CAC +1

February 2005

Program Notes

 Pieces noted with an asterisk (*) have been specially arranged for these performances of “CAC+1” by their composers, to whom we extend our deep thanks.

 Alleluia

Naomi Stephan

 Ein feste Burg

Luther / Walther, arr. Eriksson

*   *   *   *   *

 *Salmo 150

Eli-Eri Moura

 Mouth Music

trad. Irish, arr. Dolores Keane /John Faulkner

*   *   *   *   *

 Within You Without You

George Harrison, arr. Eric Freeman

 *from Exodus Suite:

Robert Applebaum

  1. Ashirah Ladonai (Exodus 15:1)

 

  2. Azi v’zimrat Yah (Ex. 15:2)

 

  3. Adonai ish milchamah (Ex. 15:3-4)

 

  4. Amar Oyeiv (Ex. 15:9-10)

 

  5. Nachita v’chasd’cha (Ex. 15:13-14)

 

  6. T’vieimo (Ex. 15:17-18)

 

  7. Onward (Ex. 15:22)

 

 Urukumbuzi Song

arr. Aleksandar Vujić

INTERMISSION

 Salve Regina / To The Mothers in Brazil

Lars Jansson, arr. Gunnar Eriksson

*   *   *   *   *

 Grace / The Clean Platter

Bob Chilcott

 En visa om öl (A Song about Beer)

Ulf Långbacka, arr. Miller

 *Cookin’ School

Glenn Meade

*   *   *   *   *

 God Bless the Child

Herzog/Holiday, arr. Mark Mazur

*   *   *   *   *

 Sigalagala

Luo spiritual, arr. S.A. Otien

 

 

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to CAC+1, an unprecedented collaboration between Chicago a cappella and the virtuoso percussionist Debbie Katz Knowles. We have had an especially enjoyable time preparing the music for tonight’s concert and hope that you enjoy it thoroughly as well. Extended thanks go to the composers who have shared with us their creations—some brand-new, adapted just for us, and some in their original forms.

Why CAC+1? A cappella singing is glorious on its own. This ensemble has been around for twelve years, and we singers like what we do. Together, our nine vocalists cover more than four octaves, from my own low C (a fifth below the bass staff) to Kathleen’s and Amy’s high D (a fifth above the treble staff). Our voices can produce a wide variety of styles and colors and shades and dialects.

At the same time, it can be instructive, refreshing, and just plain fun to shake things up a bit. Two years ago, I was wishing to experiment with sounds that are created in ways different from how the human voice does it. I wanted to stretch our sound-world by adding a single instrument, perhaps once every two or three years. How best, then, to inaugurate an occasional series called “CAC+1”? Which instrument should we use first—something blown, plucked, or struck?

I mentioned the idea offhandedly to the singers two summers ago and was surprised when e-mails kept trickling to my inbox, saying mostly, “What about percussion?” A group of us sang at the National Storytelling Festival in July 2003 and heard A Spiritual Journey, a percussion ensemble, and that cemented the choice. I had worked with Debbie Katz Knowles a few years before, and I knew that she could easily handle a program like this. She was enthusiastic about the collaboration and suggested musical styles, especially swing, that she would relish playing with us. Another advantage of working with Debbie is that she comes with a variety of instruments—in this case, timpani, tambourine, hand drums of all sorts, and the pitched percussion of vibraphone. The result is the program you have in your hand.

Once the decision was made that CAC+1 would mean voices-plus-percussion, it was time to choose repertoire. Doing so was harder than I expected, for much of the literature for choir and percussion also includes piano. Persistence and a little luck paid off, however. The Brazilian conductor Vladimir Silva led me to Eli-Eri Moura’s Salmo 150, which Prof. Moura has reworked into a glorious piece; he took pains to give the piece its own nature in its new form, avoiding a simpler reworking that would have had half of the singers simply imitating the original strings. Similarly, Glenn Meade adapted Cookin’ School from his recent set of Latin dance-based music.

My affection for Bob Applebaum’s Exodus Suite, the centerpiece of this program, stems in part from the circumstances of its creation. Bob wrote the original version for SATB choir and piano in early 2002; the occasion was a concert by Oak Park’s Heritage Chorale, which I was directing at the time. Heritage had just sung the entirety of Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt oratorio a month earlier (for Handel Week) and was now mounting its own spring concert. Bob Applebaum was remarkably cooperative for the challenge I gave him: to replace several of the solo arias and duets from Handel’s work with new music on the Hebrew version of the same verses. Bob also said “yes” when, in summer 2004, I asked him if he would rework the cycle for CAC+1, replacing the piano parts with a combination of pitched percussion and a redistribution of the voices. As was the case with Eli-Eri Moura’s Salmo 150, Bob gave the new piece a true life of its own. Bob added a new solo opening and a new ending to “T’vieimo,” and he added a tenor solo to “Onward,” the final movement, which I regard as the best new piece of choral counterpoint I’ve heard in years. For Bob’s twofold generosity, first in creating the original version and now in fashioning a special suite for CAC+1, we are much in his debt.

In many ways, CAC+1 remains very much a typical concert for this ensemble. As in all of our concerts, you’ll go on a journey of many styles, languages, rhythms, and harmonic idioms. We hope that you’ll be delighted, refreshed as we are, moved to tears by the sheer beauty of the sounds, and touched in some way by the words that we sing.

Please do feel welcome, and sit back and enjoy the concert. Most of all, in this era of iPods, XM Radio and wide-screen TVs, we thank you deeply for making the effort to come and hear this live performance. Despite all our culture’s gadgets, we at Chicago a cappella are dedicated to the proposition that there’s still nothing like placing yourself in a room with real musicians, hearing music being made on the spot, and both absorbing and contributing to the electricity of the moment. That doesn’t happen without participation, and it very much matters that you are here. Thank you again.

—Jonathan Miller
Founder and Artistic Director

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

Naomi Stephan: Alleluia

A resident of California, award-winning composer Naomi Irene Stephan composes music for a number of different forces: women’s choirs, and men’s choruses, mixed choruses, both with and without instruments. Her music is published both by Yelton Rhodes music and by her own firm, Life Mission Associates. She received a B.A. in Voice in Berlin and a PhD in German and musicology from Indiana University, and taught at Valparaiso University. She writes: “I like small combinations of voices and instruments, combining neo-medieval styles with fugal, percussive, or rhythmic experimentation. My influences include Aaron Copland, J. S. Bach, and German Romanticism, especially present in a Requiem for my mother, Mater in Memoriam: For Irene.”

Alleluia was originally written for a Christmas service, when a group of singers was looking for a processional and did not have one. This work exists in several versions, each of which has proven successful.

Martin Luther / Johann Walther, arr. Gunnar Eriksson: Ein feste Burg

Upon hearing this splendid tune, one can easily imagine Luther making his famous statement that “He who sings, prays twice!” Martin Luther, the catalyst of the Protestant Reformation, wrote many song texts and even melodies, including this one, familiar in English as “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” The 16th-century polyphonist Johann Walther was a close colleague of Luther and arranged the tune in a four-voice setting. The familiar melody appears here not in the soprano line but rather in the tenor, as was common at the time. Our performance follows the principles of semi-improvised choral music set forth by Gunnar Eriksson, the renowned Swedish choral conductor and arranger, who for many years has been an inspiration to Chicago a cappella’s music-making.

Eli-Eri Luiz de Moura: Salmo 150

Eli-Eri Moura is professor of composition and director of Compomus, the electronic music studio at the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB), in the city of João Pessoa in northeastern Brazil. He received master’s and doctoral degrees in composition at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, before returning to Brazil. At Compomus, his influential teaching has helped to launch the careers of several important young Brazilian musicians, among them Antonio Coelho, or “Tone K.” Moura’s output includes film scores, arrangements of popular songs, and atonal, avant-garde pieces for instruments. He directed the University Choir at UFPB and also recently has been writing what he calls ”neoconservative tonal music,” accessible scores for mixed chorus, among them Salmo 150.

Originally scored for four-part mixed chorus, string quintet and timpani, Salmo 150 was re-scored for this CAC+1 concert.  Prof. Moura specifically asked for two of the singers to play percussion, so that the castanet and tambourine could help create the rhythmic profile he wanted. The piece is in three main sections: a slow, almost processional-like opening with delicious harmonies reminiscent of Brazilian piano jazz; a fast triple-time section, evocative of Schütz and Gabrieli; and another slow section which, after recalling the opening, ends with a flourish.

trad. Irish, arr. Keane/Faulkner: Mouth Music

Celtic mouth music (also called port-a-beul, “tunes from the mouth”) is a remarkable form of oral tradition. There are several stories about its origins. One story relates that during the suppression of all things overtly Irish by the British in the 17th and 18th centuries, the British rulers decreed that instrumental music and dancing were particularly offensive (probably because they were strongly Irish in character) and therefore illegal. Unable to play fiddles, flutes, bagpipes or drums in public, the resourceful Irish peasants instead created an underground language of music. Their songs, with nonsense syllables like this one has, incorporated the rhythms and lilt of traditional Irish music into something that could be transmitted only from the lips to the ears, hence “mouth music.” Because it springs from the dance rhythms essential to Irish culture, mouth music has been credited with the survival of Irish dance rhythms and even of Irish dance itself.

This rendering, published by the firm earthsongs in Oregon, is a direct transcription of the version sung for many years by the famous Irish musicians Dolores Keane and John Faulkner. The tune comes from the Hebrides, a chain of islands off the west coast of Scotland.

George Harrison, arr. Eric Freeman: Within You Without You

The Pacific Mozart Ensemble (“PME”) is a group of singers in the East Bay area of California. The PME puts on a pops concert every spring. That show has been the occasion for its gifted troupe of arrangers to unveil brand-new arrangements of songs by the Beatles. Chicago a cappella first learned of this chart by Eric Freeman during research for “Baroque and Beatles,” but as it calls for significant percussion throughout, the piece seemed more suitable for CAC+1. The original tune comes from the Sgt. Pepper album, which incorporated in significant ways George Harrison’s devotion to the rhythms, instruments, and philosophies of India. The original version by the Beatles included sitar in the scoring, replaced here by “drones” in the voices which create their own version of overtone harmonics.

Bob Applebaum: from Exodus Suite

Versatile at setting poetry from Shakespeare to May Swenson, Bob Applebaum is also one of the nation’s most prominent composers of choral music in the Hebrew language. His works, many now published by ECS in Boston, have been performed regularly at the North American Jewish Choral Festival and by choirs around the country. Following a distinguished career teaching physics and chemistry at New Trier High School, he has turned full-time to music. An accomplished jazz pianist, he is also composer-in-residence at JRC, the Reconstructionist synagogue in Evanston. Chicago a cappella has recorded his songs “Oh Chanukah / Y’mei Chanukah” and “Funky Dreidl” on the Holidays a cappella Live album.

Exodus Suite was originally a major work for four-part choir and piano. For CAC+1, Applebaum put much of the piano’s left hand into the low bass voice, making a choral setting for five-part mixed voices, along with percussion, including vibes, snare, timpani, low tom tom, and tambourine. (See the “Notes and Introduction” to this concert for more details on the work’s creation.) Unlike Israel in Egypt by Handel, which ends with a note of triumph, Exodus Suite ends on a slow, contemplative, and more ambiguous note. Stating simply that the Israelites followed their victory over Pharaoh by going into the wilderness, the unceasing counterpoint in the final movement recalls their relentless journey in the desert for the next forty years.

arr. Aleksandar Vujić: Urukumbuzi Song

This rousing work actually combines two songs from Rwanda. One means “nostalgia”; the other, “challenge.”

I N T E R M I S S I O N

arr. Gunnar Eriksson: Salve Regina / To The Mothers in Brazil

Gunnar Eriksson is an internationally acclaimed Swedish choral conductor, who studied under the legendary Eric Ericson. Gunnar is professor of choral conducting at the School of Music and Musicology, University of Gothenburg, in Sweden. Gunnar is in demand throughout Europe and Asia as a clinician and workshop leader, partly because of his great technical command and skill, but also because of his sense of playfulness, which he uses to teach the art of choral improvisation (as in his book Kör ad lib).

This piece is, as are many of Gunnar’s works, a rethinking of existing material. “To the mothers in Brazil” is a jazz composition by Grammy-winner Lars Jansson, who recorded it with his Trio on their CD titled A Window Towards Being. To this instrumental material, Gunnar has added some (not all) words from the traditional Marian antiphon, Salve Regina. The result is a multi-layered, thickly textured, semi-improvised setting which has a tremendous life of its own.

Bob Chilcott: Grace / The Clean Platter

We now move into the section of the program which might be called “Rhythm and Food.” Bob Chilcott is one of our time’s most prolific choral composers, writing full-time now for Oxford University Press following a ten-year term as the tenor (and one of the chief arrangers of pop charts) for the King’s Singers. This piece is the opening movement from Fragments from his dish, a playful, brilliant choral song cycle about the pleasures of eating and drinking. Chilcott’s cycle is one of the all-time favorite pieces among Chicago a cappella’s singers and appears on our upcoming CD from Centaur Records, Eclectric. The piece opens with a slow, serious, almost procession-like passage on a text by the dignified Robert Herrick, of “All Creatures Great and Small” fame. It moves deftly into a fast swing section, with an irreverent, witty lyric by the great Ogden Nash.

Ulf Långbacka: En visa om öl

This song comes from the album Skål i öl och brannvin! (“Cheers with beer and schnapps!”), a collection of drinking songs, recorded by a boisterous combination of Swedish men’s and women’s university choirs. Ulf Långbacka hails from the Swedish-speaking part of Finland, where he directs a number of acclaimed choirs. Ulf simply said, “Jo, du kan det bra göra” (Yes, you can do it) when asked if we could add a timpani part to his song about beer. The song is simple and effective, just stating what is desired.

Glenn Meade: Cookin’ School

Glenn Meade, composer and sound designer, has been writing contemporary orchestral, chamber, vocal, and musical-dramatic works since 1975. He received his musical education at both the Peabody and American Conservatories of Music, and has had numerous works performed by professional ensembles. Introduced to MIDI control of synthesizers and audio processors in 1986, he quickly became proficient at using the technology to produce dynamic and complex works for a “synthesizer orchestra.” While continuing to write new works for both acoustic and electronic media, he has been designing sound for film, video, and theatrical productions, and teaching electronic composition.

A versatile composer, Glenn Meade has written works for jazz piano, synthesized orchestra, chorus, strings, and various combinations of these forces. His CDs include Open Road, a suite for jazz piano; two full-length choral works, Gloria and Patmos, recorded by Chicago a cappella with synthesized orchestral accompaniments; and Perils of the Great Ulysses, recorded with the Revolution Ensemble String Quartet. He recently completed a new suite for jazz piano, recorded by Stuart Leitch, and a Latin-dance suite. This last project gave rise to Cookin’ School, which is based on one of the movements in the Latin suite, rescored for CAC+1 with new words added by the composer. The playful, jazz-tinged choral writing splits into eight parts at the end, while the vibraphone line combines notated riffs and improvisation.

Billie Holiday / Arthur Herzog, Jr., arr. Mark Mazur: God Bless the Child

Mark Mazur studied in the legendary jazz program at the University of Northern Colorado, one of the leading programs for vocal jazz in the USA. His chart owes much to the setting by Blood, Sweat, and Tears, to which we have added Debbie’s slow swing rhythms.

Luo spiritual, arr. S. A. Otieno: Sigalagala (Let there be ululation)

A sister piece to our Christmas-time audience favorite Nyathi Onyuol, this joyous piece comes from the same Luo tribe of Kenya. Sigalagala is likewise in the repertoire of Muungano, the National Choir of Kenya, founded by Boniface Mganga to showcase the many linguistic and cultural traditions of his nation and to spread harmony among the many ethnic subcultures in Kenya. As with most of that choir’s repertoire, the song is religious in nature, reflecting the nation’s Christian traditions. The song features many 3-against-2 rhythms in the opening section and infectious syncopation in the main body of the piece.