Holidays a cappella 2007:
The Season of Light

December 2007

Program Notes

 O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Jerry Troxell

 En stjerne er sat (A star is set)

Per Nørgård

 I Wonder as I Wander           

John Jacob Niles, arr. Steve Pilkington

 Il est né, le divin Enfant

trad. French, arr. J. David Moore

* * * * * * *  

 The Christ-Child’s Lullaby

Gwyneth Walker

 O lux beatissima

Howard Helvey

 The Huron Carol

trad. Huguenot/Huron carol, arr. Eleanor Daley

 Who is the baby?

Rosephanye Powell

* * * * * * *  

 Hodie

Carol Barnett

 Aleih Neiri

Chaim Parchi, arr. Joshua Jacobson

 Lo Yisa Goy

Stacy Garrop

 When the song of the angels is stilled

Elizabeth Alexander

INTERMISSION

 O lux beata caelitum  

plainchant, tone 2

 O nata lux de lumine   Thomas Tallis
 What sweeter music

Wayland Rogers

* * * * * * *
 Jingle a cappella

James Clemens (after James S. Pierpont)

 Silent Night

Franz Gruber

 Sistah Mary

Spiritual, arr. Rollo Dilworth

 Encore: Amuworo Ayi Otu Nwa ("For unto us a child is born")

Christian Onyeji

 

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

Welcome to Holidays a cappella! We are pleased that you’ve chosen to join us amid the most hectic season of the American year. You’ll hear music from the sixteenth to the 21st centuries on this concert, from jubilant to contemplative.

We are particularly excited to bring to you two brand-new pieces on this concert. This is the first occasion in our fifteen-year history where we have commissioned Holiday pieces from two different composers. Stacy Garrop and Rollo Dilworth have created masterful new pieces for us, and we are grateful to the Sara Lee Foundation for providing financial support for these commissions.

If this is your first time hearing Chicago a cappella, you’ll notice that we sing without a conductor. The intent is that our performances be chamber music—where the engagement of each singer in the process is what drives the ensemble, and the sense of individuals making up a whole is the primary force on stage. 

The music directing takes place in rehearsal, where both I and our music director, Patrick Sinozich, work with the singers to give each song both polish and shape. Over the years of serving as both singer and director, I realized that the way to ensure the best musical quality is to have a person directing who is not in the circle of the group itself. While this means that I don’t sing with the group except on rare occasions, it also means that there is careful attention from an “outside” set of ears to complement the amazing listening that the singers themselves do. The resultant quality has been a wonder to behold, and I am grateful to the singers for their fierce dedication to quality and to the board and staff for being so supportive of this new working method.

As some of you know, we are planning our next CD recording, which will draw heavily on the repertoire from this very concert. Cedille Records, led by the tireless Jim Ginsburg, will be releasing this new holiday CD (yet to be named) in the fall of 2008. We will go into recording sessions in February and March, just a few months down the road.

It is wonderful to be bringing back some of my and the singers’ old favorites for this concert and for the CD. For example, we have not sung the Danish piece, “En stjerne er sat,” since 1998, so unless you were one of our diehard “early adopters,” that lovely piece will be new to you. We’re also bringing back a few pieces that we sang last year for the first time and to which our audiences responded enthusiastically.

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. plainchant carol, arr. Jerry J. Troxell: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

The opening movement of a set of three Yuletide Carols, this is a haunting, hopeful setting of the familiar “Emmanuel” tune by the late Jerry Troxell (1936-1998), a composer whose activities centered in St. Louis, Chicago, and Springfield, Illinois. Troxell’s acknowledged masterpiece is Prayers of Steel, a setting of the Carl Sandburg poem, which Chicago a cappella recorded on its Eclectric CD album. For this carol, Troxell makes very slight rhythmic shifts of the familiar tune, all in keeping with the text’s sense of anticipation.

Per Nørgård: En stjerne er sat (A star is set)

This remarkable piece is the creation of Per Nørgård (b. 1932), the most influential Danish composer in the generation after Vagn Holmboe, whose work Chicago a cappella has also performed. Nørgård left his faculty position at the Copenhagen Conservatory to found an important center for experimental composition at the university in Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city. This piece comes from Nørgård’s 1992 publication Korbogen (“The choir book”); it is a new a cappella setting of a section from an earlier Christmas oratorio. The steady triple meter lends to the piece a sense of steady walking toward Bethlehem, leading up to the unexpected spoken outburst from the wise man.

John Jacob Niles, arr. Steve Pilkington: I Wonder as I Wander

This much-loved tune is partly traditional and partly composed. The “original” melody for this carol was pieced together by John Jacob Niles from three lines which he cajoled out of a young girl in 1933, in Murphy, North Carolina (the mountainous far west of the state, in the Appalachians). Niles paid Annie Morgan twenty-five cents per performance; after eight tries, he notes, “I had only three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material—and a magnificent idea.” He fleshed out the melody and wrote additional verses, first recording the song in 1938 on a 78-rpm disc for RCA Red Seal. The melody has found an exquisite home in this a cappella choral setting by Steve Pilkington, who is associate professor and chair of several departments at the acclaimed Westminster Choir College (Rider University) in Princeton, New Jersey.

arr. J. David Moore: Il est né, le divin Enfant

This popular French carol has found a lively setting in the hands of J. David Moore, a St.-Paul based musician who makes his living as a choral conductor, singer, composer, arranger, and music copyist. He holds degrees in conducting and composition from Florida State University and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Moore has also done many settings for Dare to Breathe, a Twin Cities-based vocal ensemble which he founded. When living in Cincinnati he founded the Village Waytes, a vocal ensemble for which he created this arrangement.

* * * * * * *

Gwyneth Walker: The Christ-Child’s Lullaby

Gwyneth Walker (b. 1947) 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.

Howard Helvey: O lux beatissima

In addition to serving as Organist/Choirmaster of Calvary Episcopal Church in Cincinnati, Howard Helvey (b. 1968) maintains a national and international presence as a concert pianist, conductor, composer, arranger and speaker. Known particularly for his published choral music, Mr. Helvey has had his work featured on recordings, national network and PBS television broadcasts, in such distinguished concert venues as New York's Carnegie Hall, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and numerous locations throughout Europe and Asia. Drawn particularly to folk-based melodies and ancient hymn tunes, Mr. Helvey often incorporates them into his own writing. Besides receiving commissions from numerous church and university choirs, Mr. Helvey has recently completed projects for the renowned Turtle Creek Chorale of Dallas and for the Wisconsin Chamber Choir. In 2002, he received a John Ness Beck Foundation Award for his distinguished contribution to sacred choral music.

O lux beatissima is an extraordinary work, recalling influences of Howells and Vaughan Williams with an astonishing economy of means. The text is a stanza from the medieval sequence “Veni Sancte Spiritus” (“Come, Holy Spirit”), penned around the year 1200 for Whitsunday (Pentecost) and attributed to Stephan Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury. Its themes of light, blessing and grace make it fitting for the Nativity holiday as well as Pentecost.

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. This choral version 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.

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 truly energetic and effective.

Carol Barnett: Hodie

Composer and flutist Carol Barnett is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where she studied with Dominick Argento, Paul Fetler and Bernhard Weiser. The Women's Philharmonic, the Dale Warland Singers, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Westminster Abbey Choir, the Ankor Children's Choir of Jerusalem, Israel, the Nebraska Children's Chorus and the Gregg Smith Singers are among the ensembles which have performed her works. In 1991 she was a fellow at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, and in 1999 she was awarded a travel grant from the Inter-University Research Committee on Cyprus.

Composer in residence with the Dale Warland Singers from 1992 to 2001, she is currently a studio artist and adjunct lecturer at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

The well-known text is from the Magnificat antiphon at Second Vespers on Christmas Day, a chant used by Britten to open his familiar work, A Ceremony of Carols. Barnett notes that her piece has been influenced by the music of Rachmaninoff and Poulenc, especially the final movement of Poulenc’s Four Motets (pour le temps de Noel); sensitive listeners will also notice influences by Holst in the textural groupings of women-vs.-men.

Chaim Parchi: Aleih Neiri

Chaim Parchi was born in 1947 in Yemen and is primarily a visual artist, in which he is self-taught. In the summer of 1979, Parchi 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. Parchi 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.

Stacy Garrop: Lo Yisa Goy

(world premiere, commissioned by Chicago a cappella)

A composer creating music of great expressive power and masterful technical control, Stacy Garrop has received several awards, commissions, and grants, including the 2006/2007 Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble’s 2006/2007 Harvey Gaul Composition Competition, the 2005 Raymond and Beverly Sackler Music Composition Prize, 2005 and 2001 Barlow Endowment commissions, Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 1999-2000 First Hearing Composition Competition, Omaha Symphony Guild’s 2000 International New Music Competition, and the New England Philharmonic’s 2000 Call for Scores Competition. Chicago a cappella is fortunate to have been able to commission her this season, not only for the rollicking Hava Nagila on our most recent concert in October but also for this haunting setting of the familiar Jewish melody Lo Yisa Goy.

There is a lovely, unexpected reference (perhaps intentional) to Handel’s Messiah at the very end of this piece, with the final line of English text being identical to the last line of Handel’s chorus “And the glory of the Lord.” For those of you who have sung Messiah, it can be a remarkable, even moving experience to hear the same line of text set in such a different way than Handel did.

The composer writes:

When Jonathan asked me to write two pieces for Chicago a cappella, I knew right away that I wanted to choose two songs from my own past. The first piece, Hava Nagila, was premiered on their “Days of Awe and Rejoicing” concert in October; it is a celebratory song full of joy. I wanted the second work to contrast the first, and to this end, I chose the somber text of Lo Yisa Goy, which is a prayer for peace. I remember singing this song as a little girl in Hebrew school and synagogue, always in context (at least in my congregation) of praying for the state of Israel. I think we’re at a particular point in which people in a lot of different nations could use such a prayer. For this reason, you’ll hear the words in both Hebrew and English. In my research of previous versions of the melody, I discovered three variants for the tune; listen closely, and you’ll hear all three melodies incorporated into my piece.

Elizabeth Alexander: When the song of the angels is stilled

When we first sang this song as an encore last year, we were swamped with questions like “Where did you find that piece? What are the words? I loved it—who wrote it?” In response to that enthusiasm, the song is now part of the formal program this year.

Composer Elizabeth Alexander (b.1962) has written over 35 commissioned pieces for orchestras, choirs, chamber ensembles and solo musicians. Since earning her doctorate in composition from Cornell University, she has received grants, awards and fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, New York Council on the Arts, Wisconsin Arts Board, National Orchestral Association, American Composers Forum, International League of Women Composers, Meet the Composer and ASCAP. Her choral music, which has been her compositional focus for the past decade, has been performed by hundreds of choirs worldwide.

When we were looking for a “closer” to last year’s “Holidays” concert, this piece was a strong contender. However, when Jonathan Miller reviewed the piece (the poem is an old favorite of his), he found himself wanting a more upbeat ending, as the original version of the song closed with a more contemplative mood. Happily, Ms. Alexander responded to the situation with a proposal for a commission to rewrite the ending, which resulted in the piece you hear today.

The poem is by the late Howard Thurman, one of the most prominent African-American theologians of the late 20th century, and a longtime faculty member at Howard University. In keeping with the focus of Thurman’s brilliant career, the text is a call for vigilant attention to social justice, reminding us that the kingdom of Heaven is at hand, right here, if we will make it.

INTERMISSION

Plainchant: O lux beata caelitum

The text and tune for this chant are attributed to Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903), though the tune sounds much older. This haunting chant is the Hymn at Second Vespers for the Mass of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The feast itself is a recent thing; as the Oblates of St. Joseph tell us,

Neminem fugit, the 1892 Apostolic Letter of Leo XIII, approved the statutes of the new universal Association of the Holy Family. On the first anniversary of this Letter, in response to the requests of many bishops, a new Mass and Office were approved for the Feast of the Holy Family, with hymns said to be composed by Leo XIII himself (O lux beata cælitum, Sacra iam splendent and O gente felix hospita). All places and institutes already having permission for the feast were to use these texts, and of course other dioceses and congregations could apply for permission. The Third Sunday after Epiphany was set as the uniform date for all celebrating the feast.

The rhymed translation comes from the Breviary of John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute (1847-1900), who pursued an ardent passion for languages amid his responsibilities as one of the United Kingdom’s wealthiest men; though his English version feels rather stilted, it does reflect the age in which the text itself was composed and well reflects the piety befitting a new liturgical feast.

Thomas Tallis: O nata lux

A towering figure in the Tudor musical scene, Tallis (c. 1505-1585) remained a staunch Catholic amid much turmoil. This lovely setting of a 10th-century hymn text was first published in Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur (London, 1575), which would have been a set of five partbooks (there are two tenor parts), each with the single lines for its voice.

Wayland Rogers: What sweeter music

Mr. Rogers, a singer, conductor and teacher as well as a composer was born December 26, 1941 in Kentucky and trained at University of Kentucky, Wichita State University, Northwestern University, The Salzburg Mozarteum, and in London. As a singer he received a 1986 Grammy nomination for Best Chamber Music recording with the Chicago Symphony Winds. He trained as a conductor with Margaret Hillis. For 15 years he was Artistic Director/Conductor of The Camerata Singers of Lake Forest. Presently he is Music Director at North Shore Unitarian Church in Deerfield, IL, and faculty member at North Park University in Chicago.

Rogers dedicated the score for “What sweeter music” to Chicago a cappella, which gave this beautiful work its world premiere at the ensemble's first Christmas concert in 1994. The original (and slightly longer) poem by Robert Herrick—once sung to King Charles I of England at Whitehall in a musical setting by Henry Lawes—expresses true wonder at the birth of the baby and moves through a remarkable number of ways at declaiming joy—exuberant, tender, majestic, and quiet. Rogers’s music follows the mood of the song in sensitive fashion, taking the listener on a journey in tone to match that in verse.

arr. James Clemens (after James S. Pierpont): Jingle a cappella

A perhaps too-familiar tune takes a brilliant new guise in the hands of composer James Clemens, a skillful writer and arranger who recently moved from the Chicago area to Virginia. This arrangement was written for Chicago a cappella. In addition to giving Pierpont’s tune a jazz-inflected harmonic setting, Clemens takes an innovative turn in the “legit” direction. The middle section is a wild fugue in 7/8 time, based on J. S. Bach’s Fuga 23, BWV 868, from The Well-Tempered Klavier, volume 1!

Franz Gruber: Silent Night

We invite you to hum along after we sing two verses of this familiar carol. Hum the melody, or harmony, as you are moved.

arr. Rollo Dilworth: Sistah Mary

(world premiere, commissioned by Chicago a cappella)

Director of Choral Programs at North Park University in Chicago, Rollo Dilworth is an active conductor, educator, and clinician who has taught choral music at the elementary, secondary, and university levels. His research interests are in the areas of African-American music and music education curriculum and instruction. Dr. Dilworth is an award-winning composer, his choral compositions being part of the Henry Leck Choral Series published with Hal Leonard Corporation and Colla Voce Music Company. His performing endeavors have taken him to Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

This arrangement of a perhaps-unfamiliar spiritual expresses the love and tenderness of Mary’s care for her baby. Rollo Dilworth writes the following:

Sistah Mary (more commonly known as Sister May Had-a but One Child), is an African American spiritual that references the birth of Christ along with the journey of the Magi—the three wise men from the East who traveled to Bethlehem to pay homage to the infant Jesus.

African American slaves often retold biblical narratives in the spirituals they composed. Such popular narratives include Go Down Moses, Elijah Rock, Daniel, Daniel Servant of the Lord and Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho. The resulting songs served to reinforce the slaves’ belief that if God protected and saved these biblical figures, then surely He would set them free from the oppression and bondage they were facing.

Even in the spiritual Sistah Mary the text makes a reference to freedom:

An angel came to Joseph, and gave him this command:

“Arise ye, take you wife and child, and flee to Egypt land.”

This concept of escaping to safety is in reference to King Herod’s plan to massacre many innocent children in the hope of getting rid of the Christ child. Sistah Mary is a contemporary setting of the original spiritual, using harmonies and rhythms that are associated with jazz and gospel idioms.