Finding the Joy in What Surrounds Us

The Virtual Premiere of “As Long As We Are Here”


There can be serendipity in the most challenging change of plans. The Master Chorale of South Florida was scheduled for a prime performance at the 2020 Chorus America Conference in Miami -- an ideal setting to premiere a commission from composer Jake Runestad. With a global coronavirus pandemic putting a halt to choral events and most of everyday life as we know it, this performance obviously did not come to fruition.

Instead, the Master Chorale and artistic director Brett Karlin discovered they possesed a brand new work that spoke with uncanny eloquence to our new reality -- and the opportunity to premiere it with the involvement of a wider community of audience members, renowned conductors, and singers than they ever imagined. Karlin and Runestad shared their stories with Chorus America on the journey of this new commission, As Long As We Are Here, which enters a new chapter this fall.

Can you tell us a little bit about the significance of the Master Chorale of South Florida’s annual commission program that this new work continues?

Brett Karlin: Master Chorale’s annual commission fund has become a flagship program of our organization, and is one of the most rewarding and exciting initiatives to be a part of! It was established in 2017 in honor of board member and singer, Roslyn T. Osborne, and it has allowed us to support the creation of works by leading American composers, including James Kallembach (Death Be Not Proud, 2017), Dominick DiOrio (We Reply, 2018), and now Jake’s As Long As We Are Here. Throughout our 18-year history, Master Chorale has primarily focused on the performance of choral-orchestral masterworks of the Western canon, and the commission fund allows us to celebrate and fulfill a new mission of actively supporting the creation and performance of new choral works.

What is your experience like being part of this annual commission program, and can you tell us about the new piece?

Jake Runestad: It’s a thrill to have written a new work for the Master Chorale of South Florida! As Long As We Are Here, which was supposed to have its premiere at the Chorus America National Conference, is a setting of an original poem by Todd Boss – my dear friend and frequent collaborator. The work asks us to find the joy in what surrounds us. While this work was written before any inkling of a global pandemic, these words have become powerfully relevant as we navigate a more intimate lifestyle than we did pre-pandemic. Our homes have become our worlds, and Todd’s poem asks us to live deeply into the simple beauty around us.

We’re so disappointed that your original plan for premiering this work at the Chorus America Conference in Miami was not to be. How did you manage to adapt your plans and come up with this new concept for the project?

BK: We were disappointed not to be a part of the Miami Conference too, but delighted that, with resources from Chorus America and other great examples of virtual choir projects, we could pivot (sorry, I know this is one of the most overused words of 2020!) our chorus’ strategy to provide a meaningful experience for our singers and choristers around the world. The real inspiration came from the opening and closing lines of Todd Boss’ text: “As long as we are here...let us thrive, fully alive to all the heaven here at home.” Although the piece was written before social distancing and self-isolation became a part of our day-to-day life, it became clear that there was a meaningful opportunity to interpret the text and emotional message through the lens of our world today.

Can you tell us what it’s like to pivot from a live world premiere to this new virtual choir initiative?

JR: The live concert experience can never be replaced – there is absolutely nothing like it. Each work I create has careful consideration of the performance space and what the piece feels like when experienced live. Given the current situation, I know how important it is to be flexible and to find new ways of connecting with our global musical family. There are some hurdles with the virtual medium, but I’m excited to see what we can create together!

What type of experience will participants have, and what elements are you most excited about?

BK: It’s going to be extraordinary! Participants will be able to hear from and interact with choral luminaries, including Craig Hella Johnson (Conspirare), James K. Bass (UCLA & Seraphic Fire), and Lynda Hasseler (Capital University), as well as work with a top-tier production company, Arts Laureate, to put everything together. Above all, providing an opportunity for singers all over the world to experience Jake’s music is the most exciting part.

What’s it like for you to conduct a piece that you’ve written? Have you done that often, and how does conducting for a virtual choir differ?

JR: The greatest joy of conducting is the interaction with living, breathing humans and the connection we make to communicate our life experiences through sound. In this virtual experience, it was a challenge to create the conducting video for a piece that no one has ever heard and without those living, breathing humans in front of me! This process required me to sing through the work while conducting and respond to my own voice as if I was the choir and orchestra.

What do you hope that this project will mean to the singers of the Master Chorale of South Florida, and to singers participating from all around?

BK: Anytime a group of people collaborate to create art, it’s a noble and honorable pursuit. For many of us, singing is therapy, a sacred experience, and – for a fantasy fiction and video game geek like me – the closest thing to magic. I hope this project will be a meaningful way for people to keep singing and get that indescribable, almost mystical fulfillment that only making music can provide.

JR: We have all been devastated by our inability to make music together in the ways we have done for years. I hope that this experience will gift us a glimpse of the joy we receive from singing together, connect us with our musical family across the globe, and give voice to meaningful words that can uplift us.


As Long As We Are Here premieres November 20, 7:30pm Eastern on YouTube and Facebook Live, free to the public. Interested singers from anywhere in the world can learn more about how to be part of the premiere -- which includes a three-week schedule of rehearsals, workshops, and conversations with choral luminaries -- on the Master Chorale of South Florida's website, and view Jake Runestad's personal invitation video. Registration is open until October 16.

This article is sponsored by the Master Chorale of South Florida. Thank you for supporting the partners that make Chorus America’s work possible. If you are interested in learning more about sponsored articles, please contact us at [email protected].