Thursday, November 17, 2011

Concert #5: Highlights from the 2011 NCCO Conference

Northwest Missouri State University, Tower Chamber Choir, dir. by Stephen Town

Literature from the English School for Chorus and Organ (Sean Vogt, organ)

God is gone up, by Finzi (Boosey)

Like as a hart desireth the waterbrooks, by Howells (OUP)

The Lord is Risen, by Arthur Bliss (Novello)

Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, by Rubbra (Allied Lengnick)

Nunc dimittis, by Stanford (

I am a gigantic fan of this genre and the performance by this amazing chamber choir concert was to die for. Almost late, I scurried in and grabbed a seat in the front row, almost inside the choir! This concert was held in the Organ Performance Hall, a more intimate setting than the large hall where the other concerts were held. I opened up my program and saw "Finzi" and of course melted away with the beauty of the music - great singing, great communication between conductor and singers (one advantage of sitting close and slightly to the side is that you get to see the interactions more).

Then as they were about to start piece two I glance down at the program- it's one of my favorite gems, Howells' Like as a hart! The Howells' starts and not that far into it I am really overcome with emotion, not even an emotion I can put my fingers on exactly. Some of it comes from the beauty of the music, its odd flatted, virtually blues fifths and poignant minor mode and subtle dissonances- but it also comes from the communication I was sensing from soul to soul in the choir/conductor realm, and also, I realize, the music is bringing forth subconscious feelings of both pain and beauty in my own life experience. Somehow these intense feelings of floating freely in a glorious ether, yet also the sadness and pain tied our daily travails, are somehow all being brought together by this piece and by this performance of otherworldly beauty. This leads to some tears, and of course grown men aren't supposed to cry, right? So I wiped some tears away, but more replaced them- not to the point of being a distraction to the people behind me, but they were there and weren't going away. As an inner dialogue I said to myself- this is what music is supposed to do to us, for us, or with us- don't fight it. And so in a sense I didn't- I let myself go and become one with this music and the experience was beautiful on so many levels. I can tell you that this happened to me at another concert not long ago- tears of sheer joy which unexpectedly overtook me with a wallop as I watched Marie Guinand's choir from South America sing, dance, and smile, and then exit the stage dancing and waving to a raving audience (ACDA Oklahoma City 2009 National Conference).

The next piece, by Arthur Bliss, was a bit of textual craziness- I loved it- wild Middle English images of dragons and what-not, and brilliantly sung, of course.

The concert ended with a gorgeous Magnifikitty and a Nook and another Nook (oops, I meant a Nunc and another Nunc). All in all this was a sublime performance- I am sorry for anyone who missed it. To me this was a major highlight of the conference- and thanks to Buddy James for creating an NCCO category for chamber choirs. The energy between conductor and choir was beyond words. The sopranos were amazing- they floated so beautifully at times, yet never out of context with their lower-voiced colleagues and the music. Stephen Town was masterful in his control and understanding of this music- he lead, shaped, and enabled a great, soulful performance by singers finely attuned to his musical models. And then there was organist Sean Vogt, the glue that held it all together in tandem with Dr. Town.

More info on Dr. Town: In 1993 he was the recipient of the prestigious Ralph Vaughan Williams Fellowship, given by the Carthusian Trust and Charter House School in the United Kingdom to a North American scholar for research on the great English composer.

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