I am a fortunate fellow.
Now in my 21st season with the Augusta Choral Society, I can clearly see that the ensemble has navigated its way through several distinct phases, each with its own assets and liabilities. And although the current iteration does have both, it also has risen to the occasion famously twice this fall. Our "Hallow E'en" concert in October was, in my opinion, an artistic success, with the chorus wrestling with and conquering an interestingly challenging Puccini Messa. And then there was the distinctly differently Jabberwocky on the same bill. Polar opposites, but performed with equal aplomb.
This past Saturday night (12/14) the ACS undertook what I describe as a collage program: lots of different pieces (related by theme) with some "fluff" and "meat" and something in-between. The "meat" came with the Vaughan-Williams and Holst selections and the chorus met both of those meritoriously. The "fluff" was actually more demanding that was first thought, but the chorus also worked through those issues and delivered all selections with insight and inspiration.
More fortunately, perhaps, was that we were joined in our concert not only by the outstanding and uplifting Lyra Vivace Chamber Orchestra, but also by Palmetto Girls Sing from Greenwood, SC. Prepared and directed by Amy Fennell, these young women joined with the ACS for two selections and performed by themselves on a third. We were amazed and left breathless by their concert awareness and demeanor. Their angelic voices simply soared.
Further, our two soloists, who also sing frequently with the ACS, Laurie Orth and Sawyer Branham brought not only professional preparation and talent to the performance, but raised our bar of expectations for all other guest soloists. Augusta is so fortunate to have vocal musicians of their caliber in our midst.
One of the blessings and curses of music-making is that the final product is ephemeral: it's transitory, temporary, and intangible. It's a wisp of smoke and dissolves into the ether leaving us with the memory and, hopefully, with a lasting and noteworthy impression. That's the blessing. The curse is that, once performed, the smoke dissolves and it's time to move on to another musical challenge. Our next challenge begins in January as we begin our preparation of the Cherubini Requiem. Let's take what we learned about making music, singing together, and performing as we take up this next major work.
So, a success concert behind us and another challenge before us. I am a fortunate fellow.
I cannot remember a time when music was not a part of Christmas. In hindsight, it would seem that much of my love of music started with those pleasant December memories. There was always the sacred music at church in which I was involved, that on the radio and TV, and the ever-present music from the centrally located "stereo" at our home. On that, we would hear performances by Roger Wagner, Norman Luboff, Robert Shaw, and many others. I even remember a setting of Fum, Fum, Fum as performed by Tex Johnson and his Six-Shooters. Truly memorable. All those sounds fill my memories and replay on an infinite loop.
As a professional musician, I have been privileged to have opportunities to continue those Christmas musical experiences. Of course, it helps that most composers have been invested in providing music for the Advent/Christmas season and that much of that is pedagogically, historically, and vocally interesting, compelling, and edifying. So, for going on half-a-century, I have usually spent many weeks preparing each fall preparing for Christmas concerts. The was never a moment when it was not a joy.
But, and speaking as a music director who is charged with choosing repertoire, I am always looking for new perspectives from which to select music. Last year, the ACS was heavily invested in MESSIAH and, for 2019, we really wanted to compile a program that was different thematically, displayed some of our vocal talent, was intriguing to pursue vocally, and would be gratifying and thrilling to hear. Thus, we have selected some compelling carols, several obscure nuggets, extended works by well-known composers, and a selection or two just for fun - all under the umbrella of music (for Christmas) from English sources.
Come, and hear, and celebrate, and revel, and rejoice. It's our Christmas gift to you.
OK, a ROMAN program may be a stretch.
It is a fact that Il Trovatore was premiered at the Teatro Apollo in Rome. That’s definitely Roman. Puccini was in Rome often and Tosca was set in Rome; so there’s the Roman connection for the Messa. That’s slightly Roman. And, Paligacci has been performed many times at multiple theatres in Rome. That’s Roman of a sort.
So, please forgive the stretch of the truth. I suppose that An Italian Hallow(e’en) might have been more accurate, but it lacks the cachet of a ROMAN Hallow(e’en), don’t you think?
Maybe we should have chosen Venice (as in a VENETIAN Hallow(e’en)) since Venice does have Carnavale where celebrants are masked and costumed – not quite like our Halloween, but, again, sorta.
And, in case you missed it, we inserted the apostrophe to create the contraction for “evening” since the concert was at night and we didn’t want the reference to Halloween to be too obvious. But that also allowed for the HALLOW to be set apart and hint at the "sacred" nature of the Messa.
But these are all just labels and marketing.
We were attempting to encapsulate the “idea” of the concert while also exciting both our singers and our audience with the idea of using an adjective that hinted at the Italianate and operatic repertoire. And while acknowledging the impending October 31st holiday with the inclusion of the Lewis Carroll text (Jabberwocky), representing the fantastical, whimsical, and bizarre nature of the observance of Halloween.
OK, it’s all a stretch. But aren’t you just a little bit intrigued? I am.
Everyone loves a good mystery. I enjoy Arthur Conan Doyle, David Baldacci, Daniel Silva and other novels of the same ilk. Good stuff.
Puccini came from a musical family - and a family that had been employed in church music for over 100 years. Choosing a church composition as a senior project was a natural for the young Puccini. He composed most of the Messa that we're performing in October in 1880 and it was premiered in the same year. It was probably not performed again until 1952! Why? Was Puccini embarrassed by it - as a youthful work full of ideas and techniques that he'd left behind? Most writers think not. He just moved quickly on, shortly becoming an opera sensation, and the work remained unpublished.
Around 1952, it was rediscovered, performed again, and published, but that wasn't the end of the mystery. The scholar that "found" the score thought he had the original, but it turned out to be only a good copy. A copy that he managed to get published by Mills, however! Apparently, the Puccini family still had the original and gave it to Ricordi, Puccini's publisher. Then, Ricordi sued Mills Publishing and a struggle ensued to determine who owned the rights to the work. Intrigue, indeed.
You might be interested to know that the scores from which the choir will be singing are from Belwin-Mills, descended from the 1952 "original copy" - - - but the orchestra will be reading scores from Ricordi. The mystery, and subsequent compromise, continues.
I know it's not on the level of a Sherlock Holmes novel, but it is, nevertheless, a little interesting.
ACS officers and staff continue to attempt to scheme ways in which we can make the ACS experience more enjoyable, less stressful, and more approachable. Some singers have skills that allow the to learn their music without relying on teaching aids. Others need those teaching and learning aids. So, the more TYPES of aids we can add to our Member Only page, the more likely that membership will find something that will be of meaning to them.
For the first time, members and prospective members can avail themselves of acquiring choral scores during the summertime, prior to our first rehearsals beginning the 3rd Tuesday of August. With your scores in-hand and the availability of links to online recordings, online learning resources, uploaded learning files, pronunciation guides, and etc. on our Member Only page, you can scratch your musical itch during the summer . . . and give yourself a "leg-up" on the season.
Now, please don't misunderstand, no singer should feel coerced to start their choral prep a month or so early. Our aim is to assist you, not to annoy you. But, we've all had that feeling, following a concert, that if we'd had "just one more week," we'd have been better prepared. So here's an opportunity to grab that "one more week!!!"
Last night, July 9th, more than 50 of the members and leadership of the ACS gathered at St. Paul's for a read-through of upcoming repertoire. What a kick! We read through some of the Puccini Messa di gloria and other selections that we will be performing in October. Then, we got a quick look at some of our December repertoire. It went really well and the sight-reading left a very favorable impression.
But it wasn't a rehearsal. This was an opportunity to meet during the summer, refresh friendships, share some camaraderie, and get some information delivered to the rank and file.
Barbara and I brought Bosco, who serves as an unofficial ambassador and ACS mascot - and who is also a passable tenor, and he took up his position between the sopranos and altos, thereby not taking a chance on offending anyone who might be a prospective petter. Everybody was in a jolly mood and I think had a good time. I say "think" because I was serving as a poor substitute for our regular accompanist, attempting to lead the rehearsal and have an occasional helpful remark, and reading my head off, so any of my impressions were bound to be skewed. Nonetheless, I heard enough to know that our membership can really sing this material - given pressure and time to quote a movie (guess which one.)
Anyway, from time to time, I intend to use this forum to deliver some pertinent information about our music-making, perhaps to offer helpful commentary and advice, and share on the personal side.
We'll see how that goes.