Tag Archives: choral music

The Opera Wars.

 

 

*AUTHOR’S NOTE:  Periodic Update:  All rights to these pieces at littlebarefeetblog.com, in whole and in part are, unless otherwise specified, strictly those of the author. Thank you for your respect.

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Possibly the most profound gift from the universe to humanity on this earth is the singing voice.

After last night’s presentation of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil Vespers, offered by the combined choirs of Mercyhurst University, the Erie Renaissance Singers, Chautauqua Chamber Singers, and Church of Christ Savior –  masterfully directed by Rebecca Ryan, Andrija Andelic, and Vladimir Gidenko with soloists  Ainsley Ryan and Brandon Miller, any witness concluding otherwise would have to be missing either a cerebral lobe, or a soul.

Rachmaninoff captured the depth of an entire nation’s reverence for its God and Christ, and set as sacrament voices, alone – in polyphonic unisons, in woven harmonies, in unique tonal rhythms and rapturous resolutions – that would forever mark his masterpiece in ironic, final testament to a people who would soon be stripped of their right to worship at all. The result was repeatedly, and increasingly, breathtaking.

A work, of this magnitude, begged a mass choir. And, the many voices came, from four distinct ensembles, so willing to collaborate to make this music a reality.

Morning reflection took me back to the early ’90s and a graduate course in Baroque music, taught by Associate Professor Jeremy L. Smith at SUNY Fredonia.

Now, a good historian will address such a broad topic by constructing a course around highlights that were in some sense pivotal to the development of the style of the period. Smith, in his rich academic wisdom, chose to cover Bach/Vivaldi; castrati; and, the infamous opera house wars.

I was remembering, on this morning, the latter.

If you search the internet, you won’t find anything substantial about the Baroque opera house wars. But, Jeremy L. Smith had his sources. There were two major theaters in Europe during the Baroque era, and they so bitterly competed for pre-eminence that many underhanded and spiteful attempts were made to squelch the other, including paid infiltrators who would make raucous, vulgar and berating sounds throughout their competitors’ productions. One house was even successfully shut down by its opposition! Easy to wonder if the current American political system of “smear” campaigns takes its lesson from this regrettable chapter in history.

In the West, large metropolitan areas have a distinct advantage; should rifts occur within any performance discipline, those alienated by its effects can just move across town, birth new entities, and watch them rise from the rubble. Entire neighborhoods welcome the new asset, their audiences ready, eagerly awaiting. In fact, following the model of organic cell division, this could actually be considered a healthy evolution, one more likely to ultimately preserve the art as life form.

But, small towns have a problem.

If any one inadvertently, unwittingly, or otherwise unintentionally offends, there might very well be no place to go. The gossips, made up of the variously frustrated, powerless, or mediocre, are equally eager, and the news of the offense is their fodder.

Becoming the topic of public conversation only serves to inflate the value of any disagreement or misunderstanding. Before long, alliances form – usually against the hapless ones who managed to bring the insult. But, because proximity is the issue, the decision to leave the group is far from liberating; rather, those who do merely find themselves outsiders, maligned in their own locale. Any who choose to remain endure the negative energy which imposes upon their efforts.

It is with no small wonder, therefore, that those who use their voices in combined song commit to the enterprise without rancor. In reality, singing well requires a mind in congruence with the body which bears it; animosity in the heart can only produce a shrill and ego-driven outcome.

This is not what anyone heard coming from the combined choirs on Sunday night. The one hundred twenty voices were one strong, students of music, adult amateurs and professionals, people of all persuasions unified by purpose, melded by Rachmaninoff’s masterwork, mobilized by the devoted heart and determined spirit of Rebecca Ryan. In such a place of communing unity, a true chorale emerges – the singular voice of the created, manifesting its Creator’s song.

In such a place, no war of any kind is possible.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  5/16/16   All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

“Do Not Be Afraid.”

 

“Do not be afraid………..
you……are mine.”   — Isaiah 43.
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Choral music used to be a given in mainstream American life. From the patriotic holidays through the public school concerts, the sound of people singing in four part harmony presented by a collective larger than a family around a piano seemed impermeable by any shift in the cultural wind.
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Little would any of us in arts education realize that the times, and the weather, would change so profoundly. In the five final years of my public tenure, I had to endure being told there would no longer be time in the daily elementary school schedule for a chorus class. And — my students!  Two part harmony, among primary aged children. But, oh. Yes. Better, so said the powers that assumed authority, that time be spent bouncing a ball around or chasing another – or, eating soy patties on roll with boiled vegetables. Time, and money, going instead toward that which bailed on a vital source of nourishment.
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Nourishment, you argue. Singing with other humans as anything more than a casual diversion?
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This past Friday night, I’d been invited to perform as cellist with the northwestern Pennsylvania District 2 Student High School Chorus. My instrument, a clarinet, and a horn, had been added to one of several pieces of music programmed for their public concert. And, we enjoyed our collaboration, immensely. The students had come from among the very best their schools had to offer, and their guest conductor was nothing short of a marvel.
Happy with our performance, we’d left the stage intending to take in the remainder of the concert. Waiting at the auditorium door for the signal of applause, we’d stepped discreetly into the back of the hall. The temperature elevated by a packed house, a rush of body heat flooded us. And, the room was dark. But, what was about to emanate from the fully illuminated stage would render all senses irrelevant.
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I’d been impressed by Dr. Christopher Kiver, from the moment we’d been introduced. He had 200 + high school students in the palm of his hand. A Brit, his dry, observational humor infused his every breath, capturing the students’ imagination as he wove them from rhythmic riffs through the contours of phrase. Further investigation revealed that Dr. Kiver had proved his worth far and wide, known for his work with students at Penn State University and beyond.
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But, what happened to me in the moments about to ensue as I stood in that dark auditorium I owe only in part to his expertise. The rest I leave to the reader, and the mysteries of the universe.
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Dr. Kiver had chosen the program. A panel had chosen the soloists, from among several auditionees, one of whom had just completed her offering. The order of selections sat in my bag on the floor, unreadable in the dark. Two female choristers took their places across the front of the stage, and Dr. Kiver raised his baton to the choir.
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Their pure unison tone began, hushed, absolutely controlled. Each syllable measured, the opening phrase emerged in one, clear, enveloping voice:
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“Do……not………be……..afraid……………………………………….”
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The harmonies expanded. Their sustain was seamless.
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“Do…….not………be………afraid……………………………………..”
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Without any warning, whatsoever, the choir became one voice in the firmament.
The verses unfolded; I recognized them as scripture. But, the music had transcended thought, to become the vehicle of the oracle of the divine.
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Standing in the dark, I was a child again. The world around me, and everyone else, all of us terror-stricken, shell shocked, every institution threatened, all future expectations uncertain, but this voice. It were as if the God of my childhood were speaking directly to me, my eternal protector, the loving Creator who had promised me everlasting safety.
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Tears poured down my face. Everyone around me was spellbound, as well. We were all collective witness to the deepest of human power, manifesting the very message for which we were starving, through the only art form that could possibly have carried it to us.  We didn’t have to fear. We had been redeemed. We were still loved, perfectly. And, our God had just sung us a lullaby.
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……………………………………
….When you walk through the waters,
I’ll be with you;
you will never sink beneath the waves.
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When the fire is burning all around you,
you will never be consumed by the flames.
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When the fear of loneliness is looming,
then remember I am at your side.
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When you dwell in the exile of a stranger,
remember you are precious in my eyes.
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You are mine, O my child,
I am your Father,
and I love you with a perfect love.”
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“Do Not Be Afraid” —  Philip Stopford.
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© 2/6/16 Ruth Ann Scanzillo   — Thank you for your respect, both for the created work of Philip Stopford, the interpretation of Dr. Kiver, and this my piece.
littlebarefeetblog.com