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.