As Rose Petals Open

April 2003

Program Notes

 for one voice


 Salve, regina


 for two voices



Daniel Pinkham

  for three voices


 Quam pulcra es

John Dunstaple (c. 1390-1453)

 for four voices



Malcolm Dalglish


Jan Sandström

 A Tickle

Jonathan Miller

 for five voices


 Music for a while

Henry Purcell (1659-1695), arr. Gunnar Eriksson

 Alla that’s all right, but…

Bernice Johnson Reagon

 The blue bird

 C. V. Stanford (1852-1924)

 for six voices


 The nearness of you 

Carmichael/ Washington, arr. Jennifer Shelton Barnes

 Toccata & Fugue in D minor 

J. S. Bach (1685-1750), arr. Howard Burke


 For seven voices


 Ave Maria

Franz Biebl

 for eight voices


 Five Romantic Miniatures from The Simpsons™    

Paul Crabtree

        i.  Youknow…


        ii.  I like Langdon Alger


        iii. Marge, you make the best …


        iv. I love you so much, my little bitty Barty


        v.  Marge, I need you . . .



arr. James Erb

 for nine voices



Paul Simon, arr. J. Miller

 Bohemian Rhapsody

Freddie Mercury,arr. Hoss Brock



Music has texture, just as cloth or a painting has texture. Some music is woven gently with a few strands, or, as in the case of chant, only with one. Other music is a virtuoso weave of multiple parts, which take turns serving as foreground interest or background shade and color.  In some music, the lines flow mostly in the same direction at the same time; in other works, the interest comes from how different the lines are. A composer’s or arranger’s genius lies partly in the way that the lines of music all manage to hang together—the textural weave.

This concert shines a laser beam on musical texture, with our nine voices as your guides.  We will gradually add one voice part at a time, to open your ears to the wonders of a cappella vocal music simple and complex alike. I’ve found that new music and early music work equally well to sharpen the ears in this way, as long as the music is well written.

Why such a program?  Well, I am a bit off the scale in my passion for musical texture; I happened to write my dissertation on the musical texture of Venetian madrigals in the mid-sixteenth century. I learned that, except for the amazing Wallace Berry, scholars of music often shy away from dealing with texture. Still, if you took apart the music that you think is the very coolest, you would likely find that a clear, or interesting, or unusually complex texture is part of it. The great rock, swing, and R&B bands do great things with texture; think of Maurice White’s brilliant mixing with Earth, Wind & Fire, or Ellington’s phenomenal charts, or the mature work of the Beatles or the Who (and even more campy groups like the B-52’s), and you’ll find a strong sense of texture.

Chicago a cappella did a “rose petals” concert exactly six years ago, and members of our audience have been asking for a reprise ever since.  This concert features more chordal (or “homophonic”) music than the 1997 “rose petals” show, partly because I’m becoming quite interested in the shimmer of chords that we get when all of our voices sing the same syllable. All of the four-voice pieces feature that sort of texture, and they play with the flavors of simple dissonances as does a chef who is gently adding simple herbs to a lovely stew.

These singers can handle their own individual voice parts with grace and power.  As the music-picker of the group, I have a great deal of pleasure in knowing that virtually anything in up to nine voice parts is fair game.  I am very pleased that we can share with you a Chicago a cappella “first”: Hoss Brock’s chart of Bohemian Rhapsody marks the first time that any ensemble member other than yours truly has created an arrangement for one of our programs (bravo, Hoss!).  All of my singer colleagues continue to extend themselves to bring our music to life, and I hope you’ll thank them after the performance.

Welcome, and enjoy the show.    

—Jonathan Miller

NOTES ON THE MUSIC, with texts

 plainchant:  Salve, regina

The magic of plainchant is due to a number of things. These include singing in Latin, a language no longer used in daily speech, in which the pure vowels create clean and powerful overtones;  a melodic structure which has some basic guiding principles of mode but otherwise is very free;  rhythmic life which springs from the words and remains exciting even in its irregularity; and a mix of syllables that only get one musical note with those with those that are sung melismatically (multiple notes per syllable).

Among the most beloved plainchant melodies are the four Marian antiphons, sung daily at Compline, the final service of the day. These are Alma redemptoris Mater, Ave Regina caelorum, Regina caeli laetare, and this one. The first two phrases have parallel melodies with essentially the same shape. The next two lines also have parallel melodies, echoing the similar nature of their opening words:  "To you we cry / To you we sigh." From there the melody becomes more angular and irregular, as the prayer takes on an increasingly personal and pleading tone.

Daniel Pinkham:  Bugs

A versatile man by any reckoning, Daniel Pinkham has been a major force in American choral music for over fifty years. His output includes symphonies, cantatas and oratorios, concertos, theater works, chamber music, film scores, and choral works. He is on the faculty of the New England Conservatory and was for 42 years the music director at King’s Chapel, the historic Unitarian Universalist church in Boston. In 1990, the American Guild of Organists named Pinkham Composer of the Year.

This cycle was written with the option of performance by soloists or choir. We’ve taken the former option. Pinkham wrote the texts himself; “Mosquito”is particularly fun.

John Dunstaple:  Quam pulcra es

 One of the brightest lights in early English music, Dunstaple (also known as Dunstable) also seems to have been a bit of a musical hero. He was hailed by the music theorist Tinctoris, who wrote in 1477 that only music written in the last 40 years was considered by the learned to be worth hearing; in that treatise, Tinctoris praised Dunstaple three times.  While other composers certainly participated in the flowering of the contenance angloise, or the new face of English music, Dunstaple was praised in poems and motets as “first among equals.”  It seems likely, though not proven, that he was at the Council of Constance in 1416, when the English style made a huge splash among church leaders. Most of Dunstaple’s works are written for three voices; like his contemporary DuFay, he wrote a few works in four parts as well.

This piece is found in a manuscript dating from around 1430 and shows many of the hallmarks of the then-new English style:  a focus on the major third in the melody and often in the harmonies; a sometimes-florid, sometimes-syllabic declamation of the words in the top voice; and, in this case, a “pan-consonant” style, only bringing in dissonances where needed. The text is from a mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and comes from the Song of Songs. It’s a little racier than one might expect to hear in a modern-day mass, but late-medieval thought did not see contradictions in quite the ways that we do.

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, a world-renowned hammer-dulcimer virtuoso, singer, and Windham Hill recording artist, has been composing significant quantities of choral music for young people over the past twenty years. (We sang his hilarious Pie R Pie song last fall as part of our “Tastes of Paradise” concert.) Dalglish recorded this tune recently with his vocal ensemble, The Ooolites, based in 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.

Jan Sandström:  Sanctus

Born in 1954, Jan Sandström studied composition at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and since 1982 has been on the faculty at the College of Music in Piteå, in the far north of Sweden, where he is a colleague of the renowned choral conductor Erik Westberg. Between 1985 and 1989 Sandströmdivided his time between teaching and composing. In 1989 he was appointed Professor of Composition.

Sandström’s style of composition was influenced early on in part by American minimalism; later, he developed a personal style of which melodic weaves and “variable but naturally interlinked chains of harmony” (his own words) are important ingredients. He has a expressive tonal language that is both intense and austere.

This work, Sanctus, was originally performed in Paris by the Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble in 1994 and has become a favorite of choirs around the world. It sneaks up on you in the way it holds back certain words of the famous text from the Latin Mass;  for example, he completely leaves out the word “sabaoth,” or “hosts.”  Also, he doesn’t let you hear the word “tua” (“your”) until the end of the entire repeated first section of music. Once that magic word is uttered, the piece takes its turn toward its close, which is delayed many times in exquisite fashion.

Jonathan Miller:  A Tickle

In my work as the choir director at Unity Temple in Oak Park, I have had at least a half-dozen occasions where (1) something was needed from the choir at a given service, but (2) nothing that we had in the music closet seemed right.  In those circumstances, I tend to compose.  Fortunately for me, sometimes the music comes very quickly.  This piece emerged one Monday morning, six days before the minister was going to preach on laughter. The piece took shape at breakfast, and by lunch it was done. It captured a particularly goofy mood which, like Malcolm Dalglish’s piece, seemed to be best expressed in nonsense syllables, whose intent is nevertheless crystal clear.  Hee hee…

Henry Purcell (1659-1695), arr. Gunnar Eriksson: Music for a while

 Gunnar Eriksson, conductor of the Rilke Ensemble in Sweden, has taken this famous soprano solo with “ground bass” by Henry Purcell and created a brilliant setting for soprano and a cappella Baroque backup band. Eriksson writes:  “Music for a while is scene-music, taken from the tragedy Oedipus (1678) by John Dryden and Nathaniel Lee.”

Bernice Johnson Reagon: Alla that’s all right, but…

Bernice Johnson Reagon is a renowned scholar and historian of music. She is a composer and songleader in the 19th-century, Southwest-Georgia choral tradition. She founded the African-American women’s vocal ensemble, Sweet Honey In The Rock, in 1973. Dr. Reagon is Curator Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History. Dr. Reagon conceptualized the National Public Radio and Smithsonian Peabody Award winning radio series “Wade in the Water: African American Sacred Music Traditions.” A 1989 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, Reagon was awarded the Presidential Medal, the 1995 Charles Frankel Prize for outstanding contribution to public understanding of the humanities, by the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1996, Reagon received an Isadora Duncan award for the score to Rock, a ballet directed by Alonzo King for LINES Contemporary Ballet Company.

Even heroes for social justice have to get some lovin’. Reagon writes in her songbook:  “We are collectively struggling for liberation, organizing against racism, exploitation, and injustice. And alla that’s all right, but . . .”

 Charles Villers Stanford:  The blue bird

 As John Cleese might say, “And now for something completely different.” Reared in upper-crust Dublin and given an impressive immersion in matters musical and intellectual, Stanford was composing by the age of four. In 1870 he entered Queen’s College, Cambridge as a choral scholar and by 1873 had already achieved the post of organist at Trinity College and conductor of two choral societies.

 Stanford possessed boundless energy and promoted the highest ideals in music, which drew to him offers for top musical posts in England. He was elected professor of music at Cambridge in 1887, when he was only 35. As Grove’s Dictionary (Frederick Hudson) notes, “he exercised more influence in the teaching of composition than any other musician in Britain throughout his tenure.” His students included Holst, Charles Wood, Vaughan Williams, Ireland, Bridge, Coleridge-Taylor, Howells, Moeran, and others. Hudson also notes that Stanford’s partsongs “reached near perfection both in melodic invention and in capturing the mood of the poem.” The blue bird is such a partsong, on a poem by Mary Coleridge (1861-1907). The high soprano solos are not “blue” notes in the sense of American blues. Rather, they convey a sense of mind detached somehow from the everyday—a dreamlike state where “ripeness is all,” like a newly-bloomed peony.

Carmichael/ Washington, arr. Jennifer Shelton Barnes:  The nearness of you

Formerly a professor at Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, jazz singer and arranger Jennifer Shelton Barnes has been living for the past two seasons in Los Angeles, where she teaches, arranges, performs, and records. Her arrangements are unusually skillful and rewarding to sing.  You’ll hear a gloriously thick six-voice texture in this piece.  During the middle section of this song, when Kathleen takes the solo, the arranger adds just enough extra notes to take the harmonies quite a bit “out there,” in deft twists and turns. This thicker texture remains until Hoss’s tenor solo comes in, upon which everything clears out in an elegant fashion.

J. S. Bach, arr. Howard Burke: Toccata & Fugue in D minor

Vocal jazz is defined, in part, by its complex harmonies. In “standard” chords, there are a root, a third, and a fifth. In plenty of Western art music, the seventh also appears; but music veers off into jazz when it is full of ninth-chords.  If you do the math, you’ll see that you’ll generally need at least five voice parts to get you vocal jazz:  a melody, a bass, and three other parts to fill out the harmonies.  Howard Burke has kept the melodic and harmonic underpinnings of Bach’s well-loved virtuoso organ piece and rounded out the piece with a superb vocal-percussion line. We were lucky to record this piece on our first-ever music video for Channel 11 in spring 2002, for broadcast on the show “Centerstage: Arts Across Illinois,” featuring touring groups from around the state.


Franz Biebl: Ave Maria

This piece was made famous about fifteen years ago when Chanticleer discovered it on tour in Germany and recorded the men’s-voice version. Since then, Biebl has done an SATB (mixed-voice) version, which we are singing for you today. The text tells the story of the angel coming to tell Mary that she was with child, and of her reply. Biebl does a lovely job of layering a three-voice solo ensemble over the fuller four-part choir, and of creating contrast between this lush seven-part harmony and a few snippets of chant.

Paul Crabtree: Five Romantic Miniatures from The Simpsons™                 

 Paul Crabtree’s innovative music intertwines the ephemeral and the eternal, bringing together the worlds of popular culture and highbrow art. 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; disappointed that his academic training never acknowledged the world of rock and pop, he 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.

This cycle 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. These are actual words uttered by various characters during the course of a number of episodes.

arr. James Erb: Shenandoah

*   *   *  *   *   *   *

 Paul Simon, arr. J. Miller :  Homeless

 Freddie Mercury, arr. Hoss Brock:  Bohemian Rhapsody

This intense and idiosycratic song was written by Freddie Mercury, lead singer for the British rock group, Queen. The tune took the world by storm when it first hit the airwaves in 1975, topping the British charts at #1. The BBC's Ralph McLean wrote the following on this tune, which has long held
cult status:

“By 1975 Queen were already a fairly successful group with three hit singles to their name: 'Seven Seas of Rye', 'Killer Queen' and 'Now I'm Here,' but in October of that year they were suddenly catapulted into the superstar league. 'Bo rhap,' as the fans like to call it, was a revelation in 1975, grandiose and camp. Over the top and mock-operatic, it was unlike anything released on single to that date, and, incredibly, it was nearly six minutes long, unheard-of for a humble pop single. In the space of that six minutes it veered from a ballad [to] a mini-opera and an out-and-out rocker.  One critic noted that it 'out-Beatled the Beatles.'

EMI, Queen's record label, weren't so sure about the song and didn't want it released at all. At the time it was called the most expensive album of all time . . . The sessions for 'Bo Rhap' itself took over 3 weeks, with the opera section alone taking over a week to complete. Rumor has it [that] the band sang their "Galileos" continually, for up to 10 hours a day. Freddie Mercury wouldn't talk about the lyrics, so I suppose we'll never know what they meant. The main man behind that massive Queen sound was producer Ray Thomas Baker.

A lot of the song's appeal was attributed to its amazing state-of-the-art promotional video, shot in just four hours. On 31st October 1975, it became Queen's fifth single. Fears that DJs wouldn't play it proved unfounded, and the public loved it.  It entered the charts at #47, and three weeks later it was number one. In Oct 1977 the British Phonographic Industry called it 'the best British pop single of the last 25 years.' It achieved a cult status again in 1991 when Mike Myers used it in his hugely successful rock comedy 'Wayne's World,' and today it remains one of the weirdest and most original pop singles ever.”

Hoss Brock's voices-only chart of this tune is one of the great arranging achievements in our ensemble's history.  Just as we use our voices to take over every guitar lick in the song, you are equally welcome to bob your heads as we groove into the final section.