Monthly Archives: December 2009

Vespers, Liturgy Hymnody Pulpit Review

The Rev. Paul J. Cain reviews Vespers in the Liturgy, Hymnody, and Pulpit Quarterly Book Review, whose motto is: Critical reviews (by Lutheran pastors and church musicians) of books and other resources for Christian worship, preaching, and church music from a perspective rooted in Holy Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and good common sense. LHP Quarterly Book Review asks, “Is it worth the money to buy, the time to read, the shelf space to store, and the effort to teach?”

an exceptional treat… a modern restatement of Renaissance-era wind bands for a sacred context… a fusion of the 16th Century and our 21st. I think Dr. Luther would be at home and J. S. Bach would appreciate what was going on… one hears a transcendent heavenly setting of “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright”… Psalm 113 completes the trilogy of psalms in preparation for a 13th Century tune used by the Bohemian Brethren in the 16th Century. The psalm setting is hauntingly beautiful. I simply couldn’t wait to sing along. Remember that included sheet music?

The recording is at once recognizable as a liturgical service of Vespers… may be able to include some pared-down portions of the music for a congregational service of Vespers. The music is full of life, joy, and celebration appropriate for a New Year’s Eve service, a congregational anniversary, a building dedication, or an ordination.

Piffaro is blessed with skilled musicians, a creative composer in Kile Smith, and a daring record label, Navona Records. The combination produced a fresh, reverent, and timeless recording that is historically and musically grounded in the best of Christian liturgy and hymnody. What are they working on next?

The composition and recording of Vespers is inspired and inspiring.

Read it all here.

Vespers, Grace Notes

From the newsletter of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians:

Vespers is an hour-long tour de force with the Lutheran chorale at its heart; classic melodies provide the basic material for ethereal hymn settings, Stravinskian psalms and striking instrumental sonatas. Piffaro is rock-solid throughout, laying a colorful harmonic foundation that enables The Crossing to soar above them… essential listening.

Read more here

The Best in Classical Music, 2009

It’s thrilling to be included in the year’s Top Ten list—two years running—of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns. His survey of things musical in the area lists events I wished at the time I could have gotten to, now even more so, as I read about them again. But I was fortunate to be a part of the Paul Celan project in The Crossing’s Month of Moderns, and to hear exciting music by David Shapiro and Kirsten Broberg. My offering was Where flames a word, a setting of two poems and one largeish bit of prose by Celan. You can read the text and my notes about the piece here.

What Stearns wrote:

Where do you start with the Crossing’s Month of Moderns Festival? Founder/director Donald Nally culled and commissioned lots of pieces based on the troubled poetry of Paul Celan during May and June at Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. Besides yielding great pieces by Dane Bo Holten and Philadelphian Kile Smith, new forms of musical expression surfaced, such as the hallucinatory spirituality of Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles.

After the premiere, they reprised my piece at the opening concert of Chorus America’s annual conference, which happened to be in Philadelphia this year. More about the piece, and excerpts from the premiere:

Where flames a word (Paul Celan)

SATB div. 13′. Program notes. Reviews

1. Before your late face, page 5. View excerpt 2. Conversation in the Mountains, page 13. View excerpt 3. I know you, you are the deeply bowed, page 23. View excerpt

Vespers CD, All About Jazz

It’s not really a Christmas piece, and it’s not jazz at all, but C. Michael Bailey reviews Vespers in All About Jazz:

Smith’s musical settings are crafted in such a way that techniques and practices from different periods dissolve into one another in the solution of his musical vision. The early music elements of this music are amplified by Piffaro and the Renaissance Band’s expert and well-known sound. The vocal ensemble, The Crossing, lends the modern edge to the performances, capable of spanning five centuries of vocal practice from plainchant to the 21st century.

The true genius here is the composer, who chooses not to simply reharmonize older music, but instead, create completely new music… immediately accessible for the novice and expert alike, offering different layers artistry to be enjoyed…

more here

Christmas on his iPod

Michael Lawrence’s blog Fragmented Obsessions is a mix of politics, economics, and music, and Vespers is in his iPod, getting him in the Christmas spirit. Grand words, e.g.:

… commissioned by the early music ensemble Piffaro and conducted by Donald Nally, whose aforementioned group The Crossing (“the best chorus in Philadelphia,” according to one critic) joined in the music making.… Smith, a practicing Lutheran, develops a work that uses the outline, style, and language of a Renaissance German Vespers service, complete with period instruments—but with a decidedly modern sensibility.… in recent playbacks, I have become smitten with the Magnificat… This is a stunning work from start to finish, and melodious proof that the art of music is alive and well…

The rest is here. Still practicing…

Now ys the tyme of Crystymas

I can think of just two works that I have written with no performance in mind. Now ys the tyme of Crystymas is one of them.

I was looking for a Christmas card. Back then (this was in 1997) the Free Library ran a gift shop just off the lobby, and in a display of hand-designed cards I picked up one with this poem of Richard Hill’s. Fascinated, I researched the poem in the Literature Department, thinking that it could be set as a secular carol.

Fascination turned into composition, and I wrote it very quickly. Then I put it away. Over the years I would show it to a few people, but nothing came of it. I revised it a couple of times, changed the ending, reworked some of the voice-leading, and fiddled with spellings in the luxuriantly inconsistent Early Modern English text. I made a solo quartet version. All the while I wondered if this would be the piece they found in my desk after my death. There are pieces I wish they wouldn’t find, but I had grown quite fond of this one.

Then things started to happen. After Vespers, The Crossing commissioned Where flames a word, and after its premiere they sang it at the opening concert of the 2009 Chorus America convention, which was in Philadelphia. Because of that exposure, a few conductors wanted to talk to me about my choral music, so I mentioned Now ys the tyme of Crystymas.

Scott Williamson immediately wanted to perform it with his Virginia Chorale, so to them goes the world premiere performances on the 4th and 5th of December, 2009. Thomas Lloyd of the Bucks County Choral Society expressed interest, and their concerts follow by one week, December 11th, 12th, and 13th. Scott writes about the piece in his blog:

… this carol is a rollicking, whirling, spirited update on the old English carol. Replete with witty madrigalisms (listen for the inner voices laughing “he-he-he’s”), this carol is as challenging to perform as it is entertaining to hear.

Read all of his program notes here. This is the poem:

Lett no man come into this hall, Grome, page, nor yet marshall, But that some sport he bryng withall, For now ys the tyme of Crystymas. Yff that he say he can nought syng, Some other sport then lett him bryng, That it may please at this festyng, For now ys the tyme of Crystymas. Yff that he say he can nought do, Then for my love ask him no mo, But to the stokkis then lett him go, For now ys the tyme of Crystymas. Make we mery, both more and lasse, For now ys the tyme of Crystymas.

Here’s a page from it, here’s how to order, and here’s the world premiere performance, on YouTube: