Music and Meaning

(Written Thursday afternoon) For me, many pieces of music hold distinct memories. Some are unlocked simply by the title, composer, or performer, but some are held within the music itself. Music that I spent hours with in college, but had since forgotten. I’m at the North Central American Choral Director’s Association convention this week and there are lots of concerts involved. This morning the Dordt College Choir sang a song called Ngana by Stephen Leek. On paper, it rang no bells. But then came the first notes, and my voice wanted to cry out. I knew every single note. I don’t know what semester we sang it, but I remember wrestling with it and, subsequently falling in love with it.

This past Sunday, we sang a setting of When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, as the middle hymn. All I could think of was singing it with the choir at Berea. Holding hands with two tenors, surrounding the congregation, and singing my heart out. To me, that song meant concert choir. It meant that I was part of a community and that I was bound to the people next to me, both literally (during the song) and figuratively (during the semester). It also meant that my eyes wouldn’t necessarily be dry at the end of the piece, but that, five years later, if I needed a favor, I could email or call many of those choir members and they would be more than willing to help me out. Because that’s the way choir works. And while I still have some of that in my choir today, it’s a little different. Because in some ways I feel like a church is supposed to be like that anyways.

The Iowa State Singers are singing right now. I first encountered them at the national convention in 2005, and, amusingly, one of their cds is the ONLY overlap between my and Ben’s cd collection. But they just sang a piece by Cyrillus Kreek. In 2004, I went to six King’s Singer’s concerts in Germany and Austria over eight days and 1000 kilometers. The first of these was in Waldsassen, a tiny German town on the Czech border, in a massive cathedral. One of the most wonderful and eerie songs they sang in their religious program was Onnis on inimene by Cyrillus Kreek. Kreek’s music was getting slightly more well known, but I could only find one group that had recorded Onnis. To remember how the haunting Alleluias went, I wrote the notes in their relationships to each other, in my journal. That was my introduction to Cyrillus Kreek. A massive Eastern European Cathedral on spring break, sung by six English men. (For fun you can also imagine I was surrounded by Germans, I don’t speak German, no one clapped during the concert, and I had arrived two minutes before the concert started, after ten hours of travel.) It’s amazing, in some ways, that these college students from Iowa can transport me halfway around the world and six years back in time, but they can. That’s the power of music.

And because you made it this far… here’s a video clip for you of the Real Group. Because I am kindof obsessed with them now. And I was contemplating starting my own Swedish Acapella Jazz Group. But then I remembered I wasn’t Swedish, so there was another failed life plan. Enjoy!


P.S. ACDA conventions are more fun as an interloper (i.e. non choral-director) with Kate and Keith to stalk famous people with hang out with.

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