New BYU Singers Album!

Last year in BYU Singers, we quietly recorded several songs during our rehearsals, the week before Christmas break and the week before Spring graduation.  Most of the pieces we recorded had only been sight-read the day before we recorded them.  It was such a thrilling experience to record this because, it required all of us to be on our toes and put out beautiful sounds at the drop of a hat.

Most of these pieces never made it to the concert hall either.  We picked it up, sight-read it, recorded it, then never looked at it again.  While it might seem trite, to us it was not.  In our haste, we soaked up the spirit of each of these pieces so rapidly, there are few experiences to equal it.  This has been one of my favorite recording projects and my favorite projects with BYU Singers.

The tracklist is as follows:

1. Where Can I Turn for Peace/Grant Us Thy Peace
Joleen Meredith/Felix Mendelssohn

2. O Peace of Christ
David Lantz

3. Love Divine
Howard Goodall

4. I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
traditional

5. Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me
arr. John Longhurst

6. O Heart Subdued with Grieving
Johannes Brahms

7. Nearer My God to Thee
arr. David Zabriskie

8. My Heavenly Father Loves Me
arr. Ronald Staheli

9. Ave verum corpus
Will Todd

10. Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree
Malcolm Archer

11. O Sing a Song of Bethlehem
David Zabriskie

12. Lord, Accept Our True Devotion
arr. David Zabriskie

13. Morning Has Broken
Bob Chilcott

14. Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
arr. Benjamin Harlan

15. Abide with Me
arr. Molly Ijames

I had the opportunity to actually conduct track number nine, “Ave verum corpus” by Will Todd.  What an amazing experience.  I also had the opportunity to edit track nine as well as track three.  My little recording debut!

You can find more info about this recording here.

Classes start tomorrow

Summer is coming to an official close.  It’s always a depressing time for me because my time of freedom, liberation and creativity.  At the same time, I get a lot of opportunities to grow.  Call backs will be held for BYU Singers on Tuesday (so excited) and start rehearsing on Wednesday.

I’m officially starting my Masters program tomorrow. Choral rehearsal techniques, Choral Lit., 19th Century Counterpoint. These are three massive classes. In addition, I start teaching my first class tomorrow.  I’m teaching two classes:  Basic Conducting (for non-majors), and University Chorale.  It’s going to be lots of fun.  I’m excited/nervous about the whole teaching class deal.  But it should be good.

A new semester of exciting possibilities, even if it means that no more days to go to Payson Lake or Mona.  BYU Singers more than makes up for it. Here’s a little lament to the fleeting summer:

Video of My Aunt

My super-awesome aunt, Anita Andrews who teaches piano at UVU, has posted some videos from an old recital on YouTube to post on her blog.  I couldn’t resist sharing one of them here.  Here she’s absolutely dominating the piano with a piece by Rachmaninov.  So awesome.

Programming for the Fall

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve been very busy.  This coming semester I’ll be in BYU Singers and continuing to serve as an assistant conductor.  In addition I’ll also be an assistant conductor for the BYU Women’s Chorus, as well as a junior partner for the University Chamber Chorale.  The chamber chorale is a large non-auditioned choir that meets three times a week and is run solely by graduate students.

This week I’ve been working with Monica (the senior partner) on our program for the chorale.  Normally, programming for a concert takes hours and hours and hours of time, but because we had a late start we needed to finish it by the end of this week.  The luxury of spending hours of times carefully choosing repertoire was severely limited.  With less time, we tried to be just as careful in selecting music for our choir.  We only to program 30 to 40 minutes of music, but that’s still quite a bit to do.

We came up with this:

Praise and Devotion
Jubilate Deo                            Benjamin Britten
The Lord is my Shepherd                    Randall Thompson

A Baroque Christmas
Cantate Domino                        Giuseppe Pitoni
In dulci Jubilo                        J.S. Bach
A Child is Born in Bethlehem                Samuel Scheidt

Carols of Europe
Shepherd’s Pipe Carol                    John Rutter
Nightingale Carol                        arr. Andrew Carter
What Shall We Give?                    arr. Mack Wilberg
Ai Nama Mamina                        Andrejs Jansons

We felt that these were really good choices, and thankfully got approved.  So this is our program that we’ll be using.  Now all we need to do is divide up which ones we want to actually conduct between the two of us.

While doing all this work, I noticed a new exhibit on the lawn at the Museum of Art.  I was struck by their shapes and patterns, and most especially by the building materials.  Maybe I’m just attracted to shiny objects.

More Recently Purchased Recordings

I’ve had a great time discovering new music and new recordings lately.  Some from my trip to London, but mostly from Amazon.com.  Here are some more records I’ve had a chance to listen to.

Harvest Home, Dale Warland Singers – One of the final recordings by the group, which features a great deal of music written specifically for this ensemble.  Besides arrangements by Dale Warland himself are pieces arranged by Stephen Paulus, Carol Barnett and Kevin Siegfried.  I actually had a really hard time getting a copy of this recording.  It’s out of print from Gothic Records and it’s suffered from serious price gouging from independent sellers on Amazon (so has BYU Singers’ recording of Whitacre).  The cheapest copy was maybe $60.  Thankfully, a reasonable seller showed up and I was lucky to snag it up.  That should say just a little something about how popular this album has been.  It lives up to it’s reputation, this is a world class choir singing some well done arrangements of traditional American songs.  A few highlights are “We Gather Together,” and “The Road Home” by Paulus, as well as “McKay” by Barnett.  The latter piece, I feel, is a brilliantly done, rhapsodic sort of setting that matches the text so beautifully.  Another highlight is “Lay Me Low,” from Shaker Songs by Siegfried.  It’s really easy to over do this fragile, tender setting, but the Dale Warland singers make it so moving.  The only drawback of this album is that there are a few arrangements that are a bit too bland in my opinion.  They all have their merits, but some of them could have used a little more salt and pepper.

Mass in B minor, Collegium Vocale, Ghent – This is a recording I was very excited about getting my hands on.  A friend shared with me the “Sanctus” from this recording, and my ears immediately perked up.  It sounded like a fresh new approach to this exquisite work by Bach.  I have to say, this was the biggest let down of all the new recordings.  It’s actually not a very good recording at all.  It wasn’t that the interpretation was bad, or that the tempi were wrong, or even that the editing was sloppy (Monteverdi Choir, St. Matthew Passion anyone?), the choir just wasn’t up to snuff for this kind of literature.  Throughout the recording there were balance issues and intonation problems.  I was surprised by what seemed to make it into the final recording.  I kept asking myself “surely they would have noticed that and chopped it out?”  Maybe worse, that was the best take they had.  I just couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the sopranos the entire time, as if half of the other sections were sick in bed or something.  Also very shocking was how sloppy consonants were throughout this entire recording, especially ending consonants.  Now the recording did have it’s good moments, one of which being the “Sanctus,” but they were few and far between, and made listen to this wonderful work a drag and a chore.  Bach should never be either.  Avoid this recording.

Intimations of Immortatliy, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus – I’m a fan of Gerald Finzi’s choral music for sure.  It’s hard to forget any of his Seven Poems of Robert Bridges.  They’re all immensely fulfilling to sing and listen to.  Other marvelous works of his include his Magnificat and Hymn to Saint Cecelia.  When I saw this recording of Intimations of Immortality, I was taken back because I’d never heard of the work before. Now there were a few red flags when I saw this, first a choir, orchestra and tenor I’ve never heard of.  Risky.  Another red flag of course was the Naxos label.  Let’s just say that Naxos has a knack for picking up all the crap recordings and selling them at dangerously low prices to lure in people like me who love classical music and saving money.  But at the bottom I noticed David Hill’s name.  I met him in London conducting the London Bach choir as well as the BBC Singers.  He knows what he’s doing and that gave me a little reassurance.  I picked it up and haven’t looked back.  This is a surprisingly great recording.  First, the work is tremendous, definitely one of Finzi’s greatest (we should perform it more often), and the performance ain’t half bad either.  The Bournemouth Choir actually gave some other symphonic choirs I know a run for their money.

Not No Faceless Angel, Polyphony – I love the music of Gabriel Jackson.  It seems to have this beautiful swirling and shimmering quality to a lot of it.  It’s charming and hypnotizing at the same time.  I am, however, a little afraid of Polyphony.  I have a few tracks from their Cloudburst recording of music by Eric Whitacre and was really put off from the group.  To me, it just seemed that that music was butchered by square interpretations and way to much woblato (wobble + vibrato) in the bass section (“Her Sacred Spirit Soars” is a great example of both).  This recording is quite the opposite of that.  The sound of the choir is drastically better, and much better balanced.  It holds a real sensitivity to Jackson’s music.  There are a few moments, here and there, of square woblato, but overall it’s stunning.  A few highlights for me are “I Gaze Upon You,” “O Sacrum Convivium,” and the title track, “Not No Faceless Angel.”  The title track is especially ravishing with it’s cello and flute parts and has a truly ecstatic climax.  This is music to remember and cherish.  They say that music reflects the composer, well in this case, to me, Gabriel Jackson is a true optimist: Bright and cheerful, and yet displays a great deal of sensitivity and introspection.  I highly recommend this recording.

Correcting Proofs

One of the great things about working with a publisher is that they get to re-engrave your music, and then send it so that you can proof read through it.  While this can get really tedious at times, it allows me to look at the piece again from a whole new perspective.  It’s not just about correcting errors that pop up, it’s about looking at the smallest details and asking, “is that really the best way to say that?”  “Is this the clearest way I can say this?”  “Is this a detail that will help someone at first glance, or make them think twice?”

Doing this for “Midnight Clear,” has been an interesting way to look at the piece again and ask these questions.  There’s been a few things that I found and decided to change to reflect better what I want and how it was recording by the BYU Singers.  I love the way it was recorded so much and after listening to it a few times, I can see how to better reflect what I want through the way it turned out.  Does that make sense?  It’s almost like having it spelled out in the recording what it should say in the score.  Although these types of changes have been very few.

This reminds me of what sound engineers say about making movies, “Movies are never finished, they just escape.”  I guess you can say the same about music scores.