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Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale,

  • 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)

  • Before the Marvel of This Night


    Before the marvel of this night
    Adoring, fold your wings and bow,
    Then tear the sky apart with light
    And with your news the world endow.
    Proclaim the birth of Christ and peace,
    That fear and death and sorrow cease:
    Sing peace, sing peace, sing gift of peace,
    Sing peace, sing gift of peace!
                      —Jaroslav J. Vajda

    I'm a bit of a news junkie—I admit it. I watch more than my weekly minimum daily requirement. What that may mean for my being an informed citizen is probably compensated for (in a not so good way) by viewing too much that is troubling. From the political wrangling that seems to dominate our national conversation, to acts of violence that can only be described as evil, the world sometimes seems to be spinning out of control.

    It's against that backdrop that Jaroslav Vayda's poem becomes all the more poignant. Look at those last two lines: Sing peace, sing peace, sing gift of peace, Sing peace, sing gift of peace! He isn't content to simply ask us to "Sing peace." He insistently repeats the line five times! And along the way, listen to how those words unfold, with their softly sibilant ess sounds. The very sounds themselves seem to be a whisper of peace.

    I sometimes tell the Chorale that we ought to look at the texts we sing as poetry first, before we think of it as a text set to music. Somehow when we do that, the words regain the shimmering glow that the poet meant them to have. So, in Vajda's poem, pause and feel the wonder in these words:

                                              tear the sky apart

    I dare say that in everyday speech, you rarely use any of these words! And that's the point, isn't it? These words are reserved for this moment, to help us ponder the amazing things we are witnessing: the things that make up the marvel of this night! All of this wonder in the text is matched by the beautiful musical setting of composer Carl Schalk. Always calm (delaying anything louder than mezzo forte until the very end), Schalk's melody rises and falls with a contour that wonderfully complements the text. The music joins the text as we're invited in to this wide-eyed wonder at what God has done on this marvelous night in Bethlehem.

    Perhaps my favorite phrase in this text comes in the second stanza. Still speaking to the angelic host, the poet says:

    Awake the sleeping world with song,
    This is the day the Lord has made.
    Assemble here, celestial throng,
    In royal splendor come arrayed.
    Give earth a glimpse of heavenly bliss,
    A teasing taste of what they miss:
    Sing bliss, sing bliss, sing endless bliss,
    Sing bliss, sing endless bliss!

    There it is (see the bolded text)! Don't we weary people need a glimpse of heavenly bliss? Even the smallest "teasing taste" of this glory of God would be enough to make us want nothing but that!

    Here is a performance of Before the Marvel of This Night by the GEWC from our 2012 Christmas concert. For more information on WINTERSONG 2017: Christmas with the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale, and to order tickets, click on the link on this page.

  • Behold a New Joy! Behold a New Wonder!

    Behold, a new joy,
    Behold, a new wonder!

    So begins the English translation of Ola Gjeilo's Ecce Novum. This hauntingly beautiful piece is just one of several that the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale is preparing to sing in our upcoming Christmas concerts, Wintersong 2018. This work for chorus, piano, and strings shimmers with the wide-eyed wonder of the Incarnation that is Christmas. And it's just one of many other pieces you'll hear. Here are just a few more to whet your appetite:

    O Little Town of Bethlehem is set by Dan Forrest (recall Dan's wonderful See Amid the Winter's Snowsung by the Chorale in a recent Wintersong concert). O Little Town of Bethlehem features the choir, piano, strings, and—of all things—a soprano saxophone!

    Rejoice and Sing! by John Rutter. You'll need to be able to count to seven for this one! That's right—it's I Saw Three Ships in 7/8 time!

    Sussex Carol in a setting by Elaine Hagenberg. Elaine is a young composer who is writing some absolutely beautiful music! We'll also sing her setting of All Praise to Thee, with  text from Martin Luther.

    O Come All Ye Faithful. But wait a minute! Not exactly as you may be thinking of it! This is a rollicking setting by Jacob Narverud of the Pentatonix version of this favorite Christmas music.

    Sound like Christmas? It does to me! It's not too early to get one of our concerts on your calendar! We'll present two concerts, each featuring the Chorale, the Ensemble under the direction of Mac Willaert, the pipe organ, and strings. And as always, you'll be singing along too in several carols of Christmas.

    So . . . mark your calendar for Friday, November 30 at 7:30 p.m. or Saturday, December 1 at 3:00 p.m. Our concerts, as always, are at College Church, corner of Washington and Seminary in Wheaton. Watch this website for ticket availability and other information pertaining to the Chorale.

    We hope to see you in our audience this Christmas!


  • Eric Whitacre's "A Boy and a Girl"

    For this blog, I hand the pen to my colleague Mac Willaert. Mac is the very capable director of the Chorale's Ensemble. In this blog, Mac talks about his favorite selection from the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale's upcoming concert, LOVE IS IN THE AIR.

    One of the most truly human experiences in our brief lifetimes on this earth is grappling with our own mortality. That may seem a grim opening to a Director's Note for a concert entitled LOVE IS IN THE AIR,but with that pain and sadness also comes great beauty and love—after all, if our time on this earth was not limited, would we be so inclined to say how we feel, to take that chance, to reach towards that which we long for? Our fleeting time imbues us with the urgency that lies at the foundation of almost every beautiful moment, and it is that essence which lies at the heart of one of my all-time favorite choral pieces, A Boy and a Girl.

    Any choral aficionados, or even past guests of the Chorale, will recognize the name of Eric Whitacre, who is certainly among the most popular current composers, if not the most popular current composer. In this particular piece, Whitacre takes a gorgeous, haunting poem by Octavio Paz and sets it to one of his finest customary blends of painful dissonances and soul-stirring resolutions. As a composer, this is quite frequently his weapon of choice (to the point where he is even known to poke fun at himself for it): he creates textures so layered that they almost form a wave of sound designed specifically to tug at your heartstrings, only to keep you yearning until the last moment for the voices to resolve in an outpouring of musical emotion. Working with a text like this, it is easy to see why Whitacre felt his particular brand was a fit:

    Stretched out on the grass
    a boy and a girl.
    Savoring their oranges,
    giving their kisses like waves exchanging foam.

    Stretched out on the beach,
    a boy and a girl.
    Savoring their limes,
    giving their kisses like clouds exchanging foam.

    Stretched out underground,
    a boy and a girl.
    Saying nothing, never kissing,
    giving silence for silence.

    Whitacre's unique ability to channel emotion through music is put to particular effect as he takes us on the journey of this couple, from their first date to their final resting place, side by side. It is simultaneously heartbreaking and yet vastly moving to know this nameless couple's time has come and gone, and yet they are side by side for eternity. That is love, and that is, to me, the human essence; to know our time is fleeting, and in spite of that, to live and love as fiercely as we can. Whitacre himself said:

    I'm often asked which of my compositions is my favorite. I don't really have one that I love more than the others, but I do feel that the four measures that musically paint the text "never kissing" may be the truest notes I've ever written.

    I am hard pressed to disagree.

    LOVE IS IN THE AIRwill be performed twice: Friday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, May 12 at 3:00 p.m. Both concerts are at College Church in Wheaton. Please click on the banner on this page for more information.

  • How Many Halls Are We Decking?

    In my last blog, I wrote a bit about the beautiful carol See Amid the Winter's Snow. It is just one of several pieces that the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale is preparing to sing at our upcoming Wintersong concerts. This time I want to venture into one of our more "sprightly" and undoubtedly well-known selections.

    I'm willing to bet that nearly every one of us grew up singing Deck the Hall. Ah, but already I must digress! I also would venture to say that most of us sang as though we were decking several halls, not just one! A small point, but an interesting one: the original title of this song did indeed have us festooning a single hall. It wasn't until perhaps the late 1800s that someone decided that decking out one hall just wouldn't be enough. And so, most of us now sing: Deck the Halls.

    This venerable carol of Christmas is a classic illustration of the hardiness of tunes and lyrics, morphing over time, but somehow surviving decade after decade of use. The familiar tune for this carol dates to the 16th century, and is Welsh in origin (by the way, give the Welsh their due for writing some amazing tunes! Just look through the index of a hymnal some time, and stop on some of those strange-looking tune names like CWM RHONDDA). The English lyrics don't actually appear until 1862, written by the Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant. The poetic lines are punctuated by those famous fa la la's which remind us of a Renaissance madrigal.

    Deck the hall with boughs of holly,
    Fa la la la la la la la la.
    'Tis the season to be jolly,
    Fa la la la la la la la la.
    Fill the mead cup, drain the barrel,
    Fa la la la la la la la la.
    Troll the ancient Yuletide carol,
    Fa la la la la la la la la.

    Hold on a second! What's a troll? Something to do with the Internet? No, can't be that—not in the 1800s. It turns out that back then it meant to sing loudly, or celebrate in song. Aha! So, we're going to gather around and sing a . . . wait a minute, what's Yuletide? Simply put (and there is much more history than this), it's another word for the season of Christmas. It looks like what that quaint line means is simply that we're going to enjoy some good old-fashioned singing of Christmas carols.

    Before I say a brief word about the arrangement that the Chorale will sing at our concerts, there is one more interesting tidbit. It turns out that Haydn (yep! Papa Haydn!) actually liked this old Welsh tune enough to write a little version of it for solo voice. Who knew?

    At our Wintersong concerts, the Chorale will sing John Rutter's arrangement of Deck the Hall, which he wrote for the recently formed Cambridge Singers in the 1980s. Plenty of those tasty fa la la's, and a rather striking key change to boot!

    Next time . . . a look at a rhythmically energetic arrangement of O Come O Come Emmanuel.

    Wintersong 2017: Christmas with the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale is Friday, December 1 and Saturday, December 2 at College Church in Wheaton, IL. Ticket information is available on this page. We hope you'll be there!

  • 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.

  • It's the Most... BEAUTIFUL Time of the Year!

    We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows,
    even that is bounty enough.
    We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united
    with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves,
    to bathe in it, to become part of it.

    — C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory

    This may seem at first like a strange quote with which to begin a blog about Christmas music! But as I sit thinking about some of the beautiful music being prepared by the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale for Wintersong, I think it may be rather relevant after all.

    Christmas has long been my favorite season of the year. One of the reasons for this, I think, is the great beauty it brings. Think of it—what could be more beautiful than God stooping to become one of us? Here is a Love that is beyond understanding—a Love that has moved artists and musicians through the years to create some of the most beautiful works imaginable. From Handel's Messiah to Bach's Magnificat, artists have found in the Incarnation inspiration to create works that literally soar to the heights.

    As the Chorale prepares for our Wintersong 2018 concerts, we're anticipating sharing the joy of this music with you! In this post I'd like to share just two of the pieces on our concert that have made it to the top of my "Beautiful Music" list.

    First, there is Ecce Novum, by Ola Gjeilo. The framework for this piece is really quite simple: it moves through several keys, but the harmonies remain basic. And so, it is a bit difficult to describe just why this piece is so moving. The Latin text paints the picture of Jesus' birth, and perhaps it is the simplicity of the music matching the bare simplicity of a birth in a manger that moves us. Gjeilo has given the piano the role of a straightforward accompaniment, and the strings whispering above it are marvelous.

    The second piece I want to mention here is All Praise to Thee by Elaine Hagenberg. The Chorale is singing two of Hagenberg's pieces on these concerts, and this will be the first time that the music of this young composer has been sung by the Chorale. Once again, this piece is not complex, but has melodies and harmonies that are easily accessible. It too brings together the piano and strings for a striking and beautiful accompaniment. The text is by Martin Luther:

    All praise to Thee, eternal God,
    Who, clothed in garb of flesh and blood,
    Dost take a manger for Thy throne,
    While worlds on worlds are Thine alone.

    And then, what I think is one of the most beautiful features of this piece, a refrain that recurs throughout, consisting of a single, beautiful word: Alleluia. This Alleluia is first sung quietly, but gains intensity, and in the final moments of the piece, is sung with rapturous joy!

    I am looking forward to sharing this beauty with you! And these are just two of many more pieces that I think you will find bring you great joy this Christmas season.

    In addition to the full Chorale, Wintersong 2018 features the Ensemble, directed by Mac Willaert (who also serves as the Chorale's accompanist), the College Church pipe organ played by Daniel Mattix, and our wonderful string ensemble. In addition, saxophonist Howard Whitaker will join the Chorale for two selections. I certainly hope you'll put the dates on your calendar and order your tickets by visiting our Tickets page. I think you'll find Wintersong to be a wonderful way to begin your Christmas season!

    Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale
    Wintersong 2018
    Friday, November 30 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, December 1 at 3:00 p.m.
    College Church in Wheaton

  • LOVE IS IN THE AIR: An Adventure in Eclecticism

    ECLECTIC: Selecting what seems best of various styles or ideas (

    Eclectic could well describe the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale's spring concert LOVE IS IN THE AIR. Let's just take a look at some of the wide-ranging musical selections you'll hear at this concert:

    The Cloths of Heaven—the Chorale's 2016 commission by composer René Clausen. This beautiful composition for choir and piano features Romantic harmonies, with a sweeping piano accompaniment, and sets the text of W.B. Yeats. You can view the Chorale singing this piece in its debut performance.

    Love Is Here to Stay—this Gershwin classic is given life by arranger Mark Hayes. You may know this song from the 1938 film The Goldwyn Follies.

    Yesterday—the classic from John Lennon and Paul McCartney, arranged for a capella choir by Bob Chilcott.

    Rainy Days and Mondays—directly from the Carpenters to you . . . by way of the arrangement of the late Steve Zegree.

    And then, to that eclectic mix of titles, add this: an intentional juxtaposition of two eras in one piece of music! Jazz pianist George Shearing has set the Shakespeare text Live with Me and Be My Love in a wonderful jazz setting for choir, piano, and string bass.

    So . . . safe to say that you're almost guaranteed to find something that will catch your fancy!

    In addition to our regular accompanist Mac Willaert, the Chorale will be joined by three talented instrumentalists who will bring their expertise to bear in this concert. Jeff Padgett and Marissa Webb will join on oboe and flute in the hauntingly beautiful Song to the Moon by Z. Randall Stroope. And throughout the concert, Hannah Novak plays string bass on some of those jazz pieces.

    The Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale presents LOVE IS IN THE AIR twice—Friday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 12 at 3:00 p.m. Both concerts are at College Church in Wheaton. That weekend happens to be Mother's Day weekend. Why not make one of these concerts a gift for that special person? Tickets are available online by clicking the banner on this page.

    The entire Chorale joins me in hoping that we'll see you there!

  • LOVE IS IN THE AIR... and There's Lots of Music!

    Stack of music with flyer

    They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I think the photo you see here says it all! For the singers in the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale, and for us who are directors, accompanists, and instrumentalists, this stack of music represents the many hours of rehearsal that have gone into preparing for our spring concert LOVE IS IN THE AIR. And yes . . . every piece you see in this picture will be heard in our concert—and actually a few more not pictured here that will be sung by our smaller Ensemble.

    See anything you like? We think there's something for just about everyone in this concert! Let me give you a brief tour of some of the highlights:

    Starting at the top left of the photo, it's George Gershwin's classic Love Is Here to Stay. Vintage 1930s jazz in a nice arrangement by Mark Hayes. That blue cover that's hiding just to the right of the Gershwin piece is a beautiful setting of the W.B. Yeats poem Down by the Sally Gardens. It's for the men of the Chorale, accompanied by piano and clarinet. And speaking of the poetry of Yeats . . . bottom center is René Clausen's The Cloths of Heaven, commissioned and debuted by the GEWC two years ago.

    Two pieces by Z. Randall Stroope represent some of the most beautiful choral writing in this concert. Song to the Moon is a setting for choir, piano, flute, and oboe. It evokes images of a lonely man or woman, asking the moon to go and tell their beloved of their true feelings. Go Lovely Rose sets the Edmund Waller poem that also seems to be speaking to an inanimate object—this time a rose—but is really aimed at the beloved.

    Moving a bit to the popular side of the program, you'll find titles such as Rainy Days and Mondays, the Beatles' classics Michelle, Yesterday, and Can't Buy Me Love (sung by the Ensemble). If you remember Elvis Presley crooning Can't Help Falling in Love, I think you'll enjoy the Chorale's rendition of that early 1960s hit.

    And as they say . . . "Wait! There's more!" But you'll have to hear it for yourself! Why not join us for an enjoyable afternoon or evening of love songs? Two concerts to choose from: Friday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m., or Saturday, May 12 at 3:00 p.m. Both concerts are at College Church in Wheaton (corner of Washington and Seminary). Tickets are available online. Just look for the info on this page and click on the banner.

    We'd love to have you in our audience!

    Greg Wheatley
    Music Director
    Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale

  • Song to the Moon

    What is it about the moon? This mysterious light in our night sky has fascinated us as long ago as history has been recorded. It's been the object of everything from poetry to scientific exploration. Sometimes we like to attribute human characteristics to the moon. Remember this little verse from your childhood?

    I see the moon and the moon sees me.
    God bless the moon and God bless me.

    Before you wonder what this blog is all about . . . no, the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale hasn't turned into an astronomy club! And yes . . . we're still rehearsing a concert of love songs—LOVE IS IN THE AIR. But I do want to tell you about one of those love songs, and it has a lot to do with the moon.

    Z. Randall Stroope has written an exquisite piece that sets the text of little-known Czech poet Jaroslav Kvapil (1868-1950). This text was actually incorporated into Antonin Dvorak's opera Rusalka. Stroope—whose name you may remember from the Chorale's Christmas concerts as the composer of This Endris Night—has paraphrased Kvapil's text:

    La luna, your light sees through endless time,
    Tell, O tell me, where my love lies.
    O moon, e'er you pass, wake my dreaming lover.
    I am waiting, I am calling.
    Tell him come. Tell him, O moon.
    Moon, help him. Help him remember and dream of me.
    Tell him, O tell him who is waiting, who is longing!
    I am waiting, longing!
    Tell him come. Tell him, O moon.

    The setting of this poem is Stroope at his finest. To the choir and piano, he has added the longing sounds of flute and oboe. He adds to this the recurring phrase la luna, set to musical intervals that cause the listener to feel the sadness of a missing love.

    Without doubt, Song to the Moon is one of the more challenging pieces to prepare. But the challenge is one that pays off in an evocative setting of a beautiful text. We think you'll agree!

    Song to the Moon is just one of many selections you'll be treated to when you attend one of the Chorale's LOVE IS IN THE AIR concerts. And there's some lighter fare as well! Songs like Rainy Days and Mondays, Love Is Here to Stay, and others.

    LOVE IS IN THE AIR will be performed twice: Friday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, May 12 at 3:00 p.m. Both concerts are at College Church in Wheaton. Please click on the banner on this page for more information.

  • Spotless Rose

    As we continue to look at some of the pieces in the Chorale's upcoming Christmas concerts, our Ensemble director and accompanist Mac Willaert talks about one of his favorites—Spotless Rose by Ola Gjeilo.

    My mother had a red rose bloom on Christmas Day when I was a teenager. Exciting for her. Beautiful for the rest of the family.

    In the midst of my second year with the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale, it seemed fitting that I make my big "Director's Notes" debut! We'll give Mr. Greg Wheatley a week off as we take a look at one of the Ensemble's pieces for the season, a gorgeous a capella choral piece titled Spotless Rose.

    When I first took the position of director of the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale Ensemble, one of my very first tasks was to begin assembling the Ensemble's program for Wintersong 2016.It took me no time at all to make my first selection; I have always been thoroughly moved by Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming, perhaps my favorite traditional Christmas carol, and I couldn't resist the opportunity to bring an arrangement to life with my new group of talented singers. In fact, we even used it as their audition piece for the Ensemble! Needless to say, we crafted and tuned that piece over the course of months until it was prepared as a truly beautiful moment in the midst of a spectacular concert.

    For this season, I wanted to branch out and perhaps include some arrangements and pieces I was wholly unfamiliar with. I stumbled upon Spotless Rose,written by Ola Gjeilo. Having been familiar with Gjeilo's work and highly admiring it, I gave it a listen and was immediately certain that we must take a stab at it. The piece was in Norwegian, Gjeilo's native language, but came with English language text as well, so there was no hesitation to lock in this brand-new, exciting piece, certainly unlike anything we'd done before with the Ensemble. Then, of course, I took a look at the translated text to see what the core of the piece was all about:

    A Spotless Rose is growing, sprung from a tender root,

    Of ancient seers' foreshowing, of Jesse promised fruit;

    Its fairest bud unfolds to light amid the cold, cold winter

    And in the dark midnight.

    The Rose which I am singing, whereof Isaiah said,

    Is from its sweet root springing in Mary, purest Maid;

    Through God's great love and might, the Blessed Babe she bare us

    In a cold, cold winter's night.

    Those of you familiar with Lo, How a Rose E'er Bloomingare permitted a chuckle at my expense; in my quest to find something new, daring, and drastically different, I had stumbled on a different arrangement of what is essentially the same, classic text from Lo, How a Rose. A cruel twist of fate indeed. But, alas, one does not look a gift horse in the mouth, especially when the gift horse is presenting such a beautiful piece of choral music. The tune and the setting will be wholly unfamiliar, even to those who love the classic carol as much as myself, but I suppose we will simply have to make it an annual tradition to incorporate it in one form or another! I do hope our singers and our audience enjoy the richness in this expressive, moving setting of a truly classic Christmas text.

    We are very excited to be bringing Wintersong 2017: Christmas with the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale to College Church in Wheaton, IL on Friday, December 1 and Saturday, December 2. Ticket information is available on this page, and we look forward to bringing you a concert of Christmas cheer!

  • 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:

    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)

  • Wintersong 2017: A Few of My Favorites

    Anyone who knows me knows that Christmas has always held a very special place in my heart. This Festival of the Incarnation has no equal! As the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale prepares for our Wintersong 2017 Christmas concerts, I thought it might be fun to give you a look at a few of the pieces we'll be singing on December 1 and 2. In all, the Chorale will sing just over a dozen pieces of music. So, in the coming weeks, "watch this space" as I talk briefly about several of them.

    See Amid the Winter's Snow

    I'll start with a longtime favorite. To the best of my recollection, I first heard (or at least took note of) this wonderful piece in the early 1980s, when I found it on a vinyl record of Christmas carols. I recall being drawn to it as a particularly beautiful setting of a wonderful Christmas text by English hymn writer Edward Caswall:

    See amid the winter's snow,
    Born for us on earth below;
    See the tender Lamb appears,
    Promised from eternal years.

    I think one of the things that captivates me about this text is the way it places the birth of Jesus, the Lamb promised from eternal years, amidst the wonder of a winter's snow. Somehow the imagery of the pure white snow helps us see the purity of the innocent Lamb, born in Bethlehem—the fulfillment of the promise long foreseen by the prophets.

    Then there's the grand refrain:

    Hail! Thou ever blessed morn!
    Hail! Redemption's happy dawn!
    Sing through all Jerusalem:
    "Christ is born in Bethlehem."

    At Wintersong 2017, the Chorale will sing this carol in an arrangement by Dan Forrest. Dan is a relative newcomer to the choral world, but he has burst on the scene with some wonderfully captivating pieces! Perhaps the most striking feature of his arrangement of See Amid the Winter's Snow is his use of a recurring Alleluia. Inserted between stanzas and their own refrains, Dan writes a soaring four or five measures with the single word Alleluia—a word of apt praise in response to the news the choir is singing!

    Add to all of this a flowing accompaniment for piano and strings, and you have what I'm quite certain will prove to be a highlight of Wintersong!

    Next time we'll take a look at an upbeat selection: John Rutter's rollicking treatment of Deck the Hall.

    Don't forget: it's not too early to mark your calendar for Wintersong 2017: Christmas with the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale. There will be two performances—Friday, December 1 at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, December 2 at 3:00. Both performances will be at College Church in Wheaton. More information is available here on the Chorale's website.

  • WINTERSONG 2019!

    I am writing this blog on Labor Day. For many, Labor Day marks the unofficial gateway out of summer into our regular fall routines. There's school for many, the startup of activities that have been suspended for the summer. For those of us in the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale, it signals the beginning of a new season of singing together!

    The Chorale is excited to begin rehearsal on this year's Wintersong concerts—our annual Christmas offerings. I'm looking forward to some wonderful music this year! Let me give you just a sampling. Here is another rousing piece from Mack Wilberg:

    Noe! Noe!
    Shepherds, rise—look up and see new light yonder breaking,
    Brighter than the noonday sun, all your sheep awaking.
    Wonder, whisper, "Ah, Noe!" Christ is born this holy day!
    He is come to you, lowly shepherds, true!
    He is come unto you, Morning Star and New Day!
    Wonder, whisper, "Ah Noe!"

    For those of you who attended Wintersong 2018, you will remember the haunting beauty of Elaine Hagenberg's All Praise to Thee. This year, the Chorale will sing another of Elaine's settings—Wexford Carol.

    Good people all, this Christmas time,
    Consider well and bear in mind
    What our good God for us has done
    In sending His beloved Son.

    From energetic processional to quiet candlelit conclusion, Wintersong 2019 promises to be a concert that will help you begin your Christmas season with joy! The Chorale will be joined by organist Dan Mattix and a chamber orchestra. And as always, we'll invite you to join us in singing some of the carols of Christmas! All of that, and of course, the Chorale's Ensemble directed by Mac Willaert. I hope you'll mark your calendar now and watch our website for ticket availability. We'd love to see you there!

    WINTERSONG 2019:

    For more information, visit our Tickets page.