The life-giving connections between earth, water, and sky

Thomas E. Lerew, DMA
Interim Music Director

As the Arizona Repertory Singers conclude their 2015-16 season of transition, we reflect on the life-giving connections between earth, water, and sky – life sources that connect us as human beings.

EARTH provides:
~ Sustenance
~ Recreational and personal enjoyment
~ Hope inspired by nature’s beauty
~ A mutual call to stewardship and respect
… and the ever-evolving cycle of life reflected in the seasons.

WATER brings:
~ Restoration as we sing “asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas” ~ Purification, healing and sanctification
~ The ‘spring’ of life
… and suggestions of our connection to the Divine.

SKY evokes:
~ The predictability of sunset followed by the inspiration of sunrise
~ The parallels of life’s struggles and triumphs to the fury of nature’s storms that
dissolve into bright sunshine
… and the awestruck wonder of the celestial through “a music of stillness.”

Together, each of these concepts forms the broad choral landscape, expressive texts and stirring musical settings of our program.

It has been my truest honor and pleasure to work with the singers and ARS leadership this year. In my holiday Conductor’s Corner I wrote, “we look up to the light reflecting on a past of which we can be proud and a future in which we can be confident.”

“But music and singing have been my refuge, and music and singing shall be my light.”

Conductor’s Corner: Songs of Sweet Starlight

December 2015
Thomas E. Lerew
Interim Music Director

Stars embody many different meanings and heartfelt emotions for different people. Their mysticism connects people with a sense of wonder as they gaze up at the vast universe we all share. It’s difficult for us to realize that stars shine with infinite light twenty-four hours a day, but they are only visible because of the darkness that night brings. It’s a relationship: light can only glow when darkness is present to contrast light.

Similarly, human kind is fascinated by the patterns that stars make in the night sky. Constellations are points of brilliant starlight that form distinct patterns if we can but imagine the lines that connect them. Hundreds of them have been recorded — Aquarius, Canis Major, Leo, Orion, Scorpius, to name but a few. When we look heavenward, let us consider our own connections to people and life experiences that mean the most to each of us, day-by-day, moment-by-moment. This is the eternity that constellations symbolize – inspiration ignited by the partnership of imagination and hope.

As ARS embarks on this year of transition, we look up to the light reflecting on a past of which we can be proud and a future in which we can be confident. Stars shine through the darkness and ARS has certainly experienced darkness in the last several months. Today’s program is intended to allow singers and audience alike, to ‘explore’ the gamut of human emotions from fear, darkness and the bleakness that all humans experience — such as sorrow, loss and grief, isolation — to triumph, hope, joy, resolution, and a bright future. It is my desire that as you listen to, and experience, Songs of Sweet Starlight, you will leave with the infinite hope that stars represent when we look up to the Starry Heavens, and see the loving twinkle in God’s eyes as He blesses us.

I would like to thank our Operations Manager, Jan Sturges, for her assistance in clarifying my thoughts on the correlation between “stars” and the music we are thrilled to share with you today.

Conductor’s Corner – Heavenly Light

by Dr. Jeffry A. Jahn

Dr. Jeffry A. Jahn

The Holiday season is filled with many traditions that are strictly adhered to, and fervently cultivated. One of the most common traditions during this festive time of year is listening to music. And not just any type of music, but holiday music that best describes the mood and feelings of an individual or group, and highlights their reason for celebrating.

Choral music in particular is definitely the greatest champion for the Christmas season because “holiday music” is heard anywhere and everywhere, at every time of day or night. Because the public is inundated with popular sing-along carols, I chose music for our annual ARS holiday concerts that is familiar enough to be recognizable, yet different enough to be engaging and refreshing for both the performer and the audience.

As has been said by those who are far more eloquent than I (indulge me in a little of my own paraphrasing), at Christmas – a time when classical choral music is often considered too lofty to be appreciated by everyone – the prevailing artistic expressions are not always great soul-searching, lengthy or religious works, but rather, songs that everyone can sing.

This year’s Heavenly Light concert series owes its inspiration to the same notion: we are presenting a program of well-known carols that everyone can sing (or wishes they could) in addition to music that is influenced by the customary European standard for choral music: from the solemnity and awe-filled music of the Russian Orthodox Church, to the height of German compositional grandeur during the mid-19th century, to the fanciful flair and subtle nuance that typify mid-20th century French music, to the glory and cultural stamp of the English choral tradition. Keep in mind that the classical pieces in our repertoire also define the music of the season.”

Heavenly Light demonstrates that choral music, because of its inherent blending of music and words, can touch and move one’s very soul. I am confident that when you hear Heavenly Light, you will be inspired by the fundamental joy and happiness that characterizes the holidays. You may also be surprised by the tremendous gifts that familiar carols and tunes have for you when they are musically wrapped in new ways…just waiting to be opened, and heard again, for the first time.

Conductor’s Corner: Voices at an Exhibition

by Dr. Jeffry A. Jahn

Dr. Jeffry A. Jahn

For many of the singers in ARS, music holds a very prominent place in their lives. As I’ve mentioned in past concerts, people often ask this question, “Why do we sing?” The answer is immediate:  “…many of us can’t imagine not singing.”

To celebrate ARS’ 30th anniversary, our spring concert, “Voices at an Exhibition,” offers abundant proof through action that “ . . .we can’t imagine not singing.” Not only is ARS performing a concert with a variety of amazing music, but four visual artworks by local artists are also prominently featured in conjunction with the premier of four original commissioned compositions. They are being introduced in a musical and artistic multimedia presentation that demonstrates the relationship between choral music, written text and visual media.

Inspired by Mussorgsky’s classic “Pictures at an Exhibition,” this one-of-a-kind concert melds music, text and art. The result is a truly unique choral event. ARS commissioned four composers; each composer was given one work of art with a request that they allow their personal interpretation of the artwork to be expressed through a choral composition. The only direction given to the composers were simple vocal guidelines. The choosing of text, musical style and content was totally at the composer’s discretion. The result is four new compositions that clearly demonstrate each composer’s style and how each artwork served as an inspiration for them. What is even more astounding? Each artwork was created by an ARS singer, which emphasizes the tremendous artistic diversity, personal composer/artist relationships and connection with ARS.

In addition to the four premiers, this concert also features pieces that exemplify the vocal talent of ARS as the premier choral ensemble of its type in the Southwest. “Voices at an Exhibition” is just that: voices that sing and perform with a purpose to not only entertain, but to educate and create as well.

Choral singers comprise the largest segment of the musician population in the United States. When ARS displays its vocal excellence as good ambassadors of choral musicians, and couples its artistry with visual media, the result is a truly memorable, inspirational and awe-filled concert worthy of a landmark celebration.