Karen recently answered some questions about Going to the Rock!
What is the theme for this concert?
The theme is the exploration and celebration of the music and culture of Newfoundland. In addition, it’s the preparation for the choir’s participation in Festival 500 in St. John’s, Newfoundland in July.
How did you choose the theme?
We needed a public performance of our concert set that we are performing for the Festival, and so we decided to expand on the Newfoundland theme all the way around.
How did you choose the guest artists?
Our choristers, Kevin and Daphne Bice—true lovers of all things Newfoundland—have a daughter who is a professional Celtic fiddler out west who is a fabulous entertainer and who has jammed with the best of them in Newfoundland. Bringing her back to London was a natural choice. Her friend, guitarist Greig Cairns, and she have worked together several times over the years, so it made sense to bring him on the concert too.
Kevin and Daphne were also the contacts for Newfoundland storyteller Don Ford, who is a friend of theirs.
Are any of the pieces special favorites?
Favorites of mine include Feller from Fortune, a Canadian choral favorite which is a cracking arrangement of a well-known Newfoundland folksong. It’s crazy and funny and smart and surprising and satisfying all at once—really a great piece.
I also love The Banks of Loch Erin, which is a wistful, haunting melody brought from Scotland and made Newfoundland’s own. It’s exquisite.
Then I like Drunken Sailor. The timing keeps changing which reminds one of a tipsy sailor stumbling on a ship deck in the roll of the sea—lots of whooping, and just delightful.
A piece that is a stunner from our Festival 500 concert set is I Thank You God by Gwyneth Walker. She set the well-known poem by e. e. cummings and created a resounding affirmation of life and creation—the cosmic Yes. It’s thrilling.
We are also doing Lux Aurumque (Light and Gold) by Eric Whitacre, which has become famous as the Virtual Choir piece. We sang it on our last concert and it got a tremendous response. You can actually hear the “light” shimmering.
We’re also performing a splendid arrangement of Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns, his most famous song, that is an original interpretation of a great solo with a lot of room for emotional expression.
Back to the Newfoundland songs, there are three (Sarah, The Moocher and Me, The Landfall of Cabot) which are just hilarious, full of antics and gossip and back-chat and Newfoundlandese (terms known only there). As we sing them, Jennie Bice will weave her Kitchen Party fiddle throughout, pick up the theme, and get everyone wanting to dance in the aisles!
The Beat reviewer Cheryl Cashman was in the audience at Saturday night’s concert, and here’s her review of the concert:
“In the performing arts there is a saying: ‘When prose will no longer suffice we must turn to poetry. When movement will no longer suffice, we must dance. When words will no longer suffice, then we must sing.’
“The Voices of Light that we heard Saturday night from the Karen Scheussler Singers had an urgency of soul that lifted them to the highest reaches of artistic expression.
“As always, the choir’s director spoke to us before each piece, giving us just enough informative guidance to ensure our fullest experience of the song to follow. How Scheussler is able to strike that fine balance between historical, technical and aesthetic information conveyed is extraordinary. She weaves contexts of the oldest and newest music together with a passion and purity of intention that place us in a tapestry of time and timelessness. We are in the here and now, and are as humankind has ever been.
“The 37-strong choir took us through the centuries of spirit-inspired music from Bach and Mendelssohn to contemporaries Eric Whitacre, Morten Lauridson and Paul Halley. And, as was the aim of the concert, from darkness to light. And as the consciousness and mandate of the ensemble dictated, through immediate and political darkness also.”
Above: The Karen Schuessler Singers perform Paul Halley’s Voices of Light with flutist Fiona Wilkinson.
Some comments from concert-goers after last night’s season opening concert, Voices of Light:
“You just can’t go home after an experience like that. You been to some place, and you have to take time to come back.”
From a musician with perfect pitch: “My favourite piece was the Lux Aurumque. The chord clusters were exquisite. The choir never dropped in pitch. It was a really fine concert, really fine!”
“This concert was right up there with my other favourite concert of this choir, ‘Strawberry Fields’.”
If you attended the concert, we’d love to hear your feedback! Add your comments, below.
Added November 27:
One of the choristers relayed this comment from a patron: “Thank you for making me aware of the concert and encouraging me to go. It was wonderful!!! What a way to enter the Christmas season. It inspired me for my Christmas card which I just finished. On my way to the printer. Thanks for sharing your gifts and talents so generously to bring joy to others. A lot of very hard work goes into a night like that and it was very moving. I had a wonderful seat up in the balcony in the middle and the sound was magnificent.”
And more comments:
“It was a great time. Thanks!”
“Keep up the good work!”
“Very high quality music and appropriate professionalism.”
“This concert is spectacular – absolutely beautiful. Thank you.”
“Lovely concert! Ron Fox is a fantastic organist. Beautiful ensemble blend!”
“Thank you all!!!”
“Your concert was terrific. I loved the variety and the range of the music. There were times of incredibly quiet beauty and other times when the complex harmonies and chordal “crunches” reached deep into my soul. The orchestra was wonderful and that flute player absolutely blew me away!”
KSS was featured in an article in the London Free Press today.
“To illuminate a season-opening concert, the Karen Schuessler Singers are revisiting one of their favourites.
“‘The title of the concert itself comes from the last piece on the program – Voices of Light by Paul Halley,’ artistic director Karen Schuessler says of Saturday’s program at Wesley-Knox church. ‘It’s an ecstatic interchange between piano, choir and flute. The last time we performed this piece was at our 10th anniversary concert. The music carries you along, and it builds and builds.’
“UWO Don Wright music faculty professor Fiona Wilkinson guests on flute. She has recorded the Halley work with the Guelph Chamber Choir, directed by her faculty colleague Gerald Neufeld, on its Christmas-themed album Good Cheare.
“‘It does sound like pinpoints of light,’ Wilkinson says of the beautiful, demanding work. ‘It’s so fast, the technique, that it does sound like points of light popping through the upper register.’”
KSS will be presenting the first concert of our 2010/2011 season – Voices of Light – on Saturday night. Here are some of the choristers’ favorite pieces from the program.
Says one of the singers about Morten Lauridsen’s Magnum Mysterium: “Such a beautiful & moving piece of music.”
Listen for yourself to the University of Utah Singers performing this piece, which uses the beautiful O magnum mysterium text. Says Lauridsen himself: “This affirmation of God’s grace to the meek and the adoration of the Blessed Virgin are celebrated in my setting through a quiet song of profound inner joy.”
Says another singer: “Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium contains rich harmonies that are wonderful to sing. It has an ethereal quality as the melody develops, winding its way from one voice to another. My hope is that the audience will be drawn into our experience and transported to another plane.”
Yet another singer loves singing Lauridsen’s rich harmonies. The same singer also likes Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque because it has “intriguing harmonies and it sounds kind of ethereal.” Learn more about Lux Aurumque here.
Randall Thompson’s Choose Something Like a Star from Frostiana is another favorite. Listen to the Harvard University Choir singing it, below. (This video also features the lyrics.) One signer calls it “up close to heaven!”
Says another singer: “The music of The Magnificat by Pergolesi [actually by Francesco Durante, formerly attributed to Pergolesi] is quite exquisite, featuring the talented string ensemble that is joining us for this concert. It’s also a thrill to hear individual choir members as our soloists, highlighting some of the talent hidden within our ranks.”
Here’s a video of the opening movement – a baroque delight.
Paul Halley’s Voices of Light – the program finale – merits mention as well: “With Fiona Wilkinson’s amazing interpretation, fingers flying over the keys of her flute, Ron Fox on the organ & the choir soaring, it’s a musical experience unto itself.”
One chorister sums up the program this way: “Once again, Karen has woven together yet another interesting program to challenge the choir & entertain our audience.” Check out the entire program, below.
Bach – Break forth, o beauteous heavenly light (German/English)
Mendelssohn – There shall a star come forth (Christus)
Whitacre – Lux Aurumque
Bach (Kuhnau) – Cantata #142 for Christmas Day
Lauridsen – O Magnum Mysterium
Pergolesi (Durante) – Magnificat
Thompson – Choose Something Like a Star
Halley – Voices of Light
Featuring string quintet, two flutes, organ/piano, timpani and percussion instruments.
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.
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.
p.s. You can leave comments on our blog posts! We would love to hear from you!