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.
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!
Birthdays are wonderful occasions! They're a time to celebrate with family and friends, and to enjoy being together! The Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale is about to celebrate a birthday—our 30th. And YOU are invited to the celebration!
We hope you'll be in our audience on either Friday, May 8 (7:30 pm) or Saturday, May 9 (3:00 pm) as we present There Is Sweet Music. Both concerts will be at College Church (corner of Washington and Seminary in Wheaton). Music for this concert includes the beautiful title song, There Is Sweet Music Here. The setting of this Tennyson poem is by Greg Gilpin, and provides an evocative musical setting for the text. There's also a rollicking arrangement of Bound for the Promised Land, complete with four-hand piano accompaniment, and a beautiful setting by Ola Gjeilo of St. Augustine's prayer from more than 1500 years ago! The chorale will be joined by saxophonist Howard Whitaker and French horn player Corin Droullard.
We think you'll enjoy this concert! Why not make plans to celebrate with us? Tickets are available here on this website. Or you may phone 630.415.3066. We'll look forward to seeing you!
Preparation for the chorale's spring concert Come Join the Dance has been ongoing for weeks. Not only have the singers been rehearsing, but a few miles to our southeast, the junior dancers of the Salt Creek Ballet have been plying their craft, under the able direction of Emily Moser. This group of talented young women will dance to three of the chorale's pieces this coming weekend.
As I stood conducting the chorale in rehearsal earlier this week, my back to the dancers, I could hear their synchronized steps resounding on the hardwood behind me. And it struck me once again: there is great joy in artistic collaboration! There we were--two distinct groups working in two different mediums. Our stock in trade is the world of sounds--notes, words, dynamics. Their tools are beautifully crafted movements. There is something special about bringing those two worlds together, in what can only be called artistic synergy, each enjoying the fruits of the other's labors. And then, together, offering those labors to an audience. I found myself thinking, "We really need to do this more often."
I hope you'll be there to enjoy it! The junior dancers of the Salt Creek Ballet will join the chorale in Copland's Stomp Your Foot (from The Tender Land), John Ferguson's delightful setting of Lord of the Dance, and the rollicking Gilbert and Sullivan finale from The Gondoliers. And along the way, there's plenty more music to make you want to Come Join the Dance! Won't you? Concerts are this Friday, May 9 at 7:30 and Saturday, May 10 at 3:00. Both concerts are at College Church in Wheaton. Tickets are available at this website, or at the door.
It seems that there is a special day for just about everything these days! On top of the usual--birthdays, anniversaries, and the like--we have things like National Popcorn Popping Month, World Smile Day, National Pig Day, and If Pets Had Thumbs Day (I'm not making that up!). If you're the fun-loving type, these are just crazy excuses to celebrate! If you're the cynical type, some of them could be ways for greeting card companies to generate revenue (though it's hard to see National Pig Day catching on).
Well, here's one I think is well worth celebrating. October is National Arts and Humanities Month. In honor of the occasion, here is a list of 10 things you could do to celebrate the place of the arts in our lives:
1) Take half a day and go to the Art Insitute. Browse around and find some of those famous paintings you've always heard about and seen in books.
2) Turn off talk radio in your car and listen to a symphony, or a choral work.
3) See the banner on the right side of this web page to learn more about Wintersong, the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale's 2013 Christmas concert.
4) Take time to finally read one of those books you were supposed to have read in Great Books in college. You know the ones: Les Miserable (even if you have seen the movie), or War and Peace (OK, that one is long!)
5) Buy a musician a coffee.
6) Ask a member of the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale to talk to you about Wintersong.
7) Ask a member of the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale to sell you a ticket to Wintersong.
8) Dig out that trumpet that's been in storage since your high school graduation. See if you can remember any of the fingerings, and if you're really brave, try to blow that trumpet.
9) Go to our Facebook page (www.facebook.org/gewchorale) and "like" us.
10) Whatever you do, mark December 6 or 7 on your calendar as the dates for Wintersong.
Please feel free to pass this on to others--and we do hope to see you at Wintersong!
Let's face it--most of us use language carelessly. I'm not talking here about coarse language or inappropriate words (though we could discuss that too!). What I have in mind is the fact that we increasingly seem to favor simple words--words we can grasp quickly and easily--over more colorful words that might necessitate our slowing down and pondering their meaning. I think some of this can be attributed to the rise of social media. When a Tweet only allows you 132 characters, you just aren't going to waste them on a word like "dissimulation." Fair enough. But I wonder what we've lost in ruling those more difficult words out of school.
This morning I've been looking at the amazing 15th century poetry which composer Stephen Paulus set as his Wonder Tidings. It is a poem of the Incarnation:
What tidings bringest thou, messenger,
Of Christ's birth this jolly day?
A babe is born of high nature
The Prince of Peace, that ever shall be
Of heaven and earth he hath the cure
His lordship is eternity
Such wonder tidings ye may hear,
That man is made God's peer
Whom sin had made but fiend's prey.
A wonder thing is now befall;
That King that formed the star and sun
Heaven and earth and angels all
Now in mankind is new begun:
Such wonder tidings ye may hear,
An infant now of but one year,
That hath been ever and shall be ay.
That seemeth strange to us to see,
This bird that hath this babe yborn
And Lord concieved of high degree
A maiden is and was beforn;
Such wonder tidings ye may hear,
That maiden and mother is one in fere,
And she a lady of great array.
Thou loveliest gan greet her child,
Hail, son! Hail, brother! Hail, father dear!
Hail, daughter! Hail, sister! Hail, mother mild!
This hailing was on quaint manner:
Such wonder tidings ye may hear
That hailing was of so good cheer
That man's pain is turned to play.
In pondering some of the words in this poem, one could ask: "So why not just say it straight? That on Christmas we celebrate the birth of God's Son? Period. Why use such flowery language?" Ah, but there's the catch! An event this awesome (awesome in its original sense, not the 21st century version) requires that I stretch language almost to the breaking point if I'm to capture the wonder of the event. So the poet says:
A wonder thing is now befall;
That King that formed the star and sun
Heaven and earth and angels all
Now in mankind is new begun.
That, in a quatrain, is the Incarnation! The God who made everything has now descended all the way into our humanity and been born in Bethlehem. And the poetry not only describes the event, but clothes it in such wonderful language that it virtually takes our breath away!
What a gift language is, especially when it is put into the service of expressing such lofty truth in such beautiful poetry! And then there is the music--in this case, the setting of composer Stephen Paulus. I hope you'll make plans to hear the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale sing this and many other pieces at Wintersong, our 2013 Christmas concerts (see this website for details).
That hailing was of such good cheer
That man's pain is turned to play.
Every choral director knows the feeling. Music is chosen, auditions for new singers are done, and the first rehearsal of the new season is planned. Now comes that moment when more than 50 singers gather in the rehearsal room to get caught up on each others' lives, make new friends, and then settle in (perhaps a bit too talkatively for the director's taste!) for the maiden voyage of the new choral season. It's been a long time since the final piece of the spring concert was sung, and we directors are anxious to get back at it. We hope our singers feel the same, and before too many measures have flown by in that first rehearsal, it seems they do! Parts of that new piece begin to come together (already!) and you begin to hear glimpses of what it could sound like after 10 more reharsals--with snow on the ground!
If you're guessing the previous paragraph was autobiographical, you're right. The Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale has opened shop on the 2013-2014 season with our first rehearsal for Wintersong: Christmas with the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale. I'm excited about the music that will comprise these concerts--music like John Rutter's new anthem All Bells in Paradise and Stephen Paulus' Wonder Tidings. With harp, oboe, and percussion joining our usual piano and organ complement, I'm looking forward to the colors of these concerts. I think singers and audience alike will emerge from one of our concerts with a fresh awareness of the Christmas season and what it's about.
Thank you, singers and players of the GEWC, for a great first rehearsal! There's much more to come! And for those of you reading this who are long-range planners--mark December 6 and 7 on your calendars. Wintersong will be a great place to be!
Sitting comfortably on my back porch this afternoon, I’ve just finished listening to Morten Lauridsen’s setting of O Magnum Mysterium. If you don’t know this piece, stop right now, click over to Spotify or your favorite music service, and listen to it. You’ll be in good company—this piece, along with a handful of others from Lauridsen, have become the best-selling choral pieces from the publisher Theodore Presser in its more than 200 year history. In fact, Lauridsen has the distinction of being the most-frequently performed American choral composer. Kind of makes you sit up and take notice, doesn’t it?
Let me say right up front that the reason I’m writing about this is simple: the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale will sing this setting of O Magnum Mysterium in its Chistmas concerts this year. We last sang this piece in 2005, and it’s time to do it again. It will find its place this Christmas in a grouping of pieces that look at the events of the manger: Mary’s perspective as she looks on in wonder at the newborn Son, her gentle lullaby, set beautifully by John Rutter, and then O Magnum Mysterium. The text for this piece is an ancient one with its origins in the Christmas Day Matins service:
O great mystery and wonderful sacrament,
That animals should see the newborn Lord lying in a manger.
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy
To bear Christ the Lord!
The musical setting is vintage Lauridsen: lots of close harmony that doesn’t seem to resolve according to traditional rules, but which adds up to create a shimmering tapestry of color that invites us in to its sonic world to contemplate the mysteries it communicates. Challenging to sing? Yes. But in the end, worth it all because of the wonder we singers experience, and the wonder we hope to communicate to those listening.
And that’s just one of the chorale’s pieces for Christmas. I could get excited about this—and it’s still August!
Choral directors have this in common: they're thinking about Christmas music when the temperatures are soaring! That has been my experience over the last several days, as I've been pondering the chorale's 2013 Christmas program. I've been holed up in the one room in our house that has working air conditioning, and I'm happy to say that I'm ready to talk a little about our concert Wintersong.
I think you're really going to enjoy what the chorale has for you this year! There will be familiar things like Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. We're also going to treat you to some tasty music you may not be familiar with. That includes All Bells in Paradise, a new piece by John Rutter which he composed just last year for the annual Lessons and Carols from Kings College. Joining the chorale for Christmas this year, in addition to our wonderful pianist Jeri Kellan, will be the wonderful sounds of the harp and the oboe. And of course, the grand contributions of the College Church pipe organ!
Add to all this the opportunity for the audience to join in on some carols, and you've got the makings of a great Christmas celebration! Our concerts will be at College Church on December 6 and 7. Save one of those dates, and watch this website for further information.
Now if all of this has you interested in singing with the chorale, I have good news! There is still time for you to audition! We are auditioning for all voice parts, and are especially interested in hearing basses and tenors. Auditions will be held August 13 and 20. More information on the main page of this website. Don't be shy! If you've had a bit of singing experience (high school, college, church choirs), you may be just who we're looking for!
Aren't you feeling cooler already?
I enjoy Yogi Berra-isms. You know what I mean--pithy quotes that have a bit of quirkiness about them. For example, "Always go to other people's funerals....otherwise they won't come to yours." Or, "A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore."
I've discovered that the musical world has its own Yogi Berra. His name is Eugene Ormandy. Ormandy, who died in 1985, was for many years the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. A quick Google search will turn up some of his wonderfully quirky sayings. Here are just a few:
(Looking out over the orchestra) Who is sitting in that empty chair?
I am thinking it right but beating it wrong (I think every conductor loves that one!)
Something went wrong. It was correct when I studied it
Don't ever follow me because I am difficult
Wouldn't it have been fun to play in Maestro Ormandy's orchestra?
I also love quotes about music and music making that are a bit more serious. Consider this:
Music is always a community enterprise. The solo performance does not exist. Even its creation is an attempt to communicate, and every performance an effort to unite the minds of men even of different generations.
That statement comes from a mission statement of sorts. It was the mission statement of the Collegiate Chorale, founded by the dean of American choral music, Robert Shaw. I think that it communicates volumes about what choral singing should be: a community effort in which the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Whether the chorus is singing a januty sea shanty, or a larger work like the Faure Requiem, when you release the last note of the piece, you should feel that you've just been a part of something bigger than yourself--something you simply couldn't have done alone.
Now for the commericial (you knew it was coming!) Maybe it's time to ask yourself if you've been missing this kind of musical community. The kind of community that comes from uniting your voice with 50 or 60 others to create (or maybe better to say re-create) a musical experience that you could never have on your own. It's the kind of thing we're about at the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale.
This summer, we're auditioning for all voice parts. Maybe you should consider it! Audition dates are August 13 and 20. More information is on this website.
Maybe Eugene Ormandy's question is for you: Who is sitting in that empty chair? Maybe the answer is you!
Indeed it has....and then some! The last couple of days have been quite reminiscent of full-blown summer, and if it weren't for the grading I'm doing as a college prof, I just might feel like I was on summer vacation! It's always nice to take a breather, isn't it?
But before I kick back too much, it's time to say thank you to those of you who came to the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale's concert All That Jazz. We certainly enjoyed ourselves....and weren't The Groove Merchants great! If you missed our concert, let me tell you what you missed: my good friend Howie Whitaker brought together a wonderful jazz quintet who both accompanied the chorale in several pieces, and also played some jazz of their own. I think it made a nice combination for nearly two hours of enjoyable listening.
So now it's time for a rest. The chorale returns to action right after Labor Day for what I think will be another great season! And here's where I want to catch your attention if you're a singer. Late this summer (August 13 and 20) we'll be auditioning for all voiceparts. So, if you've been thinking of putting that singing voice to use in a choral setting, please take a look around our website. If you have any questions, I'm happy to try to answer them. You may be just the singer we're looking for!
In the words of Irving Mills, "it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing." That simple, if exaggerated, sentiment might well sum up what the musical genre of jazz is all about. There's something infectious about hearing Take Five or I Got Rhythm—that indefinable something that makes you want to tap a toe or snap a finger.
The type of music that qualifies as jazz is a bit hard to pin down. One observer has said that jazz encompasses elements such as: swing, improvisation, and group interaction. Jazz had its birth in the American south, especially in New Orleans, where the African culture was meeting and coming to terms with European tradition in music. Jazz has roots in the blues, as well as in the work songs and field hollers of plantation workers. Whatever else it is, jazz is most certainly based on improvisation—the art of creating music "on the fly." This is one of the elements that gives jazz its excitement.
While the arrangements you'll hear from the Chorale this weekend are technically not improvised (they are written on a page of music), we do think you'll get the sense of vitality that jazz music offers. And if you're looking for authentic improvisation . . . well, that's where The Groove Merchants come in! My good friend and colleague Howie Whitaker has brought together this fine jazz combo just for the occasion. I know you'll love what they bring to this concert! And yes—much of it is created on the fly!
We hope you'll join us this weekend—Friday at 8:00 p.m. or Saturday at 3:00 p.m.—at College Church in Wheaton. Tickets will be available at the door—we'll hope to see you there!