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A blog following my musical activities

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Reflections on our Lessons & Carols Service

December 18, 2012 2 Comments

Loyola High School Choir and Orchestra, Lessons & Carols 2012

Thursday, December 13th, I conducted our annual Lessons & Carols service at St. John’s Cathedral, Los Angeles. This year, I used my previous model from when the choir sang school liturgies. I taught my academic music students to sing and included them in the service.

It was very successful in so many ways. After the service, I invited the students to reflect on the experience. I am reprinting some of their quotes in this post. The overwhelmingly positive reaction really reminds me how powerful music can be when it is conscientiously taught and prepared. Sometimes, being in the trenches of music-making can obscure the original reasons for becoming a musician in the first place.

When I started singing I never thought it would be so fun but so serious at the same time. This experience has made me more interested in music and kind of makes me want to join the choir. Kenneth An

This was much more than I had ever expected it to be. It will be one of the most memorable parts of my high school career. Jack Dunn

The Loyola Choir

It took a lot of hard work but it payed off in the end. If I had this opportunity again, I would definitely do it! Kevin Fraher

It was really intense but super fun at the same time. I was happy that my parents were able to watch me be a part of something great. Raphael Mercurio

It was amazing singing with everyone. It gave me a sense of euphoria. Paul Ostrick

I did not expect it to be as powerful as it was. Sam Ostrin

I must say that this was one of the greatest experiences so far…of my life. My parents said that it looked like I was really enjoying myself- and I was! Matthew Gorski

Loyola music appreciation students

The actual performance was unbelievable and overwhelming. This was truly a once-in-a lifetime opportunity and I am so grateful. It was truly a memorable night. Chase Matherly

This concert was a big deal. Everyone should be able to participate and realize anyone can sing.
Before the performance I didn’t expect as much as what I received from this experience. Dominique Royall

This experience was actually really surprising for me. Coming into this concert, I was dreading it, but I actually had a ton of fun.
Lastly, this entire experience and class has made me appreciate music much more. Mostly because I i have realized how difficult it is to sing properly and to play music. I now look at singers and musicians as people who put a ton of work into their careers. Luke Nassif

This performance, at first, was something I was not looking forward to. At first, I thought it would not be fun and I would just go through the motions of practice.
Once I got to the cathedral, I realized this would actually be a really fun experience. Once the concert started, I was nervous, but I actually had a really good time.
Although at first I was not looking forward to the concert, I now know it was actually a really fun experience. Riley Renick

In this concert, I realized how good all the classes could be if we tried hard and set our minds to doing well. I also faced a fear of getting on stage and performing in front of a crowd.
The concert also created unity and a bond between me and the rest of the performers. It felt good to be a part of something big like the concert.
The concert also created a memory that will always last for me and my parents. Owen O’Brien

For the Lessons & Carols, I would honestly say it was an amazing experience. At first I was thinking: “Wow…singing?” But at Loyola, the singing skills I have obtained has probably taught me significantly more than the 8 years at my old school. Just the experience and singing with an orchestra had a life-changing effect on me. Matt Fang

Music space at St. John’s Cathedral

The overall concert was a whole new experience for me. I have never done something so incredibly awesome as that. The energy in there was simply amazing. I hope we do something similar to this second semester. My first time doing something like this was a little scary, but when you’re up there, you just get going and remember your technique and it is just natural.
It is very similar to playing basketball in front of a thousand people. You don’t wanna mess up, but the people around you are there with you ready to help. Spencer Bailey

I really didn’t expect so many people to go and see us perform. It was really awesome that so many people wanted to hear us sing.
Overall, it was a fun night. We played perfectly as planned and doing it with all my friends made it a memorable experience. Thomas Zetino

The whole experience was awesome. I expected it to be a little boring when I first heard about it. As it came closer to the event, I began to get excited for it.
The performance was really cool and a lot of fun. It was also nice to learn a new skill such as singing. I had a blast and will remember this experience the rest of my life. Josef Topete

Singing Bach’s motet “Lobet den Herrn” BWV 230

April 9, 2012 1 Comment

This Easter, we sang Bach’s Lobet Den Herrn as our offertory anthem. Working on this piece for several months, we found that Bach’s motets encapsulate the essence of his genius as a composer. His command of musical complexity and counterpoint provides an excitement and freshness challenging to both listener and performer. It doesn’t surprise me that Mozart heard the motets and exclaimed “Here is something one can learn from.“

Lobet Den Herrn is the shortest of Bach’s motets. It is unique in several ways: it is in a single movement, it is his only motet composed for four voices, and it does not include a chorale tune. “Lobet den herrn” begins with a fugal rising arpeggio figure and a relentlessly joyful countersubject that continues through the second subject, “un preisit“. After a short reflective middle section “Denn seine Gnade“, “Lobet” culminates with a joyous Alleluia.

We sang this work with colla parte strings and continuo provided by our exceptional organist, Duane Steadman.

St. Andrew’s Sings Rheinberger Stabat Mater in g-minor Op. 138

April 2, 2012 2 Comments


For the 2012 Palm Sunday Liturgy, we sang the complete Josef Rheinberger Stabat Mater in g-minor Op. 138. I have excerpted some excellent program notes below:

The name of Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901) is not well known to American concert goers, yet his music is so well loved by influential German and Austrian musicians that there now exists a 50-volume critical edition of his complete works in score. One of the editors of that edition gives us a glimpse of Rheinberger’s style by suggesting that rather than regarding the composer as “a lesser Brahms,” we should think of him as “a South German Fauré.”

A child prodigy who began playing organ publicly at the age of seven, Rheinberger began studies at the Munich Conservatory in 1851, eventually mastering counterpoint and fugue, as well as composing over a hundred works by 1859, when he finally deemed one good enough to be published as his Opus 1.

At the end of his studies, he stayed on at the Conservatory, growing into one of its most legendary teachers. Hans von Bülow said “Rheinberger is a truly ideal teacher of composition, unrivalled in the whole of Germany and beyond in skill, refinement and devotion to his subject; in short, one of the worthiest musicians and human beings in the world.” Among Rheinberger’s students were Humperdinck, Wolf-Ferrari, Furtwängler, and the Americans Horatio Parker and George Chadwick.

As a composer, Rheinberger is best known today by organists and Catholic choirmasters. However, his output of secular songs and ballads for solo voices and/or choir is at least as large as his body of work for the church. And for his texts, Rheinberger turned to some of the same German poets whose verse had been set by Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. The poem Die Nacht by Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857) attracted Rheinberger’s attention in 1859, when he set it as a simple strophic song for voice and piano. Twelve years later, the composer revisited that setting, transforming it in nearly every respect: harmonically, formally, and in terms of scoring and overall length. The solo voice became a four-part choir, and the accompaniment was rescored for a chamber ensemble of violin, viola, ‘cello, and piano, whose delicate figurations evoke the hushed sounds of the nocturnal forest. The later version of Die Nacht is also harmonically resourceful: though a composition in D-flat major, it modulates to E major just before the fourth stanza’s reference to the dawn (“the stars rise up and descend, when shalt thou come, morning wind”).

As part of his duties at the Court Church of All Saints in Munich, in 1881 Rheinberger composed eleven motets, including the four which were published as Op. 133. Like many of his Catholic colleagues (Anton Bruckner among them), Rheinberger’s instinct in composing for the church called for the harmonic language of his instrumental and secular vocal works. Nevertheless, from his earliest days inunich he was aware of the Cecilian movement, which advocated reformation of Catholic liturgical music after the “excesses” of the Viennese classical composers. The Palestrina style of 16th-century
counterpoint was held up as an ideal; understandably, creative musicians of the 19th century regarded that model as an artistic straitjacket. So Rheinberger sought a middle ground, remaining mindful of liturgical requirements, while subtly manifesting his stylistic individuality. With the six-voice motets of Op. 133, Rheinberger clearly had the Palestrina model in mind (perhaps most notably in the second motet, Meditabor), yet each motet is–as wrote Theodor Kroyer–“a paragon of six-voice composition, nurtured in utmost freedom.”

The Stabat Mater Op. 138 originated in a detail of Rheinberger’s generally poor health throughout most of his adult life. For many years, he suffered a disability of his right hand, making composition increasingly difficult. His hand broke out with an open ulcer in the first half of 1884. Then in the summer he received therapy at the Wildbad Kreuth, greatly easing the pain in his hand. Rheinberger revealed to his wife that he had made a vow to the Mother of God that if his health improved, he would compose a Stabat Mater (his second). Of this setting, Sebastian Hammelsbeck has written that the second setting is essentially a liturgical work, which does not draw undue attention to itself either by excessive length or by highly decorative features. Instead of the virtuosic combination of modern and ancient musical styles it is in a purified sacred idiom which has incorporated elements of all these styles, and which only the harmony of the day kept distantly in touch with the events outside the church….

Perhaps with a glance over his shoulder toward the Cecilians, Rheinberger composed an entirely unsentimental devotional work, which by its very restraint conveys an expression of the utmost reverence.

John Shepard
Head of the Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library – University of California, Berkeley

Music List at St. Andrew’s for January 2012

January 13, 2012

1-15-12 Epiphany 2 7 477 Offertory: Verleih uns Frieden by Mendelssohn

Communion: These are They Which Follow the Lamb by Goss 439, 497 371

1-22-12 Epiphany 3 535 661 Offertory: Cantate Domino by Pitoni

Communion: If Ye Love Me by Tallis 653 321 537

1-29-12 Epiphany 4 440 533 Offertory: Deus Misereatur by Amy Beach

Communion: Psalm 23 by Bobby McFerrin 448, 544 380

2-5-12 Epiphany 5 135 493 Offertory: There is a Balm in Gilead by Dawson

Communion: Let Us Break Bread Together 567, 411 432

2-12-12 Epiphany 6 616 546 Offertory: God So Loved the World by Stainer

Communion: Be Thou My Vision by Chilcott 552, 658 410

2-19-12 Transfiguration 460 135 Offertory: The Lord is My Light by Noon;

Communion: Cantique de Jean Racine by Faure 339, 366

Heyókȟa Te Deum: A collision of Native American and Catholic Spirituality by James MacMillan

January 13, 2012

By Sioux Chief Black Hawk (born 1832)


I recently found an old recording I made with my former high school choir of the Heyoka Te Deum by James MacMillan. I am not sure how this piece slipped my mind because it is unusual and terrific!

A Heyoka, or Heyókȟa, is a “sacred clown” of the Lakota.

Heyókȟa are thought of as being backwards-forwards, upside-down, or contrary in nature. This spirit is often manifest by doing things backwards or unconventionally—riding a horse backwards, wearing clothes inside-out, or speaking in a backwards language. For example, if food were scarce, a Heyókȟa would sit around and complain about how full he was; during a baking hot heat wave a Heyókȟa would shiver with cold and put on gloves and cover himself with a thick blanket. Similarly, when it is 40 degrees below freezing he will wander around naked for hours complaining that it is too hot.

– from Wikipedia

The Heyókȟa are chosen in dreams. Part clown, part shaman, they symbolize the sacred, the Wakȟáŋ, by satirizing society. They ask the difficult questions by saying things others might be afraid to say so that the community might consider topics not usually thought about, or look at things in a different way.

Heyókȟa are both mirrors and teachers. They provoke laughter in times of despair or stir up chaos when people are too comfortable to avoid the dangers of complacency.

MacMillan’s setting is clever and typical of his style. The Lakota text is set with complex rhythmic cells and coloratura connecting more stable homophonic sections in the trebles. The interval and cell patterns are consistent, despite key and texture changes. This way, MacMillan achieves expressive variety while remaining technically approachable for beginning choirs. The Te Deum is sung in unison to a Gregorian chant-like melody. The Te Deum sections link verses of the Lakota Chant, only intertwining with the Lakota in the coda. The overall effect alternates the florid, swirling visions of the Lakota with the equally visionary solemnity of the Te Deum.

Christmas Music from Midnight Mass 2011

December 25, 2011

Seraphim - Petites Heures de Jean de Berry

Two thoughts about programming for music in the middle of the night: 1) Plan something easy. I have never made so many mistakes as when I planned overly ambitious music so late in the evening. 2) The Sewanee Composers Project is a great sacred music resource!

The SJMP is also an interesting business model. By purchasing an annual license, you have access to their entire library online including unlimited reproduction rights. Many of the pieces have sample recordings, too.

From their website:

A new way to think about church anthems
Since 1992 St. James Music Press has been publishing some of the finest church anthems being written today. THE FINEST! And we’re not just bragging. Anthems from SJMP have been heard on national broadcasts, performed at cathedrals and churches throughout the world, and premiered at major music conferences throughout the country. Our catalog does not contain praise-songs, choruses or renewal music. It is, however, filled with new traditional anthems and fresh arrangements of varying difficulty which have been tried and tested by many fine church choirs.
We want you to photocopy our music!
Unlike many publishers, we are committed to each and every anthem that we publish. You won’t like or use them all and that’s fine. We all have different tastes. But if your choir sings traditional anthems on a regular basis, you won’t find a better resource than St. James Music Press. And now – our entire catalog is on-line and searchable. Need an anthem for the third Sunday after Epiphany when your entire alto section has decided to go on a “spiritual makeover” weekend hosted by Noylene Fabergé, the Christian Beautician? No problem. It’s only a couple of mouse-clicks away.
Find the Sunday in our Liturgical calendar, look for the voicing you need, listen to a few, and print out some that you like. Or print them all. Then photocopy enough for your choir (permission granted!) and they’ll sound like a waffle-house full of angels with Gabriel serving pancakes!
Eight thousand churches can’t be wrong. Join the St. James Music Press family.
Anthems by some of the the finest composers and musicians in the business. Cantatas, Psalm settings for congregation, masses and service music, childrens’ choir music (our award-winning Viva Voce! program), organ music, handbell music, music for brass and organ, organ solo, musicals, anthems for small choirs (our Ten Panicked Singers series), descants and harmonizations, evening services, introits, benedictions…the list goes on and on. And NEW pieces being added each and every month. We’ll send you a monthly email alerting you to new offerings as well as suggesting some pieces you may have forgotten about. All instrumental parts included, of course!
Listen to everything. Download whatever you want.
Or download everything! MP3s for making choir CDs, PDFs for printing, ZIP files containing the congregational files you’ll need for your bulletins.
Wow! Want to give it a look?
It’s free… No, we’re not kidding.
Okay, you can’t print anything out, but you can look at and listen to everything in the catalog. Not just a couple of pages…the whole thing! Our recordings are, in many cases, live recordings from church services and performed by church choirs (large and small) across the country. Most are not professional, but they’ll give you a very good idea as to how the anthem sounds.

Media Files for Loyola Lessons & Carols 2011

December 23, 2011

The Playlist

When I conduct concerts or services, I make a special effort to record and publish the results. Technology has made these tools very accessible. This service was recorded with a Sony PCM-D50, a simple $500 handheld recorder. I edited it in Apple’s Soundtrack Pro, posted audio files to Soundcloud, and made videos in Final Cut Pro to post to YouTube, all within 2 days of the service itself.

A Bouquet of Lessons & Carols

December 19, 2011

Photo by Steven Speciale


Each year as Christmas nears, my high school choir offers a Lessons & Carols service to the community. Notice, I didn’t write “concert”. I do my best to provide the choir “performance” opportunities with a service context. It gives the work we do an extra layer of meaning and purpose that is harder to convey in a concert setting. I also think the cathedral context for this music, as well as the magnificent pipe organ, makes this an unparalleled experience for them.

I will post selections from the service in bite-sized bits over the next few days. Merry Christmas!

Before our final dress rehearsal, we always take an hour to have dinner at Papa Cristos, a local family-owned Greek restaurant that has been in the neighborhood for over fifty years!


Jehan Alain: A Centennary Tribute

November 15, 2011

PD: "Copyright : domaine public."

For the feast of All Saints, and in collaboration with the St. Andrew’s Choir and organist Duane Steadman, we presented music by the composer Jehan Alain.

A composer and performer of immense and precocious talent, Alain’s life was cut short in the line of duty during the Second World War. His sister, the eminent organist Marie-Claire Alain has tirelessly kept her brother’s music alive through her own performances and editing and publishing his music. I am proud to have helped, in our own small way, to introduce the music of Jehan Alain to a wider audience.

Le Jardin Suspendu composed in 1934, creates an exotic soundworld within the ancient chaconne form. The chant theme of Lucis Creator appears in the pedal, while the manuals sound grand chords. Finally, the theme is presented fugally, building to a climax with that theme triumphantly stated in the pedals.
One can clearly hear the impressionistic influence of composers
Fantasie for choir with closed-like Debussy and Messaien in this mouths.

Kyrie from Alain’s Messe de Requiem was composed in 1938 for a November service in the church of Saint-Nicholas de Maisons-Lafitte, where he was the church organist. Alain set to music only three of the Requiem texts – the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.
The music is serene and suffused with the rhythmic and melodic essence of Gregorian chant.

Variations on Sacris Solemnis. Written for SSATB choir and organ, this motet is an ingenious set of variations on the Gregorian Hymn “Sacris Solemnis”. Each variation uses a different mensural note value while the basic tempo remains constant.

The Agnus Dei from Alain’s Messe de Requiem is the third section of the
Ordinary set to music by Alain. Alain eschews the tradtional setting of the sequence or even the models by
Brahms or Faure. This movement contains the only reference to the mass of the dead with its “Dona eis requiem” “Grant them peace”.

Alain’s Fantasia for humming choir is an evocative and introspective work. I chose it for a post-communion meditation because of one of Alain’s quotes:

“How deeply I wish that, in my music, each and every person found his or her own thoughts, and not mine.” During a time when we celebrate the communion of saints and remember all who have gone before us, I find that the humanity of choral music minus the semantics of text to be appropriate.

For Alain, prayer was “a blast of wind that sweeps all before it”. Three weeks after writing the organ piece Litanies, his sister Marie-Odile died in a climbing accident. Alain added the dedication: “When Christian souls run out of words to implore the mercy of God, fired by faith, they repeat over and over the same invocation”.

St. Andrew’s Music List for November, 2011

November 8, 2011


November 6- All Saints’

Kyrie- Requiem by Alain
Offertory- Variations on Sacris Solemnis by Alain
Communion- Agnus Dei from Requiem by Alain
Post-Communion- Fantasie by Alain

November 13

Offertory- If We Believe that Jesus Died- Dakers
Communion- Fantasie for Choir by Alain

Kirkin’ the Tartan Evensong

Stanford Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in C
William Byrd Preces and Responses
Luminaria Magna– by Hillary Tann

November 20 Christ the King

Offertory- Let All the World in Every Corner Sing- Vaughn Williams

Communion- Brother James’ Air- Easy Anthems

Thanksgiving-

Offertory- A Clare Benediction- by John Rutter

Communion- Gaelic Blessing by John Rutter- Dakers

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