KSS finished off its subscription season with a heartfelt presentation of Missa Gaia / Earth Mass last night. Scroll down to enjoy some photo memories from the concert. Above and below, Karen warms up the choir before the show.
Before the music starts, Karen introduces this phenomenal work, which celebrates planet earth an all the creatures on it.
And the music begins…
Guest soloist Paul Grambo rocked the house with the energetic Beatitudes.
Other stellar musicians included pianist Steve Holowitz, sax player David Wiffen, Margaret Stowe on guitar, Steve Clark on bass, and organist Ronald Fox. Percussionists Rob Larose and Alfredo Caxaj thrill the crowd in Ubi Caritas, below.
The incomparable Denise Pelley held the audience spellbound with her moving interpretations of Mystery and His Eye is on the Sparrow.
At least one audience member was overheard to say “I don’t want to leave,” after the concert was finished.
Special guests from Salthaven Rehabilitation and Education Centre, our partner for this concert, were waiting to greet our patrons at the after-concert reception. Below is a barn owl – rare in this part of Canada – and his young handler.
Brian Salt, founder of Salthaven, introduces another “animal ambassador,” a red-tailed hawk. During the winter he visits schools and service groups, educating people about the amazing work that Salthaven does.
Another raptor guest enchants concert-goers, below. Founded 25 years ago, Salthaven rehabilitates sick and injured wildlife, and is currently working on a capital fundraising campaign for a new, $2.5 million clinic that will allow them to admit virtually all the animals that they get calls about each year. They are currently able to admit only about 20% animals that are brought to their attention.
Please visit the Salthaven website – www.salthaven.org – to learn more about the vital work that this organization does. Be sure to check out the photo gallery of patients, and read the many heartwarming stories of animals rescued, treated and released back into their natural habitats.
London jazz singer Denise Pelley has been performing Missa Gaia / Earth Mass with the Karen Schuessler Singers since our first presentation of the work in 1994. Denise brings a special energy to each concert, and her soulful solos are audience favorites. We recently asked her for some Missa Gaia memories.
Do you remember the first time you heard Missa Gaia?
Missa Gaia was my introduction to Karen Schuessler in the mid 90s. She had contacted me about performing with the choir. Up until that point in time I hadn’t done a lot of performing with choirs, so I welcomed this exciting opportunity. As I listened to [Paul Winter's] recording I was quite intrigued by this piece which tells a story of how precious our Earth is.
Do you have any favorite songs from Missa Gaia?
It’s hard to choose a favorite because I really do love all of the songs, but two of my favorites are Ubi Caritas and Mystery. I love listening to the choir on Ubi Caritas, how it starts so gentle and free with the men’s voices, the haunting piano going from minor to major. It reminds of the feeling of darkness and despair turning into hope and celebration. All the modulations in the song remind me of different chapters of life’s journey. When the song is finishing, with the choir singing Hallelujah, I liken it to the singers saying thank you for the journey thus far.
Mystery is a very moving piece for me, especially after the loss of my oldest son Jason in January 2000. Singing has always been very therapeutic for me, and it was instrumental (and continues to be) in helping me to deal with his death.
“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” (text from the song Mystery, Missa Gaia / Earth Mass)
Do you remember any specific audience reactions to the MG concerts you’ve done with KSS?
We have performed Missa Gaia many times since the first time in 1994, and I find that every audience is mesmerized by the message this whole piece tells.
What keeps bringing you back to do this work again and again?
My trips to Sudan, my visit to a Trinidadian orphanage and a maximum security prison, the loss of loved ones, the birth of new little ones – all of these chapters influence my presentation of music. It is my chance to share a story. And I have the wonderful opportunity to incorporate these feelings into Missa Gaia.
I will never tire of Missa Gaia. The music is beautiful, moving and enjoyable to do. The story will be relevant forever.
After our Love is in the Air concert I heard a lot of positive feedback from concert-goers, and so I asked the choristers if they had any favorite moments or memories from the concert that they wanted to share.
“I had a blast singing in the concert. I had two friends come to the concert from Mississagua and they both have sung in a concert choir – Belle Arte – for many years. They loved the tone quality of our choir, especially the men! Go guys!”
“For me, my favourite memory was the combination of splendid narration of the sonnets (with a touch of humour thrown in), the teasing, saucy piano accompaniment of Shearing and the tight chords within the choir. Specifically, It Was a Lover and His Lass epitomizes this for me. One patron said to me that he so enjoyed the music, because the jazz standards were what he grew up on and hearing them live was very special.”
(Curious? Hear the JMU University Chorus sing It Was a Lover and His Lass, below.)
“I had fun movin and groovin!”
“A friend dropped in and said she couldn’t go past my house without stopping to tell me how much she enjoyed the concert (she has been to almost all of our concerts for several years). Here are her comments:
Choir – beautiful sound and blend; Loved the way the choir was moving with the music – looked to be really enjoying themselves; All three groups were really in sync with one another; Quartet (After Four) had beautiful sound; Didn’t want the performance to end – could have listened to 24 encores.”
Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is KSS’ Director of Communications.
I showed up early for the KSS Love is in the Air concert to take some behind-the-scenes photos, and make sure I remembered how to work the video camera that KSS uses to create archive recordings of its concerts. The audience always shows up early, and the anticipation in the room was high as patrons waited for the concert to begin.
I slipped backstage to check on the singers. They were assembling to warm up before the show.
Meanwhile the choir’s librarian was sorting extra music that singers had already turned in.
Karen warmed up the singers, and then began the pre-concert routine of reminding everyone which aspects of each song to focus on.
Instead of their usual formal concert dress, the choir wore casual black, with red ties or scarves, for their evening of jazz.
Back in the church sanctuary, announcer David Burghardt warmed up the audience.
And the concert began.
Each half of the program opened with a set of Shakesperean songs and sonnets set by jazz legend George Shearing. Before each piece was sung, local theatrical talents David Wasse and Bronwyn Powell read the poem aloud. This married couple’s interpretations of Shakespeare’s words had the audience enthralled and entertained.
Special guests After Four (left to right: Jenny Nauta, Dave Williams, Theresa Wallis and Ron Nauta) got toes tapping with their swinging, scat-filled versions of jazz standards and popular songs arranged by the talented Ron Nauta.
After Four even joined KSS for a few numbers, including the energetic Blue Skies, which closed the first half of the program.
I was eagerly anticipating the only non-jazz piece on the program – Eric Whitacre’s This Marriage. Karen had chosen it months ago, before she settled on the jazz format for the concert, and couldn’t bear to cut it from the program. I’m glad she left it in; I’d heard the song ahead of time on YouTube, and was deeply touched by the lyrics and harmonies. Set to poetry by the Sufi mystic Rumi, it brought tears to my eyes when I finally heard it performed by KSS.
May these vows and this marriage be blessed. May it be sweet milk, this marriage, like wine and halvah. May this marriage offer fruit and shade like the date palm. May this marriage be full of laughter, our every day a day in paradise. May this marriage be a sign of compassion, a seal of happiness here and hereafter. May this marriage have a fair face and a good name, an omen as welcomes the moon in a clear blue sky. I am out of words to describe how spirit mingles in this marriage.
I was especially awestruck by how Whitacre finished the song with sung ahhs and ooo’s – an interesting interpretation of the final line. See Whitacre himself conducting another performance of the piece (sung by the Ole Miss Concert Singers), below.
One of the highlights of the evening for some of our patrons, I’m sure, was when the audience got to participate in the final song (Sing, Sing, Sing) by snapping along in rhythm, conducted by Karen.
Our next concert, River! (Saturday, May 29, 2010), celebrates the Thames, and will feature the world premiere of a new song commissioned by KSS, composed by Londoner Jeff Smallman.
Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is the KSS Director of Communications
“This is not the first time I have enjoyed a rich and stimulating evening with the Karen Schuessler Singers, nor will it be the last. This evening’s performance however was particularly thematically dear to my heart owing to my great love of Shakespeare’s plays, many of which I have myself directed. In this concert, entitled Love is in the Air!, Shakespeare’s Love Sonnets are performed, brilliantly set to music by jazz master Sir George Shearing. In addition to the choir, Londons’ local jazz quartet After Four sang love songs from several eras incorporating diverse styles of singing. Choral work in Jazz style is my idea of heaven and I was not disappointed.”
Read the rest of the review by Cheryl Cashman, here.
Wondering what’s on the program of the upcoming KSS concert, Love is in the Air? See the song list, below. To read about the singers’ favorite pieces, click here.
All the Things You Are (Jerome Kern, arr. Ron Nauta) A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (Maschwitz/Sherwin, arr. Gene Puerling) Blue Skies (Irving Berlin, arr. Steve Zegree) Call Me (Tony Hatch, arr. Ron Nauta) I Got Rhythm (George Gershwin, arr. Christopher Clapham) I Will (Lennon/McCarthy, arr. Dan Davison) Love is Here to Stay (George Gershwin, arr. Kirby Shaw) Lullaby of Birdland (George Shearing) Send in the Clowns (Stephen Sondheim, arr. Darmon Meader) Sing, Sing, Sing (Louis Prima, arr. Darmon Meader) Songs and Sonnets (George Shearing) Taking a Chance on Love (Duke/Latouche/Fetter, arr. Darmon Meader) Tangerine (Victor Schertzinger) This Marriange (Eric Whitacre) Thousand Things (Anders Edenroth) You Are the Sunshine of My Life (Stevie Wonder, arr. Ron Nauta) You Made Me Love You (Monaco/McCarthy, arr. Carl Strommen)
Some comments on the program from Artistic Director and conductor Karen:
“I’m really excited about our next concert. It is pure delight! Taking a Chance on Love, Love is Here to Stay, You Made Me Love You… What could be more enjoyable than swinging jazz arrangements of love standards performed by KSS and the incomparable London vocal jazz quartet, AFTER FOUR?
“And not only that, but sonnets of the Bard given that special George Shearing treatment – sweet, stylish and sophisticated. Every week the choir tells me how much fun they are having working on this music. And of course, the band is second to none with Steve Holowitz on piano, Steve Clark on bass and Greg Mainprize on drums. It will be an evening of captivating rhythms and smooth harmonies.
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.
Visit this space often for a wealth of background information, research and interviews about our upcoming concerts, as well as cool stuff that we've found on the Internet related to music and choral singing.
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