From the Edge – Notes from Rehearsal


So! We’re done with the serious (for now) and now we’re doing something fun. The day after a rigorous concert weekend we jumped right into our repertoire for Christmas Pops. With three weeks until the next concert, there’s a pro and a con to this. Sure, we’re all are familiar with most of the holiday songs, but there are various arrangements of every song and making sure we sing what’s printed in the music is sometimes a tricky thing. Making sure we sing all the correct notes at the same time is still the goal, but without that amount of accuracy in our performance it could go from really great choir sound to karaoke night really quickly.

To add a little pressure we’re also premiering a new composition. Even though the whole work is about 15 minutes long, it still requires quite a bit of challenging note and rhythm-learning. It’s a daunting task but I love to take on a challenge.

The piece is called Psalms for Leo, composed by Jonathan Dove. The original choir who commissioned this piece was The Bach Choir in England. This work is in memory of Leopold de Rothschild, who was a member of The Bach Choir for fifty years and later served as President of the choir.

Here’s a peek at the first page of the score:

The score itself is a marvelous composition. Jonathan Dove doesn’t just put together a sweet sounding piece for Leo, instead he weaves together a number of vocal lines that in places complement each other and other places there’s a glorious minor-key dissonance that resolves once in a while. Also, the music theory nerd in me got excited to find out that one of the movements is in the Mixolydian mode. The one feature about the Mixolydian mode that makes it “mixolydian” is that the seventh scale degree note is a lowered by a semitone. The rest of the notes are what would make up the major scale built on the fifth of that key signature. Let me stop there. I feel your eyes are starting to gloss over.

For the text Jonathan chose to compose music for Hebrew translations of Psalms 148, 27, and 19. Psalm 19 is very fitting to honor the devotion Leo had for the Bach Choir.

Here’s an interview with Jonathan Dove and conductor of the Bach Choir, David Hill, describing the piece and how it came together for them and the children’s choir they invited to sing with them.

Unfortunately I haven’t found any recordings of the London premiere, but it must have been a wonderous experience considering they have at least 220 singers. I thought the Chorus of Westerly was huge, but The Bach Choir takes the cake. If you’re in the Westerly, Rhode Island area on December 21st, please consider attending our Christmas Pops concert! It’s always a good time. (Buy tickets online)


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