Category Archives: choral music

Choral report: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Choir is one of the best couple of hours of my week.

This Sunday, our offertory was based on the second reading (Revelation 21:1-5a). By Edger Bainton, And I Saw a New Heaven is a beautiful piece that we have sung a number of times.

Bainton captures the text beautifully in his melodies, harmony, and dynamics.
And I saw a new Heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away, and there was no more sea.

And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying: “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.”

During Communion, we sang Tómas Luis de Victoria’s Jesu, Dulcis Memoria. This is a personal favourite of mine and it vies for the top of the list of pieces I’d like sung at my funeral.

Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast!
Yet sweeter far Thy face to see
And in Thy Presence rest.

Choral Report: Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

The organ console is being replaced in our church, so rather than being in the loft at the east end (back) of the church, the choir sat in the first couple of rows of the nave. I liked being close to the sanctuary (and having kneelers), but rather dislike having to stand facing the congregation to sing. (I’m probably a candidate for the Traditional Latin Mass in this regard.)

For the offertory, we sang the absolutely gorgeous piece Sing My Soul by Ned Rorem that we have done many times before. Here is a performance by the Truett-McConnell College Chamber Singers.

During communion, the choir sang this unison chant Serentity by Charles Ives (text by poet John Greenleaf Whittier). This is a solo version sung by Sigune Von Osten.

In a keynote address on Ives, Kyle Gann says this about Serenity:

…[In one song Ives managed to do without the climax altogether. I mean, of course, “Serenity,” the song which most explicitly embodies Ives’s sense of a song as a timeless piece of eternity. The two chords between which this song rocks back and forth for three minutes could have occupied Arvo Pärt for a full half hour. The poem by Quaker abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier finds Zen in its Christianity:

O Sabbath rest of Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness
Till all our strivings cease
Take from our souls the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.

The two flat-five chords that bring the song to an arbitrary close have a purely conventional function of stopping the song. They’ve always disappointed me, because the song could go on forever, like Tibetan or Gregorian chant, and I want it to.

I have to say that I prefer it as a solo piece.

Choral Report: Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

I am reminded today of why I love to sing, and choose to sing in my parish choir.

During the offertory, we sang Byrd’s Surge Illuminare Jerusalem, normally an Epiphany motet but just as beautiful for today’s feast.

Latin: Surge, illuminare, [Jerusalem], quia venit lumen tuum, et gloria Domini super te orta est. Quia ecce tenebrae operient terram et caligo populos. Super te autem orietur Dominus et gloria eius in te videbitur.

English: Arise, shine [O Jerusalem]; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. 

During communion, we sang Victoria’s most thrilling Jésu, dulcis memoria which is simply heavenly and possibly one of the most beautiful pieces I have sung.

Latin: Jesu dulcis memoria
Dans vera cordis gaudia:
Sed super mel et omnia
Ejus dulcis præsentia.

English: Jesus, sweet remembrance,
Granting the heart its true joys,
But above honey and all things
Is His sweet presence.

Just shut your eyes and listen.

Image: By Nheyob (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Choral Report

Today, our parish choir had a shortened rehearsal and so sang one familiar piece and one that we had rehearsed for a couple of Sundays previously.

During the offertory, we sang O God, Thou Art My God by Purcell, which involved two semi-choirs for some of it. Here is a video of the Clare College of Cambridge. The final Hallelujah is a well-known hymn tune.

During Communion, we sang The Call by Ralph Vaughn Williams, a piece that is in our repertoire and that we can call up on short notice when rehearsal time is short. Here is a performance by The Choristers of St. Paul’s Cathedral with the City of London Sinfonia.

Finally, Michael and I are looking forward to working with Rob Teehan on Tuesday evening on a recording of the final work of his Canadian Film Centre residency. Rob was Michael’s tuba teacher for a couple of years and apart from his bands (Heavyweights Brass Band, Lemon Bucket Orkestra, Boxcar Boys), he’s been composing up a storm and in particular, working on a number of film scoring projects. Michael and I will be part of the choir for his work Lamb of God – Mass of the Redeemer.

This is the work we’ll be recording:

We’re getting close to the end of church choir season, as we take a break over the summer and resume in September. It’s one of my weekly self-care activities. Choral singing brings this introvert into a community of like-minded people who love to make music.

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From the divine to the devil

The Divine

I used to publish a Sunday Choral Report detailing what we sang in my church choir. When we returned to Canada five years ago, we were lucky to land in a parish with a fabulous organist and traditional choir at the 11:30 am mass. We rehearse from 10-11:15 on Sunday mornings in preparation for that mass, so there’s no weeknight rehearsal which is best for a choir made up of  professional singers and musicians (who sing)  as well as strong amateurs.

Our organist/director has a love of the Renaissance so we often sing from that era. This  morning was no exception. For the offertory we sang Nigra sum sed formosa filia Jerusalem by Tomás Luis de Victoria. The first line of text (originally from Song of Solomon) replaces the singular filliae (daughters) with filia (daughter) pointing to Mary. The full (English) text is as follows:

I am a dark-skinned but comely daughter of Jerusalem,
Therefore have I pleased the Lord
And he has brought me into his chamber
And said to me: arise my love and come.
For now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone,
The flowers have appeared in our land,
The time of pruning is come.

Chanticleer performs it here.

During Communion we sang Homo Quidam in a setting by Jean Mouton. I cannot find a recording to share, but the text is translated as:

Certain man organized a great dinner and sent his servant at the hour of dinner so that he said to his guests to come: Because everything is prepared.Come to eat my bread and to drink my wine that I prepared for you.

Quite an appropriate Communion hymn.

The Devil

After mass, I travelled south to my my monthly book club meeting where we shared our thoughts onGone Girlby Gillian Flynn. [No spoilers follow.] A psychological thriller featuring an arguably evil protagonist, I personally found it both hard to put down and necessary to set aside as the tension rose. Themes of marriage, life in the big-city vs. small-town South, the fate of print journalism and the impact of the 24-hour news cycle and quest to be first with “the” story were all present and considered by the group. While the book was rated on average 8/10 with a small range (7-9), differences of opinion were expressed about the protagonist’s mental state and motivation for the events detailed in the novel. We all loved her plotting (with some debate over how much closure the ending achieved), her sense of humour, and agreed that we’d all see the movie together when it comes out. We had one new member today, and a couple of usual members were absent, but the discussion was excellent. It topped the Amazon.ca Best Pick for 2012list.

On my drive home, I considered my descent from the divinity of the mass and the music we sang, to the discussion of evil and how it comes into a person, a marriage, and a world. On arriving home, I was greeted by my husband sitting on the porch with the papers, a whisky, and a cigar, the first time we’ve had our furniture out on the deck this spring. Life in the middle seems pretty ok.