Sunday, October 28, 2007

CONCERTO ANNULÉ, or perhaps Tissues and Issues!

The director of the November “Music Through the Ages” concert has changed his mind about including me in his program. The saddest part was that he didn’t have the courtesy to tell me–I found out through a member of the choir after two weeks of phoning him and leaving messages which he didn’t answer.

Before I knew I wasn’t wanted, I heard two things via the grapevine: the program was now being performed on two nights, a Friday and a Sunday, and these dates were three weeks earlier than I had been told back in April. This made me realized I had to decide whether I would perform on a Sunday or not, and with the next two concert options open to me being Sunday programs, it’s a good thing I worked it through. My conclusion is that I'm prepared to do a sacred program on a Sunday provided it doesn't interfere with my Sabbath study. In this case, it wasn't sacred and it would interfere, so I was prepared to tell the director I would sing on the Friday but not the Sunday.

I also realized that with three weeks less to prepare than I’d planned for, it was doubtful that I was going to be able to do “I Believe In You”, considering I was struggling to produce a reliable top A. It seemed wise to alter my selection, so I chose instead Martin Luther's hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God". It's a song that seems designed for a powerhouse male choir, its plonky, definitive rhythm not suited to a light soprano, but if the Viking Choir is singing "Dona Nobis Pacem" and another Latin piece a cappella, I figured I could do just as well with the lovely tune of AMF. I studied the four stanzas from two different English translations, and with a bit of mixing and matching and a very tiny rephrase, settled on three stanzas that are reasonably easy to understand, injecting exhilaration by raising each stanza a semitone. Luther's hymn has been called “the great­est hymn of the great­est man of the great­est per­i­od of Ger­man his­to­ry”, thus creating for me an excellent progression to J. S. Bach's "My Heart Ever Faithful". =) I’ve enjoyed working on this program, but I don’t know when I’ll get to share it.

I recently purchased a CD by contemporary American soprano Kathleen Battle and was delighted to find “My Heart Ever Faithful” on it. It has a continuo accompaniment (rather than piano), which makes it supremely delicious (I love cello). The first time I sang along, I got quite a high. =) It’s also inspiring to hear such an accomplished performer sing it.

Kathleen also sings “Du Bist Bei Mir” on that recording. I’ve procured the sheet music and have started learning Charlotte Church’s sacred version, “If Thou Art Near” (does anyone know who wrote the lyrics for that?). Dad was delighted when he heard me singing it because his mother used to perform it. He hadn’t known what it was called, but the melody evoked pleasant memories for him.

“I Sit Beside the Fire” almost got chucked from my repertoire in September. My teacher didn’t have the entire book of Donald Swann’s Tolkein arrangements, so the Elvish pronunciation and translation was missing. The English lyrics were fine, so I (foolishly) took the song on trust and proceeded to learn it. But as I worked on the difficult Elvish lyrics, I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable singing something I didn’t understand. I couldn’t delete the verse from the rest of the song because it was set as an alternate melody creating the song’s climax. I mentioned this to Dad and a friend, and they suggested I look it up on the internet. I had tried that previously, but had searched for the song title, not the Elvish lyrics.

Googling the first line turned up both a pronunciation guide and the translation, which revealed the song was a hymn of worship to a star goddess! Having just seen Louie Giglio‘s “Indescribable” DVD presentation on the magnitude and magnificence of the heavens created by our God, there was no way I could give credit to anyone else. Distressed that the Elvish words now seemed well and truly stuck in my head, it was dump time for that song until Dad suggested I rewrite the Elvish part. Bless you, Dad! I didn’t get any sleep that afternoon, but I did produce a rewrite that I like so much I’m prepared to make the song a Narelle standard.

I turned the Elvish verse into something more meaningful, managing to match Tolkein’s style and theme fairly well. Donald Swann’s arrangement actually blends two different Tolkein poems, so dropping the Elvish hasn’t created any great Tolkein heresy. It works really well for me now. The lyrics are so emotive and the melody supports them so well. I would happily sing it a cappella. Actually, I don’t like Swann’s finale, so I’d probably close a cappella anyway.

Interestingly, placing clean new lyrics over the bad ones is what has enabled me to get rid of the Elvish from my head. As I type this post, I can’t remember even the first line. I’ll leave it forgotten. =)

As it turned out, the director didn’t want to talk to me, so I didn’t have to talk to him. My preparations weren't a useless exercise, though, because I learned some important lessons. I hope you, too, have learned something from reading this. = )

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