Program Notes – Spring 2016, part 1

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With our major Spring performances coming up at the end of the week, we are pleased to share with you some program notes written by the choir’s founder and director, Ralph B. Woodward.  Hopefully this will give you additional insight and appreciation for the pieces you will hear the choir perform.  We will have notes on additional program pieces throughout the week.

Now Is the Month of Maying” (Thomas Morley)

The 16th Century (the time of Shakespeare) was the golden age of the English Madrigal (secular polyphonic song), and “Now Is the Month of Maying” is among the most famous.  I was contacted not long ago by an English choir director, who had seen us perform it on YouTube asking about the arrangement we use (which happens to be by Jerry Wesley Harris).  So, if she, being from England likes it, I guess we’re on solid footing.  The kids really enjoy singing it.

Song of the Skylark” (Johannes Brahms)

One of the great genres of vocal music is the German Art Song, and I have surveyed virtually all the songs of Schubert, Brahms, Schumann and Mendelssohn in search of material suitable for our choir.  Some which we sing were already familiar to me, but some were not, and may not be to our audiences.  One of these, “Song of the Skylark,” (Lerchengesang), is particularly beautiful in its wistfulness.  The 3 against 4 beat rhythm (choir vs. piano) ads to the song’s poignancy.

Impromptu #2 in E-flat Opus 90  (Franz Schubert)

We are proud to feature brilliant young pianist and choir member, Caleb Spjute performing this extremely virtuosic work.  You may want his autograph after you hear him play (others have).

Blagoslavi dushe moya Ghospoda” (Pavel Chesnokov)

This work (translation: Bless the Lord, my soul), with its rich harmonies and extreme dynamic changes is a fine example of late 19th and early 20th Century Russian liturgical music.

How Excellent Thy Name”  (Howard Hanson)

I first heard this piece sung by a college choir and have liked it ever since.  It’s composer, Howard Hanson was the first director of the Eastman School of Music (where he remained for 40 years) and was one of the pre-eminent American composers of the 20th Century.  The work, whose text is taken from the Psalms, is very evocative and beautiful and I appreciate the remarkable insight our singers bring to it.