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.
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.
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…)
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.
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.
Next Friday, April 15, from 5 – 11 pm, more than 100 Nashville musicians align efforts to perform the 10th Annual BACHanalia at Christ Church Cathedral, 900 Broadway in downtown Nashville. 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.
In past years I have brought student ensembles to perform in this event, and this year I am fortunate to be performing myself. I was also very lucky, and was leaked a sneak peak at BACHanalia 2016‘s performers and selections, which I am now going to share with you here, dear readers of Off The Podium. Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
My grandfather died nearly 22 years ago. At that time I was living near New York City, and I drove to his memorial service at a church in Eastern Pennsylvania. More than two decades later, I don’t remember too many things from that experience, unfortunately – my wife and I had a newborn baby, and we had a lot of things on our minds at the time. I do, however, have two strong memories from that day.
The first memory is that it occurred on the day of a solar eclipse, and I remember standing out in the church parking lot after the service and looking at a shadow of the eclipse in progress on a piece of paper with my uncle, who commented on how much Grandpa (a scientist and a doctor) would have loved the eclipse, and no doubt would have prepared a much better way to observe it.
The other memory, which is stronger, and the first thing I remember when I think about that day, is standing in the pew during the service singing A Mighty Fortress is Our God along with everyone else there, and my eyes filling with tears as I sang it. I was told that day (by someone, I don’t remember who now) that this was my grandfather’s favorite hymn.
To his 18th century contemporaries, Georg Philipp Telemann was the most famous, influential, and highly-regarded German musician of the day. Four years older than his friends J.S. Bach and Händel – both of whose reputations have now eclipsed his – Telemann was more prolific than either, wrote sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental music in virtually every genre, published on a nearly unprecedented scale, and did more than any other musician of his time to break down barriers that kept music a separate and elite component of civic, court, and church ceremony to elevate the role of music in the life of the middle class.
The last week has been a flurry of music and activity – the symphony was in the hall rehearsing Rossini, Brahms, and Strauss on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for three performances: our annual High School Young People’s Concert on Friday morning, and Classical Series concerts on Friday and Saturday night. Also on Saturday, we held the first round of our annual Curb Concerto Competition – sixteen teenage instrumentalists competed for cash prizes and the chance to perform a concerto movement with the Nashville Symphony on the stage of Laura Turner Hall! – and on Sunday afternoon we held the competition’s finals. This coming Saturday is our first ever auditions for our new program Accelerando. It’s been a very busy time of year for the Education staff at the Nashville Symphony!
After the final round of the competition was over on Sunday, after photos had been taken and I said goodbye to the finalists and their families, I dashed off a quick email to the symphony’s publicist with details for the press release and then made my way across town to West End United Methodist Church for a special late afternoon concert.
Like much of this part of the country, last week Nashville was hit by a record snow storm – the largest snowfall recorded here in the last 28 years. Between 5 and 10 inches fell on Friday and Saturday, depending on what part of town you live in (8 inches was the official recorded snowfall at Nashville International Airport).
When snow falls here the city shuts down. Not only do schools and businesses close, but it’s simply not safe to be on the roads. We have few plows and they only attempt to clear main roads, leaving most neighborhoods treacherous and ice-bound. My family did not leave our house on Friday or Saturday, except on foot to walk the dog or to scout out the state of neighboring streets.
So by Sunday afternoon, when the city had begun to thaw out, I was happy to make my way across town to hear an afternoon concert of old music performed in collaboration by two local ensembles.