Stages of Choral Life

Upon first seeing a new, major work:

Excitement – Yeah, this looks challenging but we have plenty of time and it will be fun!

Puzzled trepidation – It doesn’t seem that hard, but we do have a year, so we’re good.

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When Beethoven Channels Hayden

I’ve decided that the pieces by Beethoven that I enjoy singing the most all have something in common: they don’t sound like “Beethoven.” They sound like Handel and Hayden, especially Hayden.

I’ve sung some of Beethoven’s early masses, plus the Mount of Olives (Christus am Ölberg), and prefer the styles of those, and how he used voices in those works.

Most English-singers know this as the “Alleluia from the Mount of Olives.” I did the full oratorio, and the German finally helped the English version make sense. The fugue is what most people have heard, or think of. It dances, bounces, like a lot of Baroque music does. (The recording takes it at a faster tempo than I have sung it, and faster than most sing the Alleluia version use.)

Beethoven is not asking for weight from the singers, vocal weight. The chorus is not instrumental the way it is in the Choral Symphony or the Missa Solemnis.

I’m grumping a bit, because due to factors beyond our control, only one first soprano was at rehearsal this week. It happened to be within my “vocal window” of days for having the top notes, and so I volunteered to back her up instead of singing the second role. Oof. I did it, I didn’t hurt anything, but trying to hold on up there without forcing is very hard. Beethoven uses the sopranos as a sort of violin obbligato, leaving us floating in the stratosphere for four and five measures at a go. He treats the chorus as another set of instruments, albeit instruments that can sing words.

I prefer composers who use the chorus as a chorus, thank you.

We’ve worked on three of the movements, with two more to go. And the concert is late next spring. I suspect I’m going to have it memorized before this season is over. And yes, I am going to get a tee-shirt for this, if I have to order one myself. 😛


Musical Trails?

The other night I was watching that documentary about country music, and one of the central characters of the episode was Dolly Parton. She talks about her song “Jolene,” as do other people, putting it in the context of the time, and in the context of country music in general. But I sat up and listened, hard, because I was hearing something else.

The tune kept hanging around, but not quite the way she does it. And there was a sense of supernatural. The melody has a definite Celtic sense, and I was trying to come up with the folk tune. Since my memory has a huge stash of folk ballads stuffed into odd places, it didn’t take too many hours before the solution popped up.

It’s this setting of “Cruel Mother” or “Greenwood Sidie.” (Better acapella version at the bottom of the post).

My mother sang this to me as a lullaby with slightly different lyrics, and I listened to another recording of this version (Odetta? Judy Collins but with this tune? Nope, Ian and Sylvia) a lot growing up, enough that I remember it very well, and sing it from time to time. It is creepy, and the element of supernatural is very strong.

So Dolly Parton did not copy the tune, but she caught the “sense” of the tune. Which explains why I thought about a supernaturally beautiful woman as Jolene.

Well, the old ballad, and because my mind latches onto story fodder far too easily.

Ian and Sylvia:

Hard Scrabble

Mom and Dad Red were watching the documentary on country music, and I listened in as I could around Day Job work. The series is, thus far, one of Ken Burns better efforts, and he uses the idea of focusing on one musician as the key stone, then showing the history through and around that individual. For this topic, it works, because each “generation” had two or three people who shaped country music in various ways. Maybell and A.P. Carter, Hank Williams Senior, Porter Wagoner, and so on, up to Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and more recent musicians.

One theme that runs through the series is how the music fit into the times, and how the musicians channeled events—personal and regional and national—through their music. The other theme, perhaps inadvertent, is just how dang hard people worked and were willing to work in order to support their families and put food on the table in a decent way. Continue reading

Music of the Night

Ah, Michael Crawford as the Phantom of the Opera. I had such a crush on him when I was in my “I love darkness and dead trees” teenage years. Enough so that I memorized the entire soundtrack of the musical, and learned the piano version of four of the songs. And discovered that holding that last note against the accompaniment is bloomin’ hard, especially if you are seated and playing the piano as you sing. Mom took me to LA to hear Crawford live as a graduation present when Phantom was still touring. We also went to the La Brea tar pits, and got to experience a small earthquake. It was a fun long weekend.

I even read the novel, which is… probably not something that fans of the musical really want to do. The Phantom was not a nice character. The original silent movie shows that, and it is more of a horror story than a romantic love story. Romantic in the “Romantic” overblown emotion sense, yes. Kissing, cooing, and love? No.

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Country Music… and Western

I grew up listening to everything except then-current rock and R&B. Odetta, Kingston Trio, Bach, Brahms, Ian and Sylvia, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and CCR, the New Christie Minstrels, the Limelighters, opera, military marches, Gregorian chant…. It was all fair game, and we had LPs and then cassette tapes full. The Irish Rovers and Bothy Band, Ladysmith Black Mambazo… If it had a melody, harmony, and lyrics that were either fun or made sense-ish, then it found a way onto the family play list.

Sunday night, I wandered through the living room as Mom and Dad were watching the lead-up to the new Ken Burns series about country music. And western music. And yes, there is a difference, especially today. It was great fun, with a lot of good music, and no, I have never heard “Orange Blossom Special” done on a mandolin and I swear to Bast that smoke was coming from the instrument before the song finished. I was impressed! Continue reading

In Honor of Choir Season’s Onset

In some churches, the end of summer means a return to more formal worship, with a full choir and everyone back in robes and stoles (or collars). It also means that some professional choruses, including mine, are gearing back up after a three month lull.

The composers Austin C. Lovelace and Ron Hodges wrote the following, to be sung to the tune of “Immortal, Invisible” (St. Denio). I’ve seen it dedicated “To the Distraught Director:”

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