MYS Oregon to Iberia

Feeling the magic: Sing of March Madness with touring choirs, Masses by Rutter and Beethoven, Music In Our Schools Month, and more

Choral music in February and March, from Ashland to Tacoma.

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"Springtime," Norman Rockwell, 1927.
“Springtime,” Norman Rockwell, 1927.

As we preview all of our wonderful choral and instrumental opportunities in the month of March we are aware that everything that goes into this wonderful art that so enriches our lives is brought to us by “Music In Our Schools.” 

MUSICAL MANIA IN MARCH

Before we March away, let’s hang around in the last weekend in February for a quick shout out to Male Ensemble Northwest. The ensemble began – over some coffee table snacks in a living room on a lovely afternoon in 1982 – with Northwest music educator Howard Meharg and a couple of his choral friends. They are still going strong, concertizing and offering choral workshops to young singers. Their raison d’être, one you might share: “It is important that the personal soul is fed as well as the artistic” (M.E.N. website). Read more about M.E.N.’s history and take a look at the singer bios. These artists model their intention in life and work.

M.E.N. will be in concert in Salem on Saturday, February 24, 7:00 pm, at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. They will sing a shorter set as part of the St. Mark’s Sunday service on February 25 at 10:00 am. Your free will donation to the concert will support the church outreach.

One decade after M.E.N. was taking shape, a “female ensemble Northwest” was founded. Aurora Chorus kicks off March choral music-making with their “Motherland” concert in Portland on March 3. This program dedicated to “singing to women’s connectedness to earth” is their annual International Women’s Day concert, and this year they are joined by the Portland Symphonic Girlchoir and the Moroccan vocal and flamenco guitar duo Seffarine. 

The Portland Girlchoir will perform three pieces on their own, including Give Us Hope by Jim Papoulis who will be Guest Composer-In-Residence at the Girlchoir’s annual “Music In The Making” concert on April 14. The combined Aurora/Girlchoir musicians will perform Music is indeed, by PSG alumna Amy C. Burgess.

Aurora Chorus “Motherland” concert is Sunday, March 3, 4:00 pm at First Congregational Church, Portland. Tickets for the in-person concert are here. Virtual tickets can be accessed here. 

In the Christian tradition the most revered woman, the Virgin Mary, has been venerated in song. In Portland on March 9 and 10 (March 8 in Seattle) the artists of Cappella Romana present “In You, O Woman Full of Grace,” a two-part program of choral works which tells – in two parts – the story of Mary’s life and honors her exalted role as Mother of God. 

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You will hear music of John Taverner, James MacMillan and Sergei Rachmaninov recounting Mary’s life from ‘Annunciation to Dormition’ (her passing from earthly life). Words of the Angel is sung in special tribute to its composer, Fr. Ivan Moody, who died in January. Moody’s relationship with Cappella Romana has spanned decades. His large work, The Akathistos Hymn, was written for the choir in 1998. Just last year Cappella Romana performed the composer’s Greek Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

In the second part of the concert, ‘Mary as Intercessor’, you will hear the prayerful text of works by Brahms, Pärt, Robert Nathaniel Dett and the minimalist mediation “Totus Tuus” by Henryk Gorecki. 

Cappella Romana sings “Music for the Virgin Mary” in Seattle on Friday, March 8, 7:30 pm, St. James Cathedral, in Portland on Saturday, March 9, 8:00 pm, St. Mary’s Cathedral and in Lake Oswego on Sunday, March 10, 3:00 pm, Our Lady of the Lake Parish. Tickets for live and Digital on Demand concerts can be purchased here

Woman’s poetry is featured in Southern Oregon Repertory Singers’ concert on March 2 and 3. The concert title “There is another sky” is inspired by Emily Dickinson’s poem of the same name. You will hear this text, a favorite of choral composers, set by Alvin Trotman as well as works by Arvo Pärt, Ola Gjeilo, and Reena Esmail and an energizing gospel song arranged by Bobby McFerrin. SORS has commissioned a piece by Trotman which will be premiered in their annual James M. Collier First Light Festival of New Choral Music in May.

Alexandra Carwithen joined Southern Oregon Repertory Singers in 2022 and will soon graduate with her Music Education Degree from Southern Oregon University. In a recent SORS media email profiling the future teacher, Alexandra described her experience as an 8th grader participating in an All-State Choir Convention. She remembers “being moved and feeling the magic of singing in a choir with 100 other voices.” Music in our schools inspiring lifelong singers. 

Southern Oregon Repertory Singers wants you to know that “There is another sky” on Saturday, March 2, 7:30 pm and Sunday, March 3, 3:00 pm, at Southern Oregon University Recital Hall. Tickets and information can be found here

For choral folks in Salem and Portland the first weekend in March is an opportunity to hear two large works, choral/orchestral masses, one which premiered in the US in 2003, the other in Germany in 1807. 

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John Rutter’s Mass of the Children is a non-liturgical missa brevis (brief form of the mass ordinary). Willamette Master Chorus, the WMC Youth Honor Choir, soprano Catherine van der Salm, baritone Simon Staples, orchestra and organist offer this work of precious simplicity to the Salem community on March 2 and 3. 

The structure of Rutter’s 36-ish minute Mass is one with which you are familiar – Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Benedictus, Agnus Dei and Dona Nobis Finale. Omitted is the Credo, but included are texts from poetry of William Blake, two prayer adaptations by Rutter and two poems by Bishop Thomas Ken. The work “was written in response to a desire to compose a work that would bring children and adults together,” (composer website) a concept used by Benjamin Britten in his War Requiem. The children performing the Mass are an auditioned choir of youth from the Salem-Keizer area.

The ‘simplicity’ of the piece exists not in the learning or performing of it. It refers to the way in which Rutter brilliantly captures the purity and naiveté of its titular subject – perhaps that precious moment when we quietly peek around the corner to observe our child in imaginative play and our heart overflows. Listen here to the Rutter conducting the “Sanctus and Benedictus.”

Willamette Master Chorus rounds out their choral celebration of children with the music of Billy Joel (“Goodnight My Angel”); Kurt Bestor (“Walking in the Air”); and Stephen Sondheim’s “Children will Listen.” 

John Rutter’s Mass of the Children is presented by Willamette Master Chorus on Saturday, March 2, 3:00 pm and Sunday, March 3, 3:00 at Hudson Hall on the Willamette University Campus. Tickets can be purchased here

Massive Beethoven

If asked to name a famous Beethoven moment you might say the beginning of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (many of you would sing g-g-g-eb, f-f-f-d – maybe even in key). Next you might say the finale of Beethoven’s 9th. Oh, that powerful “Ode to Joy” does stick with us. How many of you would mention this?

It’s glorious, isn’t it? You can hear that “Gloria” and the other four Mass movements live when Choral Arts Ensemble and the Sunnyside Symphony Orchestra perform Beethoven’s Mass in C, Opus 86 on March 2 and 3. The quartet of soloists are soprano Anna Louis Martin, mezzo Sarah Maines, tenor Joseph Muir and bass Konstantin Kvach.

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The 46-ish minute work is not often performed in our community. Perhaps if a choir is going to mount one of few large choral/orchestral works of Beethoven they pick the largest of them all, the Missa Solemnis–almost twice as long and premiered toward the end of Beethoven’s composing life. But after you hear the Mass in C, you’ll be convinced that it is a masterpiece. 

Beethoven was rather new at setting sacred text, having composed only one sacred choral piece–Christ on the Mount of Olives–before the 1807 Mass in C. The Mass was a commission from Prince Esterházy in celebration of Princess Maria Josepha’s name day. Unfortunately the Prince was displeased, perhaps expecting a work similar to the great Masses by long-time Esterházy composer Joseph Haydn. The Prince just didn’t ‘get it’; you will when you hear it. 

CAE Artistic Director De Lyser remains on the podium for the Rimsky-Korsakov Russian Easter Festival, Opus 36, stepping in for SSO director Jonathon DeBruyn. Rimsky-Korsakov himself describe his sacred overture in this way: “The transition from the gloomy and mysterious evening of Passion Saturday to the unbridled pagan-religious merrymaking on Easter Sunday morning is what I was eager to reproduce in my Overture.” (From My Musical Life, Rimsky-Korsakov’s posthumously published autobiography.)

De Lyser spoke of his comfort with the orchestra in an email to OAW. Until recently, he said, “I always had a foot in both the choral and orchestral world.” He studied voice and trumpet in college and both choral and orchestral conducting at the graduate level. His career at University of Portland in 2010 began as Director of Orchestral Activities; today he heads the University Choral program. Enjoy and appreciate his dual talents in this concert.

CAE completes this “Feast of Sacred Music” program with three more choral works which you can learn about in detail in the excellent program notes written by Susan Wladaver-Morgan and Sunnyside Orchestra Director Jonathon DeBruyn.

Choral Arts Ensemble will present Beethoven’s Mass in C at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts on Saturday, March 2, 7:30 pm and Sunday, March 3, 3:00 pm. General seating tickets are available here.

Choral touring season is upon us

On Wednesday, March 6, Friends of Chamber Music bring VOCES8 to around 750 fortunate choral music lovers who got tickets to the concert at Portland’s Kaul Auditorium. Yup, the concert is sold out. No surprise really. This British vocal ensemble’s repertoire

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is a double-take list of composers – Byrd, Pärt, Runestad, Mumford and Sons – with center mass given to Bach’s brilliant double-choir motet “Komm, Jesu, Komm” (8 singers, double-choir, one on a part, very cool). See the VOCES8 repertoire on the FOCM program page. Their precise tuning will curl your toes and their adroit style shifting – uncanny. Listen here to the VOCES8 sound.

Alas and alack, they are also a sell out in their March 8 Ashland, Oregon concert sponsored by Chamber Music Concerts. Golly, this is a bittersweet tale. 

The positive news in all of this is the wonderful work Friends of Chamber Music and Chamber Music Concerts are doing in their communities. Check out their websites for the full line up of future opportunities, choral and otherwise, offered throughout the year. 

VOCES8 ends their Spring 2024 US tour in Oregon in Portland on Wednesday, March 6 and Ashland on Friday, March 8. 

Yes, the choral concert touring season is upon us. The Concordia College Choir leaves Minnesota on February 24, hits the highline (North Dakota and Montana), pops into Spokane and arrives in the Sea-Tac area two days before their gigs in Portland (March 9), Eugene (March 10) and Medford (March 12). Between March 1 and 10, Dr. Michael Culloton and the students perform every single day. What they need when they begin their Oregon tour on the 9th is some healthy Portland food (‘cause pizza will be getting pretty old by then), a beautiful place in which to sing (Trinity Episcopal Cathedral) and our attendance as thanks for offering their lovely singing to our community.

The Concordia Choir performs in Portland on Saturday, March 9, 7 pm, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral; in Eugene on Sunday, March 10, 4 pm, Central Lutheran Church; and Medford on Tuesday, March 12, 7 pm, First Presbyterian Church. All tickets to The Concordia Choir concert tour may be purchased here. Tickets are free to all students – youth through college – but you must reserve your seat on-line and bring your ID.

Holy overlapping tours! There’s still one more choir heading our way.

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It’s the Yale Glee Club. Double-breasted insignia jackets and a bulldog banner? No indeed. This is not the Yale Glee Club of famous alumni Charles Ives or Cole Porter. The YGC of today–actually since 1970–is a mixed SATB choir open to Yale students of any discipline or collegiate level. This latter-day singing community sponsors a yearly Emerging Composers Competition and performs often with their sibling groups Yale Camerata and Schola Cantorum. In fact, upon their return to New Haven they will begin in earnest to prepare the Benjamin Britten War Requiem with the Camerata and Yale’s own University symphony orchestra. 

You can hear them in Portland on March 11, day three of their Northwest US tour (after Seattle and Tacoma). And hosting and singing with them is our own Portland State Chamber Choir. The two choirs perform separately and together, with YGC presenting a varied program including Rachmaninoff, a Shaker tune arrangement and two world premieres, one of which is Ten piedad de nosotros (Have mercy on us) by Ismael Huerta Marin, winner of the 2023 Yale Emerging Composers Competition. Yes, they will also perform Gaudeamus Igitur, whose stentorian beerhall tune (think Brahms Academic Overture) and, uh, unrefined original text helped jumpstart the Glee Club around 1841. Preview the rest of YGC’s repertoire here

Yale Glee Club sings with Portland State University Chamber choir on Monday, March 11, 7:30 at First United Methodist Church, Portland. Tickets and information here

Portland State University’s trio of choirs – Rose, Thorn and Chamber Choir – also invite you to attend the continuation of their “From Dust to Dawn” series on March 1 and 3. This installment, “Golden,” addresses life and light found even in journeys of darkness. Movements from Mozart’s Requiem, which the Chamber Choir is preparing for their appearance with the Oregon Symphony in April, and works of Rosephayne Powell and Elaine Hagenburg will be performed. Organist Jonas Nordwall is a featured guest.

Enjoy the combined choirs of PSU on Friday, March 1, 7:30 pm and Sunday, March 3, 4:00 for “Golden” at First United Methodist Church, Portland. Tickets can be found here.

Celebrate in singing again with Coty Raven Morris and the PSU choirs for a community choral event, “Build Again”, on March 4. Morris is PSU’s newly appointed Hinckley Assistant Professor of Music Education and Social Justice (read more about Morris here) and recently returned from the American Choral Directors Association conference in Spokane (read more about that here) where she co-presented a workshop and facilitated a choral reading session conducted by PSU students. Join Morris, the Portland State University Choirs and guest artists PSU Choral Collective in a mix of classical greats and pop hits, with a community sing, in celebration of “Music in Our Schools” month.

Coty Raven Morris. Photo courtesy of PSU.
Coty Raven Morris. Photo courtesy of PSU.

PSU Social Justice Choirs initiative invites you to “Build Again”, Monday, March 4, 7:30, First Christian Church, Portland. Tickets are free (with donations appreciated) but you must reserve your seat for this event in advance here.

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Honoring the Heritage that Honed the New

The Oregon Chorale sings “Songs of Scandinavia” on March 9 and 10, a concert celebrating Scandinavian languages and musical traditions. If a Portland choir needs the best modeling and advice about singing in Norwegian, Danish, Swedish or Finnish, who they gonna call? The Portland Nordic Chorus, of course.

The Oregon Chorale has programmed pieces by contemporary Scandinavian composers, names you might know well – Ola Gjeilo, Kim André Arnesen and Gjermund Larsen- all Scandinavian male composers in their mid-forties writing some beautiful choral works. And if you’ve been around the choral world long enough you’ve enjoyed some of the music – like Cry Out and Shout – of Norwegian composer Kurt Nystedt (1915-2014). The Scandinavian choral traditions wove through American choral music in part thanks to F. Melius Christiansen, who founded the St. Olaf College Choir in 1911. 

Now, meet the Portland Nordic Chorus, founded in 1905; choral tradition deeply rooted in our community. Want to hear the stories of some of the family lines that can be traced back to those early years, meet these good folks when you attend this concert. 

Portland Nordic Chorus. Front seated, left to right: Alana Mapes, Lila Otto, Jody Jones (sister of Mapes); Back row: Kelly Otto (son of Lila), Jerry Jones. Photo courtesy of PNC.
Portland Nordic Chorus. Front seated, left to right: Alana Mapes, Lila Otto, Jody Jones (sister of Mapes); Back row: Kelly Otto (son of Lila), Jerry Jones. Photo courtesy of PNC.

In the early years the membership was limited to men. Hvor trist! Yes, how sad, indeed. But not unusual; remember, Yale Glee Club started the same way. But the Portland Nordic women formed their own choir and then, in the 70s the two choirs merged. The choir you will hear singing with the Oregon Chorale is multi-generational and some members will appear in nationalistic festive garb. Under their director, William F. Kuhn, they gather each week in singing but also gather in pride of culture and background. This should be a wonderful choral event.

The Oregon Chorale and the Portland Nordic Chorus join in “Songs of Scandinavia” on Saturday, March 9, 4 pm, St. Andrews Presbyterian, Portland and Sunday, March 10, 4 pm, Trinity Lutheran Church, Hillsboro. Tickets can be purchased here

In Medio Scholarum

Music in our Schools is what Portland Choir In Medio is all about in their third annual High School Invitational Concert on Wednesday, March 20. “Sing My Child” honors In Medio’s mission of “supporting young singers and showing them how choral music can be part of their lives” (website). Bravo to In Medio, and several other adult choirs in our communities, who appreciate the value of intergenerational music making. In this concert, after singing songs on their own, some students witness their own directors in artistic practice as In Medio musicians. It is a powerful image. Enjoy the diverse repertoire and participate in the joy of adults and youth together, feeding the “personal soul as well as the artistic.”

In Medio invites you to “Sing My Child”, Wednesday, March, 20, 7:00 pm, Grant High School Auditorium. Donations are gladly accepted for this free event but you must register for your ticket here

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Hey, you say, there are lots more concerts in March! Tom Hard’s PDX Choral Calendar certainly lists several more. Check them out. Add them to your personal calendar right now and then watch this space. In the weeks ahead we will provide more detail about the excellent concerts coming up in later March and April. 

CONNECTIONS

Kudos to Portland State University on streamlining their on-line access to arts events and ticketing. It’s more than just good business practice. Our colleges and universities serve important roles in the culture of the community; they honor themselves and us by providing information about and easy access to the wonderful talents of students, faculty and guests. 

Shout out to Pacific University’s “Celebrating Black History Concert” featuring celebrated Portland gospel artist LaRhonda Steele on Friday, February 23, 7:30 pm, Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center. Read more about it here.

And also check out the Linfield College upcoming recital of Ukrainian music “Songs of Love and Freedom” on February 29th. You will hear Linfield Concert Choir performing folk songs in collaboration with ethnomusicologist Inna Kovtun and virtuosic master Valentyn Lysenko on the bandura (Ukrainian harp). Ukrainian art songs will be offered by Anton Belov and Stanislav Serebriannikov. Linfield College “Songs of Love and Freedom” is Thursday, February 29, 7 pm, Melrose Hall, McMinnville. More information can be found here.

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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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