Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I’ve wanted to say something for a while now about a CD from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge titled Credo. The trouble is I can’t find a lot to say about it. It’s a 1997 album that was recorded in their chapel and it has great resonance, but it’s been around for bit so I can’t find any information on the internet that refers to it. All I can go by is the booklet that came with the CD.

It says that the Eastern and Western churches have been separated since 1054 and this album looks at the common heritage of both churches.
Apparently the Orthodox East and the Latin West couldn’t agree over the contention of a word ‘Filioque’ which is “the assertion that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father”.

That seems like a pretty small reason for a schism. I would have thought that Christians would say, “You may very well be right. We’re just guessing anyway and what does it really matter?”

It’s all beyond me since I know nothing about either the East or the West. I just like the music. This is some hard-core cathedral music, too, with the eastern Europeans represented by Rachmaninov, Stravinsky and Penderecki while the burden of representing the west falls solely on the shoulders of Andrzej Panufnik, a Pole who made his career in England.

Actually, some of the pieces like Credo and Ave Maria are done in both Plainchant and a Stravinsky version so I assume the Plainchant is western. Also, Blessed is the Man and Praise the Lord, O My Soul are from the Common Book of Prayer.
There are 3 versions of The Lord’s Prayer.

All of the songs and chants are done without music and most are very slow. The vocals are sophisticated and complex with some beautiful decorations.

I like to listen to this when I’m doing housework, some very slow housework, but there are times when I just have to stop and focus on the music. In the right mood this can be very moving.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Medina Music School Boys Choir

It’s comforting to know that there are a lot of music schools around the world that are teaching boys to sing and that we have many years of beauty to look forward to. The most famous school is probably the Vienna Boys Choir, but there are many more. One that I didn’t know about is the Medina (Jazeps Medins) Music School which was founded in Latvia in 1981. It is a boys’ school with a good choir.

I picked up their 2004 CD What A Wonderful World and I’ve been enjoying it.
The variety of the 18 songs on here reflects the varied repertoire of the choir. Some are English, some French, German and some I can’t identify the language, but I like them.

Of course, the title song is on here and it’s a pretty version except for one thing that I probably shouldn’t mention. There is an adult voice doing a solo on one verse and for some reason I laugh every time I hear it. I can’t explain it, it just sounds like a cartoon voice. The boys sound lovely, however.

I really like the South African song Tshotsholosa which is accompanied only by a drum. The mens’ voices maintain a nice beat with the drum while the boys’ voices weave in and around them. It’s really pretty.

As always, I like to look at the translations for some of the music. The song Kur Tad Tu Nu Biji, in English, means ‘Where did you go my little goat?’

The words to Je Ne Fus Jamais Si Aise are nice and begin:
I never have enjoyed myself so much before
as in these past three days.
I have danced the time away
to the sound of fifes and drums.

Their White Christmas is good and they have a different arrangement, by Ray Charles, of Jingle Bells that is interesting and nice.
For even more variety the final song is Clap Yo’ Hands by the Gershwins.

There is usually some fun information that comes with the CD and here is something, a delightful description of general boy-ness, that I wanted to share.
It says, “The members of boys’ choirs are regular, indeed commonplace boys. Their lives are about (a lot of ) studying, (a tiny bit of) leisure, sometimes knocking about and always getting excited. Some of them are composed and clever, some unyielding and intractable, there are some bright minds and some windbags, there is always someone who reports and someone who sulks.”
But they can sing wonderfully and the teachers are experienced at handling all sorts of boys.

They also say, about their voices, “No other instrument can be so sincere”.
So true.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I’ve been trying to look at as many different boy choirs as I can without focusing too much on any particular one, but I have my favorites and lately I noticed that I haven’t said anything about Libera in a while.

On April 9th, 2008 they came to Pittsburgh and did a concert at the Byham Theater. It was by far the closest venue to me so I made up my mind to get up there. I invited a friend who had a more dependable car and can navigate perfectly, even in cities where he’s never been, and we set off on a road trip.

It is 500 miles to Pittsburgh and we didn’t rush so we arrived at our hotel 10 hours after we left home. I only mention that to show how dedicated (insane) a fan I am.
The concert was the next night and I was hopping up and down with excitement. My friend kept laughing at my impatience, but he wasn’t a fan, he was just along for the ride.

Libera was promoting their newest album, New Dawn, which is still one of their best. It has several new songs like Love and Mercy, Oronoco Flow (okay, that was on Angel Voices 1), Jerusalem and others.
New Dawn has a good solo by Josh, Secret, and Ben’s version of The Lamb is still the prettiest I’ve heard. Tom is still in top form on this album and does a great job, with Josh, on Love and Mercy. It sounds a lot better than it did on television at the Kennedy Center awards.
Liam and Ed are excellent on their solos, as well.

This CD was the first for a lot of the new boys, Henry Barrington, Daniel Fontannaz, Kavana Crossley, Flynn Marks, Ralph Skan, James Starkey and James Threadgill.

I'm happy I have the CD because the show went by way too fast. However, my smile lasted for a couple of weeks. Fortunately the boys signed autographs after the show and my program is framed nicely and hanging on the wall beside my computer.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

As much as I love all of this music I still find that I enjoy certain choirs a little more than others. I guess it’s only natural to have favorites. I’ve been trying to collect all of the available CD’s by the American Boychoir, a group that I never get tired of listening to. Their version of Amazing Grace always makes me pause to listen closely and songs like There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy always make me smile.

I would never have believed it possible but I came across an album by the American Boychoir that I don’t really care for. It’s a CD that was recorded in 1991 and is titled Dixit Dominus.

There are two compositions on here, one by Handel and the other by Vivaldi.
They both have the same lyrics which are from Psalm 110.
The title means The Lord Said.

The music is nice and it’s all very well done, but they are singing with the Albemarle Consort of Voices, an adult mixed choir.
I have nothing against adult mixed choirs but, seriously, I can’t tell when the boys are singing and when the women sopranos are singing. It all runs together. That's my only complaint about this album.

According to the booklet that came with the CD there is a reason for the mixing of the choirs. While Handel’s music was composed for choirs of boys, men and castrati, Vivaldi wrote specifically for girls and young women. He was associated with the Ospedale Della Pieta, a school for orphaned girls that stressed musical education.

It’s also sort of interesting that the Vivaldi piece was only discovered fairly recently, having been attributed to a different composer all this time.

What’s very good here is the music which is provided by The Eighteenth Century Ensemble of Period Instruments. It’s so appropriate.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Before I joined the informal and unofficial club of boychoir music enthusiasts I had other musical passions. One of those interests was Irish music. There’s something about the language, the rhythms and the instruments that, maybe, awakens some ancestral memories.

That’s why I was so happy to finally get this 1999 CD titled Air by the Boys Air Choir. It combines the best of the two genres.

There are 11 songs on here, mostly with English lyrics with a bit of Gaelic tossed in for fun.

Silent, O Moyle is a poem written by Thomas Moore and here it’s sung by Andrew Johnson accompanied by a harp. It relates part of an old tale about children who were turned into swans and it sounds really sweet.

Sliabh Geal gCua is a classic poem by Padraig O Mileadha and is one of Ireland’s greatest songs of exile. Those special Boys Air Choir harmonies really get to shine on this one.

I think my favorite might be Shule Aroon, sung by Patrick Burrowes. It’s a foot tapping tune, very traditional sounding.

Dulaman also sounds very traditional and is faster paced.

The haunting song O magnum Mysterium is a responsorial chat from the Matins of Christmas.

All of the songs are great and I love that the music supports the voices without overpowering them as happens on some recordings by other choirs.

If you look at Amazon you probably will be surprised to see this album going for as much as $98, used. I opted for the $35 one. The price was one reason I held back for so long on ordering this but I suppose it isn’t going to get any cheaper. I should have invested in music CD’s instead of bank CD’s.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Live, from New York, it’s… the Saint Thomas Tradition.

The men and boys choir of Saint Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue have an album, The Saint Thomas Tradition, that has been around for some time now and it’s worth looking at. Recorded back in 1978, this was first released as an LP but it must have been recorded digitally because the sound quality is good.

This is one of my favorite types of singing where there are many layers of voices each doing something different, each now and then bubbling to the top and then sinking into the background once more while another piece grows into prominence. I like to try and follow the different layers but it’s not easy because of the complexity of the compositions. It also has that beautiful resonance that comes from being recorded in a big cathedral.

The CD begins and ends with a couple of organ pieces by Marcel Dupre, that are pretty powerful. One is a Prelude and Fugue in G Minor and the another Prelude and Fugue in B Minor.

The rest of the songs are unaccompanied by music, but it is not noticeable at first. There are songs by Tallis and Purcell, Ned Rorem and others. The titles are mostly familiar ones. I'm not sure what I can say about them except that it all sounds really nice.

The 14 Men of the choir are professional singers; the 18 boys attend Saint Thomas Choir School, a boarding school situated in a striking building a block from Carnegie Hall. Approximately eight new boys are accepted each year.

There are some first rate singers in this choir. I expect that the talent pool in New York is a large one to choose from so it’s no surprise that the voices are excellent. After all, if they can make it there… well, you know the rest.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

You might not know it but I’m a manly man, very manly. Don’t let the teacup collection fool you. I like manly music about macho things, like the sea. Seafaring songs, that’s what I like.

When I first got the 1999 CD from Ely Cathedral Will Your Anchor Hold I had tepid feelings about it but after a few listens it grew on me until it became one of my favorite CD’s. Our friend, Kelsey, pointed out that there is a companion album titled They That Go Down To The Sea. The title is taken from Psalms 107.

This album came along two years later and is very different from the first one. The covers look similar, an old sepia photograph of a traditionally dressed fisherman, and they are both made to benefit the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, but the similarities stop there.

While the first CD focused on hymns, this one is more secular. There are some well-known names here, Ireland, Holst, Britten and others and the music varies from folk to opera.

Britten’s Golden Vanity is a one-act opera that, if I’m reading correctly, was written for the Vienna Boys Choir back in 1967. It “follows the operatic tradition of greed and betrayal and the ensuing guilt and introspection prompted by a tragic death“. All that in one act.

The Ships of Arcady, by Head, is really beautiful. Originally written for three women’s voices it’s performed here, of course, by boys.

Vaughn Williams has Five English Folk Songs that are easily likable. They are love songs except for the last one, Wassail Song, which is humorously about drinking.

George Dyson has Four Songs for Sailors. The music in these songs moves like the river and the sea, majestic and powerful.
There is a great line in one of them, A Wet Sheet and Flowing Sea, that says, “The world of waters is our home, and merry men are we. While the hollow oak our palace is, our heritage the sea.”

I’m glad I finally caught this one in my net.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I’m afraid I was a little overly optimistic about my recovery time. I came home on Saturday but it’s taken me a few days to get my thoughts together. The operation went well and now I have a new friend that I like to call ‘Mr. Percocet’. If I tend to stray a little we’ll blame it on him.

I’m still enjoying my DVD of L’Or Des Anges. It follows five choirs, Worcester Cathedral, Knabenchor Hannover, Wiener Sangerknaben, Les Petits Chanteurs a la Croix de Bois and Polski Slowiki, and has some fun and interesting scenes of the boys practicing, auditioning, performing and playing.
I enjoyed watching the Worcester boys playing cricket and lolling on the lawn in their cassocks (but Mr. Percocet kept worrying about grass stains).

Two well known trebles are featured, Terry Wey and Dennis Placzkowski. There is a classic staircase scene from Mozart’s Bastien and Bastienne with Dennis and Wojciech Dzwoniarski, although someone says that Dennis is only lip syncing to another boy’s voice here. It may be true because I thought I saw a moment when it didn’t quite line up, but that could be the Percocets, too.
The narrator gives some interesting facts about the history of boy choirs and there are some great song choices throughout the film.

I’m still surprised that with all the wonderful things they could have shown us the producers only came up with 52 minutes of footage. I’m sure the length was chosen to fit a television time slot, but it’s like gathering Chaucer, Zola, Dante and Victor Hugo all together just for a short story.
It’s still fun to watch though and happily there are two other good films on this DVD to fill it out more.

A Slight Fever is a short film about a young cellist remembering his days in the choir as his voice changed and his subsequent choice of the cello to take its place.

Rejoice is about the 7th World Festival of Boychoirs of Poznan, 2001. This film gives us samples of a lot of great choirs as they come together for a wonderful festival. I counted 18 choirs from several European countries and the US is represented by the Madison Boychoir. That must have been something great to see.

I have wanted this DVD for quite a while but I held back because of the expense. Lately I’ve noticed that it is growing less available every year. I figured I had better grab a copy now because the price probably will never go down.