Today I took the wraps off of a new project I have been putting together for the past few months: the summer fling vocal ensemble. The concept of the project evolved and morphed several times during that period, but I’m pretty happy with where I ended up:
We are a mixed chamber group of community chorus singers skipping out for a month during the summer to explore new genres and experience small ensemble singing.
The initial idea for the project came about because I have always wanted to participate in a smaller vocal ensemble, with just a few (2–3) voices on each part.
In the Seattle area we have an awesome set of community choirs, but most of them are larger than what I was seeking, and the smaller ones were mostly either professional groups or women-only groups.
It was clear then that if I wanted the chance to experience and learn in this area, I was going to have to put something together on my own.
Last summer (2015), I decided to take my first plunge by assembling a barbershop quartet. I reached out to friends, and friends of friends, and eventually found 3 other people to try it with me.
In the end, I felt the experience was really worthwhile. I learned a lot, sang in a new (for me) genre, and I really loved our time singing together. Yet I found myself with a few regrets afterward:
I had no prior barbershop experience, so I had to rely heavily on another member to do most of the driving in what was ostensibly my pet project.
It was just the 4 of us with no outside coach or listener to provide feedback.
Our work never culminated in any performances, so the end of the project kind of fell flat.
This year (2016), I decided to try again with the express goal of solving the problems:
I would create a more traditional classical ensemble, where I could at least leverage my own experience.
I would hire a coach/conductor to guide some of the rehearsals and provide feedback.
I would be sure to end with a concert.
Since I had been recently delving into early American hymnody, and had come across a few interesting anthems along the way, I decided pretty quickly that I would use that as the core repertoire for the group.
The next step was finding people. My aim for this group was to find 3 people per part (a total of 12). I really didn’t want to go through auditions, especially since I feel like auditions are not good indicators of how dedicated and hard working people are. So I decided instead to tap my network of friends, and sure enough they came through.
It was at that point things began coming together. I whittled down the repertoire to a reasonable, focused program; transcribed all the music from original sources (because I’m like that); arranged mutually amenable rehearsal and concert times; found a coach; located a suitable venue; put together a website and Facebook page; and did the kinds of things I was used to doing as General Manager of the Sacred Music Chorale.
However, I didn’t feel like it was really happening until our first get together, which happened last night on July 11. Everyone showed up! We ran through a bunch of the music, I faked my way through directing, and good sounds were made.
And now I’m encouraged and very excited to see how this adventure turns out!
I’ve recently been researching information about one of my favorite early American hymns, “Evening Hymn,” by Elisha West. It is a gorgeous example of a classic fuging tune, with the haunting period tonality that I just love.
I first heard the tune in this wonderful rendition by His Majestie’s Clerkes:
You might notice the recording is titled “The Day is Past and Gone,” and not “Evening Hymn.” As with many hymn tunes, the tune is independent of the text, and you will find a lot of mixing and matching going on. Here, the recording is named after the text they chose to set it to.
Unfortunately, looking online for a score for “The Day is Past and Gone” by Elisha West turned up nothing (I didn’t know at the time that the tune was called “Evening Hymn”).
The CPDL page for this tune indicated that it first appeared in West’s songbook The Musical Concert, released in 1802. Having just recently discovered that scans of many early American songbooks are available online, I did a search and found a version in the Petrucci Music Library (IMSLP).
And behold, the original (click to embiggen):
The first thing I noticed is that the original contains but a single verse, whereas the version I found on CPDL had three verses. The text seen above is taken from Isaac Watts‘ metrical setting of Psalm 90, verse three:
Our moments fly apace,
Nor will our minutes stay;
Just like a flood, our hasty days
Are sweeping us away.
The CPDL edition extends the original text by adding verses 4 and 5 as well:
Well, if our days must fly,
We’ll keep their end in sight,
We’ll spend them all in wisdom’s way,
And let them speed their flight.
They’ll waft us sooner o’er
This life’s tempestuous sea;
Soon we shall reach the peaceful shore
Of blest eternity.
So then I got curious about the origins of the text in the recorded version I had found online. A bit more digging on CPDL revealed a “Request” Page where someone had asked for “Evening Hymn.” They were, of course, pointed to the existing “Our Moments Fly Apace” setting, but with an interesting note attached:
the John Leland text ‘The day is past and gone’ was not published with the tune until its use in Jeremiah Ingalls‘ The Christian Harmony (1805).
Hmmm, well, the text matches … somewhat. Verse 3 shown above is missing in the recording, and there are two more verses that aren’t present at all. But if you look closely, it’s not even the same tune! Oh well, so much for that lead.
However, there was at least a reference to the poet: John Leland, a Baptist minister who lived from 1751–1841. A little searching revealed the original text of the poem, which goes like this:
The day is past and gone,
The evening shades appear,
O may I ever keep in mind,
The night of death is near.
I lay my garments by,
Upon my bed to rest;
So death will soon remove me hence,
And leave my soul undrest.
Lord keep me safe this night,
Secure from all my fears;
May angels guard me while I sleep,
Till morning light appears.
And when I early rise,
To view the unwearied sun,
May I set out to win the prize,
And after glory run.
That when my days are past,
And I from time remove,
Lord I may in thy bosom rest,
The bosom of thy love.
The text in the recorded version is a pretty close match to this, with just a few exceptions:
The biggest change is that the text is altered from singular to plural (I to we, my to our, etc.)
The end of the first verse has a slight change to “O may we all remember well / The night of death draws near.”
The end of the second verse is also changed, to “So death will soon disrobe us all / Of what we here possess.”
Verse 3 is skipped altogether
A few minor word substitutions in the last two verses.
Not too much more to report since my last update, except that I am still working on getting comfortable again in my upper range. I’m starting to be able to revisit some of my old solo repertoire and sing it again without too much fear that I won’t be able to hit the high notes.
I finished out the Spring season with Sacred Music Chorale and ended up switch-hitting between tenor and bass, favoring the bass in most pieces, but opting for tenor when the bass part sat too low. (And at times confusing my neighbor!)
For the Spring season of Seattle Bach Choir I’ve gone back to being a full-time tenor. The repertoire sits pretty high in the tenor voice for this concert (especially for our May Cantata concert), so this has been good exercise for my upper range, with a focus on not pushing myself.
I also decided now was the time to go back to voice lessons, so I broke up with my piano teacher and began voice studies again. I’m happy to say that I’m already noticing some good things happening!
So I guess this has been a rebuilding year of sorts, but in the end I’m hoping this whole stressful experience will make me a better singer.
So for the Sacred Music Chorale‘s upcoming Spring 2016 concerts this weekend, I have once again had the opportunity to liven up some of the pieces we’re singing with strings and flute. Emboldened by the results at Christmas, I volunteered to take on 7 of our pieces:
Consider the Lilies by Marie E. Roll
How Can I Keep from Singing? arranged by Bradley Ellingboe
The Lord Is My Shepherd by Thomas Matthews
O Be Joyful in the Lord by John Rutter
Our Father, arranged by Benjamin Harlan
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty arranged by Robert Sterling
Shout for Joy! by Dan Davison
As with my previous arrangements, nothing too earth-shatteringly difficult or “out there.” And some, like the Our Father, are fairly minimal (just a bass line in that case).
But still there were a few interesting challenges. I was even so bold as to add a countermelody near the end of Consider the Lilies to make things a little more interesting.
I got to hear them live for the first time at dress rehearsal on Wednesday and they are sounding pretty good! Just a couple of minor typos found, and we decided to drop the string accompaniment at the very beginning of How Can I Keep from Singing? since it ended up being a bit much in practice.
Now that I’m past being concerned with how the arrangements turned out, I can focus on enjoying singing in the upcoming concerts!
Since my previous post, I followed up with my doctor and visited a vocal coach who is experienced in working with singers who have vocal damage. Prior to those visits I had started noticing a little less trouble getting above a D4 while singing, and was at times able to reach E4.