Spring 2016 —
In a Woman's Voice
Choral Music to celebrate the sounds,
colors and perspectives of women.
Sunday, May 1, 2016 at 4 p.m.
Josh Lawton, piano and organ
Concert Notes for "In a Woman's Voice"
Written by Jennifer Kane
Today we are pleased to present a diverse repertoire of compositions for women’s chorus. Within this program you will hear some works that were composed specifically for women’s chorus. You will also hear some works that we think really sound their best, or are particularly poignant, when performed by women’s voices.
A women’s chorus is an instrument in its own right, and its repertoire provides a deeply satisfying and complete musical experience for performers and audience alike. This body of work reflects a deep familiarity with how women’s voices work: range and tessitura, phrase durations, and vocal color. It is grateful to the voice. It has good alto parts. It can be simultaneously intelligent in its technicality, and beautiful and compelling to the ear. Beyond these musical characteristics, though, text plays an essential role in women’s choral repertoire. As singers our job is to communicate the texts that we are singing. We are actresses, inviting the audience to experience the text on a personal level.
The characteristics of a performing ensemble also have an impact on the experience of the repertoire they perform. Cantilena is a women’s chorale dedicated to the performance of music for women’s voices. Individually we range from baby boomers to millennials. We are retirees and grad students. We are teachers, doctors, consultants, and mothers. We are lifelong musicians, and we are less experienced singers. Such diversity allows us to connect on every level to the repertoire that we sing. We share a love of singing, we take joy in one another’s company, and we posses a dedication to promote our unique repertoire to our audience and community.
Pueri Hebraeorum is among the early compositions by American composer Randall Thompson (1899-1984). Composed for the Wellesley College Chorale, for whom Thompson served as director in 1927-1929, this double choir motet demonstrates Thompson’s respect for historical models, especially Renaissance motets, and fascination with antiphony. Pueri Hebraeorum makes use of the wide vocal range available to women’s chorus to build ingratiating vocal contours, effective sonorities, and a strong sense of dramatic structure.
Stabat Mater by Giovanni Pergolesi (1710-1736) is one of the most famous compositions ever written in praise of Mary. Written shortly before the composer’s death, Stabat Mater was conceived for soprano and alto soloists with strings and basso continuo. It became immediately popular all of over Europe and was reprinted more than any other work in the eighteenth century.
Stabat Mater is a Sequence text, a succession of verses that fits into the text of the Tract or Alleluia within the structure of the Mass, from the medieval era. This text illustrates a moving, profoundly poignant picture of the grieving mother, Mary. Stabat Mater is not one of the sequences that survived the reforms of the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century; however, it was restored to the Mass in 1727. Pergolesi’s setting exemplifies the fresh, melodic grace for which he was known. Stabat Mater reflects a balance between the popular “galant style,” which advocated simple melodies and balanced phrasing as exemplified in the Quando Corpus; and a more contrapuntal style such as that of the Amen, which would have been the hallmark of good church music of the period.
Ned Rorem’s song cycle What is Pink? exemplifies his gift for taking great texts and wrapping them in melodies which both illuminate the text and linger in the ear.
This song cycle boasts an impressive array of poets: Christina Rossetti, Vachel Lindsay, William Jay Smith, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edwin Arlington Robinson. Rorem’s selection of poems covers a wide array of emotional thought, from the heart-rending love song and lullaby, “A Pavane for the Nursery” to the onomatopoeic “Who Has Seen the Wind?” and the sad “The House on the Hill.” Whether mimicking the sound of the wind, or playing the role of a haughty cat, the piano is a full partner in the performance of these delightful songs
Lift Thine Eyes from Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio, “Elijah”(1809-1847) is a standard among repertoire for women’s choral ensembles. In this lovely three-part chorus, angels comfort Elijah with the paraphrased words of Psalm 121. The rising and falling shape of the melodic line suggests the lifting of one’s eyes toward heaven and the zigzag outline of a mountain range.
American composer Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987) was a prolific composer with an eclectic compositional style. This style is perfectly suited to the highly idiosyncratic poetry of E.E. Cummings, whose poems formed the basis for six of Persichetti’s choral works. HIs song cycle,
Spring Cantata was composed in 1963 for the Wheelock College Glee Club. The work sets four of Cummings’ nature poems, which are arranged in the manner of a miniature symphony. In Just-spring is the final movement within the cantata. Lively and virtuosic, it makes use of the pandiatonic music for which Persichetti is known.
I want to stop being an endless night is the first of six madrigals from the Alarcon Madrigals II by Roger Bourland (b. 1952). Commissioned for Iris Levine and Vox Femina in Los Angeles, CA, this collection is one of three sets of madrigals which celebrate the minimalist poetry of Francisco Xavier Alarcon (1954-2016), who identified as both a bilingual Chicano-American and an educator. Alarcon preferred the experience of his poetry in voice rather than reading it on paper as it allowed the organic, somewhat “stream-of-thought,” nature of the poem to emerge. Bourland’s musical settings reflect Alarcon writing style: sparse and deliberate, with musical lines that emerge as the poem unfolds.
Canadian composer Eleanor Daley composed The Angels Will Guide You Home for the Bach Children’s Chorus of Toronto, for whom she is an accompanist. This work displays sensitive interweaving of the anonymous text with expansive melody and gratifying harmonies. Though this work was conceived for children’s voices, women’s voices lend depth and warmth to the poignant text, creating the comforting sound akin to a choir of heavenly angels.
Sansa Kroma is an Akan playground song that is well known to most West African children. It comes from a large body of African call and response songs that serve as a means to teach children life lessons. Sansa Kroma describes an orphaned hawk, Sansa, who flies about looking for abandoned chicks to carry away. Sensing impending danger the broader community summons the chicks to safety. Through singing Sansa Kroma, children learn not be afraid of being alone if they become orphaned, for their village would take them in and protect them.
Canadian composer Allister MacGillivray wrote Away from the Roll of the Sea after viewing a photo of Glace Bay Harbor in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The result is a lovely, rolling melody that describes boats at rest in the harbor. This reflection of life by the water connects with almost any group or any age that sings it. Part of this appeal comes from the fact that the words imply more than one meaning. On the surface the text indicates that no one can know by simply looking at the boats in safe harbor what adventures or hardships they have endured. The implied meaning is that no one can possibly know the adventures and histories of people’s lives just by looking at them. Away from the Roll of the Sea earned a special place in the repertoire of the Elektra Women’s Choir when co-founder Diane Loomer (1940-2012) arranged the work for women’s voices. The low tessitura celebrates the rich colors possible in women’s voices.
Prior to his death in 2003, Moses Hogan was lauded as the preeminent arranger of Afro-American spirituals. Following in the footsteps of arrangers such as William Dawson and Hall Johnson, Hogan’s works became immensely popular. Music Down In My Soul is not so much an arrangement of an old work as it is a mostly a new composition inspired by the older spiritual Over My Head. From a gospel, chordal beginning to a flowing, other-worldly meditation to a roof raising call and response finish, Hogan digs deep and helps us find the “music down in my soul.”