In March the record company sent me questions, the answers to which would be included in a press packet going out with the release of the Vespers CD. I haven’t seen the packet, but here are Navona’s questions and my answers, with my thoughts almost three months later. I’ll break this up into multiple posts, since I do go on.
1. Did your upbringing with Lutheran Liturgy make this an especially personal project?
Very much so. I feel at home with this; using these texts, and this order, and these chorale tunes seems natural to me. Fifteen years attending a German-language Lutheran church in Philadelphia not all that long ago was also a fantastic immersion into the sound of German—the language and the chorales. I became familiar with chorales that aren’t really known to Americans, and learned how best to sing them. They are amazingly beautiful and strong works of art.
…“and learned how best to sing them,” pretty cheeky, that. I remember what I was thinking: that chorales need to have energy. Basically, we Americans sing them too slow. I knew, being raised Lutheran, that I was supposed to like “A Mighty Fortress,” for instance, but I never really did, not a whole lot anyway, and now I know why. At a larghetto tempo with full organ—which was standard American service performance practice—it is not only interminable and stodgy, but fatiguing as well. All those C’s (or D’s in some hymnals) hammering away at your larynx take their toll. I don’t mean that we have to go back to the off-beat Renaissance rhythm of the original, either. That’s fun to break out every once in a while, but even the ironed-out 4/4 version can be done well if the tempo is picked up (although much of the chorales are Renaissance music). Don’t heave the full diapason over the congregation like a wool blanket for every verse. What is even worse is that “A Mighty Fortress” is the alpha and omega of many Americans’ knowledge of Lutheran chorales. There are so many gorgeous, exciting, snappy ones that should be aired out. And they’re not too hard. Some of these were written for children. But don’t get me wrong: I didn’t figure this out. Jackie did, and if I can learn, so can everyone else.