Songs for Lovers (And Those Who Wish They Were)

February 2007

Program Notes

 

 Steppin' Out

Irving Berlin, arr. Deke Sharon

 Star of the Country Down

trad. Irish, arr. Howard Goodall

*  *   *   *   *   *   *   

 From Trois Chansons

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

   Dieu! qu’il la fait bon regarder

 

   Quant j’ai ouy le tabourin

 
 

 Fever

Davenport/Cooley, arr. Deke Sharon

*  *   *   *   *   *   *

 A Boy and a Girl

Eric Whitacre (b. 1970)

 A Touch Of...

Lizzie Kean

*  *   *   *   *   *   *

 Woody

trad. Appalachian, arr. Anna Dembska

 Summertime

Gershwin, arr. R. Williams

*  *   *   *   *   *   *

 Refräng

Ulf Långbacka

 Fair Phyllis

John Farmer (c. 1570-c. 1605)

*  *   *   *   *   *   *

 What Lips My Lips Have Kissed

Stacy Garrop
 Walkin' My Baby Back Home

Turk/Ahlert, arr. Deke Sharon

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

 Il bianco e dolce cigno

Jacob Arcadelt (c. 1505-1568)

 You Know

Paul Crabtree

*  *   *   *   *   *   *

 Dodi Li

Nira Hen, arr. Robert Applebaum

 How Do I Love Thee?

Nathan Christensen

*  *   *   *   *   *   *

 And So It Goes

Billy Joel, arr. Bob Chilcott

 Orange Colored Sky

            DeLugg/Stein, arr. Sharon
encore:  Embraceable You Gershwin, arr. Zegree

 

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

Welcome to Songs for Lovers . . . And Those Who Wish They Were.

This concert title has provoked more laughs than I initially imagined. Romantic love is a phenomenon that blesses each of us (well, you might not call it that) in various ways at various times. When I came up with the title for this concert, I was trying, as a Sensitive New Age Guy, to simply point out that not everyone buying a ticket for this concert will necessarily be in the relationship of his or her dreams at the time of the show. It seems that many, if not most, of us truly long for love, for companionship that will accompany us through life’s troubles and triumphs. We have devoted many Chicago a cappella concerts to this theme, and it continues to provide material well beyond what can fit on one program!

I must be getting more interested personally in the history of love. I have recently read two superb books of historical fiction about love and war. Both books are fictionalized autobiographies based on years of research. Both reflect on loves pursued, realized, thwarted, revived, and lost. Perhaps I was unconsciously seeking background for this concert, because the connection between my recent readings and this concert didn’t hit me until I sat down to write these notes for you.

It’s hard to know when people started thinking of themselves as either lovers or potential lovers. The ancient Greeks and Romans certainly wrote of love in full-blooded ways. This fall I read the exquisite Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Though it’s about much more than love, the emperor’s personal relationships are a significant theme throughout the book. The author spent literally decades gathering, reading, writing, discarding, revising, and completing her material. I found the book on a vacation weekend this fall and could not put it down.

The Persian mystic Rumi, who lived in the thirteenth century around Baghdad, seems to have hit the mark about love. Rumi realized the connection between having a relationship with The Beloved in human form and having direct experience of the divine. If you are interested in a unique and uplifting voice about love, I recommend to you any of the translations that Coleman Barks has done of Rumi’s poetry.

By contrast, European traditions of courtly love from the same medieval time period have struck me mostly as excessive (or obsessive) and unrealistic. Something happened to change that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when our notions of human love—at least in the English language—seem to have become essentially like they are today. I have just finished reading the terrific book called I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles, written as if it were the autobiography of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Elizabeth completed her days as “The Virgin Queen,” even having the colony of Virginia named in her honor. Flirtation was part of the way she wielded her power, playing delay-games with messengers and courtiers who carried many and persistent offers of marriage from European royalty. Yet it’s clear from the book—which is based on significant historical research of the Queen’s own writings—that the Queen truly wished she were a lover on many occasions, more than she actually was. (There is speculation that she actually did have complete relations with one of her courtiers, though this was never confirmed in writing.) There was something in the relative stability and creativity of post-Armada England that gave rise to a healthy theatrical scene in London, which in turn nurtured the pen of Shakespeare, who articulated the complexities, ecstasies, and losses of love in ways that have never been matched in English for 400 years, though Neruda’s love sonnets also deserve your attention.

All that reading seems to have made me appreciate the blessings of love and family. My wife, Sandy, has certainly taught me more about love than I ever thought I would have the privilege of knowing in this life. Love is not easy, not static, not anything one can take for granted. You probably know that Jesus is believed to have said, “Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.” I don’t know if he was talking about love between human beings, but much of my heart and treasure are with Sandy, and I am the richer for it.

The singers, staff, and board of Chicago a cappella join me in thanking you for coming today to hear us sing to celebrate Valentine’s Day and the spirit of romantic love. Enjoy the concert!

        ---Jonathan Miller

 

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

Irving Berlin, arr. Deke Sharon: Steppin’ Out

Israel Isidore Baline (Irving Berlin) started writing songs as a waiter, when he was asked to pen a new tune for the Italian restaurant where he worked. The harsh economic circumstances after Berlin’s father’s death compelled him to create, and with no formal education he became an icon in the Great American Songbook. His first hit, “Alexander’s Rag Time Band,” propelled him to fame in 1911, and the rest is history.

This a cappella setting is by the legendary Deke Sharon, a towering figure in the world of American a cappella singing. By age nine, Sharon was touring the U.S. as the youngest member ever admitted to the San Francisco Boys Chorus’ Concert Ensemble. By the age of 23 he had graduated cum laude with a B.A. from Tufts University and a B.M. from the New England Conservatory of Music, directed numerous a cappella ensembles and produced two award-winning a cappella albums, founded the Contemporary A Cappella Society (CASA), and arranged hundreds of songs for groups around the world. To date, he continues to serve as Chairman and President of CASA, to run the Ultimate A Cappella Arranging Service, and to co-produce the A Cappella Summit and the National Championship of College (and now High School) A Cappella. He also arranges and publishes a variety of songbooks, co-writes instructional booklets for a cappella groups, and continues to produce a cappella albums. He also music directs and performs with his own professional ensemble, The House Jacks. His charts of Steppin’ Out, Fever, Walkin’ My Baby Back Home and Orange Colored Sky all capture the flavor of the familiar interpretations while giving them his own stamp, the mark of a truly gifted arranger.

trad. Irish tune, arr. Howard Goodall: The Star of the County Down

This fetching tune has been arranged and performed by literally dozens of groups, from cutting-edge Celtic bands to mainstream artists like Van Morrison. Unlike the latter’s hard-driving rhythmic setting, Howard Goodall has created a more gentle and subtle musical dress for the tune. This arrangement was originally made for the King’s Singers, who have popularized it around the world.

* * * * * *

Claude Debussy: two settings from Trois Chansons

Debussy, along with Ravel, changed the sound-world of classical music forever in much the way that his contemporaries, Monet and the visual Impressionists, changed the art world. Debussy was inspired by the symbolist poetry of Baudelaire, Verlaine and Mallarmé. His aesthetic was one that sought in music a concentration of feeling, which is evoked at times by silence more than anything. It was Debussy who gave the famous quote, “Music is the space between the notes.”

Debussy was not a slave to the Wagner-worship of his day. He worked out instead his own musical truth in fluid orchestral works, such as Prelude to the afternoon of a faun and Jeux, in solo songs, in his pathbreaking opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, and also in a few lovely choral works. These Trois chansons have become icons in the world of classical choral music.

Debussy finished the first and last of the Trois chansons (Three songs) in 1898; the second one was written ten years later. All are on texts by Charles d’Orléans. We are performing the first and second only, since the angry third poem does not touch on the theme of love. The first song, “Dieu! qu’il la fait bon regarder,” is flowing, flexible, and limpid, with an in-the-moment quality that will be familiar to audience members who are versed in his instrumental music. The Spanish influence in the second song seems to stem from the single word “tabourin”; around the same time, Debussy was working on the three orchestral movements he called “Ibéria” (“Spain”) that went into the larger work, Images. Here, the choir’s largely staccato lower voices act as a Mediterranean backup band for the soprano solo. Make no mistake; the narrative voice of the poem is being well pleased indeed.

Davenport/Cooley, arr. Deke Sharon: Fever

As with many of Deke Sharon’s charts, the arranger does a skillful job here of having voices imitate instruments, especially horn parts (sax, trumpets, and trombones). Listen carefully for a few surprises!

* * * * * *

Eric Whitacre (b. 1970): A Boy and a Girl

Eric Whitacre has become a world-renowned composer of choral music, taking on texts and projects of dramatic scope and receiving international acclaim in the process. He burst onto the scene with pieces like his innovative, a cappella work Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine, as well as Water Night. His music is regularly performed around the world by choirs of all types.

This work sets a tender, delicious poem by Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet, translated into English.

Lizzie Kean: A Touch Of . . .

Based in the Netherlands, Lizzie Kean is the lead arranger for Holland’s most popular vocal girl group, called “No Place for Jennifer.” The eclectic and distinctive a cappella women’s quintet was founded in 1999 and has taken northern Europe by storm. (For those of you of the age to remember, the group name is taken from a 1950 movie of the same name, one of the first movies to treat with sensitivity the impact of divorce on children.) Kean’s style favors “in-your-face” texts, and her group is known for its playful on-stage presentation, where humor rules. This song mostly speaks for itself, practically dripping with sensual images of eager anticipation.

trad. Appalachian, arr. Anna Dembska: Woody

Anna Dembska came to composing through her work in experimental theater and as a soprano and improvisor. Her music integrates disparate musical passions—polyphonic vocal music, singing traditions from Macedonia to Mongolia, improvisation and extended use of the voice, “new music theater,” and the voice as a musical and dramatic instrument. She has produced and performed her original theater works, operas, and music since 1976—from Enough is Enough, a puppet opera, at the Bread and Puppet Circus, to Coyote at The Bang-on-a-Can Festival at Lincoln Center.

“Woody” is an Appalachian folk song that shares pieces of its texts with other songs from the region. As with similar folk songs, the theme of love is treated mostly in an oblique fashion, through images about animals. Anna Dembska’s music is a sweet, playful setting, whose bird noises recall some of the devices in Paul Crabtree’s Five Bird Songs from our “Eighteen Lips” program in 2005. Dembska’s straightforward harmony does have its pleasant surprises, and the overall package brims with life.

Gershwin, arr. Roderick Williams: Summertime

While Gershwin’s heartfelt song from Porgy and Bess needs little introduction, the arrangement is notable for its slow, churning, bluesy groove. The arranger gives pride of place to the soloist while creating sophisticated, carefully layered vocal parts.

* * * * * *

Ulf Långbacka: Refräng

There are songs of wild passion in the classical choral repertory, but few with as distinctive a voice as this. Professor of choral conducting at Åbo Akademi in the Swedish-speaking region of southeast Finland, Ulf Långbacka is a composer with a playful sense of humor. This song is the first in a set of “three erotic songs” for men’s chorus, with poetry by the Swedish poet Lars Huldén. The energy of “Refräng” (meaning “refrain” in the sense of a ditty or wooing song) is driven by the swirling desire of the speaker, whose somewhat stilted and formal language barely contains his ardor. The girl in question is named Blankamäreta. While the supposed refinement of the poetry suggests a courtly dance, the almost perpetually off-center, pounding meter of 7/4 compounds (no pun intended) the sense that the speaker is getting, or already, tipsy.

John Farmer: Fair Phyllis

This Elizabethan madrigal was a “singers’ request” for this program. John Farmer is considered a second-tier madrigalist, with stature affirmed largely on the strength of this delightful piece, to which he seems to have composed the words as well as the notes. The musical language perfectly reflects the playfulness of his verses—which, in keeping with lyrics of the time, would say a bit more if they could.

* * * * * *

Stacy Garrop: What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why

Among younger American composer, Stacy Garrop is a rising star. Her most recent composing residency, at the MacDowell Colony, testifies to the power of her music. Professor Garrop has won several orchestra competitions resulting in performances by the Civic Orchestra, Omaha Symphony, and New England Philharmonic, among others. Her other residencies include the Banff Centre for the Arts, Millay Colony, and Yaddo. She is currently an Associate Professor in Composition at the Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. She received a 2001 Barlow Endowment commission, as well as a 2002 Artists Fellowship Award from the Illinois Arts Council. Adept in a wide variety of musical genres, she was selected for the Dale Warland Singers 2000-2001 New Choral Music Program, resulting in the commission for this piece, the first movement of Songs of Love and Chaos.

The haunting, wistful poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay is set with exquisite sensitivity. The success of this piece set Stacy Garrop off on a quest to set over 20 of Millay’s 150 sonnets to music, a quest now nearing completion, an astounding achievement.

Turk/Ahlert, arr. Deke Sharon:  Walkin’ my baby back home

This chart, made famous by Nat "King" Cole, has been set in stunning all-vocal form by Deke Sharon. The new setting is a masterpiece of texture, based on an equally masterful original orchestration. Of particular note is the skillful handling of the “horn sections” in the instrumental break, and the careful placing of just the right vocal syllables to capture the contours of each line of music.

INTERMISSION

Jacob Arcadelt: Il biano e dolce cigno

This song helped to usher in the great age of Italian madrigal-writing in the first half of the sixteenth century. Its lyrics are the inspiration for the later English madrigal on the same topic, “The silver swan.” A northerner who settled in Italy in the 1530s, Arcadelt was director of the Sistine Chapel boys’ choir as early as 1539, the same year he published four books of madrigals for four voices. Why he relocated to France in 1553 is unclear, but he spent the rest of his life there, writing chansons and conducting at the court of the Cardinal of Lorraine.

Arcadelt’s first madrigal book was reprinted 34 times, a spectacular success. This song, surely his “greatest hit,” captures with utmost simplicity the sad longing of the poetry. The soprano line takes the lead most of the time. Arcadelt finds an ideal balance between homophonic phrases, where all four voice parts sing the words together, and imitative ones, where they enter successively. To the end of the song we add our own little twist, along with a double-choir treatment not specified in the score. (We are indebted to Gunnar Eriksson’s ideas about choral improvisation for that aspect of our performance.) The words may be equating “death” with physical passion or even orgasm, as is quite clearly the case by Monteverdi’s time with poets such as Guarini; this piece seems a bit more innocent, perhaps merely pointing at the more overt metaphor.

Paul Crabtree: “You Know” from Five Romantic Miniatures from “The Simpsons”™

A familiar name to longtime fans of Chicago a cappella, Paul Crabtree is an innovator, melding the ephemeral and the eternal, bringing together the worlds of popular culture and highbrow art. Born in Warwickshire, England, he graduated from the Music Faculty at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Musikhochschule in Cologne, Germany. Crabtree grew up with an equal interest in rock culture and classical music, but was disappointed that his academic training never acknowledged the world of rock and pop, and transplanted to California in his early 20s. Exposure to the musically permissive culture in the Bay Area led him to integrate the various strands of his personal history, to embrace and intermingle ideas as diverse as Latin poetry and 1960s girl groups. His recent choral works include Three Rose Madrigals, Five Bird Songs, Mandorla Mea, and his magnum opus to date, An American Persephone, commissioned and premiered by Cantori New York in 2005.

This song comes from the remarkable Five Romantic Miniatures cycle. Paul Crabtree turns the famous TV show on its ear by emphasizing something that we normally do not associate with the Simpsons at all—tender sweetness. Choral music in the typically lush Crabtree style sets these words by the character Abe, Homer's father.

Nira Hen, arr. Robert Applebaum: Dodi Li

“Dodi Li” is a tune that most people who grew up Jewish in American in the 1970s or later probably know. Nira Hen’s tune has been standard repertoire in camps, on recordings, and in synagogues and retreats. The lovely Biblical text is taken from a number of verses in Shir Ha-Shirim (Song of Songs, also known as Song of Solomon). More than a few Israeli folk dances have been choreographed to the song.

Bob Applebaum, another longtime musician friend of Chicago a cappella, has worked the original “Dodi Li” tune into a nicely crafted four-part vocal setting. The tune is almost always audible, though Applebaum does some nice stretching of the rhythms in several different ways. The pulse always stays the same, though the phrase lengths can get extended in this way. The overall effect alternates the excitement of love with a more languid mode.

Nathan Christensen: How Do I Love Thee?

This piece came to be on a whim. Nathan Christensen’s high school music teacher suggested that Christiansen, who was 20 at the time, might submit an entry to the 1996 composing competition for the all-female singing group known as Diva Complex. He did, and he won. The piece was published, and the young composer went on to composition studies at Brigham Young University, where he is now finishing up.

The words here are familiar, from Elizabeth Barrett Browning (with a few additions by the composer to match the style he is pursuing here).

* * * * * *

Billy Joel, arr. Bob Chilcott: And So It Goes

Now this is a winning combination! Bob Chilcott, a ten-year veteran of the King’s Singers who now composes fulltime for Oxford University Press, has taken Billy Joel’s sad song of loss—and a little hope—and turned out a gem of an all-vocal arrangement. The score is marked “Hymn-like.” There is indeed great dignity in this song, despite the singer’s sense that love is so fleeting that he hardly dares to hope for it again.

DeLugg/Stein, arr. Deke Sharon: Orange Colored Sky

This tune has a funny twist to its recorded history. The famous 1950 recording was done by a combination of the Stan Kenton Orchestra and Nat "King" Cole’s trio, which first put the song on the charts. In addition to other renditions (including Natalie Cole's superb take on it), this song was also recorded rather infamously, in 1966, as the "B" side to "Boy Wonder, I Love You." The latter is a song composed by Frank Zappa and sung by none other than Burt Ward, with the Mothers of Invention as the backup band on both sides. You may remember Burt Ward as the youthful actor who played Robin to Adam West’s Batman on the long-syndicated TV show! Needless to say, the record both began and ended Burt Ward’s singing career, although it made some airplay in Chicago and still is featured by Dr. Demento regularly.

The good news for posterity is that Deke Sharon’s rescoring of the 1950 original has captured the feel of the original splendidly. If you have ever been hit—“Flash! Bam! Alakazam!”—by love, this song is for you.