Choir Collaboration

I haven’t written recently about my choir, but I figure the time was right because my choir was just featured in the Star Tribune.

This fall we collaborated with Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church and did one service at their church and one at ours. (Sadly I missed the service at our church last Sunday because I was at home with a migraine…hence why I am in none of the pictures.) We sang three pieces together (one chosen by each director and the third jointly chosen?) Amusingly Philip chose a very gospel-ish piece, “What a Mighty God” arr. Abels featuring a FMBC soloist while Sanford chose a Rossini piece featuring one of our soloists. The third piece was a gospel-y arrangement of “Come Thou Fount.”
We met for the first time the Sunday that we sang at FMBC. I was interested that not that many of our choir members had ever seen an alter call and that some of them thought that perhaps the service we’d just been in was a praise service.
I grew up in a non-evangelical Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Palmer, Alaska. I went to the church camp up by Fairbanks. Then I wanted to go to the closer church camp that all my school friends went to (not PC USA). It was a very evangelical camp. Praise songs, alter call, tears, gasoline on giant piles of logs and then lighting them on fire (to make a point that is long forgotten), bible study via mail throughout the school year. That lasted two years. Then I couldn’t do it any more. It wasn’t me, I didn’t really like many of the people and so it was back to Fairbanks. But I say this all to explain that I’ve seen both sides. Most of my friends went to a contemporary church in a school gym, when I was in middle school, so I’ve seen that style of worship.
Until October, I’d never been in a self-proclaimed “Black Baptist church” before on a Sunday morning. And WOW was it powerful. It reminded me of Black Music Ensemble performances in college. There’s a certain spirituality that is innate in their service. You can feel the vibe and that is impressive to me. There was so much love and care in that congregation and choir. I’ve been singing in the choir for almost five years. I’ve sung in at least 8 different languages on probably 150 Sundays. I feel the love that my choir has for the music, for the history; how much we enjoy singing difficult two choir pieces by Schubert or obscure pieces by Giovanni Martini. But I have never heard (or felt) as much innate joy in singing as I did singing with the FMBC choir.

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.