Archive for the 'choral' Category

Musica Russica: Bringing Russian Choral Music to the World

VladimirMorosan

Vladimir Morosan

In 1979 a young American graduate student named Vladimir Morosan won a Fullbright Scholarship togo to the Moscow Conservatory to study choral performance in pre-revolutionary Russia. The Soviet state had banned public performance of sacred music decades before that in 1923, and vicious attacks on and repression of the Russian Orthodox Church combined with strong censorship over creative output practically eliminated Russians’ access to their own sacred musical tradition and the continuity of that tradition throughout the Soviet era. Nevertheless, because Morosan was an American citizen, not a Soviet citizen, he was allowed to access historical materials, articles and sheet music relating to the Russian Orthodox sacred tradition. Recognizing the extraordinary opportunity this presented, Morosan’s supervising professor at the Conservatory, himself secretly a believer, said, “Vladimir, you understand our situation, of course. We cannot perform our great sacred music openly. So I’m charging you to gather everything that you can and take it to the West, and teach them in the West how this music is to be performed so that it’s not lost forever.”

MusicaRussica.jpegBy 1987 Morosan had founded Musica Russica, setting out to compile a historical anthology of Russian sacred music to mark the millennium of Russian Christianity celebrated in 1988. The result, published in 1991, was One Thousand Years of Russian Church Music, a collection of 79 pieces covering a wide range of styles and genres of sacred music from early chant fragments through Golovanov’s “Lord’s Prayer” (“отче наш“/”Otche nash“), originally published on the eve of the 1917 Revolution. Major figures like Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Rimsky-Korsakov are not included in this anthology but are instead given their own volumes, each focusing on a single composer’s complete sacred works. Today Musica Russica’s growing catalog encompasses Russia’s major sacred works, as well as a number of folk songs, and continues to extend back into the rich historical catalog and to support the reinvigorated Orthodox tradition of the post-Communist era.

What is it that distinguishes this music from the Western sacred choral traditions? Perhaps most instantly recognizable are the octavo basses, followed very closely by a fullness of sound across voice parts and registers. Though some of the more recent choral works contain optional instrumental accompaniment for concerts conducted outside of church settings, all of the music is composed to be able to be sung a cappella, as Russian churches don’t use instruments at all. As such, a lot of what we’d recognize instrumentally in the Western style became internalized in the choir, including those very same deep octavo basses.

The most critical element of Russian sacred choral music, though, is the word. In fact, some people say it’s not even appropriate to call Russian sacred choral music “music,” as “music” was something created in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance as the interplay of instruments. In the Orthodox understanding, Russian sacred choral music is deemed to be “singing,” which illustrates that the core experience is the sung word and that what is sung draws its raison d’être from the word. How the singers and conductor interpret something, how they experience it and how they communicate it to the audience, therefore, is of the utmost importance.

This is also true musically. Performing Russian sacred choral music without a sincere regard for the words is rather different than doing the same with Western sacred choral music. If we listen to the masses of Bach, Mozart or Brahms, for instance, what we hear is an interplay of musical sounds that incidentally have some text. The core, however, is an instrumental musical structure. In stark contrast, Russian sacred choral music contains little in the way of imitative counterpoint or fugal structures. There are a lot of vertical chords that aren’t always so interesting if you strip away the words, but if you pay close attention to the linguistic phrasing, what emerges is an ancient chant synthesized with the ancient Russian tradition of communal folk singing delivered through the lens of some of the greatest compositional masters of human history. This makes it some of the most singable repertoire in the world. As Morosan says:

Russian choral music is idiomatically choral. It encompasses so much of what we experience any time a group of people gets together and sings something in common.”

To give you a glimpse into this quite remarkable catalog, perhaps listen to a short piece by Rachmaninoff, “Rejoice, O Virgin” (“Bogoroditse Devo”), the sixth movement from his All-Night Vigil (Всенощное бдение/Vsenoshchnoye bdeniye), often considered to be one of the most beautiful choral pieces ever written. In many ways this piece is rather simple, but perhaps that is why we can connect with it so deeply.

As one of Rachmaninoff’s favorite compositions, he even requested that the fifth movement, “Lord, Now Lettest Thou” (“Ньине отпущаеши”/“Nine otpushchayeshi”), be sung at his funeral. This movement has a notorious final descending scale in the low bass line that ends with a sustained B-flat 1 (i.e., the third B-flat below middle C). Rachmaninoff recalled that when he first showed this passage to Nikolai Danilin, conductor of the Moscow Synodal Choir, before the premiere, “Danilin shook his head saying ‘Now where on earth are we to find such basses? They are as rare as asparagus at Christmas!’ Nevertheless, he did find them. I knew the voices of my countrymen.”

For those already familiar with Rachmaninoff, it’s perhaps worth taking a look at the 20th-century neoromantic composer, Georgy Sviridov. Living most of his life under the Soviet regime, Sviridov wasn’t able to simply publish sacred music. Like many of his contemporaries, he wrote sacred music “into the desk drawer,” knowing that the pieces may never be heard, but he also managed to find clever ways to get around the Soviet censorship system. A 1973 staging of Alexei Tolstoy’s play, “Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich,” a Romantic-era play set in the late 16th century, provided an opportunity to present a trio of sacred choruses at Moscow’s Maly Theater under the guise of incidental music. These Three Choruses — “Rejoice, O Virgin” (“Богородице Дево”/“Bogoroditse Devo”), “Sacred Love” (“Любовь сбятая”/“Liubov sviataya”) and “Verse of Repentance” (“Покаянный стих”/“Pokayanniy stih”) — employ actual liturgical chant melodies, as well as a heterophonic texture stemming from ancient folk singing.

Musica Russica offers these pieces and many more, complete with performance notes, detailed transliterations, English translations, pronunciation tracks and even a DVD called The ABC’s of Russian Diction to help choirs outside of Russia connect not only with the language, but with the entire essence of this deeply soulful and uplifting musical tradition.

Alex Shapiro: Making Her Own Rules

AlexShapiro

Alex Shapiro

If a composer just so happens to also be a photographer, an essayist, and an activist both within the musical arena and outside of it, it seems fitting that she would describe her own work as “pan-genre and diverse – sometimes within the same piece!” Alex Shapiro’s extensive catalog encompasses film scores, chamber music and choral works, but it is in concert band music that Alex has been leaving her strongest mark as a composer.

Alex’s first foray into the concert band world came in 2007, when Major Tod A. Addison, Commander and conductor of the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Band, contacted her via MySpace to commission a piece. At the time Alex had never composed for, participated in or even attended a performance of a wind band in her life, but was encouraged by Major Addison’s openness to her ideas and decided to jump right in.

HomecomingThe final piece, titled “Homecoming,” folds Alex’s sophisticated take on symphonic and jazz-pop music into traditional wind band sounds, while also taking a nuanced, multi-dimensional approach to the concept of a “military theme.” The result isn’t a collection of recognizable layers of elements, but rather something entirely new.

This impulse toward synthesis is, in fact, a defining characteristic of Alex’s work. She takes various components that excite and inspire her, and she fuses them together into new structures in which the building blocks are inseparable and at times even unrecognizable. Alex is not the puppet master who brings together characters to watch them interact, but rather the pastry chef baking a cake, where the raw materials combine at the molecular level with constructive precision to achieve the baker’s grand vision.

RockMusicWhatever Alex’s vision for a piece may be, her music always seems to follow a distinct narrative arc. Whether her work is advocating for a cause she cares about, like climate change, marine life, or gender equality, or her music is simply music, she is always telling a story and taking us on a journey. This is as true for her new choral work, “O Death Rock Me Asleep,” a setting of a text by Anne Boleyn that follows the queen from imprisonment through beheading, as for wind band pieces like “Rock Music,” which incorporates the sounds of a non-traditional musical material – literally rocks – to tangibly connect the music to the earth and to the climate that is changing before our very eyes.

It is not just “Rock Music” that veers from the tried and true wind band course, though. Much of Alex’s wind band oeuvre is what she has dubbed “electroacoustic,” meaning that it incorporates pre-recorded electronic tracks into performance. In many cases, such as with “Lights Out” and “Paper Cut,” it can be difficult to tell which sounds are coming from the electronic track and which are coming from the live instrumentalists. This is especially true when the pieces are performed in black light, which is part of the recommended presentation of “Lights Out,” and which has seemed to have caught on for about one-third of the performances of “Paper Cut.” With the electronic and the acoustic melding together and becoming indistinguishable, these pieces echo the increasing parity we’re seeing between human and artificial intelligence in other parts of our lives. It’s like the core theme of “Westworld” embodied in music (but, well, a lot less menacing).

LightsOut

PaperCut

Even when not done in black light, “Paper Cut,” perhaps Alex’s most widely known band piece, is a visual and aural spectacle as band members manipulate pieces of paper to make a range of percussive sounds and execute basic choreography with the paper to give the audience a full show. Commissioned by the American Composers Forum, “Paper Cut” was originally composed for middle school band, but it continues to be popular with bands of all ages and levels because it’s just so fun. Here are the Jackson Middle School Symphonic Winds of Grove City, OH performing the piece at Capital University in February 2018:

Whether it’s these sorts of novelty elements, accompanying videos or photograph reels, or basic choreographed moves or staging, Alex doesn’t simply compose music, but exploits an audience’s heavy reliance on visuals to construct entire performance pieces with music at their core. In the band world, she says, “there are no limits” – and she revels in the stream of endless possibilities.

At the same time, however, it’s worth noting that her music is remarkably direct and succinct. It makes sense, then, that she cites Beethoven as her “goalpost” for economy of motivic development and usage and speaks in amazement that he could build an entire symphonic movement from just four notes – three of which are identical. Perhaps it is that economy that has allowed those four notes that open Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to connect with audiences so strongly that they have become one of the most recognizable themes in all of music history. This is precisely the sort of emotional chord that Alex aims to strike in her music, and like Beethoven, she also lets a strong voice shine through to confidently guide the audience on their emotional journey.

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Alex Shapiro

Human connection is central not only to Alex’s work, but also to her career as a composer. She uses Skype to get into rehearsal rooms with groups performing her pieces. In addition to her many works for professional ensembles, she writes music meant for the educational system so that she can make sure that more women are represented in the music that young learners are playing – and so that children of all genders, races and creeds can understand that there is a place for them in the music world. She is a mainstay at conferences and in the leadership of various professional organizations so that she can encourage her peers in developing their own sense of self-worth and help guide them as business operators. And these connections that she builds in turn make her a strong advocate, a happy and fulfilled human being, and a vital part of the music community.

“Everything is interconnected,” she says. And so she writes. And so she lives.

Songs of Freedom

In this guest post by Dr. Stan Engebretson and Prof. Volker Hempfling, editors of Carus-Verlag‘s new collection, Hallelujah: Gospels and Spirituals for Mixed Choir, we explore the difference between gospel and spirituals in their development and in musical form.

HallelujahCollectionCarusPowerful voices full of emotion and moving intensity — that’s what comes to mind when we think of gospel music. And “Amazing Grace” is certainly one of the first songs we think of. It’s a song that spread beyond Christian churches to become famous as a protest song against slavery and as a hymn sung by human rights activists. “I once was lost, but now am found.” With the Christian idea of redemption, the song expresses a confident belief in liberation, the central theme of gospel music. But paradoxically, this song, which many people regard as the quintessence of American gospel music, was actually written by the former captain of a slave ship, John Newton. When he escaped from a storm at sea in 1748, he saw his salvation as divine providence and fundamentally transformed his life in the following years, after a while giving up his trade completely, becoming a clergyman, and even campaigning against slavery. His song, “Amazing Grace,” became extremely successful and was later adopted by the African-American spiritual and gospel community, performed by such artists as Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin and the Harlem Gospel Choir.

But what makes a song a gospel song, and how does it differ from a spiritual?

As early as the 17th century, songs sung in unison developed in the Southern slave communities from a unique blend of African tunes, rhythms and styles paired with early Christian hymns. Handed down in aural tradition, these pieces came to be known as “spirituals,” a title derived from Ephesians 5:19, where the faithful were exhorted to sing “spiritual songs.” Many songs feature Old Testament heroes such as Moses, Elijah and Daniel, whose vivid stories showed strength in times of conflict. Other common themes are freedom from bondage and hope for a better life ahead free of pain and suffering.

A part of daily life in slave communities, spirituals took on many forms, including work songs in a “call and response” style, where a soloist leads the call while the chorus responds; slower music in reflective styles, such as “Deep River”; and bright, animated works of celebration sung during praise meetings. Although originally sung in unison, spirituals evolved from the 1870s on, becoming popular as arranged choral pieces pioneered by the groundbreaking Fisk Jubilee Singers, as well as master composers ranging from Harry T. Burleigh to Moses Hogan.

Gospel music developed much later along a parallel track. After the end of the Civil War in 1865, many people migrated north into urban centers. By the early 20th century the influence of blues and jazz became popular in this new world, leading to the development of gospel music with instrumental accompanies to choral lines, sometimes featuring elaborate solos. Traditional gospel often paired texts from the New Testament or non-Biblical sources with simple harmonic progressions, occasionally including lowered thirds, indicative of the influence of the blues. Contemporary gospel expanded the vocabulary of the genre into jazz harmonies and added brass, woodwinds and organ on top of the original piano accompaniment. Today gospel continues to evolve into newer versions under the influence of other contemporary genres like rock, hip-hop and rap, while piano gospel has also remained a signature style in its own right.

publogo_carusCarus-Verlag‘s new collection, Hallelujah: Gospels and Spirituals for Mixed Choir, contains 30 songs aimed at choirs that want to explore this repertoire in a variety of styles and levels of difficulty. In addition to popular classics like “Amazing Grace,” “Deep River,” “Go Down, Moses,” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” the collection revives classics from the genres’ early days and includes several arrangements commissioned specially for this edition. With settings that are well-suited for many uses in concerts and church services, the collection serves as a good introduction for choirs with little previous experience with this repertoire.

 


Engebretson_HempflingDr. Stan Engebretson (photo: left) came to Washington in 1990 as the Director of Choral Studies at George Mason University and Director of Music as the historic New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. In 2005 he became the Artistic Director of the National Philharmonic Chorale.

In addition to his focus on choral work with various groups, including the Kölner Kantorei (which he founded in 1968 and directed until 2015), Prof. Volker Hempfling (photo: right) is much in demand internationally as a conductor and lecturer. Numerous concert invitations take him throughout Germany and abroad. He regularly serves as a jury member at leading choral competitions.

A Chat with Lloyd Larson

Guest post from Jubilate Music Group

Lloyd Larson has become one of today’s most published and performed church music writers. A frequently called-upon clinic and conference resource, Larson has been a singer, keyboard player, and arranger.

Having earned his B.A. from Anderson University, Anderson, IN, Lloyd next completed his M.C.M. at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), Louisville, KY, and undertook additional graduate work at SBTS and Ohio State University.

Larson’s extensive background in arranging and composing includes arranging music for an internationally broadcast radio program. Also, in 1989, he completed an editorial assignment for a new hymnal, Worship the Lord, for the Church of God, and co-edited the accompanying Hymnal Companion. In addition, Larson contributed to the Complete Library of Christian Worship, edited by Dr. Robert Webber. He has served as a church music director for decades (a role he continues to this day), which has inevitably informed his artful and well-crafted yet practical original compositions and arrangements.

Recently, Larson sat down with Mark Cabaniss, President and CEO of Jubilate Music Group, to discuss his work and to help us all get to know him a bit better.

Mark Cabaniss, President and CEO of Jubilate Music Group (MC): What and when was your first published piece of music? How did it feel to see your music and name in print for the first time?

Lloyd Larson (LL): My very first publication was a two-part Advent anthem titled Love Will Be Born. It was published by Beckenhorst Press in 1982 and was a collaborative project with lyricist Mary Kay Beall. Mary Kay and her husband, composer John Carter, lived in Columbus, Ohio, where I was living and serving on a church staff at that time. I had the opportunity to meet John and Mary Kay and study with John for a few years. At the time, John was doing adjunct editorial work for Beckenhorst. He introduced me to the legendary composer John Ness Beck, one of the co-founders and president of Beckenhorst. It was an amazing experience to see that first piece come into print! Though I had been involved with choirs using published music from my teen years, I had little knowledge of the sequence of steps involved from “idea to publication.” I’m forever indebted to John and Mary Kay for their influence as they guided me through the process and introduced me to numerous people who have been instrumental in encouraging me on my journey as a composer.

MC: What do you enjoy most about the compositional process?

LL: For me each piece involves its own unique journey. I try to avoid thinking, “I want this piece to sound like….” That’s especially true with sacred choral anthems. Though I’m a composer and love to find a melody, harmonic structure, and rhythmic framework that work, the reason we sing in the context of worship is because of the lyric. As a result, it is essential when I sit down to create music to go with a text that I build a distinctive vehicle (music) that will underscore and create a path by which that lyric is heard in fresh and meaningful ways. I love discovering new ways to express the profound truths of our faith. I love unearthing new treatments to familiar hymn melodies. I love finding a distinctive marriage between a familiar hymn text with a new or different hymn tune than what is typically associated with it. When these moments happen for me in my studio and they impact me in a new way, I’ve come to believe they will have a similar impact on others as well.

MC: Who have been the most influential people in your writing career?

LL: I’ve already mentioned the impact that composer John Carter and his wife, lyricist Mary Kay Beall, had on my early writing career. But there have been many others along the way. I would call them the “giants along my path.” The late John Ness Beck and Fred Bock were also strong encouragers in the early years of my career. George and Bill Shorney, Lew Kirby, Jack Schrader, Larry Pugh, Gilbert Martin, and Jean Anne Shafferman along with numerous others have been profound influences in my writing with their input and encouragement. They have seen potential in my work and often pushed me outside of my own comfort zones to try some things I would never have considered. But I would be remiss if I didn’t go back and recall the early influence of my mother (my first piano teacher) and my high school and college teachers who encouraged me to explore my interests in writing, even providing me platforms to try out some of my earliest writing endeavors. Writing for “real live singers and instrumentalists” in college and church settings helped me to discover quickly what worked and what didn’t work. I’ve continued to be involved in church work over the years (now 40+ years) which has been essential in shaping my approach as a composer of church music.

MC: With the changing tides of church music styles over the last few decades, what encouragement can you give to choir directors of today’s church?

LL: I will always be an advocate for church choirs. I strongly believe in them! (And it is not just because I depend on them for my livelihood.) They provide such a unique opportunity for ministry in the local church. The church choir I’ve directed for the last 25 years is a very tight community. The pastoral staff in our church calls the choir our “largest small group.” And I think they’re right. We are a community for 40+ people who typically gather a couple of times a week to rehearse and sing in worship. In the process of working on music together, we develop our musicianship while at the same time studying together the truths of our faith through the words that we sing. We are a multi-generation ensemble ranging in age from teens to my eldest bass who is 93 (and the most faithful member I have in the choir!). We regularly pray, cry, and laugh together. We celebrate life achievements, and we mourn losses together. We sing every style of music imaginable from the classics to beloved gospel songs with harmonica. (Yes, I have an outstanding harmonica player in my church…so why not?!?!?!) There are few, if any, settings in the life of the church where you can live life and faith in such a community. When the day comes that I’m no longer writing choral music or directing choirs, I anticipate singing in a choir. That’s how much I believe in them!

MC: You have a new cantata out this year (with Mark Hayes) titled Seekers of the Light. What is the thrust of this work?

SeekersOfTheLight

LL: “Light” is a metaphor for goodness and God’s presence throughout scripture. As people of faith, we are always on this journey to experience more of the “light of Christ” as we seek out His will and presence in our daily living. And this was true for the earliest followers of Christ, even those who first saw and recognized Him as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. They were guided by light (bright angelic hosts and celestial stars) to the Promised Child. We are all seekers of light when it comes to understanding our faith or life in general. And it is an ongoing journey. We will never “arrive” until we reach our final destination, our heavenly home. As a result, Seekers of the Light is an appropriate title and thrust, it seems to me, for recalling the pilgrimages of the earliest worshipers of Christ while at the same time uniting us with those worshipers in our own journeys as we seek to understand and know this One who called Himself the “light of the world” (John 8:12). It was a pleasure to collaborate with my longtime friend and colleague, Mark Hayes, on this project. I’ve been a fan of Mark’s music over the years, having used a ton of his music in my own ministry. So to partner with him on a project like this is a special treat for me. It is certainly my prayer that this cantata will impact and encourage directors, choirs, and congregations as they prepare and present it in the coming months!

MC: Is there a writing project you have yet to tackle or hope to accomplish?

LL: I always have an ongoing list of projects which I hope to tackle at some point down the road. The list is longer than I’ll ever get done in this lifetime (kind of like my “to-do” list of home projects that I’m wanting to tackle!). It is a grass-catcher list of ideas that has been spawned by a line in a sermon, or a passage of scripture, or a brief idea that has surfaced from a hymn text. I probably won’t divulge too much of that here. (I mean I don’t want Joe Martin, Mark Hayes, or Mary McDonald stealing my ideas! Ha!) One of the areas I’d love to pursue a bit more is to occasionally do a musical project outside of Christmas or Easter themes. As much as I love doing extended work on those themes, it is nice to have the opportunity to develop an extended work in other thematic directions. The reality, though, is that we who are church composers don’t get that opportunity too often simply because of the nature of our core market. I did recently have an opportunity to do a large commission project based on a group of Psalms which was truly a challenging and gratifying experience.

MC: Do you have a story of something you’ve written?

LL: On December 14, 2012, I happened to be working on a lyric by Susan Boersma. Susan is a fabulous lyricist and had created a lyric based on Revelation 22:5 that I had asked her to consider. That particular day – a Friday – was the day a lone gunman burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut and senselessly took the lives of twenty young children and six adult staff members in a matter of minutes. On that day, the words I was setting became deeply personal and hopeful in what was a very dark moment for many in that community and beyond:

“Into the valley of shadows, under the veil of gray, God calls the good and faithful, then guides us on the way. Through the valley of shadows, lost in the dark of night, our God goes before us to lead us to the light. There will be no more night! No need for lamp or ray of sun, the Lamb will be the light. There will be no more night! No need to fast, to watch, to weep around the throne so bright.”

That anthem, Dwell in the Light Forevermore, holds a special place in my heart because of the circumstances which surrounded its creation.

MC: “Getting to Know…Lloyd Larson” — Our “Lightning Round” of quick questions and answers:

1. What is on your summer reading list?

LL: The Next Person You Meet in Heaven (Mitch Albom), Unshakable Hope (Max Lucado), The Reckoning (John Grisham), Vanishing Grace (Philip Yancey)

2. What types of music do you listen to most?

LL: I try to listen to a little bit of everything, from the classics to outstanding (and current) choral writers. I love jazz and big band sounds. My wife and I just this week went to an outdoor drum and bugle competition (DCI) in a nearby community, something we enjoy doing when the opportunity affords itself. I’m a big John Williams fan with some of his classic movie themes. As a teenager, I was a big “Chicago” fan, and many of those melodies are rooted deep in my memory. I’m not sure I have a favorite genre, per se. I’m pretty eclectic in my tastes.

3. What is your favorite vacation spot?

LL: As a kid growing up in central Illinois, my family often vacationed on a lake in northern Wisconsin. I fell in love with the northwoods in those years. And I still love them! Most summers will find my wife, Marci, and I carving out a few days between summer travel commitments to spend some time on a northern Minnesota lake somewhere enjoying some quiet time. That’s on our schedule for later this summer. It is often a small “mom & pop” resort of modest cabin somewhere where the biggest agenda of the day may be “Should we grill out, or drive into town and find a restaurant for dinner this evening?” We enjoy the quiet beautiful scenery, some fishing, reading, and a lot of down time. It is a wonderful way to recharge!

4. What is your favorite summertime frozen treat?

LL: One of my biggest disappointments in recent years is that it appears that every DQ [Dairy Queen] in the upper Midwest has discontinued the Snickers Blizzard. This was my favorite for years! But I must have been in the minority. So I’ve been exploring other chocolate-influenced Blizzard options. I haven’t landed on a new favorite as of yet. But I’m working on it. Stay tuned!

MC: Thank you, Lloyd, for spending some time with us so our readers can get to know you a bit better. Your contributions to church music are immeasurable, and your music not only enriches lives, but most importantly, is building God’s Kingdom. Blessings to you in the years ahead, and we look forward to more exciting music creations from you!


Jubilate Music Group is dedicated to publishing a broad range of resources stylistically suited to meet the diverse needs of churches and schools. The Jubilate Music catalog is comprised of choral, piano, organ, handbell, vocal, and instrumental publications ranging from adult choral anthems, extended works and folios to music for children’s choir and praise teams.

Cantabile Qualities: Choral Music by Beethoven

Guest post by Jan Schumacher

Beethoven is not primarily thought of as a vocal composer, but why not? The choral collection compiled by Jan Schumacher, which contains both well-known and unknown choral works by Beethoven and original transcriptions of Beethoven’s works by other composers, reveals a great deal of extremely attractive repertoire.

The widely-held prejudice that “he could not write for voice” sticks to few composers as much as it does to Ludwig van Beethoven. This may be due to the fact that his place in music history is primarily as a revolutionary symphonist and creator of incomparable chamber music like the string quartets and piano sonatas. To take this to mean that he had no understanding of the human voice or did not know how to write for chorus, however, is to draw the wrong conclusion. Beethoven, like nearly every other composer of his age and indeed until the first half of the 20th century (with a few notable exceptions such as Chopin and Paganini), was equally used to composing for voice and instruments.

It is when we try to label Beethoven that we develop what can be misleading expectations. For instance, though we often group Beethoven together with bastions of Viennese classicism like Mozart and Haydn, this designation would lead us to expect a vocal lightness in his works that we find in his contemporaries. Indeed, there are many pieces among Beethoven’s choral works that do satisfy these expectations and are very singable for many choirs. The vocal demands of the Mass in C major, for example, are quite similar to those of the late Haydn masses.

Yet we must also recognize that defining Beethoven as a “classical” composer is extremely limiting. Beethoven was ahead of his time in many respects, and in his choral works, this push toward romanticism manifests through greater demands on the vocalists, as we see in the choral parts of the 9th Symphony and in his greatest choral-symphonic work, the Missa solemnis. The extreme ranges required by the Missa solemnis do not represent a failure of craftsmanship, but rather a clear compositional intention. The contrasts in the Missa solemnis are in fact essential elements of the work!

We should also consider Beethoven’s demanding choral repertoire in light of later composers like Berlioz, Liszt, Mahler and Reger who also demanded the utmost from their choral singers. Were these composers criticized as strongly as Beethoven for their choral works? Connecting Beethoven with these later composers instead of with the Viennese classicists allows us to see that Beethoven and choral composition fit together very well and that it is worth examining his choral output as a whole.

A very popular work, even during Beethoven’s lifetime, was Meeres Stille und Glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage), Op. 112. Beethoven set Goethe’s two-verse poem in a striking fashion: the first part (poco sostenuto, but alla breve time!) vividly describes the oppressive quiet and the vast expanse of the calm sea. In the lively second part Beethoven depicts both the surging and strengthening of the sea, as well as the inner joy and hope of the boatman who, thanks to the onset of the wind, can hope for a rapid voyage home. Beethoven demonstrates his vast compositional mastery in both the choral composition and the skillful orchestration.

Another gem that is performed much less often is the Elegischer Gesang (Elegiac Song), Op. 118, a short, restrained choral movement with string accompaniment. Beethoven composed the work in memory of Eleonore von Pasqualati, who died at the age of 24. She was the wife of Johann Baptist Freiherr von Pasqualati, a longtime friend of Beethoven’s. Musically condensed phrases of great intensity await the listener, which lead again and again into moments of softness and gentleness. The Elegischer Gesang may not be one of Beethoven’s major works, but it is a jewel well worth discovering. Together with the vocal and instrumental parts, a piano part has been handed down, and this can be used as an alternative to a string quartet. It is this version of the Elegischer Gesang that is included in the Beethoven Choral Collection.

BeethovenChoralCollectionQualitatively, there can be no doubt about Beethoven’s preeminence as a choral composer. It is only in terms of quantity that his choral output cannot compare with composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Handel or Bach. At first this seemed to be a problem in publishing a volume of Beethoven’s choral music, but of course there are canons, shorter choral movements, a few Scottish songs and excerpts from incidental music — e.g., König Stephan (King Stephen) and Die Ruinen von Athen (The Ruins of Athens) — as well as his oratorio, Christus am Ölberge (The Mount of Olives), all of which undoubtedly contain exciting discoveries for such a collection.

A number of choral arrangements of Beethoven’s instrumental works, as common and popular during Beethoven’s lifetime as they are today, are also included in the collection. Characterized by a noble, cantabile quality, Beethoven’s slow movements are especially fine models for choral arrangements, such as Silcher’s Persischer Nachtgesang, based on the second movement of the 7th Symphony, and the Hymne an die Nacht, based on the second movement of the “Appassionata.” Both of these are included in the Beethoven Choral Collection. Equally exciting are the discoveries of the Drei Aequale, originally brass pieces that were arranged for chorus by Ignaz von Seyfried and sung at Beethoven’s funeral, and Gottlob Benedict Bierey’s Kyrie, based on the first movement of the “Moonlight Sonata,” and Agnus Dei.

Inspired by these arrangements, we commissioned a series of new arrangements for the Beethoven Choral Collection. Leading contemporary composers such as Heribert Breuer, Gunther Martin Göttsche, John Høybye, Giacomo Mezzalira, Christoph Müller and Peter Schindler have contributed to the collection. Arrangements from Clytus Gottwald and Jaakko Mäntyjärvi are also included.

The Beethoven Choral Collection is a real treasure trove for all choirs celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020, as well as for choirs looking to add a truly fantastic volume to their library. We hope that the collection will inspire all manner of church choirs and choral societies, including major cathedral choirs and ambitious chamber choirs, to explore Beethoven’s vocal works and to give Beethoven his well-deserved appreciation as a choral composer.

 


JanSchumacher

Jan Schumacher is University Music Director of the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main and Conductor of the Camerata Musica Limburg and the Chorus of the Technical University Darmstadt. With his ensembles he performs a wide repertoire ranging from Gregorian chant to premieres of new works and jazz, and from symphonic orchestral repertoire to Big Band and vocal and electronic improvisation. He also directs seminars for singers, orchestras and conductors throughout Europe and internationally and is the editor for several choral collections at Carus-Verlag.

Discovering Mårten Jansson & Bärenreiter’s Jansson Choral Competition

MartenJansson
Mårten Jansson

Every time we listen to Swedish composer Mårten Jansson we can’t help but get swept up in the whirlwind of emotions he creates. His music is full of all of the compositional elements that choristers love to sing: sweeping melodic lines, open chords and expressive dissonance.

Ultimately, though, performers and audiences alike fall in love with his music because they are drawn to the fundamental honesty at its core. Jansson approaches traditional sacred texts with humility, and he openly shares his experience of it through his music in a way that amplifies the text without pretense or contradiction.

JanssonMissaPopularis

This honesty should not, however, be confused with simplicity or naïveté. Jansson’s stunning Missa Popularis, for instance, manages to connect us to a profound range of emotions, while uniting many layers of thought and tradition into the microcosm of a single piece of music. In addition to all of Jansson’s neoromantic tendencies, the Missa sits atop a foundation of Swedish folk dances and simultaneously also sounds strikingly Medieval. This is perhaps most obvious in the opening of the “Kyrie” and the “Agnus Dei,” but the feeling of the chant is present throughout the entire Mass.

By uniting modern constructions with ancient ones, Jansson not only brings his Mass into the long tradition of the sacred ritual, but also brings the listener into communion with that tradition and with those who have celebrated it for centuries. The past shines through to the present, and the present holds its hand out to the past. Time becomes circular in celebration of the ritual, and Janssons’s Missa Popularis allows the audience to experience that in the music itself.

JanssonMariaIV

A similar combination of modern and ancient also underpins Jansson’s “Maria (IV),” which simultaneously elicits a deep-seated sympathy for the universal, fundamental suffering of motherhood and brings to life Mary’s individual sorrow as the mother of a child who belongs not to her, but to all mankind. Commissioned by the Royal Swedish Court for the Feast of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary in 2013, this piece served as the focal point of Bärenreiter’s Mårten Jansson Choral Competition.

Ten choirs from around the world entered videos of their performances of “Maria (IV)” in the competition, and those videos were judged by an international panel of choral experts. The top three choirs all received vouchers for Bärenreiter choral publications, and the winning choir also received a commission for a new Jansson piece to suit their particular needs.

Here is the video submitted by the winning choir, the Jugendkonzertchor Dortmund from Dortmund, Germany directed by Felix Heitmann. This performance was praised by judges as “an absolutely perfect performance” and one that “really felt like the ensemble wanted to tell you something they feel is important.”

The University of Denver Lamont Chorale from Denver, Colorado, USA, directed by Catherine Sailer, came in second place with a video of a live performance of the piece that judges praised for “a nicely balanced full warm sound” and “an equally great interpretation,” as well as “excellent and well-structured dynamics and agogics.”

Rounding out the top three was Warsaw’s Vocore, a much smaller ensemble of eight singers founded only in 2017. Praised for being “the most ‘together’ performance among the entries,” the judges appreciated the choir’s warm tone and clear and present middle voices.

Dark Is the New Bright

Guest post by Mark Cabaniss

Just 30 or 40 years ago, the Tenebrae service was foreign to many a church, despite the service’s ancient roots. The Roman Catholic Church embraced it early, but it has only become popular and more regularly practiced in Mainline Protestant churches (and even some traditional evangelical churches) in recent decades.

These “services of darkness,” as they are often called, have become a “bright spot,” one could say, for churches around the world that are looking for fresh and creative ways to impart the Holy Week journey.

Sacred music publishers have responded to the heightened awareness of Tenebrae with a variety of publications that are ready to prepare and present as complete Tenebrae services with appropriate music and narration.

Tenebrae is a special service for Holy Week that can be conducted on Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, or any day of Holy Week when a church has a regular or additional special service.

The name “Tenebrae” comes from the Latin for “shadows” or “darkness,” and denotes a service of shadows. The Tenebrae service makes use of gradually diminishing light as candles are extinguished one-by-one to guide the congregation through the events of Holy Week from the triumphant Palm Sunday entry through Jesus’s burial. This increasing darkness symbolizes the approaching darkness of Jesus’s death of hopelessness in the world without God. The service concludes in darkness, sometimes with a final candle, the Christ candle, being extinguished or carried out of the sanctuary to represent the death of Jesus. A loud noise may also sound, echoing the closing of Jesus’s tomb. The worshipers then leave in silence to ponder the impact of Christ’s death and await the coming Resurrection.

Tenebrae services generally should begin in a dark sanctuary lit only by five candles at the front, along with a sixth candle, the Christ candle. Each candle is extinguished as directed by the worship leader(s) during the service, with the Christ candle being extinguished near the end of the final piece of the work. Some churches desire the Christ candle not be extinguished, but taken from the sanctuary in front of a silent procession with the choir as they exit. Regardless of the approach you choose for the Christ candle, the congregation should part in silence. (This direction should be given in the program so that everyone in attendance can be fully informed.)

During a prelude, you may choose to have the choir process led by chosen choir members or laypersons carrying the six lit candles. Those candles are then placed in holders in front of the sanctuary.

The narration may be read by one reader or by several readers. If you choose to have more than one reader, the readings can be divided among lines and paragraphs as desired.

ItIsFinishedA new Tenebrae service for 2019, Mary McDonald’s It Is Finished, offers PowerPoint images that correspond to the mood of each piece being sung. These can be projected during the service to enhance the overall impact of the work and help bring to life the events depicted during Holy Week. The images change with the beginning of each anthem sung during the 30-minute presentation.

Another service option for Tenebrae is to serve communion during the work if so desired. This option further enhances and deepens the overall experience of the service, while engaging the congregants in the act of communion as Jesus did with his disciples during Holy Week.

In whatever manner you may choose to carry out Tenebrae, you’ll find this ancient service still speaks beautifully to today’s worshipers, especially when utilizing one of the newest or more recent published services that help guide and provide a compelling experience for all participants.

 


MarkCabanissMark Cabaniss is a music publisher, producer, writer and educator. He is President/CEO of Jubilate Music Group, based in Nashville, Tennessee. http://www.markcabaniss.com

Behold, A Savior by Jay Rouse and Rose Aspinall

We are delighted to bring Behold, A Savior! to you—delighted. We are storytellers; Jay with his piano, Rose with her pen. Our hope is that what we set down on paper, be it words or musical notations, will have a life beyond our vision.

 

We always strive to be servants of the work. This creative act is our annunciation. In this way, we keep Jesus alive in our hearts. But once we send it out into the world, it’s yours. It no longer depends on our piano and pen. It depends on you. We give this to you with a prayer. May He be born in you. May you become ever more alive in Him. And then, tell the story, His story and your story. Tell it in your own way. Tell it again and again and again.

 

Creating a new work has its own journey. This one is no different. As we talked through our thoughts for Behold, A Savior!, our desire was to create a collection that would serve you in multiple ways. We wanted to provide fresh arrangements of your favorite Christmas songs, as well as give you some beautiful, new original songs.

 

We wanted a work that offered you the option of meaningful and accessible dramatic moments without making them intrinsic to its performance. We realized that this could be a bit of a challenge. We’re happy with what developed, and we hope you will be too. So, in that light…

 

Need music to carry you over the Advent season? You’ll find it in this work.

It’s the first Sunday of Advent and you need a moment for the Prophesy candle during the lighting of your Advent wreath. You can easily present “O Come, Emmanuel, Rejoice!” along with the short Zechariah monologue either as a dramatic reading or with an actor in costume. There are equally appropriate moments for the Bethlehem candle, the Shepherd candle, and the Angel candle too.

Maybe your time is limited and you only want to read the scripture that ties to the song. That’s there for you too. You choose.

 

Need a whole piece to present for a special event?

This collection covers the broad sweep of the Christmas story with all its glory, as well as its most tender and intimate moments. We have provided an optional opening and closing narration for your pastor or lay person that will create a space for an altar call if you should choose to offer one.

 

Do you have a few good actors that would love to present a short monologue?

Adding dramatic moments without committing to a full-fledged production is easy with this work and can add another layer to your production. Monologues can be presented in Reader’s Theatre fashion if you want to forego costumes and memorization.

No matter how you choose to present Behold, A Savior!, if Christ is glorified, we will have accomplished our goal.

-Jay Rouse and Rose Aspinall

 

Rouse Jay_300 cmykAbout Jay Rouse

Jay Rouse is one of the premier choral arrangers in Christian music. He has over three hundred and fifty compositions and arrangements published, including over thirty major sacred choral works and fifty best-selling a cappella arrangements. Rouse is a Dove Award winning producer and has logged many hours on the road traveling in the music ministry. He spent over ten years as musical director and accompanist for Sandi Patty. Rouse continues to make a major impact on music for the church musician across the nation.

 

 

Rose-Aspinall 300dpi CMYKAbout Rose Aspinall:

Rose M. Aspinall is a writer living in small town, USA, Alexandria, Indiana, better known as the home of Bill and Gloria Gaither. At the end of 1983, she and her husband and children moved from Ohio to join the Gaither organization. She has now been part of the music industry for more than three decades. Twenty of those years she headed up the print-on-demand division of PraiseGathering Music Group.
Moving over to the creative side of the business in 2009, she now works as a freelance writer, lending her talents as a lyricist for top industry arrangers and publishing companies while continuing to serve as writer and associate producer for original PraiseGathering publications. She is also responsible for all dramatic scripts, producing and editing blog content, social media, and copy.
Active both on and off the stage in local community and church theater productions, Rose is an accomplished actress and gifted communicator. She often brings her written scripts to life on the conference stage. Her deep interest in the arts as it relates to the church is abundantly evident in her writing. Her great passion is redemption and restoration through storytelling.

She and her husband, Mark, are the parents of two grown daughters and the grandparents of six!

New School Year, New Warm-Ups

Do your warm-ups need a tune-up? Are you looking for effective warm-ups that still leave you with plenty of rehearsal time? Would you like to strengthen your choir’s ability to sight-read while also warming their voices up in preparation for singing? Two birds with one stone, anyone? If you answered yes to any (or all) of these questions, Russell Robinson’s Quick-Start Choral Warm-Ups is for you! This practical resource has been getting a lot of attention from directors nationwide, and we don’t think it will take you long to see why.

 

To see this resource in action, check-out the video below!

 

Quick-Start Choral Warm-Ups:

  • Provides an easy and efficient way to begin each rehearsal.
  • Consists of twenty sequences, each consisting of four components (Warming Down, Warming Up, Diction, and Chordal) that prepare the voice and the mind for producing a beautiful choral sound. These sequences can be sung in order, one per day (Day 1, No1; Day 2, No. 2, etc.), or the director can choose to sing them out of order. They are not sequenced in order of difficulty.
  • Includes a Director Edition and Singer Editions. The Director Edition contains all of the vocal parts and piano accompaniments, in addition to a detailed introduction and User’s Guide. The Singer Edition, which includes the vocal parts, is octavo size, designed to fit comfortably in choral folders all year long. An Accompaniment CD is also available.

For more on Quick-Start Choral Warm-Ups or to purchase, click here

 

For additional music and resources from Heritage Music Press, click here

 

 

Dr. Russell L. Robinson, Emeritus Professor of Music Education at the University of Florida, has made over 300 appearances as a conductor, speaker, consultant and presenter at festivals, workshops, honor choirs, all-state choirs and state, regional, national and international conferences in the US, Europe, Asia, Africa, Central America, South America, Mexico, Canada, the Middle East, and Australia as well as conducting venues, which include: Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, Boston’s Symphony Hall, the White House, and Washington’s National Cathedral. Dr. Robinson was the 2016 inductee into the Florida Music Educators Association (FMEA) Hall of Fame, and is a past President of FMEA, Associate Dean of the UF College of the Arts, National Collegiate Chair and Choral Adviser for the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). Dr. Robinson is a published author, composer and arranger with over 350 publications in print, including choral compositions, arrangements, articles, books, and instructional DVD’s.

 

Here’s a banner that could be used for the email:

 

New Resource for Choir Rehearsals: carus plus put to the test

A choir is a collective of different types of singers who approach rehearsals in very different ways: one can sing perfectly by sight, whilst another is always reliant on his or her neighbor. Some prepare for rehearsals at home, but most of the singers hope to get some direction from the conductor and practice their parts during rehearsals. Bringing together and shaping voices which have more-or-less secure intonation into a unified sound is a task which requires a lot of time and effort on the part of all involved.

In order to make this task easier, in recent years Carus has considerably expanded its range of new, motivating practice aids. Under the keyword “carus plus” practice aids are now available to suit the different needs of singers for over 70 works from the international standard repertoire – from Bach’s St Matthew Passion to many masses by Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert, and to Saint-Saëns’ Oratorio de Noël.

 

carus music, The Choir app

7331000u “How can we exploit the possibilities offered by new media to support individual practice for choral singers?”, asked Johannes Graulich, managing director of Carus-Verlag, and himself an active choral singer. As a response to this, carus music, the choir app was created in 2015, and has since gone on to become established as a helpful practice aid for thousands of choral singers. What is special about this app is not only the combination of music with an excellent recording, but in particular the so-called “coach”. If you select the coach mode, your own voice is reinforced by the piano as part of the overall sound, and through this it can be heard better as if you are in a rehearsal situation. As well as this, with the coach it is also possible to play pieces back at a slower tempo for practice purposes. “The app helps choral singers to learn the notes quicker so that I have more time for my interpretation”, is how conductor Klaus Brecht sums up practicing with the digital coach. He added, “when it comes to repeating passages, it is more patient than me; each singer can decide how he or she wants to use it.” Lots of singers in Brecht’s chamber choir Tritonus confirm that preparation for choir rehearsals is definitely more fun with carus music: “It was really fun to have the opportunity to practice the piece with the full sound at home”, one of the singers enthused. And one advantage which should not be underestimated – the choral singers, whose daily life is not exclusively devoted to singing, valued the straightforwardness of the app: “When you’ve got some free time you can have a quick listen, and you’ve got the music right there.” Those choral singers who learn their parts mainly by listening see the coach as an invaluable support.

Choral director Klaus Brecht regards the fact that first-class ensembles such as the Stuttgart Kammerchor can be heard on the app as a huge advantage: “Intonation is a strong reason to practice with the app, because you’re always practicing with a choir which has excellent intonation. And the difference between practicing with the piano is the fact that the singer is always surrounded by a very good choral sound, which hopefully soon filters down to him or her.” For choral singers a similar motivating argument: “I found my first listening to the piece super, because the recording is lovely and I always had the overall sound right there,” enthused one singer.

Here you could find all works with carus plus.

 

Carus Choir Coach – practice aids on CD

cover-medium_large_fileEncouraged by the enthusiastic reception of the choir app, Carus-Verlag gave further thought to the idea of the individual practicing: so that those who do not have smart phones or tablets can benefit from the coach, this is now also on offer in the form of practice CDs in the “Carus Choir Coach” series.

 

Vocal scores XL

cover-medium_large_file-1And we have responded to a frequently-heard wish from choral singers regarded printed music scores: for many works Carus also offers vocal scores in large print – the Vocal scores XL series – enabling, for example, singers with less than perfect eyesight to enjoy more relaxed reading.

Klaus Brecht’s chamber choir is convinced by the carus plus range without exception: “we’ve definitely saved two to three rehearsals with what everyone has done at home”, was one soprano’s opinion of practising with the app. And there was unanimity amongst the singers in the chamber choir, especially about the fun and motivation factor of carus music, the choir app, as one alto confirmed: “It’s really been fun to practise, because you can always hear this wonderful choir. And so I’ve certainly practised more than normal.”

What more could a conductor ask for?

 

 


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Thought-provoking articles by musicians for musicians, music lovers or those that want to learn more about it!

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