Powerful 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.
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.
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.
This honesty should not 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 also sounds strikingly Medieval. Though perhaps most obvious in the opening of the “Kyrie” and the “Agnus Dei,” the feeling of the chant is present throughout the entire Mass. more “Discovering Mårten Jansson & Bärenreiter’s Jansson Choral Competition”…
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. more “Dark Is the New Bright”…
Years ago, I had the privilege of participating in a week-long choral arranging workshop led by legendary choral composer/arranger Alice Parker, held at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. That week spent with Ms. Parker had a tremendous impact on not only my own choral composing and arranging, but my eventual role as a publisher as well. Of the many wise and invaluable things she said to the class, one of several that resonated with me was when she said “There are good marshmallows and bad marshmallows.” more “Sacred Spotlight: Good Marshmallows”…
Teaching Music through Performance is a best-selling series of books and CDs that are theoretical, practical, and analytical. Written, researched, and compiled by scholars with a wealth of teaching and conducting experience, this series enables conductors, educators, and students to move beyond the printed page toward full musical awareness. Sheet Music Plus had the opportunity to learn from the publisher what inspired the creation of the series.
The first edition of Volume 1 was for band and was released at the Midwest Clinic in 1997. This year, 2017 is the 20th anniversary of the series. The Teaching Music through Performance series now includes 26 volumes, 16 for band, three for jazz, three for orchestra, and four for choir. In addition, each volume has accompanying CDs.
Iconic imagery of the Easter story is paired with a beautiful melodic figure that weaves throughout the entire work to help present and guide the audience through this work. The music by Pepper Choplin, accompanied by Michael Lawrence’s stunning orchestration, powerfully represents the high and low moments of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Additional choruses and hymns illumine the journey, including the haunting “Go to Dark Gethsemane,” the spine-tingling “Judas,” the mournful “Surely He Has Borne Our Griefs,” the transportive “You Will Be with Me in Paradise,” and the majestically triumphant “Every Knee Should Bow.”
This spring, Sheet Music Plus held a school choral program contest, in which choir directors at the elementary, middle, high school and college levels were encouraged to submit the repertoire list for their schools’ spring choral concerts. The choral programs were judged based on originality, thematic content and age appropriateness. The winners received a $200 gift certificate to Sheet Music Plus. They shared the inspiration behind their creative programming with us. Congratulations, winners!
Iron Forge Elementary School
Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania
Theme: “The Iron Forge Construction . . . Through Music of Course!”
1. The Easter Story by Thomas Fettke & Thomas Grassi SATB Performance Time: 35 minutes
The Easter Story combines a profound narrative by Ken Bible with musical selections from Tom Fettke and Thomas Grassi. Fettke and Grassi have drawn upon several folk music sources, including hymns from The Sacred Harp and The Columbian Harmony, and spirituals, carols and songs from English, Irish and Hebrew traditions. The narrative is steeped in scripture, helping to relive the events in Jerusalem leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
You and your choir have worked tirelessly on uniform vowel formation, well-tuned singing, focusing the tone, singing correct notes, beautiful phrase lines. You’re feeling good. But step back and give a listen and you’ll often find there isn’t a consonant to be heard. It is our task as singers to articulate so the listeners can share in the delicious words and message.
We want clear, well-defined consonants in our singing and it’s a challenge to achieve. When our listeners know the text as in a well-known hymn or carol, we are understood because the context is known. This is far from the case when the text is unknown.
The topic of consonants is far-reaching, but here are a few tips I use in rehearsing in the English language with my volunteer choir.