Category "Choral Music"

Category "Travel"

July 2, 2005

Travels to the UK - Adventures on Trafalgar Square

On the afternoon of my day in London (see my entry about the British Library for the morning's activities), I went to Trafalgar Square, home to the National Gallery and St. Martin in the Fields. My first stop was to the crypt at St. Martins to buy tickets for the evening's performance of the Faure Requiem, which, by coincidence, I heard there during my 2003 visit.

First I stopped for lunch at the Texas Embassy, which I had noticed on my last trip. It’s a restaurant / cantina just across the street from the National Gallery. They do a pretty good job of the “Texas and Mexico in London” theme, considering. I had a fajita salad, which was passable except the fajita meat was cold and a little too charred. Touristy - yeah; but so what? There’s so much I can’t eat – seems that everything is sandwich-like or includes questionable ingredients that could make me miserable for days.

Texas Embassy-r.jpg

The National Gallery, as always, was wonderful. I got the audio guide and it always makes the experience so much more interesting. I trooped around quite a bit, but literally ran out of steam after about 2 hours. Of course, it was good to re-visit old friends, especially the Monets and the Arnolfini wedding (van Eyck) and the Venetian doge with the corned hat and the incredible gold brocade detail on his tunic.

I still had a few hours to go before the concert, which I spent mainly hanging around Trafalgar Square. Great people watching as always. Kids chasing pigeons, families gathering, lovers smooching obliviously, etc.

Trafalgar Sq Big Ben and Lion-r.jpg

Lion & man-r.jpg


There was kind of a rock concert going on to celebrate public architecture week, complete with teenagers in red T-shirts doing acrobatic jumping around.

Trafalgar Sq DJs-r.jpg

Trafalgar Sq DJs and acrobats-r.jpg

And in the middle of it all, in rode about 100 bicycle riders, in the buff! I later learned that they were doing this ride to protest foreign oil dependency in Britain (ride your bike! - naked?) Anyway, that livened things up a bit and certainly got everyone's attention. London is SO multicultural – it seems as though I heard every language under the sun and saw people from all over the planet. And folks get along.

Trafalgar Sq Riders1-r.jpg

The concert at St. Martin in the Fields was a real pleasure.

St Martins1-r.jpg

Like last time, I ducked in to St. Martins in the late afternoon and heard part of their rehearsal. They (the Orpheus Singers) are about the size of the Gregorians – 19 voices. They are mostly in their 20s - apparently many of them sang together at Oxford or Cambridge and wanted to keep doing so. Like the group I heard last time, they were quite good, but neither snooty nor jaded. They worked hard and were very satisfied with the outcome. The only frustration was that even though I had a fairly pricey seat, my view was partially blocked by the pulpit, which was just a few rows in front of me. But I didn’t let that spoil the evening.

Faure requiem pgm-r.jpg

The church was lit by candles. They began with the Allegri Miserere. I’m always nervous about whether the soprano will make that high C, but she did and it came off well. Other pieces:
**Albinoni Adagio in G minor (organ) – very nicely done. The organist is the head organist at St. Martins, and he looks quite young for his position.
**Vaughn Williams – Three Shakespeare Songs – interesting; had not heard them before.
**JSBach – Adagio in A minor; nicely done by the organist
**Purcell – Funeral Sentences for Queen Mary – This was really fun to hear, because we (Gregorians) performed this at the Concert Spirituel this spring.
**Faure Requiem – VERY nicely done; lots of feeling. There were only 4 tenors, but they blended well with each other and produced a solid but not overbearing sound. I especially enjoyed the Offertorium – a piece with a fairly exposed tenor section. Actually, it’s a beautiful duet between the tenors and the altos – both singing in the same voice range, but men and women. When I'm singing, my primary attention is focused on my part - so it was a wonderful experience to be able to focus on the musical exchange, which was easy and quite convincing. I will listen more for this in the recordings I have and very much look forward to the next time I sing it.
**They closed with a barn-burner by Parry that I had not heard before: “Blest Pair of Sirens.” A good one to end on. Anyway, it was a lovely program; worth spending the day in London for.
I’m very impressed by the music program at St. Martins – they seem to have something almost every day, and the prices are reasonable. They also have a strong commitment to homeless outreach in central London. Underneath the church is the café in the crypt and the brass rubbing center.

I made the 10:30 train back to Norwich, but it didn’t arrive until 1:45 a.m. (“engineering works”) and so I was waiting in the taxi queue with a bunch of young folk who had been partying all night! At least they are careful about not driving while drunk – I understand that the pressure not to drink while under the influence is very high and people take it very seriously. Fell exhausted into bed around 2:15 am; the next thing I new it was almost 8:00.

Posted by hgroteva at 4:53 PM | Choral Music | Travel

Category "Choral Music"

October 22, 2005

Choral Music in the Twin Cities

Excellent choral music contributes to the artistic richness of the Twin Cities. A number of outstanding groups provide rich fare for us to enjoy through listening and participation. I do both. I love to patronize the many choral events offered here. So many concerts, so little time! But I also sing in two groups at present: The Gregorian Singers and the Waltham Abbey Singers. In January, I will be returning to the House of Hope Presbyterian Church Motet Choir. My desk is overflowing with announcements from many groups advertising their concerts for the season that has just begun. I compiled a chronological list of those I'm aware of between now and the end of December. I hope you will patronize many of them. I'm sure there are many other choral events. If you'd like me to add them to the list, just e-mail me the information ( ) and I will gladly do so. If there seems to be interest, I'll compile a similar list for winter/spring 2006.

DISCLAIMER: The information in the following list was compiled from information I received in the mail and found posted on the internet. Verify dates, times, and places for yourself, as these may have changed.

Here's the list. Enjoy!
(and please especially plan to attend the Gregorian Singers Advent Procession, November 26)


27th Rose Ensemble, Common Threads: Exploring Shared Texts among Early Christians and Jews; Sundin Music Hall, Hamline Univ, 7:30 pm

28th Cantus, “Home Field Advantage” First Lutheran Church, Columbia Heights; 7:30 pm

29th Cantus, “Home Field Advantage” Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, Excelsior; 7:30 pm

29th Rose Ensemble, Common Threads: Exploring Shared Texts among Early Christians and Jews; Basilica of St. Mary, Mpls; 8:00 pm

30th Cantus, “Home Field Advantage” St. Mary’s University, Winona; 7:30 pm

30th Rose Ensemble, Common Threads: Exploring Shared Texts among Early Christians and Jews; Temple Israel, Mpls; 7:00 pm


4th Cantus, “Home Field Advantage” Westminster Presbyterian, Mpls, 7:30 pm

5th Magnum Chorum, Faure Requiem, St. Mark’s Cathedral, Minneapolis, 7:30 pm

11th Cantus with the MN Orchestra, Orchestra Hall, 8:00 pm

12th Cantus with the MN Orchestra, Orchestra Hall, 8:00 pm

12th St. Mark’s Cathedral Choral Society, Faure Requiem & Dvorak Mass in D; St. Mark’s Cathedral, Mpls 7:30 pm

26th Gregorian Singers, Advent Procession, St. Paul’s Church on the Hill, 1524 Summit Ave, St. Paul; 4:00 pm

26th Cantus, “Away in a Manger” Harriet Island Pavilion, St. Paul, 7:30

27th St. Mark’s Cathedral Choir, Advent Carol Service, St. Mark’s Cathedral, Mpls, 4:00 pm

27th VocalEssence with Garrison Keillor, We Gather Together, Orchestra Hall, 4 pm


4th VocalEssence, Welcome Christmas, Plymouth Congregational Church, Mpls, 4 pm

8th VocalEssence, Welcome Christmas, St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Mahtomedi, 7:30 pm

9th Bach Society, Bach Christmas Oratorio, Parts 1-3, House of Hope Presbyterian, St. Paul, 7:30

10th Rose Ensemble, Celebremos el Niño: Delights from Baroque Mexico; Weber Hall, U of MN Duluth, 7:00 pm

10th VocalEssence, Welcome Christmas, Normandale Lutheran Church, Edina, 7:30

11th VocalEssence, Welcome Christmas, Plymouth Congregational Church, Mpls, 4:00 pm

11th Magnum Chorum, Welcome All Wonders, Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, University of St. Thomas, 2:30 pm

11th Rose Ensemble, Celebremos el Niño: Delights from Baroque Mexico; St. Paul’s Church on the Hill, St. Paul, 7:00 pm

16th Cantus, Cantus and Carols with SPCO, United Church of Christ, St. Paul, 8:00 pm

17th Cantus, Cantus and Carols with SPCO, Ted Mann Concert Hall, 8:00 pm

17th Rose Ensemble, Celebremos el Niño: Delights from Baroque Mexico, Basilica of St. Mary, Mpls, 8:00 pm

18th St. Mark’s Cathedral Choir, Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, St. Mark’s Cathedral, Mpls, 4:00 pm

18th Cantus, Cantus and Carols with SPCO, St. John’s University, Collegeville, 8:00 pm

18th Rose Ensemble, Celebremos el Niño: Delights from Baroque Mexico, Trinity Lutheran Church, Stillwater, 7:00 pm

18th Magnum Chorum, Welcome All Wonders, St. Philip the Deacon Lutheran, Plymouth, 2:30 pm

20th Cantus, Christmas with Cantus, Westminster Presbyterian, Mpls, 10:30 am

21st Cantus, Christmas with Cantus, Westminster Presbyterian, Mpls, 10:30 am

23rd St. Mark’s Cathedral Choir, Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, St. Mark’s Cathedral, Minneapolis, 7:30 pm

Posted by hgroteva at 6:03 AM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

Category "Life"

Category "Minnesota"

November 16, 2005

Winter Arrived

Winter arrived last night. You say it's not due until December 21? Well, take my word for it, it's here. The snow, the sleet, the wind, the boots, the windshield scraping, the parka ... the whole nine yards.

Even though I've lived here over 15 years, I have never looked forward to winter. Maybe you have to grow up here, learn to ski and skate when you're just old enough to walk, learn to stand at a cold bus stop because that's all you know. But I know better, and I don't like it.

I still remember hearing Eric Friesen (then of MPR, now of the CBC) once saying that the only way to survive in Minnesota is to "embrace the winter." I just can't wrap my head around it. I had an interesting conversation with a colleague last week - she grew up in these parts and lives for winter. Her favorite kind of day is snowy and very cold. I described my favorite kind of day: 75 degrees, balmy, windows open, sunroof down on the car, wearing shorts, not having to change clothes for indoors / outdoors transitions - feeling at equilibrium with the temperature outside. Maybe I'm really adapted for San Diego. My ancestry is mixed northern European - and not awfully far north - they have a lot of 75 degree days there.

Anyway, winter is not my happy time of the year. The days are too short, the layers of clothes are too many, and I'm always having to figure out how to stay warm enough. (Consequently I eat too much and put on weight, and then feel bad about that.... but that's another story.)

The one good thing about winter is that the classical music scene in the Twin Cities is at its peak. We had a great rehearsal last night for the Advent Procession we (Gregorian Singers) are doing on Saturday, November 26. You are warmly invited: St. Paul's Church on the Hill, 1524 Summit Ave (just east of Snelling); 4:00 pm. Open to the public, free of charge (a freewill offering will be taken.) That's one of the good things about Minnesota winter.

Thus endeth my rant against winter. Now that I've got it off my chest, I can get back to work.

Posted by hgroteva at 4:11 PM | Choral Music | Life | Minnesota

Category "Choral Music"

November 20, 2005

Gregorian Singers - Advent Procession

Candlelight Advent Procession
The Gregorian Singers
Saturday, November 26, 2005 — 4:00 p.m.
St. Paul’s Church on the Hill (Episcopal)
1524 Summit Avenue in St. Paul (one block east of Snelling Avenue)

Open to the public, free of charge. A free-will offering will be taken.

The 28th annual Candlelight Advent Procession will be presented by The Gregorian Singers at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 26, at St. Paul’s Church on the Hill (Episcopal), 1524 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, one block east of Snelling Avenue. Monte Mason, founding director of The Gregorian Singers, will direct.

For many years, The Gregorian Singers’ annual Candlelight Advent Procession has been one of the Twin Cities’ most popular events for people to begin their official Advent observance. The Advent Procession is an amazing visual feast of darkness and candlelight that engages the congregation in singing, prayer, and movement.

The choir enters the church in darkness and traces the sign of the cross throughout the nave while singing Advent carols and motets at a variety of stops (stations) along the way. At each station, scripture lessons are read from the Old Testament prophets, foretelling the coming of the Messiah, as well as New Testament readings that reflect the Advent season.

It is through this annual liturgy that The Gregorian Singers have received much
acclaim, especially since the recent national re-release of their popular CD recording Advent, portions of which have been heard over the years on numerous Minnesota Public Radio, American Public Media, and National Public Radio broadcasts.

Musical selections during the Advent Procession will include choral works by Francis Jackson, Arthur Maud, Peter Hallock, and Pierre de la Rue, as well as selections from Gregorian chant. Come early for a good seat. Doors open at 3:00.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:58 PM | Choral Music

Category "About Inner Geek"

Category "Choral Music"

November 27, 2005

Why Do I Sing?

Last night's Advent Procession was very special. As a member of the congregation for many years, I always found it an opportunity to have a place of reflection, quiet, and anticipation during an increasingly busy time of year. Last year, in my first season singing with the Gregorians, my focus was just on making it through the service without dropping a bell or setting my music on fire with my candle! (neither of which happened, thankfully). But this year was different. I thought a lot about why I sing as a member of a such a group.

When serious singers work together, the effort is totally focused on producing the most beautiful sound. And the most beautiful sound comes when each person is able to contribute his or her best effort as an individual while simultaneously coordinating that effort with, and sometimes subordinating that effort to, the ensemble as a whole. It's a huge responsibility, but the outcome is something no individual could accomplish on his or her own. It demands total focus and energy, but the reward is immediate and sometimes stunning, although the sound vanishes as quickly as it is produced.

Choral singing also feeds the idealist in me. It's so easy to be cynical about the many institutions we are bound up with: the government, the university, the institutional church, professional organizations, you name it.... But the kind of singing that feeds me isn't tied up in politics, jockeying for position, or manipulation.

That's why I'm glad to be a volunteer singer. At different times, I've thought about an alternative life as a professional musician. But I think that might take the fun and the passion out of it. As a volunteer, I don't have to worry about music as a livelihood - it can just be a way of feeding my soul.

And while it feeds my soul, I hope it feeds the souls of others as well. One never knows. It's a bit like what happens in the process of teaching - one never know the impact that any particular statement or lecture might have. Sometimes students tell me (sometimes many years later) that a particular thing I said or wrote made a difference for them. But there are many unknown impacts. Same with choral performance - the performers rarely know the full, personal impact of their offering on those who heard it. I like the mystery!

Peter Sellars, professor of world arts and culture at UCLA, had this to say about singing. (Read a fascinating interview with him from a PBS series called "The Question of God" here.)

"Vocal music is an attempt to take the whole human being and project it into space. It is the ultimate gesture of getting out of yourself. You take a part of you that is most private, most personal, most inward, and you hurl it out into space - you project is as far as you can. That gesture of opening the whole body results in an enormous spiritual release, and is felt by other people with tremendous impact."

Posted by hgroteva at 10:49 AM | About Inner Geek | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

January 30, 2006

Of Singing and Song

Of Singing and Song; a Treatise by William Byrd, 1588

Reasons briefly set down by the author, to perswade every one to learne to sing.

First it is a Knowledge easely taught, and quickly learned where there is a good Master, and an apt scoller.
2. The exercise of singing is delightfull to Nature and good to preserve the health of Mankind.
3. It doth strengthen all the parts of the brest, and doth open the pipes.
4. It is a singular good remedie for a stuttering and stammering in the speech.
5. It is the best meanes to procure a perfect pronunciation and to make a good orator.
6. It is the onely way to know where Nature hath bestowed the benefit of a good voyce: which guift is so rare as there is not one among a thousand that hath it: and in many that excellent guift is lost, because they want Art to expresse Nature.
7. There is not any Musicke of Instruments whatsoever, comparable to that which is made by voyce, where the voyces are good, and the same well sorted and ordered.
8. The better the voyce is, the meter it is to honour and serve God therewith: and the voyce is chiefly to be employed to that end.
Since singing is so good a thing
I wish that all would learne to sing.

from program notes, “Early Music on a Winter’s Night�
Waltham Abbey Singers
January 29, 2006
St. Mark’s Catholic Church, St. Paul, MN

Posted by hgroteva at 11:47 AM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

February 12, 2006

In appreciation, Herbert Howells

Herbert Howells.jpg

Even though he looks a little forbidding, this gentleman, Herbert Howells (1892-1983), wrote some of the world's most luscious choral music - IMHO, of course.

In preparing to write this entry, I googled Howells, and found, to my amazement but not to my surprise, that there is a Herbert Howells Society. Here is a link to the "Herbert Howells Resource Page," which has information about the Herbert Howells Society branches in the UK and the US.

There is plenty of biographical information about Howells out and about, so I won't replicate that here. I will just add a few personal remembrances and reflections.

One of Howells' first major choral works I sang was his Requiem - just about ten years ago. The circumstances of this performance were quite memorable for me. I had just joined the Cathedral Choir of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis, and we were preparing a concert of three Requiems: Howells, Faure, and Durufle - all of which I love. Unfortunately, our conductor became seriously ill before the scheduled performance, and we carried on under the directorship of a very competent substitute. Our director had been released from the hospital not long before the concert, and he made a surprise appearance to hear us - we were thrilled to be able to make this offering for him. I still remember the concert and the incredibly powerful emotional impact that singing three Requiems back-to-back can have. This experience opened up the world of the Requiem to me. There are so many wonderful settings - Mozart, of course; Verdi, Brahms, and many others. Some are ferocious in tone (with frightening Dies Irae sections), and others (like John Rutter's) are like lullabies.

Since the Howells Requiem performance mentioned above, I have sung a number of his other pieces. This afternoon, in Duluth, we (the Gregorian Singers) sang his Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis as part of a choral evensong at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. In the concert following, we closed with Howells' Te Deum. (These three were the Collegium Regale settings - prepared for Kings College, Cambridge.)

What transcendent music! Many moods weave in and out of these pieces - mystery, luminescence, joy, awe .... Howells uses the full range of dynamics, rhythms, tempos, and harmonies for his reverential and evocative works. It has been my privilege to sing his music a number of times now, and I hope I will be able to many times more. If anyone out there has any pull, I'd like to sing his Hymnus Paradisi some time.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:37 PM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

February 21, 2006

Choral Music - March and April

A number of you have asked me from time to time about upcoming choral concerts in which I'm involved. The upcoming Lenten and Easter seasons are particularly full of amazingly wonderful music. Here are details about several of our upcoming offerings. You and yours are warmly invited to join us!

Meditation for the First Sunday in Lent
Gregorian Singers
Instead of giving up something for Lent, ADD this event instead. No sermon. No preaching. Just beautiful poetry and wonderful music, all wrapped up in a gentle afternoon of prayer.
Sunday, 5 March, 2006 - 4:00 PM
Location: St. Paul's Church on the Hill, 1524 Summit Avenue, St. Paul - 1 block east of the intersection of Summit and Snelling Avenues. Music by Tallis, Stanford, Mason, Gardner, arrangements of American and Irish folk melodies.
Cost: Free of charge. A free-will offering will be taken.

Lenten Vespers
Gregorian Singers
Wednesday, March 15 - 7:00 p.m.
Bethlehem Lutheran Church
4100 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis

Concert Spirituel (pending confirmation)
Gregorian Singers
Sunday, April 2, 2006
St. Paul's on the HIll (see above)
4:00 pm

Fauré Requiem
Motet Choir, House of Hope Presbyterian Church
Good Friday - April 14, 2006
7:30 pm
797 Summit Avenue, St. Paul

Great Paschal Vespers
Gregorian Singers
Sunday, April 23, 2006
8:00 pm
St. Paul's on the Hill (see above)

Posted by hgroteva at 6:41 PM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

Category "Music - of all kinds"

March 19, 2006

Transported by Music

Some people go to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break. Well, I stayed here and went to concerts instead -- no sunblock or plane tickets needed. I attended two wonderful concerts this weekend. Last night was the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. It was particularly interesting and fresh because of the audience and the energy generated between the orchestra and the audience. The SPCO has been working hard to attract a younger audience, so that once all of us grayhaired folk pass on, there will be bodies to fill the seats. I was pretty cynical about their attempts, but last night I saw that it is working. There were families, young adults, kids, teens, and people in comfortable clothing ... but all truly loving and appreciating the music. Although there were no standing ovations, each piece brought several well-deserved curtain calls.

Last night, they were truly acting as a chamber group (not just a small orchestra). They opened with the Bach Violin Concerto #2 in E, featuring their own Dale Barltrop as soloist. He gave an energetic rendering of the concerto and reminded me a bit of Nigel Kennedy as he was doing so. The second piece was especially impressive -- just a few hours before the performance, one of the key soloists became ill, and so they had to pull something off the shelves - which worked marvelously. It was a Mozart concerto for piano, viola, and clarinet - very engaging, and full of synergy in the trio. A "new" feature is that all the strings (except the cellos) stood during their performances. I think it enhanced what they usually do - there was a lot of energy and focus. Anyway, there was good chemistry within the group and between the group and audience that left us feeling really good ... and very fortunate to live in a city where such concerts are so excellent, accessible, and affordable.

This afternoon, I heard the St. Mark's Cathedral Choir perform two pieces I especially love ... maybe in part because I've sung them, but I actually appreciate the music and find the texts deeply moving. The first was Charpentier's "Le Reniement de St. Pierre" - The Denial of St. Peter. An appropriate Lenten piece with strong solo contributions. They closed with an all-time favorite which I have written about here before - Herbert Howells' Requiem. He started the piece in 1932 and completed it in 1936 after his son Michael died of spinal meningitis. The piece was not published for 44 more years -- until the last two years of his life, Howells found the piece too painful to hear (from the program notes). It is an ethereal piece , full of spooky and transcendent harmonies. It is a Requiem of reassurance and peace, not of divine wrath. I was really moved.

There aren't many places where I could have had such wonderful musical opportunities back-to-back on the same weekend. They are to be treasured.

Posted by hgroteva at 5:29 PM | Choral Music | Music - of all kinds

Category "Choral Music"

March 21, 2006

Concert Spirituel - April 2

The Gregorian Singers Have Added a Concert Spirituél!
Sunday, April 2, 2006 - 7:30 p.m. (NOTE NEW TIME!)
Location: St. Paul’s Church on the Hill, 1525 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, MN
Cost: Free of charge. A free-will offering will be taken.

We are pleased to announce that several generous patrons of The Gregorian Singers recently made it possible for us to add a Concert Spirituél (a spiritual concert) to our 2005-2006 season.

Although we are primarily a liturgical choir that sings choral music within the context of the church ritual for which it was intended, we enjoy offering occasional sumptuous feasts of liturgical music in a ‘spiritual concert’ setting, thus Concert Spirituél.

This Concert Spirituél begins in candlelight and features medieval chants written and performed by women; the massive Stabat Mater by 15th century English composer John Browne; and other music by Maurice Greene, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Francisco Guerrero, Richard Proulx, and others.

Concerts Spirituél were a European concert format in the 17th and 18th centuries. These concerts were often sponsored by lay confraternities or guilds, and usually included motets and oratorios.

Join The Gregorian Singers for a modern update of a Concert Spirituél.
Founding Director, Monte Mason

Posted by hgroteva at 11:52 AM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

April 8, 2006

Fauré Requiem - April 14

On April 14, the centerpiece of the 7:30 pm Good Friday service at House of Hope Presbyterian Church (797 Summit Avenue, St. Paul) will be the Fauré Requiem. All are warmly invited. We will be accompanied by wonderful instrumentalists, including some from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

On June 11, 2005 I last heard the Fauré Requiem performed in a concert at St. Martin in the Fields (Trafalgar Square, London) . When I was listening to the concert, I was sad that I might never have the opportunity to sing it again, since the two smaller groups I was in would not be likely to sing the Fauré. A few weeks after returning to the States, I learned from a choirmate that House of Hope would be doing the Requiem on Good Friday, 2006 - that's what made my decision to return. It's been well worth it. At our 3 hour rehearsal with orchestra today, it was such a pleasure to be surrounded by and a part of such wonderful music. The Fauré is a special favorite of tenors, since there are several extended passages in which we get to shine. One of my favorites is the duet we sing with the altos (in the Offertorium). Both sections are singing in the same register, and it's a most intimate section.

Posted by hgroteva at 4:22 PM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

January 14, 2007

Waltham Abbey Singers Concert Tonight - free

The Waltham Abbey Singers, under the direction of Brian Link, are presenting a concert tonight at 7:30 at St. Paul's on the Hill Episcopal Church, on Summit Ave. just east of Snelling Ave. The program is eclectic: the Charpentier “Messe de Minuit pour Noël,� (which uses French Christmas carols for its themes, including “Joseph est bien marié�), three Bruckner motets, some organ pieces, etc.

I sang with Waltham for several years, but haven't been able to sing since July because of the unpredictability of my family situation. I look forward to the concert tonight and hope to see folks there. (It's free, and maybe that snowstorm will wait until it's over -- or at least until it starts!)

In 2003, I had the opportunity to spend a month in England working with adoption research colleagues. One day, I took the train from Norwich to London, and then a combination of underground and bus out to Waltham Abbey (the real thing), which is on the northern outskirts of London. Here are photos of the church and the choir stalls. Thomas Tallis, the inspiration for the Waltham Abbey Singers, was choirmaster there.

Waltham side2-b.jpg


Posted by hgroteva at 10:38 AM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

Category "Travel"

January 15, 2007

More about Waltham Abbey

Despite the snow, the Waltham Abbey Singers audience tonight was robust and appreciative. I really enjoyed the program, which included the Charpentier Messe de Minuit pour Noel (Christmas midnight mass) and 3 lush motets by Bruckner. My last post had a few comments about my trip to Waltham Abbey, the actual place. Here are some entries from my travel journal of October, 2003.

I returned from London yesterday after an exciting and stimulating visit. It was interesting to observe my own reactions to things – that it was often the challenge and excitement of figuring out how to get places or do things that was the satisfying / most noteworthy part. For example, on Wednesday, 10/1, I took the train from Norwich to Liverpool St. (London), left my suitcase at the Left Luggage, took another train to Waltham Cross, then took the bus to Waltham Abbey. Each of these had its own little challenges associated with it – even making sure I got on the bus going in the right direction from Waltham Cross to Waltham Abbey. For example, I had initially thought about taking no luggage on the 3 day trip (thinking that I’d have to be schlepping it with me to Westminster Abbey), but then it occurred to me that there might be a Left Luggage at Liverpool St. – so I called the national rail line and found out there was. I found a hotel (the Hyde Hotel, 51 Westbourne Terrace, 3 star rating) on the internet for just over 50 pounds per night. My colleagues were rather horrified and very skeptical about the quality of the place, but I mainly wanted a place in a safe neighborhood, close to the tube, and clean. Well, the Hyde met those qualifications, but it was by far the smallest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in – and in the basement, to boot. I finally decided I’d pretend it was a stateroom on a luxury liner, where every square inch is at a premium. It did have a window, but the 8� TV had extremely poor reception (rabbit ears in a basement room!) It was adequate, although I doubt I’d stay there again. (It’s very good I brought changes of clothes – all the excitement combined with warmish and humid weather meant I sweated through my clothes several times! Thankfully there was a shower in the hotel room.)

The pilgrimage to Waltham Abbey was a worthwhile venture – since it is the namesake of the early music group I sing in. I didn’t realize until I got there that the Abbey was founded around 1060 by Harold, the Earl of Wessex, later King of England. Harold prayed there for success against the Norman invasion, but he and the Saxons met their fate at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. After the battle, Harold’s love, Edith Swan-Neck, brought him back to the Abbey for burial. No one knows exactly where he is in the church, but he is there somewhere. Here's my namesake.


The church has a long history and is quite interesting architecturally, although of course it’s not a “grand� church on the scale of the cathedrals. But it was worth the visit. Thomas Tallis was organist there at the time of the Dissolution – 1540 - when Henry VIII dissolved all the abbeys in England. Here's Tallis.

Thomas Tallis.jpg

Posted by hgroteva at 6:25 AM | Choral Music | Travel

Category "Choral Music"

Category "Texas"

February 14, 2007

Conspirare - A Group to be Watching

Thanks to Paul for introducing me to a wonderful new chorus - Conspirare - based in Austin, but a national / professional group. For Christmas, he and Carolyn gave me a recording of "Requiem" - a 2-CD set that begins with the Howells Requiem (one of my all-time favorites) and includes the Frank Martin Mass (another favorite) plus some new pieces that I really love --- especially Three Songs of Faith by Eric Whitacre and We Remember Them, by my friend Don Grantham. (Don directed a choir I sang in when we lived in Austin -- small world.) The CD was nominated for 2 Grammy Awards - congratulations!

I dragged out my trusty Cassell's Latin Dictionary (from 8th grade - what a packrat), and found that conspirare means "to breathe together." They're doing a lot more than breathing together. They are creating incredible sounds that echo in my mind for hours and days on end.

Here is a recent story about the group, and here is another.

Apropos Valentines Day (today), Paul also mentioned a recent PBS special called "The Mystery of Love" that used Conspirare as the focus of a section on "Community." Betty Sue Flowers (Prof. and Director of the LBJ Library) was one of the commentators in the story. Here and here are relevant stories.

I eagerly await their next CD!

Posted by hgroteva at 8:54 PM | Choral Music | Texas

Category "Choral Music"

May 18, 2007

Ending a Musical Drought

After everything fell apart last summer, I had to resign from the 3 choirs I was singing in -- practicing and making rehearsals were just impossible. It's been a long drought. Last weekend I went to the Waltham Abbey concert - it was thoroughly enjoyable, plus great to see my friends.

Dee told me about a new opportunity. A new music prof at the U is doing a summer choir - the program is the Faure Requiem (with orchestra) - one of my all-time favorites. I've mentioned it several times on this blog. I thought certainly I wouldn't be able to make the rehearsals, but believe it or not, I can! I'm traveling in May, June, and August, but not in July -- when the rehearsals and performance are -- so I have signed up! I can't wait - am already looking over my score and singing along with my CD. (My own form of karaoke, I guess!) It's directed by Matthew Mehaffey, Asst Prof of Music.

Not that that's good enough ... but next Wednesday evening, I'm going to hear Chanticleer, one of my favorite choral groups. They come to the Twin Cities about once a year and always present amazing performances.

And Thursday night, after a year of not being able to attend the monthly sings, I will be able to sing with the Schutz Singers -- a group that meets once a month to sing - just for the pure joy of it.

Life is good!

Posted by hgroteva at 10:34 PM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

May 24, 2007

Musical Nirvana

The Chanticleer concert was great. This is probably the tenth (give or take a few) time I've seen the group perform in the past 15 years, and I'm always satisfied. (I even had the pleasure of hearing them on their home turf in San Francisco once, taking P & C, who lived there at the time.)

My favorites of the evening were "This Marriage," by Eric Whitacre and "Village Wedding," by John Tavener. I really like the music by both of them. I just bought one of Whitacre's CDs yesterday ("Cloudburst" - Hyperion LC7533), and, serendipitously, it contains "This Marriage." Three of Whitacre's pieces are also featured on the CD by Conspirare, which I went on and on about here on Feb 14, 2007.

The Chanticleer sound is so pure - spot on. (As it says in the program notes, the group was named for the "clear-singing rooster" in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.) There were a lot of new faces on stage last night; the guys seem to be younger each time I see them. But they have a rigorous travel schedule, and I suspect it's not difficult to burn out after a few years.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable time singing with the Schutz Singers tonight. We are a group of about 15 folks from many different choirs who just enjoy singing together once a month. It's extremely satisfying. Folks are good sight-readers and singers, but not prima donnas. Everyone's just there for the sheer pleasure of it. There are no rehearsals and no performances. Tonight we did some Palestrina, Tallis, Weelkes, Byrd, Gibbons, and others. I've really missed singing this year. The choral music scene is one of the aspects of the Twin Cities that I will miss the most - it's quite amazing. Everyone assures me that there's great music in west-central Mass. Next summer, Tanglewood! and the Boston Early Music Festival!

Posted by hgroteva at 4:20 PM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

Category "In Memory / In Honor"

July 15, 2007

In Memoriam, Howard Don Small


UPDATE: Constance Schey has established a memorial page for sharing reminiscences about Don Small. Go to

I lost one of my most important music mentors, and the world lost an incredible church musician on July 13, 2007. Howard Don Small served as Canon Musician at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark, Minneapolis, from 1971 - 1998. Although many things will be said about his extensive professional accomplishments, I wanted this blog entry to be a more personal remembrance.

Although I only sang under Don’s direction for about five years (first in the Cathedral Choral Society and then in the Cathedral Choir), working with him had a profound effect on me as a musician. Let me mention a few ways.

First, his focus was always on the inextricable connection between music and worship. Choirs were not in church to perform. They were there so be an integral part of worship. That always took precedence. (Choir directors do not universally hold this view!) Singing with him exposed me to the world’s greatest choral literature - such a gift.

Don conducting.bmp

Second, he expected and received excellence from everyone - the very best we could possibly give, every time. In turn, he gave the same himself. His dedication and passion for sacred music inspired all of us to continue learning, striving, and improving. Singing under his direction gave me the encouragement to keep trying and stretching.

Third, he valued and supported community. The annual overnight choir retreats were truly bonding experiences for all, and he and Emma frequently opened their home for parties and celebrations. Through the choir, I made some very good friends and shared times of joy as well as sadness. A fellow choir member referred me to Groves Academy for our son; it was truly a godsend. I came to realize how much Don, Emma, and St. Marks were at the center of a hub of vibrant choral activity in the Twin Cities. Everyone who was anybody knew them and their work; many had studied or sung with Emma or Don.

One of my most cherished memories is participating in the recording of the CD, “Blessings Great and Small� during June 1997.

Blessings G+S.jpg

Steve Barnett was the producer, and Preston Smith was the recording engineer. The whole experience was professional at the very highest levels. I had a number of out-of-body experiences during the marathon sessions, just as I am now, savoring the memories while listening to the CD.

Don had experienced a number of health challenges over the past decade, but memories of him are strong and very much alive. Thank you, Don. Rest in peace.


In January 1998, at Don’s retirement party, I had the privilege of “representing� those who joined the choir in the 1990s as we extended tributes during the evening. I found the notes from what I said, and they seem like a very appropriate way to close this entry. Here goes:

Sometimes things that we do as part of our everyday activities touch others’ lives in ways that we never planned, expected, or heard about. You have touched my life in several ways, and it is out of gratitude that I recount a few stories.

I moved to Minnesota in January, 1990, and Susan and our son Mark followed that summer. We first lived in an apartment near Summit and Dale in St. Paul, and we attended the church of St. John the Evangelist. By autumn, we moved to our current home in Falcon Heights; commuting to St. John’s was difficult and not sufficiently rewarding to continue.

I don’t remember how we heard about the Lessons and Carols service at St. Mark’s - perhaps from the newspaper or from a friend - but it was either that Advent or the year following that we attended for the first time. We were both quite moved. About halfway through the service, I remember that Susan and I looked at each other, and without saying a word, said, “This is the place we’ve been seeking.� Thus, your music ministry had a direct connection to our joining the parish of St. Mark’s.

I had sung in a number of choirs through the years and fantasized about how wonderful it would be to sing with the Cathedral Choir. I talked to a number of people about it, including Lee Brant, whom I met at a newcomer’s dinner. All were enthusiastic about my interest, but all spoke of the “C� word - commitment. At that time, my job was totally consuming, and I couldn’t foresee making the time commitment necessary. Not long after, however, I read the announcement in the bulletin about the Choral Society. It seemed to fit my situation perfectly, as the time commitment required was limited, but it would give me the opportunity to sing under your direction.

I distinctly remember the first season I gathered my courage to come to Choral Society. It was winter, and the first rehearsal was to be on one of those terribly cold January or February nights when schools and offices had been closed and the city was very quiet, except for the howling snow. Not knowing whether rehearsal would take place, I called the Cathedral, and surprisingly, was put directly through to you. I asked if the Choral Society rehearsal for that evening would proceed, given the bad weather. Your response was simply, “Well, I’ll be here.� The simplicity, clarity, and assuredness of your response resonated strongly to me, and I was there too! To my amazement, almost 40 people showed up that night, on time for the downbeat. This told me a lot about your professionalism, dedication, and ability to inspire the best in others.

A third small encounter with you led me even further down the path. I had already been singing with the Choral Society for about 3 years at the time of the celebration of your 25th anniversary at St. Mark’s. On the way out of the service that Sunday, I stopped to shake your hand in congratulations, and in thanking me, you said, “I hope you’ll join us for Summer Choir.� That small bit of encouragement and connection, offered simply, was all it took to move me to the next step.

My time in the Cathedral Choir has been transformative for me. My spirituality has deepened considerably. As I remarked to a friend who asked me about my experience, “How could you sing those words week after week and not be affected?� My skill as a musician has improved, thanks to your musicianship, Emma’s contributions, and lessons I have taken with Brian and Rick. I feel that my grounding has been re-shaped and re-discovered. I never think about the “C� word [commitment] - as it’s simply there. I never doubt that I’ll be able to follow through as a full participant. To the degree possible, I now plan my professional commitments around choir, rather than the reverse.


Your retirement evokes many feelings in me:
appreciation - for your qualities of professionalism, musicianship, and leadership - as a teacher myself, I have learned from you;
gratitude - for the opportunity to grow, learn, and deepen my spirituality;
sadness - that you will be leaving, but also;
happiness - that you will be able to be relieved of the extreme pressure of your role to do things at a manageable and enjoyable pace. (Will you be composing?? I hope so!)

So Don, Godspeed on your journey. Thank you for touching my life in small but very impactful ways. I am sure that my few vignettes are not unlike those that could be told by many others. And I hope that when I retire, a few students remember me with the fondness that many (such as I) remember you with.

Indeed, Godspeed on your journey.

from the Fauré Requiem
In paradisum deducant angeli; in tuo adventu sucipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere aeternam habeas requiem.

God’s holy angels lead you to paradise; may saints in their glory receive you at your journey’s end, guiding your footsteps into the Holy City Jerusalem. Choirs of angels sing you to your rest, and with Lazarus raised to eternal life, may you forevermore rest in peace.

Haddayr, Another choir member, posted this moving remembrance of Don.

Posted by hgroteva at 12:40 PM | Choral Music | In Memory / In Honor

Category "Choral Music"

July 22, 2007

Free Concert - Fauré Requiem

Faure Requiem.jpg

You are warmly invited to attend the concert of the University of Minnesota Summer Chorus
Saturday, July 28
7:00 pm
Ted Mann Concert Hall, U of MN West Bank
*FREE* admission
Directed by Matthew Mehaffey, Associate Director of Choral Activities, U of MN

Fauré, Requiem
Fauré, Tantum Ergo
Britten, Jubilate Deo
Vaughan Williams, Down Among the Dead Men

You may know from prior blog posts that the Fauré Requiem is one of my all time favorites ... partly because it has wonderful tenor parts throughout, and partly because it is such comforting music. There are about 60 of us in the chorus - an interesting blend of people from the community and U of M music students. It's been fun to put it together.

For an informative website about the Requiem, visit

Posted by hgroteva at 9:09 PM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

July 28, 2007


Tonight was our performance of the Fauré Requiem. It's such an amazing piece -- consider the breadth of emotions it expresses ... from fear and trembling at the thought of everlasting desolation, to the peace of being welcomed into heaven by the chorus of angels. Considering that Matthew pulled together a chorus of strangers of varying backgrounds and rehearsed us for only 3 weeks, I thought the performance was quite good. The soloists were U of M music faculty and added depth and mature voices to the piece. I found that I barely needed to look at the score; I have it basically memorized. (Which is good, because we were standing on risers and my music was jammed up against the head of the fellow in front of me.) Despite how many times I've sung it before (maybe a half dozen?), I could sing it again and again. It made me wonder what choral adventures await this coming year and the year after.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:02 PM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

November 11, 2007

Waltham Abbey Singers Concert Nov 18

All are welcome to the fall concert of the Waltham Abbey Singers.
Sunday, November 18, 7:30 pm.
St. Paul's on the Hill Episcopal Church
1524 Summit Ave.
St. Paul, MN
on Summit, one block east of Snelling

Join us as we present Andrea Gabrieli's Magnificat, Jean-Josepoh Mondonville's Coeli enarrant gloriam Dei, plus works by John Sheppard, Guillaume Dufay, and others.

Admission: free-will offering

For more information about the Waltham Abbey Singers, visit

After a year away from this group, I've very much enjoyed singing again this fall. Brian announced that we'll be doing some of the Penetential Psalms by Lassus during the spring - they are amazing. Demanding and rewarding. Rehearsals feel like penance, but there is redemption on the other side...

Also, feel free to click on the category "Choral Music" on the right-hand column of this blog, and look at the entries for Jan 14 and 15, 2007.

Hope you can join us!

Posted by hgroteva at 9:56 PM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

November 18, 2007

Reflections on Tonight's Concert

What a joy it was to sing with Waltham Abbey tonight. The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity, and to have done it with good friends.

Here's a favorite quote from Peter Sellars, which seems particularly appropriate.

"Vocal music is an attempt to take the whole human being and project it into space. It is the ultimate gesture of getting out of yourself. You take a part of you that is most private, most personal, most inward, and you hurl it out into space - you project it as far as you can. That gesture of opening the whole body results in an enormous spiritual release, and is felt by other people with tremendous impact."

Posted by hgroteva at 11:31 PM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

Category "Life"

November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Thoughts

I always enjoy Thanksgiving morning by listening to "Turkey Confidential," -- Lynne Rosetto Caspar's special live call-in show. (Go to ) People call in with all sorts of cooking emergencies: turkeys that caught fire, turkeys that didn't cook, tipped over tanks of hot oil, etc. She has a reassuring way of helping people through their challenges, while adding in a good dose of humor and goodwill. I'm glad the show is streamed online - people are calling in from all over the country. I look forward to being able to listen from wherever I will be.

This may be the only Thanksgiving that Mark and I share by ourselves. We've enjoyed planning the meal together. I'm making the turkey and gluten-free dressing, and he made a flourless chocolate cake last night. It looks quite amazing. It is extremely rich -- pretty much all chocolate, sugar, eggs, and a little coffee. We'll miss not being with the rest of the family, but we'll all be together for Christmas. It's snowing as I write this, so it definitely feels like a holiday.

2007 has been a year of many transitions. Many work transitions (occurred and anticipated), housing transitions, pet transitions, health transitions. It has made me reflect on the meaning of "stability." We tend to think of the life course as a series of stable times punctuated by transitions (developmental or unexpected). I'm beginning to think that stability may be the illusion, with change being the norm. Ever since the co-occurrence of 3 major life changes in 2006, I've found that I simply expect more change and can let go of expectations about what will be. Without the illusion, life seems more fragile -- but it also makes it more difficult to take things for granted and more important to express thanks. On NPR, Anna Quindlen read the following from her book, A Short Guide to a Happy Life: ... "Knowledge of our own mortality is the greatest gift God gave us."

Music alert -- Next Sunday, December 2, at 4:00 pm, the Gregorian Singers will do their annual Advent Procession at St. Paul's on the Hill Episcopal Church, 1524 Summit Ave (just east of Snelling). It's a beautiful service, and a wonderful way to begin preparation for Christmas. I enjoyed participating in this service during my two years singing with the Gregs -- although balancing music, bells, and candles while singing and processing in the dark did present a challenge of the highest order.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:14 AM | Choral Music | Life

Category "Choral Music"

November 30, 2007

Biebl Ave Maria

I got to sing the Ave Maria by Franz Biebl last night for the first time. What a joy! I have loved this piece for years and have sung along to countless CDs, but have never sung it with a group. It calls for 7 men's voices - a trio and a quartet. At the monthly gathering of the Schütz Secret Singing Society, we sing simply for the joy of it. (Repeat that sentence out loud, quickly, five times, at your own risk!) It's a group of about 15 - 20 people (some more regular attenders than others), and we have a wonderful evening sight-singing new pieces and re-experiencing old favorites. Last night we did some Christmas stuff - my first inkling that the season is approaching. But the Biebl was a huge treat and made the evening for me. I think it affected all of us the same way. The women had already departed to begin experiencing the wonderful food and wine our hosts had put out, but we men just kept singing away. The Biebl is a signature piece of both Chanticleer and Cantus, two favorite groups of mine. But there's nothing like singing it yourself. Here is a YouTube of Chanticleer performing it. Happy holidays!

Posted by hgroteva at 8:23 AM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

December 18, 2007

The Gift of Music - Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium

I was just listening to MPR before dinner and heard a recording of Morton Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium" sung by the Dale Warland Singers. I cranked it up full blast and luxuriated in the sound. I have sung this a few times, first at St. Marks, and it moves me every time. Today is the anniversary of its first performance -- December 18, 1994. Not that long ago. Just a blink in the history of music.

So I set out to find a YouTube of it as a Christmas gift to my readers. And here it is. There were several to choose from, but I liked this one the best because of the sound and the group's obvious sincerity, even though it's a home-made video. Note that the singers have memorized the music and are singing with men and women interspersed. Both of these allow and require them to watch and listen with every ounce of energy available. It worked.

The YouTube site didn't provide a lot of information, but it appears to be the UST Alumni Singers, under the direction of Allan Diona Sims - performing at the Hollywood Festival 2006. Not sure what "UST" stands for. If anyone knows, let me know.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this and can take a moment to reflect on the mystery and wonder of Christmas.
[Caution: the applause at the end breaks the spell, so be prepared to exit quickly after the last chord]

Here are the words, by the way.

O magnum mysterium, et admirable sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, jacentum in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum. Alleluia!

O great mystery, and wondrous sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in their manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

Posted by hgroteva at 5:06 PM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

March 29, 2008

The CD I've Just About Worn Out

Lux Aeterna.jpg

I have just about worn out my CD of "Lux Aeterna" by Morton Lauridsen. In this time of crazy-making-multi-tasking, it has provided hours of serenity. I keep playing it, and for better or for worse, to return the favor, it keeps going through my head all day. It's actually a welcome thing, because the music is so hauntingly beautiful and calming. Here is a link to a review of it on the Hyperion website. I hope I get to sing it some day.

My favorite:
O nata lux de lumine
Jesu redemptor saeculi
Dignare clemes supplicum
Laudes prescesque sumere.

Qui carne quondam contegi
Dignatur es pro perditis.
Nos membra confer effici,
Tui beati corporis.

I'm a great fan of Lauridsen's work. I still remember singing his "O Magnum Mysterium" with the St. Marks Cathedral Choir on risers at the Galleria just before Christmas over 10 years ago - Eric Friesen was still broadcasting here, and we were on his afternoon show - great fun.

Here is the official website for the music of Lauridsen.

And here are some concert notes from the San Francisco Choral Society - a nice discussion of the piece. I hadn't realized until now that he wrote it in 1997, the year of his mother's death. The author stated that the piece expressed "a human journey to reclaim intimacy with the inner life" - nicely put. Enjoy.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:04 PM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

November 23, 2008

from "This I Believe - Singing: The Key to a Long Life"

I heard this affirming testimonial on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday this morning - in the series, "This I Believe." In this piece, Brian Eno talks about his belief that singing together has innumerable benefits, which I'll let you read / hear about yourself.

Here is a link to the program, which will have the audio after noon today.

Following is the text, taken from the NPR website - with sincere thanks!

" I believe in singing. I believe in singing together.

"A few years ago a friend and I realized that we both loved singing but didn't do much of it. So we started a weekly a capella group with just four members. After a year we started inviting other people to join. We didn't insist on musical experience — in fact some of our members had never sung before. Now the group has ballooned to around 15 or 20 people.

"I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humor. A recent long-term study conducted in Scandinavia sought to discover which activities related to a healthy and happy later life. Three stood out: camping, dancing and singing.

"Well, there are physiological benefits, obviously: You use your lungs in a way that you probably don't for the rest of your day, breathing deeply and openly. And there are psychological benefits, too: Singing aloud leaves you with a sense of levity and contentedness. And then there are what I would call "civilizational benefits." When you sing with a group of people, you learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness because a capella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That's one of the great feelings — to stop being me for a little while and to become us. That way lies empathy, the great social virtue.

"Well here's what we do in an evening: We get some drinks, some snacks, some sheets of lyrics and a strict starting time. We warm up a bit first.

"The critical thing turns out to be the choice of songs. The songs that seem to work best are those based around the basic chords of blues and rock and country music. You want songs that are word-rich, but also vowel-rich because it's on the long vowels sounds of a song such as "Bring It On Home To Me" ("You know I'll alwaaaaays be your slaaaaave"), that's where your harmonies really express themselves. And when you get a lot of people singing harmony on a long note like that, it's beautiful.

"But singing isn't only about harmonizing pitch like that. It has two other dimensions. The first one is rhythm. It's thrilling when you get the rhythm of something right and you all do a complicated rhythm together: "Oh, when them cotton balls get a-rotten, you can't pick very much cotton." So when 16 or 20 people get that dead right together at a fast tempo that's very impressive. But the other thing that you have to harmonize besides pitch and rhythm is tone. To be able to hit exactly the same vowel sound at a number of different pitches seems unsurprising in concept, but is beautiful when it happens.

"So I believe in singing to such an extent that if I were asked to redesign the British educational system, I would start by insisting that group singing become a central part of the daily routine. I believe it builds character and, more than anything else, encourages a taste for co-operation with others. This seems to be about the most important thing a school could do for you."

New Year's Resolution: Find a new choral group to join. I'm missing it a lot!

Posted by hgroteva at 9:52 AM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

Category "Politics"

December 7, 2008

Hope in the Bleak Mid-Winter

I read in the most recent BBC Music Magazine that "In the Bleak Mid-Winter" was voted the most popular Christmas carol by a panel of famous choral directors and composers from the UK and US. As I look out my window at the gently falling snow, the song certainly fits in with the mood of the day.

But a little while ago, I watched Tom Brokaw's interview with Barack Obama on Meet the Press. Obama is so impressive. His thoughtfulness, presence of mind, breadth of knowledge, and ability to inspire have helped transform this terribly glum time (economy, unemployment, etc.) into a time when there is hope. Hope is a good thing.

Posted by hgroteva at 12:28 PM | Choral Music | Politics

Category "Choral Music"

March 12, 2009

Gains and Losses

What a treat to have one of my favorite choral groups, Cantus, performing here. I've heard them a number of times in the Twin Cities and own most of their CDs. They are a musical inspiration for me.

The concert was excellent and warmly received by the smallish but enthusiastic audience. I was thrilled to have their music wash over me, but it made me acutely aware of the music I am missing - both as a listener and a singer. I simply have not had time this year to keep singing. But I must. Summer is not all that far off, and perhaps I can connect with a voice teacher, who in turn might help me identify good singing venues for next season. There is nothing like singing. If you want to read more, click on the "choral music" category and look at my many entries.

In looking for blog material about the group, I found this link to a recent (3/5/09) performance of the group at Trinity Church Wall Street. Part of this program is what they sang here tonight. Enjoy!

I also found this YouTube of a rehearsal of the Biebl Ave Maria. The picture is poor (probably taken with a phone cam), but the music comes through fairly well. The Biebl is one of the most beautiful pieces in the choral repertoire for a male group - perhaps THE most beautiful. I had the pure joy of singing it once and would love to again.

Tonight's experience reminds me of the phenomenal opportunities I had singing in the Twin Cities, and the many friends I made in the process. Priceless.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:41 PM | Choral Music

Category "Choral Music"

Category "Technology"

July 13, 2009

Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir - "Sleep"

Posted by hgroteva at 3:46 PM | Choral Music | Technology