The Best of Chicago a cappella:
A 20th Anniversary Celebration

Fall 2013

Program Notes

It Was a Lover and his Lass

John Rutter (b. 1945)

Kung Liljekonvalje

David Wikander (1884-1955)

Thy Lips (from Kisses of Myrrh)

Jonathan Miller (b. 1962)

Missa "Baises moy": Credo

Mathurin Forestier (flourished c. 1500)

Been Down into the Sea

spiritual, arr. Wayland Rogers (b. 1941)

Trois beaux oiseaux du paradis (from Trois Chansons)

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

The Windhover

Paul Crabtree (b. 1960)

world premiere, commissioned by Chicago a cappella

Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk

Rufus Wainwright, arr. Patrick Sinozich

INTERMISSION

from Siete Haiku:

Jorge Córdoba Valencia (b. 1953)

Un murciélago

 

Sobre arrozal

 

Voy a caballo

 

Salve Regina

Johannes Ockeghem (c. 1410-1497)

Lo Yisa Goy

Hebrew folksong, arr. Stacy Garrop (b. 1969)
Mama Who Bore Me Music: Duncan Sheik, Lyrics: Steven Slater; arr. Rose Grizzell

This Train

Spiritual, arr. Gwyneth Walker

Marge (from Five Romantic Miniatures from "The Simpsons")

Paul Crabtree

Something's Gotta Give

Johnny Mercer, arr. Patrick Sinozich
encore:  Shenandoah arr. James Erb

 

From the Artistic Director

One of the greatest pleasures from the summer of 2013 has been reading the remarkable book called The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life by Thomas Moore (best known for his earlier book, Care of the Soul). It was an experience of savoring something precious. While reading Re-Enchantment, I felt a real kinship with that book and author—and I had an experience sort of like a homecoming, one that included the making of a physically distant yet emotionally close new friend, someone who understood me down to my bones.

I felt that Moore gently gave me encouragement to be more fully person I have wanted to be for my whole life, to let some of my more hesitant parts out to breathe instead of feeling like I have to keep them under lock and key. When you don’t quite feel like you are fully in step with the world you inhabit, as I have felt sometimes, and when some of your deepest preoccupations are ridiculed by the culture at large, it is a welcome soultonic to be told that it’s okay to love myths and fairy tales (as I do), that it’s simply human and natural to want to get swept up in great stories and legends, and that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be connected—every day, if possible—to things that bring awe and wonder into everyday existence (as I most definitely do).

It takes something unusual to change our behavior, and I feel fortunate to have read something that allowed me a new level of trust in my own intuition, instincts, and sense of what is right. I feel that I am doing better work, listening more carefully, even eating more slowly, since starting that book. Moore has recently released a new book called A Religion of One’s Own, and I am eager to read it. He has suggested elsewhere that we can become “everyday mystics,” in a way that Ken Wilber has also advocated. Furthermore, as much as I love and participate in many traditional religious rituals, we need not be part of an organized religious community in order to have a life filled with the presence of awe, wonder, and spiritual fulfillment.

* * * * * * * *

Of course, we can turn to music to pull us into that state of wonder, and, as you can imagine, I frequently do. In reading Re-Enchantment, I was reminded of the main reason that I founded Chicago a cappella in the first place, twenty years ago. For most of my life, I have been enchanted—literally, charmed (from the Latin word carmen, or song, as Moore points out)—by the beauty and power of ensemble singing, ever since I joined a training unit of the Chicago Children’s Choir in 1971, and even before that from singing
impromptu a cappella harmony with my family in the car. Singing in groups has taken me to places of sheer joy that no other activity has replicated for me. It was not enough to let those feelings sit inside me alone.

I knew in 1993, as I know now, that there is a unique power in combining remarkable singers with remarkable repertoire. I knew then, as I have known for twenty years, that I had to find a way to share that feeling and power with others. I had known first-hand the beauty and almost indescribable joy of working with singers who are in complete control of their instruments and want to use them in an ensemble to create something more beautiful than any of us could do as soloists. How could I not want to share that?

I hope that the singers whom you encounter tonight, singing the repertoire we offer to you tonight, will truly enchant you. I hope that you will be transported to dozens of different places, each song taking you somewhere new in your imagination—or, if it’s a song you’ve heard before, that you experience it in a new way. Whether you are hearing English or Latin, Spanish or French, Swedish or Hebrew, I want you to know that it’s okay to just let yourself sink into each song. I invite you to actively do just that. I want you to trust us to take you on a journey designed exactly to enchant you, to pull you up out of your chair and into a new, brief world of sound and poetry and sense and myth and ritual and meaning and feeling, and that, when it all happens over the course of less than two hours, you will emerge cleansed in a sense—that you will have shaken off all the unfinished business of your day, forgotten the little regrets and bothers that rattled you before you got here, and climbed to a higher place from which you can both see heaven and be grateful for our broken earth.

We have unusually strong individual singers, and they’re here to transcend their individual talents and create something else. May we therefore behold in wonder as the “extra performer” – the ensemble itself – comes to life and sings with all of the singers on the stage. (My friend John Nygro, when he was directing me in the Harwood Early Music Ensemble’s vocal quintet, identified this for me. He said “You know, I hear six people singing…. I hear the five of you, and then I hear the ensemble. How wonderful.”) It is a special thing indeed, at once a source and a product of enchantment. Watch and listen for it, and you will find it. It is not that different from the presence of the Holy, for it is what every group of people quietly hopes will emerge as they gather together.

* * * * * * * *

It takes a tremendous effort to put together what you will experience tonight. The singers have worked hard to create a sound, a feeling, and a camaraderie that is unique to Chicago a cappella, and which has taken shape in this particular performance over our many rehearsals. They deserve our thanks not only for the work they have done with me to prepare this particular program, but also for the care they bring to their voices every day, the attention they pay to their technique and musicality, the other things they give up so that they can sing ensemble music at such a high level, and their intense and sincere desire to have this be a group of true excellence. None of this is easy, and I am so grateful for everything that they bring to the performance.

I want to extend a particular thanks to Matt Greenberg, one of those eight singers who had faith in my wacky idea 20 years ago, and whose tireless work as our Executive Director truly makes the engine of our small staff keep going. Matt and our Board of Directors are the champions of Chicago a cappella who make all of this work behind the scenes. I want to thank Music Director Emeritus Patrick Sinozich for his five years of service, along with all of our Guest Music Directors from last season for their leadership and collegiality, including John Trotter, who will return to music-direct our Gala in May. I am also pleased to be working with Anne Heider and Rollo Dilworth, this season’s Guest Music Directors, and I know that you will enjoy their musical contributions later in the season.

I want to thank every single person who has ever bought a ticket to hear Chicago a cappella sing. I also want to thank every one of you who has ever supported us with your financial generosity, your volunteer time, your connections and expertise, and your heart. Everything that you have done matters. We are so grateful to you for the wonderful human community that we have built and that now begins its third decade.

* * * * * * * *

May the music that we bring to life tonight be a source of enchantment for us all. May our souls delight in beauty, our ears delight in sound, our hearts delight in poetry, and our eyes delight in the joy that we create together. Thank you for being here to share what I, and all of us at Chicago a cappella, have wanted to share for twenty years. There is nothing more sweet than that.

—Jonathan Miller
Founder and Artistic Director

Notes on the Music

John Rutter: It Was a Lover and His Lass

This fun piece is scored in five parts (SATBB) and is an unusually breezy piece in the mostly serious Rutter catalogue. It was written in 1975 and became the seed for a larger cycle, Birthday Madrigals,that Rutter wrote in honor of jazz pianist George Shearing’s 75th birthday. The poem is from Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, Act V, Scene 3.

For the record: John Rutter’s “It Was a Lover and His Lass”appears on our CD Shall I Compare Thee?.

David Wikander: Kung Liljekonvalje

This song takes place in a miniature world conjured by a poet’s imagination. Gustav Fröding’s finely-wrought poem creates a single beautiful scene, so complete that it feels like it was cut in whole cloth from a Swedish cousin to JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. (In fact, Fröding and Tolkien both used medieval images and style in their works deliberately, so the kinship is an overt one.) The soaring, plaintive melody and exquisite counterpoint are by David Wikander, a Swedish church musician of the early twentieth century. The piece has carved out such a firm place in Swedish hearts that it is virtually considered to be folk music—a high honor indeed for “composed” music.

Jonathan Miller: Thy lips (from “Kisses of Myrrh”)

We have only once ventured to do a program with a quintet of singers. It took place just days after the events of 9/11, back in 2001, and it was called Let Him Kiss Me: The Intimate A Cappella. The first part of the program title comes from the first movement of Jonathan Miller’s cycle of five songs set to the love poetry of the Song of Songs; the lyrics are juicy, potent, and imaginative. Miller writes: “I composed this cycle for the five voices I knew I had for this show: Kathleen O’Brien Dietz and Amy Conn as sopranos, Amy Pickering as mezzo, Trevor Mitchell on tenor and myself as the lone bass. Writing for Trevor’s solo voice, which I’ve also done more recently, is a total pleasure. We’ve done many programs of spirituals together, and Trevor has such exquisite technical control and a deeply expressive heart; so why not give him a luscious lyric in a gospel-blues style with a little playfulness in it?”

For the record: Works by Jonathan Miller appear on the CDs Days of Awe and Rejoicing, Eclectric, and Holidays a cappella Live.

Mathurin Forestier: Credo (from Missa Baises moy)

From its very first concert in 1993, Chicago a cappella has championed the works of this obscure Renaissance composer. Mathurin Forestier flourished about four hundred years ago. Artistic Director Jonathan Miller has been friends with Dr. Thomas MacCracken, the scholar most responsible for getting Forestier’s glorious music into the public eye; MacCracken is the co-editor of the Forestier complete edition. In 1998, Chicago a cappella released a well-received recording of two complete Forestier masses, from which comes this delightfully crafted Credo. The musical scaffolding of the piece is a canonic treatment of a simple French love song (“Kiss me, my sweet friend”), with lyrics that trace the flirty conversation between young lovers. The quaint song actually lends itself quite nicely to an overlapping canonical treatment, which is something that the great Josquin des Prez had done; our recording begins with the Josquin version. Forestier, who seems to have been deeply influenced by Josquin, paid a bit of homage to his musical idol by treating the same tune in a similar fashion here, this time with the sacred Latin text. Forestier weaves florid, long-breathed soprano and bass lines around the tune, which is presented in somewhat slower notes to give a stately harmonic rhythm.

For the record: This and other works by Forestier appear on our CD Mathurin Forestier: Missa Baises moy and Missa L’Homme armé.

Arr. Wayland Rogers: Been Down Into the Sea

Another first in our ensemble’s history came in 1996, when Chicago a cappella did its first program of spirituals, called Ain’t That Good News. The very first selection on that program was this superb arrangement by Wayland Rogers. Born and reared in Kentucky, Wayland Rogers has spent a lifetime as a singer, voice teacher, composer and conductor, with many distinguished credits including a Grammy nomination. His gifts for lyrical writing and harmony are in strong evidence here, in his setting of a spiritual that is not widely arranged or performed. An unusual key change explodes into the bright key of A major; the music deftly returns to the home key of F major for the close. In the final chorus, Rogers includes a neat stretching effect at the end: the women and the baritone soloist slow down the tune, while the men’s chorus continues its fast, syncopated accompaniment, like the incessant rumbling of the sea.

For the record: Wayland Rogers’ “What Sweeter Music” appears on our CD Christmas A Cappella.

Maurice Ravel: Trois beaux oiseaux du paradis (from Trois chansons)

Early in his career, Maurice Ravel attempted to write some choral music, which he entered into the competition for the Prix de Rome. The result was not a success, leading to some speculation that this setback kept him from writing more choral music later on. The cycle of Trois Chansons was much more successful and remains the only a cappella choral music that he ever published.

Ravel wrote the three songs between December 1914 and February 1915, while he was waiting to be enlisted in the army. They were published in 1916 but only received their first performance a year later. Ravel wrote the poems himself. His contemporary, the poet Tristan Klingsor, once wrote:

He [Ravel] has given himself the purest of his heart with the Trois chansons. I do not only speak of the music, of the lovely arrangement of voice, nor of the melody which is truly close to popular song; I speak of the texts themselves. Ravel loved childish enchantment. . . . This mathematician of the orchestra retained [in these songs] the ingenuity of a great child. Folklore is resuscitated in the poetry of Ravel, with its familiarity, its strangeness, its singular reconciliations. How could one speak dryly about it?

The middle song, “Trois beaux oiseaux du paradis,” is the most somber of the cycle. It is a reflection on war for which Ravel was himself preparing. The solo soprano line has qualities that may be more familiar from Ravel’s repertoire for solo voice and piano, with a combination of simplicity and powerful expression rarely matched by other composers. The part-writing here is virtuosic, creating specific effects in the backup choir—here treated almost like a woodwind ensemble—to highlight the poetry.

Paul Crabtree: The Windhover (world premiere; commissioned by Chicago a cappella)

Many of Chicago a cappella’s finest moments have come in music composed or arranged by Paul Crabtree, the English-born composer who has been living in the Bay Area for roughly thirty years. Crabtree is a true eclecticist, combining elements of pop music and high art in a lifelong quest to make serious music relevant and accessible. He is on a mission to keep classical moving in interesting ways and showing up in unusual places, liberating it from its usual physical abodes and categories. From his chamber opera The Ghost Train (performed in abandoned railroad stations) to his Five Romantic Miniatures from “The Simpsons”™ (one of which is on tonight’s second half), Crabtree’s works push the boundaries of genre, while remaining firmly grounded in superb technique. His command of harmony and counterpoint is exquisite, and some of his most powerful writing is also his simplest, including the recent cycles Tenebrae Responsories on Songs of Bob Dylan and The Valley of Delight.

When approached by Chicago a cappella for a commission to celebrate the ensemble’s 20th anniversary, Crabtree quickly settled on the poem “The Windhover” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Crabtree provided the following notes to help us get inside his head:

Gerard Manley Hopkins was four months away from ordination and had given up everything, his home, his belongings and his family, to follow what he felt was his calling, when he went out with the company of Scholastics from the little chapel where they gathered to celebrate mass. Outside on the rocks he saw the kestrels, which he understood as a metaphor for himself. He had adopted the nickname “The Crow of Maenefa” for himself, a reference to the collar and black ankle-length gown he wore, modeled after those worn by the Oxford dons.

Obviously this is a transcendent moment in his life, when he sees himself now as a kestrel (and not as a crow), mastering the wind, bursting with the fire of purpose and rightness. Soon he would be administering the eucharist, representing Christ on earth. This renews his understanding of the greatness contained in the ordinary, God-in-Man in daily existence, a principle that he begins to see everywhere (“No wonder of it”). The blades of a plow are buffed to a shine when a farmer trudges along doing his work, the dying embers of a fire reveal themselves to be brilliantly alive when they fall from the grate.

He is obviously very much in love with his God (“my dear, my Chevalier”), and I am not sure what he thinks the “fire that breaks from thee then” is. Probably the hidden Godness inside the man, like the upcoming reference to the inside dangerous beauty of the grey coals.

As the composer told Jonathan Miller, “And it seems a good metaphor for the thrillingly successful flight of Chicago a cappella.”

The music is a combination of many things that Crabtree has used elsewhere: a feeling of plainchant at the opening, to provide a sense of timelessness; many changing tempi and meters to reflect exactly what is happening in the text, including dramatic shifts where appropriate; a daring harmonic language that sounds self-evident and inevitable in a good way, except that nobody else can do it like Crabtree; and alternations between men’s and women’s voices in layers and in an almost call-and-response pattern.

As a complement to the Hopkins poem, Crabtree has included the text and music from a German folksong, which drops into “The Windhover” at delightfully unexpected places.

It has been a musical challenge and a joy to prepare this stunning piece. We are greatly pleased to have the honor to present The Windhover in its world-premiere performances and to have the composer present for the first weekend.

Rufus Wainwright, arr. Patrick Sinozich: Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk

Rufus Wainwright, an iconic, eclectic singer/songwriter with a justifiably huge following, recorded this song on his 2001 album Poses. The song is a paean to excesses, including those “which for several reasons we won’t mention.” The production of the original song includes over-the-top instrumentation that evokes Lennon/McCartney’s “A Day in the Life.” Our version, arranged by Music Director Emeritus Patrick Sinozich, keeps the playfulness of the original while putting the song firmly in the Chicago a cappella canon of custom arrangements. We first sang this song on one of our many concerts about food, Tastes of Paradise, in October 2010.

Jorge Córdoba Valencia: Three movements from Siete Haiku (Seven Haiku)

Jorge Córdoba Valencia is an internationally-renowned composer and conductor, based in Mexico City. He served Chicago a cappella as Guest Music Director for last season’s Navidad en México program, which featured the world-premiered commission of his work Las Bienaventuranzas (The Beatitudes). He was with us for the unforgettable free community performance of Navidad at St. Agnes of Bohemia in Little Village, an event hat he narrated in Spanish. We first became aware of his music thanks to the Gregg Smith Singers’ recording of his Siete Haiku cycle, which we presented on our Voces Latinas program in April 2008, to conclude our fifteenth season. We reprise three of these charming works here, which we will perform without a break.

Johannes Ockeghem: Salve, Regina

While Chicago a cappella has become known for eclectic programs that feature music from chant to funk on a single concert, from time to time we have also taken a deep dive into a particular kind of repertoire. In spring of 2000, we journeyed to the medieval sound-world for a program called Heavenly Harmonies, which recounted in song and readings the ancient notion of “the music of the spheres.” One of the extended works featured on that program was this stunning motet by Johannes Ockeghem, who was one of the most important composers of the early Renaissance. Ockeghem was a renowned bass singer as well as a composer and conductor. A man of great refinement, he was active in court and cathedral circles in Paris and Tours and had diplomatic and financial responsibilities at times; he even brokered a royal marriage. Perhaps the best indicator of Ockeghem’s stature is the large number of compositions that lamented his death in 1497; the most famous of these is the heart-wrenching Nymphes des bois by Josquin des Prez.

The Salve, Regina prayer is one of the four great Marian antiphons sung at various points during the year of the Catholic Latin liturgy. The poem is now attributed to the 11th century scholar Hermannus Contractus (Hermann of Reichenau); the current form of the plainchant melody was written down in the 12th century at the abbey of Cluny in France. Ockeghem does something unusual here in drawing on the plainchant material: he puts it in the bass line! More typical practice of the time would be to use chant in the tenor voice, in long-held notes. Another sign of Ockeghem’s skill is that he moves the chant melody (altered slightly) along at pretty much the same pace as the other voices, with which he weaves an extraordinary web of counterpoint.

Stacy Garrop: Lo Yisa Goy

In our fifteenth season, we commissioned Chicago composer Stacy Garrop to write two pieces, and she chose Jewish texts for both of them: Hava Nagila and Lo Yisa Goy. Both works have become ensemble and audience favorites since their premieres, and we have recorded both. Her superb command of musical material is evident throughout this piece, which includes several variants of the folk melody and a masterful sequence of moments of tension and release. The text, from the prophet Micah, calls for peace so sorely needed in our world, and the ending is one of the most perfectly created conclusions to any work in the a cappella repertory.

For the record: Stacy Garrop’s “Lo Yisa Goy” appears on our CD Christmas A Cappella, and her “Hava Nagila” appears on Days of Awe and Rejoicing.

Steven Slater/ Duncan Sheik, arr. Rose Grizzell: Mama Who Bore Me

We first performed this song in spring 2012 as part of All About the Women, a stirring production that was conceived and programmed by our own Betsy Grizzell and starred Chicago actress Barbara Robertson. At that time, Betsy noted as follows:

The song opens the 2007 Broadway show Spring Awakening, an adaptation of the 1892 German play of the same title, dealing with teenagers who are
discovering their sexuality. In 2007, Spring Awakening received eleven Tony Award nominations, winning eight. In the opening number, local girls lament their lack of knowledge on the facts of life. Spring Awakening deals with erotic dreams, self-stimulation, physical intimacy, incest, suicide, teenage pregnancy, and abortion. My daughter, Rose, insisted upon arranging Mama Who Bore Me and its Reprise.

Charlotte Wakefield, who played the character of Wendla in the original London case and sang this song, was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award in 2010. The song pulses with the energy of teenagers wanting to know the facts of life and with the frustration of parents who won’t tell them anything.

Gwyneth Walker: This Train

After her training as a composer and teaching at Oberlin Conservatory, Gwyneth Walker retired from academia and has been a full-time composer for more than thirty years. With a strong theatrical sense, she has been writing solo vocal, choral, and instrumental works that bring texts to life in unusual and striking ways. She employs unexpected and effective elements to create maximum emotional effect.

This Train was composed for the 1998 All-OMEA (Oklahoma Music Educators’ Association) high-school chorus. Walker takes on with vigor the challenge of setting this spiritual in a way that brings images in the text to life. In addition to playing with the “ssssss” sound at the end of the word “this,” she uses words like “stop,” “joker,” and “weary” as springboards for word-painting. The composer has also added a few new verses, noting:

Additional lyrics have been added for contemporary relevance (“This train will stop at the ghetto...and at the factory door”). And new musical sections (“If you reach up, reach up to the sky...”) have been inserted to broaden the formal structure.

Unusual musical devices used here include borrowings from traditional spirituals and the flashier-sounding settings by arrangers like Dawson and Hogan.

For the record: Gwyneth Walker’s “The Christ-child’s Lullaby” appears on our CD Christmas A Cappella.

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

The “Simpsons” cycle by Paul Crabtree, which we performed on As Rose Petals Open in 2003, is at once deadly serious and hilarious. Crabtree’s lush, over-the-top sense of romantic harmony works perfectly to magnify the effect of tiny drops of emotion that are present in these mostly arid words. The cycle sets actual words uttered by various characters during the course of a number of episodes. This lyric is, of course, uttered by Homer.

Johnny Mercer, arr. Patrick Sinozich: Something’s Gotta Give

Patrick Sinozich’s playfulness comes through in this chart, initially created for one of our spring Gala events. John William Trotter also led the ensemble in a performance of this song just a few months ago on The A Cappella American Songbook. Listen for the fun vocal percussion, enjoy the lyric (which is sort of a combination of Newtonian physics and matters of the heart), and get swept up in the mood.