Wednesday, December 30, 2009

‘Tis STILL the Season

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Just two days ago – December 28 – I saw a discarded Christmas tree out on the curb. Three days after Christmas, and already it’s over? The mall parking lot was jam-packed with shoppers crowding the stores for “after-Christmas” sales, and radio stations (even the classical ones!) abandoned holiday music by December 26th.

But Christmas isn’t over yet; in fact, today is only the sixth day of Christmas, which lasts for twelve days until Epiphany on January 6. (Yes, those are the “twelve days of Christmas” made famous in song. An interesting discussion of the possible Christian symbolism of the lyrics may be found at http://www.crivoice.org/cy12days.html.)

“Twelfth Night” is generally celebrated with revelry on the evening of January 5th, at which time Christmas decorations are removed, wassail is drunk, and a “Lord of Misrule” commands the feast and advocates reversal of roles for men and women, nobles and commoners, and the like. Shakespeare’s wonderful play Twelfth Night was written as an entertainment for that occasion; the Bard’s inclusion of reversed or backwards roles (a woman pretending to be a man, a commoner hoping to wed a noblewoman) is in recognition of this Twelfth Night custom.

In some cultures, especially those of our Hispanic neighbors, Epiphany (called “Three Kings’ Day” in honor of the Magi) is the day set aside for gift-giving and family celebrations. And for Orthodox Christians, Christmas is still several days away; they celebrate Christ’s birth on January 7, and observe Epiphany or Theophany on January 19th.

So, with so many reasons and occasions to continue our celebrations, why is there such a rush to end Christmas so early? Perhaps the people who live in the house where I saw the discarded Christmas tree are among those who put their Christmas decorations up on the day after Thanksgiving, and after six weeks, they’re ready to move on. But I really think that the rush has its origin in our retail culture; increasingly, our observances of holidays (holy days) and days of historical or cultural significance (Fourth of July, Hallowe’en, etc.) are driven by retailers and marketers. And that’s why Valentine’s Day merchandise (as if we need it) is already in the stores. (There’s no more money to be made on Christmas; what’s the next holiday we can exploit?)

At our house, we wait until mid-December, usually around the 14th, before we get a tree, decorate indoors and out, or even bake Christmas cookies. (We didn’t even finish our Thanksgiving turkey until well into the first week of December!) We then leave the indoor Christmas decorations up until Epiphany, and leave the evergreen wreath on the front door until the end of January.

At South Church, where I sing in the Chancel Choir, we’ll sing Christmas and Epiphany music throughout January. This Sunday, January 3 (Epiphany observed), we’ll sing “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright” (J.S. Bach’s harmonization, hurrah!), “The First Nowell,” “We Three Kings,” “As with Gladness Men of Old,” and other music of the season.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Christmas Carol: A True Story

.At the end of November, I received an inquiry from a new customer at GraceNotes, the business through which I provide program annotations, writing, and editing services for classical musicians and ensembles (http://www.grace-notes.com/ ). Here’s that first message, followed by the entire correspondence I had with this young musician. (I’ve edited the messages for clarity and to protect my client’s privacy; I also added a few explanatory comments in square brackets.) Merry Christmas.
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[From London] – Dear Sir or Madame, I am preparing for my Diploma on Piano for the end of December. I have already written my Program notes but I would like that someone proofreads them for me as I am originally from Barcelona and I may make mistakes in English. Please let me know if it would be possible for you to do so. I found your webpage and services very reliable. Thank you very much.” [The attached program notes were for a prelude and fugue by Bach, an Intermezzo by Brahms, and an early Beethoven sonata.]
[From Connecticut] – Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, wonderful! I have just read Jan Swafford’s wonderful biography of Brahms. Yes, I can proofread your notes. Please let me know when you need to have it done, whether you want just proofreading (looking for spelling errors, etc.) or if you also want some light editing to adjust stylistic matters, etc. … Sarah

[From London] – I have also read Jan Swafford’s biography of Brahms and I found it very factual and useful to understand his music. Well, I’d like if you could just proof-read my programme notes. I have allowed other musicians to read them and they say the content is good, so I think if you could just check that the grammar and expressions are correct it would be enough. But, of course, if you see anything very wrong about the content please let me know! I need them for maximum the 18th December. I live in London … I thank you for your answer and hope that you like them. Kind regards…

[From Connecticut] – Your notes are very nice - I enjoyed reading them. I do see some areas that I think could be strengthened with some light revisions - just the adjustment of a word here or there. [There followed some discussion of work to be done and my suggested fee, which was a student rate, about half of what I would normally charge.] I can take care of it today and get it back to you this evening so you have time to make changes. Let me know if that is OK with you. I hope your recital is wonderful. I am also a pianist (and singer) and I love to play Bach above all. This week I have been playing Brahms, though; I recently sang in four performances of his Requiem and have had his music very much in my ear. … Sarah

[From London] – Dear Sarah, I am sorry but I cannot afford to pay your fee. I am student and I work as well to pay my studies’ expenses and I have to be careful because my budget is very low. I have had a look at your webpage and it’s fantastic all the information from different areas that you can find it in there. I enjoyed it a lot. Thank you very much for your interest My best wishes…

[From London, a week later] – Dear Sarah, I have been ill during this past week so I couldn’t do a big search to ask someone to proof-read my programme notes. My Diploma is on Monday and I need it so urgently.... I have asked my family to help me and pay for it. I would love if you could have a look at them as all the other proof-readers I’ve found don’t know about music. I have changes some things to make them more appropriate to a bigger range of audience. Please let me know what you think. They should be for an audience who are familiar with music but not musicians themselves. For a generalist audience. I think I may have included too much technical terms... Please change or modify anything what you think would make them more appropriate. I am sorry to have emailed you so late. I have had a very bad flu and I had to stay in bed and do nothing for days, and I don’t have access to internet at home. I would be very thankful if you could inform me as soon as possible if you would be able to have a look at the programme notes before Friday night. I’ll pay the amount you think is convenient. Thank you very much. My best wishes…

[From Connecticut] – Hello…I am sorry you are ill! I seem to be on my second round of cold and flu, too… Yes, I can review your notes [and send the revisions to you tonight]. … I remember what it was like to be a student without money! In lieu of your paying me a fee, I would be delighted if you would make a donation to your favorite performing ensemble, or perhaps give some free or-low cost piano lessons to kids who might not otherwise be able to pay. ... Sarah

[From London] – Thank you very much. … Please, tell me if you really want me to pay, I’ll do it. I teach music to children while studying (I have to pay the rent!). If you really wish it I’ll teach one hour free to one child who his parents have problems with money and can’t come so often. He is 6 and has an amazing capacity for playing but overall for inventing his own music. Now we have started to write it down and he loves it so much that he says he wants to be a composer! Please, tell me whatever you want and I’ll do it. It is already a gift to be able to meet someone who still having human values and believe on people. ...

[From Connecticut] – Hello … Here are your program notes, with proofreading and light editing all done. These are very nice notes! I enjoyed reading about each piece. I corrected the spelling and grammar issues as you suggested, and also restructured a few sentences to make them easier to read. I hope you are pleased with the results. I did spell-check, but you should also read it over carefully to be sure it is as you wish. Good luck on your recital! I hope you are feeling much better and can enjoy the great music you have chosen. Now, if you would give a few lessons to that promising young musician you mentioned, I would consider myself well paid for the two hours I spent to revise your notes. Over the years, I have benefited from colleagues’ assistance, so I can pay that back by helping you this time around. The world needs good music and musicians...and we are part of that! Best of luck, Sarah

[From London] – Dear Sarah, Thank you very very very much for your revision. I loved the way you understood the meanings of my sentences and you modified its structure without changing its content. Thank you very much..... Your way of writing programme notes is beautiful! I promise you I am going to give that boy at least four free lessons. I would like to enter him to do a young composer’s competition but he needs help. His parents can’t afford to pay for more. You made me a great Christmas present, and I offer myself to help you in anything I can be useful. [Here, the client offered to do free translations for me in her native language and in two other languages!] I am very thankful to you and I wish you have a wonderful Christmas surrounded by your loved ones and by the most eternal and loyal love: MUSIC. Good wishes for the New Year!

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If this story moves you, perhaps you’ll also find a way to help someone in a meaningful way. This was my best Christmas present this year.

CONCORA Offers the Region’s “Best Bach”

.In The Hartford Courant’s year-end round-up of the “Best of the Arts 2009 – Classical Music,” CONCORA once again garnered top honors:

Best Bach: CONORA's annual Bach program at Immanuel Congregational Church on March 22 brought the live drama of this music into focus. The Hartford-area professional choir, which celebrated its 35th year in 2009, left hundreds of us smarter.



“Best of the Arts 2009”
The Hartford Courant
December 27, 2009
http://www.courant.com/entertainment/hc-best-of-2009-classical-music-1227,0,7095280.story

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Candlelight Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at South Church, New Britain

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The fresh snow outside my window this morning is a lovely backdrop to the bright birds at our feeder: blue jays, cardinals, white-throated sparrows, and woodpeckers. How lucky that the snow has stopped early enough so that the roads can be cleared in time for the annual Candlelight Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at 4:00 p.m., at South Church in New Britain, which will take place as planned.

The South Church Festival is modeled on the Festival given at King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England, first sung in 1918. Like the King’s College Festival, the South Church event features scripture readings of the Christmas story, congregational carol singing, and anthems for the season sung by the wonderful South Church Chancel Choir (in which I serve as section leader). The congregation is invited to sing eight carols and hymns, including the favorite “Once in David’s Royal City,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “On This Day Earth Shall Ring.” A free-will donation will be received which will support the Festival and benefit the South Church Survival Fund. A reception follows in Cooper Hall.

To tempt you, here is the list of anthems to be sung by the Chancel Choir:

William Mathias – Sir Christèmas
Hubert Bird – Adam Lay y-Bounden
Philip Ledger – A Spotless Rose
John Rutter – Ave Maria
Bryan Kelly – Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis
Colin Mawby – How Far Is It to Bethlehem
Ken Burton – The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy
Healey Willan – The Three Kings
John Gardner –A Christmas Hymn

Last week, I offered my impressions of three of the carols (read it HERE). Here are my thoughts on the others we’ll sing:

John Rutter – Ave Maria – One might not expect to hear a setting of Ave Maria in a Protestant service, but this text is an adaptation of St. Luke’s angelic salutation, and does not include the venerative section of the Catholic Ave Maria. Rutter’s gently rocking 5/8 setting (like a "stretch two") reminds us that this text salutes Mary as expectant mother. The solo soprano voice that rises unexpectedly in the coda is a brilliant touch, focusing our thoughts on the single, and singular, person of Mary.

Bryan Kelly – Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis – This setting of the exultant Magnificat text is truly joyous, with exuberant rhythms and some the sort of dissonances that make you smile as you lean into them. This music has been my “tune-be-gone” for much of the week.

Colin Mawby – How Far Is It to Bethlehem – In this gentle, undulating setting, one can almost see the date palms swaying in the evening breeze and feel the rolling gait of camels as they cross the sands to Bethlehem. The 5/4 meter is what I call a “stretch 4” – it feels like an elongation of a 4/4 meter rather than a “five” – and it’s in that long fourth beat that I feel the camel’s gait through the shifting sand.

Ken Burton – The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy – Caribbean rhythms infuse this setting of a traditional West Indian Carol by British composer Ken Burton (of Jamaican heritage). It seems that Burton’s precise British style brings crispness to the swinging syncopations.

Healey Willan – The Three Kings – The more of Willan’s music I sing, the more I admire it. Superb craft and a deep sympathy for the texts combine to produce works of unparalleled beauty and meaning. You really have to come to the Festival just to hear this setting of Housman’s poem The Three Kings, especially the final awe-struck measures.

John Gardner – A Christmas Hymn – It took me several weeks to embrace Gardner’s 1971 setting of Jesu, redemptor omnium, an ancient hymn for Vespers on Christmas Day. Despite the beautiful melodies and utterly lush harmonies, this music didn’t really settle in my heart and mind until just a few days ago. Perhaps the attention required of the singer – the score is fairly complex, with shifting voicings and macaronic texts that are first here, then there – was distracting to me. I think this anthem might be more fulfilling to hear than to sing. Come hear it, and let me know what you think. It is undeniably wonderful (that is, full of wonder).

One of the things I love about the Festival of Lessons and Carols at South Church is the opportunity to hear so much of the marvelous Gress-Miles organ in all its magnificent glory. Organist David Westfall has designed distinctive, beautiful registrations for the anthems, hymns, and carols, introducing a brilliant range of colors and sonorities to the service. The Festival opens with an organ prelude, with David playing Two Carol Settings by Frank Speller and James Woodman’s Partitia on Es ist ein Ros’ Entsprungen. David will close the program with one of his amazing organ improvisations. Marvelous!

See you at 4:00 today at historic South Church in downtown New Britain.

Oh, and don’t forget the wonderful reception following the Festival, in Cooper Hall at South Church.

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The Music Series at South Church presents
A Candlelight Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 4:00 p.m.
South Church
90 Main Street, New Britain, Connecticut
A free-will donation will be received which will support the Festival and benefit the South Church Survival Fund.
A reception follows in Cooper Hall.

Monday, December 14, 2009

“An Antidote to Bland Holiday Music” – CONCORA and “Christmas in the Americas”

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“...an antidote to bland holiday music”
“...tasty music that often explored the unfamiliar”
“...lovely and sometimes haunting”
“...fresh and engaging”
“...a memorable sonic meditation”
“...CONCORA performed with charisma”
“...brilliantly performed”

Any choral group would be delighted to receive any one of those accolades in a concert review. The Hartford Courant’s review of CONCORA’s performance of “Christmas in the Americas,” given yesterday at Hartford’s Asylum Hill Congregational Church, included all these words of praise, plus a whole lot more. Here’s the entire review of CONCORA’s “Christmas in the Americas”:

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Alternative Holiday Music From CONCORA

There are more shades in the repertoire of holiday music than one might imagine based on familiar radio fare. The antidote to bland holiday music was to go “live.” CONCORA's program “Christmas in the Americas,” at Asylum Hill Congregational Church, hit the spot. I already feel better.

This was tasty music that often explored the unfamiliar. Even the carol “Away in a Manger” was not the tune that plays in your head at its mere mention. Instead, it was arranged in the setting by William James Kirkpatrick from 1895, and it sounded fresh and engaging.

It was the last of three carols that were sung in various configurations by the audience with CONCORA. We received the music with our programs. The texts were lovely and sometimes haunting. “Not all carols involve sheep and reindeer,” said CONCORA music director and conductor Richard Coffey.

CONCORA performed from both the front and back of the church, from the organ loft and encircling the audience. The ensemble sang “Ya viene la vieja,” a Spanish carol, arranged by Alice Parker and Robert Shaw, while moving from the back of the church to the front.

Highlights included a crisp performance of the Missa Brevis No. 4 in E Major (“Divinum Mysterium”) by Healey Willan (1880-1968).

Within the “United States Suite,” they performed a setting of “Long, Long Ago” (for women's voices only) by Carlisle Floyd. It embraced a bluesy sound world, brought in and out of focus as polyphonic textures grew from lines inspired by folk music. A “Noel” (for men's voices only) by Steven Sametz also impressed in a performance that was angular, articulate and bouncy.

After intermission we heard a set of “gallery carols” sung with organ accompaniment. “O lux beata caelitum,” (for women's voices only) by Mexican composer Francisco Alcantar was a memorable sonic meditation; a music of waiting and anticipation.

In the “Latin American Suite,” several soloists were featured. Steven A. Mitchell (minister of arts and music at the church) and Alain Frogley balanced effectively in the 17th-century tune “Convidando está la noche” by Zéspedes, Thomas F. Cooke and Stacey S. Grimaldi brought strong dance-like energy to the Kyrie from the “Missa Afro-Brasileira” by Carlos Alberto Pinto Fonseca, and Jessica Nevins, contributed as soprano soloist in the Spanish carol “Esta noche nace un Niño” arranged by Andrew Carter.

The program closed with two spirituals: a bittersweet arrangement of “Mary Borned a Baby” by Noah Ryder and “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” arranged by Donald McCullough, which CONCORA performed with charisma, led by soprano Christine Laird. It was a harmonious program and, as always with this ensemble, brilliantly performed.

“Alternative Holiday Music From CONCORA”
Jeffrey Johnson, The Hartford Courant, December 15, 2009
courant.com/entertainment/music-reviews/hc-concorarev.art.artdec15,0,1284658.story

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If you’d like to “go live” and experience CONCORA’s magic in person, call the CONCORA office today to reserve seats for our spring concerts. CONCORA tickets make perfect holiday gifts!

BACH! – Motet Madness
Sunday, February 28, 2010 at 4:00 p.m.
(Snow date: Monday, March 1, 7:30 p.m.)
Immanuel Congregational Church, Hartford
CONCORA continues its perennially popular “Bach!” series with “Motet Madness,” a concert of all six incomparable motets, accompanied by 10-piece instrumental ensemble. CONCORA, which last performed all the motets on a single program in 2000, is the only ensemble in the area that offers so much Bach and does it so well. Don't miss it.

Music of the Spirit
Saturday, April 24, 2010 at 8:00 p.m.
St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church, Hartford
CONCORA’s season closes with a return to the resplendent Church of St. Patrick and St. Anthony in Hartford, for a program of evocative, virtuosic repertoire for unaccompanied choir, featuring works by Martin, Howells, Macmillan, Orban, Pärt, Tavener, Messiaen, Whitacre, and others.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Call the CONCORA office at 860-224-7500, or visit the CONCORA website at
http://www.concora.org/.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Welcome Sir Christèmas!

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The Chancel Choir of South Church, where it is my privilege to serve as one of five section leaders, is nearing the end of its preparation for the annual Candlelight Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, to be offered this year on Sunday, December 20, 2009, at 4:00 p.m., at South Church in New Britain. (Snow date: Monday, December 21, 7:30 p.m.) A free-will donation will be received which will support the Festival and benefit the South Church Survival Fund. A reception follows in Cooper Hall. All are welcome!

Here's a photo taken during the 2008 Festival:

The South Church Festival, presented by The Music Series at South Church, is modeled on the Festival given at King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England, first sung in 1918. (You can read about the King’s College Festival, and learn more about its history, here: http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/events/chapel-services/nine-lessons.html.)

Like the King’s College Festival, the South Church Festival features scripture readings of the Christmas story, congregational carol singing, and anthems for the season sung by the wonderful South Church Chancel Choir. The congregation is invited to sing several carols and hymns, including the favorite “Once in David’s Royal City,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and (I hope) “On This Day Earth Shall Ring.” David Westfall will close the program with one of his truly amazing organ improvisations. Oh, don’t miss it!

To tempt you, here is the list of anthems to be sung by the Chancel Choir:

William Mathias – Sir Christèmas
Hubert Bird – Adam Lay y-Bounden
Philip Ledger – A Spotless Rose
John Rutter – Ave Maria
Bryan Kelly – Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis
Colin Mawby – How Far Is It to Bethlehem
Ken Burton – The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy
Healey Willan – The Three Kings
John Gardner –A Christmas Hymn

Here are my impressions of three of these carols:

William Mathias – Sir Christèmas – I love the strong rhythms and bold harmonies of William Mathias’ choral music, and Sir Christèmas offers both in abundance. This is a rollicking, earthy carol, invoking the pagan roots of the mid-winter Christmas celebration. The organ accompaniment, which leaps and bounds in counterpoint to the voices, is played with crisp confidence by our organist extraordinaire, David Westfall.

Hubert Bird – Adam Lay y-Bounden – Many composers have created quietly introspective music for Adam Lay y-Bounden, an anonymous 15th-century text which contemplates Adam’s (i.e., our) sin and the cleansing of that sin through Christ’s birth. Bird takes an altogether different approach, with a surging, forward-leaping setting that creates a sense of urgency and, ultimately, joy. With dark whisperings, the voices at first lament the ancient sin, but ultimately an exuberant song of thanks and praise emerges,

Philip Ledger – A Spotless Rose – The twelve measures of this carol (repeated for a total of twenty-four), composed for the Choir of King’s College, are so, so beautiful. The harmonies are intriguingly fresh without jarring the ear, and the blossoming of voices at the phrase “a spotless rose unfolds” is breathtaking. Like a rose: simple, intricate, memorable.

I'll share impressions of the remaining carols next week.

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The Music Series at South Church presents
A Candlelight Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 4:00 p.m.
South Church
90 Main Street, New Britain, Connecticut
Snow date: Monday, December 21, 7:30 p.m.
A free-will donation will be received which will support the Festival and benefit the South Church Survival Fund.
A reception follows in Cooper Hall.
All are welcome.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Early Bird Special

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On most mornings, I’m the first person in our household to awaken. I head to the kitchen to make my first cup of tea and check the bird feeders to discover the day’s “early bird special” – that is, to see which birds made it to the feeders first. It’s fairly predictable.

In the summer, when I’m often up by 4:30 or 5:00 a.m., the first bird I see is often a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a tiny dark blur in the dim pre-dawn light. The little hummers must eat almost constantly when they are awake. During the night, they enter a semi-torpid state, almost like a mini-hibernation, so as to conserve fuel during the cool night hours. The hummers are often the last at the feeders in the evening, too, getting their bedtime snacks.

In the colder months, the first birds to arrive at the feeders are usually the Northern Cardinals and the White-throated Sparrows. I can hear the Cardinals’ “chip!” notes and the White-throats’ “tseep!” notes, and when I peer out into the darkness around 5:30 a.m., there they are. These two species come and go all day long, and are usually the last ones at the feeders in the late afternoon, too, sometimes staying on into twilight.

The Cardinals are year-round residents; we have at least two pairs that nest in or around our yard.

The White-throated Sparrows are winter residents, having migrated from their breeding grounds in the far north. They are very pretty birds and excellent songsters.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I Wish the Hawk Would Eat the Sparrows

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Thoughts on the presence of a Cooper’s Hawk at our feeder, which is continually plagued with House Sparrows.

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I wish the hawk would eat the sparrows,
break their bones and suck their marrows,
pluck their feathers, pull off their heads,
rip their flesh into little shreds!

They eat all the birdseed. They cause other birds stress.
They poop on the window and make a big mess.
They poop under the awning when weather gets cold
and poop on the top of it when it’s unrolled.

Among our birds, these finches are trash;
they haven’t even got panache.
Their incessant tuneless discordant chatter
drowns out the birds that really matter.

They don’t even belong here, you know;
they were brought from the Old World long ago
as part of a plan to bring to our shore
birds familiar in Europe of yore.

The reasons now seem bizarre and absurd:
The plan was to establish here each bird
mentioned in the plays of Avon’s great Bard.
Now we have sparrows in every yard.

That’s why we also have the Starling,
a good mimic and Mozart’s darling.
But our bluebirds became the sacrifice
to someone’s idea that the starling is nice.

Who thought our landscape would be more pleasant
with introduced birds like the Starling and pheasant?
The House Sparrows and Starlings have adapted so well
that their destructive numbers continue to swell.

If I had a tiny bow and some tiny arrows,
I’d shoot all the pesky, nasty House Sparrows.
I’d mince them fine and put them in boxes
then set them out to feed the foxes.

But as I have no bow or tiny arrows
to eradicate my hoards of sparrows,
I call upon our neighborhood raptor
to chase, and pounce, and grab, and capture.


More bad poetry about house sparrows:
http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2009/08/chewing-fat.html


December 9, 2009

© 2011 Quodlibet. Dissemination, re-use, or duplication prohibited except by express permission of the author.I pay attention and I will find you if you cite, republish, or use my work without credit or without attribution.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dulce Domum

.My inner ear has been resounding with the wonderful selection of choral music that CONCORA will perform on “Christmas in the Americas.” We've had three fabulous rehearsals, and we'll finish our preparations on Friday and Saturday. The concert takes place on Sunday, December 13, at 7:30 p.m., at the historic Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford. (Details and ticket information are at the end of this post. Tickets are selling briskly; call today to reserve your seats!)

The program annotations I provide for the printed program book are necessarily short, due to space constraints. When I have time, I like to prepare an expanded “program essay” for the singers that includes a lot of the information that I had to edit out for the short printed notes. Here’s the “long note” for one of my favorite selections on the program. I love the musical setting and the text, which is my favorite portion of one of my favorite childhood books, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.

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Readers around the world treasure Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 story The Wind in the Willows, the source for Joy Shall Be Yours in the Morning, a carol sung by field mice to their neighbors on a frosty December night. The hurrying, irregular rhythms in the 1998 setting by Canadian Malcolm V. Edwards (b. 1944) might bring to mind little feet hurrying through the snowdrifts to sing a wassail. Edwards, a native of Halifax, England, emigrated to Canada in 1967 and is Professor of Music (and former Head of the Music Department) at the University of Calgary.

Here is the excerpt from “Dulce Domum,” the chapter in which the carol text appears. “Dulce Domum” is the Latin for “sweetly at home” or “sweet home.” A lovely winter thought.

… Sounds were heard from the fore-court without–sounds like the scuffling of small feet in the gravel and a confused murmur of tiny voices, while broken sentences reached them–”Now, all in a line–hold the lantern up a bit, Tommy–clear your throats first–no coughing after I say one, two, three.–Where's young Bill?–Here, come on, do, we're all a-waiting––”

“What's up?” inquired the Rat, pausing in his labours.

“I think it must be the field-mice,” replied the Mole, with a touch of pride in his manner. “They go round carol-singing regularly at this time of the year. They're quite an institution in these parts. And they never pass me over–they come to Mole End last of all; and I used to give them hot drinks, and supper too sometimes, when I could afford it. It will be like old times to hear them again.”

“Let's have a look at them!” cried the Rat, jumping up and running to the door.

It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open. In the fore-court, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little fieldmice stood in a semicircle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, “Now then, one, two, three!” and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry street to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.

CAROL

Villagers all, this frosty tide,
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet—
You by the fire and we in the street—
Bidding you joy in the morning!

For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison— [benediction]
Bliss to-morrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!
[this verse is omitted from Edwards’ setting]

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow—
Saw the star o'er a stable low;
Mary she might not further go—
Welcome thatch, and litter below!
Joy was hers in the morning!

And then they heard the angels tell
Who were the first to cry NOWELL?
Animals all, as it befell,
In the stable where they did dwell!
Joy shall be theirs in the morning!


The voices ceased, the singers, bashful but smiling, exchanged sidelong glances, and silence succeeded--but for a moment only. Then, from up above and far away, down the tunnel they had so lately travelled was borne to their ears in a faint musical hum: the sound of distant bells ringing a joyful and clangorous peal.

“Very well sung, boys!” cried the Rat heartily. “And now come along in, all of you, and warm yourselves by the fire, and have something hot!”

The carol appears in chapter five (“Dulce Domum”) of The Wind in the Willows where it is sung by the field-mice to Mole and Rat. Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Over the next several days, I’ll continue to share snippets of the information I’ve gathered about some of the selections we’ll perform on "Christmas in the Americas." I do hope you can be in the audience to hear this remarkable program. You may view the entire repertoire list at the end of my first post about this concert, here: http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2009/12/rich-choral-tapestry-concora-presents.html

Call today to reserve your seats!

CONCORA
“Christmas in the Americas”
Richard Coffey, conductor
Dan Campolieta (piano, organ, and percussion) and Christen Hernandez (percussion)
Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 4:00 p.m.Snow Date: Monday, December 14, 7:30 p.m.
Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Avenue, Hartford
Tickets: http://www.concora.org/ or call 860-224-7500Preferred seating: $45; General admission: $25; Students: $10.
2-for-1 general seating tickets are available to those with a Let*s Go Arts! card from the Greater Hartford Arts Council.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

“It Set the Singers in Good Humour”

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On Friday and Saturday, CONCORA singers had two wonderful rehearsals in preparation for our upcoming concert, “Christmas in the Americas.” The concert takes place on Sunday, December 13, at 4:00 p.m., at the historic Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford. (Details and ticket information are at the end of this post.)

The program annotations I provide for the printed program book are necessarily short, due to space constraints. When I have time, I like to prepare an expanded “program essay” for the singers that includes a lot of the information that I had to edit out for the short printed notes. Today I'm finishing up that longer essay. Here’s a “long note” for Northfield, an early American “fuguing tune” by Jeremiah Ingalls.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A lively mood prevails in the energetic, angular contours of Northfield, a “fuguing tune” from the Sacred Harp tradition. A fuguing tune is a strophic (versed) work with at least one section of imitative polyphony. The form is said to have been “invented” by Boston-born William Billings (1746-1800), who promoted an “independent” American musical style. The fuguing tune, which originated in rural England in the early 18th century, came to be among the most “American” of the music composed on these shores during this period. Though the English form died out by the end of the 18th century, the form remained popular in America. Billings delighted in the reaction of singers and audience to this new form: “It has more than twenty times the power of the slow tunes, each part straining for mastery and victory, the audience meanwhile entertained and delighted, the minds surpassingly agitated and extremely fluctuated, sometimes declaring for one part, and sometimes for another. Now the solemn bass demands the attention, next the manly tenor, now the lofty counter [alto], now the volatile treble, now here, now there, now here again.”

An article published in the December 1882 issue of The Atlantic Monthly vividly conveyed the excitement that this lively music had engendered: “Billings invented a new way of setting hymns and anthems, which was called the fuguing style. It became extremely popular because of its vivacity, the voice parts moving in a sort of mutual imitation (not fugue properly), in quick time, chasing one another round. O Mather! O Judge Sewall! The grave old heavy psalmody was startled and danced out of its sobriety. Here was a music that was found exciting; a lively rhythmical protest (for men had been drinking of the new wine of liberty) against the dry and dreary old music; a music flattering to the sense and a relief to the imprisoned spirit. Whether it appealed to any deep religious sentiment or not, it set the singers in good humor, and responsive to the exhortation that we make a joyful noise.”

One of the best-known of the fuguing tunes is Northfield, composed around 1800 by Jeremiah Ingalls (1764-1838), sets words by English hymnodist Isaac Watts (1674-1748). Ingalls, born in Andover, Massachusetts, led a busy life as tune book compiler, composer, choir leader, singing school master and bass viol player. His only song book, The Christian Harmony, or Songster’s Companion, was published in 1805. A delightful description of Ingalls may be found in The History of Newbury, Vermont, from the Discovery of the Coös County to the Present Time (St. Johnsbury, VT, 1902).

[Ingalls] was a cooper by trade and a singing master by profession. He was mainly self-taught, but possessed a sweet and powerful tenor voice and great aptness in teaching vocal music, as it was taught in those days. His skill as a composer was in demand to furnish music for public occasions, to which he often added hymns and songs of his own composition. … In 1805 he gathered [his compositions] into a volume of two hundred pages, entitled “The Christian Harmony” … These tunes are of unequalled merit. Some of them were in their time very popular at camp meetings and other religious gatherings. Several of his tunes are still sung, of which “Northfield” is immortal… "


Concerning the production of “Northfield,” the following anecdote is preserved:

Returning from fishing one rainy day, he laid down before the fire to get dry, and impatient at the slow progress of dinner began to sing a parody to a well-known hymn:

How long, my people, Oh! How long
Shall dinner hour delay?
Fly swifter ‘round, ye idle maids,
And bring a dish of tea! [then pronounced ‘tay’—Ed.]

“Why, Jerry,” said his wife, “that’s a grand tune.” “So it is,” replied the man of song; “I’ll write it down.” And dinner waited the completion of “Northfield.”



Here is Northfield as it appeared in Ingalls’ 1805 publication.












Over the next several days, I’ll continue to share snippets of the information I’ve gathered about some of the selections we’ll perform on "Christmas in the Americas." I do hope you can be in the audience to hear this remarkable program. You may view the entire repertoire list at the end of my first post about this concert, here: http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2009/12/rich-choral-tapestry-concora-presents.html

Call today to reserve your seats!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** ** ** ** ** *

CONCORA
“Christmas in the Americas”
Richard Coffey, conductor
Dan Campolieta (piano, organ, and percussion) and Christen Hernandez (percussion)
Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 4:00 p.m.
Snow Date: Monday, December 14, 7:30 p.m.
Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Avenue, Hartford
Tickets: http://www.concora.org/ or call 860-224-7500
Preferred seating: $45; General admission: $25; Students: $10.
2-for-1 general seating tickets are available to those with a Let*s Go Arts!” card from the Greater Hartford Arts Council.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Moravian Heritage and CONCORA's "Christmas in the Americas"

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Yesterday, I posted the introduction to my program notes for CONCORA’s upcoming concert, “Christmas in the Americas.” The concert takes place on Sunday, December 13, at 4:00 p.m., at the historic Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford. (Details and ticket information are at the end of this post.)

The program annotations I provide for the printed program book are necessarily short, due to space constraints. When I have time, I like to prepare an expanded “program essay” for the singers that includes a lot of the information that I had to edit out for the short printed notes. Today I'm finishing up that longer essay. Here’s a“long note” for our opening selection, the lively Hosanna by Christian Gregor. We’ll sing it antiphonally from the back of the sanctuary before processing to the front for the remainder of the first half of the program.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Our journey across the Americas starts in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where evangelical missionaries from the Moravian church established their first permanent settlement in North America in 1741. The Moravian Church was founded in 1457 by followers of Jan Hus (1369-1415), a Czech priest and reformer; like Martin Luther, Hus promoted worship of “piety and joy” to be conducted in the vernacular and with enthusiastic congregational participation. The Moravians brought from Europe a rich musical heritage which they have sustained and developed in their still-vibrant communities, where music is central to worship and everyday life. The practical music of the Moravians, created primarily for use by amateurs, is marked by excellent craftsmanship, musicality, and absence of virtuosic display. The Moravians’ musical legacy has had a profound effect on music in America, not only in the practice of excellent musicianship, but in the creation of a large body of good music and the early importation and performance of the best music from European composers. The American Moravian community, which now numbers about 58,000, has preserved and enriched its remarkable musical heritage and continues to celebrate music as a an essential element of daily life and tradition.

Among the best-known Moravian composers is Christian Gregor (1723-1801), acknowledged as the leading musician of the Renewed German Moravian church. Born in Dirsdorf, Silesia (now Przerzeczyn Zdrój, Poland), Gregor was orphaned as a child and raised by a Pietist noble who encouraged his education. Gregor joined the Moravian church in 1742 as a musician, but showing talent in many other areas of ecclesiastical management (spiritual leadership, teaching, financial management), he was ordained to the ministry in 1756 and consecrated bishop in 1789. He compiled and edited his church’s hymnal in 1778, rewriting or resetting some 750 of the 1750 hymns therein; he also composed some 87 chorales for the Moravian Choral-Buch of 1784. Many of his hymns and chorale tunes still appear in modern Moravian hymnals. Gregor developed important concepts for music in worship, many of which are considered ideal for today’s churches, as well: An organist must “not allow his skill to impede worship, but must sense the mood both of the hymn and the congregation and play accordingly, leading but not dominating the singing.” Gregor visited American congregations in 1771-1772, where he likely shared his ideas and his Hosanna, composed in 1765 for use on Palm Sunday and the first Sunday of Advent. In Gregor’s time, the men and women of the congregation, or the girls and boys, would have sung this music antiphonally; we approximate that configuration with two antiphonal choirs of mixed voices. (It was, and is, sometimes performed with antiphonal trombone choirs.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Over the next several days, I’ll continue to share snippets of the information I’ve gathered about some of the selections we’ll perform on "Christmas in the Americas." I do hope you can be in the audience to hear this remarkable program. You may view the entire repertoire list at the end of my first post about this concert, here: http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2009/12/rich-choral-tapestry-concora-presents.html

Call today to reserve your seats!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** ** ** ** ** *

CONCORA
“Christmas in the Americas”
Richard Coffey, conductor
Dan Campolieta (piano, organ, and percussion) and Christen Hernandez (percussion)
Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 4:00 p.m.
Snow Date: Monday, December 14, 7:30 p.m.
Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Avenue, Hartford
Tickets:
http://www.concora.org/ or call 860-224-7500
Preferred seating: $45; General admission: $25; Students: $10.
2-for-1 general seating tickets are available to those with a Let*s Go Arts!” card from the Greater Hartford Arts Council.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Persistence of Summer

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One brave pansy, as yellow as yellow can be, continues to bloom on my back deck.

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The Promise
Summer persists in a single yellow bloom,
a drop of gold in autumn’s mauve and grey:
The season’s last bright pansy does not presume
to know that winter frost is on the way.
The golden sun still glowing in its face,
its leaves still neat, with gently scalloped edge,
it shines a note of poignant hope and grace
among the leafless vines and thorny hedge.
The last of hundreds that brightened our front walk
with white and yellow, and chestnut-purple note,
this last of all, the brightest, seems to mock
the coming cold, though summer’s now remote.
Wind will blow, and winter frost will sting,
But in that pensive face, I see the promised spring.

© 2011 Quodlibet. Dissemination, re-use, or duplication prohibited except by express permission of the author.I pay attention and I will find you if you cite, republish, or use my work without credit or without attribution.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Rich Choral Tapestry: CONCORA and "Christmas in the Americas"

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On Friday evening, CONCORA (Connecticut Choral Artists) holds the first of five rehearsals to prepare for our upcoming concert, “Christmas in the Americas.” The concert takes place on Sunday, December 13, at 4:00 p.m., at Hartford’s historic Asylum Hill Congregational Church. (Details and ticket information are at the end of this post.)

I was thrilled to be invited to prepare the program notes for this concert, especially as I am one of the lucky CONCORA artists who has been assigned to this project. (Not all CONCORA singers sing in every concert.) Though this program has a clear theme – “music of North, Central, and South America, featuring sacred and secular carols, glees, spirituals, and part-songs, in a panoply of indigenous, colorful styles and languages” – the sheer diversity of the programming created some challenges for this program annotator. It’s easy to write a free-standing paragraph about each piece, but I prefer to find ways to connect the pieces to each other and to Mr. Coffey’s overall vision. That requires research, analysis, thinking, listening, and imagination. In other words, fun. As I wrote a few weeks ago (read it HERE), the process of deep research, the necessary distillation of information, and the exercise of writing concisely about a diverse program, profoundly enhances my musical preparation.

For this program, which includes music by about twenty different composers or arrangers, I took the unusual step of writing an introductory paragraph to provide context for the individual notes:

From Canada to Venezuela, from New England to the American Southwest, composers from the length and breadth of the Americas have woven a richly-colored choral tapestry, incorporating threads representing cultures and traditions from the Old and New Worlds. In today’s program, which spans more than four centuries of music, we will hear New World interpretations of folksongs from Renaissance France and Old Spain, as well as echoes of plainchant, the Anglican choral tradition, and the French Catholic influence in Native American communities. In the sturdy rhythms and bracing harmonies of the Sacred Harp and American Moravian traditions, in the plaintive strains of an Appalachian carol, and in the hopeful joy of African-American Christmas spirituals, we will be transported to earlier times in our own American history. And in the music of living composers from across the Americas, we will find masterful new creations that build on old traditions or establish “future classics.”

Over the next several days, I’ll share snippets of the information I’ve gathered about some of the selections on “Christmas in the Americas.” I do hope you can be in the audience to hear this remarkable program. I’ve posted the repertoire list at the very end of this post.

Call today for tickets!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** ** ** ** ** *

CONCORA
“Christmas in the Americas”
Richard Coffey, conductor
Dan Campolieta (piano, organ, and percussion) and Christen Hernandez (percussion)
Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 4:00 p.m.
Snow Date: Monday, December 14, 7:30 p.m.
Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Avenue, Hartford
Tickets:
http://www.concora.org/ or call 860-224-7500
Preferred seating: $45; General admission: $25; Students: $10.
2-for-1 general seating tickets are available to those with a Let*s Go Arts!” card from the Greater Hartford Arts Council.

PROGRAM

Prologue
Hosanna (1765) – Christian Gregor (1723-180) (Moravian)

Choral Procession
Ya viene la vieja – Traditional Spanish carol, arr. Alice Parker (1953)

A Christmas Mass from Canada
Missa Brevis No. 4 in E Major (“Divinum Mysterium”) (1934) – Healey Willan (1880-1968)

A United States Suite
Northfield (1804) (from the Sacred Harp tradition) – Jeremiah Ingalls (1764-1838)
Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head – Appalachian Carol, arr. John Jacob Niles (1892-1980)
Long, Long Ago (1976) (for women’s voices) – Carlisle Floyd (b. 1926)
Noel (1995) (for men’s voices) – Steven Sametz (b. 1954)
Shout the Glad Tidings (from Three Choruses for Christmas, 1978) – Ned Rorem (b. 1923)

Sing with Us – an Audience Sing-Along (a beloved CONCORA tradition!)
From Canada: The Huron Carol (’Twas in the Moon of Wintertime), arr. Antony Baldwin (b. 1957)
From the Hispanic Southwest: A la Ru, arr. John Donald Robb (1892-1989)
From the United States: Away in a Manger, William James Kirkpatrick (1838-1892)

Intermission

Gallery Carols – Music for Choir and Organ
From the United States: Down to the Roots of the World (1996) – Dan Locklair (b. 1949)
From Mexico: O lux beata caelitum (2005) (for women’s voices) – Francisco Alcantar (b. 1960)
From Canada: Joy Shall Be Yours in the Morning (1998) – Malcolm V. Edwards (b. 1944)

A Latin America Suite
From Mexico: Convidando esta la noche – Juan Garcia de Zéspedes (ca.1619-1678)
From Columbia: La noche – Adrián A. Cuello Piraquibis (b. 1975)
From Brazil: Kyrie eleison from Missa Afro-Brasileira (1978) – Carlos Alberto Pinto Fonseca (1933-2006)
From Venezuela: A adorar al Niño (2002) – arr. Andrew Carter (b. 1939)
Spanish Carol: Esta noche nace un Niño (1981) – arr. Andrew Carter

Folk Songs and Spirituals
Mary Borned a Baby – African-American Spiritual, arr. Noah Francis Ryder (1914-1964)
Go Tell It on the Mountain – African-American Spiritual, arr. Donald McCullough (b. 1957)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Birding on Thanksgiving

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Only one bird is on my list today: Turkey.

When I asked K to write down what she wanted on today’s menu, here’s what she gave me:

Turkey
Rolls
Stuffing
Gravy
Cranberry sauce
Mashed potatoes
Peas
Squash purée
Sparkling cider
Pie

This translates to “Make all our favorites the way you always do.” (How nice!)

Here's the detail:

Slow-Roasted Turkey with Herb Butter Baste Brush the prepared bird (17lb. this year) with melted butter, salt and pepper liberally, sear at 500˚F for 10 minutes, then cover the roasting pan, reduce heat to 275˚F and roast covered for four hours. Baste every 45 minutes or so, but the covered roasting pan ensures a moist bird and lots of pan juices. Uncovered roasting evaporates the moisture and vents it away! Why lose all that goodness? During the last hour or so, uncover the bird to brown it if you like.
Herbed Bread Dressing D and I agreed that this year we want some dressing cooked in the bird and some cooked as a side dish; usually I bake the dressing separately. I make the dressing from my own homemade oatmeal bread. A large bowl of cubed bread has been drying on the kitchen counter since Tuesday night. This morning I’ll add chopped onions, celery, crispy red Macoun apples (skin on!), almonds, herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme), and perhaps a minced shallot or leek. Season with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper. Moisten with a combination of chicken stock, wine, brandy, cider – depending on my mood and what I’m drinking this afternoon. Bakes beautifully as a side dish.
Yeasted Dinner Rolls I have a wonderful recipe for a soft white yeast bread that makes the best dinner rolls. This year’s are square rolls (leftover from last weekend’s anniversary party for CONCORA); usually I make them into crescent rolls. They are so good.Here's the recipe:
http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2012/01/crescent-rolls.html

Silken Giblet Gravy I’ll brown the giblets in olive oil and butter, then simmer them in broth with aromatics like carrot, onion, celery tops, and herbs. I’ll use the resulting stock to supplement the pan juices for gravy-making. We like it highly seasoned, not too thick, smooth and silky except for the finely-chopped giblets. I bought extra giblets so I can make plenty of gravy for our leftovers. Add a dash of brandy at the end.

Zesty Cranberry Sauce I made the cranberry sauce on Tuesday. I cooked whole fresh berries with cloves, a cinnamon stick, sugar, and a dash of salt, then stirred in the grated zest of an orange at the end. It gelled beautifully and will look lovely in a white dish.
Golden Potato Mash I like Yukon Gold potatoes for mashing. I’ll scrub the spuds and quarter them, leaving the skin on, then boil them with a chopped onion and sprig of fresh thyme. After draining the cooked potatoes, I’ll add plenty of butter, salt, and fresh pepper, then whip them with a hand-held mixer. I might add a little milk if needed, though I prefer a dry sort of fluffiness in anticipation of the gravy.
Green Peas Plain frozen petit peas, steamed. A requirement with mashed potatoes. ‘Nuf said.
Maple-Ginger Butternut Squash Purée This has become a family favorite. On Tuesday I cut up and roasted two butternut squashes, cooking them long enough so that they caramelized a bit. Yum. While the turkey is cooking, I’ll puree the squash with butter, salt, pepper, a bit of ground ginger, and a generous portion of my sister’s best-in-the-world maple syrup. This will go into the special oval casserole dish and bake for a while ‘til it’s hot and a bit browned around the edges. Sometimes I dust the top with finely-chopped pecans before serving. I’ve got some hazelnuts in the pantry, so I might use these instead.
Bacon-Braised Brussels Sprouts Not on K's list, but a new favorite that will complement the other flavors. At Tom and Lee’s house last spring, we enjoyed some delectable Brussels sprouts cooked gently and with some lovely seasonings. We thought we didn’t like Brussels sprouts. I think we didn’t like poorly-cooked Brussels sprouts. A few weeks ago, I tried cooking some and we affirmed that we like properly-prepared and seasoned Brussels sprouts. I’ll repeat that recipe today; it’s a simple braise seasoned with browned bacon and onion, chicken (turkey?) stock and fresh herbs. The trick, as with cabbage and broccoli, is not to overcook. Yum.
Sparkling Cider And fresh cider, a nice cabernet-merlot for D and me, coffee, tea.
Homemade Pies Last night, while K and E and S and N were here (fun!), I baked three pies: pecan (D’s mother’s famous recipe), pumpkin (fresh pumpkin), and cherry. Each of the pies was sampled and approved late last night. Add ice cream.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Brahms is Always Right

.Discussion at our house a few weeks ago after a Hartford Chorale rehearsal of the Brahms Requiem:

S: How are you liking the Brahms? [expecting enthusiastic response]

D: Not.

S: ???? It's great music, beautifully crafted, so expressive. What's not to like?

D: Brahms is always right, but not always good. It's not to my taste. Now, Bach! Bach is always right, and always good.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CONCORA – 35 Years of Choral Artistry

More than 35 years ago, Richard Coffey envisioned an all-professional chorus “to perpetuate and perform with excellence choral music of the highest quality for the broadest possible audience.” That vision became a vibrant and thriving reality, and today, CONCORA continues to enjoy a reputation as Connecticut’s premier professional choir, as borne out by a steady stream of critical praise, awards, and other accolades. The year of celebrations will have its culmination on this Sunday, November 22, 2009, at 4:00 p.m., when CONCORA presents a 35th Anniversary Concert at South Church in New Britain. (More information about this performance may be found at the end of this post.)

CONCORA was the 2003 recipient of the Governor’s Arts Award, given in recognition of “remarkable artistic achievement and contributions to the arts in Connecticut.” In 2007, CONCORA was honored as the featured professional chorus in the “American Masterpieces” festival in Providence, Rhode Island. And in 2009, Maestro Coffey received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alfred Nash Patterson Foundation, primarily for his founding and distinguished leadership of CONCORA.

A sampling of appreciation from composers, critics, and other musicians is testament to CONCORA’s enduring appeal and sustained excellence.

“[CONCORA is] one of the finest ensembles heard anywhere at any time.” – From the Springfield press, commenting on CONCORA’s 1976 debut in that city

CONCORA is “the finest chorus in America.” – Composer Ned Rorem, 1998

“. . . a model of choral artistry, meticulous preparation, musical commitment, and vocal sonority.” – Review of CONCORA’s CD Sing, My Soul, published in Choral Journal, April 2002

“From the beginning, they demonstrated the outstanding features of their singing: fine blending, crisp diction, and clear articulation. . . thrilling and nuanced moments. . . an eloquent chorus.” – The Hartford Courant, 2002

“Thanks for the recent performances by CONCORA. It makes all the difference. Sometimes I feel the world is unaware of today’s music. Then you appear, and everything changes.” – Composer Ned Rorem

“CONCORA, led by artistic director Richard Coffey, has delivered sublime performances of [Bach’s] works over the years.” – The Hartford Courant, March 22, 2005

“Fortunately, a spirit of innovation is still present in organizations such as CONCORA.” – The Hartford Courant, September 25, 2005

“Any presentation by CONCORA is well worth attending for anyone who has not heard this ensemble. They’re one of [our] prime jewels.” – Edward Cumming, Director, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra

“CONCORA’s absolutely exquisite performance of Two Emily Dickinson Songs…was completely satisfying to me in every way, with beauty, energy, precision, conviction, and, honestly, a perfect rendering of the music. . . I offer my heartfelt thanks to you and CONCORA for one of my most rewarding experiences as a composer.” – Composer Nancy Galbraith, commenting on CONCORA’s premiere of these works, 2007

“CONCORA is a priceless endeavor in our age of mostly vapid art.” – Composer Ned Rorem, 2007

“The Hartford Symphony Orchestra salutes Richard Coffey for outstanding and inspiring artistic leadership of the HSO’s two major choral partners, CONCORA and The Hartford Chorale.” – Major Achievement Award from the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, September 25, 2007

The following quotes about CONCORA, excerpted from reviews and articles published over the years in The Hartford Courant, provide an objective assessment of CONCORA’s enduring appeal:

“…one of our region's priceless musical assets…”

“…CONCORA, our prized professional choral ensemble…”

“…the chorus itself is one of the finest entities this area has to offer…”

“…CONCORA plays an important role in carrying on the [choral arts] tradition with excellence…”

“…a distinguished history…”

“…the magnificent choral group CONCORA …”

“…utterly transcendent

“…The rise of CONCORA, which has described a steady upward arc of activity and ambition, is one of the truly amazing success stories of the region's arts scene.”

“…CONCORA, since its founding in 1974, has become a nationally known choral group…”

“…one of the premier musical forces in the state…”

This weekend, I’ll be singing in CONCORA’s 35th Anniversary Concert. Past and current members of CONCORA will spend the weekend rehearsing before presenting a concert on Sunday, November 22, at 4:00 p.m. at South Church in New Britain. CONCORA’s founder and Artistic Director Rick Coffey will conduct, and our founding accompanist, Larry Allen, will be in town to accompany the program and to offer some dazzling solo organ music, as well. There are still some tickets available; contact CONCORA now to reserve your seats. (I’ll be singing in the concert and preparing the program notes.) It will be a very special evening to celebrate a very special ensemble.

CONCORA 35th Anniversary Concert
Sunday, November 22, at 4:00 p.m.
South Church, 90 Main Street, New Britain, Connecticut
Tickets $10-$45.

http://www.concora.org/
860-224-7500
Ask about becoming an “Anniversary Angel” -- this special ticket includes premier seating and an invitation to a private reception with CONCORA's artists on Saturday, Nov. 21.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Celebrate St. Cecilia Day with CONCORA

.This weekend, I’ll be singing with the remarkable all-professional choral ensemble CONCORA in a concert to mark the group’s 35th anniversary. It is entirely fitting that this concert, the culmination of CONCORA’s 35th anniversary year, takes place on November 22, the feast day of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music.

Past and current members of CONCORA will spend the weekend rehearsing and reminiscing before presenting a concert on Sunday, November 22, at 4:00 p.m. at South Church in New Britain. CONCORA’s founder and Artistic Director Rick Coffey will conduct, and our founding accompanist, Larry Allen, will be in town to accompany the program and to offer some dazzling solo organ music, as well. There are still some tickets available; visit http://www.concora.org/ or call 860-224-7500 to reserve your seats.

It’s my privilege to have been invited to prepare the program notes for this concert, a “job” which I love, for several reasons. Oh, let me qualify that – I love preparing notes for CONCORA concerts more than for any other group, as I’ll explain.

First, I enjoy the processes of research and writing, so the “work” itself is pleasant. Second, since I love learning, I relish the opportunity to dig deeply into information about the music, composers, and texts, especially if any of these are new to me. Associated with the searching out of information is the discovery of new and useful sources of information. (You should see my huge list of online "favorites,” organized in folders and subfolders and subfolders…) Third, it’s a remarkable process to prepare notes for a concert in which I am also singing; my musical, vocal, historical, and textual understandings develop simultaneously, enriching my experience from every perspective. I never feel more ready for a performance as I do when I have prepared notes for the program.

Finally (and here’s why I love preparing CONCORA notes most of all), it’s always, always a delight, as I progress through the research process, to find the common threads among the selections and to begin to comprehend the subtle thematic connections between the texts, musical selections, moods, and colors that Rick Coffey has chosen for each program. Some programs are easy to conceptualize, such as works by a single composer (as in CONCORA’s annual all-Bach bash), or programs that have an overtly stated theme (such as CONCORA’s upcoming “Christmas in the Americas” program. (That concert takes place on Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 4:00 p.m. at Asylum Hill Congregational Church, Hartford, with a snow date of Monday, December 14, 7:30 p.m. Visit http://www.concora.org/ or call 860-224-7500 to reserve your seats.)

For Sunday’s anniversary program, Rick has selected a lovely variety of works from CONCORA’s 35-year history. The program includes an excerpt of music that the ensemble sang on its first concert in 1974 (also at South Church), the Kyrie from Schubert’s Mass in E-flat, as well as newer works performed by the group for the first time within the past year or two. The program ranges from England's Chichester Cathedral (Albright’s Chichester Mass) to New York's Harlem (Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday), and from the Renaissance masters (Cantantibus Organis by Peter Philips) to the stunning and fresh choral music of Eric Whitacre and James Macmillan. Music of J.S. Bach forms a fitting tribute to CONCORA members who have passed away, and we will celebrate CONCORA’s outreach to young listeners with a lively set performed by CONCORA-to-GO, a quartet of singers who travel to Connecticut’s schools to demonstrate the joy of choral singing. The intimate sacred music of Ned Rorem will stand in exquisite contrast to lush excerpts from Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, and we’ll even sing a favorite spiritual, Brazeal Dennard’s lively setting of Fare Ye Well. Organist Larry Allen will thrill you with a rendition of Marcel Dupré’s Prelude et fugue in B majeur (Op. 7, No. 1), music so notoriously difficult that Dupré doubted it would ever be published or even enter the repertoire. (The Gress-Miles organ at South Church is a magnificent instrument; I can’t wait to hear this.) There is more music on the program than I’ve listed here – each selection is lovely and beautifully showcases CONCORA’s signature sound.

In preparing program notes for this concert, the challenge was not to try to thread these selections together musically, textually, or even spiritually. Rather, I simply prepared a small musico-historical note for each piece, noting its place in CONCORA’s history, and occasionally commenting on its particular vocal or musical challenges, thus highlighting CONCORA’s collective artistry.

It’s going to be a fabulous weekend: On Friday evening, a reception followed by a three-hour rehearsal; on Saturday, an all-day rehearsal with a luncheon break (I’m baking focaccia for this meal – enough to serve 65!), followed by an evening reception on Saturday for artists, board, and guests (must break away early to get to K’s play!); and finally on Sunday, a brief rehearsal before our much-anticipated performance at 4:00 p.m.

Do come to hear CONCORA on Sunday – it promises to be a memorable event. St. Cecilia would be proud. Visit http://www.concora.org/ or call 1-860-224-7500 today to reserve your seats. Ask about becoming an "Anniversary Angel" -- this special ticket includes preferred seating and an invitation to a private reception with the artists on the evening of Saturday, November 21.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Perfect Balance

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Yesterday, Sunday, The Hartford Chorale and The Hartford Symphony Orchestra offered the fourth and final performance of the Brahms Requiem. What a week it was: Monday rehearsal with chorale and orchestra; Wednesday dress rehearsal with chorale, orchestra, and vocal soloists; then performances on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I will be posting a few more essays on some interesting (to me) aspects of our preparation and performance. In the meantime, here are excerpts from two reviews:

From The Hartford Courant:

…It was the Hartford Chorale singers, prepared by music director Richard Coffey [and the vocal soloists] who carried the Requiem. The Chorale nailed the difficult choral entry — from which the spirituality of the work seems to emanate — with perfect balance and lovely German diction.

From In the Spotlight:

So many [people] love choirs, orchestras, and the great musical works that feed them, with the monumental “Ein Deutches” Requiem [sic] being one of the most cherished. The instruments and vocals all meet with the other necessary element of the ritual sharing of sonorous beauty -- the audience. These are people who hope to leave those great halls changed, at least for the moment; and somehow better for having been there. … The orchestra and chorale were very well prepared for the pairing of Romantic era works on the bill. The orchestra performed both pieces concisely, with dedication to the score and an understanding of the style of the period. Although there were some of the inevitable balance issues that occur when voices and instruments occupy the same time and space, the chorale and orchestra performed admirably throughout the Brahms.

References

HSO Director Auditions Start With A Challenging Shift: Guest Conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos Takes Some Getting Used To
By Jeffrey Johnson
The Hartford Courant, November 14, 2009
www.courant.com/entertainment/music-reviews/hc-hsoconcertrev1114.art.artnov14,0,7569054.story

Schumann & Brahms: Hartford Symphony & Hartford Chorale [at] The Bushnell, Hartford, CT

By Terry Larsen
In the Spotlight, November 14, 2009
http://www.inthespotlightinc.org/2009/11/schumann-brahms.html