Once you get started, you just can’t stop sometimes. A while back I started writing this new piece, and today I was just supposed to write out what I had sketched all ready. A few hours later and the piece is done, but it wasn’t a smooth experience. Writing started out easy enough, but got really tough toward the end. Anyway, here’s what it’s about:
It’s a setting of an Orthodox text called “Prayer for the Healing of the Sick.” I’ve been thinking a lot about my five month old nephew, Andrew, who just finished his first round of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with Leukemia. This, I guess, is my reaction to what he, my sister and brother-in-law are going through. I’m not sure if I’ve really had a chance to express/vent how this crisis is affecting me. This might be my chance.
Here’s the text:
“Be thou the physician of thy servants.
Raise them up from their beds of sickness,
And from their beds of wasting disease,
Whole and perfectly restored to health.
Yea, Lord send down from Heaven thy healing might,
Touch the bodies; Quench the fevers, soothe the pangs,
And banish every hidden ailment.”
It’s a really rough start; I’ve still got a lot of revisions to do. Here’s the first page so far:
I have always loved the poem “i thank You God for most this amazing day,” by e e cummings. Seeing as it’s Thanksgiving, I decided to try something that was recommended to me once: “When waking up, before opening your eyes, recite this poem aloud to yourself from memory. Once you have finished the final line then open your eyes.”
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
I must admit, I wasn’t expecting such a wonderful feeling of gratitude or a new found sense of purpose to follow this ritual, but it gave me a new perspective on Thanksgiving this year. I truly do thank God for everything he’s given me. Today, I celebrated with members of my extended family and my sister. Their kindness and generosity knows no bounds. Another blessing to be grateful for.
Here’s that poem as read by the poet, e e cummings:
It looks like Ireland!!! (Which is where we went on tour after this filming)
Back in my first year of BYU Singers we spent a gagillion hours preparing for this PBS broadcast called “The Pilgrim’s Journey Home.” It was many hours of blood, sweat and tears making this broadcast what we wanted it to be. In addition to the broadcast is the recording that accompanies it. The DVD is all right, not a big deal for me, but this record is something I’m really quite proud of. BYU Singers contributed two solo songs for the program, one of them being Dr. Staheli’s arrangement of “I Feel Like I’m on My Journey Home.” I LOVE this song and especially this arrangement. There are very few other pieces that speak to me to the same degree. Let’s put it this way: It’s one of the songs I want played at my funeral.
The performance of this piece has got to be one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. First of all, the musicality and sound of this performance had reached a whole new level of maturity, even from the previous week. Second, I had just finished being incredibly sick earlier that week. It was like waking up after your head had been in a paint mixer the whole night. It also happened to be after a whole night of terrible nightmares that seemed to continue for endless hours. It was a tremendous challenge, but after sufficient rest and spiritual counseling, I was able to get out of bed, put on a tux and sing this music. It was a miracle.
In addition to what BYU Singers performed there are two other songs on here that are quite special. Their two piece written by good friends of mine: Daniel McDavitt and Jared Oaks. The first is “The Promised Land,” by Daniel. It was written for Concert Choir the year previous that I had the opportunity to premiere. It’s an incredible piece that’s so well crafted. The second is “Pilgrims on a Journey,” by Jared. This was written for the Women’s Chorus and features the cello studio here at BYU with Julie Beven playing the solo. The first time we in the choirs heard this piece, we were stunned at its beauty. It’s a really remarkable setting of fantastic words.
Last weekend, BYU Singers and Concert Choir had a phenomenal experience on the stage last weekend. We had a fantastic time singing together and for each other. During this performance BYU Singers made a HUGE jump up from where we had been earlier that week. It was remarkable what we accomplished in the space of a week.
Here’s what we sang:
There is Sweet Music Here – E.J. White
Everyone Sang – Dominck Argento
I Have Had Singing – Steven Sametz
Wenn wir in Höchsten Nöten sein, Op. 110 – Johannes Brahms
Each Day – Stephen Paulus
The Night is Young – Colum Sands
If I Can Help Somebody – Alma B. Androzzo
Bright Pathways – arr. Ronald Staheli
The first two sets are full of super difficult music. The Argento happens to be some of the hardest music I’ve encountered, it might have something to do with us being such a small choir. At the same time, pulling these off has been so rewarding for all of us.
To finish the night, Singers and Concert Choir joined forces to perform at the end. Here’s the catch though: we hadn’t prepared anything to sing together! Instead we sightread a different hymn for both nights. It’s thrilling to sight-read hymns we’ve never seen before and make it musical and moving. I love it when we can all do that together. It reminds me of singing with St. John’s College at Oxford.
For those not familiar with Górecki, he was a Polish composer who became one of the leading musical voices of our time. He spent much of his life struggling and writing without much success until his Symphony No. 3 (or “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”) became an overnight success on England’s record charts decades after he’d written it. For more about that watch this clip from a BBC documentary:
For some reason, we have a difficult time putting his music into any sort of genre, but most compare him to “holy minimalists,” like Arvo Pärt, or John Tavener. All three composers spend time writing in a serialistic style and then abandoned this to find a different voice, and this is what most of them are known for. To hear the powerful, stirring second movement of Górecki’s 3rd Symphony watch this video:
After a very successful concert with the BYU Women’s and Men’s Chorus we’ve got another concert to look forward to this weekend. BYU Singers and Concert Choir will be putting on their own performance this weekend. This is something we’ve been working on for a while. Since BYU Singers is going to Chicago to perform at this years ACDA convention we’ve been preparing that music for this concert. We’ll be singing a bunch of difficult pieces such as “Everyone Sang” by Dominick Argento, as well as “Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein” (op. 110, no. 2…or 3) by Brahms, both for double choir. We’re also performing “I Have Had Singing,” by Sametz and “Each Day” by Stephen Paulus among others. Challenging music to say the least, but it’s coming along very well.
Concert Choir will be performing some absolutely gorgeous new settings of old latin texts like “O Magnum Mysterium,” by William Hawley, as well as “Sanctus” by Györgi Orbán. They sound fantastic this year. What an incredible sound to come out so early in the semester. It’s gonna be a great pairing.
I’m not conducting a piece at this concert, but will be at the Christmas concert. Should be outstanding! I’m really looking forward to it.