Radio segment on Alice Parker

In September of 2014, The Smith College Alumnae Chorus (SCAC) had a choral homecoming event with composer/conductor/choral arranger/champion of choral singing Alice Parker ’47.

I was pleased to take part and to blog about it here and here, with related posts here and here.

Yesterday, the SCAC posted this link: http://nepr.net/news/2015/12/15/at-90-its-still-all-about-the-melody-for-hawleys-famed-alice-parker/ on Facebook from the local NPR affiliate, featuring interviews with Parker and other musicians and clips of her work, all in under five minutes.

Alice will soon turn 90 and the celebration is on!

Morning hymn

On my way to 7:30 mass this morning, I was listening to public radio. Early Sunday morning is reserved for organ and church music.

The drive is not terribly long but I did hear one piece in its entirety, an organ/choral setting of the hymn, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty!” [Tune: Nicaea], which was one of the first hymns I ever sang as a young child after Vatican II.  The organist was Gerre Hancock and the recording was from late in his career when he was in Texas.

When I was an undergrad at Smith, I had a friend who was pursuing his Master’s in Sacred Music from Yale and who studied organ with Gerre Hancock. It was a great privilege to attend one of my friend’s lessons, held at St. Thomas Episcopal in New York City, and a rehearsal of the choristers there. St. Thomas was the place where he spent most of his career and established himself as one of the finest organists and choir directors of his generation.

Mr. Hancock, while prodigiously talented as a musician and teacher, was a kind, generous, and polite gentleman. I remember that he addressed me as Miss Corey, which was a surprise to me as a college student coming, as it did, from the one of the best church musicians in the country.

The recording I heard this morning was magnificent. It opened with an extended organ introduction and included an artful modulatory interlude. (The modulation reminded me of talking with my daughter T last weekend, who recalled her favorite description of modulation, as voiced by someone at our church, as “that thing you do on the organ and then everybody sings louder.”) While I know that Mr. Hancock was fully capable of improvising these, I expect that for the purposes of making a recording, he had actually composed them in advance.

When mass began this morning, our entrance hymn was “Holy! Holy! Holy!”

Sunday blast from the past

…although “blast” may not be the right word.

It happens that the lectionary readings at church today contained two texts which I have set to music.

The Hebrew Scriptures reading from Proverbs chapter 9 contains part of the text I used in composing an anthem for the dedication of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Johnson City, NY and the Gospel reading from John chapter 6 is the basis for my piece “And I Will Raise Them Up,” which was also written for the choir at Blessed Sacrament.

It’s as though all that happened in another lifetime.

Ten years ago, the parish that I knew, loved, and served disintegrated.  A remnant of it existed for a while longer and eventually merged with a nearby parish. Its complex of buildings closed after a second devastating flood within five years. They have been sold to a nearby Christian college, which will eventually re-open the church as their chapel, although, as is common, the altar, stained glass windows, and other religious accouterments were removed before the building was sold.

Today, knowing that the tower windows are gone is especially poignant. I had chosen the texts for my anthem for the dedication of the renovated and expanded church building dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament based on those windows, which depicted three aspects of the Eucharist – nourishment, healing, and presence – using images from Hebrew Scriptures. The Proverbs text we heard today, in which Wisdom prepares and invites everyone to a feast, was the basis of the “nourishment” section and the source of the title, “Wisdom Has Built Herself a House.”

It was sung publicly only once, at the dedication of the church. It’s unlikely that it will ever be sung again. It exists only on mute, hand-written pages and as an echo in my memory.

Paul Goldstaub tribute concert

On January 31st, the Music Department of Binghamton (NY) University presented a concert of Professor Emeritus Paul Goldstaub’s music on the first anniversary of his death. It was wonderful to hear such an eclectic mix of Paul’s music, much of it performed by the musicians who had premiered it.

I found my mind going back to my own studies of theory and composition at Smith. At that time, we began our theory course sequence in a contemporary setting with the study of rhythm, timbre, and melody, before progressing in later semesters to common practice period harmony, counterpoint, and chromatic harmony. The concert opened with a fugue for 3 snare drums, which included some air drumming and left us wishing that we could have seen the score to see how Paul had notated it. The second half of the concert opened with Pastorale II for flute and digital delay, played by Georgetta Maiolo. I loved how it wedded wonderful melodic writing with contemporary technology, with the digital delay taking the place of what would probably have been done by tape in my student days.

I also appreciated that Paul wrote for so many different instruments and combinations. In the concert, there was a piece for trombone and piano and one for marimba and piano. Hindemith came to mind. The concert program included a full list of Goldstaub’s composition, arranged chronologically, which allowed us to appreciate the full scope of his range as a composer.

Paul’s inventiveness as a composer was on fullest display in the excerpts from Every Evening for baritone, a chorus of three sopranos, piano, and percussion duo. Before each movement was sung, the poem was read by Professor Emeritus Martin Bidney, who had translated them from Russian, into which they had been translated from the Spanish folk tradition. The settings that followed had an incredible richness of soundscape, including some pitched speech reminiscent of Sprechstimme, close harmony from the three sopranos, and dialogue between the baritone and varied combinations of the sopranos.

As a member of a chamber chorus drawn from the Binghamton University Chorus, it was my privilege to participate in the final piece on the program, the first movement of Shakespeare Mix, which Paul had written for us in 2002. Accompanied by two pianos and percussion, we sang from Twelfth Night, “If music be the food of love, play on.” As we finished, a photograph of Paul was projected on a screen beside the stage. As the ovation went on, it was good to know that we had all joined together that evening to make sure that Paul Goldstaub’s music does “play on.”