Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chor Anno- a great program this coming weekend

Today, Sept. 21st, I'm leaving Chicago to visit the Pacific NW for the first time in my life- something I've wanted to do for years. I will be at the world premiere of my modernized, quite contrapuntal double choir arrangement of William Billings' "When Jesus Wept" in a concert by Chor Anno, founded not long ago by Howard Meharg.

The idea behind Chor Anno is brilliant- take 25-30 professional choral singers/directors with chops and do one kickass concert each early fall. When else could all these busy directors find the time to be in a choir- they are too busy leading choirs all year!

Here is some info from the Chor Anno website about some of the piece on the upcoming concert which will be presented both Saturday and Sunday. Note that ACDA prez Tim Sharp also has a piece on the program and will be there!

Part of the program will include "Come Away to the Skies: A High Lonesome Mass," by Dr. Tim Sharp, Executive Director of the American Choral Directors Association.

Dr. Sharp, is well known in choral circles, not only as head of the 20,000 member ACDA, but as a conductor and composer.

The great thing for us is that Tim Sharp will not only be here for the premiere of his work, but he will also play the banjo as part of the accompanying bluegrass style group. Yes, you'll hear a marvelous combining of musical styles...wonderful choral writing and the poignant and mesmerizing sound of bluegrass instruments accompanying the choir.

But that's just part of the concert!

Early/Late American

The program will range from early American to present day compositions by American composers such as John Muehleisen (Seattle), Paul Carey (Chicago), Richard Nance (Tacoma), Vijay Singh (Ellensburg), Ola Gjeilo (New York)...all contemporary, as well as a work by the incomparable Leonard Bernstein.

Here is [part of] the program:

Come Away to the Skies - and early American hymn arranged by the legendary double-choir Alice Parker

Saints Bound for Heaven - a melody from Walker's "Southern Harmony" of 1835, arranged by Mack Wilberg

When Jesus Wept - William Billings, from the New England Psalm Singer of 1770, but with an amazing new twist...arranged for eight-part, double choir by Paul Carey. This is a premiere performance. (Paul will be in attendance for the Vancouver concert!)

Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal - the robust and powerful hymn arranged by Alice Parker

Come Away to the Skies: a High Lonesome Mass - a west coast premiere of Tim Sharp's latest work. Tim uses his expertise as a scholar in early American music, taking hymns such as "Brethren, We Have Met to Worship," "Do Lord," "Hail, the Blest Morn," and "What Wondrous Love," and placed them in the framework of the mass. The result is a stunning 20 minute work.


Alleluia - by Hyo won Woo is a departure (along with the next two works) from our American themed concert...but we just had to perform 'em. This piece was premiered at the ACDA national convention by the Incheon Chorale of Seoul, Korea, in 2009. Powerful and very exciting. This may be another west-coast premiere performance.

The Beatitudes - by contemporary Estonian composer, Arvo Paert

Northern Lights - a composition by Ola Gjeilo

Carpenters of God - by our friend Vijay Singh

River Moons - is written by John Muehleisen, a Seattle composer who is becoming widely known. This piece was premiered and recorded by the Choral Arts Ensemble of Rochester, MN, in 2006. It's a setting of the poem by Carl Sandburg, who turns the image of the moon reflected in the water into a vivid memory from his youth.

The rest of my nine days in Oregon and Washington will be spent working with two excellent HS and college choirs,geocaching, sightseeing,and hanging out with my partner in crime, fellow composer Reg Ungerseher (who is the conductor for my piece). I guess when I am with Reg back at his home in Kennewick, WA I will see Mt. St. Helen's and many tumbleweeds (he does NOT live near the coast).

Here is the link to Chor Anno


I will try to blog while I am there!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Concert for Peace

My good friend Paul LaPrade, a humble genius, presented a program on September 10th (note, not September 11th) entilted "A Concert for Peace" in Rockford Illinois at the historic Coronado Theater. Paul’s intention was to avoid the painful date of the 11th and focus on peace and how we all must strive to achieve it.

Paul worked in cooperation with the Rockford Interfaith Council in this large undertaking, as it involved speakers from seven faiths plus eight choirs (thus the creative title Yet despite the size of the undertaking it all played out in a relaxed, wonderfully creative and introspective way. Of course that would be the LaPrade touch- always a fine grace beneath the action taken.

I also must assume that most of my blog readers do not know much about Rockford. It is an aging city in NW Illinois which has struggled for years with rust belt problems- high unemployment, street gangs, poor schools, etc. To witness such an amazing event within a city with these chronic problems is hope embodied. It speaks volumes about the Interfaith Council and the fine people of Rockford who care for their city and about peace.

The speakers, representing the Native American tradition, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Baha‘i, for the most part stayed away from referencing 9/11 imagery and pain. Of course we all knew it was a subtext- yet their message for September 10th was of peace and what insight each religion, in its best hours not its worst, could share with us in our quest for peace. I enjoyed the opening short speech by Native American speaker Dennis Dillard, about visiting “Miracle” the white bison (symbolic of peace and unity to virtually all Native Americans), born in Wisconsin in 1994.


The speech which I enjoyed the most, and which necessitated audience participation was by Buddhist leader Xuan Dinh. Dressed in traditional orange Buddhist monk garb, he simply told us we must, as an audience, breathe. Well of course we were going to do that- but now he was gently imploring us to be conscious of our breath-- that which keeps us alive and connects us constantly to the ether of the world. And as he encouraged us to breathe and close our eyes, he intoned for us the Buddhist chant (alternating between the chant and telling us the translation) “May I be Happy”. It was a very sweet and touching few minutes and quite delightful in its simplicity. Please read below for more about this text.

Mixed between the speakers’ messages were performances of wonderful music by Rockford area choirs- a wide variety of dedicated amateur groups plus Paul’s new semi-pro chamber group ”Elysian Voices”. The groups were the Rock Valley Children’s Choir, directed by Leah Baskin; the Rock Valley College Concert Choir and Elysian Voices, directed by LaPrade; A Classic Chorale, directed by Larry Runestad; the DeKalb Festival Chorus, directed by Jennifer Whiting, and Kantorei, the Singing Boys of Rockford, directed by Joel Ross.

Al of the choirs acquitted themselves nicely and the repertoire choices were strong- not a clichéd piece in the entire evening. To me the highlights were the two youth choirs. The Rock Valley Children’s Choir featured some of their youngest voices on the main melody- a very sweet touch. When the older singers entered in two and three part harmony the tone quality was simply gorgeous. Leah Baskin’s direction showed a great enthusiasm for working with young people, I’d like to get to know this director! Joel Ross’ boy choir was also wonderfully expressive, and how great is it to see an all-boys choir thriving in 2011, when most moms and dads think their boys should only be playing sports an never do anything artistic. Bravo, Joel and singers.

The Rock Valley Choldren's Choir

The program ended with the massed choirs performing “Grant us your Peace” by Mendelssohn. When the music ended there was no great standing ovation, because we sensed the message of the evening in a deep way and there was no need for that kind of overt response. Everyone who attended will remember the words spoken that evening and the hopes that those words and the heartfelt music implored us to act upon in our daily lives as citizens of the world. Sherri and I, plus a sleeping Aidan in my arms, made our way to the stage to congratulate Paul and others- it was a beautiful evening and a great achievement by Paul and all the people involved.

Note about the chant “May I Be Happy”

I was actually familiar with this chant (and loved hearing its inclusion that evening), as I had used the English translation as a text for a piece recently commissioned by the International Christian School of Hong Kong directed by David Baldwin. I used a gentle Christian text (somewhat pantheistic) to open the piece and then moved to an up-tempo setting of the “May I be Happy” words, with my own melody. It was my way of joining Western and Eastern textual elements for that commission. The piece will be published soon by Roger Dean.

What I love about this chant is the hope for all to be happy and peaceful- including our ”enemies”. Here is the text:

May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be free.
May my friends be happy, may my friends be peaceful, may my friends be free.
May my enemies be happy, may my enemies be peaceful, may my enemies be free.
May all beings be happy, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings be free.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Choral Directors: Visit South Korea for little cost!

A Great Opportunity

I just received a notice about a repeat of last year’s Accolades International Tours Choral Director Tour of South Korea. This is an opportunity for any US choral director to visit South Korea for a week of musical performances and networking, discussion of tour opportunities, cultural and historic touring, local food, and so on for a small fraction of what these activities would cost you if you were to pick up the whole tab yourself. It’s all part of South Korea’s venture to make their land a top choir tour destination.

Here is a link to all the information:


And here is a link to my blogs about my visit to South Korea in Fall 2009, when Dr. Hak Won Yoon commissioned me to write a Missa Brevis for his amazing Incheon City Chorale, the group that wowed ACDA National conference attendees in Oklahoma City earlier in that year.


And, by the way, meeting Dr. Yoon and the chorale is part of the itinerary. FYI, I have no stake in this- just thought I would make sure people were aware of it, and would like you to know that South Korea and its people are wonderful.

The tour is in early January and you need to sign up by early October.

Accolades International Tours for the Arts/Group Travel Directors www.accoladestours.com ~ www.gtd.org ~ 800-747-2255 ~ 952-881-7811

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Appointment as Composer in Residence

The Young Naperville Singers

I'm pleased to announce that I have been appointed as composer in residence for 2011-12 for the Young Naperville Singers, Angie Johnson, artistic director. This is a blossoming organization fueled by Angie's great energy and vision – now boasting seven treble choirs covering ages K-12. They have just added a choir for boys only starting at 4th grade. I will guess that this will be generally a boys treble choir but that they will work with changing voices as well as that situation arises. This boys choir has been a dream of Angie's for awhile now. The organization has actually held ten years of a boys ”power sing” (adult male led rote singing and drumming = manly fun) twice yearly which has helped get a few more boys into the organization. I expect that this dedicated boys ensemble, led by a very energetic young man, Ryan Henry (a graduate of the fine choral program at Millikin), will take off and be a great success.

Angie Johnson, YNS Artistic Director

My main role as composer in residence is to write new pieces for specific choirs in the organization and for the choirs in a massed formation. For this December I wrote an SA/piano piece for Anne Kasprzak's group. The text is a wonderfully simple and sweet winter poem by J. Patrick Lewis:

Alone in Winter

Have you come upon a doe, alone in winter?
I did once. She was shy.
Wind galloped through the trees
And the trees stepped back
And the doe made a slow circle in the air
with her wet black nose, as if to say,
I have come upon a boy, alone in winter.

The other piece I wrote is for the massed choirs, a big, joyous setting of the poem On Christmas Morn by Eleanor Farjeon (below are the verses of the poem I used):

Now every child that dwells on earth,
Stand up, stand up and sing:
The passing night has given birth
Unto the childrens' King.
Sing sweet as the flute,
Sing clear as the horn,
Sing joy of the Children,
Come Christmas morn.

Now every Star that dwells in sky,
Look down with shining eyes:
The night has dropped in passing by
A Star from Paradise.

Now every Bird that flies in air,
Sing, raven, lark and dove:
The night has brooded on her lair
And fledged the Bird of love.

Now every Beast that crops in field,
Breathe sweetly and adore:
The night has brought the richest yield
That e’er harvest bore.

In addition to writing pieces for the groups I will also interact with them in rehearsal, do some workshops with them about the creative process and whatever else Angie and I can think up. I also hope to interact with the community in which the choir resides. This coming weekend the top two choirs will be in a retreat, which is a brilliant way to bond, build teamwork, and get cracking on learning scores. I have been invited to work with the choirs for about 45 minutes. I think instead of working with them on their singing or making it all about my music in some way, I have decided to bring a few poems (which I have set to music) and have a discussion about poetry and how we connect to its messages. Since these will be singers in their teens they will be able to get into just about anything I might bring in. I think I will bring in two poems, bu one of them for sure will be the following, which speaks to us about the transiency of life, and how we choose to live within that transient beauty:

LAKE SONG by Collette Inez

Every day our name is changed,
say stones colliding into waves.
Go read our names on the shore,
say waves colliding into stones.

Birds over water call their names
to each other again and again
to say where they are.
Where have you been, my small bird?

I know our names will change one day
to stones in a field
of anemones and lavender.

Before you read the farthest wave,
before our shadows disappear
in a starry blur, call out your name
to say where we are.

I am very much looking forward to this concert season working with Angie, the other directors, and of course the singers. This is my second appointment as a composer in residence. The first was with a very fine ensemble in Madison, Wisconsin, The Festival Singers. This new appointment with YNS will be very different since I will be around all the youthful energy that 300+ children create!

Note: For anyone interested, my SSA/piano setting of Lake Song is published by Roger Dean. A professional recording of the piece by the Milwaukee Choral Artists can be found on my website at www.paulcarey.net