Long before he became a multiple Grammy Award-winner as the Phoenix Chorale’s artistic director, Charles Bruffy planned on becoming a veterinarian.
Talking with the acclaimed conductor over the phone from his farm in Missouri, he still retains a strong love for animals. Bruffy, who also serves as artistic director of the Kansas City Chorale, describes his property as a peaceful log cabin with two cats, two chickens, and 23 horses.
He went into farm ownership with the best of intentions, but taking proper care of his equine herd has become somewhat overwhelming.
“I admit I entered into farm ownership quite naively,” Bruffy says. “I knew they required daily feeding and cleaning. It’s a lot of work.”
Maintaining his farm and splitting his time between Arizona and Missouri has taken its toll. Bruffy is leaving the Phoenix Chorale after 18 years.
“I wish it would have lasted longer,” Bruffy says. “It was a decision that needed to be made. I was running all the time, which was why the decision was made to stop doing Phoenix. I didn’t have time to think, let alone dream. I think all people need to chase their dreams.”
Bruffy started working with the Phoenix Chorale in 1998 when it was called the Phoenix Bach Choir. At that time, Bruffy was hesitant to split his time between two choirs (as he was already working with the Kansas City Chorale), so he initially started as a guest conductor with the Phoenix organization.
But it became hard for him to leave the Valley.
Over the course of nearly two decades working with both choirs, his recordings with the two groups have led to 10 Grammy nominations and three wins. His most recent statue was awarded in 2016 for “Best Choral Performance” for the Phoenix and Kansas City Chorale’s recording of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil.
Despite his accomplishments, he remains humble about taking home golden gramophones from the Recording Academy.
“We want to do the best we can,” he says. “Winning a Grammy is a bonus.”
Bruffy offers up several reasons for his unprecedented success. He says his veterinary school experience helped to set him apart from his peers by allowing him to pinpoint what is wrong with a piece and diagnose an improvement. He also rehearsed with both the Phoenix and Kansas City groups nearly every week. That regimen allowed the singers to become accustomed to the language of his hand when he conducts.
“These singers entrust their talents to the gesture of my hand,” he says. “They get to where they can read every articulation of every joint of every finger. I guess I use mine in a very poetic way that informs the shape of the vowel and the timing of consonants and shapes every word. With most conductors, it looks like we are [simply] telling singers how fast to go.”
Many under Bruffy’s charge commend him for assisting them in creating attachments to the music they perform. The result is an intimate interpretation of what the composer was trying to express, whether something transcendent and spiritual or soulful and haunting.
“It seems to me that people need to surround themselves with as much beauty and aesthetic experience as they can,” Bruffy says. “I wish that people could do that more.”
The Phoenix Chorale will mark Bruffy's departure with a series of shows titled Bruffy’s Best. The performances will include selections from modern artists like Paul Schoenfield, as well as a rendition of “Singet dem Herrn” by Johann Sebastian Bach and Alexandru Pascanu’s “Sarba Pe Scaun.”
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“[These selections] are sincere and meaningful,” he says.
Bruffy says he will always remember flying into Phoenix for the first time and gazing upon the palm trees. It gave him the feeling that he was on vacation. Despite the hectic schedule, he says he's grateful to have been a part of an organization as talented and accomplished as the Phoenix Chorale.
“Everything I do is dependent on what someone else does,” Bruffy says. “Every success I have ever had is because of what someone else has done. I would not have achieved any of my successes without the support of many other people, including my teachers, my family, the singers, the board, and the ticket-holders. It is a group project from the very get-go.”
The Phoenix Chorale is scheduled to perform Bruffy’s Best on Friday, October 27, at American Lutheran Church, 17200 North Del Webb Boulevard in Sun City. There will also be performances on Saturday, October 28, at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 100 West Roosevelt Street and Sunday, October 29, at Camelback Bible Church, 3900 East Stanford Drive in Paradise Valley. Tickets are $15 to $35 and available through the Phoenix Chorale website.