Easter Vigil

candledark

I’ve just started a piece and I don’t know what to say. I’m trying to make something up, but it’s not working. It’s Saturday night, the Saturday before Easter, and I just got home from Easter Vigil.

This week we lost Jeff Dinsmore, and I don’t know what to say. He was a singer, a beautiful tenor voice in The Crossing and its co-founder, in fact, who in many ways ran it with director Donald Nally. (Read more about Jeff here.) Every time they sing my music I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be included. Heck, every time they sing someone else’s music I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be included. It feels like innocence restored, like standing in the dark and someone hands you a candle.

The empty furnace

Easter Vigil has lots of readings; one is from the book of Daniel. Babylon did what invaders did back then. Spoils of war. It wrenched the best and brightest out of Israel and took them back to Babylon. Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego rose so high that King Nebuchadnezzar had them run parts of his government. But jealous Babylonians dropped the dime on them when they wouldn’t worship a statue.

Nebuchadnezzar told Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that he’d have to execute them by burning them in a furnace if they didn’t change their minds. It was his law, and it was the Chaldean way: this type of execution is mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi.

What Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego then said to Nebuchadnezzar was remarkable. They said that their God could rescue them, but that “even if he does not”—that’s the remarkable part—“we want you to know, o king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

So he threw them into the furnace, but looked and saw them walking around inside the furnace, talking to a fourth person who looked like “a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar called to them to come out. They came out. Their clothes and hair weren’t singed, and—I like this part, I would never have thought of it were I making it up—there was no “smell of fire” on them. So, God had rescued them, and the “even if he does not,” you see, when they got around to writing the story, was unnecessary. But they put it in anyway. That’s the remarkable part.

The empty tomb

If I were to make it up, this isn’t how I’d do it. After his execution, Jesus was dead in the tomb, but women discovered that he wasn’t there anymore. Not the inner circle, not the disciples, not the guys who followed Jesus, the guys who wrote the stories that we now read: They didn’t discover the empty tomb. The women did, ran back, told the disciples, but the disciples didn’t believe them. Then the disciples wrote it all down, just like that, disbelief and all, just like we have it now. I wouldn’t have done it that way, were I making it up.

Christianity inherits the idea from Judaism, as it does many ideas, that the sundown before the next day is the next day. During Saturday’s Easter Vigil, Friday’s crucifixion looms but Sunday’s Easter begins. There is nothing remotely like this service, the Vigil.

The dark nave

A fire is lit, often outside, and is brought into the church by candles. Each person grips a candle and enters the dark nave. Each bright face floats down the center of the struggling-to-be-seen church. “The Light of Christ” is intoned. “Thanks be to God,” answer the faces.

Then someone walks to the lectern. It’s not an important person, in the scheme of things, not a pastor, priest, bishop. Churches with deacons, the lowest-level clerics, give the job of singing this Exsultet—what may be the greatest hymn of praise ever devised in all Christendom—to a deacon.

Our church doesn’t have deacons, but it does have cantors, who are not clerics of any kind, not even deacons. I’m a cantor, so to me falls the job of chanting the Exsultet:

To all angels, rejoice. To every created thing, rejoice. To all around the world, rejoice. To all gathered here, rejoice. This is the night, it says, that we must pass through to rejoice. This is the night, it says, where all sacrifice ends. This is the night, it says, that turns clear as day. This is the night, this is the night, this is the night, it says.

It is ancient and mystical, weirdly involving, a rambling chant, not scripture but springing from echoes of scripture. One form praises the candles, “the work of bees and your servants’ hands.” It is strange. You see angels, faces, the children of Israel, wax, all creation reflecting the light while you sing.

The Vigil

I would never have said it this way. I so often don’t know what to say. My older sister, last month. Jeff, this week. Lucky to be included, but always suspended between Friday and Sunday, it seems, in this night, in this Vigil, so often not knowing what to say, with darkness but also with a candle someone handed me. With bright faces surrounding me.

So, with this piece I started, I’ll try not to make things up. I don’t know what to say, anyway. So I’ll tell the truth, “when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
 and divine to the human. When all wickedness is put to flight and sin is washed away. How holy is this night when innocence is restored to the fallen and joy is given to those downcast.”

Passage Through a Dream on Now Is the Time

KitzkeCharacterWe dream our lives and live our dreams on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 19th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Bright Sheng’s romantic orchestral work China Dreams includes movements called The Stream Flows and The Three Gorges of the Long River. The tragedy of U.S. duplicity before and after the Battle of the Little Bighorn is the subject of We Need to Dream All This Again. Jerome Kitzke writes, “let’s dance, and call it praying,” as he honors the Native American building of a new life by dreaming that life.

Clarinet and four-hand piano unfold through digital delay in the evocative Passage Through a Dream by Phillip Schroeder, and Zeitgeist closes out the show with the humorous and quirky Getting Your Z’s (Or Not) by Janika Vandervelde.

from Phillip Schroeder: Passage Through a Dream 


PROGRAM:
Bright Sheng: China Dreams
Jerome Kitzke: We Need to Dream All This Again
Phillip Schroeder: Passage Through a Dream
Janika Vandervelde: Getting Your Z’s (Or Not)

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream. Just go to wrti.org and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. Here are the recording details and complete schedule. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, from the Jersey Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Delaware. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI!

Jeff Dinsmore

JeffDinsmore

Jeff Dinsmore [photo: Rebecca Thornburgh]

Many of us have now heard of the passing of our friend and colleague, Jeff Dinsmore. Tenor and co-founder of The Crossing, he was its board president for most of its existence, and always its guiding light. He was with director Donald Nally and singers from The Crossing at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles on Monday morning, about to rehearse a new piece for a Friday performance, when he died suddenly.

This is such a sad loss for Jeff’s partner Rebecca Siler, his family and loved ones, and for everyone in Philadelphia’s choral community. Jeff had so much to do with the rapid rise of The Crossing through his administrative and technological gifts. I’ll always remember his captainship of the front of the house—when he should’ve been relaxing before singing in a grueling concert, he was seeing to the smooth running of ticket operations. Then, when you turned your head, he was strolling onstage to sing. As Donald writes, in many ways, Jeff was The Crossing. He was a formidable musician, calm, funny, loving, and had the sweetest tenor voice. We’ll all miss him.

The story in the Los Angeles Times is here. Donald Nally’s heartfelt and moving tribute, sent to the extended Crossing family, and including so many of Jeff’s accomplishments, is here. The Philadelphia Inquirer obituary, written by David Patrick Stearns, is here. The Jeff Dinsmore Memorial Fund, to help support Rebecca Siler, has been set up here.

I Got B-flat/C! What Cheesy Pop Chord that Serious Composers Aren’t Supposed to Use Are You?

Bb:CWow! How did they know? I just finished a piece and right in the middle of it, there it was! Amazing!


According to the test, I love the Beatles but not the Rolling Stones, Brahms but not Wagner, Incises but not Gruppen (even though Stockhausen was on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, what’s up with that), Webern because he’s short and Weber because he’s not, Earth, Wind & Fire, Steely Dan, and Petula Clark, and both early and late Elvis.

Presley.

Also, I’m a procrastinator.

Eric Owens Gift to The Crossing for a New Work by Kile Smith

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Eric Owens (photo credit: Dario Acosta)

I’m thrilled to be working with The Crossing again, and on such an imaginitive and momentous project. The commitment of so many to Donald Nally and this outstanding group of musicians has always been inspiring, but now, to see Eric Owens joining The Crossing family in this way, to support our music-making together in this new piece, is both humbling and exhilarating.

Here’s the news release from The Crossing:

International opera star Eric Owens has made a great gift to The Crossing: a $10,000 commissioning grant by which we have invited Kile Smith to write a new and substantial work. Kile’s piece will serve as a companion to David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion and will be of equal length and similar orchestration. The texts of the libretto revolve around the moving transcript of the decade-defining Christmas Eve 1968 broadcast of Apollo 8 orbiting the moon, with the astronauts reading Genesis to the largest viewing audience to date.

“I have been a huge fan of The Crossing, since its inception. Whenever I’m able to attend a concert, it’s unfailingly an awe-inspiring experience. It gives me great pleasure to be able to assist one of Philadelphia’s cultural treasures in their mission to bring new music into the world.”—Eric Owens

Conductor Donald Nally said,

“We are so grateful to Board Member Beth van de Water for bringing together our friend Eric and this project with Kile. The Little Match Girl Passion has become a signature piece for The Crossing, yet I am always frustrated that we cannot find ‘just the right’ piece to complete that concert program; so, with Eric’s support and Kile’s great talent and feel for The Crossing’s sound, we’re making our own. It is a gift in so many ways, and we’re very grateful to Eric.”

Eric is a busy man: he was just appointed as Lyric Opera of Chicago’s first Lyric Unlimited Community Ambassador, as well as chairman of the artistic advisory board at the Glimmerglass Festival in New York. This is, of course, in addition to his consistently acclaimed singing in opera and oratorio as wide-ranging as Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera and Bach’s St. John Passion in Berlin.

Jazz Dance Suite on Now Is the Time

ChicagoAcapellaWe arrive at the corner of Jazz and Classical on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 12th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Chicago a cappella scats with Pleasure the music of Malcolm Dalglish, and solo piano tries out David Baker’s Jazz Dance Suite as well as The Blue Hula by Tobias Picker.

John Musto’s Divertimento for chamber ensemble has jazz and popular music overtones, but there’s no mistaking the straight-ahead jazz worldview in three works by Philadelphia’s Adam Berenson (even if he turns a corner here and there), from his brand-new 2-CD release Lumen. He’s the pianist, along with bass and drums, in his Late 20th Century Stomp, Emotional Idiot, and Respectable People.

from Adam Berenson: Respectable People 


PROGRAM:
Malcolm Dalglish: Pleasure
Adam Berenson: Late 20th Century Stomp / Emotional Idiot
David N. Baker: Jazz Dance Suite
Tobias Picker: The Blue Hula
John Musto: Divertimento for Flute, Clarinet, Viola, Cello, Piano, and Percussion
Adam Berenson: Respectable People

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream. Just go to wrti.org and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. Here are the recording details and complete schedule. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, from the Jersey Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Delaware. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI!

Preludes on Now Is the Time

DownesReformCDSo done with March and feeling like a new start, we’ve got all preludes on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 5th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Stephen Paulus writes comfortably in every genre; we start the program with a short, sassy work played by pianist Lara Downes, his Prelude No. 3: Sprightly. Guitarist David Starobin and composer William Bland go way back to their school days. Starobin loves playing Bland’s music, and we’ll hear six of a projected cycle of 48 Preludes.

Then we return to the piano for the 12 Preludes of Bernard Rands, covering a wide landscape of emotional and tonal range. Included are two movements in memoriam of composer colleagues of Rands, Luciano Berio and Donald Martino.

from William Bland: Six Preludes 


PROGRAM:
Stephen Paulus: Prelude No. 3: Sprightly
William Bland: Six Preludes
Bernard Rands: Preludes

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream. Just go to wrti.org and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. Here are the recording details and complete schedule. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, from the Jersey Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Delaware. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI!