Category Archives: Conductor’s Corner

Experiencing Music History – from the Ancient to the Modern

by Dr. Jeffry A. Jahn

Dr. Jeffry A. Jahn

Sing and Rejoice is a diverse mix of Christmas choral music from both the “long” past, the “near” present and the “very” future.

The first half of the program includes pieces from, arguably, the 16th century’s two greatest choral composers, Palestrina and Victoria, and one of the 20th century’s greatest and most enduring composers, Benjamin Britten.

Palestrina is credited with “saving” choral music for the church after composing his Mass in honor of Pope Marcellus. In a very real way, this composition put into practice the new edicts from the monumental Council of Trent – the Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. The Council declared that vocal music for the church had become too elaborate, with little attention given to the text and too much attention focusing on florid passages and counterpoint that obscured a piece’s melodic content (all compositions for the church contained some portion of a chant tune). Victoria’s entire oeuvre consists of sacred music and he is known as one of the supreme contrapuntists of his age.

“It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of lonliness and of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature, and everlasting beauty of monotony.”
– Benjamin Britten

Britten’s Ceremony of Carols shows Britten at his finest: compact and masterful, he demonstrates both his attention to text nuance and his propensity of mixing the “old” with the “new” – simple melodies, that when sung in canon, contain quite a few daring harmonies. Britten employs a variety of texts that are meant to remind the listener about the profound and mystical time of Christmas.

The second half of Sing and Rejoice intermixes the traditional with the modern: selections from the Alfred Burt Carols, a visit to the Russia and Eastern Europe (including a premiere arrangement of a Russian folk song by ARS Baritone, Ray Braswell), and fresh, updated settings of the familiar carols In dulci jubilo and Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head

The concert also features the premiere of a choral composition by U of A Sophomore Music Composition major Grant Jahn (oldest son of ARS Music Director, Dr. Jeffry Jahn). In keeping with the concert theme of combining the “ancient” with the “modern,” this piece uses the familiar text from the ancient responsorial chant of Matins for Christmas in a setting that shows definite influence from contemporary choral composer phenomenon, Eric Whitacre, and harmonic master, Morten Lauridsen.

“A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.”
– Leopold Stokowski

Sing and Rejoice is part of a great tradition – the Arizona Repertory Singers’ annual “gift” to Tucson. The purpose and goal of our December concerts has always been to celebrate the joy of the season and the ever-present hope of lasting peace for all. This year’s concert is no exception. It represents both the traditional and the modern while underscoring how the past, present and future are inexorably and mystically connected.

Musings on a Musical Mosaic

by Dr. Jeffry A. Jahn

Dr. Jeffry A. Jahn

A musical mosaic, by definition, will contain music that readily underscores and enhances both similarities and differences between the spiritual and secular realm of our lives.

Music affects every aspect of our daily existence. We are surrounded by it because of our constant access to various media. As a result, we are alternately moved and even annoyed by it.

A special focus in this ‘Musical Mosaic’ is an entire section devoted to the sensual side of ARS. It includes works from Musical Theatre and popular music of the golden past. Choral arrangements of emotional gems such as Autumn Leaves, Begin the Beguine, With One Look from Sunset Boulevard, and especially Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera, are perfect examples of melodies coupled with highly expressive texts that are unforgettable, and represent the musical and choral diversity that is an ARS trademark.

The most obvious difference between instrumental and choral music is that of text. There will always be a persistent argument about what is more important – the text or the music. For centuries, composers have grappled with the real origin of their inspiration: the words or the music.

Music can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable.
– Leonard Bernstein

When a concert contains such a diverse range of composers as J. S. Bach and Cole Porter, one instantly realizes the awesome responsibility that both the performer and the listener must undertake: the performer must be versed in the historic and musical similarities, or differences, their pieces may share. The listener is charged with the awesome responsibility of being able to recognize these similarities and differences – primarily through hearing.

When musicians perform a concert that consists of either several compositions written by one composer or a single masterwork by one composer (while containing inherent difficulties) they can rely solely on the reputation, historical background and musical record of that composer. However, when a choral ensemble performs multiple choral pieces by different composers in a mixed sequence that are, in and of themselves, just microcosms of a composer’s style, one immediately recognizes the challenge and the difficulty presented to both performer and listener. In this case, the ensemble serves as the conductor’s conduit enabling the music to be translated into a recognizable language that will be understood by the audience.

Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.
– Ludwig van Beethoven

Eric Whitacre’s Five Hebrew Love Songs is unique in several ways, including a variety of voice combinations, auxiliary instruments (violin, piano & tambourine) used for accompaniment and text. Hebrew is a language that, for all intents and purposes, gives little consideration to vowels. Since vocal production is based primarily on pure vowel sounds, this work presents unique challenges for the singer and the listener. Five Hebrew Lovesongs also provides insight into the composer’s personal life and is especially significant because his wife Hila wrote the text.

Der 2 Psalm by Mendelssohn shows him at his “church” best. Written for his church choir, the Berlin Domchor, this piece sheds light on Mendelssohn’s spiritual side, one that is noticeably different than the more familiar secular side demonstrated in his orchestral works.