Choral music has the power to lift the human spirit and bring us to new heights. Our fall concert celebrates jubilant themes, featuring music of Britten, Haydn, and Vaughan Williams, as well as contemporary composers John Rutter and Kevin A. Memley.
It is with “Jubilation” that Griffin Choral Arts opens its seventh season! Thank you for joining us this evening to celebrate choral music expressing many ways of elevating the human spirit through great rejoicing.
Shout for Joy! Dan Davison, b. 1956
Shout for Joy! was composed for Male Ensemble Northwest, an ensemble of twelve music educators based in Longview, Washington. The group (whose motto is “Real Men Sing!”) is active in sponsoring clinics for public school youth choirs, with a special emphasis on encouraging young males to sing in choruses.
Specifically envisioned as a concert-opener, Shout for Joy! serves that purpose both with its text (from Psalms 98:4-8) and with its musical energy.
Shout for joy to the Lord! Shout for joy all the earth.
O burst forth with joy in jubilant song with music.
Praise the Lord with the harp. Join with voices of singing.
O shout to the Lord with the trumpets and the blast of the horn, shout for joy to the Lord.
Let the sea resound and all it contains, the people in all of the world.
Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together with joy!
Shout for joy to the Lord! Shout for joy all the earth.
Let there be sound! Let there be music! Praise the Lord with a joyful song!
Born in Sacramento, California, award-winning composer Dan Davison (also a singer in Male Ensemble Northwest) earned his undergraduate degree from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, and his Master of Music degree from Western Washington University in Bellingham. He has served as choir director at Ballou Junior High School in Puyallup, Washington, since 1979.
“Antiphon,” from Five Mystical Songs Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872-1958
Between 1906 and 1911 British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (pronounced “Rafe Von-Williams”) wrote Five Mystical Songs, a collection of lyrics for baritone soloist, SATB chorus, and orchestra. In the words of British choral director and music annotator John Bawden,
Following the death of Purcell in 1695, English music went into a long period of decline that was not reversed until the late 19th century with the emergence of Elgar, followed by a whole new generation of talented composers . . . [among them] Ralph Vaughan Williams, who for nearly sixty years remained one of the most influential figures in English music, his nine symphonies and succession of major choral works being widely regarded as his greatest achievements. . . . In 1908 Vaughan Williams studied with Ravel for a brief three months, and shortly afterwards produced a series of major works, including . . . the Five Mystical Songs, . . . a setting of poems by [English metaphysical poet and music aficionado] George Herbert (1593-1633). Despite his declared atheism, which in later years mellowed into what his wife Ursula described as a “cheerful agnosticism,” Vaughan Williams was inspired throughout his life by much of the liturgy and music of the Anglican church, the language of the King James Bible, and the visionary qualities of religious verse such as Herbert’s.
The baritone soloist is prominent in the first four of the Mystical Songs, with the chorus taking a subsidiary role. In the opening song, the lute and music are used as a metaphor for the poet’s emotions at Easter. The second song features a simple but moving melody by the baritone, who is joined by the chorus for the third verse. In the third song the choir can be heard intoning the ancient plainsong . . . O sacrum convivium, whilst the fourth movement, The Call, is for baritone solo.
Jubilate Deo in C Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976
This year marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of British composer Benjamin Britten. Griffin Choral Arts is proud to help celebrate the Britten centennial with perhaps the composer’s most often-sung church anthem, his setting of (in an interesting coincidence) Psalm 100 – “O, be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands.”
Of Britten’s career, eminent British composer and conductor Paul Spicer writes that Britten “was a unique force in British music. Of the fine contemporary composers among his contemporaries, none wrote such a wide variety of music across such a broad spectrum of genres and for such a range of ages and abilities. In many ways, though he might have been surprised by the comparison, he was the natural successor to Vaughan Williams, whose instincts for community and the nurture of amateur musicians brought him an almost cult-like status in Britain. . . . Britten was practical composer. He knew that the music he wrote was performable because he himself was an accomplished professional musician. This is, again, where the Vaughan Williams analogy holds true. To be there, in among those doing the singing, directing the performance, . . . gave him an unusual insight into what choirs enjoy singing. He discovered what levels were attainable by different types of group, and did much to encourage that sense of ambition which has led to a genuine rise in the quality of amateur choral music-making.” [www.boosey.com/downloads/brittenchoralenglish.pdf]
More specifically of the Jubilate Deo in C musicologist Jeremy Grimshaw writes,
Although Benjamin Britten composed his choral work Jubilate Deo relatively late in his career in 1961 — well after he had become internationally famous for his brooding, angst-ridden operas — the work recalls a much earlier, brighter style. In fact, this is no accident; Britten composed the work as a kind of companion piece or addendum to one of his earliest choral compositions, the Te Deum from 1934. Both works are scored in the key of C. Additionally, like the earlier work, Jubilate Deo calls for an SATB choir with organ accompaniment (though without the optional trumpet given in the Te Deum score). Also, Jubilate Deo assumes an overall dramatic contour similar in shape to (but substantially shortened in length compared to) that of Te Deum. As a devotional work meant for church performance (it was premiered in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle), the work features a distinctively intuitive harmonic language that nonetheless serves to illuminate rather than overshadow. It also exhibits Britten’s characteristically acute sensibility toward the clarity of the sung text, which in this case comes from Psalm 100 rendered in English translation. In Jubilate Deo [Britten] takes somewhat greater license in shaping his phrases according to the accentuation of the words, sometimes emphasizing a particularly ardent melismatic flourish by playing it on a short or weak syllable. The intended attitude of the text — one of religious joy — also lends the work an ardent energy, deploying the words in long unbroken melodies rather than the languorous polyphonies that draw out Te Deum‘s middle section. This is not to say, however, the Jubilate Deo is found lacking in contrasts. The bright opening section, as well as the brilliant “amen” with which the work closes, bookends a generally energetic piece with articulate declamation that nonetheless pauses at certain points for reflection — as in the rich, resonant harmonies that stretch out words like “everlasting” and “endureth.” The two works considered together, then, though separated by some three decades, nonetheless offer a poignant complementarity: as described in its first line, the longer and more pensive Te Deum offers a song of praise, while the shorter and more streamlined Jubilate Deo, a song of joy.
O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands: serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.
Be ye sure that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us and not we ourselves;
We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
O go your way into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise.
Be thankful unto him, and speak good of his name.
For the Lord is gracious, his mercy is everlasting: and his truth endureth from generation to generation.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.
(Used by permission of G. Schirmer, Inc.)
O Clap Your Hands John Rutter, b. 1945
Of this popular contemporary British composer (many of whose works GCA has sung), musicologist Timothy Dickey writes,
John Rutter’s musical career has been replete with a variety of musical compositions, from the most challenging works for choir and orchestra, to relatively simple works suitable for church choirs of moderate means to use as Sunday and festal anthems. . . . His setting of the opening verses of Psalm 47, O Clap Your Hands, is an excellent example. In its first publication, this was an anthem for choir and organ, with fairly general application by means of its jubilant text. Rutter also released a version with full orchestra, which requires greater musical forces than an average church choir can bring to a Sunday worship, but also broadens the music’s applicability to wider festival settings. The fully orchestrated version may even better fulfill the original intention of O clap your hands, as the Jewish Talmud suggests this exuberant Psalm text was intended for joyous (and vocal and instrumental) climax of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. Whether sung in the first organ version or accompanied by the full orchestra, Rutter’s O Clap Your Hands opens with a bright texture and registration, tinged with syncopations that presage the Latin exuberance of his Magnificat. The first vocal melody sets the overall tone for the piece, with a characteristic focus on the upper melodic fifth and hints of rhythmic syncopation; both features will be present in nearly every melodic phrase of the anthem. Rutter appropriately responds to successive local emphases in the Psalm text: “melody” with a more lyrical turn, “great King” in the musical heights. A series of text-inspired phrases make up the middle section of the anthem: minor tints for “subduing” the people, another climax for the “merry noise” of God’s ascension, obvious bombast to praise the Lord “with the sound of the trump” . . . . In each phrase, however, he achieves continuity by [way of] melodic concentration on the fifth pitch. The culminatory text “O sing praises unto our God” receives a musical setting that is broader both in tempo and harmony, while “sing ye praises with understanding” ushers in the anthem’s sole moment of a cappella singing, as if to privilege the unadulterated choral art. The piece closes with a return of the dancelike opening phrases, further spiced with added syncopation and in the orchestral version, even more prominent percussion timbre. [www.allmusic.com/composition/o-clap-your-hands-for-chorus-amp-orchestra-mc0002371169]
The text is from Psalm 47:1-7.
O clap your hands together, all ye people: O sing unto God with the voice of melody.
For the Lord is high and to be feared: he is the great King upon all the earth.
He shall subdue the people under us: and the nations under our feet.
He shall choose out an heritage for us: even the worship of Jacob whom he loved.
God is gone up with a merry noise, and the Lord with the sound of the trump.
O sing praises, sing praises unto our God; O sing praises, sing praises unto our King.
For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding.
O clap your hands together, all ye people.
(“O Clap Your Hands” by John Rutter © Oxford University Press 1973. Reproduced by Permission of CopyCat Music Licensing, LLC, obo Oxford University Press. All Rights Reserved.)
“The Heavens Are Telling,” from The Creation Franz Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809
This famous chorus—probably the most familiar piece on tonight’s concert—is all the more impressive for its role in serving as the climax of the first of the three sections (in the devout Christian composer’s tribute to the Trinity) of The Creation, Haydn’s oratorio on the biblical story of the Creation, based on the book of Genesis as well as on the Psalms (Ps. 19:1-3 in this case) and on English poet John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost. (During his visits to England Haydn had also been greatly influenced by hearing Handel’s Messiah.) The opening of Haydn’s oratorio was at least a century ahead of his time in its use of minimalist, chaotically discordant music in imitation of the “formless void” from which all creation emerged. But by the end of Day Four (the completion of the “heavens” with the sun, moon, and stars), intense joy is balanced by masterful structure that on one hand recapitulates the turbulence of the early stages of creation and at the same time exults in the newly created, wonderfully complex order. The jubilation is so irrepressible in this movement that even when minor key passages appear—most notably in the Narrator-Archangel trio of Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael’s references to night (the realm of such lesser heavens as the moon)—with characteristic Haydn wit those passages are not even allowed to finish before being stepped on by the chorus’s joyful return to “the heavens are telling of the glory of God,” in the bright key of C major (used for the first time in the oratorio in this movement). This may be Haydn’s musical way of saying that beautiful singing by a few individuals is fine, but much more important are the voices of all creatures singing praises to their creator.
Moving anecdotes about the performance history of Haydn’s great oratorio are provided by Peter Laki, program annotator for the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra:
The first public performance, held in Vienna in 1799, was awaited with the greatest anticipation. Audiences were so excited that Haydn had to make a specific request that they not demand any movements to be encored so as not to disrupt the dramatic flow. In the course of the next decade, The Creation was presented some 40 times in Vienna alone, with the rest of Europe not staying far behind. One particular performance, conducted by Antonio Salieri in March 1808, deserves special mention, for this occasion marked Haydn’s last appearance in public. According to eyewitness descriptions, “Haydn, sitting in an armchair, was born aloft, and at his entrance into the hall, to the sound of trumpets and timpani, was received by the numerous assemblage and greeted with the joyful cry, ‘Long live Haydn!’
When Haydn heard the thunderous applause interrupting the performance at the words ‘And there was light,’ [with] tears streaming down his pallid cheeks and as if overcome by the most violent emotions, he raised his trembling arms to heaven, as if in prayer to the Father of Harmony.”
Autumn Kevin A. Memley
The website of this rapidly emerging new young composer tells us that “Kevin A. Memley is a refreshing and versatile composer whose works have received the world-wide attention of audiences and performers. Though largely self-taught, Memley has received praise for his fine craftsmanship and dedication. He is in demand as a commissioned composer and has been prominently featured in the [American Choral Directors Association] National and Western Region conventions since 2009. In addition, many All-State Choirs across the United States have sung his works. His music has been performed in the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, Segerstrom Hall, the Chicago Symphony Hall and at the Llangollen International Choral Festival in Wales by top-placing choirs. He is published with Pavane Publishing (including his own choral series), Walton Music, Gentry Publishing and John Rich Music Press. . . . [He] has also composed, orchestrated and conducted for film. His two feature scores, “Final Encounter” and “Daim Duab”, have played [widely throughout] the Western Hemisphere, Europe and Asia. Memley has earned a Designated Subjects Credential in Multimedia from Fresno Pacific University and teaches Music Technology at Clovis [California] East High School. As an accomplished accompanist, he serves the Fresno area at Clovis East High School, the San Joaquin Chorale of Fresno Pacific University, and the Willow International Community College choir. Since 2009, he has directed the choir at the Kingsburg Community Church and often writes for them. . . . . He resides in Fresno, California, with his wife Melody and three sons Mark, John, and Kyle.” [www.kevinmemley.com]
The text of the 2013 work Autumn is the composer’s re-arrangement of sections from the most famous of several poems by the same title by English poet Thomas Hood (1799-1845):
Alone, alone, upon a mossy stone,
She sits and reckons up the dead and gone with the last leaves for a love-rosary.
I saw old autumn in the misty morn stand shadowless like silence listening to silence,
For no lonely bird would sing into his hollow ear forlorn,
Nor lowly hedge nor solitary thorn; shaking his languid locks all dewy bright
With tangled gossamer that fell by night, pearling his coronet of golden corn.
Where are the songs of summer? With the sun oping the eyelids of the south,
Till shade and silence waken up as one, and morning sings with a warm odorous mouth.
O go and sit with her, and be o’ershaded under the languid downfall of her hair!
She wears a crown of flowers faded upon her forehead, and a face of care;
There is enough of wither’d everywhere. There is enough of sorrowing.
(Used by permission of Pavane Publishing.)
Even as the lyric concludes with the women’s voices repeating the refrain “I saw old autumn in the misty morn,” the men’s voices fade out underneath, ever softer with four repetitions of the word “summer.” This suggests that—in light of tonight’s concert theme—jubilation can sometimes also be quiet (as in the ancient Latin phrase dulci jubilo), in this case in a wistful, nostalgic way, in the ancient poetic tradition of the “Ubi sunt” longing: “where has/have ____ gone?” Perhaps even more powerfully, we sense the composer’s great joy in fitting lush, evocative language to equally lush musical effects.
When asked whether he would like to provide further comments on his song, the composer reported, “Somewhere online, a review came out stating that, ‘One can hear the rain begin to fall at the opening and the longing for summer’s song by the end.’ I imagine the opening piano to be the late summer’s wind chimes on someone’s porch, not rain. I think this helps visually. And oddly, my interpretation of the words leads me believe that this piece (or at least my excerpts from the poem) is more about the loss of summer than the actual arrival of autumn. It makes for a curiosity, one I hoped to capture in the piece. I was also inspired by many nature artists that would paint an autumn scene with a ‘mother nature’ image as a tree gathering her children (lost and drying leaves).” [E-mail from composer 9/6/2013]
“Saints Bound for Heaven” and “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,”
from Four American Folk Hymns Arr. Mack Wilberg, b. 1955
“Eloquent, straightforward, and full of homespun vigor, the American folk hymn of the early nineteenth century reflected the robust enthusiasm and hardiness so characteristic of life on the frontier. Simple religious texts, easily learned, were set to popular melodies drawn from folk songs, ballads, and dances of the day, creating a lively hymn tradition that flourished in the camp meetings and revivalist gatherings of the ‘Second Great Awakening.’ It was truly a music of the people.” These observations (from the liner notes by Luke Howard, Julie Rohde, and Scott Barric from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s CD entitled Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing containing and popularizing tonight’s two excerpts), summarize the appeal of these arrangements by the Choir’s conductor and music director since 2008, Dr. Mack Wilberg.
Saints Bound for Heaven comes from Southern Harmony, 1835, a collection of mostly anonymous American folk hymns collected by William Walker (1809-1875), perhaps best known as “Singing Billy,” as he was nicknamed to distinguish him from other William Walkers living in the Spartanburg, South Carolina, area of his birthplace. This collection and its compiler Walker were major contributors to the rise and durability of the shape-note singing tradition (also known as the Sacred Harp tradition) in early American religious folk music.
Our bondage it shall cease by and by.
From Egypt’s yoke set free, hail the glorious jubilee, and to Canaan we’ll return by and by.
Our deliv’rer he shall come by and by.
And our sorrows have an end with our three-score years and ten, and vast glory crown the day by and by.
And when to Jordan’s floods we are come,
Jehovah rules the tide and the waters he’ll divide, and the ransomed host shall shout “We are come.”
Then with all the happy throng we’ll rejoice.
Shouting glory to our King, till the vaults of heaven ring, and thro’ all eternity we’ll rejoice!
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing sets a text by Robert Robinson to a tune from John Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music (1813). English hymnist Robert Robinson (1726-1790) wrote the words in 1757 to celebrate his recent commitment to become a Methodist preacher. Before and after writing this famous text, however, Robinson was “prone to wander,” even at the end of his life struggling with religious doubts, including sympathies with Unitarianism. The text may be found at # 295 in the hymnal in your pew rack. The tune was named “Nettleton” after its composer, Connecticut Reformed pastor and theologian Asahel Nettleton (1783-1844).
The line “Here I raise my Ebenezer” is a vow of dedication recalling an Old Testament story of recovery from loss in the defeat of the Israelites and of the capture by the Philistines of the Ark of the Covenant at Ebenezer (1 Samuel 4-5). Later, in 1 Samuel 7, after regaining victory Samuel gives the name Ebenezer to the stone marker he erects in thanksgiving to God, emphasizing the name’s translation from Hebrew: “stone of help.”
Program notes by Bill Pasch (except as otherwise attributed), with thanks also to Steve Mulder, Alan Benson, Marty Watts, and Anne and Bob Weaver.
All works except Autumn performed under blanket performance license by ASCAP. Autumn licensed by BMI.
No additional guests were brought in for this concert.