Walter Bitner

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Two Brahms Portraits

this print cropped from “Brahms at the Piano” by Willy von Beckerath (1868-1938) has hung over my piano at home since 1986

Johannes Brahms was born on this date 184 years ago: on May 7, 1833. The Brahms Bicentennial is only 16 years away!

Like Sebastian, Brahms is a composer whose music has been a deep and abiding presence in my life. Yet I have so far avoided writing much about his music here on Off The Podium. Beyond a reflection I wrote in 2015 after attending a performance of his Requiem, I have merely mentioned Brahms a few times in other articles. So far.

Today, in honor of Brahms’ Birthday, I offer these personal anecdotes:

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Fie, Nay, Prithee John

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) ~ anonymous portrait

Singing canons is a wonderful way to help young singers develop independence, sing harmony and polyphony, and all with material that takes much less time to learn than music cast in more than one part. In strict canon, everyone sings the same part: we all learn the same melody and text together, and once it’s solid split up the group, start singing it at different times, and presto! musical magic.

Canons can be simple enough for very young children to learn in a few minutes or so challenging that professional choirs must exert considerable effort to sing them well. With a broad repertoire of canons on the tip of her tongue, the skilled music teacher is ready to make or teach satisfying music with students of any level, for any occasion, at any time or place.

Over the course of my teaching career I taught dozens of canons to students of all ages: rounds with students beginning in Kindergarten, catches with more experienced singers (usually by third grade). We sang canons about everything: happy and sad canons, silly canons, canons about love, animals, God, food, about music itself. Canons in English, Latin, French, German, Russian. Canons. One of the most important canons I tried to teach to all of my students over the years is the ancient Sumer Is Icumen In, which I have written in detail about here.

Another fabulous canon which I taught to hundreds of students from elementary through high school, and which is the subject of today’s article, is the indignant and difficult “chiding” catch Fie, Nay, Prithee John by the great Henry Purcell. And yes, by teaching this song, I taught my students to swear.

 

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BACHanalia 2017

On Friday, March 31, from 4 – 10 pm, Christ Church Cathedral at 900 Broadway in downtown Nashville proudly presents the 11th Annual BACHanalia. This unique, beloved event is a continuous, six hour concert of our friend Sebastian’s music presented once a year as a gift to the community. Click here for the church’s official announcement of the event. Note the new times! This year’s event will be held from 4 – 10 pm, not 5 – 11 pm as in previous years.

Again this year I was very lucky, and was granted a sneak peak at BACHanalia 2017‘s performers and selections, which I now leak to you here, oh readers of Off The Podium. Warning: Spoilers!

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Barthold Kujiken with Music City Baroque

Barthold Kujiken

March is Early Music Month, an annual campaign to promote awareness of early music throughout the North American musical community. Early Music Month is promoted and designed by Early Music America, a national organization that facilitates and encourages communication, collaboration, raising awareness, and sharing resources for those interested in historical performance and music before the 19th century.

It’s therefore timely – and no surprise – that our fair Music City has several phenomenal events coming up this month that feature live performances of music from the old repertoires, including both performances by local ensembles and rare visits from acclaimed European musicians.

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The 2017 Schermerhorn Invitational Choral Festival

Today the Nashville Symphony hosted the first ever Schermerhorn Invitational Choral Festival at Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

Monday, February 6, 2017: three choirs from Middle Tennessee public high schools gathered for a day of music making on the stage of Laura Turner Hall under the direction of Dr. Tucker Biddlecombe, Interim Director of the Nashville Symphony Chorus and Director of Choral Activities at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music.

A wonderful day of music and camaraderie was had by all as our beautiful concert hall was filled with the joyful sound of young people singing for and with each other. Here follows some impressions and photos from the day!

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The Hallelujah Chorus

The Nashville Symphony and the Nashville Symphony Chorus gather onstage moments before a performance of Händel's Messiah, December 18, 2016, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville

The Nashville Symphony and the Nashville Symphony Chorus gather onstage moments before a performance of Händel’s Messiah, December 18, 2016, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville

Part of a series of articles on
Preparing a School Winter Solstice Performance

This past week the Nashville Symphony performed our annual string of December Messiah concerts. An annual event featuring a different conductor and vision for the performance of this masterwork each year, it is remarkable to me how resilient Händel’s Messiah is, and how much the community here at the symphony -as well as the larger surrounding community of Music City – looks forward to it every year. It’s one of those monuments of the repertoire that has become part of the collective consciousness.

This year’s performance with guest conductor Christopher Warren-Green brought a historically-informed perspective to the performance, with brisk tempi and the incorporation of a theorbist who doubled on baroque guitar to the continuo section. I was thrilled to hear how excited our musicians were about Messiah this year in conversations I had with them (or overheard) during rehearsals. Sitting in the balcony on Sunday afternoon for the final matinee performance, the enthusiasm of the musicians and the audience was palpable. In the exhilaration following the concert I found myself thinking a lot about this remarkable piece of music, and especially one movement in particular – the unique and absolutely one-of-a-kind Hallelujah Chorus – and why and how it occupies such a singular place in our musical culture.

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The Feast of Stephen

gkwfeastofstephenPart of a series of articles on
Preparing a School Winter Solstice Performance

On December 8, 2006 – ten years ago today – my students at Linden Corner School in Nashville presented a winter solstice celebration for the school community called The Feast of Stephen.

The Feast of Stephen incorporated copious music as well as dance and theatrical elements, and every student from grades 3-8 was a performer. Students participated as singers, instrumentalists, actors, dancers, created props and costumes – preparing for this event consumed most of my time in October and November of 2006, and as the night of the show came near the anticipation and excitement among the children, parents, and myself was palpable.

Here is a description of The Feast of Stephen: an example of a winter solstice performance with elementary and middle school students that incorporates many of the elements described in this series of articles. Included are the original scripts of both The Feast of Stephen and the Linden Corner School Mummer’s Play, a copy of the original program, and a video of the performance.

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The Tallis Scholars Sing Josquin

Photo © Eric Richmond

The Tallis Scholars ~ photo © Eric Richmond

I don’t like to think of myself as a critic or a reviewer, but occasionally I make a raid into the territories inhabited by these creatures. Last week the English choir The Tallis Scholars released a new CD of Josquin Masses, and as I marveled for the ten-thousandth time at the sublime accomplishment of this ensemble in the stolen moments I was able to spend listening to it, I decided not to let it pass without remark.

Just in case you aren’t familiar with them, The Tallis Scholars were founded in 1973 by their director Peter Phillips, and are the world’s leading performers of renaissance polyphony. A good argument could also be made that they are the finest and most accomplished choir in the world, and the finest early music ensemble – notwithstanding their occasional foray into contemporary choral literature. (more…)

Introducing the Nashville Choral Consortium

nashchor-logo-2_med_hr

 

 

 

NashChor: Music City’s New Choral Music Resource

“I wished there was one place where I could go to see all the choral events happening in Nashville and Middle Tennessee – church, university, show, evensongs, youth choirs, everything.” says Tucker Biddlecombe.

If you don’t know Tucker you’re probably not a choral singer in Nashville, Tennessee: he is the Director of Choral Activities at Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt, and this fall begins his tenure as Interim Director of the Nashville Symphony Chorus.

“I’ve observed that many times our organizations schedule events on top of one another, significantly reducing our audiences and creating various conflicts for singers.” he says. “I have some web savvy, so I built a new website: NashChor.org, the Nashville Choral Consortium.

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Homecoming 2016: Thank You, Nashville Children’s Choir

James Wells leads the combined choirs of the Nashville Children's Choir Program + Alumni, as Madeline Bridges leads the audience in "Sol-Fa Calypso" at Homecoming 2016, April 30, 2016, First Baptist Church, Nashville

Touring Choir co-director James Wells leads the combined choirs of the Nashville Children’s Choir Program + Alumni, as Program Director Madeline Bridges leads the audience in “Sol-Fa Calypso” at Homecoming 2016, April 30, 2016, First Baptist Church, Nashville

On Saturday, April 30, 2016, the Nashville Children’s Choir Program held their annual spring concert, as they have every year for more than 25 years. This year’s performance was even more touching than previous years’ performances – not only was the concert the culmination of the year’s rehearsals presented by the more than 250 singers in the program’s 4 choirs. In addition, some 80 alumni – including many in their 20s and 30s – joined the choirs for the day to rehearse a very special “Homecoming” program presented that afternoon that included singers who participated in NCC in the past as well as currently enrolled choristers.

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