The place was the sanctuary of St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Sunday afternoon, July 27, 2104. Involved were about 60 singers, five soloists, two conductors, one organist, and a few string players. It was a nice afternoon.
The program opened with two anthems from different liturgical traditions, conducted by Co-Music Director, Lynn Swanson. The first piece was “Heavenly Light,” by Alexander Kopylov (1854-1911) sung in English and unaccompanied. It had some good blend and nice harmonies. The alto section was noticeably short in power. There were some slightly ragged entries, and drop-out on the final chord. Singers, if you run out of air, at least be good actors; take your breath through mouth openings that look like the vowel being held.
Sicut Cervus, by Giovanni da Palestrina (ca 1523-1594) was sung in Latin, but the program lyrics were only in English. With the soft acoustics in St. Paul’s, it would have been helpful to be able to associate the sung words with the assigned notes. The piece is highly contrapuntal (one voice following another) and could be mistaken for a madrigal of the same period if the lyrics were ignored. The overlapping voices wove gently through the air, sweetening the summer afternoon with a capella voices.
Part II presented examples of post-Händel oratorio, conducted by Co-Director, William Baker, and Organ accompaniment by Steve McDonald. Early 17th Century oratorios developed during the Lenten spectacle prohibitions, which precluded productions of the newly popular opera form. Händel re-used the concept for spectacular, profitable, musical productions after the competitive London opera houses bankrupted each other.
The Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) entry was the ever-popular, “He watching over Israel,’ from the oratorio, Elijah. Dr. Baker, in his opening comments, described the chorus mix, from seasoned, degreed professionals to first-time-after-high-school singers. This familiar piece is a great tool for teaching part-singing to novices, something they may never have sung, but it already sounds familiar.
The second oratorio representation was “The heavens are telling,” from The Creation, by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). The three soloists, Christine Freeman, Gabriel (soprano) David White, Uriel (tenor) and Michael Carter, Raphael (bass) presented a fine, balanced ensemble which alternated with the choir in concertante style. The three angels introduced concepts for the choir to respond to and embellish.
Ms Swanson took back the conducting chores for Missa Brevis in D, K194, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1736-1791) with an added string accompaniment and, also added, alto soloist, Jamea Sale. Again, the work was sung in Latin, while the program only provided an English text. It was a very presentable run-through, with exceptional solo work by Ms Freeman. The sustained phrases, frequently on one syllable, and in a weaving counterpoint were well-constructed, nicely expressing the the intention of the text.
Dr. Baker, again, took the podium for the final section of the program, American song. The first two songs were arranged by Alice Parker, well known for unaccompanied choral arrangements (particularly American songs) who has spent much of her career collaborating with Dr. Baker’s mentor, the late dean of American choral directors, Robert Shaw.
“O thou in whose presence,” began with a mellow slow rhythm in the bass, accompanying a vigorous shaped-note style melody, finally joining the other three voices for a canonic finale.
Ms Parker’s setting of “The Hebrew Children,” was from the same southern U.S. trove, strophic, and alternating the verses between chorus sections and finally putting them all together. The text format is very similar to the next song, arranged by William Dawson, “There is a balm in Gilead,” where many of the words in ensuing verses are mostly the same, changing the situation for each.
William Dawson’s arrangement of the American spiritual, “There is a balm in Gilead,” is a mournful song, imparting a freeing message. The pathos of the text was expressed well, both by the arranger and the choir.
Another spiritual, William Henry Smith’s “Ride the Chariot,” included a brilliant over the choir soprano solo by Melissa VanHousen. The format of the text is based on the call-and-response manner of African American worship, either the soloist or one section asking a question of faith with the whole group answering affirmatively, a good upbeat piece to finish the afternoon program.
The Summer Singers of Lee’s Summit is only one of the newest ensembles fostered by the William Baker Choral Foundation, which seeks to build the presence and enjoyment of choral music by building audiences and training both singers and choral directors. Support of the foundation is greatly appreciated.