Holidays a cappella 2006

December 2006

Program Notes

 Annunciation Carol

trad. Dutch carol, arr. Richard Proulx (b. 1936)

 Eskasoni (First Nation) Huron Carol

16th-c. French tune, arr. The Eskasoni Trio

 The Huron Carol

arr. Eleanor Daley (b. 1955)

 Amuworo ayi otu nwa (For unto us a child is born)

Christian Onyeji (b. 1967)

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 Immanúel oss í nátt

Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson (b. 1938)

 Chant: Verbum caro factum est

Plainchant, mode 8

 Verbum caro factum est

15th-c. English, arr. Richard Proulx

 Who is the baby?

Rosephanye Powell (b. 1962)

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 Lullay my liking

Thomas H.B. Slawson  (b. 1977)

 Aleih Neiri

Chaim Parchi (b. 1947), arr. Joshua Jacobson

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 Komm, Jesu, komm

J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

 Wassail Song

arr. Stephen Paulus

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

 Prayer of the Venerable Bede

Richard Proulx

 S’vivon

arr. Steve Barnett

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 How silent waits the listening earth   

Richard Proulx

 

 Noël nouvelet

arr. Ian Humphris

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 The Christ-Child’s Lullaby

Gwyneth Walker (b. 1947)

 Glory, glory, glory to the newborn King

spiritual, arr. Moses Hogan

 Encore:  When the Song of the Angels is Stilled

Elizabeth Alexander

 

I N T R O D U C T I O N

Welcome to Holidays a cappella! We started calling our December concerts by this name in 1997, and the name has stuck. You’ll hear music from the ninth to the 21st centuries on this concert.

Along with familiar carols and tunes we’ve done before, you’ll hear much that is new and exciting for our ensemble. Nine of the first ten pieces are being sung by us for the first time. We have searched the near and far sides of the globe to bring to you the mix of music on today’s concert.

It’s a privilege to sing music in its original tongue. In alphabetical order, the languages on this concert include English, French, German, Hebrew, Icelandic, Igbo (from Nigeria), Latin, and Mi’kmaq. The last of these is a language of the First Nation tribes in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada, spoken on the Eskasoni reservation.

As usual, we have received help in large and small ways from our colleagues. One individual, however, bears special mention in helping us get to this day. I want to take the opportunity to acknowledge the singular contributions of Richard Proulx to the development of the choral-music scene in Chicago, including our ensemble’s own history over 14 seasons.

You’ll hear four of Richard Proulx’s compositions and arrangements on today’s program. Richard has been a prolific and articulate force in American liturgical music, and his music is performed all over the world. The scope of his recordings and publications for the GIA publishing firm alone is astounding. He has served on many hymnal commissions, which is a job of first importance in charting any denomination’s worship life for the coming generations.

Richard’s compositional mind is keen; his taste in text and music is impeccable; his feel for texture and orchestration is terrific. He understands music from the inside and the outside: he knows not only what it takes as a composer to write good vocal lines but also how to get the best as a conductor from his singers. He has kept legions of singers gainfully busy with performing and recording projects.

There is another side of Richard’s activities that bears mention, albeit one less tangible than a piece of sheet music or a CD. Much of what you hear all over Chicago’s choral music scene at the present time has been touched in some way by Richard Proulx. The environment at Holy Name Cathedral under his leadership (from 1980 to 1994) was a creative crucible for much of what developed here in later years. I first met Richard in 1982, when I auditioned successfully for a spot in the 16-voice Chamber Singers, the professional choir at Holy Name. It was a great job for a young man in college; singing at Holy Name literally paid my rent for four years, allowing me to take some risks I might not have taken otherwise, including at one point singing in five different choirs.

The Holy Name group was white-hot when I joined it. We sang with harp, with organ and brass, with electronic tape, and of course a cappella. Richard pushed the edges of liturgical music and brought the house down at the NPM convention in St. Louis shortly after I joined the choir. At the sacred choral festivals held at Holy Name, where six professional choirs came together to showcase their triumphs in programming and performance, we of the host choir could feel good that we had acquitted ourselves well, being part of those who set the standards for excellence among the top church choirs in the city of Chicago. Richard is a demanding conductor in the best sense; the many moments of great satisfaction I felt while singing for him in worship services were only possible because of how hard we worked in rehearsal.

Enthusiasm and quality have a habit of spreading in those whom they touch. His Majestie’s Clerkes (now Bella Voce) was founded in 1982 by early-music buffs from Holy Name; likewise, the Harwood Early Music Ensemble included many Holy Name people. When I founded Chicago a cappella in 1993, you can guess who I started calling first for auditions! Remarkably, seven of the nine singers who walked on stage for Chicago a cappella’s debut concert at the Theatre Building had sung at Holy Name under Richard—a powerful connection any way you view it.

In honor of Richard Proulx’s remarkable career, we are pleased to be honoring him on May 17, 2007 at the next “Black and Red Ball”–Chicago a cappella’s Gala–at the Union League Club. I invite you to join us for that festive evening.

The singers, staff, and board of Chicago a cappella join me in thanking you for coming today to hear us ring in the season. Enjoy the concert!

    ---Jonathan Miller

 

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

Trad. Dutch carol, arr. Richard Proulx: Annunciation Carol

This sprightly carol was originally called “De Boodschap van Maria” in Dutch or “Maria’s Tidings.” It cheerfully tells of the angel Gabriel’s announcing to Mary that she would bear a son. The poetry for the second, third, and fourth verses are from Percy Dearmer, a British priest and liturgist who was concerned with social justice. Dearmer was an early advocate of the ordination of women and had a strong influence on the music of the church; with Vaughan Williams he is credited with the revival and spread of traditional and medieval English musical forms. Richard Proulx’s treatment of the Dutch tune sets the text sensitively, with three different musical shapings of the four stanzas. His placement of the melody in the tenor line for verse 3 is particularly deft.

16th-c. French tune, arr. Eskasoni Trio: The Huron Carol

arr. Eleanor Daley: The Huron Carol

The earliest Canadian carol on record, The Huron Carol is now known and sung all over Canada. Its original words were in the Huron language, with a tune borrowed from a 16th-century French Canadian tune. The carol in Huron was known from about 1643 as Jesus Ahatonhia.

We are presenting two versions of this carol, to give a sense of how far it has permeated our sister nation. The first is in the Mi’kmaq (or Mi’qmaq) language, spoken in the Atlantic provinces of eastern Canada. The harmonies are simple, featuring mostly the non-Western-sounding interval of a fourth between the two voices. Mildred Milliea translated the English version of the poem into Mi’kmaq.

The second version, more Western-sounding in harmony, comes from the renowned Toronto-based composer Eleanor Daley. She regularly composes music for her church choirs and also writes and arranges secular music. Her music is sung virtually around the globe, and she has been honored nationally in Canada.

Christian Onyeji: Amuworo ayi otu nwa (For unto us a child is born)

Christian Onyeji is a Nigerian composer, pianist, choreographer, and conductor. He is Senior Lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka Enugu State, where he researches African music and composes Nigerian art music.

With a text from Isaiah, this piece was designed to fit the needs of modern Nigerian church worship. With elements of dance, polyrhythm, and texture typical of the Igbo sub-area, the piece has a driving and jubilant quality. The music is called a “Native Air,” a genre popular among Nigerian art-music lovers.

Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson (b. 1938): Immanúel oss í nátt

Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson is one of the leading lights in Icelandic music. He was trained in Reykjavik, where he now lives, and at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Thorkell has composed more than 300 works in all genres and has 25 hymns or arrangements in the Icelandic Hymnal. He is active organizing concerts, lecturing, appearing on the radio as a commentator, and in general advocating for the quality of his country’s life in classical music. (The singer Björk is also from Iceland, working in pop genres.) Icelandic is a very pure form of Old Norse, and Iceland a nation of sophisticated language-connoisseurs.

This piece sets three verses of an old Icelandic text, written in 1742. These words have a surprising tenderness, not what one would first associate with a land of volcanoes. The second verse is particularly sweet, full of musical imagery.

plainchant: Verbum caro factum est

15th-c. English carol, arr. Proulx: Verbum caro factum est

The medieval singers who composed plainchant have fashioned here a lovely, elegant melody for the beloved words from the Gospel of John. In later centuries, the English carol-writers used words from the Breviary—using, for example, prayers after the midday meal—in four-part choral settings, with sweet harmonies known on the Continent as the contenance angloise. The third verse is based on a line from Psalm 88, “Ipse invocabit me: Pater meus es tu”—“He will call unto me: Thou art my Father.”

Rosephanye Powell: Who is the baby?

Dr. Rosephanye Powell serves as Associate Professor of Voice at Auburn University (Auburn, Alabama). Dr. Powell began her tenure at Philander Smith College in 1993, after receiving the Doctor of Music in vocal performance at The Florida State University. She earned the Master of Music degree in vocal performance and pedagogy from Westminster Choir College and the Bachelor of Music Education degree from Alabama State University. Her choral music is in demand worldwide.

This piece combines elements of the spiritual in the first half with elements of gospel music in the second half, forming a sort of hybrid. Although neither the form nor the text are traditional, the result is energetic and effective.

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Thomas H.B. Slawson: Lullay my liking

Thomas H.B. Slawson is the choir director at First Presbyterian Church in Yazoo City, Mississippi. He holds the master’s degree in composition from Mississippi College and has been quite prolific of late in having his sacred choral music published.

The carol text used here is perhaps most familiar in the setting by Gustav Holst, which Chicago a cappella has also performed. Rather than evoking a medieval feel and a sense of peaceful sleep, as Holst did, Slawson opts for a more lush musical treatment, drawing out the mother’s love for her “dear Heart” and “sweete Lording.” There is a little reference to Holst’s music at the words “Blessed be Thou and so be she that is so meek and mild,” where Slawson picks up Holst’s rhythm and even a touch of the harmony. Still, this setting is fully Slawson’s own, with a mature character that belies the composer’s youthfulness (he is not yet thirty).

Chaim Parchi: Aleih Neiri

© Transcontinental Music Publications

Chaim Parchi was born in Yemen and is primarily a visual artist, in which he is self-taught. In the summer of 1979, Chaim brought his family to the Boston, Massachusetts, area to continue his graduate studies at Boston University. He became the Music Director of the Solomon Schechter Day School and began performing and recording Israeli and ethnic Jewish music for the public. Chaim relocated to Boca Raton, Florida, in 1995, and taught music and art at Broward Jewish High School, B'nai Torah High School and Hillel Community Day School. He writes: “I see Judaism as a coat of many colors. . . . We need to look at the fabrics that unite us and all the threads within. Through our diverse music and art we can make a coat that will keep the Jewish spirit alive and come to understanding of all our people.”

Aleih Neiri is a Chanukah tune composed and recorded by Parchi himself. The choral arrangement has been taken from that recording by the renowned scholar and conductor Joshua Jacobson, founder of the Zamir Chorale of Boston. Jacobson has added some lovely harmonic touches of his own while keeping the heartfelt nature of the solo line intact.

J. S. Bach: Komm, Jesu, komm (BWV 229)

This stunning double-choir motet dates from around 1723-34, while Johann Sebastian Bach was music director at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. In recent years, this piece has become increasingly popular on holiday programs. One can only guess that the work’s popularity at this season stems from its basic poetic sentiment, which asks, “Come, Jesus, Come.” However, unlike more typical Advent texts—many of which you’ve already heard on this concert—Bach’s motet actually sets a text which was originally a funeral poem.

Indeed, the motet’s text is taken from a funeral poem by Paul Thymich (d. 1684), which not only mourns the death of a rector at the Thomaskirche but was also set to music by Johann Schelle, one of Bach’s predecessors on the church’s music staff. Bach’s word-painting is exquisite, especially at the phrase “Der saure Weg” (“the bitter way”), where he emphasizes life’s bitterness with the downward leap of a diminished seventh in every voice, perhaps implying that nobody is exempt from earthly trials.

While any of the Bach motets can be performed with basso continuo, this is the one that lends itself most successfully to a completely a cappella performance. Here, Bach uses a double choir (SATB + SATB), which gives him the same flexibility and sense of forward direction that might otherwise be achieved with instrumental forces. Each quartet of voice parts takes turns carrying the musical momentum in turn, and both come together for special verbal emphasis or at cadences.

arr. Stephen Paulus: Wassail Song

Composer Stephen Paulus has been hailed as “...a bright, fluent inventor with a ready lyric gift.” (The New Yorker) His prolific output of more than two hundred works is represented by many genres, including music for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, solo voice, keyboard and opera. His choral works have been performed and recorded by some of the most distinguished choruses in the United States, including the New York Concert Singers, Dale Warland Singers, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Robert Shaw Festival Singers, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and dozens of other professional, community, church and college choirs. A recipient of both Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships, Paulus is also a strong advocate for the music of his colleagues. He is co-founder and a current Board Vice President of the highly esteemed American Composers Forum, the largest composer service organization in the world

Wassail Song appears in a collection of carols that Paulus arranged for the season. It carries the composer’s characteristic feel for harmony—thoughtful, with just a few twists—and his clarity of texture. The result is playful and jubilant.

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

Richard Proulx: Prayer of the Venerable Bede

This meditation sets a text found on the wall of Galilee Chapel in England’s Durham Cathedral, one of the most magnificent and distinctive churches in the world. The composition is dedicated to James Litton and the choir of Trinity Church in Princeton, New Jersey. The words are attributed to the Venerable Bede, probably known best as the author of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which he completed in AD 731.

It is amazing what a little half-step can do in a piece of music. After an opening that evokes the Dorian mode (D minor with a B flat), the unusual alto solo departs ever so slightly by singing mostly B-naturals. This tiny departure somehow strongly suggests the dawning of the morning light, raising the ear’s awareness in a remarkable way.

Arr. Steve Barnett: S’vivon

The dreydl has four Hebrew letters: nun, gimel, heh, and shin. Together, these are the first four letters of the words in the Hebrew phrase “Neis gadol hayah sham,” which means “A great miracle happened there.” That phrase captures the essence of the Chanukah holiday. After their long-fought battle to drive the Syrians out of Israel, the Maccabees rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem. When re-lighting the N’er Tamid (the “eternal light,” which is never to be extinguished), one night’s worth of oil miraculously burned for eight nights. This is why the dreydl is such a beloved symbol of Chanukah, and why Jewish children and families around the world sing this song at this time of year. Steve Barnett is a highly acclaimed (and Grammy-winning) producer, arranger, composer, and overall musician, who has served synagogues and churches in the Twin Cities for many years. This setting of “S’vivon” comes from a cycle of four Chanukah songs that he arranged under the collective title Arise and Be Free. The feel is fun and easy, the harmonies jazz-tinged.

Richard Proulx: How Silent Waits The Listening Earth

Timothy Dudley-Smith (b. 1926), from Salisbury, England, was archdeacon of Norwich from 1973-81 and Bishop of Thetford for ten years before retiring. He has written hymn texts for more than thirty years. The Hymn Society of the United States and Canada has named him a “Fellow,” a rare accomplishment for a British hymn writer. He wrote hymn texts mostly on holidays in Cornwall and continues writing a few each year. Here, Bishop Dudley-Smith has created a strong visual image of the Christmas story. Richard Proulx’s gentle, strophic setting—that is, using the same musical material for each verse—includes two main elements of note. One is the flowing melody, which seems like a hybrid of a carol and a hymn; like a good hymn tune, the melody mostly moves in stepwise motion, with very few large leaps (Palestrina was praised for the same thing), and as in a carol, there is a nice tie-in between the distinctive tune and the evocative words. The other main element is the harmony that underlies this melody; the harmony mostly goes where one expects it might, with a few turns in unusual directions and changes of voicing or texture that both tease the ear and give the piece its grounding. Richard Proulx himself told Chicago a cappella about this piece, which is hard to find, and for which we are grateful.

arr. Ian Humphris: Noël Nouvelet

This traditional French carol has been delicately arranged by Ian Humphris, conductor of the National Westminster Choir in England. Humphris is a versatile composer and arranger. He became well known as the conductor of the famous singing group, the Linden Singers, appearing regularly on television and radio. As a member of the male quintet, the Baccholian Singers, he has given recitals in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Poland and many European and Scandinavian countries. Ian has written over 200 choral and orchestral arrangements, many published and recorded. For 20 years he presented television and radio programs for schools on BBC and ITV, introducing and writing music for “Music Time” on BBC TV and “Music Workshop” and “Music Makers” on radio.

Gwyneth Walker: The Christ-Child’s Lullaby

Gwyneth Walker is a graduate of Brown University and the Hartt School of Music. A former faculty member of the Oberlin College Conservatory, she resigned from academic employment in 1982 in order to pursue a career as a full-time composer. She is a proud resident of Vermont, where she lives on a dairy farm in Braintree. She is the recipient of the Year 2000 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Vermont Arts Council. Walker's catalog includes over 130 commissioned works for orchestra, band, chorus and chamber ensembles. The year 2007 will be filled with anniversary celebrations around the country in honor of the composer’s 60th birthday.

The Christ-Child’s Lullaby is a work of unusual beauty, reflecting the composer’s desire to incorporate dramatic elements into choral music. The basic tune, a Hebridean folksong, is a haunting Mixolydian melody (with the flatted 7th scale degree). Walker keeps the harmonies grounded in this Celtic-sounding space for the first part of the piece, but takes a stunning turn toward Lydian (C-major with an F#) during an extended “Alleluia” section. The texture later includes soft hand-tapping by the choir, several solo lines, and an ingenious, semi-free tapering off toward the end, leaving only the initial soloist to close the piece alone, just as a parent will be singing into silence when the baby is finally asleep.

arr. Moses Hogan: Glory, glory, glory to the newborn king

Internationally renowned as a pianist, conductor, and arranger, the late Moses Hogan was recognized during his all-too-short lifetime as a leading force in promoting and preserving the African-American musical experience. Beginning in 1980, he focused his musical energy in the area of arranging spirituals, forming The New World Ensemble and the acclaimed Moses Hogan Chorale to preserve and extend the spiritual tradition. His contemporary settings of spirituals, original compositions, and other works have become staples in the repertoires of high school, college, church, community, and professional choirs worldwide; Chicago a cappella has recorded his blockbuster hit “Elijah Rock.” Through his subsequent work with the Moses Hogan Singers, including concerts and recordings, as well as his participation in festivals and workshops as both clinician and guest conductor, Hogan was a major force in creating a growing interest in the African-American spiritual as a choral art form.

Among Moses Hogan’s classic arrangements is this, based on “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” Hogan has added some new words in a call-and-response opening section with a soloist. While the piece has only small variations among the repetitions of the familiar tune, the overall work has its characteristic Hogan feel in the way that the traditional material is placed in a sweeping context of great drama and excitement, ending—of course—with a big finish.

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