Tag Archive: singing

Music for the Soul

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Chamber Ensemble rehearsal

Today the Greenville Chorale Chamber Ensemble presents its winter concert at Furman’s Daniel Chapel. The program is entitled “Music for the Soul”, and the music was chosen to be both soothing and uplifting.

We start the concert with Gabriel Faure’s Requiem as the major work on the piece. I’ve performed this piece several times, and always enjoy it. We follow that with Mealor’s Ubi Caritas, which was written for the recent Royal Wedding, then a setting of O Sacrum Convivium by Dan Locklair. Next up are arrangements of two hymns, My Shepherd Will Supply My Need and Nearer My God to Thee.

The next piece is The Rune of Hospitality, and unusual piece by Alf Houkom that starts sounding like it has a secular text, but ends with a sacred message. That’s followed my Morten Lauridsen’s Sure On This Shining Night, which is a soaring, fabulous piece of music. We end the concert with the King’s Singers’ You Are the New Day, followed by a silly arrangement of The William Tell Overture, and we close with our signature tune, I Have Had Singing by Steven Sametz. It should be a good concert for a cold winter day.

For this concert I’ve been entrusted with making a recording. Every year we do a professional recording, but we wind up using the recordings I always do as a backup. This year they just decided to go with mine. No pressure there at all. Over the past two rehearsals I’ve been experimenting with placement and settings, and I think I’ve got it worked out. I’ll use two portable recorders placed up front, mostly toward the middle of the chapel. I’ll combine the output from both recorders for the final product so that I get a good balance. Here’s a taste of Monday night’s rehearsal recording of You Are the New Day…


Check this out on Chirbit

I also had my GoPro going during rehearsal. We first wanted to try to get Bing to wear it on his head…

Tom Taylor

…but he wouldn’t go for it. Instead, I set the camera up on a tripod and did a time lapse. Here it is set to a sped-up version of the William Tell Overture…

And of course, this being our winter concert, there is always a chance of inclement weather. It’s gotten to be a joke. There is always a threat of sleet, ice, or something on our concert. This year it snowed…

Snow

But, today the sun is out, the snow is mostly gone, and it should be a great day for a concert. We hope to have a full house.

Beethoven’s Ninth Video

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Videographer Valdas Katovas recorded our spring concert, a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Greenville Symphony Orchestra and Greenville Chorale. This video is the entire fourth movement.

You can occasionally see me on the front row of the Chorale, next to the tympani and behind the trombones.

Beethoven No 9 from Valdas Kotovas on Vimeo.

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne

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To Joy

Joy, thou beauteous godly lighting,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire drunken we are ent’ring
Heavenly, thy holy home!

Thy enchantments bind together,
What did custom stern divide;
Every man becomes a brother,
Where thy gentle wings abide.

Be embrac’d, ye millions yonder!
Take this kiss throughout the world!
Brothers—o’er the stars unfurl’d
Must reside a loving father.

–Friedrich Schiller, 1786

Last night the Greenville Chorale joined forces with the Greenville Symphony Orchestra for a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  The 9th is one of my favorite pieces, and I’ve had the privilege to perform it once before.  Last night’s performance, though was one of the most stirring I’ve ever experienced.

For the Chorale, the piece came together fairly quickly.  Many of us were familiar with the music, but also the chorus doesn’t sing that much in the concert.  We’re only there for the last half of the last movement of the piece – about 20 minutes worth. Bing Vick often let us out of rehearsals early, which was a nice change of pace.

However, that is a VERY challenging 20 minutes.  First there is the range.  The piece is written at the extreme upper vocal range for all parts.  I can’t think of another piece that has the basses singing a high F as many times and as long as this one does.  Then there was the tempo set by Maestro Tchivzhel – fast, then blindingly fast.  We had to squeeze a mouthful of German syllables into such a fast pace that I don’t think any of us got all of the words correct, even in the final performance.  Oh, yeah, they had to be on the right pitches and at the right dynamic, too.  It was a bear. (more…)

Sacred Music for a Sacred Space

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St George from Choir Loft

Sunday afternoon the Greenville Chorale Chamber Ensemble presented its annual concert at St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The concert was entitled “Sacred Music for a Sacred Space” and featured sacred music by contemporary composers. The pairing of music with venue was well-planned, and somewhat modeled the liturgy that might be followed in a traditional service.

Saturday morning we had our dress rehearsal in the cathedral, and I brought along my camera to get a few shots of the interior. I started with exterior shots…

St George Exterior 1

…then moved to the interior to photograph the stunning mosaics above the altar.

St George Interior 1

St George Interior 3

St George Interior 2 (more…)

Rapturous Music

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I’m falling a bit behind in my blogging. I would claim that it was, indeed, another busy weekend with concerts, birthday parties, family illness, and all the other things that go into keeping a person hopping. Actually, I thought about giving up blogging all together since the world was supposed to end last Saturday, but that’s a different story…

…or is it?

Despite Harold Camping’s goofy claims for a “rolling Rapture” starting at 6:00 pm in whichever time zone one happens to find themselves, we were involved in something truly rapturous, as my friend Ken reminded us. Saturday night the Greenville Chorale presented Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis at the Peace Center, along with the Greenville Symphony.

We had been working on the piece for months. Even then, I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to pull it off. As director Bing Vick constantly reminded us, this was a marathon. The piece is extremely demanding, with tricky rhythms, incredible tempi, and notes at the extreme ends of the vocal range. More than once after rehearsal I came home with very little voice left.

Eventually, though, we began to pull it together. Rehearsing with orchestra did help, as we were able to hear our voice parts doubled in the instruments. However, even the orchestra struggled at times. Fortunately, the culmination did come with the concert Saturday evening, and everything went without a hitch. Afterward we had a nice reception to celebrate the Chorale’s 50th anniversary season and Bing Vick’s 30th year as its director.

So, this time next year it’s more Beethoven, but at least it’s a bit more familiar. We’ll be doing one of my favorites, the 9th Symphony. I’m looking forward to it.

Chorale Chamber Ensemble Winter 2011 Concert

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This past weekend was a concert weekend for the Greenville Chorale Chamber Ensemble, so I wasn’t able to get much blogging done. We had rehearsals, then the concert itself Sunday afternoon in Daniel Chapel at Furman University.

This year we did the Rutter Requiem, accompanied by a small ensemble that included organ, harp, flute, oboe, cello, glockenspiel, and timpani.  That was followed by a set with lyrics about music.

Each year it seems like the sound of this 20 voice ensemble gets more and more cohesive.  I thought that this was one of the best blends we’ve ever had.  It helped that most of us were already familiar with the Rutter and several other pieces.  We were quickly able to get beyond learning the music to actually making music.

The concert went very well.  For once there was no threat of an ice storm and we actually played to a capacity crowd.  Everything was well received, and we also got a glowing review in the Greenville News.

If you didn’t make it to the concert, never fear.  I made audio recordings of the whole thing and have placed these online for download.  You can get them here.  It doesn’t substitute for actually attending a concert, but it might give one incentive to come to the next one.

Speaking of the next one, the entire Chorale will be performing the Beethoven Missa Solemnis on May 21st with the Greenville Symphony.  Should be another great concert.

A Carolina Christmas

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Carolina Christmas

Last night the Greenville Chorale gave its Carolina Christmas concert at McAlister Auditorium at Furman. We were joined by the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra, and we repeat the concert today at Mud Creek Baptist Church for the Hendersonville audience. (The photo above is from last year’s concert.)

We’ve been working on the music since mid-October. The tunes are familiar favorites, and it’s easy to get tired of them. That was happening here, and I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the performance. Thursday’s dress rehearsal seemed a bit sloppy. However, it all came together for the Friday concert, and both the orchestra and chorale sounded great, and were received very well by the near capacity crowd.

We’ve been collaborating with the Hendersonville group for several years now. I’m always amazed at how many extremely talented musicians there are in the area. There are our usual collaborators, the Greenville Symphony, who almost always sound fantastic, but the Hendersonville Symphony was just as clean and tight on their orchestral pieces last night. I enjoyed listening to “Waltz of the Flowers”, “Hansel and Gretel”, and “Greensleeves” as much as singing our own pieces.

Of course, there were a couple of not-so-stellar bits. “Angels We Have Heard on High” was a bizarre arrangement by Mark Wilberg that modulates just about ever other measure. It has to be pulled off flawlessly to make sense, and at one point the men came in so far under pitch that it took several measures to get back on track. We also did an arrangement of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” which we performed perfectly, but Laura still described it as “alien.”

In addition to these, there were sing-alongs and lots of familiar pieces. As much as I love traditional carols, particularly of the old British tradition, my favorite piece of the evening was a rollicking arrangement of “Merry Christmas” from the movie Home Alone. It has the making of a becoming a classic Christmas piece in its own right.

McAlister Auditorium was packed last night, and we are expecting a full house at Mud Creek in Hendersonville at 4:00 pm. I’m hoping we can keep the same energy last night for today’s concert.

Multitrack Madness

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Sgt Sony

A CappellaBack in 1985 my brother Houston introduced me to Todd Rundgren’s innovative album, A Cappella [sic]. Rundgren used digital sampling to create an album made up only of the human voice. He added distortion and manipulated the sounds to emulate drums and other instruments. Back then this was really impressive, and I was amazed that one human voice could create such music.

Of course, now this is common place. Beat-boxing came in with rap music about the time Rundgren’s album came out. TV shows like Glee have renewed interest in a capella singing, specifically with Do Wop and other popular music that wasn’t originally arranged for voices only. Combine that with technology that can turn just about any computer into a multi-track recording studio, and you have many people turning out their own a capella renditions. (more…)

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St. George Ceiling

In case your Cyrillic is rusty, the title of this post is from Psalm 104, “Praise the Lord, O My Soul”, and is one of the pieces that make up part of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil. This weekend we performed the piece with the Greenville Chorale on Sunday afternoon at First Baptist Church.

This was a real challenge. The music itself wasn’t so hard, but there was so much of it. We did in an hour what we normally stretch out over two, when you add in soloists and orchestra. Throw in a layer of very difficult language, and you have a nearly impossible task.

I had done parts of the Vespers before, so I was somewhat familiar with the music. The sixth movement is the “Hail Mary” section, and I had done it several times with both the Latin Ave Maria text and the Russian. Even so, I found myself stumbling over music and text, even in the final performance. (more…)

William Walker Memorial Singing 2009

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New Britain

Saturday I attended the William Walker Memorial Shape Note Singing at Wofford College in Spartanburg. This was a special occasion, marking the bicentennial of Walker’s birth. An entire weekend of events had been planned for the event. In addition to the singing, there would be an evening showing of the documentary Awake My Soul, and on Sunday a special service at Morningside Baptist Church celebrating the life of William Walker.

Despite the rain, a good crowd gathered for the singing. I showed up armed with all of my cameras and recording gear, and immediately fell into the “documentarian’s dilemma.” It’s very hard to both record and participate in an event. If I’m going to sing I have a hard time also taking photos. I set up the camcorder and portable field recorder in a corner and just let them run. I would take photos as I could during the singing.

The morning started with singing school. Jonathon (aka The Melodist on Flickr) did a great job explaining the four shape system of the Sacred Harp and the seven shapes of Walker’s The Southern Harmony. He also explained the mechanics of being a song leader, differentiating the “song leading” style with normal choral conducting.

At 10:00 am things really got under way. This event always begins with songs from The Sacred Harp in the morning, then after lunch singing from The Southern Harmony. The tradition is to begin with “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship” followed by an invocation.

This is a very participatory activity. People sign up to lead songs, and the chairman (chairwoman, in this case) calls out the next two leaders, giving the second person a head’s up so that they can get their song prepared. The songs are first sung through on Fa-sol-la or Do-re-mi syllables, depending on the book, then we sang two or three verses from each song.

As with most of these singings, I found myself stumbling over the syllables, or simply singing “la” just to learn the part. Often I would use the syllable verse to take a few pictures, then rejoin the singing when we got to the text.

The chairs are arranged in “four square” arrangement, with basses, altos, trebles, and leads (tenors) facing toward the center. Anyone can really sing any part with which they feel comfortable.

I had foolishly signed up to be a leader. I tried my hand at it at last spring’s singing at Furman, and thought I would be OK leading a song. For my song I picked a familiar one – “How Firm a Foundation.” Below is a video of me leading:

What I didn’t realize was that the names on the leaders list rotate. So the second time I was called out to lead, it really caught me off-guard. I had to scramble to find a song I knew passably well and that I could lead. I wound up leading four songs – two from The Sacred Harp in the morning and two from The Southern Harmony in the afternoon. The best sound is where the leader stands in the four square arrangement, so everyone should try leading at some time.

There were several familiar faces, folks I recognized from the Owings and Furman singins. There were also a couple of Shape Note luminaries in attendance. Hugh McGraw is the editor of the 1991 edition of The Sacred Harp, and even has a couple of his songs published in it. Harry Eskew helped organize the William Walker singing at Wofford fifteen years ago, and is a regular participant.

The tradition at this singing is to head out to William Walker’s grave in Magnolia Cemetery and sing a final song. Since it was raining I decided to skip that portion and head on home.

I was able to get lots of good audio and video footage from the singing. I’ll try processing it and posting online when I get a chance.

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