Archive for the 'choral' Category

In Another Guise: Recycling and Borrowing in J. S. Bach’s Works

By Dr. Uwe Wolf, Chief Editor of Carus Verlag

It may seem surprising that Johann Sebastian Bach’s oratorios and masses are based to a large extent on parody, and that they were originally composed to a quite different text. This does not, however, diminish the fascination which they exert. Of course, when the timpani notes we are all so familiar with from the Christmas Oratorio are suddenly followed by the choir singing “Tönet, ihr Pauken,” this is a revelatory moment. And despite that, for us, each timpani beat is closely associated with the Christmas acclamation “Jauchzet, frohlocket” – not only because we’ve always known it like that, but also because, freed from that all-too-obvious link to the emphatic “hammering” invitation, it perhaps even gains something in artistic value.

A musical journey which explores the precursors of famous major works is exciting and illuminating. Bach’s masses re-use many sections from his own sacred vocal works – the so-called “Lutheran masses” BWV 233–236 (see Carus 31.233, 31.234, 31.235, 31.236) contains musical borrowings from several of his cantatas, as does Bach’s “opus ultimum,” the Mass in B minor. Bach’s Lutheran masses are performed rather infrequently, so parts of them are perhaps better known today in their original cantata form than in the transformed guise as a movement in a mass. But it is quite the opposite with the Mass in B minor. While this is one of Bach’s most frequently-performed works, many of its precursors now lead rather a shadowy existence. Here, Bach’s choice of material for reuse in the Mass in B minor can be regarded as a guide to finding that which is very special in the wealth of his cantatas. Indeed, it has long been assumed that in his opus ultimum Bach combined the best of his church music and may have also wanted to place it in a larger, more universal context. There are borrowings or parallel arrangements from BWV 11 (Agnus Dei), BWV 12 (Crucifixus), BWV 29 (Gratias), BWV 46 (Qui tollis), BWV 120 (Et expecto), BWV 171 (Patrem omnipotentem), and BWV 215 (Osanna). Audiences will prick up their ears at well-known movements in another guise heard in concerts, as will choral singers at the first rehearsals!

As well as these borrowings from the cantatas, in his Mass in B minor Bach used part of previously existing music from his Missa of 1733 and the splendid Sanctus of 1724 (the Carus CD of the Mass in B minor contains a recording of this version of the Sanctus, which differs in many details). Before Bach turned the Missa of 1733 into the first part of the Mass in B minor in 1748, he made use of it in another Latin Christmas music setting at the beginning of the 1740s: the magnificent and far too seldom heard Cantata Gloria in excelsis Deo BWV 191 with a direct borrowing and two Latin parodies of movements from the Gloria of the Mass in B minor.

Bach’s parody practice not only draws our attention to the special treasures amongst his output of cantatas, but also serves as a means of enabling missing compositions to be recreated. In the process we can take advantage of the fact that Bach took pains to adapt parody texts to fit his existing compositions – and in Christian Friedrich Henrici, alias Picander (1700–1764) he found a master at this art of writing poetry. As these parody texts had to match the original exactly in terms of meter and structure, we can perhaps now identify which piece of music was used as a basis from the meter of the poem. There are now all sorts of theories and speculations about this, but a whole series of clear parody relationships can be established beyond reasonable doubt.

Bach’s missing compositions which can be partially reconstructed in this way include his St. Mark Passion. Only the text survives of the Passion itself, but straight away several movements display such a similarity to movements in the Funeral ode BWV 198, that it is almost beyond doubt that the corresponding movements are based on that model. Two further movements can be reconstructed from other cantatas and for the (numerous) chorales, movements in Bach’s oeuvre can similarly be found. But the Passion story – the heart of the Passion – is missing, and cannot be reconstructed. Here, too, it is worth looking at the models. The Funeral ode survives complete and is one of J.S. Bach’s most outstanding vocal works, not only in the quality of the individual movements, but as a complete whole per se, including the exquisitely scored accompagnati which were not incorporated into the Passion. It is one of his most richly colored and impressive compositions of all, characterized by the sound of gambas and lutes, as well as the woodwinds, especially the flutes – up to the death knell in the flutes and pizzicato strings in the alto accompagnato. And scarcely any other cantata serves up three such magnificent and varied choral movements: the opening tombeau in dotted rhythms, a large choral fugue in the middle, and the unique, dance-like final chorus with its constantly surprising choral unisons. The text by Johann Christoph Gottsched on the death of the Electress Christiane Eberhardine is not really suitable for church services, but it is on another literary level from some of the birthday cantatas and is suitable for concert performance at any time. Thus here is a plea for a revival of the precursors!

Dr. Uwe Wolf has been Chief Editor of Carus since October 2011. Before that he researched the music of Bach for over 20 years. Thanks to his work as Editorial Director of the Selected Works, Gottfried August Homilius is no longer a neglected composer.

StreamSing: A Free Virtual Reading Session with Jubilate Music Group

As our Annual Choral Sale continues, we’d like to highlight a fantastic opportunity to explore new music for Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas .

Join host Mark Cabaniss, President & CEO of Jubilate Music Group, as special guest Mary McDonald shares thoughts on her featured pieces plus the upcoming fall/Christmas singing season.

In this approximately hour-long express session, Mark previews new music from Jubilate Music Group for Thanksgiving, Advent & Christmas from Mary McDonald, Lloyd Larson, Mark Hayes, Hal Hopson, and more.

Here are just a few of the titles featured in StreamSing:

Emerging from Our Caves

Guest post by composer Robert Sterling

I’ve often said that if I were to compare myself to an animal it would be a bear. A Grizzly, to be more specific. Grizzlies eat half the year and sleep the remaining half. And they spend a lot of time in a cave. They are okay being alone. That describes the life of the composer/arranger in a lot of ways, actually.

I work in a cave – a very nice cave, mind you. I have high-speed internet, quality studio gear, central heat & air, and a bathroom and kitchen very nearby. But it’s still essentially a cave. And when I’m not working, all too often I am either eating or sleeping. Oh, and I growl a lot, but that’s more about my personality. All in all, I’m okay in my cave.

But for the past eighteen months or so, the whole world has been in a cave, isolated from our fellow bears (I mean human beings) except for Netflix, Prime Video, and Zoom. That is not normal for the vast majority of people. Now, we are slowly emerging to see if the world outside has changed much, and if so, how.

Continue reading ‘Emerging from Our Caves’

Vocal Warm-Up Cheat Sheet: An Easy Way to Improve the Sound of Your Choir

Composer Michael John Trotta has prepared a cheat sheet full of vocal warm-ups to help you get your choir back in the swing of things and sounding better than ever.

Download Michael John Trotta’s Vocal Warm-Up Cheat Sheet here:

Continue reading ‘Vocal Warm-Up Cheat Sheet: An Easy Way to Improve the Sound of Your Choir’

Restore Our Song: A Homecoming

Guest post by composers Lee & Susan Dengler introducing Restore Our Song: A Resource for Restarting Your Choir, which includes an opening “kick-off” fellowship and service, devotions on the themes of deliverance and renewal, easy anthem suggestions to get the choir back in shape quickly, service ideas including a hymn sing, recruitment tips, a simple chorus for choir and congregation titled “Restore Our Song,” and more.

Finally, they were on their way!  After years of exile in Babylon, God’s people were returning to Judah.  Though some had decided to remain in Babylon, a contingent, led by the priest and scribe, Ezra, began the journey home.  To them, Babylon was still a land where they simply could not sing the Lord’s song, even when coaxed by their captors.  All they had been able to do was to hang their harps, the instruments that had once accompanied their voices, on the willow trees that stood guard by the river.  The drooping branches of the trees had served as a visual reminder of their own weeping. 

And then, they were home in their beloved native land!  In the second chapter of the book of Ezra, we find the listing of folks who returned to Jerusalem and other Judean towns. There were the priests, the temple servants, the gatekeepers of the temple.  And, there were the singers!

As the foundations of the new temple were laid, the singers began their song, as they praised and gave thanks to the Lord.  For those who listened, there was a mixture of emotions.  While some shouted for joy, others, who had remembered the former temple and all they had endured, wept with a loud voice.  It was hard to distinguish the shouts of joy from the noise of their crying.  Nevertheless, the combined sound of joyous shouts, sorrowful weeping and glorious singing could be heard for miles around.

We have thought about these people many times during the months of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after we learned that singing in groups had the ability to spread the virus more virulently than almost anything else.  How could we sing the Lord’s song in such a land?  But now, it seems that we too are on our way home.  Almost daily, we learn of positive indicators that tell us that choirs can safely return to in-person, close-up, full-choir singing.  Thanks be to God!  This is the news for which we have been waiting over these past, long months!

Continue reading ‘Restore Our Song: A Homecoming’

Wounded Alleluias

Guest post by Joseph M. Martin, Composer and Director of Sacred Publications for Shawnee Press

The quest to combine ministry with artistry has been a lifelong calling for me.  I have always found my place and purpose in this pursuit.  Composing animates me and breathes into my spirit an inner peace that is deeply sacred.

Reassuring rituals are part of my writing process—simple disciplines made special by repetition, reminding me to be grateful for the labor to which I have been called. With faithful regularity the process unfolds over and over, familiar yet surprising, comfortable yet challenging.

Continue reading ‘Wounded Alleluias’

How to Make Your Own Virtual Choir

Make your own virtual choir performance in just 8 steps. This guide includes tips for planning the project, recording participant tracks, and editing the submissions into a final performance ready to post and send. For related technology and tools, visit Sheet Music Plus.

You’ve seen them everywhere online: grids of iPhone videos of people singing together in chorus. From Broadway stars and professional choral groups to church and community choirs and even ad hoc regional and global networks of singers, the defining group music making moment of the decade so far is…

VIRTUAL CHOIR

Here we’ll walk you through what a virtual choir is and give you a step-by-step guide to creating your own, whether for the choir you regularly sing with or direct, or for a new group of singers you’ve brought together for a specific project.

Continue reading ‘How to Make Your Own Virtual Choir’

StreamSing: A Free Virtual Reading Session with Jubilate Music Group

As our annual Sacred Choral Sale continues, we’d like to highlight a fantastic opportunity to explore new music for spring and Easter.

Join host Mark Cabaniss, President & CEO of Jubilate Music Group, and his special guest, composer Lloyd Larson, for StreamSing, a free virtual reading session.

In this approximately hour-long express session, Mark and Lloyd tell stories, look ahead to our future opportunities for ministry and community as church singers, and preview new music perfect for distanced, streaming and virtual choirs from Mary McDonald, Lloyd Larson, Tom Fettke and more.

Here are just a few of the titles featured in StreamSing:

Continue reading ‘StreamSing: A Free Virtual Reading Session with Jubilate Music Group’

New Pandemic Relief Funding for Your Chorus – Apply Today

Guest post by Jacob Levine, the founder of Chorus Connection and a proud member of the NYC Gay Men’s Chorus. Article reposted with permission from Chorus Connection. See the original post here.

On December 27, 2020, after a tumultuous political rollercoaster, the President signed into law another COVID stimulus package as part of an omnibus spending bill, the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021. The 5,600 page bill contains nearly $1 trillion in pandemic relief, including four funding opportunities for which your chorus may be eligible.

Note: This blog is only relevant for organizations based in the U.S.

What’s Happening Right Now?

Once a bill like this is passed, the next step is that the Small Business Administration (SBA) must issue official guidance — in the form of Interim Final Rules (IFRs) — on exactly how the administration plans to implement the new law. The SBA released two initial IFRs on January 8 about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): general guidance for all PPP loans and specific guidance for second draw loans. Additional information is not yet available for the non-PPP programs mentioned in this blog.

In the meantime, below is a list of the funding opportunities and what you need to know now.

Continue reading ‘New Pandemic Relief Funding for Your Chorus – Apply Today’

VOCES8 Premieres Six New Commissions during LIVE From London – Christmas Festival

On December 5, 2020, as part of its LIVE From London – Christmas online festival, British choral ensemble VOCES8 premiered six new pieces by composers Jocelyn Hagen, Taylor Scott Davis, Ken Burton, Roderick Williams, Paul Smith and Melissa Dunphy.

The 6 New Commissions

Now Winter Nights

Roderick Williams
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Now Winter Nights” by British composer and baritone Roderick Williams uses an evocative poem by Thomas Campion as its text, helping him to pinpoint the excitement of Christmas he felt as a child and still holds onto.

Continue reading ‘VOCES8 Premieres Six New Commissions during LIVE From London – Christmas Festival’

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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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