February 2009

Program Notes



Malcolm Dalglish (b. 1952)

Gaude Virgo, mater Christi Josquin des Prez (1440-1521)

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I Have Had Singing   Steven Sametz (b. 1954)
El Hambo


Jaakko Mäntyjärvi (b. 1963)

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The West Lake


Chen Yi (b. 1953)
Roll, Jordan, Roll   spiritual, arr. Charles Brown

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Stephen Paulus (b. 1949)

i.   Luminous Mind         

ii.  The Sage                  

iii.  Loving-Kindness         

iv.  Virtue             

v.  All Living Beings

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Give Me A Laundry List  

Elizabeth Alexander (b. 1962)



God’s Grandeur Gwyneth Walker (b. 1947)

i.   God’s Grandeur

ii.  The Windhover   

iii.  Pied Beauty


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Half asleep in prayer

World premiere,
written for Chicago a cappella

Jonathan Miller (b. 1962)



Oscar Galián (b. 1960)

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Come Sunday


Edward K. (“Duke”) Ellington (1899-1974),
arr. Anders Jalkeus

Ubi Caritas René Clausen (b. 1953)
Sir Duke

Stevie Wonder,
arr. Anders Edenroth

encore: A Tickle Jonathan Miller


With this concert, we bring you music celebrating the sense of abundance, gratitude, and generosity of spirit.  Life is a precious gift, and we humans have a number of ways of celebrating it.

I’m trying to remember when I first consciously felt this way myself—an almost indescribable sense of wonder, gratitude, awe, and openness.  I think it was when I was four or five.  My family was spending a weekend at Woolman Hill, a Quaker retreat center in western Massachusetts.  I seem to recall walking up a hill, looking around at the woods off in the distance, and then it just came over me.  I don’t know what else we did that weekend;  it doesn’t matter.  What mattered is that the memory of that feeling never left me. 

I suppose I’ve been trying to recreate that feeling ever since.  We had lots of moments like that in the Chicago Children’s Choir.  Looking back, it seems that I have also wanted to share that feeling with others in a number of ways, including creating Chicago a cappella in the first place and then putting together all these programs over the past fifteen years.  I want you, here at our concerts, to have times when you can feel it too. 

For abundance, I mean the word as defined by Merriam-Webster like this:

an ample quantity : profusion;  relative degree of plentifulness

The abundance I am describing is an abundance of joy and gratitude, which makes you want to share it.

Gratitude:  the state of being grateful.  

Grateful:  1 a: appreciative of benefits received; b: expressing gratitude <grateful thanks> 2: affording pleasure or contentment, pleasing   

Generosity:  a: characterized by a noble or forbearing spirit, magnanimouskindly; bliberal in giving, openhanded

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Composers have their own ways of writing music that touches upon, or recalls, a sense of gratitude and awe and thanks.  Choral music takes much of its inspiration from poetry.  My own new piece, Half asleep in prayer, came about after I read Mark Jarman’s remarkable group of “Unholy Sonnets” about a year ago. 

On the CD cover for Malcolm Dalglish’s album called Pleasure, there’s a picture of Malcolm swinging from a tree vine over a river or ravine.  The feeling when you’re doing that, or being on a swing (or very cool rollercoaster, or cantering on a horse) is exactly how I hope you will feel at times during this concert—wide open, full of joy.  Sometimes the expression is a little goofier, as in Jaakko Mäntyjärvi’s El Hambo, or sometimes more conventionally devotional, as in Josquin’s Gaude Virgo or René Clausen’s Ubi Caritas.  Sometimes it’s more peaceful and inward, as in Chen Yi’s masterful tone-poem The West Lake or Stephen Paulus’s cycle on Eastern texts, Awakening.

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The theme of this concert was determined in early 2008, well before the current economic meltdown began in earnest.  Despite our nation’s present circumstances of great financial difficulty, I am of the belief that gratitude, abundance, and generosity are needed, and in abundance—not only in our hearts where it feels good, but in our actions where those qualities are made manifest.  We’re sharing your generosity with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and we thank you for your contribution to help to keep our region’s people fed.  We continue to be inspired by the acts of lovingkindness, public and private, that go on all around us.

Most of all, we are grateful that you are here.

Please visit with us after the concert, and enjoy the show.

—Jonathan Miller
Founder and Artistic Director


Malcolm Dalglish:  Pleasure

This song is like the distillation of pure bliss—excited, breathless, playful, fun, and intense, all at the same time. Malcolm Dalglish is a world-renowned hammer-dulcimer virtuoso and singer, who has been composing significant quantities of choral music for young people over the past twenty years. (We sang his hilarious Pie R Pie song in the fall of 2002 as part of our “food” concert, complete with flying food and Hoss Brock’s French-chef imitation.) Dalglish recorded this tune with his vocal ensemble, The Ooolites, based in his town of Bloomington, Indiana.

The composer writes: “Pleasure brings together the sounds of Celtic mouth music with those of jazz scat singing.” The tune is really conceived as an instrumental piece in its overall feel, yet it was written for the human voice. The nonsense syllables convey their own sound and this meaning. Depending on the combinations of sound, the lines become jazz riffs or take on a more “legit” quality, and the music is excitingly idiosyncratic.

For the record:  Malcolm Dalglish’s “Pleasure” appears on our CD Eclectric.

Josquin des Prez:  Gaude Virgo, Mater Christi

The greatest composer of the middle Renaissance, Josquin managed to do things with a four-voiced musical texture that no other composer could achieve.  This piece has many sections of two-voiced writing, starting with the opening;  all counterpoint springs from two-part writing, and Josquin creates music of unusual rhythmic vitality with these simple means.  We are working from a recent modern edition, whose publisher notes that this is one of the few motets by Josquin whose original (untransposed) ranges lend themselves well to performance by a mixed-voice choir.  The scholar Richard Sherr has commented on Josquin’s attention to a balanced musical form here, which is unusual for the period, and on the piece’s “extremely thin, translucent texture and the elimination of everything ornamental.”  The result is strong, vigorous polyphony that is a joy to sing and to hear.

For the record:  Josquin’s chanson “Baises moy” appears on our CD Mathurin Forestier: Masses.

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Steven Sametz:  I Have Had Singing

Steven Sametz, director of choral activities at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, is a composer and conductor of growing renown.  In demand as a guest conductor, he also conducts The Princeton Singers and is the founding director of the Lehigh University Choral Composer Forum.  Sametz has had a longstanding relationship with several of the nation’s top choral ensembles.

This piece came to international attention when it was recorded by Chanticleer on their Out of This World album.  The text in turn was first published more than forty years ago, in the book Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village, one of the most acclaimed books of the year 1967.  In 1961, Ronald Blythe visited the village of Akenfield (population 298) in England’s Suffolk County, in order to record tales of the lives of English country folk—farmers, grave diggers, fruit-pickers and the like.  Blythe was startled by the harshness and beauty of their lives. This text is the reminiscence of eighty-five-year-old Welsh horseman Fred Mitchell.

Jaakko Mäntyjärvi:  El Hambo

A musician from Helsinki, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi describes himself as an eclectic traditionalist: eclectic in that he adopts influences from a number of styles and periods; traditionalist in that his musical language is based on a traditional approach and uses the resources of modern music only sparingly. Most of his works are choral, as he himself is a choral singer. His major works include Four Shakespeare SongsAve Maria, Kouta, and Stabat Mater, as well as the recent choral drama Salvat (1701).  His work Canticum Calamitatis Maritimae received 3rd prize in the European composition competition for cathedral choirs in 1997. His major commissions include a work for mixed choir for the contemporary choral music seminar at the Cork International Choral Festival in spring 1999, a choral work for the 700th anniversary of the consecration of Turku Cathedral in summer 2000, and commissions from Chanticleer (2001) and the King’s Singers (2002). He was composer-in-residence of the Tapiola Chamber Choir from 2000 to 2005. El Hambo is now rivaling Rautavaara’s Lorca Suite as the best-selling Finnish choral work of all time.

This song is thoughtful, goofy joy—a song about dance and about how we think about dance.  The hambo is a Swedish folk dance in 3/4 time. El Hambo takes the idea a large step further.  Mäntyjärvi writes that “this augmented hambo in 5/4 time is something of a tribute to those folk musicians whose enthusiasm much exceeds their sense of rhythm. . . . The somewhat arrogant title is intended to suggest (rather like La Valse) an apotheosis of the genre, The Mother of All Hambos if you like, or even The Hambo to End All Hambos. . . . Sources of inspiration for this piece include, surprisingly, genuine Norwegian choral folk song arrangements and of course the Swedish Chef in The Muppet Show.” The words, notated in Finnish, are complete nonsense.

For the record:  Jaakko Mäntyjärvi’s “ El Hambo” appears on our CD Eclectric.  His Four Shakespeare Songs appear on our CD Shall I Compare Thee?.

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Chen Yi:  The West Lake

A native of Guangzhou, China, Chen Yi was born into a family of doctors with a strong interest in music. She began violin and piano at the age of three. When the Cultural Revolution overtook China in the 1960s, she tried hard to continue her music studies, practicing violin at home with the mute attached. She was sent for forced labor into the countryside for two years and took her instrument along.  Her persistence and talent have brought her international acclaim, with a life full of “firsts.”  Since 1998 she has been the Cravens/Millsap/Missouri Distinguished Professor in Composition at the Conservatory of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Chen Yi is in high demand as a lecturer at composition workshops and at concerts of her music throughout the world. She was appointed by the China Ministry of Education to the prestigious three-year Changjiang Scholar Visiting Professorship at the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music in 2006, and presently serves on the boards, advisory councils or juries of Meet The Composer, Chamber Music America, the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard University, the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, American Composers Orchestra, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, the National Endowment for the Arts, and numerous other music organizations.

In her compositions, Chen Yi tries to distill the essential character and spirit from both Chinese and Western traditional music.  One of her primary goals is to create "real music" for society and future generations.  In 2003, Chicago a cappella commissioned Chen Yi to write a piece in commemoration of the ensemble’s tenth anniversary.  The resulting work, The West Lake, was given its world premiere in Chicago that September. 

About The West Lake, Chen Yi writes: “The poet Su Dong-po (1036-1101), who also went by the name Su Shi, was a great civil servant and one of the literati of the Song Dynasty. He was educated by his mother. In the highest Imperial examination his composition caused the chief examiner to grow jealous.  At court his honesty soon made him enemies who contrived to exile him or make him take outside posts. Wherever he went, he left indelible marks of his character, either in public works or literary associations. His genius was such that, equally in prose or verse or song or drawing or calligraphy, his work was first-class, a feat unapproached by any other Chinese artist in history.”

The composer writes:  “My composition The West Lake for mixed chorus features 9 voices, specifically written for Chicago a cappella. I’ve designed a texture of multi layers with fragmented pitch materials sung in the beginning, the middle and the end of the piece, in which I used music sonority to imagine the brimming waves on the beautiful lake. The text sometimes is sung polyphonically, sometimes in chorale form. The melodic design is in Chinese opera-singing and reciting style.” 

The text of The West Lake is sung in Chinese.

For the record:  Chen Yi’s “The West Lake” appears on our CD Eclectric.

Spiritual, arr. Charles Brown:  Roll, Jordan, Roll

The traditional spiritual Roll, Jordan, Roll has seen many arrangements for a cappella voices.  With strong energy and forward drive, the tune is shared in both the Negro and white traditions of folk spirituals. 

Like some choral works by Alice Parker, Charles Brown’s arrangement is built on a repetitive rhythmic motive, “I want to go to heaven when I die…”  Notably, the syncopated rhythm here is different from the way the traditional tune sets the same words in the refrain, propelling the music forward with even greater momentum than the tune itself provides.  The result is a setting with jubilant majesty.

For the record: Another arrangement of “Roll, Jordan, Roll” (by the Nashville Bluegrass Band) appears on our CD Go Down, Moses.

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Stephen Paulus:  Awakening

Stephen Paulus is one of America’s foremost composers.  Adept in all genres of music, he has a particular gift for choral writing.  He is one of the most frequently recorded contemporary composers, with music being represented on more than fifty recordings.  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.  Paulus serves on the ASCAP Board of Directors as the Concert Music Representative, a post he has held since 1990.

Awakening (1999) sets five texts attributed to the Buddha.  The texts are taken from some of the most important collections of the Buddha’s sayings.  The first four texts show from which collection of the Buddha’s teachings the lines are taken;  the final one is a well-known saying.

The composer writes of this cycle:                                        

Awakening is the third work in a large-scale choral triptych conceived in 1994.  In that year the Plymouth Music Series of Minnesota [now known as VocalEssence] commissioned and premiered by Meditations of Li Po…. That three-movement work was based on contemplative 8th-century Chinese texts—short poems full of images and layers of meaning which allowed me to be creative with choral colors and textures.

In 1997 a second work, Songs from the Japanese, was commissioned and premiered by the Dale Warland Singers.  This work… is also a cappella and comprised of three movements.  Like its companion work, it… also relies on slow to moderate settings of the words which use meditative and evocative choral textures for interest.

Now with… Awakening, the triptych is complete…  [T]he poetry is full of gentle directives and advice on how to live one’s life with much less emphasis on images of nature.  For textural variety the third movement is sung only by men’s voices;  the fourth movement is sung by only the women;  and movements one, two and five are sung by all voices.  The title is inspired by the Buddha’s advice that an “awakened state” is the best one in which to approach life.  Legend has it that a man upon seeing the Buddha walk down a street noticed the special glow or aura surrounding him and asked:  “Who are you? – a god? a spirit? a supreme being?”  To all of these the Buddha responded with a “no.”  Finally the exasperated man demanded, “Well, then, what are you?!”  To this the Buddha responded, - “I am awake!” 

Music Director Patrick Sinozich notes:  “The rhythms of the words are always set in a way to keep the words clear.  I detect influences of Debussy in some of the ‘accompanimental’ places (where the lower voices lay down a pattern while upper voices get the tune).  The writing feels angular and masculine to me.  His harmonies frequently use the interval of a fourth, giving the chords an openness (as opposed to that Lauridsen tendency of major seconds, i.e. close harmonies).  Also, there is a grand and noble quality to these settings;  nothing frivolous or light-hearted.”

For the record: Stephen Paulus’s “Splendid Jewel” appears on our CD Christmas a cappella: Songs from Around the World.

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Elizabeth Alexander:  Give Me A Laundry List

The composer Gioacchino Rossini was rather confident of his talents.  He is quoted as once having said, “Give me a laundry list and I’ll set it to music!”  Composer Elizabeth Alexander, an accomplished and often-commissioned composer from the Twin Cities, has done just that with Rossini’s own words, adding some of her own.  As Alexander notes, the setting also includes “some sly barbershop quartet voicings, a couple of ‘hold on to your hat’ modulations, and—of course—a classic ‘Rossini crescendo.’”


Gwyneth Walker:  God’s Grandeur

Dr. 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 now lives on a dairy farm in Braintree, Vermont.  A proud resident of Vermont, she is the recipient of the Year 2000 "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Vermont Arts Council.  Walker's catalog includes over 180 commissioned works for orchestra, band, chorus and chamber ensembles.

It is always the composer's desire to explore a variety of genres, especially those with dramatic potential.  God's Grandeur was written in 2002 for the Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble in Seattle. 

The composer’s notes on God's Grandeur are as follows: 

The texts for God's Grandeur are three poems by English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1899). These poems, which are presented without break, are: "God's Grandeur," "The Windhover" (excerpted) and "Pied Beauty." The strong common focus is the glory of God as especially manifested in the beauty of nature.  "He fathers forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him."

The musical settings endeavor to allow the inherent rhythms of the words to speak. Therefore, especially in the first song, meters change often. The rhythms are fluid. The tempi accommodate comfortable articulation of the words.

Central images in the opening song are "The world is charged with the grandeur of God" [Triumphant octave leaps in the chorus to portray "charged"] and "...the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods...with ah! bright wings" [followed by fluttering of wings as "la-la"s]. The image of wings connects the first and second song (based on "The Windhover"). Against a fluttering background, soli voices sing this ecstatic poem: "I caught this morning morning's minion, kingdom of daylight's dauphin..."

The thrill of watching the bird in flight leads directly into the closing song: "Glory be to God for dappled things..." As in the opening song, this is triumphant music. Yet also tender ("finches' wings"). The combination of delicacy and grandeur is the essence of these poems, and of the musical settings.

For the record: Gwyneth Walker’s “The Christ-child’s Lullaby” appears on our CD Christmas a cappella: Songs from Around the World.

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Jonathan Miller:  Half asleep in prayer

Also known as Chicago a cappella’s founder and artistic director, Jonathan Miller has been composing choral music for ten years. He has composed more than fifty works, for ensembles ranging from middle-school choirs to professional vocal ensembles.  His music tends to the liturgical, reflecting his thirty years of experience in church and synagogue choirs as a singer and conductor.  His music has been performed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Pentagon, and around the country. 

The composer writes: 

I happen to have a poet in the extended family: Mark Jarman, who is married to my second cousin Amy.  Mark is a poet of international renown, and his poetry appeals to me very much.  Last year, while visiting cousin Amy’s father Maish in California, Maish proudly showed me Mark’s latest published volume, as well as the book Questions for Ecclesiastes.  I bought both right away and devoured them as I usually do with poetry—reading not only to let the poems resonate in me but also to see if anything strikes the heart-strings, in the manner that lets me know there might be a musical composition in those words. 

Mark’s Ecclesiastes book contains a section called “Unholy Sonnets,” a response of sorts to the Holy Sonnets of John Donne and to Hopkins’s Terrible Sonnets.  The Jarman poems are wry, funny, deadly serious, and sometimes ecstatic, reaching for the sky while remaining rooted in the earth. 

This particular poem, “Half asleep in prayer I said the right thing,” spoke to me immediately.  This song is in a sort of A-B-A form.  The opening and closing sections are more meditative, evoking how I thought I might express in music what it is like to be, indeed, half asleep in prayer.  There is for me a physical component to prayer, and the poem captures it so beautifully.  Jarman realizes that something special indeed happened in the magic moment, a moment now gone and lost, and whatever it was will only remain a memory no matter how hard one may try.  Perhaps that combined frustration and yearning is motivation enough to keep praying, to turning one’s attention to the holy.

For the record: Jonathan Miller’s “The Fall” appears on our CD Eclectric.

Oscar Galián:  Salseo

A wordless song that captures the jubilant spirit of Latin American music, this piece comes from the Venezuelan composer Oscar Galián.  The opening bass-and-percussion motif sets the stage for a layering of musical lines.  As one voice after another enters, the result is something like a Venezuelan band, with the voices taking characteristic syllables of the instruments they imitate.

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Duke Ellington, arr. Anders Jalkeus:  Come Sunday

One of the great masters of American music (he didn’t like calling his work “jazz”), Duke Ellington grew up in Washington, D.C., where his father was a draftsman for the Navy.  Ellington is synonymous with the brilliant wave of American swing and big-band music, but he went much further than big-band, fusing classical, gospel, and black-spiritual traditions into his compositions. 

“Come Sunday” has had several lives as a song.  It was first part of the suite Black, Brown and Beige, performed in Carnegie Hall in 1943.  It later appeared in two different versions—one vocal, one all-instrumental—in the (First) Sacred Concert, held at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco in 1965.  Ellington’s spirituality was wide-ranging and broadly conceived;  he felt that love was synonymous with his concept of God.  While this all-vocal arrangement by Anders Jalkeus (co-founder of the Real Group from Sweden) deletes a few of the inner verses, it nevertheless perfectly captures the underlying intense longing and sweetness of the song.

René Clausen:  Ubi Caritas

A prolific and acclaimed American composer of choral music, René Clausen has served as conductor of The Concordia Choir of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota since 1986. Additionally, he is the artistic director of the award-winning Concordia Christmas Concerts, which are frequently featured by PBS stations throughout the nation.  His compositional style is varied and eclectic, ranging from works appropriate for high school and church choirs to more technically-demanding compositions for college and professional choirs. Clausen's compositional interests include works for the stage, solo voice, film and video composition, choral/orchestral compositions and arrangements, as well as works for orchestra and wind ensemble.

With a combination of rich, resonant chords and overlapping counterpoint, this song has rightfully become a staple in the American choral repertoire.

Stevie Wonder, arr. Anders Edenroth:  Sir Duke

This is a song about music.  If you’re old enough to remember Stevie Wonder’s double album from 1976 called Songs in the Key of Life, you’ll remember this wonderful tribute to some of the musicians who have made American music great.  Ellington had died in 1974, and this song is in some sense Stevie Wonder’s tribute to “Sir Duke.”  The reference to “Satchmo” is for Louis Armstrong, “Miller” is for Glen Miller, and “Ella” of course refers to Ella Fitzgerald. 

The song made it to #1 on Billboard’s Top 100 and reached #2 in England.  The Real Group’s Anders Edenroth took Stevie Wonder’s original and turned it into all-vocal songfest.  The heavy, percussive four-beat has elements of early funk, but mostly it’s just about joy.

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