Rehearsing “Midnight Clear”

I thought I’d give an update on how we’re doing on “It Came upon the Midnight Clear.”

Rehearsing my piece with BYU Singers has been a most interesting, and unusual experience. I am so glad Dr. Staheli is at the helm for this piece. He’s put in a lot of time preparing to give the best interpretation he can. He is doing exactly what I want him to do with it. It’s almost creepy how he’ll say something about the piece or my intention as a composer without any sort of previous conversation, and he’ll be spot on.

It’s so exciting to see the way he’s rehearsing it so carefully the same way he would any other piece of music. He’s really paying close attention to the smallest details. I’m really flattered and almost a little embarrassed that we’re taking so much time to rehearse it. It certainly has its challenges, but Dr. Staheli is relentless in making sure that we learn and perform it correctly.

One of the most rewarding moments for me as a composer has been to take this piece to Dr. Staheli and Prof. Hall and receiving feedback. When they started talking about all the images they had in their mind while listening to the piece I smiled because it’s the same images I had in my mind when I composed it. Another rewarding moment is to catch people singing or whistling the piece randomly. Definitely a rewarding moment.

I’m so excited to have people here this in our concert! I’ll post a recording as soon as I get one.

Two Recent Concerts (Full of British Sp’rit)

First, BYU Singers with the King’s Singers.

We’ve had the singular priviledge of performing with such an outstanding ensemble. They are world class and yet so friendly. We had the opportunity to sing three songs with them: “High Flight,” and “A Thanksgiving,” by Bob Chilcott and “The Stolen Child,” by Eric Whitacre. All of them were written for the King’s Singers plus an accompanying choir and are exquisitely written pieces. If I had to pick a favorite, it would probably have to be “High Flight.” These words are coupled with brilliant aleatoric passages contrasted with robust phrasing. There’s a moment at the beginning when we’ve opened with these indeterminate constructs and then the tenor and two countertenors come in with this smooth legato line. Wow! It was thrilling from beginning to end.

The most difficult part about it was how little rehearsal time we got. We had a half hour before the concert at best and then we sang with them. They are super busy. It’s so refreshing to be so well prepared to tackle anything. It was really cool to talk with them after about how they do what they do. I talked for a bit with Philip Lawson about how they audition new members into the group. I learned they ask about Football (soccer) teams they support (Lawson is a Chelsea fan! Yeah!). Talked with Stephen Connolly for a bit about singing bass. Later, I was in the Apple Store up in Salt Lake and bumped into David Hurley. Got to tell him how singing with them exceeded all our expectations and that it was a dream come true for many of us. I highly recommend singing with them.

Second, BYU Singers and Concert Choir.

We just had our concert last night. We have a format for this concert that I just really love. Because we love listening to each other, when one choir is singing, the other choir sits on stage listening to them. It’s great, because we get to listen and support each other in a very present sort of way. I really enjoy it! This concert was an all British program. Singers got to do a set of three Renaissance motets and four Purcell pieces from his operas as follows:

“Dum Transisset Sabbatum” by John Taverner
“O Lord, Give thy Holy Sp’rit” by Thomas Tallis
“Alleluia! Congnoverunt Discipuli” by William Byrd

“Around We Pace,” from The Tempest
“Hush, No More, Be Silent,” from The Fairy Queen
“See, We Assemble,” from King Arthur
“With Drooping Wings,” from Dido and Aenus

All were so much fun to sing, and Dr. Staheli did a really good job of making each piece really accessible to the audience. Some people told me that the Taverner was their favorite (kinda surprising!).

Concert Choir sang three pieces by Edward Elgar and the “Magnificat” by Finzi. The Magnificat was really stunning and a joy to listen to. I’m sure they’ve been working so hard on it, and what a pay off. It was a really moving performance.

Together we sang “Jerusalem,” “Lux Aeterna” by Edward Elgar (an arrangement of the Nimrod theme from the Enigma Variations), “I Sat Down Under His Shadow,” and an arrangement of the Tallis Cannon. Overall, it was a remarkable night with lots of great music and great singing. I love singing with these ensembles. It’s such a joy in my life. When school starts to become a burden, and life in general seems like it’s spinning down the crapper, singing with these groups keeps me going. It becomes a buoying force in my life.

Big Announcement: BYU Singers Premieres My Composition for Christmas

That’s right! I composed a piece that the Brigham Young University Singers will be premiering at our Christmas Concert this December.

It’s the piece I composed called, “It Came upon the Midnight Clear.” Yes, it’s the same text that we’re all familiar with but with completely different music. Different melodies, different harmonies, different rhythms (although one is the same).

I composed it back in July. Don’t ask my why I was writing Christmas music back in July, but I was. I composed it in a single afternoon (which doesn’t usually happen . . . ever) and have spent some time polishing it up and making sure that it is represented in the best possible way. I used some impressionist and post-impressionist techniques in this piece, which is not all that new of a thing for me. Quartal harmonies, secundal harmonies, bi-chordalism (to some extent), pandiatonicism (to some extent), planing, ninth chords and the pentatonic scale. This piece is kind of a different direction than I’ve had in the past. Less function, more color and thicker textures. I’m not sure if this is the direction I’ll take my compositions in, but it’s a possibility. I know I talked about counterpoint versus stacked chords in a previous blog, but I just couldn’t help myself.

In one of my previous posts I said, “Not sure when I’ll actually hear this, but it’s still fun to write. Maybe someday.” Well, that day is soon coming! When I took it to Dr. Staheli, he really liked it and asked if I would promise it to the BYU Singers. I just about died. This is a dream come true: to write music for this incredible ensemble and have their incredible director interpret it. I’m over the flippin’ moon. Dr. Staheli has been studying it and we’re going to start rehearsing after our November Concert. I am beyond excited! Writing music is fun (sometimes painful), but hearing it is unbelievably rewarding.

Tickets for the Christmas concert go on sale tomorrow (November 2nd), and typically sell out very fast. Please come if you can. Here’s page one from the piece that I posted a while back, it’s actually different now, but my computer is in the shop so I don’t have the true updated version. This’ll do for now. Once I get a recording, I’ll post it here.

Update: I finally got my laptop back! Here’s the real page one with changes: