Chamber Music Northwest The Old Church Strings Portland Oregon

Let the music make us whole

Voices in Vancouver; PGMC at The Reser; Aurora Chorus sings Joan Szymko.


The choral music spotlight is on Clark County, Washington this March. Three choral conductors invite you to share a banquet of choral works – to participate in the 2022 rebirth of choral music in Vancouver. 

Introducing conductors Jana Hart of Vancouver Master Chorale, and April Duvic and Janet Reiter of Reprise Choir. Vancouver music lovers can now stop laughing at the word “introducing”–these three women have had a hand in shaping the fine choral music in southern Washington for over thirty years. 

Hart–professional opera and choral singer–moved to Vancouver in 1990 and dedicated herself to teaching elementary and middle school music, retiring just recently. She’s been Conductor and Musical Director of the Vancouver Master Chorale since 2010. VMC, whose original name was Vancouver USA Singers, has been going for over 70 years. On Mar. 19 and 20 Hart and the choir present Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in their spring concert, “Rebirth.”

Jana Hart conducts Vancouver Master Chorale. Photo courtesy of the choir.
Jana Hart conducts Vancouver Master Chorale. Photo courtesy of the choir.

A Washington State Arts in Education Grant has enabled VMC to collaborate with Vancouver’s Skyview High School Choir, conducted by Philip Denton. Denton has served several musical arts – orchestral, musical theater and choral – for many years at Skyview. And now he can offer his students the opportunity to perform the Fauré Requiem. Magical!

Skyview choral and video production students begin the concert by sharing the ways in which they kept going through the covid restrictions. In 2020 the choir joined 17,573 other singers around the world to participate in composer Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir performance of “Sing Gently.” Denton will conduct Skyview in this piece under the video montage. (For more information on that Whitacre Virtual Choir experience, listen to this great NPR “All Things Considered” coverage from July 18, 2020).

Denton will also conduct the orchestra and oboist Victoria Racz in “Adagio” from Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in d minor. “I thought that was Bach” is a likely remark upon hearing the piece. Nope. Bach repurposed it for harpsichord; Vivaldi recycled it into one of his pieces. You can hear it in this concert in its original form performed by a master musician.

Organist in this concert is Laurie Chinn. Hart and Chinn have been performing together for 30 years, and Hart is pleased that we can hear Chinn perform the beautiful organ role Fauré wrote in the Requiem. Fauré was an organist and he gave that instrument an integral voice alongside the strings, winds, harp and timpani.

In the opening movement of the Requiem, “Introit and Kyrie,” Fauré employs compositional techniques (long held tones, chromaticism) to let us know that we have entered a solemn moment. But, Hart writes, ”Fauré eschewed the operatic wrath and hellfire that mark the Requiems of Verdi, Mozart, Berlioz and other composers.” She acknowledges there is a touch of wrath later in the work, when baritone soloist Ben España delivers the “Liberame” (Deliver Me)–after which the chorus tries to tamp down the angst by repeating the “Agnus Dei” with its lines “light perpetual-may it shine on them.” Earlier, in the “Offertory,” España does get to intone the prayerful plea “allow them, Lord, to pass from death to life.” And at the end of the “Offertory” you will hear one of the greatest choral “Amens” ever written. 

Upper and lower voices exchange the unison statements in the “Sanctus,” ascend to the “Hosanna” proclamation, then relinquish everything to solo violin, setting up the precious “Pie Jesu.” Hart has performed the solo “Pie Jesu,” which she says “is so in your face honest, naked. No great leaps: nothing dramatic. It just needs to be sung with such control, so effortlessly. Time just stops.”

Let’s examine how brilliantly Fauré places the simple melody above unobtrusive harmonic treatment–oh, bother the analysis. Fauré didn’t write “Pie Jesu” to impress. Just embrace the purity and the beauty of one of the most beloved works in soprano vocal literature. Sopranos Alexis Balkowitsch and Hailey Edmeades will solo in the “Pie Jesu” on alternate nights.

The Requiem is a bit harmonically reserved for 1889, just on the cusp of the so-called modernist period (Messiaen, Ravel, Poulenc). During the same period Fauré also wrote the exquisite song cycle “La Bonne Chanson” for soprano and piano (and later strings), which demonstrates his broader harmonic language. Here’s the magnificent Elly Ameling singing that work.

Fauré took his time writing the Requiem. The “Liberame”, originally a standalone, wasn’t added until 1890. The “Hostias” was written in 1889. He kept at it – perfecting it – even after its debut. In 1924, he was laid to rest to the choral masterpiece. Do you think he had any idea that his work would bring solace and serenity to so many for these 132 years?

Vancouver Master Chorale with Skyview High School Choir performs at First Presbyterian Church, Vancouver. Tickets for the Saturday, Mar. 19, 7:00 pm and Sunday, Mar. 20, 3:00 pm concerts may be purchased at the VMC website

Reprise: doing it again

Chamber Music Northwest The Old Church Strings Portland Oregon

Janet Reiter and April Duvic are the dynamic choral-conducting duo of Reprise choir. Similar to the Portland duo of Wendy Bamonte and Alissa Deeter–co-Leaders of Portland Symphonic Choir–Reiter and Duvic share all responsibilities, with a mutual appreciation of their strengths and preferences. 

Speaking of her colleague, Duvic said “Janet’s got the jazz piano skills.” But Duvic’s got keyboard skills, too; they co-accompany the choir. Their choral curating begins when they get together over the summer, music strewn about, playing and singing through each piece. Who conducts what is usually decided amicably–but, Duvic jokes, “sometimes we have to toss a coin.”

Janet Reiter, left, and April Duvic. Photo courtesy of Reprise.
Janet Reiter, left, and April Duvic. Photo courtesy of Reprise.

Seton Catholic College Preparatory alumni will remember Reiter from her years there; she also directed the choirs at Mountain View High School for 20 years and taught vocal jazz at Clark Community College. Her colleague there: April Duvic. Duvic nurtured choral students at Clark Community College for 26 years, the last seven as Director of Choral Activities. Prior to Clark College Duvic also taught high school and middle school music for 13 years.

Some of Reprise’s singers have sung with one or both directors for years. Several are music educators or church musicians. This is why Reprise sings only one concert each year, strategically avoiding the busiest choral seasons around holidays, just like another choir based in Vancouver – Chor Anno. Small world–Duvic and Reiter have sung in that group since its inception.

In a choral-rich community like Vancouver there are some wonderful cross-choral happenings–like Ramases Juarez Reyes now singing alongside his former middle school teacher, Bob Barrett. And the age range of the 32 singers–from Reyes, 19, to the singer of longest life, Linda Dillard–is impressive. Keep singing, Linda! Reprise is a lifelong choir.

In fulfillment of their mission to collaborate with school musicians, Reprise, now in their 5th season, will appear with Fort Vancouver High School on Thursday, March 17 in a joint choral endeavor. FVHS choral students, conducted by Reprise singer Benjamin Bouton and McLoughlin Middle School Choir, conducted by Bethany Schweitzer Goshorn, will perform some of their own pieces. Bouton will conduct the combined choir selection, a rousing 2016 arrangement of “Gospel Ship” by Gwyneth Walker.

“Gospel Ship” had its beginnings in Baptist Churches of the Southern Mountains (Appalachian, Great Smoky, Blue Ridge). The Carter Family – Alvin Pleasant Carter (A.P.), wife Sara and A.P.’s sister-in-law Maybelle, mother of June Carter Cash – recorded it in 1936. Listen here to a recording of the Carter Family singing “Gospel Ship.” 

This Reprise program takes its name from “Let The Music Fill Your Soul” by Jacob Navarud. Alto Katie Hebner said this about the piece and about choral singing: it is “one of my favorite pieces in the concert series; it asks that we come together, breathe together and let the music make us whole” (from choir notes).

Works on this concert tell stories of healing, togetherness and hope. Emily Lau, Reed College faculty member, selected a traditional Hindu mantra as the text for “Universal Prayer” from A Mass. Washington composer Reginald Unterseher set music to the concept of the golden rule in “Love Your Neighbor.” In Elaine Hagenberg’s “Song from Silence” (2020) the choir sings of healing and hope during covid. Rosephanye Powell chose the poetry of Langston Hughes’ “I Dream a World” in which he dreams of a world where “love covers the earth.” And Rollo Dilworth looked to Maya Angelou’s thoughts to compose an SSA piece, “On the Pulse Of This New Day.”

Offering balance to pieces by living composers of the last few decades, Duvic and Reiter give a nod to the romantic era in a song by Brahms arranged for choir by James McCullough – Op. 63, No. 8 “O wüsst ich doch den Weg zurück” (Ah! If I but knew the way back). Here’s how Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau interprets the original, in German with English translation.

Other “oldies” have been arranged as choral goodies: Paul Simon’s “Old Friends” arranged by Linda Scheuffele and “No Time” in which that iconic camp tune is partnered with “Rise, Oh Fathers” in a TTB arrangement by Susan Brumfield. 

Reprise welcomes all to their concerts; there is no admission price, but a donation will be greatly appreciated. In addition to the Fort Vancouver Thursday, Mar. 17, 7 pm appearance, they perform on Saturday, Mar. 19, 7 pm at First United Methodist Church, Vancouver and on Sunday, Mar. 20, 3 pm at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Vancouver

These two concerts ended on the same dates due to health concerns in January and skirting around school spring breaks in March. But it’s a win for Vancouver/Portland area choral lovers. One Reprise choir member, in a show of singer solidarity, stated the only downside: “we can’t go to each other’s concerts.” But the rest of us can. 

Looking to weeks ahead across the river

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus takes flight!

“Through uplifting pop songs about inner strength and seeking new horizons, PGMC will guide audiences up and through the clouds then back home again,” says the concert promo. Looks like Portland Gay Men’s Chorus will soar in their spring concert “Learning to Fly.” But Richard Jung, Executive Director of PGMC, was already sky high in a recent conversation. The choir had just received confirmation that singer/songwriter Morgxn (Morgan Isaac Karr) will appear with the choir on their upcoming concert. 

How did that happen? Chorist and arranger Ash Shirazi had arranged the hit song “Wonder” for the chorus; “Wonder” is the popular collaborative composition of numerous artists, including Morgxn and Sara Bareilles. “When Morgxn heard about this he offered to join us – how could we refuse?” (from media notes). The artist, who is just coming off a concert tour, told PGMC that he would appear because he believed in their mission.

Mary McCarty returns this season to conduct PGMC. The choir did not need an introduction to this longtime bright light on the Portland choral music scene–McCarty’s been associated with PGMC for 17 years, serving as Associate Conductor and, since 2006, as conductor of their a cappella subgroup Cascade. “Mary,” said Jung, “figures prominently in PGMC and has been integral to the choir’s success since 2004.” Side shout: Cascade will be performing their own first ever live concert on Saturday, May 7, Aladdin Theater, 8 pm. More info here

PGMC expands its audience reach in its choice to perform at Patricia Reser Center for the Arts in Beaverton. They join other Portland-named organizations – Portland Baroque Orchestra, PDX Jazz, Portland Piano International – in appreciating the benefits to cultivating new audiences and further serving the collective community.

You can catch Morgxn and PGMC at the central Beaverton venue on Friday, Mar. 25, 8 pm and Saturday, Mar. 26, 8 pm. Find more information and get tickets at The Reser or at Portland Gay Men’s Chorus.

On March 8, International Women’s Day was celebrated around the globe; on Sunday, Mar. 27, Aurora Chorus gathers once again to commemorate the date and to celebrate all women. On the last Sunday in this US Women’s History month, composer and former Aurora Artistic Director Joan Szymko returns to lead the chorus in her own work Lifting As We Climb. The composition came about as a commission by the Dr. Catherine Roma Women Composers Commissioning Project (read more about the project here).

Composer Joan Szymko. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Composer Joan Szymko. Photo courtesy of the artist.

In 2019, 18 choirs signed up to commission and perform the work; only 4 were able to mount the work in live performance before the pandemic shutdown. Portland Lesbian Choir was one of those four. Denver Women’s Chorus was another, and DWC member Karen Shapiro wrote:

We received updates on the text and the length of the piece, but we didn’t yet know what the music would sound like or how the work would address the controversial and often oversimplified story of suffrage. As we began to rehearse the work in August 2019, I was relieved to see that composer Joan Szymko had strived to amplify the voices of Black suffragists and help audiences to understand how the movement evolved to ultimately focus on suffrage for white women at the expense of women of color, many of whom had fought alongside them.

Shapiro, Karen. Denver Women’s Chorus, Rocky Mountain Arts Association News. Oct. 13, 2020. Sarah Gumina DWC blog. 

Szymko’s work is in four movements and scored for women’s choir, 6 speakers, piano, alto saxophone and drum kit. Szymko also wrote the libretto, compiling the text from historic narratives of the women’s suffrage movement. This performance is on Sunday, March 27, 4 pm, First Congregational Church, Portland. Tickets and more information at Aurora Chorus.

Composer Joan Szymko at the drums on Marti’s Music Kitchen.
Composer Joan Szymko at the drums on Marti’s Music Kitchen.

Be prepared: concert health protocols are in flux. Some organizations are governed by the venue protocol; some are determining – at this very moment – their own. Be prepared with vaccination card, test results and/or masks. Also be prepared to encounter your own shifting comfort levels and have what you need on hand. And be kind.


Eric is Trending

Yup, Eric Whitacre–in addition to being a really nice guy–is very popular. So popular, in fact, that tickets for the recently announced Oregon Repertory Singers “Afternoon With Eric Whitacre” concerts on April 23 and 24 are going to go fast. We’ll have more information on that later, but visit the ORS website to learn more now.


Friends of Chamber Music series still has tickets for leading German choral ensemble, Amarcord. From medieval plainsong to a cappella arrangements, they promise a concert of breathtaking choral sound and “a good dose of charm and humor.” (FOCM notes). They perform at St. Philip Neri Church on Sunday, April 3, at 3 pm. More information and tickets here

Sad tidings

Two Portland orchestras have decided to cancel or postpone their choral/orchestral concerts. Portland Baroque Orchestra’s Messiah (with Cappella Romana) will not take place. (NOTE: their Bach Cantata Concerts on March 20 and 21 are still on.) The Oregon Festival Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (with Portland Symphonic Choir) is postponed, with the intent to perform it in the fall.

For the love of green food

Yes, Dr. Seuss. Some of us love green food. And green food week is nigh. No, not your corned beef, but colcannon

Colcannon that’s lumpy,

colcannon that’s milky;

potato and cabbage

with butter, so silky.

Garnish with onion,

or stir in some ham;

For Irish colcannon,

I’m ready, I am.

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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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