Tag Archives: Vespers

Peaceful Choral Music by Living Composers

Just ran across this today, but it’s been out there for awhile, apparently: a list of 50 titles on Spotify, Peaceful Choral Music by Living Composers. I don’t know if they’re listed in order of preference, but at #10 is, from my Vespers, the 16-part a cappella Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn.

The recording by The Crossing on the Piffaro CD is also on lists here and here and elsewhere, but another list here has it at #9, linking to this video, by the Virginia Chorale:

It’s uplifting and gratifying to be included on any list with Arvo Pärt, Eric Whitacre, Morten Lauridsen, David Lang, John Luther Adams, Joby Talbot, Robert Moran, Francis Pott, and on and on. I don’t know how these things come about, but thanks to whomever, and enjoy (“Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn” is available separately from Vespers, by the way, and also in English)!

You Are Most Welcome

JeffQuartets

One of 15 commissioned by The Crossing to honor the memory of their co-founder Jeffrey Dinsmore, I chose the text of my setting from his emails to me. Jeff passed away two years ago, much too soon. Donald Nally, The Crossing’s conductor, is of course their most visible leader. But he has said that Jeff, with whom he started the group 11 years ago, was the real behind-the-scenes drive, filled with ideas and energy. He was also the possessor of a beautiful, softly luminous tenor voice which I loved to hear.

Our instructions were to write short, unaccompanied, non divisi SATB works, so that they could be sung by a choir or by four people. You Are Most Welcome comes in at about three and a half minutes.

I forget, now, who the “him” is in the text, but I think it was either a poet or perhaps Richard Stone of Tempesta di Mare, during The Waking Sun project. The shots “from the recording” and the “higher resolution” refer to photographs Jeff took during the recording of Vespers.

Our daughter Priscilla, a member of Piffaro, was there, and I remember that photograph well. Jeff took it at the dessert-and-things reception laid out after the third and last night of recording the choir, a night interrupted by thunderstorms and power outtages, with the last bit of Vespers to be recorded—Psalm 27—the gnarliest and most difficult chunk left until the end. We just—just—got it finished by the 10 pm deadline, chewing through it phrase by phrase, sometimes bar by bar, the tension building alongside an intense calm the more difficult it got.

Yes, we all looked relieved, and Jeff was as cool and professional and happy as anyone.

Priscilla, ersatz raconteurThe night of the premiere of this and the 14 other works, 8 July 2016, at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, was a loving and moving remembrance of Jeff, who we miss still. While most of the evening’s works were performed by the full choir, Donald chose four singers for You Are Most Welcome, opening the concert with it. Thank you, Donald. Thank you, Jeff’s love Rebecca Siler, and Maren Brehm, Steven Bradshaw, and Dan Schwartz.

Philadelphia Inquirer review: “Kile Smith’s You Are Most Welcome musicalized e-mails from Dinsmore showing how a peripheral glance at a personality can reveal things that a more earnest portrait does not.”

You Are Most Welcome
music by Kile Smith
text by Jeffrey Dinsmore, from emails written to the composer

You are most welcome.

I hope all is well in the new year for you.
I know you aren’t finished yet,
but would you mind taking
a few minutes to chat with him?

I can give you much higher resolution.
I shot all the ones from the recording
so you can use whatever.
You can use whatever you want.
I love the shot of you and your daughter,
and yes, you look relieved.

On the way to you.

Should be soon.

Hope all is well.

Best,
Jeff

YouAreMostWelcomeP1a

Steht auf, ihr lieben Kinderlein!

I’ll be writing a Magnificat for this excellent ensemble, Gaudete Brass later this year—yes, a Magnificat for brass quintet. They sound fabulous! Listen to them playing here, one of the instrumental sections from Vespers.

The original is for Renaissance instruments, which are pitched a half-step higher, so Gaudete played this Sonata up one half-step, in Eb. So it sounds in the same key as what Piffaro plays. This page has all the notes, and audio samples, for all of Vespers.

Thank you Paul Von Hoff and Gaudete Brass, for this opportunity! I’m looking forward so much to working with you!

Vespers with The Choristers

VespersChoristersWhat a stupendous concert with Vespers and The Choristers! They are the first non-professional, non-university choir to perform the entire Vespers, and it came off brilliantly at Saturday night’s concert in the beautiful Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, Pa.

When their artistic director David Spitko approached me about taking on Vespers, the first thing I told him was, “It’s hard, you know.” This is a bit of an irony for me, since I had spent a good bit of my career writing fairly easy choral music for small church choirs. But Piffaro, The Renaissance Band commissioned me for a work for which they would hire The Crossing, the contemporary-music choir who can sing anything with one arm tied behind their back. So I made much of it, well, hard, including polyrhythmic (and unmeasured) chanting, long swaths of unaccompanied singing, and much divisi, including a good chunk of one hymn written in 16 voices.

Piffaro and The Crossing followed up the premiere and recording with more performances a couple years later. University choirs and others took on separate parts of it, some of which used modern-instrument arrangements I made ad hoc. Donald Nally, conductor of The Crossing, took it with him for performances with Northwestern University. Seraphic Fire gave multiple performances this past spring with Piffaro, and there are future concerts in the works.

David said that, yes, he knew it was hard, but that he absolutely had fallen in love with Vespers, had already pored over the score (PDFs come with the CD), was convinced that his group could do it, and was determined to hire Piffaro for the concert. Clearly, Dave had done his homework, and very quickly made all the stars align for this to happen.

His preparation paid off. When I arrived at a rehearsal over a week ago, they had already been looking at it and rehearsing since the summer. I knew at the rehearsal that it was going to work. At the dress rehearsal Friday night, it was glorious.

They opened the concert with three Palestrina works, led by associate conductor Kelly Wyszomierski. Piffaro then performed an instrumental-only set. I talked a bit, there was a short intermission, and the second half was Spitko conducting The Choristers and Piffaro in Vespers.

They lifted the roof.

I can’t thank David enough for his love of the music and for his doggedness in willing this performance into reality. The soloists were marvelous: Malinda Hasslett, Maren Montalbano, Lawrence Jones, Frank Mitchell, and joining on the Magnificat, Rebecca Siler and Jacqueline Dunleavy. The choir of about 65 rocked! I was thrilled beyond words by their work, dedication, and beautiful sound. Many of them came up to me during rehearsals and after the concert to tell me how much this experience meant to them, and how touched they were by Vespers. This means everything.

Thank you, David, thank you, Choristers, thank you, supporters and funders, thank you, Piffaro, thank you, soloists, and thank you friends old and new who came out. It was a special experience I will never forget.

Deo Gratias, from Vespers, with Brass

ExcDeoGratiasBrassOne of the great things about the project that became Vespers was the uniqueness of the ensemble—writing a piece for the world-renowned Renaissance band Piffaro was as fun and exciting as could be. But it also meant that basically nobody else could ever perform Vespers, since not everybody has 27 Renaissance instruments in their rumpus room!

(Although, Piffaro has performed it numerous times since, for which I’m ever grateful, with The Crossing, of course, who premiered and recorded it, with Northwestern University’s Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble, (thank you, Donald Nally, again and again), with the outstanding Seraphic Fire, and this November, I’m looking forward to seeing it with The Choristers.)

[Updated 29 Nov 2015] Here’s the recording of the premiere on 30 Oct 2015 at Roosevelt University, what beautiful line to the singing and energy to the brass playing!:

A number of people have asked me about transcriptions of Vespers since its 2008 premiere, though, and so I’ve been busy making piano reductions and string arrangements, with and without other instruments, of different sections. (You can see these from the menu above, under Music/Choral Vocal/Vespers.)

Last week I finished another one.

The last movement, Deo Gratias, now has a new arrangement for choir and brass octet, to be premiered next season by Cheryl Frazes Hill, the director of choral activities at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. It was a joy putting this together for 4 trumpets (one in D and 3 Bb), 2 trombones, bass trombone, and tuba. The double choirs had to stay since they’re the basic part of the sound, but I simplified them a bit by eliminating all the divisis within each choir.

Above is a page to look at. Let me know if you want to see the whole thing, and I’ll send it to you.

Here’s an audio excerpt from the original:

A 3rd Vespers review from Florida

SeraphicFire

Patrick Dupré Quigley and members of Seraphic Fire

Vespers,” writes Sebastian Spreng in Miami Clasica, El Nuevo Herald (the Spanish edition of the Miami Herald), and Knight Arts, “astonishes the listener.” He praises Seraphic Fire and Piffaro, the Renaissance Band for “the tapestry masterfully woven by angelic voices and rare instruments” at the last of four concerts, saying that the “group headed by Patrick Dupré Quigley was at peak performance level.” Seraphic Fire “proved yet again the virtues of a choral ensemble that reaffirms its artistic growing year after year.”

Spreng thought that “the aural impact” of Vespers was due to “atypical—yet curiously familiar—sounds, harmonies and melodies”…“from Monteverdi and the German Renaissance to the present and a hint of the future.”

For the “resounding success” of Vespers, he said “you could apply a term bastardized in our time through use and abuse, a word that describes it as no other: spiritual.”

Once again I’m grateful beyond words for the marvelous artistry, and the commitment, of Patrick Quigley, Seraphic Fire, and Piffaro.

Read the entire article here.

Memorial Day

[First published in the Broad Street Review, May 26, 2015.]

"Assumption of the Virgin," detail, Frei Carlos (1517-40)

“Assumption of the Virgin,” detail, Frei Carlos (1517-40)

Many people wrote and spoke to me after my brother died. I learned how important it was to hear from people, to hear anything. Any word from a human being was important. That any word was helpful became apparent over the days and weeks because the first thing most people say, literally or in some variation, is this: “I don’t know what to say.”

We stumble over how to put a voice to our feelings when we’re confronted with the grief of another. This is right. We should stumble over what to say. The best thing to say to someone suffering may well be the first thing that comes to mind, which is what comes from the heart: “I don’t know what to say.”

This isn’t a regretted expression of helplessness, though. It’s a fact. We are helpless, and we share that. This is always true; tragedy simply reveals it.

The unimportance of importance

Throughout my years of becoming a composer, I now recognize, I struggled with an added burden. I wanted to be a composer, but I was trying to become an important composer. A few years ago, I stopped that. It wasn’t out of frustration; my music was being performed and (from what people told me) enjoyed. I just noticed that the pieces that worked—I mean, those that really hummed right out of the box, the ones that leaped into the audience—were…how shall I say this?…childish.

I’d prefer admitting to ″childlike,″ but I don’t mean that. There are innocent moments, to be sure, but I mean the simple, even stupidly simple bits of music, the na-na-na-na-na-na bits that just flat-out work, and work magnificently. When I noticed those, when I saw how well they took off, and most importantly, when I stopped trying to change them, it was a breakthrough for me. Whether anyone else noticed or not, I was entering an important phase of composing.

It was important because I stopped trying to be important.

Working out of order

In Vespers—which the Renaissance Band Piffaro commissioned as a project with the new-music choir The Crossing—the opening of the second movement was one such breakthrough moment. I composed that one-hour, 13-movement work out of order. The ninth movement, for voices alone, I wrote first, and I had a glorious time working out the 16-part voicing. Next came the first movement, which is mostly for recorders alone. I was starting to find my way into the Renaissance sound-world and means of expression, but I was still feeling my way through the piece.

I still hadn’t found the key into Vespers. I still didn’t know what to say.

And then came the second movement. It was to be a setting of the hymn “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” (“How fair and bright the morning star”). It had to be a big statement after the subdued introductory movement. I tried, and discarded, a number of attempts at this big statement.

Beyond bad Bach

It was no help knowing that in the J. S. Bach catalog of more than a thousand works, “Wie schön leuchtet,” his cantata setting of this exact hymn, is No. 1. That was, I admit it, a nagging elephant in the room. Everything I wrote sounded like bad Bach, and out of all the bad-fill-in-the-blank-famous-composer pieces you can write, bad Bach is the worst. Well, bad Bruckner…no, bad Bach is worse.

After a week of head-banging, I was still no closer to solving Vespers, when out of desperation I closed my eyes and tried to picture what would happen in the concert after that soft introduction. Ah: a blaring fanfare, and, aha, on the instrument which, out of the entire Piffaro instrumentarium, is the antithesis of the recorder: the shawm, the loud double-reed shawm. All those pictures of angels playing those long, straight wind instruments? Those are shawms. I came up, on the first try, with six utterly childish notes—na na na na na na—that a shawm would play as a fanfare.

Let me get back to that

I didn’t stop to think what marvelous transformation I could produce, because I used the notes as a bookmark, thinking that I would change them down the line. I simply overlapped the same notes onto a second shawm. Then I repeated the overlapped phrases, but with a couple of faster notes, and did it again with a couple more thrown in. The rest of the band punctuated, the singers came in on the hymn, and before I knew it—I was composing. And I never did change the notes.

I had solved Vespers. I stopped trying to be important, or wise, or Bach, and “Wie schön leuchtet” flew onto the page. The rest of Vespers followed.

I didn’t care if it sounded childish. I didn’t care if it sounded like I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t care, because I didn’t know what to say. If people respond to it, that is, if it goes all the way in, it’s because it comes from all the way in. “I don’t know what to say” comes from the heart.

The ultimate sacrifice

On Memorial Day, we remember those who died for our country. We call it the greatest sacrifice, and that’s true even though the ones who died didn’t want to die, even for their country. It’s true especially because of that. They went ahead and did it anyway, even though nobody wants to die.

No, that’s not true: Some people want to die, some people take their own lives. To the ones they leave behind you say, “I don’t know what to say,” and the ones left behind nod, and look you in your eyes, and acknowledge the truth they hear from you. They know it, and they love you from all the way in, for your stumbling and for your saying something that’s not wise and not important.