A scattered musical post

This weekend I went to several musical events around town. I went to the VocalEssence Community Sing with Eric Whitacre, the English Soireé by soloists at church, and the open rehearsal for the Eric Whitacre Extravaganza.

Usually if I love listening to a piece, I love singing a piece. The opposite is not always true. There are a number of pieces that I love singing, but they aren’t great listening pieces. I love music. Being surrounded by it and participating in the joy it provides. In my singing days I’ve enjoyed singing pieces from Pachelbel, Bach, Britten, Tavener, Duruflé, Schwartz, Swayne, etc. Whitacre is different (in a good way). Here’s what the Pioneer Press had to say “Teenagers are shouting from the balconies. The sellout crowd is on its feet, roaring its approval. The handsome young star stands center stage, pumping his fist, caught up in the excitement. You’re at … a choral concert at Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall.”

For those of you who are more visual, here’s the image. I described him to my dad as looking “kindof like a surfer dude.” Let’s just say there’s a reason why many of the women at the Friday event had brought their cameras. (A reason he also plays to by expressing that there’s a reason he writes for SATB and not TTBB, etc. He is married and has a son though…in case you wondered.)

Image from vocalessence


Whitacre burst onto the music scene in the 90s. By the time I encountered his music in 2002, he had made a name for himself in both the choral and band worlds. His music has a unique sound. He uses tonal clusters liberally and enjoys very textured lines. His work is mostly not-sacred, but conveys feelings that many sacred pieces convey.

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I just got off the phone with my dad and I think I’ve figured out how to word this. There are two primary types of music that give me goosebumps. (I’ll reserve the right to get goosebumps to other music as well.)

First is perfectly harmonious and resolved sections of pieces. The most recent example that I can think of is the last page of Hymn to the Creator of Light by John Rutter. (It’s the only Rutter piece I’ve ever heard that doesn’t sound like Rutter.) This is also the vibe I get from She’s Always a Woman or Down to the River to Pray by the King’s Singers. Exquisitely executed simple harmonies that appeal to the “pretty music” side of me. As I write I think of more examples: Ubi Caritas by Duruflé.

Second is music that conveys power and commands respect. My dad brought up the example of the countertenor in the top line of Henryk Góreck’s Totus Tuus, about 2.5 minutes in. This is the raw power that is conveyed in much of Whitacre’s work, be it a piece talking about love, Leonardo da Vinci, or the death of a child. The tonal clusters and clashing sound waves help to build the angst within the power and portray conviction.

I don’t feel as if I am really able to explain this in words. If there’s enough interest, I could make a cd that I think would be able to write my post much better than me.
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One of the really fun things in getting to sing with Whitacre at the Friday event and watching him at the open rehearsal was seeing him conduct his own music. I’d sung it before, but with other conductors. As Philip mentioned, it’s unusual these days for a composer to be able to conduct and Whitacre does it with ease and elegence. On Friday we started off with Lux Aurumque and sang the firs two measures without music about ten times before he stopped us and laughed, saying that he should have brought more than the 4 songs he’d planned for the 1.5 hours. I love the talent in this town. He’s very expressive and conducts almost all his pieces without music. His movements are like those of a dancer. My dad picked up on this by just looking at the still photos.

Images from vocalessence

Enough eye candy folks!
Some music is available on his myspace page and he also has a facebook page with most of the music from his techno-opera based on manga featuring kickboxing angels.
In summary: Eric Whitacre rocks and goosebump music is awesome.

A bonus prize for making it to the end of this scrambled post. Maria Jette sings in my church choir. She was one of the soloists on Saturday night, having rushed over from the Prairie Home Companion taping in downtown Minneapolis, where she sang Air on a G String. Not exactly your grandmother’s Bach.

3 Responses to A scattered musical post

  1. Simon says:

    I’m sorry I’m only getting to comment on this now. It would be super cool to hear all the songs you talk about in this. Choral music is never something I knew much about (even having been in chorus in school for six years) (I’m a terrible singer) and I think it intimidates me and I don’t know where to start. But it is something I hope to get into some day, along with all the languages I want to learn, and places I want to go. SO MUCH TO DO, SO LITTLE TIME.

  2. Katie says:

    That’s ok. I understand your slacking… I’ve loved choral music for ages and have seriously considered studying it. (I wanted to spend a semester in South Africa studying African choral music, which is awesome) I’ll have to make you some cds. I have some tracks by Garrison Keillor and VocalEssence from PHC about choral music that will unintimidate you. Seriously…if we ever live close together you will have an opportunity to learn lots about choral music.

  3. Alex says:

    very well, I’ve loved choral music for ages and have seriously considered studying it. (I wanted to spend a semester in South Africa studying African choral music,too,,..

    but I have no money,only watches…

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