Out & About: voices rising

A peek behind the scenes as choral rock star Jake Runestad rehearses Choral Arts Ensemble's singers for a concert of his own music

In 2016 I was commissioned by the North Coast Chorale to create piece-specific art to be projected in the concert hall during their performance of Karl Jenkin’s The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace – 13 montages in total, one for each movement. While working on them I listened to the choral work over and over until I practically knew it by heart. Even though it probably now counts as one of the war horses of choral music, it was a glorious experience.

This week I was invited to a different, equally exciting occasion: to listen to and photograph composer Jake Runestad, from Minnesota, directing his own choral work in preparation for a concert on Saturday, The Hope of Loving, with the Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland.

Choral Arts Ensemble has really grown artistically over the last several years. Under the thoughtful and thorough direction of David de Lyser the choir has matured and right now has a beautiful mix of voices across age ranges.

De Lyser does not shy away from musically challenging pieces, and has brought a breath of fresh air to the PDX musical scene with his choices of contemporary composers. His willingness to experiment and push the envelope with his programming have impressed many of us. We are lucky to have such a learned resource in a town that is otherwise mostly devoted to the masters of yore.

On Saturday we’ll see since Choral Arts Ensemble, together with the Linn-Benton Community College Chamber Choir, will be singing a program of the music of Runestad, directed by the composer himself.

What struck me most, during the first night of shared rehearsal – composer and choir new to each other, soloists having to step up and out, string quartet finding their best resonance – was how easy he made it for everyone. The man might be a choral rock star as some or another applauding review has pegged him, but he is surely a gifted teacher. Demanding and detail-oriented, he nonetheless managed to nurture the confidence of a group of musicians who at times approached the truly tricky material somewhat tentatively. The fluidity of his physical movements matched that of his music, and the pure joy he expressed when vocalizing, humming, and almost dancing along, was surely infectious.

I have always felt that communal singing can be a source of great uplift – particularly when singing music that has melodic qualities that are surprising (as in his score,) words that are empowering (as in his libretto, see notes on the choice of poetry) and when the possibility of experiencing the music is not overridden by demands for perfection.

Which is not to say that this choir and string ensemble will not shine with perfection – it is more that last night I experienced genuine enthusiasm in those singers, a glimpse of music moving all of those present. As music should be.

In a world that currently surrounds us with ugliness you will have an escape, if only for an evening, into beauty.

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The Hope of Loving: The Music of Jake Runestad
Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland
Saturday, April 21, 7:30 p.m.
Agnes Flanagan Chapel
Lewis & Clark College
0615 SW Palatine Hill Rd., Portland
Click for more information and tickets.

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This originally appeared on Friderike Heuer’s blog at YDP or Your Daily Picture.

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