Posts Tagged 'sacred choral music'

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.

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

Top 5 New Cantatas for Lent and Easter

1. The Easter Story by Thomas Fettke & Thomas Grassi
SATB
Performance Time: 35 minutes

Cantata_Easter_Story

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.

This cantata recommends using two narrators, but can be performed with one. It is beautiful whether accompanied by piano or orchestra. Continue reading ‘Top 5 New Cantatas for Lent and Easter’


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