Choral Arts Initiative News
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Once more we take the path down through the trees
to meet the Sound. Last winter’s storms have thrown
some maples down – like strings tuned by the wind
the tall ones stand against the water. This spring
the mountains have returned.
Through ferns and moss and mud we wind our way
without speaking, to clamber over driftwood, sandy dogs
and purple mussels. Last year here at high tide
a young grey whale tipped his hat. This spring
our bodies have returned.
I’ve come here with questions and found smooth
green stones, once spotted a raccoon
sampling shells at low tide. Our bodies
tuned by water stand against the wind.
Sun, discover us again.
- Poetry by Dierdre Lockwood (2011)
“Discovery is about finding renewal and strength amidst the beauty of the natural world. Deirdre wrote the poem while walking through Discovery park in Seattle, which borders Puget Sound. But the words speak to anyone who has found answers to life’s questions while being out in nature.”
The eight-part a cappella choral piece was commissioned by the Esoterics and its founding director Eric Banks, so Christina sought out a Seattle-based poet and found Dierdre Lockwood. “They hold an annual choral composition competition and I was chosen for their National composer's commission in 2011. I wanted to write a piece that might connect directly to a Seattle audience so I thought about finding a Seattle-based poet to write a brand new poem. Through an Internet search, I found a Seattle poets organization and contacted them about possible interest in the project. I heard from several poets who sent me examples of their work. I chose Dierdre Lockwood and she chose to write a poem about Discovery Park, an expansive and beautiful park bordering Puget Sound. Discovery is about finding renewal and strength amidst the beauty of the natural world. Musically capturing moments of searching, uncertainty, and, ultimately, contentment, this piece speaks to anyone who has found answers to life's questions while being out in nature.” The music and the poetry for this beautifully lyrical and melodic piece that evokes all the wonder of nature were written together for this commission and premiered by the Esoterics in 2011.
Thomas began her collegiate studies as a Bio-Chem Major, but took music classes and was in a choir while at Middlebury College in Vermont. Her first switch came when she changed her major to Vocal Performance because her experiences in her choir and music classes were what she was most passionate about. Her turning point from Vocal Performance to Composition came when she performed Morten Lauridsen’s “Magnum Mysterium.” The work had such a strong influence on her that she not only wanted to change her focus to Composition but wanted to study with the composer who created the catalyst piece, so she “talked her way in” to USC and completed her Master’s Degree there in 2005. “It wasn’t such a leap to switch from singing in choirs as a Voice Major to writing for them.”
Christina Whitten Thomas’s works have been performed throughout the United States including at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Disney Concert Hall. Christina has received commissions from the Los Angeles Master Chorale Chamber Singers, the Denver Women’s Chorus, Vox Femina of Los Angeles, the Esoterics of Seattle, Melodia Women’s Choir, the Apollo Men’s Chorus, and the Vermont Choral Union. Her awards include 1st place in the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir competition, 1st place in the Los Robles Master Chorale competition, 1st place in the Park Avenue Christian Church competition, 2nd place in the NATS Art Song Composition Award, the Sorel Conductor’s Choice award, and the Sorel Medallion. Her choral cycle Choral de Bêtes can be heard on Musica Sacra’s 2012 CD release Messages to Myself.
Her music is published by E.C. Schirmer and Hal Leonard, as well as available through MusicSpoke.com. Christina holds a M.M. in composition from the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and resides with her family in Pasadena, California, where she is also an active teacher and vocalist. More information can be found at www.christinawhitten.com.
Come hear "Discovery" at our concerts celebrating Earth Day THIS weekend! First performance is Saturday 4/22, 7:30pm at Newport Harbor Lutheran, with a second performance on Sunday 4/23, 4:00pm at the Anaheim United Methodist Church. For more information about this concert, "All We Need," go to our webpage for the concert. For more information about our ensemble, to audition to be a Choral Artist, or to submit compositions to our PREMIERE|Project, go to www.choralartsinitiative.org.
I believe in the sun, even when it's not shining.
I believe in love, even when I feel it not.
I believe in God, even when He is silent.
These words were written on the wall of a concentration camp after World War II ended and the world discovered the atrocities committed in Nazi Germany. The author of this text was an anonymous prisoner who had undoubtedly suffered unimaginable horrors, and yet wrote words of extraordinary faith and hope. In 2011, Kim Arnesen, a composer from Norway, composed the piece Even When He Is Silent using this text, truly reflecting the uplifting beauty and the hope of these words amidst pain and suffering.
"Imagining what that person went through makes the words so powerful." Says the composer in the notes for his piece. "As I read them, it was a Credo - when everything is dark and difficult in life you might wonder where God is, or if God is there at all. This is about keeping faith in God, love, and hope. I think of the sun as a metaphor for hope."
The arrangement being performed by Choral Arts Initiative for the upcoming concerts for Earth Day, "All We Need," April 22 and 23, is an a cappella piece for SATB with 8-part divisi, but the composer simultaneously wrote an unaccompanied version for SSAA choir as well. It was originally commissioned by the St. Olaf festival in Trondheim, Norway. "The assignment was to write a work in two separate versions." The piece works with interchanging chords of consonance and dissonance. The most interesting thing is that the phrases lead into and use dissonance as the resolutions of the phrases at the beginning of the piece. There is a constant struggle to fight through the dissonance, struggling for freedom into consonance, and when that freedom finally happens and the consonance is achieved, it is even more glorious because of the struggle, much like it must have been for the prisoner when they actually did get to experience the sun and for whom faith must have been a true struggle amidst so much suffering. The entire piece ends very quietly, with a dynamic of pianississimo. There is still dissonance, but there is also a beautiful peace.
"This is a work about hope even in the darkest time of life," Arnesen reflects on his page dedicated to the piece at kimarnesen.com. "Even if your freedom and the people you love [are] taken away from you, no one can take away your faith and hope." The piece, Even When He Is Silent, has been performed many times around the world and has been recorded on several CDs.
Kim André Arnesen (b. 1980) is one of the most frequently performed classical composers from Norway today. He grew up in Trondheim and started at the music school at the age of 6 playing the piano. At the age of 10 he started singing in the Nidaros Cathedral Boys´ Choir.
He was educated at the Music Conservatory in Trondheim. As a composer he had his first performance in 1999 with the boys´ choir. Since then he has written music that has been performed by choirs and venues all over the world, including performances at Carnegie Hall and the White House. Several new commissioned anthem length pieces are also being premiered throughout 2017, including a commissioned work for the Texas Directors Association.
Hear this and other contemporary pieces reflecting on nature and the Earth in Choral Arts Initiative's concert, "All We Need," with performances on April 22 and 23 in Newport Beach and Anaheim. Check out our webpage for the concert here for more information and to purchase tickets at a 25% discount!
Our upcoming concerts for Earth Day, "All We Need," feature the West Coast premiere of Kile Smith's three-movement piece for unaccompanied choir, "Where Flames a Word," which set the unique and profound poetry of Paul Celan.
"I loved his writing and looked through three or more books, taking a long time to select the texts. The easiest one to select—which I did not expect—was the middle one, the prose section. I edited it down to what you see, and then the outside two fell into place."
Smith essentially created a dialogue in nature with the three poems he chose, painting a vivid image of "a loner/wandering" in the first movement through the setting of the text to melodies in the soprano and alto lines that weave in and out of each other. The second movement has moments of bitonality, which seem to personify two mountains in dialogue with one another, eventually giving way to moments of majestic grandeur, where the music is literally "opened up in the middle" through a spectacular fortissimo key change. The last movement is a very still, "hymn-like" setting, where we hear the line that gives the composition its title: "Where flames a word, would testify for us both?" The entire final poem was written in parenthesis by Celan, suggesting internal thought or meditation. A connection is being made without speech. "You--all, all real. I--all delusion."
"I chose these particular texts of Celan's because I detected in his writing a struggle with meaninglessness. I believe this to be the intellectual and artistic struggle of the 20th century, the struggle into modernism, and from that to post-modernism. Celan's answer, I believe, is that in the midst of meaninglessness and of horror and of fear there is meaning indeed, if you choose to find it."
Audiences and critics praise the music of Kile Smith (b. 1956) for its emotional power, direct appeal, and strong voice. Many choirs and orchestras across the country and in Bulgaria have commissioned and performed his music, already prolific and in high demand, which has received rave reviews from major music magazines. Kile is Director of Content at Philadelphia’s WRTI-FM, when he isn’t hosting the new American music program Now Is the Time, co-hosting Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, and classical hosting on-air. He is a regular contributor to the arts and culture magazine Broad Street Review, and writes for WRTI. For 18 years Kile was Curator of the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music, the world’s largest lending library of orchestral performance materials, at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Kile was Composer in Residence for Lyric Fest, the Helena Symphony, and the Jupiter Symphony, and is now Composer in Residence for the Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, soprano Jacqueline Smith, and their daughters. https://kilesmith.com/
"I want those who listen to Where Flames a Word to experience what I always want listeners to any of my music to experience: peace. For me to accomplish that, I must take them through a drama and must lead them to the other side, to peace, and to healing."
Buy your tickets now to the upcoming concerts on April 22 and April 23, "All We Need," and have the opportunity to hear Kile Smith's choral masterpiece, "Where Flames a Word" performed live by Choral Arts Initiative.
Jackie Littman is the graphic designer behind the liner notes and design of the cover image for "How to Go On: The Choral Works of Dale Trumbore," Choral Arts Initiative's debut album. Currently a designer for Sosolimited in Boston, MA, Littman also designed Dale Trumbore's composer logo nearly ten years ago. The following is an interview between Trumbore and Littman about the design process for the album.
5th Anniversary Season Announced: 5 Commissions by Southern California Composers and more Regional, National, and World Premieres
Irvine, CA—The year 2017 marks the fifth anniversary season for Choral Arts Initiative. To celebrate this significant milestone, Choral Arts Initiative has commissioned five Southern California composers: Saunder Choi, Jeffrey Derus, Luke Flynn, David V. Montoya, and Joshua Himes. The commission by Himes will be premiered during their April 22-23, 2017 performances with the remaining four works premiering during their July 15-16, 2017 performances. In addition to premiering five commissions, long-time composer-collaborator Dale Trumbore has gifted a new composition to also be premiered in 2017 titled “Perhaps.”
As is usual for Choral Arts Initiative, additional regional, national, and world premieres by Will Todd, Kile Smith, Christina Whitten Thomas, Corey Rubin, and more will also be performed throughout their 5th Anniversary Season.
Thank you to those who joined us for our very special 5th Anniversary Celebration Gala & Silent Auction! It was a lively evening featuring a silent auction, live music, finger foods, and great company with guest composers, Choral Artists, the Board of Directors, and our family of supporters. For those that missed us, be sure to subscribe to our e-Newsletter to stay in the loop with future events!
Whether you were a guest and want to relive the moment with photos, or you weren't able to attend and get a sneak peek, here's several photos from the event:
All of these photos -- and more -- are available to all guests free of charge and can be downloaded here. Special thanks to Allan Helmick Photography!
Poet Amy Fleury, a professor at McNeese State University and the author of books Sympathetic Magic and Beautiful Trouble, wrote the text for the final movement of How to Go On. The following is an interview about her inspiration for that poem, as well as her thoughts on how art accompanies us on our journey through life and grief.
When at Last I Join
When at last I join the democracy of dirt,
a tussock earthed over and grass healed,
I’ll gladly conspire in my own diminishment.
Let a pink peony bloom from my chest
and may it be visited by a charm of bees,
who will then carry the talcum of pollen
and nectar of clover to the grove where they hive.
Let the honey they make be broken
from its comb, and release from its golden hold,
onto some animal tongue, my soul.
The following is a preview of the poems and music of How to Go On, including hand-written manuscript excerpts, seen here for the first time, beside their correlating excerpts in the finished score. Choral Arts Initiative will premiere this 8-movement secular requiem for a cappella chorus by composer Dale Trumbore on their July 16 & 17 concerts. Purchase your tickets for the concert here!
I am looking at pale blue ponds of melted ice
on a frozen river
and in them perfect clouds passing.
Wind sends ripples along the water
and trees cut sharp lines into the sky. Soon
it will be gone, all of it
and I will be sitting in darkness,
sitting by a dark window, glad
for having seen this earth,
her elegant grace,
how she turns away from the sun.
And I will be learning, again,
how to give it all up by simply turning.
How to give it up to darkness, all you love. All of it.
How to give it up again and again.
—Laura Davies Foley
Four of the eight movements of secular requiem How to Go On set texts by poet Laura Foley. Her poems alternate between the intensely personal and something more akin to the gentlest of instructions: a way to live one's life, even when it becomes incomprehensibly challenging.
However difficult you think it might be,
it is yours, this life,
even the failures
even the garden, though it be unkempt,
—Laura Foley, excerpt from “Autumn Musings”
Throughout How to Go On, soloists from within Choral Arts Initiative narrate text in the first-person—questioning, learning—with the choir as a whole taking the part of a reassuring, wiser voice.
In the following interview, Trumbore and Foley discuss how writing can become a spiritual act, Foley's connection to fellow How to Go On poet Barbara Crooker, and the real-life locations that inspire Foley's vivid poetic imagery. Foley is the author of five poetry collections, including Syringa and Night Ringing. Her poem “Gratitude List” recently won the Common Good Books poetry contest and was read by Garrison Keillor on “A Prairie Home Companion.”
The Basses of any choir are the foundation of the harmonic structure. Our Choral Artists singing in the Bass section for our upcoming concerts, "How to Go On," are a particularly good combination of spirited and amiable while at the same time being capable of deep thoughtfulness. "We have seven talented Bass Choral Artists for this particular roster, and they bring immense passion and knowledge to the music we sing," reflects Artistic Director, Brandon Elliott. "Their collaborative spirit is a joy to witness as a conductor, and their rich foundation of sound adds such colorful depth to the ensemble." They took time out from rehearsing to take a "Sectional Selfie" and share a little about themselves.
Lorraine Joy Welling