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American music

  • A Most Amazing Day!

    In this edition of our Director's Notes, GEWC accompanist and Ensemble director Mac Willaert shares some thoughts on one of his favorite pieces in our upcoming concert Celebrate! A Tapestry of American Music. Enjoy reading, and then click on this website to order your tickets for May 10 or 11!


    As I sit at my desk on a sunny April day, the breeze gently coming in through the window and birds chirping in the trees, I can't help but be thankful – spring has finally sprung! One can never take that for granted with Illinois weather, and it may disappear once or twice more before arriving on a more permanent basis, but this is a very literal breath of fresh air, and it has me feeling ready for all that spring brings. This, of course, includes our upcoming spring program, Celebrate! A Tapestry of American Music, which will cover myriad genres and periods of the American choral tradition. Topically, one of the songs I am most fond of from the upcoming program is a piece the Ensemble will be singing, a setting of the famed poet E.E. Cummings' "i thank You God for most this amazing."

    For those unfamiliar, Cummings was an esteemed American poet with an unorthodox use of grammar and sentence structure, hence the seemingly strange title of the poem. He was prone to using a lower-case "i" to address himself as a show of humility, while giving proper noun capitalization to other words and subjects he wished to emphasize or show deference towards, such as in this instance, "You God." Cummings goes on throughout the piece to express (in his own avant-garde fashion) a gratitude and thankfulness for God's creation; "the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and a blue true dream of sky," "live and love and wings," "everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes."

    There have been countless settings of this text for choral work, but the version I am perhaps most fond of was written by American composer and singer Elliot Z. Levine. In the span of one piece of music, he captures the playfulness and whimsy of nature alongside the marvel of being part of something greater than yourself. The music paints the picture in a way that complements the text tremendously, and it never fails to put me in a good mood. If it is possible for a song to sound like spring, Levine has nailed it. It is perhaps the trickiest piece for the Ensemble to tackle in this program, but we are diligently at work and are so looking forward to bringing it to our audiences in May.

    I like to picture Cummings writing this poem on a day much like today, where you can't help but pause and appreciate the beauty around us. No matter your faith, your background, or your beliefs, we have all experienced that wonderful sensation of a most amazing day, and with any luck, May 10th and 11th will be just that. See you then!

    Celebrate! A Tapestry of American Music
    Friday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 11 at 3:00 p.m.
    College Church in Wheaton (corner of Washington and Seminary)

  • I Guess I'm a Little Bit Country After All!

    "Dad, that was such a 'Southern' thing you just said!" I heard those words from my daughter more than once while she was growing up. My response—whether verbalized to her or not—was usually "What are you talking about?" I am a Midwesterner through and through—born in Michigan and lived all my life either in that state or here in Wheaton. It doesn't get much more "Midwest" than that!

    But here's the thing: I dohave a heritage that includes our nation's southland. My father was born and spent the first few years of his life in the tiny town of Big Sandy in west Tennessee. My mother is a Texan. So, it turns out my daughter was hearing things in some of my speech that even I couldn't hear. (As far as I know, I never called the kids to dinner the way I remember hearing it growing up: "Y'all come on.” That is an exact quote of the summons I heard many times from my mother and my grandmother.)

    So what does all of this have to do with a choral concert? Just this: as I've grown older, I've come to appreciate some of the heart and soul contained in the music that has its source in our nation's South. There is a genuineness—a sort of earthiness—that you hear in much of this music. And so it is with the song Angel Band, one of my favorites from our upcoming concert.

    Angel Band has an interesting history. It began its life as a song included in hymnals in the middle of the 19th century. Jefferson Hascall wrote the text in 1860, and it was set to music by William Bradbury (the man who also wrote Jesus Loves Me) in 1862. But here is where the influence of the South comes in. Angel Band has since been adopted into the repertory of bluegrass music, made most famous by the Stanley Brothers. The poignancy of the text is clear:

    The latest sun is sinking fast, my race is almost run,
    My strongest trials now are past, my triumph is begun.
    O come, angel band, come and around me stand,
    O bear me away on your snow-white wings to my immortal home.

    And now, Shawn Kirchner has arranged this compelling song in a traditional choral setting, the one you'll hear in the Chorale's concert. But though the arrangement is made for a traditional choir, I think you'll still feel the wonderful emotion of this song coming through:

    I know I'm near the holy ranks of friends and kindred dear,
    I've brushed the dew on Jordan's banks, the crossing must be near.
    O come, angel band, come and around me stand,
    O bear me away on your snow-white wings to my immortal home.

    Angel Band is just one of many songs from America that you'll hear in Celebrate! A Tapestry of American Music. I hope we'll see you at one of our concerts!

    AND DON'T FORGET! Our special guest for this concert is Keith "Doc" Hampton, who will conduct his own song Celebrate! I know you'll enjoy it!

    Click here for a preview of our concert.

    The Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale presents:
    Celebrate! A Tapestry of American Music

    Friday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 11 at 3:00 p.m.
    College Church in Wheaton

    More information and purchasing options on our Tickets page.

  • Tired of the Winter Weather?

    Now let's be honest. Most of us, with few exceptions, actually choose to live here in the Midwest. So I guess we're without excuse. But knowing that doesn't make this winter weather much easier to bear. Snow, ice, extreme cold. We've had it all these past several weeks. And I'm ready for spring! How about you?

    Let's go ahead and assume that spring will be here by the weekend of May 10 and 11. (I know. You can never be too certain in Chicago.) That's the weekend that the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale presents our spring concerts Celebrate! A Tapestry of American Music. Ah, think of it! We could be enjoying temperatures in the 60s by then . . . or maybe even warmer! Maybe we should just pause right now and think on that a few minutes.

    Now, let me ask you to do something. Why not go ahead and mark Friday, May 10 and Saturday, May 11 on your calendar? I think you'll find it an afternoon or evening well spent, as the Chorale takes you on a musical tour of some wonderful music by American composers. Here's just a sampling:

    Shenandoah
    James Erb's classic setting of this beloved American folk song

    Ain'-a That Good News!
    A lively setting of a standard in the spiritual genre

    Long, Long Ago
    Dan Forrest's setting of this Fosteresque song

    Bound for the Promised Land
    This American folk hymn comes alive at the hands of arranger Mack Wilberg

    Route 66
    Take the famous road that stretches from Chicago to Los Angeles!

    And many more! We'll be enjoying the warmth before you know it! Take a minute now, mark your calendar, and stay tuned to this website for more information about tickets!

    Celebrate! A Tapestry of American Music
    Friday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 11 at 3:00 p.m.
    College Church in Wheaton (corner of Washington and Seminary)