical Academy (now University of the Arts), a M.M. in music history from Temple University. She completed all required course work and exams in musicology for a PhD at Bryn Mawr College, but did not complete a dissertation. Janice sang professionally in 1973-2000 with The Philadelphia Singers and the Opera Company of Philadelphia. She was also the Personnel Manager and Director of Development for The Philadelphia Singers in 1977-1995 and the Personnel Manager for the Opera Company of Philadelphia Chorus in 1982-1992. She was the soprano soloist at the Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr, PA in 1976-2002. In 2002, Janice accepted a position as soprano soloist at St. Francis Xavier on the Parkway in Philadelphia where she still sings each Sunday.