A harmonic convergence
Music director Linda Raney
Linda Raney is one of the most ubiquitous figures on Santa Fe’s music scene — and many local concertgoers have witnessed her work firsthand, whether they realize it or not. Raney has served as director of the Santa Fe Symphony Chorus since 1996; as music director of the Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble since 1988; and as organist and music director at First Presbyterian Church since 1986. In 2010, her efforts were rewarded with the Mayor’s Recognition Award for Excellence in the Arts.
“Music is a wonderful field,” Raney said, “because you can explore all aspects of the discipline. Most musicians I know are also gifted teachers, fundraisers, administrators, and more. It’s rare if you only do one thing.”
Born in Casper, Wyoming, Raney grew up in West Lafayette, Indiana, home of Purdue University, where her father taught civil engineering. She had her first music lesson at age seven, when she began studying piano with Mildred Bradley, whom she recalled as “a wonderful teacher” — but her interest in music preceded those lessons. “I always loved music and singing,” Raney said. “I remember being home sick from preschool one day, getting up from bed, going to an open corner of our living room, and singing along with Marion Marlowe as she performed ‘Lover’ on the Arthur Godfrey morning radio program.”
Raney’s passion for music was also shaped by her proximity to Purdue. “The university had a very active concert series, and my parents took me to many performances,” she said. “I heard the Metropolitan Opera regularly; I heard [mezzo-soprano] Marilyn Horne in recital when she was just beginning; and I heard [pianist] Van Cliburn and European orchestras, to name just a few.”
The summer before her senior year in high school, Raney enrolled in college-level music courses at Indiana University in Bloomington, and an important new path opened up for her. “I took my first organ lessons that summer and was smitten,” she said. “The organ can be so loud and so soft, and it has so many different [kinds of] sounds. Also, back then, I loved the pedals and soon realized my difficulty reaching octaves was quickly solved by adding my feet to the playing experience.” Today Raney describes the organ as her “major instrument” — harpsichord, piano, voice, and conducting are “other studies.” Those high-school summer classes were just the beginning of Raney’s experiences at Indiana University. In the years that followed, she earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in music from the school, whose alumni include violinist Joshua Bell, pianist Jonathan Biss, trumpeter Chris Botti, and bassist Edgar Meyer.
In 1985, Raney moved from Lafayette, Indiana, to Santa Fe with her husband, Raymond, a former news editor for The Santa Fe New Mexican who currently serves as Canon to the Ordinary for the Episcopal Diocese of the Río Grande, which is based in Albuquerque. The following year, Raney began her work at First Presbyterian Church.
“At First Presbyterian, I direct the chancel choir and the chancel bell choir, play the organ, manage a weekly recital series called TGIF, and perform other duties as needed,” Raney said. “The chancel choir is a super group of singers who enjoy challenging music and working hard. We’re also blessed with David Solem, our accompanist, who can play anything.” The choir’s repertoire includes new music, thanks to “four very gifted composers [in the choir] who share their compositions with us,” Raney said. “The chancel bell choir, which rings five octaves of handbells and handchimes, is another group of hard workers who enjoy a good challenge. Handbell groups exude what teamwork is all about — in their music, in their commitment to rehearsals, and in moving all the equipment.”
Raney described First Presbyterian’s TGIF series as “one of the big surprises” of her career. “Between our wonderful 5:30 Friday audience and the very gifted performers who offer creative and beautifully executed performances week after week, it’s quite an amazing scene to behold,” she said. “It’s fun to watch everyone enjoy music together every week. The challenge,” she added, “has been to keep the series as trim and simple as possible so that it can fit with my other music-director responsibilities but still be a service to our community.”
Two years after joining First Presbyterian, Raney began working with the Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble, which “had already been a vital part of the Santa Fe scene for six years,” she noted. The ensemble comprises 12 to 16 singers, performs seven concerts each year, and occupies “a unique niche in our community as an auditioned choir that sings music for women,” Raney said. “The spirit of this group is unstoppable,” she added. “To have existed for 36 years in Santa Fe is an accomplishment, and the ensemble has been very responsive to the changes of the times. Also, our accompanist, Bill Epstein, is a very gifted musician.” The ensemble performs repertoire that represents a variety of cultures, and it has commissioned and premiered more than 30 new works. In 2012, it won the Chorus America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming.
This past year marked Raney’s 20th anniversary as director of the Santa Fe Symphony Chorus — a job, she said, that centers on preparing men and women to “sing symphonic literature with the orchestra” during four or five concerts each year. Those concerts include annual performances of Handel’s which the symphony presented at the Lensic Performing Arts Center last month.
Her work with the symphony has been particularly rewarding, Raney said, “because I’ve gotten to work with very gifted conductors. It’s been an exciting education to learn how each conductor thinks about their scores.” Also, “putting together a performance with so many different people is a very detailed management feat, and it’s fascinating to see how each conductor tackles such a task.” Rehearsals are another aspect of the job Raney savors. “I enjoy digging into the music with the chorus to discover the vocal, musical, and emotional implications of our part.”
Recently, the chorus launched the Summer Choral Arts Academy, which Raney said allows the ensemble’s singers “to hone skills in music-reading, choral vocal technique, and [the movement-centered] Feldenkrais Method. It’s great to have this time [between the symphony’s seasons] to focus solely on improving our technique.”
When asked if she has ever considered a career that didn’t involve music, Raney said, “Not in a very long time. I get to do such a variety of things and work with many different people on many diverse projects, so each day feels like starting a new career. I love the challenge of keeping up with the times and changing how I do things. It keeps life fresh and exciting.”
For more information on First Presbyterian Church, go to www.fpcsantafe.org; for the Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble, www.sfwe.org; and for the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, www.santafesymphony.org.