Posts Tagged 'sheet music'

Guide to Remote Music Education

A black man sits in the living room of his apartment and plays a synthesizer. He composes music.

So much of what makes music fun for us is sharing it with others: playing in ensembles, performing concerts, worshipping with our congregations, and teaching our craft. Unfortunately, many of us have found the usual ways we gather together to share music abruptly curtailed recently. With the help of technology, though, teachers and students alike can access a plethora of opportunities for distance learning through online lessons and rehearsals, practice aids, self-instruction and advancement, and sheer repertoire exploration.

Here’s our guide to navigating distance music learning and instruction. Let us know if you have any tips or pointers, and we’ll be happy to share them with our community!

Moving Lessons & Rehearsals Online

Online lessons work. Not only will they help all of us maintain a sense of normalcy, they allow teachers and ensemble directors an opportunity to see and hear their students differently, which can help point out new areas of weakness and opportunities for improvement.

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Unless you’re trying to make online instruction a new permanent part of your pedagogy, you don’t need fancy technical equipment. Just use your computer, tablet or smartphone with a good Internet connection and, if you prefer, maybe headphones or earbuds.

You will need to develop a vision for how these lessons will look, but your considerations can be limited to the following:

  • What platform are you going to use?

VideoCallIconOrangeA lot of teachers like Zoom because it’s free and stocked with features, but other options include Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and many more.

If you’re more interested in something like a masterclass, lecture or group rehearsal, it might instead be worth checking out Crowdcast to make the experience more user-friendly. Though this is a paid service, there are longer session limits, an integrated chat for students, Q&A features, and the ability to invite students or guests to join on screen.

To do a virtual choir recording, try GarageBand or SoundTrap EDU (by SoundCloud) to have singers record on top of each other and hear the previously recorded parts as they go.

  • How will your setup look on camera?

Make sure you have enough space and lighting, and make sure that the elements that students need to see are easily visible on screen. Do a practice run with a fellow music teacher to check.

  • What tools do students have, and what will they need?

If students need to install software or access equipment like music stands and metronomes, let them know how and where they can get these in advance of their lessons or rehearsals.

  • What should the student be paying attention to during the lesson?

Some teachers, for instance, advise students to watch the stream of themselves during a one-on-one lesson. The streams acts like a mirror, letting the student see their body alignment and make automatic adjustments.

Expect a couple kinks when you’re getting started, but you’ll be able to iron these out pretty quickly and easily.

Developing a Practice Plan

planner-2428871_640Many students, especially those who are younger or at earlier stages in their musical education, don’t know how to practice effectively. While this is a challenge for any environment, distance learning requires students to be more self-directed.

When helping students develop a practice plan, consider these ideas:

  • Set a specific time and day for practice
  • Set specific goals: For instance, play a difficult passage correctly 5 times, rather than playing it correctly only once and moving on, to reinforce getting it right.
  • Break down the practice session into timed segments between warm-up, literature/technique study and performance.

Bookending a practice session with comfortable, familiar playing helps students feel good about playing and balance challenges with success.

Online Music Education Resources & Support

Whether you teach individual lessons or lead instrumental or choral ensembles, there are a number of music methods and series that have online tools to support instruction and practice.

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  • SmartMusic: This web-based suite of music education tools includes play-along accompaniment tracks, melody examples and masterclass videos, as well as enrichment pages with theory, music history and exercises, and access to a vast library of repertoire. Not only is this a supplement to the Suzuki Method and to the Sound Innovations series for both band and orchestra, this is also a powerful versatile platform to aid one-on-one lessons, remote classrooms and rehearsals, and individual practice.

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  • Essential Elements Music Class: A cloud-based service for elementary music classes, this tool offers recordings and classroom activity videos for hundreds of songs, as well as a comprehensive collection of teaching materials, including interactive activities, games, virtual Orff instruments, listening maps, recorder and ukulele units, custom lesson creation, and more.
  • Carus plus for choir: The carus music app contains recordings with amplified individual voice parts, tempo control and a marker feature for following the score to help choral singers learn new music from Carus quickly.

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  • Noteflight Learn: Free for music educators affected by closures through June 30, this web-based tool lets teachers create sheet music and composition assignments, and also lets students can also listen to, play or record any piece of music in the Noteflight library at any tempo in any key.
  • MusicFirst: A comprehensive Learning Management System for K-12 music education, this cloud-based suite of services offers an expansive library of lessons, assessments, content and complete courses to help teachers monitor students’ progress, make lesson plans and create assignments.
  • The Shed: This site is full of digestible lessons in theory, notation, rhythm, improvisation and more.
  • MetronomeOnline: This mobile app for iOS and Android helps organize and track practice time with time tracking, task lists, goal settings and a metronome.

Mark Hayes: Perfect Postludes

The postlude following a service makes creation resound with praise and allows the congregation to leave the church proclaiming God’s greatness. As the signal for the congregation to disperse, it should be a stirring exclamation point to the service that connects the worship experience to the secular world to which the crowd of people is about to return.

PerfectPostludesWhat makes a perfect postlude? Mark Hayes answers this question with his new collection, Perfect Postludes: Hymns and Spirituals to Close the Service, which contains the following ten selections:

  • Jesus Shall Reign
  • I’m Gonna Sing When the Spirit Says Sing
  • Joyful Day
  • Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
  • O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
  • I Want Jesus to Walk with Me
  • To God Be the Glory
  • Noble March
  • Lead On, O King Eternal
  • They’ll Know We Are Christians

Here Hayes himself describes his collection and what makes it so useful for today’s church pianist:

 

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Mark Hayes

Choosing a postlude can be difficult at times because we are playing “going out” or “exit” music. Should it be stately or lively, peaceful or joyful? Whatever you choose, I hope you will find some new favorites in Perfect Postludes.

I have chosen well-known hymns and lively spirituals. Each piece grabs your attention from the very first measure as if to say, “Go forth in joy!” I’ve included two new compositions, “Noble March” and “Joyful Day,” that are perfect for processing or recessing. All the compositions are on the short side, with a few just over three minutes and many less than that. I hope you’ll find all the pieces useable at any time during worship, not just as “going forth” music.

How wonderful that we, as church pianists, get to send our congregants on their way with a spirit of joy and praise!

 

You can listen to two of the hymns, “Joyful Day” and “Lead On, O King Eternal,” with the score here:

Bright Star: Gareth Malone Gets the Whole School Singing!

In a January 2019 survey, BPI (British Phonographic Industry) found that British state schools had seen a 21% decrease in music provision over the previous five years, with this decrease disproportionately affecting schools serving less affluent communities.

HL00295016 Bright Star G Malone Cvr.inddTo address this situation, TV star and conductor Gareth Malone of BBC Two’s The Choir has joined forces with teacher Catherine de Sybel to create an exciting new music resource for schools, Bright Star: Inclusive Songs for Whole-Group Singing. Catchy, heartfelt, accessible and fun, the book includes a song co-written with Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. Equally suitable for small groups, school choirs or the entire school, these engaging songs cover a wide range of themes including life choices, friendship and community, the environment, bereavement and growing up.

The songs are written to get the whole school singing confidently and are appropriate for all ages, with a particular focus on children aged 8–14, bridging the gap between Key Stages 2 and 3, when children are more likely to give up singing.

 

“We believe that singing has enormous benefits to children’s mental and physical well-being and that it should be an integral part of every child’s school day. The simple act of breathing and singing together can be so valuable in fostering a sense of community and shared values. We hope that the subject matter will resonate with pupils and their teachers and we have included some pointers for discussion in the introduction to each song. We want pupils of all faiths and none to experience the joy of singing and most importantly for every school to be a singing school!”

— Gareth & Catherine

 

Designed to be user-friendly for music teachers and particularly non-specialist teachers, the Bright Star pack includes full scores, demo and backing tracks to download, and photocopiable melody and lyric sheets. Introductory notes on the songs provide support in learning and performing, as well as discussion points for use in the classroom.

About Gareth Malone

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Gareth Malone

Gareth Malone OBE, is well-known around the world as a broadcaster, composer and choral animateur. He has won two BAFTAs for his BBC Two series The Choir, and has been making programs for the BBC for over 14 years. Other achievements include working as an artistic director for a Royal Opera House community opera, and working with orchestra and opera education departments, including the LSO, Philharmonia, Glyndebourne and ENO Baylis.

Gareth has had two number-one singles in the UK, the first in 2011 with the Military Wives Choir, followed by the Gareth Malone All Star Choir for Children in Need three years later. He has also had two number one albums: In My Dreams with the Military Wives, and his latest, Music for Healing, which is currently at the top of the specialist classical charts. His 2014 series The Big Performance 3 won the Royal Television Society award for best children’s television, and Gareth Goes to Glyndebourne won an International Emmy in 2011. In 2012 he was honored with an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen for services to music.

Gareth continues to compose with young people and to work with emerging artists. He has recorded with some of the leading performers in the UK and has just released his third album, Music for Healing.

About Catherine de Sybel

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Catherine de Sybel

Catherine de Sybel is a composer, pianist and music educator. She read music at the University of Cambridge and continued with postgraduate studies in composition at the École Normale de Musique in Paris, where she won the prestigious Premier Prix for her work for mezzo-soprano and piano, Imagination.

Her teaching career, spanning over twenty years, has encompassed work in mainstream, private and specialist schools, always driving inclusive music education to the forefront of the curriculum. As Head of Music at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, she facilitated outreach projects with the London Symphony Orchestra, London Sinfonietta and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, as well as high profile performances for Her Majesty the Queen and Michelle Obama.

In addition to her work inside the classroom, she has led music composition workshops for trainee teachers at the University of Cambridge, mentored beginner teachers from the Institute of Education and worked as Schools Projects Manager at the London Symphony Orchestra.

Catherine believes passionately in the power of music to inspire and educate and has dedicated her career to enabling the finest musical opportunities for children from all backgrounds whilst encouraging young voices to be heard from every corner of her school.

Revisiting Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Mass in C minor (K. 427) stands alongside the Requiem (K. 626) as his most remarkable church composition. Today it enjoys almost cult status, first because of its monumentality, which is unique in Mozart’s sacred vocal music, and second because, like the Requiem, it partakes of the aura of the unfinished and mysterious. The exact circumstances that gave rise to it as a votive mass have eluded explanation to the present day. The same applies to the reasons why it was left unfinished and to many details of its first performance, which, as far as we know, took place at St. Peter’s Church, Salzburg, on October 26, 1783. Finally, the transmission of the original sources also raises many questions. Indeed, it is astonishing that the Mass, although left as a torso, was performed at all during Mozart’s final visit to Salzburg.

It seems that the work had not been commissioned but that it was written to fulfill a vow, which is vaguely discernable in the incomplete correspondence with this father, as he writes on January 4, 1783 in response to his father’s reproaches:

“It is quite true about my moral obligation and indeed I let the word flow from my pen on purpose. I made the promise in my heart of hearts and hope to be able to keep it. When I made it, my wife was not yet married; yet, as I was absolutely determined to marry her after her recovery, it was easy for me to make it — but, as you yourself are aware, time and other circumstances made our journey impossible. The score of half of a mass, which is still lying here waiting to be finished, is the best proof that I really made the promise.”

The mention of the Mass in this context makes clear that the work did not, as is occasionally presumed, owe its existence to an external incentive, such as the 1,200th anniversary of the Bishopric of Salzburg, officially celebrated in 1782.

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Constanze Mozart

By all appearances, his wife, Constanze’s, participation was an indispensable part of Mozart’s vow, and in fact this may have been one reason that the first performance of the Mass took place at St. Peter’s, rather than the Salzburg Cathedral, since in the eighteenth century, women were still not allowed to partake in musical performances for church worship. Indeed, the delicate and deeply moving soprano solos of the “Christe eleison” in the “Kyrie” and, perhaps most famously, the “Et incarnatus est” in the “Credo” (called “matchless” by Pope Francis, who proclaimed in an August 2013 interview that the aria “lifts you to God!”) are widely considered as love offerings by the composer to his soprano wife.

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Just as we must forever wonder about the voice that inspired Mozart to write such sublime music, we must also forever wonder how Mozart would have completed the Mass, for the work has come down to us in fragments. Moreover, not only were some sections of the Ordinary Mass left unset, with others only left in advanced drafts, even some of the sections that Mozart finished have come down to us incomplete.

MozartCMinorMassBärenreiter, working together with the International Mozarteum Foundation Foundation in Salzburg, has published a new edition of this work, reflecting the cutting edge of scholarship while doing justice to the needs of performers. This new edition completes and reconstructs movements according to high scholarly standards in order to come as close as possible to the work itself:

  • The “Kyrie” and “Gloria,” both of which survive complete in Mozart’s hand, are presented in a scholarly-critical Urtext edition.
  • The first two sections of the “Credo” have been meticulously completed by the editor, Ulrich Leisinger, drawing on original Mozart compositions, e.g. the aria “Deh vieni non tardar” from The Marriage of Figaro, and paying attention to a stylistically appropriate and transparent sound.
  • The “Sanctus” and “Benedictus” (with the “Hosanna”), which are either incomplete or survive only in secondary sources, have been reconstructed by the editor.

More specifically, editor Ulrich Leisinger comments on some of his key findings in this new edition:

  • On the use of trumpets and timpani in “Credo in unum Deum”: “To omit trumpets and timpani at the opening of the Credo, appropriately set in C major, is to contradict eighteenth-century church music practice.”
  • On the use of trombones in “Credo in unum Deum” when no wind score came down to us: “As with the Sanctus, Mozart probably would have entered the trombones [in the wind score], for he normally did not have them play continuously ‘colla parte’ with the lower voices.”

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  • On the absence of horns in “Et incarnatus est”: “The Figaro aria ‘Deh vieni non tardar’ K. 492 (1786) in particular reveals such striking parallels in its handling of the instruments that the expansion of the orchestration to include two horns, as is found in other reconstructions, has little justification. As in other scores, when Mozart prepared his staves, he entered systems which he did not necessarily make use of when he later filled in the instrumentation.”
  • On the reconstruction of the “Hosanna” fugue for double choir: “Of special significance is the observation that Mozart’s Salzburg church compositions for double choir invariably have the three trombones playing ‘colla voce’ together with choir I.”

Reconstructed and added parts are rendered in small print. Sections without any known sources are left out in this edition. Rounding off the publication are an extensive Foreword (Ger/Eng) and a detailed Critical Commentary (Eng).

The premiere of Ulrich Leisinger’s new edition was given in April 2019 in the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg by the Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra and the ChorWerk Ruhr under the baton of Kent Nagano. The first Austrian performance took place in Salzburg in August 2019 in the Great Hall of the Mozarteum, with Andrew Manze conducting the Salzburg Camerata to rousing applause from audience and critics alike.

Darcy Stanley: Seasonal Settings for Worship

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Darcy Stanley

Guest post by Darcy Stanley introducing her new collection of sacred piano music, Seasonal Settings for Worship. Stanley, a composer, arranger, lyricist and orchestrator, has published many choral works, solo and duet arrangements, piano arrangements and orchestrations. As a pianist, she has been designated Permanent Professional Certified Teacher of Music in Piano from Music Teachers National Association, and has served as adjudicator for various music festivals and piano competitions. Stanley worked as adjunct music professor at Faith Baptist Bible College for 15 years, teaching piano and Choral Writing and Arranging. She and her husband, Tim, live in Greenville, SC, where she is pianist and director of orchestra and instrumental ensembles at Cornerstone Baptist Church.

 

SeasonalSettingsForWorshipLet everything that has breath praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6) I have had the joy of praising the Lord through music since I was a child. As a little girl, I found great joy in playing the piano and singing for anyone who would listen. My sweet grandfather was my favorite and most frequent audience!

Many years have passed since those early days, and I am thankful for the numerous opportunities I have had to serve the Lord and praise Him with music. Serving as church pianist for most of my adult life has given me an appreciation of the importance of music in worship services. Pianists need to be prepared with more than just a few of their favorite hymns. Special services and occasions require music that will specifically enhance the worship service with an intentional purpose.

I have enjoyed preparing this collection of piano arrangements to meet the needs for various occasions of the church year. I love the great hymns that I have been singing since childhood. I have written arrangements of some of my favorites and have given them a fresh sound, while still keeping them in a style that fits the lyrics.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come before His presence with singing! (Psalm 100:1-2) It is my desire that you will sing the words of these great hymns in your heart as you play them. May you find great joy in giving glory to God in all that you do!

 

Listen to two of the hymns from Seasonal Settings for Worship, “Just As I Am” and “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today,” here:

Sightreading. Solved.

FPALogoNancy and Randall Faber are pleased to announce the release of their newest digital support tool, the Piano Adventure Sightreading Coach. This innovative technology provides immediate feedback and assessment, making it the perfect companion to the Piano Adventures Sightreading books.

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The Sightreading Coach “listens” to the student play along with the score, and instantly grades rhythm and pitch by highlighting incorrect notes and rhythms. Students can practice the exercise as often as they wish, and upload their best performance to the teacher in between lessons. Teachers can monitor student progress without using valuable lesson time, making at-home practice more accurate and efficient.

The app is free to teachers, and contains all the exercise from nine progressive levels in the Piano Adventures Sightreading libraryPrimer, Levels 1, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B, 4, and Accelerated Levels 1 and 2. These carefully composed variations on the Lesson Book pieces help students see the “new” against the background of the “familiar.” Students play one exercise per day, completing one set per week.

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The Sightreading Coach can be used with any piano or keyboard. No cables are required. Access online with the Chrome web browser, or on mobile with iOS and Android apps. Teachers sign up for free, and invite parents and students to the app. Each student is just $2/month after a 30-day free trial. Learn more and download Faber’s Quick Start Guide.

Pepper Choplin: Once upon a Morning – From Resurrection to Pentecost

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Pepper Choplin

Guest post by composer Pepper Choplin introducing his new cantata, Once upon a Morning: From Resurrection to Pentecost. Choplin is known as one of the most creative writers in church music today. With a diverse musical background, Choplin incorporates varied styles such as folk, Gospel, classical, and jazz. His published works include over 300 anthems for church and school choir with 20 church cantatas and two books of piano arrangements, and over 120 groups have commissioned him to write original works for them. Since 1991, his choral music has sold several million copies. Choplin has conducted eight New York concerts of his music at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center with 250 voices and full orchestra. In his hometown of Raleigh, he has conducted eight mass performances of his cantatas at Meymandi Auditorium (home to the NC Symphony) with over two hundred voices and orchestra. In 2019, he conducted Handel’s Messiah (Christmas portion) with the 150-voice Cary Community Choir with orchestra. He also visits many schools, churches and conferences to conduct and to entertain. 

 

OnceUponAMorningI always wanted to write this cantata. Then a church in Pennsylvania commissioned me to write a spring cantata outside of the typical Easter work. For a year, I surveyed directors and singers about different potential subjects. This idea got them most excited.

I loved writing this cantata. These wonderful stories don’t receive much attention in church music. Yet, they contain so much drama and passion.

Just before I began, I saw the musical Hamilton. While there is not a word of rap here, Hamilton gave me courage to write with more fire, using plenty of text and rhythm.

“Once Upon a Morning” (Easter) — This musical sunrise leads us to celebrate the Resurrection: “When the stone was rolled away surely death had lost its prey to the miracle of life!” Note the pairing of the main theme with the “Easter Hymn.” There is just enough here to lead the congregation to sing the hymn afterward.

“Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?” (Easter) — This piece drives to capture the excitement of this powerful question. It also says, “Go and tell the others that Jesus is alive,” and quotes the “Easter Hymn.”

“Didn’t Our Hearts Burn Within Us?” (after Easter) — I’ve always thought this was the most powerful quote from the Emmaus road. This ballad tells the story, then encourages the listener to let the word live within us all. It is very inspiring with a hint of gospel to move the heart.

“Thomas Believes” (after Easter) — This dramatic musical dialogue leads through Thomas’s transition from doubt to full belief. Sung with one or two soloists, the choir takes on the role of the disciples. It concludes with a great celebration of faith.

“Blessed Are the Ones Who Believe” (appropriate anytime) — This simple statement by Christ is a profound expression of encouragement. After the drama of the previous piece, it has a comforting chorale feel: “Blessed are the ones…who live their lives with faith and follow in my way; who dare to believe in the Resurrection and the Life.”

“Cast Your Nets” (appropriate anytime) — “Try something that you haven’t tried. Cast your nets on the other side.” I’ve already heard from people in the studio and churches where I’ve sung this hearty call. They remark at how they were inspired to listen to Christ’s words and take a chance on a new direction. Many of our churches need to cast their nets on the other side.

“He Is Lifted Up” (appropriate anytime) — This boisterous fanfare proclaims the text with rapid-fire rhythm. I don’t see many anthems focusing on the powerful event of the Ascension. It uses a Hebrews passage to celebrate the Lordship of Christ. The anthem drives to the end with a final celebration carried by the tune used most commonly for “Like a River Glorious.” It is so triumphant that it could be used as the finale with Day of Pentecost being sung at another time.

“Day of Pentecost” — Through the high energy rhythm you can visualize the rushing wind and the tongues of fire. It leads to Peter’s bold sermon, quoting Joel, “Your sons and daughters will rise. They will boldly prophesy.” The “Easter Hymn” tune appears again to carry the Spirit text. The congregation is encouraged to sing, “Holy Spirit, come today. Alleluia! Through Your power, we will say, ‘Alleluia.’”

Watch Pepper Choplin in the studio conducting the orchestra during the recording of Once Upon a Morning:

Lee & Susan Dengler: A Holy Week Cantata Reflecting on Sacrifice and Sorrow

Guest post by composers Lee & Susan Dengler introducing their new Holy Week cantata, When Darkness Comes. Lee and Susan are the authors of over 400 choral anthems, cantatas and vocal and piano solo collections that are used worldwide. They have served as music leaders in churches, and have taught music on the elementary, high school and college levels. Both are professional singers and have performed in recitals, operas, oratorios and musicals. They reside in Goshen, Indiana.

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Lee Dengler & Susan Naus Dengler

Easter was in mid-April that year. We who work in church music are relieved when Easter comes that late in the season, allowing adequate time to prepare for the music of Lent and Easter.

However, there was a lot going on in our house back then. We were awaiting the birth of our second child. The due date was April 1. Because of church responsibilities, we hoped that this baby would arrive on time. Rebecca Joy only made us wait two extra days before she appeared on the scene. Even though Palm Sunday was only two days later, we could fulfill our Holy Week responsibilities without too much stress.

There were, however, a few things that we hadn’t counted on. First, Lee had only recently begun a new daytime job. Also, we had no idea what it would mean to care for a newborn in addition to our firstborn son, Jason, who was only 18 months old. And then Susan contracted the nasty virus that was making its way through our community. All this would have been enough to overwhelm two young adults, but then Lee’s grandfather, Grandpop Dengler, was suddenly confronted with critical health problems — problems from which he never recovered. Although there were many things for us to be happy about, Holy Week that year was also tinged with some personal darkness.

Ready or not, the week that marked Jesus’s journey to the cross arrives on an annual basis, whether our lives are bathed in joyous light or mired in shadows. Whatever the case, this holiest of weeks affords us the opportunity to truly experience what we believe as followers of the One who faced the darkness of the cross for our sakes. It is a time to place the hope of Jesus’s resurrection against the backdrop of death and grief.

Quiet reflection allows us to move from the somber moments of Christ’s sacrifice to a most joyful celebration of Easter. Daily disciplines, such as reading the Gospels and contemplative walking, can help us focus our minds. Praying the “Lord’s Prayer” or the 23rd Psalm can be excellent models for our prayers during these days. Listening to music, such as Handel’s Messiah or hymns that speak of Christ’s Passion, can also help to lead us to the light and hope of His victory over death.

WhenDarknessComesIndeed, music has always served as a perfect vehicle to enhance our observance of Holy Week. It has been our personal privilege to create some of the music and texts that portray the sacrifice that Jesus endured for our sakes. In recent months, we have considered the deep darkness that our Savior knew during those days — the physical darkness of that Thursday evening, and the spiritual and emotional darkness of His trial and crucifixion on Friday. This was the greatest darkness the world has ever known. What a blessing to consider that the one who willingly faced this time of profound darkness is with us when we experience dark times in our own lives. Out of these thoughts came our new cantata, When Darkness Comes.

This 20-minute work can be used in a variety of ways to enhance your Holy Week worship. Included are suggestions for the extinguishing of candles for a Tenebrae style service, and for PowerPoint visuals that can be displayed throughout the course of the presentation. A communion service might be an excellent preface to the cantata’s presentation. Options for congregational participation make it possible for everyone to be involved in the retelling of this story. It is our sincere prayer that When Darkness Comes will prove to be a most meaningful part of your congregation’s Holy Week experience.

For more insight into the composers’ inspiration for the cantata and to listen to excerpts, watch this digital reading session:

Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: The New New Testament of Piano Repertoire

BeethovenVonRichardWagner1870 marked the 100th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven. After denying the invitation from the “Beethoven Committee of Vienna” to appear onstage together with Liszt, Joachim and Clara Schumann to celebrate the event, Richard Wagner decided to write an essay instead. While this essay is notable as a broader investigation of Wagner’s aesthetic philosophy and ideals, it also remains an insightful exploration of both the artistic significance and enduring popularity of Beethoven’s music. For Wagner Beethoven’s music isn’t merely beautiful, a concept that is for him constrained by convention and subject to changing tastes and fashions, but sublime. Beethoven reveals a sort of Platonic ideal of melody, thereby liberating it from its historical moment, and connecting his listeners with a timeless, universal human truth. For Wagner it is Beethoven’s radical defiance against tradition and his intense emotional expressions that make his music a vehicle for revelation.

Though these strains are apparent across Beethoven’s entire oeuvre, it is in his piano sonatas that Beethoven’s boldest thoughts and gestures shine most brightly. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Beethoven was widely known as a brilliant pianist in his own right, giving him the natural freedom to stretch the boundaries of the instrument. Perhaps, though, it is also due to the nature of the piano itself: a solo instrument that lends itself to the realm of the personal and inward, even the diaristic, and one that, by allowing tones only to be struck and not sustained or driven forward, abstracts music into its most intellectually pure form, making it a prime medium for musical exploration and innovation.

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Ludwig van Beethoven

To explore Beethoven’s piano sonatas is to explore Beethoven’s musical innovations. In these 32 pieces, we see the concentrated version of the familiar trajectory guiding us from the Classical era into the Romantic: the experimental mimicry of his early years, the ego-driven defiance of his middle years where, at the height of his compositional powers, he most fully challenges convention, and finally his late years where, fully deaf, he introspectively explores the mysteries of life and death.

In the collection of piano sonatas, we also see the concentrated version of the formal shifts that we see in his symphonic and chamber works. From the most trivial musical notions he extracts the most expansive palettes through time manipulation, rhythmic ambiguities, unexpected accents, extreme dynamic contrasts and seemingly infinite variations on single simplistic themes. As the opus numbers increase, we see him shorten expositions and lengthen developments and codas, reintroduce Baroque counterpoint and fugue into contemporary composition, and shift the structural weight of the sonata from the first to the final movement.

To advance such radical changes, it was almost necessary that Beethoven remain insistent on his music being played as he had intended, rather than falling prey to interpretive fashion and, at least at its time, the conventions it aimed to break. As such, Beethoven left specific and meticulous guidance in his manuscripts that he expected to be followed just as carefully.

During his three years assembling the new complete Bärenreiter Urtext collection of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, editor Jonathan Del Mar spent a great deal of time grappling with primary texts, many written by Beethoven himself. Here Del Mar discusses the importance of dealing with these primary sources, especially when publishing a work of such a meticulous composer, as well as the difficulty in deciphering something so personal as handwriting:

 

“Beethoven had such appallingly messy handwriting, didn’t he — I don’t know how anyone can read it! How many times have I heard that accusation directed against one of the greatest composers who ever lived?

I have lived with Beethoven’s handwriting for my whole life. My father bought the colossal facsimile of the Ninth Symphony when I was a boy and we looked at it together. Actually I have always had a fascination for handwritings, recognising and deciphering them. From decades of looking at most of the extant Beethoven autographs the composer’s handwriting has become very familiar to me. And there are idiosyncrasies! An example: When Beethoven smudges something, that means he is deleting it! This is often far from obvious and I had to learn it.

Beethoven was actually incredibly accurate, methodical, and scrupulous down to the last accidental and staccato mark. His manuscripts are a miracle both of creative inspiration and of systematic organization; you can see in them both the white-hot heat of his temperament and the cool, calculated finickiness of one determined that there should not be a single mistake in the printed score. He sent correction lists to publishers on account of quite small details. Indeed: when the finished product dropped on to his mat, when he opened it and immediately saw a mistake, he would fly into a rage, and straightaway write to the publisher insisting that the edition be withdrawn, or at least that every copy be corrected by them in Indian ink before it was sold.

Why do I need to go to libraries and look at the physical sources? Why can’t I work from scans, photocopies, or microfilms? Despite all the research already having been done, there may still be crucial things to be discovered from the composer’s original manuscript. If you base your edition on bad photocopies in which a grain in the paper or a stitchhole looks exactly like a staccato mark or even a note, you are in trouble. In the Sonata op. 28 a hole in the paper has for a long time been printed as a staccato in many editions!”

BeethovenPianoSonatas

 

The Bärenreiter Complete Beethoven Sonatas for Pianoforte, a culmination of Del Mar’s decades of work on Beethoven, is now available at introductory pricing and, along with the associated critical commentary, is part of our preparation for the yearlong celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday in 2020. New individual editions of each sonata are also available.

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.


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