Tenth Anniversary Concert

September 2003

Program Notes

 Danse, ikke gråte nå

Lillebjørn Nilsen,
arr. Eriksson

 Prayers of Steel

Jerry J. Troxell

 El Hambo 

Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
(b. 1963)

*   *   *   *   *

 Contre qui, rose

Morten Lauridsen
(b. 1936)

 Roll, Jordan, Roll

 arr. J. Miller

*   *   *   *   *

 Orpheus with his lute

György Orbán (b. 1947)

 “Sanctus” from Missa L’homme armé  

Mathurin Forestier (flourished c. 1500)

*   *   *   *   *

 Run to Jesus 

arr. Fisk Jubilee Singers

 Steal Away

arr. Joseph Jenning

*   *   *   *   *

 The West Lake

Chen Yi

 A Summer Sonnet

Kevin Olson


 It was a lover and his lass

Matthew Harris

 My love is as a fever

Håkan Parkman

 Elijah Rock

arr. Moses Hogan

*   *   *   *   *

 The Fall

Jonathan Miller

 The nearness of you

Carmichael/Washington, arr. Jennifer Shelton Barnes

 Bohemian Rhapsody

Freddie Mercury, arr. Hoss Brock

encore:  "Marge" from Five Romantic Miniatures from The Simpsons

Paul Crabtree

encore:  Who Is Sylvia?

Matthew Harris


On a Tuesday evening in September 1993, a new group of nine singers took the stage at The Theater Building on Belmont in Chicago. The group sang early music, spirituals, a world-premiere pop chart, and gems of recent and older repertoire for unaccompanied voices. The Chicago Sun-Times was there that night and claimed, “These singers seem to be blessed with perfect pitch.”

It’s exactly ten years later, and we’re still here. We’re glad that you’re here with us tonight. We give our audiences an experience far beyond what people have come to expect from traditional choral music. We provide fun, virtuosity, a personal connection between you and us, and ingenuity in our programs. It all happens through an amazing, humbling synergy of amazing singers, a committed board, and superb staff, with whom I am honored to work.

Tonight, you will hear some extraordinary singers.  They possess a rare combination of musical skills.  When singing ensemble music, each of them receives less glory than they would have in a solo setting. However, they know that other musical glories are possible only when such virtuoso instruments are woven together in an ensemble of voices alone. That’s why we’re here.

In addition to a unique musical experience, Chicago a cappella also offers an opportunity for skilled and enthusiastic community members to become involved as volunteers and board members. We simply could not have reached this anniversary without hundreds of volunteers, nor without the tireless and generous efforts of every member of our board, especially our current president, Fred Steinhauer, and our past president, Sandy Siegel. We are also deeply grateful to our donors, at all levels, who have made it possible financially for us to compensate our professional singers at levels in keeping with the other top ensembles in the city. If you are moved by our singing, please ask one of our board members how you can get involved. 

It’s also fitting that I acknowledge the one other singer in tonight’s concert who, like myself, was on stage that first night ten years ago. Matt Greenberg has led the operational life of Chicago a cappella as executive director for the past eight years. Matt’s expertise, warmth, and unflagging commitment to this ensemble have in large part made us what we are today. Few executive directors of any arts organization manage to also perform artistically at such a high professional level. This anniversary concert is a testament to Matt’s accomplishments as well as to our singing as an ensemble.  Thank you, Matt, and congratulations from us all.

Thanks go also to the composers who have shared their music with us for ten years. Great thanks go from us to the Sara Lee Foundation for sponsoring tonight’s event and for underwriting Chen Yi’s splendid new piece.  Finally, thank you for coming to hear us tonight.

Here’s to the next ten years of Chicago a cappella!

—Jonathan Miller


Lillebjørn Nilsen, arr. Gunnar Eriksson:  Danse, ikke gråte nå

Some pieces of music seem timeless. This song numbers among them.  The words and melody are Norwegian, and both have been arranged masterfully by the Swedish choral conductor Gunnar Eriksson. Gunnar is founder of the Rilke Ensemble and professor of choral conducting at the university in Gothenburg; his work has been an inspiration to Chicago a cappella for many years.  We first performed this piece in our 2001 story-opera, The Nordic Wolf and the Water of Life, which we co-created with professional storyteller Megan Wells.

Jerry J. Troxell:  Prayers of Steel

The late Jerry Troxell was known primarily as a player and composer of music for the saxophone. His career was centered largely in St. Louis, where he taught privately, composed, served on the faculty of several universities, and directed ensembles, including the choir at First Unitarian Church in St. Louis.

Jerry’s output was eclectic, including such pieces as Floating Lines for two saxophones and tabla. His arrangements of Mozart’s music for wind ensembles have gained prominence in places as far away as Japan.  He also wrote the score for the architecture-related video, Articulate Space. Jerry possessed great personal energy and intensity, both of which come through in this work, considered by those close to him to be his finest composition in any genre. Chicago a cappella gave this piece its world premiere in 1997 during our debut of the program, Music in the Life of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Jaakko Mäntyjärvi:  El Hambo

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 Songs(which Chicago a cappella sang last Feburary in its Chicago premiere), More Shakespeare Songs, Ave Maria, Kouta, and Stabat Mater, as well as the recent choral drama Salvat (1701). He was appointed composer-in-residence of the Tapiola Chamber Choir in November 2000 and recently completed a major commission for the King’s Singers.

El Hambo is now rivaling Rautavaara’s Lorca Suite as the best-selling Finnish choral work of all time. We first sang El Hambo in ourNordic Wolf show in March 2001.

The hambo is a Swedish folk dance in ¾ 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.

 *   *   *   *   *

Morten Lauridsen: Contre qui, rose

This piece made almost all of us cry the first time we rehearsed it in the winter of 1995, while preparing for a performance at St. Giles’ Church in Northbrook. Lauridsen is now best known for his “smash hit” O magnum mysterium, which we sang in its Chicago premiere in 1995, and included on our recent “Holidays” CD.  This is the second movement of a delicate cycle of French songs that Lauridsen had written two years earlier, and the harmonies used to such good effect in O magnum really got worked out here, in the key of D-flat instead of O magnum’s D major. The text, by Rilke, is a delicate meditation on the fragility of a rose.

white spiritual, arr. Nashville Bluegrass Band:Roll, Jordan, Roll

It’s easy to feel a little bit like a rock star when eight hundred young people start snapping their fingers while you’re singing live on stage. That’s what happened to us on tour in Murray, Kentucky, when we sang this energy-filled arrangement as part of a school outreach program at Murray State University, in December 1995. This chart is by the Nashville Bluegrass Band and appears on our CD of spirituals, Go Down, Moses.

*   *   *   *   *

György Orbán: Orpheus with his lute

Thanks to increased availability, the music of GyörgyOrbánis emerging as a new force in choral music across our country. Born in 1947 in the province of Transylvania in Romania, Orbánemigrated to Hungary in 1979. He was recently appointed Associate Professor of composition at the Liszt FerencAcademy of Music in Budapest.

Orbán’s music defies easy classification. He has a superb command of harmony, which he combines with a keen rhythmic sense and a gift for setting language for singers. He throws in the occasional Eastern-European influence as well, creating a style with a strong personal stamp.  His best-known work, Daemon Irrepit Callidus, has been a smash hit on the college-choir circuit, and his haunting Mass No. 6 for treble voices and piano is powerfully reminiscent of Debussy. This song, Orpheus with his lute, comes from the set Three Antique Pieces. Theselush, six-part songs were composed in Hungary (and in Hungarian) in the early 1990s; the cycle was later translated into English. We discovered Orbán’s music through our recording of demo CDs for his publisher, Hinshaw Music, and we gave the cycle its world premiere in English on our Eighteen Lips program in April, 2000.

Mathurin Forestier:  “Sanctus” from Missa L’homme armé

Forestier is a composer who, until recently, was virtually unknown except to a few musicologists. However, Chicago a cappella is lucky to count among its friends the scholar Thomas G. MacCracken, who is one of the editors of the Forestier complete edition. As a result, Chicago a cappella has championed Forestier’s music for ten years, from singing this Mass movement on our very first concert to recording two of Forestier’s masses for Centaur Records.

Forestier’s polyphony is simply glorious music, set in a framework of voices that, in this case, make use of the popular “L’homme armé” (“The armed man”) tune. That song enjoyed great popularity in French-speaking lands during the 15th century.  Forestier plays with the tune deftly; he puts it in not one but two of the lower voice parts, staggered in time by a few beats, and surrounds it with elegantly flowing countermelodies in the soprano and bass voices. Very few Renaissance pieces exude the sheer joy that this work does in its “Hosanna” section.

*   *   *   *   *

spiritual, arr. Fisk Jubilee Singers:  Run to Jesus

The Fisk Jubilee Singers went on tour in 1871 to raise money for the buildings on their campus in Nashville, which were in serious disrepair. There were no other funds available to the black college for this purpose. The singers struggled with travel under harsh conditions and encountered typical Jim Crow-era racism as they moved northward through Kentucky and Ohio.  A chance invitation to sing for a ministers’ convention at Oberlin College led Henry Ward Beecher to act as a sponsor for the Singers; he helped to catalyze their rapid rise to fame and fortune, which eventually brought them to New York City and even to Europe.

It was the singing of spirituals with which the Fisk Jubilee Singers astounded everyone. Before Emancipation, most whites had ignored “slave songs,” considering them to be of little value. The Fisk Jubilee Singers changed all that, turning the spiritual into a concert genre now truly loved around the world.  The group became so popular that its story and the spirituals were combined in a book, first published in 1871 and sold around the world.  This tune was presented to the Fisk Jubilee Singers by the Hon. Frederick Douglass, who told them at the time that this song first inspired him to consider escaping from slavery. Chicago a cappella’s history with the tune goes back to our 1999 program of spirituals, Go Down, Moses.

spiritual, arr. Joseph Jennings:  Steal away

Since 1988, Joseph Jennings has been the music director of Chanticleer, the 12-voice male chorus now celebrating its 25th anniversary. Jennings is one of the most gifted arrangers of spirituals now working. He grew up in Georgia and has both spirituals and gospel music in his style, which is well documented on Chanticleer’s remarkable album, Where the Sun Will Never Go Down. This arrangement of Steal Away comes from Chicago a cappella’s very first concert and has been an audience favorite ever since.

*   *   *   *   *

Chen Yi:  The West Lake (world premiere)

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.

When she was 17, Chen returned to her home city and served as concertmaster and composer with the Beijing Opera Troupe. She studied both traditional Chinese and Western classical music, and enrolled in the Beijing Central Conservatory. In 1986 Chen became the first woman in China to receive the degree of Master of Arts in composition. That same year Chen Yi came to the United States for further musical studies.

In 1993, she received her Doctor of Musical Arts from Columbia University.  The same year, Dr. Chen was appointed to a three-year term as Composer-In-Residence for the Women's Philharmonic, Chanticleer, and the Aptos Creative Arts Program, all in San Francisco.  She then joined the composition faculty of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.  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 has received numerous awards and prizes, including the prestigious Ives Living Award (2001-2004) from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a fellowship from the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, as well as the ASCAP Concert Music Award, and the Lili Boulanger Award.  Ms. Chen has been commissioned to compose for the Cleveland Orchestra, the Central Philharmonic of China, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Yehudi Menuhin, Yo-Yo Ma, Evelyn Glennie, the San Francisco Girls’ Chorus, and Carnegie Hall. 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.

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. A philosophic mind allayed his bitterness, even when banished to places as remote as Hainan Island. 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 West Lake is the companion piece to Chen Yi’s Landscape, written for the Kansas City Chorale, which was premiered at the 2003 Chorus America conference in Kansas City. 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.

*   *   *   *   *

Kevin Olson:  A Summer Sonnet

Kevin R. Olson is an active pianist, composer, and faculty member at Elmhurst College, where he teaches classical and jazz piano, music theory, and electronic music. He holds a Doctor of Education degree from National-Louis University, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music composition and theory from Brigham Young University.

A native of Utah, Kevin began composing at the age of five. When he was twelve, his composition An American Trainride received the Overall First Prize at the 1983 National PTA Convention. Since then, he has been a Composer-in-Residence at the National Conference on Piano Pedagogy and has written music for the American Piano Quartet, Chicago a cappella, the Rich Matteson Jazz Festival, and several piano teachers associations around the country.

Kevin maintains a large piano studio, and has written nearly forty books and solos published by The FJH Music Company Inc.

Kevin composed this piece for Chicago a cappella’s all-Shakespeare concert, for which we are all fortunate. He has captured a wonderful, whimsical Brazilian-style salsa feel.


Matthew Harris:  It was a lover and his lass

Born in 1956, Matthew Harris studied at Juilliard, the New England Conservatory and Harvard University, with Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt, Roger Sessions and Donald Martino. Among the many institutions that have awarded him composition prizes and grants are the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and Tanglewood. His work has been performed by the New Amsterdam Singers, the New York New Music Ensemble, the Dale Warland Singers, and the principal orchestras of Minnesota, Houston, Spokane and Modesto. The Lake George Opera Festival commissioned his upcoming opera TESS.  Matthew has taught at Fordham University and Kingsborough College, CUNY. He currently lives in New York City, where he works as a musicologist.

Matthew Harris’s cycle of fourteen Shakespeare Songs is refreshingly original.  Rather than aiming to evoke the Renaissance, Harris seems to prefer to simply express the text in his own language, in ways both touching and wry. He writes: “Instead of the lively romp found in other settings of this lyric, my It was a Lover and His Lass is a slow, gentle idyll of young love in the spring.”  Like Kevin Olson’s sonnet, this piece first appeared on our all-Shakespeare concert last winter.

Håkan Parkman: “My love is as a fever” from Three Shakespeare Songs

Håkan Parkman, a terribly talented young Swede, died in a car accident in his 30s and left a number of truly beautiful songs, including a cycle on Shakespeare’s love poems.  We’re singing the third piece in the cycle, “My love is as a fever.” The song is a rare and perfect marriage of poetry and music, reflecting the achingly burning poem with music of great tension and ambiguity. We learned these songs from Singer Pur, a superb Swedish/German vocal group. Chicago a cappella first performed this song on The Intimate a cappella (fall 2001); then, as here, the performance is done with one voice to each part.

spiritual, arr. Moses Hogan:  Elijah Rock

Before his tragic death due to brain cancer earlier this year, Moses Hogan was at the pinnacle of his career, giving concerts and guest conducting and creating his remarkable arrangements of spirituals.  His settings have an energy and electricity all their own, possibly reflecting his prodigious skills as a pianist. He founded the Moses Hogan Chorale, based in New Orleans, which captured the hearts of audiences and critics worldwide both in concerts and on recordings.

This setting of Elijah Rock accomplishes a great deal in less than three minutes.  Within a typical song structure of fast-slow-fast tempi, Hogan weaves phenomenal energy into each section.  The constant exclamation of “Elijah Rock” in the basses and later in the tenor gives the sonic impression of a ring shout, slowly but inexorably building; every sixteenth note is filled with pulsing energy during the main refrain. The tension eases and rebuilds again, only to explode at the end, the musical embodiment of ecstatic religious utterance.  We first performed this remarkable setting in the spring of 1999, and it appears on our Go Down, Moses CD.

 *   *   *   *   *

Jonathan Miller:  The Fall (world premiere)

This piece was commissioned by Carolyn Sacksteder, a longtime fan of Chicago a cappella. The poem is by Russell Edson, a Connecticut poet who had remained rather obscure, though acclaimed by critics, until recently. Since his work was featured a few years ago on National Public Radio, however, Oberlin College Press reports that a volume of Edson’s poems tops its list of best-sellers.

Edson’s poetry is eclectic and quirky, often quite economical. In The Fall, he manages to convey a wide range of moods in only a few lines, which translated quite easily to musical treatment. Jonathan Miller notes that, “as the parent of a nine-year-old, I have read hundreds of children’s books. This poem struck me in the way that children’s books often do, with the absurdly rigid attitudes of adults seen playfully through the eyes of a child or a wry author. I was sad to read how the young man’s parents treated him so shabbily, and grateful for the wonder they managed to create at the end, all of which I tried to capture in the music.”  The score is very simple, as is the poem.

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. We first sang this song on Stormy Weather in the spring of 2001.

Freddie Mercury, arr. Hoss Brock:  Bohemian Rhapsody                                        

This intense and idiosyncratic 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:

“‘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.

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.

In 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 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 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, premiered this past spring in our concert called as rose petals open. 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.