VOICES’ final 25th Anniversary season concert at the St. Paul R.C. Church in Princeton, NJ on Saturday, May 18, 2013 reflects on Time Passing, Time Standing Still, and Times to Come, and features both classic works and premieres of new works with the Princeton Area Homeschool Choir. VOICES’ Music Librarian Barbara Siuta again shares her series of essays and observations that we hope will encourage you to hear this music in live performance at our concerts, and will enhance your enjoyment of our musical program.
Music takes one’s soul on a journey into the deep recesses of self and being. The study of music is the travel of the mind into the realm of the unknown, but as in any learning process, that which was seen dimly soon becomes clear, and the clarity then allows us as practitioners to become the guides into those deep recesses that hopefully have become our own well-traveled roads.
For all musicians, there was a moment which could be defined as a musical epiphany: an experience like none other, when music spoke to us in a language that perhaps we did not know at the time but yet we completely understood. For this writer, it was at about the age of 5 (not quite yet reading) and attended a performance of the Bach St. Matthew Passion. At the moment the final chorus began (“Here Yet Awhile”), I was entranced, fascinated by this sound that was the most beautiful thing I had ever (in all of my years…) heard.
For the composers from whom we have commissioned works for this concert, there have been similar experiences. Sheena Phillips, composer of “Music for Awhile” which is premiered on this concert, relates her experience:
My hunch is that I was fascinated with music from an early age, and it was tunes that grabbed me at first. How fresh, catchy, impudent, grand, sombre, or plain beautiful they could be! I remember borrowing books of folk tunes from the local public library, just to play them through at the piano. I also remember the puzzlement of loving part of, say, a piece of music that I was learning, yet not liking the whole piece. This again spoke to the “snatchiness” of music – just a little wisp of it can grab you and give you joy. My choral epiphany came … with a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. I was lucky enough to be part of a group of London schoolgirls assigned the ripieno parts in a performance by the Bach Choir. We were sternly coached, and my whole attention was on getting everything right. But nothing prepared me for the emotional experience of singing this marvelous work, surrounded by other singers, in a musical offering to a packed concert hall. “Spine tingling” does not express it. It flooded my soul!
Robert McMahan’s experience had a bit more personal touch:
My musical epiphanies involved a movie, a meeting, a knock, a record, and a need to play an instrument. When I was seven there was talk from my parents about my taking piano lessons soon, the idea of which excited me. But before that happened I saw the movie “Stars and Stripes Forever”, depicting the life of John Phillip Sousa (Hollywood style, of course). Since, like Sousa, I was a DC native, I was intrigued by the movie and thrilled by his wonderful marches. To encourage my newfound musical interest my parents took me one Sunday after church to the Congressional Cemetery where Sousa is interred. When we arrived, we discovered an old couple at the grave. The gentleman turned out to be Sousa’s nephew. I was totally blown away. Imagine the very flesh and blood of my new idol and hero! I knew then that fate determined, for better or worse, that I must pursue music for my life’s work. Around that time another fateful event took place: Every Thursday was payday for Dad and we normally went downtown to eat dinner out that evening. Just before we were to leave, though, a knock came on the door and we allowed a representative of a large accordion studio in the city to come in and demonstrate his “product”. I was immediately enthralled by this curious, multi-voiced, breathing object and the notion of studying piano was instantly dispatched from my plan and replaced by the accordion. I began lessons the next week and have never stopped playing the accordion since. (To think, had we left for downtown a few minutes earlier I would have probably taken up piano soon and had a “normal” life!).
My next major musical epiphany happened when I was in high school. While browsing through a favorite downtown record store I came across an LP on sale of Richter and the Boston Symphony performing Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. After hearing about sixteen bars of the first movement I was totally overwhelmed by this very strange and obviously eccentric genius (the music says it all!), and could listen to no one else for the next three years. Yes, I became a teenage Schroeder! This led to another revelation to me a bit later that determined much of my path in music in my later professional life. I was dismayed that the accordion, on which I had advanced quite far, had very little original music literature. For classical music it relied mostly on transcriptions of violin concerti, piano and organ works, and the like. Its original contemporary classical repertoire was starting to grow in the early 60s, though, and now is quite vast. But at the time I began to see that for it to be accepted as a valid instrument in the “serious” music world, it’s virtuosi had to put greater emphasis on playing, commissioning, and composing music of our time specifically for or including it, and such music would have to feature its special sounds and idiomatic characteristics. (Other recently invented instruments, such as the saxophone and percussion ensemble have had to go down a similar road.) This, in fact, has been the core of my professional career down to the present and it was largely the reason I pursued degrees in music composition in college (at the Peabody Institute). Thus my life is evenly divided between performing and composing (between the necessary hours of teaching, of course).
My travels with music began in 1956 with a 33 rpm recording of the soundtrack from the movie “The Benny Goodman Story”. The tracks of Gene Krupa (big band and jazz drummer) got me hooked, and I played the record until the grooves were worn through. A boy and drums – perfect together; far better than the string bass that everyone wanted me to play as I was a tall child, and the beat kept with me through college in the mid-60’s (playing in a band kept edging me closer to my calling). My first real composition (all 11 minutes of it) as a young adult centered me and made me aware that composition was the path that was to be mine, and performing was a joyful accessory. Then the hand of Bach touched my soul through the St. Matthew Passion and the fugue in the opening chorus. Shortly after, I composed “Blues for Matthew,” a quasi-jazz piece for piano, drums, and a Zuckerman harpsichord that had been “modified” with guitar pickups, so it was now a hybrid. This was the age of fusion experimentation with the music of Ward Swingle and the Swingle Singers, Walter Carlos, and Robert Moog’s theremins and synthesizers, so we were right on track. A decade or so later I had my next major revelation: music and theater go hand in hand. Since I was doing musical coaching, now I had to learn to sing….and I am still working on that part.
From the Dale Warland Singers website-
Born April 14, 1932 in Badger, Iowa, Dale Warland maintains that it was a small series of musical manifestations that brought him into the musical fold. His personal history is rich in activity: with music degrees from St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN, a two year term of military service in the Air Force (where he founded the Scott Male Chorus at Illinois’ Scott Air Force base), then on to the University of Minnesota and University of Southern California School of Music for Masters’ and Doctoral degrees, he then began to work. First at California’s Humboldt State College, then Keuka College (NY), and then he settled at Macalester College (Minnesota). The next two decades must have been exhausting and energizing at the same time. He worked with musical luminaries Robert Shaw, David Willcocks, and Norman Luboff. Choral inspiration must have been at high tide during these years, as Warland founded the acclaimed Dale Warland Singers, who not only sang existing choral literature very well, but thanks to major grants, he was able to initiate the Dale Warland Singers’ New Choral Music Program for Emerging Composers. While the Dale Warland Singers disbanded in 2004, Warland’s choral activities have continued in his own compositions and guest conducting engagements. Fortunately for everyone, his achievements have been recognized during his lifetime, and we are fortunate to be singing the premier of his choral work “The Voices” on this next program.
Copyright ©2013 Barbara Siuta and VOICES, Inc.