Bag & Baggage Theater Productions Shakespeare Hillsboro Oregon

Can we get an amen?

Chor Anno initiates the return to live choral singing

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This year the Vancouver, Washington choir, Chor Anno, has the honor of ushering in the local choral season. Welcome back live choral singing – can we get an amen! 

This concert is their entire season–so don’t miss it. Yup, one program, performed twice, once a year; this year on September 18 and 19. That’s Chor Anno.

Yes, “anno” is Latin and “chor” is German. Don’t pick on J. Howard Meharg about the name of this group he founded; he’s heard it already and agrees. With even more language digging it might even translate as “year of singing by thieves in shorts.” But after eleven years, who cares? Once you’ve heard Chor Anno this year you’ll want to get them in your calendar for the next.

Who are these “same time next year” singers? The answer to this goes back eleven years to Meharg’s image of the ideal adult choir. “When choral directors attending a conference or workshop sing together it’s a really, really good sound.” Then came the “what if” moment, followed by calls and invitations to friends and colleagues in the business of choral music. And Meharg has a whole bunch of those.

He taught music in Kelso, Castle Rock and Longview for over thirty years. He is an active member of–and division webmaster for–the American Choral Directors Association. His bio mentions his tour seasons with the Norman Luboff Choir and his role in co-founding the Northwest’s celebrated male vocal ensemble M.E.N.

And so he called, and singers responded.

The rehearsal and performance schedule for Chor Anno is ideal for this group of predominantly music teachers and community/church choir directors: one rehearsal weekend, about 12 hours of singing (they must know how to keep their voices healthy), and, approximately one month later, a weekend of Chor Anno performances. Meharg mused in conversation that it must be the right format: “They keep coming back each year.”

Chor Anno. Photo courtesy of the choir.
Chor Anno. Photo courtesy of the choir.

Yes they do. Thirty-two strong this year. Several from the Vancouver, Clark County area; many from further north (LaCenter, Seattle, Tacoma, Longview, Olympia, Federal Way, Kent, Kelso, Battleground). Three from Washington’s Tri-cities area. Two from Bend, one each from Portland, Gresham, and Salem. One singer who moved to Arizona last year is back to sing this concert. And there’s one couple up from Santa Barbara, California–he’s a singer, and she’s Nicole Lamartine–the current conductor of Chor Anno.

Dr. Lamartine was teaching at University of Wyoming, Laramie, when she first joined Chor Anno as a soprano. She was named Associate Conductor in 2014 and Conductor in 2019. She assumed the role of Director of Choral Activities at the University of California, Santa Barbara, last year but plans to remain on the podium for Chor Anno. Meharg now serves as Associate Conductor. Both conductors welcome you to this inspiring program of choral pieces.

Stand up again and say yes we can

The concert theme is “Resilience.” One word that can evoke a loud sigh, a fist pump or another “amen.” It can reflect where we’ve been, where we are and where we intend to be. Resilience is observable in nature, an essential element in most engineered systems and–as reflected in the text and music in this concert–is a trait that moves humans to “stand up again and say yes we can.”

Those words, a street call, are a portion of the text of Resilience by composer Abbie Bettinis. The chant is from the Justice Choir Songbook of which Bettinis is co-editor. The music embraces the sturdiness of the “perfect” intervals (unison, octave, 4th, 5th) and never ends an internal musical phrase with a tonic chord. The message keeps moving on. 

That same openness is the harmonic personality of Seth Houston’s Emerald Stream, the text of which sermonizes on our stewardship of the earth. Music theorists might explain the “grounded” feeling of these open intervals by referencing the harmonic series and citing stabilizing frequencies. Okay. But here’s Conductor Lamartine’s more transcendent viewpoint: leaving those intervals open allows “the heart to fill them in.” 

Composer and Chor Anno singer Reginald Unterseher, in his composition Distress for lower voices (TTBB), makes healthy use of perfect intervals below a Southern Harmony hymn tune by prolific writer/hymnist Anne Steele. A beginning of ominous droning evolves, however, as does the text, from “anguish” to a gentler, more vibrant message of hope and faith proclaimed in a final unison.

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Men of Chor Anno. Photo courtesy of Ann Lyman.
Men of Chor Anno. Photo courtesy of Anne Lyman.

Chor Anno treble voices (SSA) are featured in a second Unterseher composition, A Little Song of Life. Pianist Brian Hoskins will accompany this tuneful piece, providing a persistent movement beneath a swaying and overlapping melody which builds with fervor to proclaim “glad that I live, am I” (poem by Lizette Woodworth Reese).

“Sometimes we’re not glad…sometimes we feel pretty, uh, let’s just say unglad. But we are resilient,” Nicole Lamartine said, reiterating the concert theme as she spoke of I Am Glad by composer and Chor Anno singer Dan Schreiner. With text taken from the soul-lifting poem Rhapsodyby William Stanley Braithwaite, rapid meter changes flow seamlessly throughout the piece like a child romping over rocks and gopher holes in a sunlit meadow. 

Abide: to remain, stay, endure, sustain, accept. Jake Adam York’s posthumously published poem Abide reaches out through Dan Forrest’s choral work of the same name. Someone remaining, someone gone, and there is yearning.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament, diarying his anguished descent into deafness, is the inspiration for the centerpiece of this concert: A Silence Haunts Me by Jake Runestad. The choir sings the “scenes” in poet Todd Bass’s interpretation of the famous Beethoven letter. Lamartine remarked upon the passion with which accompanist Hoskins “channels Beethoven.” Read more about Runestad’s fascinating journey in creation of the piece here.

Composer Paul Aitken tells another moving life story in How Can I Keep From Singing, for choir and string quartet. The work reflects the Aitken family journey through difficult times. Canadian-born Aitken and his wife, both of whom have sung with Chor Anno, now make their home in Nova Scotia.

The Chor Anno String Quartet (chorda quartum anno?) joins the singers and pianist Hoskins for Deep Peace an Irish Blessing set by Elaine Hagenberg. It’s a long warm embrace. In contrast, quartet violinist Darrell Hunt steps out to fiddle along with All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir. Potential for happy feet when this piece gets going.

Terre Neuve, French for Newfoundland, reflects Marie-Claire Saindon’s Franco-Ontarian heritage. In her journey as a modern composer pursuing mature issues and subjects within her culture she dove headfirst into collections of living poets and discovered Annick Perrot-Bishop. She offers this piece to honor Canada’s island province known as “The Rock.”

Serene and invigorating, tender and strong. From the traditional spiritual Like a River in My Soul, arranged by Tim Osiek, to the spiritual writings of Saint Ambrose – O Lux beata Trinitas by Andrej Makor – all of these pieces are choral (and poetic) art sung by dedicated choral artists. In this concert, the programming is also a work of art, skillfully crafted to welcome us back to live choral music.

Feel safe at this concert

Chor Anno intends to model high standards for your safety and comfort. All artists are vaccinated, and audience proof of vaccination (13 and older) will be required upon entry. Masks will be required for entry and attendance throughout the concert. Artists will be wearing masks. 

At Saturday’s concert venue you will find chairs, not pews, which will be positioned for 360 degree social distancing and adjustable to accommodate family and single attendees. In Sunday’s venue, alternate pews will be roped off to allow social distancing front to back.

There is no intermission in the approximately 80 minute concert, but a short stretch break will be offered. You are encouraged to be aware of your own needs and are welcome to attend all or a portion of the concert. Resilience is a personal journey.

Chor Anno’s first concert will be Saturday, September 18 7 PM at Vancouver United Church of Christ; the second on Sunday, September 18, at 2 PM, Moreland Presbyterian, Portland. Ticket price for this concert is “any amount you choose.” Be as generous as you can be.

Afterward, set a placeholder in your calendar for chorum cantus eodem tempore proximo anno – that choir singing the same time next year. You can just call them Chor Anno.

Pairings

Pre or post concert, here are a few “Choral Connections” to further convey the message and power this concert theme – resilience.

Visual Arts 

Artist Mary Whyte, recipient of the Portrait Society Medal of America Gold Medal, paints the peoples of America. This painting of Oregon veteran Casey, Battleground, is one of the 50 “We The People” watercolors (yes, watercolor) on tour right now. Whyte’s Patriot Arts Foundation is dedicated to connecting with veterans, telling their stories and honoring and inspiring them through art. In these and other works of Mary Whyte you might recognize resilience.

'Battleground', by Mary Whyte (watercolor, 41” x 29”). Casey, from Bend, Oregon (Army, 2010-2016). From Whyte's solo exhibition 'WE THE PEOPLE: Portraits of Veterans in America.'
Battleground, by Mary Whyte
watercolor, 41” x 29”
Casey, from Bend, Oregon
Army, 2010-2016
WE THE PEOPLE: Portraits of Veterans in America, Solo Exhibition by Mary Whyte

Food 

Crunch through a crusty layer of potato and scoop down in the saucy richness of a Shepherd’s Pie (or Cottage or Farmer). Easily individualized to fit all gastronomic preferences. This is soothing food whose origins speak to scrappy cooks of yore building something delicious out of any available food. 

Online

Just about any video any choir put out to the world in the long last sixteen months. Extra-CHOR-dinairy resilience! Remember, the PDX Choral Calendar is your resource for upcoming choral concerts.

Can we get another amen?

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

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