Brian Head, UT

My sister and her in laws invited me down to their “cabin” in Brian Head.  I’ve been down before and loved the area.  It’s a fantastic place that’s super close to just about every awesome place southern Utah has to offer: Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon, and of course Zion National Park.

This trip we explored some slot Canyons near Kanarraville, UT.  We basically hiked up this river through tall red sandstone cliffs.  We got to climb up waterfalls and slide down a natural water slide.  It was great way to stay cool during such hot weather.  I love this sort of stuff.  We explored around the Dixie National Forest quite a bit as well.  There are huge forests of Quaking Aspen, one of my favorite trees.  We saw a lot of deer, and even some wild turkey.

One of my favorite moments was just walking around Brian Head with my iPod listening to Martin’s Mass for Double Choir.  It’s one of my favorite pieces of choral music of all time.  So beautiful and brilliantly written.  One of my favorite recordings is by The Dale Warland Singers from their album Cathedral Classics (the whole album is stunning).  It’s the perfect combination of beautiful music, beautiful performance, and beautiful surroundings.

I didn’t quite have a chance to visit Zion like I was hoping, but I got something much better in exchange.  I got to spend a lot of time looking after my newborn nephew.  My sister and her husband claim that they got the better end of the deal with me being there, but I think it’s the other way.  New nephews are the best (no nieces yet).

Recently Purchased Recordings

I’ve made a lot of purchases in the last little while. Most of them are choral, but they range from Byrd to Bach to Barber to O’Regan. I still haven’t listened through all of them entirely, but what I have listened to has been quite lovely.

– There Is Sweet Music, Cambridge Singers –  My study abroad in England has opened my eyes to a new world of choral music that I never saw was there.  I mean, we’ve all sung English choral music before, but singing an occasional piece doesn’t even scratch the surface of British choral music.  Having met John Rutter, I learned about all his efforts as a conductor in Cambridge (first with Clare College and then the Cambridge Singers), and how it tied in with the editions of classical choral music he’s been making with OUP.  Much of what he’s edited has been recorded by his Cambridge Singers.  This recording has been a fantastic view of English music from 1890 to 1950.  The singing is top-notch and the interpretations very good.  Some highlights include “The blue bird,” by Stanford, “There is sweet music,” by Elgar, and “The three ravens” arr. by Chapman.  It’s a fantastic glimpse to the national music of this period.  There’s plenty more that didn’t make it to this record.

Reincarnations, The Dale Warland Singers – I have to admit, I haven’t finished listening to the whole thing, but the title piece of the record, Reincarnations, is simply astounding and worth writing about.  It really is some of the best Barber I have ever heard.  I find Barber to be much more difficult that many expect him to be.  Stunning?  Yes, absolutely.  I find this recording to be impeccably tuned in addition to being well balanced and blended.  The tone of the Dale Warland singers is well fitted to this music.  “The Coolin” is particularly beautiful.  The intimacy, passion and sensitivity of this music and text is well matched by the singers.  I find this music to be sacred; It’s not at all religious in anyway, but it’s very sacred.  I find myself singing the opening line to myself quite often.  I’m just sad that I never had a love of choral music when The Dale Warland Singers were still performing.  It’s a sad thing to hear this wonderful recording of a highly influential choir and never be able to hear them live in person.  I guess all good things must come to an end, only to be reincarnated into ensembles of the future.

Rheinberger: Sacred Choral Music, The Phoenix Bach Choir & Kansas City Choral – This comes from one of the three joint recordings between these two choirs, both run by Charles Bruffy (although the “Phoenix Bach Choir” has since changed it’s name to the “Phoenix Chorale”).  First of all, I think the programing was a great choice.  Rheinberger is a composer who has been passed over quite a bit (at least in America), but who wrote some truly beautiful and well-crafted works.  One thing I also thought was a brilliant choice was to record it in DSD (Direct Stream Digital) in 5.1 surround sound, then print it as Hybrid CD.  I think this is very forward thinking by both Bruffy and Chandos Records, which I applaud.  We need more recordings done this way.  About the performance, it’s very, very good.  It’s a surprisingly distinguished sound.  It’s a great sound that doesn’t really sound like anyone else right now.  If these choirs are looking to make a mark as something different, they’re succeeding.  It’s a very clean sound and well tuned.  I find the men’s sound (especially the basses) to be a bit swallowed and froggy at times; The sound is just too far back.  I think they’d be much more successful if they tipped the sound forward to get a bit more brightness, not to mention a clearer tone.  Also, I could have afforded more consonants across the choir, for both German and Latin.  Having said that, Bruffy is getting our attention with both of these fantastic ensembles.

Threshold of Night, Conspirare – This recording is something I found very interesting.  It’s the work of a British composer, Tarik O’Regan, after his move to New York (at least some) and performed by a choir from Austin, Texas.  It’s a very unusual combination, but has great results.  Conspirare is a choir I’m vaguely familiar with, but definitely have my ears perked up to see what else they have to offer.  O’Regan has a very specific voice in choral music today.  Although he was only born in 1978, he’s already made quite a name for himself on both continents.  One of the highlights of this record is “The Ecstasies Above,” for Choir, solo octet and string quartet.  The words by Edgar Allan Poe are just begging for a setting such as this.  It’s beautifully haunting and ethereal.  Having said that, O’Regan can seem really abusive to the sopranos, this is especially evident at the end of Ecstasies as the two solo sopranos are constantly singing up to a high A without much respite in between.  It’s not that the figure or range is particularly hard, it’s keeping them up there, exposed, without much of a rest.  This kind of writing works for violins but wears on the voice quite a bit and makes it more difficult to keep it in good tune and good tone toward the end.  If I was doing this piece, I would have the solo trade off between four different singers at minimum.  I’ve seen this across his catalog.  I’m just not sure he understands what he’s asking.  In my mind, his music is still brilliant and beautiful, but the way he writes for sopranos makes me very hesitant to program it for my choir.

Well, that’s all I’ve listen to so far.  More to listen to later.

“In Paradisum” Finished!

At last!  I finished up “In Paradisum” last night after a full day of working on it.  I started in the morning and just had momentum on my side.  I wasn’t expecting to even come close to finishing until the ball got rolling.  *Whew* That was a doosey.

Something interesting with this piece, it comes from the liturgy for the Requiem Mass.  Now, I have no intention of writing a Requiem, but couldn’t resist this text.  After studying the text, however, I decided to take a different approach then most composers taken to this piece.  A lot of people see this as a text to declare to someone who has died and presumably on their way to Heaven through the afterlife.  This is support by the Catholic idea of praying someone out of limbo and on to Saint Peter.

I can’t disagree that this text works for someone who has passed on already, but I wondered if it wouldn’t also bring comfort to the those are are yet alive but facing death in a very real sense.  Those faced with a terminal illness or someone simply coming to the end of a long lived life must have questions about what happens when they close their eyes for the last time.  Even for those with faith in an afterlife will at one point face questions about “is it really true?”  “will I wake up with angels?” “will I really see my family and friends again?”  Death can rattle a person whose days are numbered.  This piece is meant to be a comforting testimony to them, as best as I know how to say it.

Well, now it’s time to polish the piece until it’s sparkling.  Here’s a new page one:

“Midnight Clear” to be Published on Walton Music

I just signed the contract so I’m pretty sure that it’s okay to talk about it now.  After a few months of waiting, Walton Music has agreed to publish “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” in their 2011 catalog.  Yay!  Christmas in July!  I’m stoked!  They’ve been great to work with.  The only change they want to make is the title.  Since there are so many arrangements of the original carol already on the market, Walton wanted to distinguish this setting with a different title: “Midnight Clear.”

I’m really glad that Walton picked this up.  They’re one of the leading publishers of new choral music.  They publish for composers like:

I’m very excited to have my little piece in the same mix with all these awesome fellas above.  I’ll actually be the fourth composer from BYU on Walton Music (that I know of):  Lane Johnson, Ben Boster, Daniel McDavitt, and me.  Check out their music, it’s good stuff that’s inspired me plenty of times.

Super excited!  Once it’s all produced and ready, I’ll post a link to where you can buy it.  *head explodes*

Here’s the recording again:

Back in America for the 4th

I’m really glad to be back in the United States.  These previous four Sundays have all been in different countries (Austria, Ukraine, Germany & England).  I’m so glad to have been in these wonderful places and grown to love many of them.  Today is my first Sunday back in America, and I’m thrilled that it happens to be Independence Day.

The family tradition is to meet up in Midway, Utah with the rest of the extended family.  There’s the annual water balloon toss, water balloon launch, water balloon rock/paper/scissors, water balloon capture the flag & water balloon free for all.  If you haven’t recognized the pattern, there are tons of water balloons at this thing.  We’re talking thousands, literally.  It takes most of the morning to fill them all up. (for more water balloon funniness, see this picture and this video).

Later we have a huge barbecue dinner with all the fixins.  The kids shoot off rockets and we generally relax and catch up with each other.  Later in the evening, we have our own fireworks show and catch the one the city puts on as well.

I’ve always looked forward to it every year.  It’s a great time to be together with family and celebrate the beginnings of our country.  My grandpa served in WWII and other times throughout his life.  He helped protect this nation, it’s people and their rights.  I consider myself extremely blessed to have been born in this country and have so many opportunities to do and be whatever I want.  But it’s more than just that.  I can help mold my country.  I can get involved with the process.  With all these privileges and blessings comes huge responsibilities.  I’m not sure that I ever step up to these challenges like I’m supposed to, but I can keep trying.

Happy Independence Day!

For an interesting article about fireworks go here.