Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon

All the words: Choral music from around the worlds

Choral Arts Ensemble learns Gaelic; Cappella Romana records Pärt; Resonance Ensemble spotlights Indigenous composers.


Choral music tells stories. Of joy and sorrow; of love earthly and love spiritual; of an event, journey, a yearning, a passion or a single drop of rain. Choral composers take the words and wrap them in music. Then the conductor and singers get them and the journey of choir and listener begins.

Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland is offering us an invitation to journey with them to Ireland and Scotland, experiencing new and the ancient in language and music. Wait, that sounds a bit like KQAC All Classical’s John Pitman announcing the restart of their Classical Music Adventures – yea! But this choral adventure with CAE can be enjoyed from your seat in St. Philip Neri on February 26 and 27.

Artistic Director David DeLyser has chosen works that tell the regions’ stories in Gaelic and English. To learn Gaelic, the ensemble studied pronunciation guides; connected with Gaelic speakers in Ireland; and invited composer, conductor and University College Dublin academician Desmond Earley to attend a rehearsal. 

You might recognize Earley from his conductor-and-harpsichordist role in a 2018 Portland Baroque Orchestra/Cappella Romana performance of Handel’s Messiah. Or perhaps you will recall hearing the August 21, 2017 precisely 10:15 a.m. programmed premiere of Earley’s “total solar eclipse” composition, The Body of the Moon, commissioned by All Classical KQAC.

CAE will perform Earley’s arrangement of Mo Ghile Mear (My gallant darling) in Gaelic attributed to Irish language poet Seán Domhnaill (1691-1754). It is a story of despair at the defeat of revolutionary Bonnie Price Charles in 1746–a time when the Gael culture and language was under threat. Listen to the ancient language embraced by a resolute tune as rendered by Earley’s Choral Scholars of University College Dublin. And tilt an ear to the sound of the bodhrán drum (pronunciation: BOW, a bark; Ron, a name) that picks up the beat on the third verse.

Portland bodhrán artist Matty Sears joins CAE on Mo Ghile Mear and on Earley’s Gaelic-language arrangement of Dúlamán. But a double delight is a second version of Dúlamán, also in Gaelic, by composer Michael McGlynn. McGlynn has a significant catalog of choral works and is founder and Artistic Director of Anúna, a stellar choral ensemble based in Ireland. Here are the men’s voices of Anúna in the McGlynn Dúlamán arrangement programmed on this concert.


Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon

Warning: hearing the twos and threes flirting within the lilting 6/8 meter might lead to a spontaneous desire to take riverdance lessons.

The lyrics tell of a lass collecting the cherished Irish yellow seaweed or kelp. But herein lies the deeper saga of a marine agricultural that has sustained Ireland for centuries. Full of nutrients and minerals, the seaweed has fed humans and livestock and is also used in a variety of products from face cream to fertilizer. Poets have elevated it in verse and composers set it to music to keep the harvesting culture sustainable.

Two other McGlynn works will be sung, and Assistant Conductor Megan Elliott will lead the Scottish farewell toast Parting Glass arranged by Earley. Portland guitarist Cary Novotny collaborates on three pieces, including Ola Gjeilo’s setting of William Butler Yeats’ “The Lake Isle. Ah, for a world in which “All The Words Gather(ed)” by Yeats were set to choral music. Some words, those.

Guitarist Cary Novotny. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Courting is a Pleasure will use the talents of Sears and Novotny. Jennifer Creek Hughes joins the ensemble on the piano.

CAE will perform at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church on Saturday, Feb. 26, 7:30 pm and Sunday, Feb. 27, 3 pm. Tickets can be purchased here.

Pärting is such sweet sorrow


Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon

Choral music makes use of words and language often closely connected to cultural and personal identity. Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s choral settings of words of faith have met with resistance in the past. This weekend, they are rendered with respect and reverence by Cappella Romana in the Kanon pokajanen.

Programmed by Artist Director Alexander Lingas–who will conduct these concerts on Feb 25, 26, and 27–this work demonstrates Pärt’s comfort within and outside of the liturgy. He set the Kanon pokajanen (Canon for repentance) for concert performance, allowing that movements may be performed a la carte (not his words). CR performed three of the nine movements in their Arvo Pärt Festival, held in Portland in 2017. They now perform the entire set for Seattle and Portland audiences and will record portions of it immediately after for their Odes of Repentance CD, projected for release in 2023.

Arvo Pärt and Alexander Lingas at the Pärt Center, Estonia. Photo courtesy of Pärt Center.
Arvo Pärt and Alexander Lingas at the Pärt Center, Estonia. Photo courtesy of Pärt Center.

Arvo Pärt, born in 1935, now resides in his homeland Estonia. You might be familiar with the tonal language of his tintinnabuli style in which notes seem to drop like petals from sun-kissed blossoms. Spiegel im Spiegel (1978), with undulating 6/4 chords over an intoned fundamental while a voice above places each step carefully along the path to absolute serenity. Yeah, that might be a bit overboard–but it’s brilliant. And it goes so well with meditation or a massage.

In early compositions Pärt demonstrated a neo-classical style followed by a shift into 12-tone technique. In 1968 he employed an avant-garde style in Credo (for piano, chorus, and orchestra), giving the words “I believe in God, the Father” to the singers. The work was banished by the Soviet Union because those words, those thoughts, were disallowed.

The 1989 standalone a cappella choral work Nynje k vam (I now flee unto you), set on Ode 9 from Canon of Repentance, would employ ancient sounds and language of the Slavonic Church and would become one of the nine Odes set as the Kanon pokajanen. Pärt took two years to compose this longest of his a cappella choral works, premiered in 1998. A sampling, Ode VI, performed by Cappella Romana at the Arvo Pärt Festival in 2017 can be heard here.

In a 2012 article Pärt spoke about writing his choral music: “I wanted to give the words the opportunity of choosing their own sounds, of drawing their own musical line. It was this Canon that showed me clearly how much the choice of a language predetermines the character of a work – to such an extent in fact that the whole construction of the composition is subjugated to the text and its laws, if one allows the language to make its music.” (Restagno, Enzo. Arvo Pärt in Conversation. Dalkey Archive Press, 2012, p. 85).

Join Cappella Romana, with conductor Lingas and guest bass Glenn Miller, in Seattle on Friday, Feb. 25, 7:30 at St. James Cathedral; Saturday, Feb. 26, 8:00 at St. Mary’s Cathedral; and Sunday, Feb. 27, 3:00 at Christ the King Parish, Milwaukie. Live concert tickets here. A livestream purchase option is available.  


Portland Opera The Snowy Day Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

“I would weep with you”

Words can be used to demonstrate – offering proof or evidence that something exists. In their upcoming concert, Resonance Ensemble engages in demonstrative choral programming to seek and illuminate that which might cease to exist if not recognized. They sing to “spotlight the words, music, and visual art of indigenous artists from Portland and across the Pan Americas” (from Resonance website). 

The world premiere of Abya Yala Choral Suite, composed by Freddy Vilches–Chilean-born Lewis & Clark College professor and founder of Matices Latin Ensemble–is the cornerstone of RE’s second concert in their 2021-22 Reclaim series. The work was jointly commissioned by the American Choral Directors Association and Resonance Ensemble, and will conclude a program of works by Mari Esabel Valverde, Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate and Gabriela Lena Frank.  

In Frank’s Hombre Errante, approximately 18 minutes in five movements, the ensemble sings words from Peruvian poems and tales to tell of a wandering man. Impichchaachaaha’ Tate’s Taloowa’ Chipota (Children’s Songs) was commissioned by the American Composers Forum ChoralQuest initiative. Language and vocables are caressed in melodies from Tate’s Chickasaw roots and join with classical conventions to create this work appropriate for youth and adult choirs.

Valverde’s Border Lines is composed for SATB choir with guitar–or, as in this performance, cello. Guest artist Nancy Ives, composer and Oregon Symphony principal cellist, performs. In one poignant moment the choir sings “and if I were to see you tomorrow and everyone you came from had disappeared, I would weep with you.” Choral music gets the words.

Vilches is a respected multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies at Lewis & Clark. With his expertise in Latin American poetry and fiction he has woven poems in several native and Spanish languages, stitching them together with regional musical styles and instruments. “This composition aims to vindicate the voices and struggles of historically marginalized communities and showcase the culture richness and diversity of Abya Yaba.” (Northwestern American Choral Directors’ conference website). 


Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon

Freddy Vilches. Photo courtesy of Resonance Ensemble.
Freddy Vilches. Photo courtesy of Resonance Ensemble.

Abya Yala is loosely translated from the Kuna (Guna) language as “mature land” (if an English equivalent is necessary). It is a concept, a statement of reclamation, a respect for the integrity of regions of peoples and lands. Gather with Resonance, Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon and guests and hear the words; it will come clear.

And plan time to view the photography of Joe Cantrell on display in Cerimon House before and after the concerts, Saturday, Mar. 5, 7:30 pm and Sunday, Mar. 6, 3:00 pm. Tickets, which are limited, are available here. But tell your loved ones who cannot attend or who live anywhere else in the world that Resonance Ensemble offers a free livestream of the Sunday concert through their REAP Initiative. Donations to continue this valuable outreach are appreciated.

Hear a new story, go on a journey, share the new and ancient – go to a choral concert.

Choral Connections

Yes! John Pitman, Programming and Music Director at KQAC All Classical has announced the return of Cultural Tours. Click here for more information on the May 19-29 tour of Poland and Prague celebrating the musical lives of Chopin, Dvořák, Smetana and Mozart. 

Try it you’ll like it, maybe

Lavarbread (bara lawr in Welsh, sleabhac in Gaelic) is something you might experience from the edible seaweed mentioned above. It is harvested from rocks in delicate brown sheets and boiled down to a spreadable green pulp–similar to totally cooked-down spinach–and is sometimes prepared with bacon or sprinkled with cheese. Serve with toast on the side. It can be purchased online in a 120g tin. A Traditional Welsh Delicacy. Hmmm. Give a shout out if you try it. I may pass.


Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Concert Rooted Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

Words of the Poet

All the words that I gather

And all the words that I write

Must spread out their wings untiring

And never rest in their flight,

Till they come where your sad, sad heart is,

And sing to you in the night,


Chamber Music Northwest Beethoven's Complete Piano Trios The Old Church Portland Oregon

Beyond where the waters are moving,

Storm-darkened or starry bright.

William Butler Yeats, Na briathra go léir ‘bhailím (“All the words that I gather”).

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Daryl Browne is a music educator, alto, flutist and writer who lives in Beaverton, Oregon.

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