Moses Hogan concert

Amazingly enough, I got to attend another concert this past weekend with my daughter T at Trinity Church where we heard the St. John Passion in April. This was also a concert with the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton and Trinity Church Choir, along with Tabernacle United Methodist Choir and members of the Binghamton High School Choir. They were joined by countertenor Derek Lee Ragin and pianist Pej Reitz for “A Moses Hogan Celebration.”

Moses Hogan (1957-2003) was a multifaceted musician who is most well known for his stunning arrangements of Negro spirituals and most of the program was given to performances of these arrangements. Derek Lee Ragin met Moses Hogan at Oberlin College Conservatory and, while pursuing a career in opera, also performed and recorded with the Moses Hogan Chorale and Moses Hogan Singers. Also, Moses’ younger sister, Dr. Ava Hogan-Chapman, and her daughter were in attendance. It was wonderful to have people who knew him so well there to tell us more about him, and, of course, to hear Derek Lee Ragin sing.

I had sung a couple of Moses Hogan arrangements and had heard a number of them when E and T were singing in high school and college choirs. These tended to be the more up-tempo songs such as “Elijah Rock” and “Ride on, King Jesus”. While I loved hearing these familiar arrangements in the concert, I was especially moved by some of the pieces that were unfamiliar to me.

Among these was “His Light Still Shines”, a choral medley in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The piece is a blend of narrative and spirituals. Sharon Ball offered very powerful narration in alternation with the choral pieces. I knew Sharon Ball as the retired director of the Broome County Arts Council and as a candidate for New York State Senate in our district. I hadn’t realized that earlier in her career she had been a broadcast journalist, professional singer, and White House staffer in the Carter administration. She brought all of these skills together to speak so clearly and movingly about Dr. King’s work and legacy. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination; it saddens me that we still have so far to go in social justice and peacemaking in the United States all these decades later.

The piece, though, that had both T and me on the verge of tears was “There’s a Man Goin’ Round”, which is a piece about the death of a parent. With my mom in hospice care and the recent death of my college roommate’s mother, that piece was especially meaningful and heart-rending.

It’s a testament to the power of the spirituals, born as they were under the weight of slavery, oppression, and suffering, that they transcend and bring hope, even in difficult times centuries later.

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another farewell concert

Two years ago, I wrote about the final concert with the long-time director of the Binghamton University Chorus.

Last Sunday, we sang in the final concert of another faculty member, Timothy Perry, who had conducted the orchestra and various other instrumental ensembles and taught clarinet for the past 33 years. Members from University Chorus, Harpur Chorale, the Southern Tier Singers’ Collective, and VOCI combined to sing Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem. Dr. Perry had conducted a performance of it fifteen years ago with the University Symphony and Chorus with soloists Professors Mary Burgess and Timothy LeFebrve, who joined us again for this performance.

The University Symphony Orchestra, along with some members of the Binghamton Community Orchestra which Dr. Perry also conducts, and all the singers wanted to make his last concert a memorable one.

And we succeeded.

The singers, most of whom were prepared for the concert by Binghamton University Professor Dr. William Culverhouse, worked very hard to develop uniform and precise diction  while also attending to all the musical elements that Vaughn Williams had incorporated into the score. The singers were in so many different ensembles that we only were able to rehearse together in the final week, but we had been so thoroughly prepared by Dr. Culverhouse that things fell into place without too much angst. (I realize that sounds a bit strange, but anyone who has ever had to perform with only limited rehearsal time for all the players and singers together knows how daunting it can be when all the different groups finally get together.)

It was very important to us that the audience could understand the text, which is a plea for peace, something that the whole world needed when Vaughn Williams wrote the piece in the aftermath of The Great War and in fear of what would soon become an even larger-scale war. We feel that same need for peace in our current world.

The bulk of the text is from the United States poet, Walt Whitman. This year is the bicentennial of his birth. Whitman spent a lot of time during the American Civil War visiting the wounded of both sides of the conflict in the hospitals in Washington, DC. He wrote extensively about the war and its human toll in the free verse style of poetry. Because he was an early champion of free verse in the United States and because that is the style of poetry I most often use in my own work, I consider Walt Whitman to be one of my important poetic forebears. It was important to us that the audience could readily understand what we were saying and I’m happy to report that they did indeed understand us.

Because of Dr. Culverhouse’s meticulous attention to detail, we were able to really express the text and the music to the audience and to follow Dr. Perry’s nuanced interpretation to make the performance truly memorable, one of the peak experiences of my decades of choral singing. We knew from our own internal sense and from the enthusiastic and extended standing ovation from the audience that we had really communicated what we had hoped to them.

At the reception after the concert, I was able to speak with Dr. Perry a bit. He was very pleased with the performance and told me that some of his favorite concerts that he had conducted in Binghamton were collaborations between his Symphony and University Chorus. He also told me that he appreciated seeing some familiar faces in the chorus, as a number of us were members of University Chorus even before he arrived on campus.

It was a poignant moment for me. For my first 35 years with University Chorus, we met and sang a concert every semester. In these last two years, we have only met one semester in the academic year and have become an adjunct group to the Harpur Chorale, the main student choral ensemble. There were understandable reasons for this, but it still saddens me not to have a place to sing every semester.

University Chorus was accustomed to finding out at our spring concert what the plans were for the next academic year. Given that there will be a brand new conductor of the University Symphony next year, the scheduling is being left open until that person has arrived and gotten the lay of the land. It’s possible that University Chorus may not meet at all in the 2019-2020 academic year. It’s even possible that we may not fit into the evolving music department and cease to exist. Or that it may become so selective that I won’t make it through the audition.

If this concert was my last, I’m thankful that it was so meaningful and memorable. In giving Dr. Perry a beautiful gift for his final concert, we also gave a gift to ourselves.

St. John Passion

Over the weekend, daughters E and T accompanied me to a concert of Bach’s Passion According to St. John. The Binghamton Madrigal Choir was joined by the choir of Trinity Memorial Episcopal Church, soloists, and an 18-piece orchestra for the performance.

Trinity Church was filled to capacity for the concert. I worked at Trinity for a couple of years in the mid-1980s and sometimes visited there afterward for concerts and services, as my friend Peter Browne served as organist and choirmaster there for many years. The choir stalls had been removed and the organ console moved to the center, a reminder that the organ had recently been extensively rebuilt, as the console used to be fixed in place. The accompanist of madrigal choir played the organ while Peter’s successor played the harpsichord.

Bruce Borton, under whose direction I sang for many years with the Binghamton University Chorus until his retirement, directs the Madrigal Choir and conducted this performance. It was great to see him conducting, even though we could only see him from behind.

The concert was very moving. I especially enjoyed the choral movements. I had had the opportunity to sing the St. John Passion with University Chorus in the ’80s, when we were still under the direction of founding director David Buttolph. I love to sing Bach and was remembering many passages as the choir sang, including how many (terrifying) times the choir has to begin a movement with no introduction, finding their pitches from the prior cadence.

In order to make the concert more easily understood, especially as it was just before Holy Week, the original German had been translated into English. The English translation was occasionally awkward, but it did allow the audience to join the chorus in singing the chorales that appear among the recitatives, arias, and choruses. When the director invited us to sing the chorales, which were printed in the extensive program, some people laughed as though they thought he was joking, but that is how the congregation in Bach’s time would have participated in the Passion.

My daughters and I thoroughly enjoyed singing the chorales. After the concert, the man who had been sitting in front of us turned around and said that someone behind him had a lovely voice. I told him that it was E and T.

As we were putting on our coats, the woman next to me told me that I had a nice voice, too. I know that I will never have as nice a voice as my daughters, especially E who had sung the soprano arias when she was in school, but it was a sweet gesture.

I want to thank all the musicians who made the performance of the Passion possible. It was also special to be able to attend a concert with my daughters. Because the last few years have been so intensive on the caretaking front, I haven’t been able to get out to cultural events very often, so it was extraspecial to be able to experience this together.

SoCS: Oscars

Because the Oscars, the film Academy awards, are this weekend, yesterday on the radio I heard two film critics discussing the nominees. It was also a call-in show, so there was a host and callers offering opinions, too.

I usually do watch the Oscars, but this year I have seen very few movies, so I don’t have any basis to have an opinion about who should win.

Some years, I have seen more of the films, although some films are never shown in my area. We aren’t a big metropolitan area and our only arthouse movie theater closed, so we don’t get the opportunity to see some of the more limited release movies.

One thing that was interesting was that there was very little that both critics and callers agreed on. I remember especially the discussion of Roma. Two callers and one of the critics found it very moving and meaningful and the other critic thought it was boring. Being a critic, he had watched it three times, trying to see if there was something he was missing, but he never found it.

If even critics, who watch movies for a living, can’t agree on a film, there is no way I can predict anything about the Oscars. I will likely still watch. If nothing else, I will get to hear performances of the nominated songs and see lots of spiffy clothes.

Do you watch the Oscars or have any predictions to give?
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “critic(al).” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/02/22/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-feb-23-19/

singing again

Last night, for the first time in over a year, I went to a (Binghamton) University Chorus rehearsal.

I have written posts before on the changes in the choral program* and the University which necessitated the transformation of what had for decades been a large chorus of community members, students, and staff which sang a major concert every semester into a much smaller ensemble that sings when needed to help the student groups perform larger works.

This semester, we are preparing to sing Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem, which I performed once before with University Chorus in 2003. This piece is being programmed a lot this year because of the bicentennial of the birth of Walt Whitman, whose poems comprise most of the text of the work. As luck would have it, the Smith College Alumnae Chorus is also singing the work this year; I will be joining our July tour to Slovenia, where we will sing two performances.

Most of my singing for the past year has been either in church services or with ABC, whom I can sometimes sing to sleep. Not exactly the caliber of singing required for Vaughn Williams. Fortunately, our director, Bill Culverhouse, is very good at getting our bodies and brains engaged, so I actually managed to acquit myself quite well, helped by the fact that we worked on the third movement, “Reconciliation”, in which we second sopranos get to sing a lovely, lyrical passage twice. It’s also one of the movements that stayed with me over the last decade and a half since I learned it. Some of the other sections are going to be a bit harder to get back in my head.

It is also hard to get used to rehearsing with a much smaller group. I was used to University Chorus being 80-100 voices and being one of about fifteen second sopranos. It’s somewhat more daunting to be one of five seconds in a group of about thirty. I anticipate doing a significant amount of preparation at home, as I did when we sang music related to St. Mark’s in Venice in December 2017.

I was very happy to see some of my singing friends again. And even happier to be singing together again.

* In looking back at this post, which explains a lot of my experience with the transition itself, there are several things that didn’t happen in the way I had anticipated. My mom, who had then been in hospice care, was decertified in October of 2018, and, while continuing to suffer from congestive heart failure, is happily still with us. The visa process for daughter E has been a much longer slog than we had thought. She and ABC are still living with us, probably until August of 2019. Lastly, the University Chorus hiatus was longer, as this academic year we are singing in the second semester rather than the first.
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January! Today’s pingback link is here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/29/jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-29th/
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/

SoCS: Sesame Street

Thirty years ago, our television was often tuned to Sesame Street on our local public broadcasting channel. It was an hour long and we followed the story lines of the human and Muppet characters. We had Sesame Street songs on cassette and some Sesame Street toys. We even had a Sesame Street songbook that served us well for many years and often sat on the music rack of our piano.

Now, our television is sometimes tuned to Sesame Street on our television, which is much thinner but with a bigger screen than it was thirty years ago. We still have it on our local public broadcasting station, but the episodes, which are only a half hour, are delayed by months, as the series is now on HBO. I admit that it bothers me, although I know that they needed to make the change to keep the series going.

Our granddaughter ABC, like many other young children, is more likely to watch Sesame Street segments on a tablet or smartphone. And, unlike our old cassettes, there are no tangles of tape as they got used often.

I hope that Sesame Street will continue to be produced around the world for many more years to come. I want it to be there for ABC’s children, too.
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January and/or Stream of Consciousness Saturday! Today’s prompt was “television.” Today’s pingback link is here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/18/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-19th/ 
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/  

blue Christmas

Several years ago, I attended a Blue Christmas service, led by a pastor-friend. It is a service during Advent to help those who are experiencing loss or struggles, acknowledging that the Christmas season is difficult in their circumstances.

It would have been beneficial to attend such a service this year.

I have been preoccupied with caregiving responsibilities and concerns over these last months, which don’t pause just because it is December. I outsourced nearly all the Christmas preparations to my family, even sending holiday cards and letters, which has long been one of my highest priorities. I couldn’t make myself try to sum up what has been a complex year, so spouse B and daughter T wrote a letter instead.

One of the blessings of this year, though, has been that our Christmas celebration has been elongated, starting with St. Nicholas Day on December 6th, which we observed so that we could celebrate with daughter E and granddaughter ABC before they left to spend several weeks with son-in-law L and his family in London. My older sister and her husband came to visit weekend before last. T and I attended Christmas Eve mass at 6:00 last night, with the instrumental ensemble and choir and the handbell choir. T loves handbells and ringing, so it was wonderful to hear them, especially with the new addition of handchimes.

On this Christmas morning, we opened stockings and a few presents, given that we already did stockings and gift exchange for St. Nicholas Day. We will have dinner at noon with Nana and Paco, bringing Nana over from her room in skilled nursing to the main dining room for the holiday buffet, as we did at Thanksgiving. Tomorrow, my younger sister and her family will arrive for a couple of days.

Still, it is difficult for me to feel festive. It’s hard to marvel at the wonder of the Incarnation while thinking about logistics and everyday details.

Perhaps, that is the message, though. The wonder of the Incarnation is that it arrived by everyday means, the birth of a child in complicated circumstances, something that happens around the world every day.

Perhaps, I can take that message into my own heart today, reminding myself that the spirit of Love is within and around us in our everyday experiences, if we only reflect and notice.

Wishing that spirit of Love to each of you,
Joanne