Greg Wheatley, Musical Director of the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale, shares his thoughts about past and future concerts, musical works we've performed, and the many joys of choral music.
This is "the week that was." Football players have their "two-a-day" workouts, and the Chorale has its "two-a-week" rehearsals. Our normal rehearsal schedule has us together for two hours once a week—Tuesday nights. But for two weeks just prior to our concerts, we meet on two consecutive evenings—two hours each night. It's fatiguing, let's be honest. But the exhaustion gives way to the joy we feel in anticipating two wonderful concerts at the end of the week. There's nothing quite like the thrill of hearing beautiful music come together, the many voice parts finding their way into the grand mix that is choral music. Add to that the beauty of the Christmas texts and tunes, and well.....it's something I look forward to every year.
If you've been following this blog, you know that Mac Willaert and I have been giving you a sneak peek into some of the things you'll be hearing in Wintersong 2017: Christmas with the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale. In this final post before our concerts, I thought I'd take a step back and give you a bit of an overview of our concert. I'm going to try to do that without "giving away the store." After all, we DO want you to experience the concert for yourself this weekend!
That picture you're seeing is the beautiful sanctuary of College Church in Wheaton. It's been our singing home for something like 13 years now, and we love it! You will too! As you can see in the picture from a previous Christmas, you'll find the sanctuary decked out in Christmas colors, waiting for the sounds of the choir to fill it. And those majestic pipes in the front? Yes, those are real! And you'll hear them the very first thing as the Chorale sings Mack Wilberg's rousing setting of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Immediately after the last chord subsides, the organ crescendos again, and you are invited to join us in singing Joy to the World. That will be the first of more opportunities for you to sing favorite songs of Christmas with the Chorale.
The first half of our concert includes a rollicking arrangement of Here We Come A Caroling, a poignant setting of See Amid the Winter's Snow, and the ensemble singing Ruth Morris Gray's No Room No Room. Just before intermission, you'll be tapping your toe to Shawn Kirchner's Brightest and Best, which features Kristen LeJeune on fiddle. Yes, I said fiddle! And wow! You just have to hear it!
After a brief intermission, it's two lively settings of two familiar carols: God Rest Ye and Deck the Hall. Mac Willaert and the ensemble return to sing Ola Gjeilo's haunting Spotless Rose. Then it's time for you to sing again, with a medley of familiar carols. Eric Whitacre's Glow (originally written for Walt Disney World), Ding Dong! Merrily on High, and Fum Fum Fum lead into a fun-filled arrangement of Gloucestershire Wassail, complete with organ and percussion, with the Chorale wassailing you in surround sound!
What better way to welcome in the season of Advent and Christmas! We'd be honored to have you join us! Remember—there are two performances: Friday, December 1 at 7:30, and Saturday, December 2 at 3:00. Tickets are available through Thursday night by clicking on the ticket banner on this page. After that, they are available at the door for both Friday and Saturday concerts. And please check out our newly lowered student ticket prices! It's now more affordable to pack up those kids and bring them with you!
I hope to see you at Wintersong 2017: Christmas with the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale!
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 (wow!)
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.
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.
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 Blooming are 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!
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!
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.
That's right! The time has flown, and in just a few short days, the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale will be enjoying our performance of Some Enchanted Evening: Favorites from Broadway. This promises to be a very enjoyable time of hearing some memorable tunes from the stage. Everything from West Side Story to Les Miserables.
Everybody loves a good melody, and these songs are filled with them! How about the title song of our concert, Some Enchanted Evening (from South Pacific)? Or maybe something a little more recent is to your liking--something like All I Ask of You (from Phantom of the Opera). And then there are the classics like My Favorite Things (Sound of Music) and Sunrise, Sunset (Fiddler on the Roof). And just to show that the chorale can let down and be a little silly, there's Pick a Little, Talk a Little (The Music Man)--guaranteed to leave you smiling! Oh, and....hot off the presses, an original arrangement of Dear Theodosia (Hamilton) by our own Mac Willaert.
So....how about it? Ready for a musical treat? Get your tickets now for Some Enchanted Evening: Favorites from Broadway. Take a look at the concert banner on this page, and order your tickets. Remember, our concerts are Friday, May 12 and Saturday, May 13 at College Church in Wheaton.
Hope to see you there!
Ready for a quiz? When it comes to Broadway, just how much do you know? If your pencil is ready, here we go! You'll find the answers after the questions. Don't peek!
- What is the longest-running show on Broadway?
- We don't normally think of the Pulitzer Prize when it comes to Broadway musicals. But at least one production has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Can you name it?
- Which Broadway musical is adapted from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail?
- Put these productions in order of their appearance on Broadway:
The Music Man
Fiddler on the Roof
- What popular Broadway production borrows its story line from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?
So, how did you do? Here are the answers:
- The longest-running Broadway show (and it's still running) is Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. To date, there have been more than 12,000 performances!
- Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950. There have been a handful of other musicals that have won the award—most recently, Hamilton.
- The answer is Spamalot, which like Monty Python, is a parody on the legend of King Arthur. And if you're thinking, "I just don't get the humor in shows like Monty Python," well, you're not alone! It takes a special kind of person! But enough about that!
- In order of appearance: Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The Music Man (1957), and Fiddler on the Roof (1964).
- In a masterful re-telling of Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is set in 1950s New York City. The setting may be modern, but the audience can easily see Shakespeare's tragic story unfold.
Maybe this little quiz has whetted your appetite for hearing some of the wonderful tunes from these Broadway productions! Here's some good news: music from each of these shows (and others) will be featured in the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale's spring concert Some Enchanted Evening: Favorites from Broadway. The Chorale, Ensemble, and selected soloists will present an evening of some of the memorable tunes from over the years on Broadway.
We hope you'll plan now to be in our audience! The concerts will be Friday, May 12 at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, May 13 at 3:00 pm at College Church in Wheaton. For more information, see the details on this website!
Something amazing happened on Christmas Eve in 1914. It was, of course, the early days of World War I. On the western front, Allied and German forces were dug in, each in their own muddy trenches. On Christmas Eve, some of the German troops decided to decorate their trenches with candles and Christmas trees. Then, floating on the frosty air came the voices of soldiers singing Christmas carols. Before long, their Allied counterparts answered with carols of their own, and so began an amazing moment. Reports say that soldiers actually left their trenches to walk into No-Man's Land and exchange gifts with the enemy. You can see some of this scene depicted in the 2005 film Joyeaux Noel (you'll find it on YouTube)
If you're like me, this story tugs at your heart. Don't we long for a world where enemies are reconciled, where wrongs are made right? I've been thinking about this moment in history as the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale prepares for our upcoming Christmas concerts. Isn't this part of the reason that we find words like these so meaningful?
Hark! The herald angels sing "Glory to the newborn King!"
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.
(Hark! The Herald Angels Sing)
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love.
(Joy to the World)
Peace will pervade more than forest and field:
God will transfigure the violence concealed
Deep in the heart and in systems of gain,
Ripe for the judgment the Lord will ordain.
(The Dream Isaiah Saw)
The Christmas truce of 1914, as amazing as it was, turned out to be temporary. Sadly, the soldiers soon went back to their hostilities. We long for a more permanent armistice, a true pax Dei. And this is exactly what the angels sang about in the sky over Bethlehem: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests. Christmas is God's annoucement of a truce between heaven and earth--between God and man--for all who will receive it as a gift.
I consider it a privilege to meet with more than 60 other people on Tuesday nights and sing words like the ones above (all of which, by the way, will be sung in our concerts). We need the hope they bring! I hope you will make plans to be with us when we sing them--and many others--in our Wintersong 2016 concerts. See details on this website, and make plans now to join us. I think you'll be glad!
I like that phrase! Gloria in excelsis Deo—Glory to God in the Highest! As you probably know, it's a Latin phrase that comes from the song the angels sang to the shepherds as they announced the birth of Jesus the Messiah:
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.
People who study such things tell us that this jubilant text has been in use since the second century. Imagine it! Singing these words puts us in a long line of singers that may date back as much as 1800 years!
The Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale is excited about singing the popular Gloria written by prolific composer John Rutter. This brilliant work will form the centerpiece of this year's Wintersong Christmas concert. Do you like brass? You won't want to miss this concert! Rutter's Gloria is a virtual display piece for choir, brass, and organ. After this quarter hour of listening, if you aren't ready for Christmas, we'll refund your money!
But that's not all! Our concert will also feature quieter moments, such as the stunning Emily Crocker setting of Do You Hear What I Hear?, and another Rutter composition, this one a hauntingly beautiful setting of the lullaby Dormi Jesu (Sleep, Jesus). And we've reserved something big and festive to end our concert—and it just might include a singalong!
We think that our two Wintersong concerts are a great way for you and your family to enter the Christmas season! Why not put these dates on your calendar right now? They'll be here before you know it!
Friday, December 2 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, December 3 at 3:00 pm
Both concerts will be held at College Church in Wheaton, a beautiful space for singing, both acoustically and visually. You can find ticket information on the main page of this website.
I know I speak for the entire Chorale when I say that it will be wonderful to have you in our audience!
|Greg Wheatley, Music Director (L), with René Clausen|
World-renowned composer and conductor René Clausen thrilled our audience with his "composer chat" prior to the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale's concert this past weekend. During that concert, the Chorale premiered Clausen's choral work The Cloths of Heaven.
Dr. Clausen addressed the audience, talking about his background, how and when he began to compose music, and what it means for him to write. He expressed his appreciation to the Chorale for their commissioning and performing of this piece.
Clausen said that "a piece of music is like looking at a picture which can change color depending on when you are viewing it . . . in the light or dark." He explained that in writing The Cloths of Heaven he used a lot of contrast of men's and women's voices. The Cloths of Heaven is a setting of a text by William Butler Yeats.
It was a real honor to have Dr. Clausen with us for these two concerts. For us, this represents the culmination of a year-long process of seeing a new piece brought to life, written by a wonderful composer just for the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale. Over the last several months, as the Chorale rehearsed René's piece, we knew he was a gifted composer. After meeting him this past weekend, we now know him as a most gracious man. What a joy to have him with us!
One of the great joys of the Christmas season is all of the wonderful music that attends the celebration. The music of Christmas has long been some of my favorite music--that includes the standard carols as well as some of the classic works like Handel's Messiah, and the lighter things like Jingle Bells. And for the past 17 years or so, it's been my priviliege to get to celebrate Christmas with the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale, a fine group of folks who love to sing!
This year's Wintersong promises to be another wonderful opportunity to sing and to hear the music of Christmas. The chorale has been in rehearsal since the day after Labor Day, working on things like Vivaldi's Magnificat. This 13-minute piece is a setting of Mary's canticle--"My soul doth magnify the Lord." It's a sparkling little piece, complete with the kind of writing for choir and strings that you'd expect from the composer of the better-known Gloria. And speaking of strings--we have another amazing group of string players, and a pair of oboists that I know you'll enjoy!
In addition to the Magnificat, the chorale will sing beautiful settings such as Kim Andre Arnesen's Cradle Hymn, and well-known standards such as Jingle Bells and Joy to the World. I'm especially excited about Dan Forrest's setting for choir and four-hand piano of Angels from the Realms of Glory! And as always, we'll invite you to sing some carols with us!
Wintersong: Christmas with the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale is a great way to begin your celebration of this most wonderful time of the year! We hope to see you at one of our concerts: Friday, December 4 at 7:30, or Saturday, December 5 at 3:00. Both concerts are at College Church in Wheaton. Tickets are available now by visiting the chorale's website: www.gewchorale.org
I hope to see you soon!