One of my desert island pieces is the Duruflé Requiem, written in 1947. I have loved it since I first heard it back in my undergrad music history course. I remember it to this day, I walked out of the music listening lab (turntables back then) stunned. I was in another world floating down the hall of the music building. I was raised Lutheran and I remember thinking that this work made me wish I were Catholic so I could fully sink into the text of a Requiem mass.
Well, today I can. Still not Catholic, I now have the mental breadth to hear the words in metaphor for life here on earth and they pack a wallop. While listening to it in the Nairobi airport this past January on my way home from Southern Sudan, I remember a particularly emotional reaction to the middle of the fourth movement, the Sanctus. “Hosanna in excelsis”, mean “Deliver!, Save me! (request for God’s deliverance) in the highest”. The tremendous climax that Duruflé wrote for these words gripped my heart as I remembered the people of war-torn Southern Sudan and what they had been through and what they are continuing to suffer in some regions. This text is current; it is powerful today in a deeply human way that transcends denominations and religions.
Musically, Duruflé was influenced by the French Impressionists of his day, Debussy and, especially Ravel. And yet, he used as his main musical inspiration the ancient Gregorian chant, often in it’s entirely, for the Requiem mass. His musical language still resonates with us today while throwing us back across the centuries with the chant, gathering up eons of human experience. Unbelievably beautiful.
Pairing that with Poulenc’s sparkling Gloria—one of the sacred masterworks of the 20th century (1960)—is amazing. This work, too, I fell in love with back in undergrad. Very much not in the expected “sacred” mold, this work states that all of human existence is a holy thing. French cathedral solemnity contrasted sharply with Parisian street flair. Poulenc is unabashed and simply out there. Very funny and very sensual at the same time. He said himself, like Maurice Chevalier! These two works heighten each other wonderfully.
Preparing for this concert has been a true labour of love. Challenging on many levels, for every minute of work put into it, it pays back triple. It The depth of richness one uncovers is endless. The choir has risen to every expressive demand of the music and I have had to grapple with conducting dozens of tempo changes and easily a hundred meter changes, which are at the heart of each work’s rhythmic sinuousness and vigor. We are all better musicians for it.
A watershed concert, to be sure, in the middle of our 20th anniversary season. It doesn’t get better than this. Do come hear it!
This is the music that will be performed this Saturday, November 17, at the first concert of our 20th anniversary season. Interwoven with the music be stories and quotes narrated by Ted Barris, Canadian journalist, author and Canadian war historian.
I am very proud of this concert. It will be moving and uplifting.
Roland Majeau, arr Trent Worthington
Edmonton singer-songwriter Roland Majeau is a talented and passionate Canadian artist who is writing and recording real music for real people. Often likened to James Taylor, Roland’s unique blend of country, folk and pop is a style of music that tells a story.
This poignant song was arranged by Roland’s friend and fellow musician, Trent Worthington.
In Remembrance Eleanor Daley
Toronto composer, Eleanor Daley, is world renowned for her exquisite setting of this moving poem by Mary E. Frye, which is from her Requiem. It speaks of the eternity of the soul.
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
The hymn is sung at the annual ANZAC Day services in Australia and New Zealand, and in Remembrance Day services in Canada and Great Britain. This stunning arrangement is by Greg Jasperse, a composer and arranger currently living in Chicago. Blessed with an incredible gift of arrangement and harmony, he has composed for and conducted Vocal Jazz Choirs across North America and Europe.
The Nathaniel Dett Chorale of Toronto:
Dirge for Two Veterans (Dona Nobis Pacem: IV) poem by Walt Whitman, music by Ralph Vaughan Williams
This intensely moving piece was written by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), one of the most influential British musicians of the twentieth century. He was a composer, arranger, editor, collector of folk tunes, and conductor. His outlook was human and social. An important experience in VW’s life was his time in the British Army in WW I. He volunteered for service at age 42, and served as an ambulance driver and as an artillery officer. The impact of the war on his imagination was deep and lasting. His cantata, Dona Nobis Pacem, (Give Us Peace) was written in 1936. VW meant it clearly as a warning against war.
Performed by the Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Robert Shaw
Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Pete Seeger, arr Mark Sirett
Singer-songwriter and American activist, Pete Seeger, has long been at the forefront of Civil Rights and the peace and anti-war movements, as well as the fight for a clean environment. After reading Soviet author Mikhail Sholokhov’s epic novel about the Cossacks pre-World War I, And Quiet Flows the Don. Seeger wrote this song in 1955, adapting it from a Cossack folk song mentioned in the novel. Arranger Dr. Mark Sirett is an award-winning composer living in Kingston, Ontario, whose works are frequently performed by Canada’s leading ensembles.
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother Bob Russell & Bobby Scott, arr John Coates, Jr.
“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”, one of the most defining and enduring tunes of the 1960s was by The Hollies and became one of their biggest hits. The origin of the title of the song is often associated with Father Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town. In 1941, Father Flanagan came across a drawing of a young boy carrying his brother with the caption reading “He ain’t heavy Mister – he’s m’ brother!” It is sung here to emphasize the need to help each other if we are to heal the divisions that lead to conflict.
A men’s chorus singing this:
Dona Nobis Pacem (Mass in B Minor, final movement) J.S. Bach
The Mass in B minor is widely regarded as one of the greatest works of all time and is frequently performed. The work was Bach’s last major composition. As the final movement of such a monumental work, the prayer, Dona nobis pacem (Grant us peace), is the culmination of the entire mass that precedes it. As the first piece of our second half, it heralds the desire for peace in all its forms, going beyond the absence of war. It states our intention and serves as a starting point to explore what might be the work for peace here on this earth.
Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra – Robert Shaw
Al Shlosha D’Varim Text from the Pirkei Avot (1:18) Allan Naplan
The Pirkei Avot is an important compilation of the ethical and moral teachings of the Rabbis from around 220 CE. The piece is, appropriately, a partner song of two interweaving melodies.
Melody 1: Al shlosha d’varim haolam kayam,
The world’s sustained by three things, by truth and justice and by peace.
Melody 2: Al haemet v’al hadin v’al hashalom, hashalom.
By truth and justice and by the work for peace, the world is sustained for us all.
Treble, Christian Haworth, sings this with us.
Distant Land (A Prayer for Freedom) John Rutter
Words and music were written by John Rutter in 1990, soon after the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. It was premiered in Carnegie Hall, New York.
Hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing this
Nation Shall Not Lift Up Sword (Dona Nobis Pacem: VI) Ralph Vaughan Williams
The final section of Dona Nobis Pacem is an affirmation of peace as justice with mercy. Confident and joyful, it then breaks into a blaze of glory. It fades to the soprano soloist’s repeated prayer for peace, ending the work as a benediction.
Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra – Robert Shaw
I Dream a World André Thomas
American composer and conductor, André Thomas, set this inspiring poem by Langston Hughes, American poet, social activist, and playwright. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance. His main concern was the uplift of his people, whose strengths, resiliency, courage, and humor he wanted to record.
We are joined by treble, Christian Haworth.
I Dream A World – Langston Hughes
I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!
This Little Light of Mine Harry Dixon Loes, arr Mark Hayes
“This Little Light of Mine” is a gospel song written by American composer and teacher Harry Dixon Loes in about 1920 and arranged by the talented and popular composer, Mark Hayes.
In closing with this song, we join the millions around the world who are working for peace in ways big and small by letting our light shine. By letting our light shine in the ways of peace, we remember those who have gone before, and honour their gifts of sacrifice and love.
Ted Barris, narrator
Christian Haworth, treble
Ron Fox, piano, organ
I first heard Missa Gaia / Earth Mass in 1999 or 1998. I was singing in another of Karen Schuessler’s choirs at the time, and Karen invited me to a Missa Gaia dress rehearsal because I had never heard the work before, and I couldn’t make it to the actual concert.
I was spellbound.
I joined KSS as an alto for the 1999-2000 season, and one of the highlights of my musical life has been learning and performing Missa Gaia, and participating in the KSS Missa Gaia recording. This work, which celebrates our relationship to the earth and all its creatures, almost defies description… but I’m going to try.
Canticle of Brother Sun
The concert opens with Canticle of Brother Sun, which uses the words of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment. “All praise be yours through Brother Sun, all praise be yours through Sister Moon…” The chorus paraphrases a quote from the book of Job in the Bible: “Ask of the beasts, and they shall teach you the beauty of the earth.” To this day, every time I hear the text, my eyes fill with tears.
What also struck me about this song, and many of the others in the Missa Gaia suite, was its uptempo fusion of jazz and world beat-inspired rhythms. If, when the song ends, you wish it would continue, don’t worry – it’s reprised at the end of the show. The following video gives you just a sample its charms:
If Canticle of Brother Sun got my toes tapping, the beginning of the Kyrie initially stunned me. The silence is pierced by a recording of a wolf howling. A saxophone then plays the exact same notes – making haunting music of the animal’s call! The wolf howls again… and this time a tenor’s voice sings the notes, to the Greek words kyrie and eleison, which mean “Lord have mercy.”
In the Christian mass, the Kyrie underscores humankind’s need for redemption; in Missa Gaia, Paul Halley’s Kyrie poignantly underscores our fellow creatures’ plight at our own hands. Towards the end of the song the music swells after an instrumental solo, and every time I sang this part, I felt a sense of urgency at our planet’s future.
The video below features a 1982 recording of the Kyrie:
The Beatitudes is probably one of my favorite pieces from the entire show. A moody introduction gives way to complex gospel harmonies interweaving with a male vocal solo, and the song ends with multiple repeats of a driving, double-time refrain.
More than anything else, it was the clapping that originally attracted me to this gospel tune. There’s a stunning moment right at the end when the instruments cut out and the choir continues a capella, accompanied only by its own clapping. I was thrilled when, after joining the choir, Karen chose me to be one of the designated “clappers.”
During our 2000 recording session, Karen went to listen to the result after the first take of Beatitudes, and came back with the pronouncement that the claps were too loud, and not precise enough. (It’s not as easy as you think to clap and sing synchopated rhythms at the same time!) The ranks of the clappers were reduced to five, and we were given strict instructions to keep a close eye on each other during the next take, to make sure that we were in unison.
I was standing in the front row with the rest of the clappers behind me, so I half-turned to include them in my peripheral vision, and sang the entire take from memory, never taking my eyes off the hands of one of the tenor clappers. Karen immediately disappeared to the temporary “recording booth” set up in our recording venue, St. James Westminster Anglican Church, and came back with the good news: That take would do. Good thing, because all of that clapping had left my hands raw.
The video below is the only recording of the piece that I can find on YouTube. Most of it is much slower than our own performances and recording, but it gives you an idea of the excitement of the ending:
Mystery is a haunting folk song by an American physician, Jeremy R. Geffen – an integrative cancer care specialist whose holistic practices are informed by the healing traditions of the world, including Ayurveda, Tibetan Medicine, yoga, meditation, and other approaches to health and self-awareness.
The lyrics speak of the divine in a way that can be embraced by many faiths:
But when I listen deep inside, I feel you best of all.
Like a moon that’s glowing white, and I listen to your call.
And I know that you will guide me, I feel you like the tide
rushing through the ocean of my heart that’s open wide.
As sung by Denise Pelley, the song is a highlight of Missa Gaia for many listeners.
Return to Gaia
An instrumental piece, Return to Gaia, is another audience favorite, since it features the full power of the venue’s pipe organ. The song is meant to suggest the thrill of seeing dawn creep across the face of the earth as viewed from space.
“The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space.” Aleksei Leonov, Russian astronaut
“My first view – a panorama of brilliant deep blue ocean, shot with shades of green and gray and white – was of atolls and clouds. Close to the window I could see that this Pacific scene in motion was rimmed by the great curved limb of the Earth. It had a thin halo of blue held close, and beyond, black space. I held my breath, but something was missing – I felt strangely unfulfilled. Here was a tremendous visual spectacle, but viewed in silence. There was no grand musical accompaniment; no triumphant, inspired sonata or symphony. Each one of us must write the music of this sphere for ourselves.” Charles Walker, US astronaut
Sanctus and Benedictus, and Promise of a Fisherman
Sanctus and Benedictus features the eerie song of the male humpback whale. Hunted nearly to extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries, the humpback whale has made a comeback in the world’s oceans, but is still at risk from entanglement in fishing nets, collision with ships, and underwater noise pollution from offshore drilling.
Both Sanctus and Promise of a Fisherman use the joyous rhythms of Brazilian music, and I’m afraid I could never stand still whenever I sang either of them. One of the things I love most about the animal calls and the music of Missa Gaia is that they seem to permeate every cell of your body, so that you leave the concert feeling fundamentally changed.
The video below shows a live performance of Sanctus and Benedictus:
Without a doubt, Ubi Caritas is one of my all-time favorite choral pieces ever. I have had the pleasure of singing it not only several times with KSS, but also with a mass choir in a South London choral festival, and at the Church of St. Timothy in North Toronto with the incomparable Joe Sealy Trio.
Ubi Caritas begins with a well-known Gregorian chant, which fades to a quiet piano solo that swells and ebbs like waves on a lonely beach. Then, in one of those quintessential moments that composer Paul Halley is known for, the mood turns on a dime with the introduction of African drumming, and the chorus comes back in with a traditional African chant. Many times I have thrilled to watch percussionists Rob Larose and Dale Brendon intently ply the skins of their drums as the song builds to a thundering crescendo, accented by the counterpoint of the Latin and Yoruban singing.
The video below includes the piece in its thrilling entirety:
The evening comes to a close with a prayer from the traditional Christian mass: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”
In this song we hear the call of the harp seal – the animal which Moravian missionaries in Labrador used to explain the concept of the Lamb of God to the Inuit, who had never seen sheep. Seal hunting continues to be a controversial animal rights issue, and images of seal pups mercilessly bludgeoned for their pure white fur during annual seal hunts are forever burned into our cultural memory.
There are songs I haven’t mentioned: For the Beauty, Sound Over All Waters, Blue-Green Hills of Earth… each with their own moments to savour and hold dear. Missa Gaia is a work designed to transform its listeners (and its performers), then release them into the world to spread the energy of life and hope. I’ll be sitting in the audience on June 4, eager to hear the animals speak once again. I hope you will join us.
Michelle Lynne Goodfellow has been KSS’ Director of Communications for the past two years. She was also a chorister for our 1999-2000 and 2008-2009 concert seasons.
I first came across Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque when I was researching the music for one of last season’s concerts (Love is in the Air – March 27, 2010). We were performing Whitacre’s This Marriage, and after I watched a YouTube video of Whitacre conducting the piece, I clicked through to some of the related YouTube links in the sidebar. Lux Aurumque was one of those links.
Whitacre (b. 1970) is perhaps the best-known American choral composer of his generation, and has been reaching new audiences through his Virtual Choir – a collaboration of independent singers from around the world who record and submit their individual performances to Whitacre via YouTube. Whitacre and his team then combine the dozens and dozens of recordings into one master “performance.”
Lux Aurumque was originally commissioned by the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, and published in 2001. The text is a short poem by Edward Esch:
warm and heavy as pure gold
and the angels sing softly
to the new-born baby.
Whitacre says he was “immediately struck by its genuine, elegant simplicity.” He had the poem translated into Latin for his composition. The work is filled with a number of second intervals – notes that sit right beside each other on the scale – and when it’s sung well the chords will shimmer and glow like light. You can watch Whitacre’s Virtual Choir “performing” the piece, below.
If you’re curious about the Virtual Choir, Whitacre explains in the following video how the whole idea came about.
You can also still find many of the individual singers’ audition videos on YouTube. Below is the beautiful blonde soprano who performs the solo near the beginning of the piece.
In the fall of 2008 KSS recorded Road to Freedom, which features readings by Bryan and Shannon Prince of first-hand accounts they have collected of enslaved people who found freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad.
The CD was produced by renowned producer and recording arts educator Kevin Doyle at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, and a small team of students from Fanshawe also documented the recording process on video. Above is the result.
If you enjoy the music featured in the video, you can purchase it here.
Have you ever been sitting in a concert and found yourself wondering which pieces were the musicians’ favorites? As a former choral singer myself, I know that there are some songs we singers all love to rehearse and perform, and others that, well, aren’t our favorites.
I recently asked the KSS choristers about their favorite songs from our upcoming jazz concert, Love is in the Air. The answers were revealing, and often fascinating.
Taking a Chance on Love (arranged by Darmon Meader) was mentioned a number of times, for many different reasons. One singer revealed that he kept finding the song running through his head whenever he wasn’t thinking of anything else. Another added that “it’s fun to sing and optimistic!” A couple of other singers mentioned that they really liked the Darmon Meader arrangement that KSS is singing, “because the rhythm is interesting and challenging, and the harmonies are very ‘cool,’ early jazz style. Just plain fun to sing.”
Taking a Chance made conductor Karen’s hit list as well: “It’s a straight-forward, yet harmonically rich setting of this stylish standard. Lots of trading off with a soloist.”
You can hear an exerpt from the song below, sung by a university jazz choir.
Eric Whitacre’s This Marriage was another clear favorite. One singer said that it “has some lovely melodious lines with rich harmonies. It’s a treat to sing with my fellow choir mates, as the different parts work off each other. The lyrics (poetry by Jalal al-Din Rumi) are exotic and convey an intimate, universal message about the sacred relationship in a marriage.”
This Marriage was also mentioned by Karen, for similar reasons: “It’s about an unusual subject – a mature love, a committed love – not just the frothy fizzy first stages of love. It’s a Rumi poem, and I love Rumi. I love the unique harmonic structure – parallel everything – like a single song that is enriched.”
A YouTube version of the song – conducted by Whitacre himself – can be found below.
Another singer mentioned Blue Skies: “I find the tune floating around in my brain at all hours of the day. The harmonies and rhythms skip along, uplifting the spirit, carrying us forward. If I’m feeling lethargic at all, I’ve found that humming a few bars of this piece gets me going!”
A more obscure favorite was another suggestion by Karen: “Live with me and be my love – the first George Shearing tune on the program. It has a smooth sophistication and restraint that sets up the concert wonderfully. Deceptively simple with stylish harmonies that are always fresh.”
Far and away the piece most often mentioned by the singers, however, was Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns (again arranged by Darmon Meader). I have never really cared for this song, myself, but I have to admit that when I sat in on an early KSS rehearsal back in January, I was won over by Meader’s simple yet gorgeous arrangement. It has obviously struck a chord with the singers, as well.
“When a few of us choir members were in New York City to sing at Carnegie Hall, a couple of us went to see “A Little Night Music,” and Catherine Zeta-Jones sang “Bring in the Clowns,” and it was remarkable. Every time I sing that song at choir I’m transported back to NYC and the wonderful time we had making music with fabulous people in NYC.”
Says another singer: “As well as being a great tune, [it's my favorite because of] it’s connection with “Smiles of a Summer Night,” which is one of my favorite Ingmar Bergman movies, and was the source material for “A Little Night Music.”
Karen has the last word: “It’s a great song, and this is a surprising and imaginative setting of it that really works.”
William Shakespeare’s beautiful sonnets set to music by the incomparable jazz master, Sir George Shearing, help to set the classy tone of this special tribute to that universal affliction – love! The choir and special guests, London vocal jazz quartet After Four, will explore love in its many forms, in various musical styles, including a work by choral sensation Eric Whitacre.
Can a piece of music change people? Transform them, even? It may seem incongruous to include a video from the rehearsals of the Broadway musical Wicked in a blog post about a Haydn mass… but then again, maybe not.
I first heard the song featured in the above video (For Good) about three years ago. It immediately struck a chord with me, not only because the music was stunningly beautiful, but because the words themselves expressed a sentiment that I believe to be true: That we are intrinsically changed by the people whom we know throughout our the course of our lives.
In the above video (an extra segment included in the DVD of the PBS documentary Broadway: The American Musical) the musical’s producer, Marc Platt, explains that music has no filter: It “seeps inside you…[and] pierces you…in a deeper way than words alone do.”
If we are capable of hearing, we have all experienced those moments when music has affected us on a deeply emotional – and perhaps even spiritual – level.
What has any of this got to do with Haydn, though?
Haydn wrote his Missa in Angustiis (Mass in Troubled Times, or Mass in Times of Distress) in the summer of 1798. He was the composer for the court of the Esterházys, a Hungarian noble family, and this particular mass was written for the name day feast (the celebration (or “feast”) of a particular Roman Catholic saint for whom someone is named) of an Esterházy princess.
At this same time in history, Napoleon was attempting to conquer Europe, and the general feeling was one of foreboding and terror as Napoleon won battle after battle, cutting a swathe across the continent. Right before Haydn’s mass was premiered in September of 1798, he and his audience would have heard about British Admiral Horatio Nelson’s stunning victory over Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile in Egypt. Perhaps because of this coincidence, the mass later came to be popularly known as the Lord Nelson Mass.
A mass is a choral work originally meant to be sung during the ritual of Christian communion or eucharist, where believers re-enact the last meal of Jesus of Nazareth, when Jesus instructed his followers to eat bread and wine (his “body” and his “blood”) in remembrance of him whenever they gathered together.
The later Christian church formalized the parts of this “holy feast,” writing words that were recited by the priest or sung by the choir: the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei.
In the Kyrie, believers ask for mercy from God. This part of the sung mass is usually very plaintive, and in the case of Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis, in a minor key, which sounds sad and pleading.
In the Gloria, the believers praise God. This part of the mass is usually very joyous.
In the Credo, they recite their beliefs, often in the form of the Nicene creed, a statement of belief that was written by church officials who met at the first ecumenical (multi-denominational) council at the city of Nicea in 325 CE. This section of the mass can often be very long and repetitive, but in the Missa in Angustiis, Haydn uses some musical devices that lighten the mood.
In the Sanctus, the believers again praise God, and in the Benedictus they bless “he who comes in the name of God.”
In the Angus Dei, right before the actual receiving of the bread and the wine, which represent (or stand for) the body and blood of Jesus, believers ask the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world and grant them peace.
But what if you’re not a Christian? How can Haydn’s mass mean anything to you if you don’t believe that Jesus died to pay for your sins, or reconcile you with God?
On a deeper level, humans have been seeking transformation (the radical change of our very essence) for thousands of years. Whether we literally want to change our life situation and circumstances, or change our inner state of being, most of our ritualized behavior (including even contemporary secular (or non-religious) rituals like shaving our body hair, or watching our favorite television show) is designed to transform us – to take us to another place, or make us into something else.
In the Wicked song, For Good, the lead characters talk about how they have been changed because they knew each other.
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you I have been changed for good.
What does that mean – to “know” somebody? When we use that phrase, we usually mean that we have spent time with someone, learned about their likes and dislikes, their behavior, or their life circumstances. Did you ever stop to think about how small children learn about their world, though? If you’ve spent any time with a baby, you know that everything eventually makes its way into their mouths. Our lips and tongue have a very high concentration of nerve endings, and the part of the brain that corresponds to our mouths is proportionally much larger than the areas of the brain which correspond to other parts of our body. It’s no surprise that the mouth is the primary way for babies to learn about unknown objects.
In the ritual of Christian communion, believers not only take the bread and wine into their mouths, they literally eat the divine elements. If you can “know” something by putting it into your mouth, does that mean you can then “become” someone by eating them? And what does it mean to eat God, or the creative energy of the universe? What does it mean to eat love itself?
When Haydn wrote Missa in Angustiis, he knew that his audience would understand the yearning for change expressed in the Christian ritual of the mass. Through his art, he hoped to create an environment of sound that would complement the ritual of “becoming one” with love. He wanted his audience to be changed “for good.”
As you listen to each part of the mass, open your ears – and through them, your body – to the gradual progression of transformation. What is happening in your life right now? Do you yearn for change – for something better? Can you imagine what it felt like to live in troubled times? Can you imagine the relief of victory? Of peace?
How does the music in each movement touch you? What journey does the music take you on? Where do you end up when the music is finished? Have you, too, been changed?
It’s Haydn year! To commemorate the 200th anniversary of Franz Josef Haydn’s death, the Karen Schuessler Singers performs Haydn’s greatest choral work, written at the end of his life – the much loved and exuberant Lord Nelson Mass, plus Franz Schubert’s Mass in G, full of graceful melodies and good spirit. With full orchestra featuring Orchestra London players and four outstanding soloists, including soprano Beth Horst and bass-baritone Giles Tomkins.
For date, time and location, check out the Facebook event, here.
KSS rehearses pretty much every Tuesday night from early September until late May at Wesley-Knox United Church in London, Ontario. The singers usually meet in a large, upstairs Sunday School room, but as a concert date draws nearer they move to the sanctuary, so that Karen and the singers can better prepare for their upcoming performance.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009 is a chilly autumn evening. Some choir members arrive early to set up the risers and chairs in performance formation, while others gather closer to the 7:30 p.m. start time. Coats and bags are left among the pews near the front of the sanctuary, and after consulting a seating chart near Karen’s podium, the singers take their places. The choir’s accompanist, Ron Fox, is seated at the piano. A small electronic keyboard at Karen’s right is used for warm-ups and demonstrations.
At 7:30 p.m., after a brief warm-up, the singers don’t waste any time in getting to work. Tonight they have a busy two hours ahead of them. (The remaining rehearsals leading up to the first concert of the 2009/10 subscription season will each be at least 2 1/2 hours long.)
Karen comes prepared with several instructions for marking the score of Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass with breath marks, rests, dynamics and other expressive notations. Later in the rehearsal the choir will turn to Schubert’s Mass in G, which many of them have sung before.
In order to get the singers accustomed to concert tempi, Karen also occasionally uses a metronome to demonstrate tempo changes within movements.
The choir runs through the Nelson Mass, focusing on the challenging sections in each movement.
The final concert will also feature a full orchestra, not present at this rehearsal. Karen prepares the singers for the vocal quality and colour that they will need to project once the musicians are finally present, however.
The choir stands for most of the rehearsal, to help the singers access the best possible vocal support in order to produce the rich sounds that this demanding music requires.
KSS rehearsals can often be peppered with joking and good-natured banter during the brief singing breaks, but tonight Karen has a number of movements and rehearsal notes to get through, and her intensity is matched by that of the singers.
Standing for two hours can be exhausting, however, and a short, much-needed break helps them rest and re-energize before starting in again.
Besides technical corrections, Karen also intersperses the rehearsal with information about the background of the Haydn work. She reminds the singers that the subtitle for this particular mass is “Mass in Times of Distress,” which makes it even more relevant for our own troubled period in history.
Tonight a video camera is set up, recording the choir. Reviewing the playback helps Karen demonstrate certain corrections for the singers.
The ultimate goal as rehearsals continue is to get to the place where the singers have embodied the music and lyrics so well that they can just let the music happen, following Karen’s lead.
The rhythm of a rehearsal is familiar to any choral singer: Singing, listening to the conductor, marking the score, singing again…
Hearing and feeling the music come alive all around you is one of the greatest physical and emotional experiences.
With everyone intent on doing their own part, it can be easy to get too caught up in the small details.
But when the moment finally comes that the singer knows the music and can focus almost exclusively on the conductor, the bigger picture comes back into focus.
The Haydn mass is full of many exquisite moments – shimmering sound, dance-like diversions, swelling crescendos – that when the singers finally “get it,” magic then becomes possible, and the composer’s intentions can become fully realized. The music takes on a life of its own.
At the end of the night, the singers dismantle the risers, put away their chairs, gather their scores and head out into the cold darkness, absorbing everything they’ve heard and experienced in the last two hours. For the following seven days they’ll be busy going over their music, incorporating their new instructions, until the process is taken up once again at the next rehearsal.
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