Creighton University’s choral conductor, spontaneously volunteers the answer before even hearing the question.
“The ‘A’ stands for Ashley,” says Dr. A. Barron Breland with a dimpled grin.
As in Ashley Wilkes?
“Yup, absolutely. My parents were all about Gone with the Wind.”
This son of the South, born in Alabama but raised outside Atlanta, quickly brings the name game full circle.
“All the men in my family have traditionally gone by their middle name,” he explains. “It’s just one of those random Southern quirks.”
There’s nothing quirky about the success and esteem Breland has enjoyed since moving to Omaha eight years ago, although he sheepishly admits thinking Omaha was the state capital. “What did I know?” He says with a laugh.
A former singer with the prestigious Atlanta Boy Choir, Breland worked hard, earning a master’s degree and a doctorate in choral conducting from Indiana University. Choral jobs are hard to obtain, but Creighton showed an interest in him.
Within a year of his arrival, the Creighton Chamber Choir, which requires auditions, and the University Chorus, which does not, each doubled their number of concerts to two per semester. The repertoire became ambitious. The expectations grew, even though Breland knew the parameters before he accepted the job.
“I don’t have the singers here that I might have in Lincoln,” he says. “No one is coming to Creighton to make chamber music. They’re coming to be doctors and lawyers and business executives and wonderful liberal arts thinkers, which is beautiful.”
And yet Breland manages to get the most out of his choral ensembles, which caught the attention of Omaha’s tight-knit music community early on.
“We musicians like to keep our ear to the ground, and there was a buzz that something special was happening at Creighton,” says Ernest Richardson, resident conductor and principal pops conductor of the Omaha Symphony. Richardson went on a reconnaissance mission and came away impressed. “The choir was very well prepared and sang as a unit, pronouncing their consonants at the same time. Barron also achieved great balance in the sound of the voices.”
Maestro Richardson’s spy mission eventually resulted in a collaboration between the symphony and Breland, who has served as chorus master for large projects like Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. His deep knowledge of several genres of music, from classical to contemporary, has also given him more opportunities in the community. Breland serves as artistic director of the River City Mixed Chorus, where membership has increased from 40 to 102 people. More recently, he became the music director of Résonance, comprised of trained singers.
“They’re the best vocal group in town, no matter what kind of music you want,” says Breland. “They’ll go from the annual Christmas show with the symphony to Stravinsky’s Mass, to a cabaret night with show tunes. Résonance keeps me on my toes and excited.”
Becoming the chair of the Fine and Performing Arts Department at Creighton in August will also keep the boyish-looking 36-year old busy, but his new duties won’t temper his ambitions for the school’s chamber choir. He is planning a national tour with the group in 2017.
“I keep getting more and more fulfilled in my musical life in Omaha,” Breland says. The city he knew little about has become his happy home.