Choral Arts Initiative News
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Creating the core and foundation of Choral Arts Initiative's choral sound are the Tenor and Bass Choral Artists! All these gentlemen are such fun people with great stories to tell, and their passion they express in their lives comes out in the passion they contribute to their choral art. Get to know the Tenors and Basses with some fun facts here, and then meet and hear them in person at our concert, "Seeking Light," this weekend, July 16 at 5pm! We look forward to meeting YOU, too!
(Top row, left to right)
Name: Yngwie Slassh Zamarippa
Fun Musical Fact: I studied advanced music analysis from the classical, romantic and 20th century period privately with Dr. Miller at Fullerton Jr. college and I want to be a professional orchestral director and composer.
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I love the beach, coffee, math, and the gym. I've done all the push-ups
Name: Ashton Hackwith
Job: Bass Section Leader at Palisades United Methodist Church;
Fun Musical Fact: I sight read for fun
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I'm half British
Name: Marcos Torres
Job: I make coffee
Fun Musical Fact: I am the youngest choral artist in CAI (19 years old)
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I have studied 7 martial arts, I love to work on cars.
Name: Ramon Cardenas
Job: Choir Director at Redlands East Valley High School and First Congregational Church of Riverside
Fun Musical Fact: For my senior recital, I played a Mozart theme with 12 variations with no sensation in my hands. I had just finished a 30-minute voice set and was clenching my fists for the majority of it, resulting in the lost of sensation. Luckily, I held it together!
Fun Non-Musical Fact: When I was three years old and my sister was a baby, I was not used to sharing my parents' attention with her. One day, to get my mom's attention, I wanted to show her I could swallow a marble. I began choking immediately, and she and my grandma both gave me the Heimlich.
Name: Joshua Himes
Fun Musical Fact: I'm a composer with choral music published with MusicSpoke, Gentry Publications and Santa Barbara Music Publishing, Inc.
Fun Non-Musical Fact: Went to Ayala High School in Chino Hills and I work about a mile from my former High School.
Name: DeJohn Brown Jr.
Job: High School Choral Director
Fun Musical Fact: Kendrick Lamar is my favorite hip hop artist.
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I love Unicorns
Name: Marcus Carline
Job: Sound Technician at CSULB, Bass Section leader at Covenant First Presbyterian, Composer, Baritone/VP with Westbeat
Fun Musical Fact: I enjoy patching in Max/MSP and have built a couple of virtual vocoders.
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I had planned to be a computer scientist up until Jr year of high school, so I can code in Java and C++
(Bottom row, left to right)
Name: Herman Hope
Job: Server at Farrell's
Fun Musical Fact: I was in 5 musical ensembles during my undergrad but got my degree in English!
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I recently learned I love swans and geese.
Name: Sammy Salvador
Job: Music Education Major at Cal State Fullerton
Fun Musical Fact: My grandpa was the leader of a very famous Cumbia band in Tijuana, Mexico
Fun Non-Choral Fact: I've recently been getting a lot of gigs as a choreographer.
Name: Alan Garcia
Job: Choir Director at Magnolia High School, Cantor and Section Leader at St. Norbert's Catholic Church, and Staff Singer at Pacific Chorale
Fun Musical Fact: I carry Hindemith's Elementary Training for Musicians in my bag to practice sight reading when I'm bored. I'll shamelessly practice when I'm waiting for my meal at dinner, when I'm on the train, or when I'm selling fireworks for my school district.
Fun Non-Musical Fact: When I travel, you can usually find me scoping out the beautiful churches and cathedrals in the area. I'm huge on beautiful architecture! I also love visiting old towns!
Name: Jeffrey Derus
Job: HS Choral Director/Composer
Fun Musical Fact: When I was a child I used to plug my ears at my sister's choral concerts; now I direct choirs, sing in choirs, and write for choirs.
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I have a deep passion for interior design. I redesign my apartment every 6 months.
Name: Israel Acosta
Job: Super Hero
Fun Musical Fact: I've played the saxophone for 6 years
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I enjoy rock climbing and laser tagging to pass the time.
Beautiful, floating, pure tones are created by the Soprano and Alto Choral Artists to contribute to the sonorous sound of the ensemble, but they are also people. We wanted to share a little bit about themselves and some fun facts, both relating to music and non-musical in nature. Get to know these Choral Artists and their fun-facts here, and then meet them in person this Sunday, July 16, at our 5th Anniversary Concert, "Seeking Light!"
(Left to Right, Top Row)
Name: Shirley Chikukwa (Alto)
Job: Event planning assistant
Fun Musical Fact: I was an accounting major before I discovered the joys of singing! I'm never going back to accounting️.
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I like to swim and I loooove historical drama.
Name: Adena Bentley (Alto)
Job: Stylist at Torrid
Fun Musical Fact: I initially only decided to major in music because I was accepted into Fullerton College's Applied Voice program, and I felt it would be rude not to stay in it.
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I spent a month in China trough a cultural exchange program in 2009.
Name: Anna Kietzman (Soprano)
Job: Guest Talent Coordinator at Disneyland Resort
Fun Musical Fact: I played the Cat in the Hat in my high schools production of Seussical the Musical and Tranio in Taming of the Shrew. Both roles are traditionally played by males.
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I am also a visual artist, specializing in photography, watercolor painting, and hand lettering.
Name: Carrie Dike (Alto)
Fun Musical Fact: I sang in Irish pubs for research (DMA in Ethnomusicology).
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I've been to 33 countries and counting.
Name: Stacy Oh (currently Alto)
Job: Vocal Music Director
Fun Musical Fact: Up until High School I thought everyone had absolute pitch.
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I am a fan of SEGA Saturn and Dreamcast.
Name: Kelsey Downey (Soprano)
Job: Legal Analyst
Fun Musical Fact: Studied Persian music in college
Fun Non-Choral Fact: I enjoy swing dancing and Irish step dancing
Name: Fatima Rizvi (Soprano)
Job: Voice Teacher and Development at Irvine Barclay Theater
Fun Musical Fact: I played the flute for 10 years before I tried singing. I didn't think I would like it!
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I like cheese!!! (I really do! You don't even know!)
(Left to Right, Bottom Row)
Name: Angel Yu (Alto)
Job: Freelance choral singer/private voice & piano lessons instructor.
Fun Musical Fact: There was a period of time of about 1.5 months last year where I had some sort of a choir rehearsal every night Monday- Friday, plus Saturday and Sunday mornings. Eww.
Fun Non-Musical Fact: When I was in the 6th grade, I won my school's spelling bee. I can't remember what the winning word was, though. :-P
Name: Lorraine Joy Welling (Soprano)
Job: Choral Instructor at Ball Junior High (AUHSD)/Cantor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, La Habra/professional singer
Fun Musical Fact: I was chosen to be a soloist for a performance of Handel's "Dixit Dominus" the weekend of my 19th birthday by Sir David Wilcocks himself.
Fun-Non Musical Fact: I used to be (and secretly still am) obsessed with obscure Sci-Fi shows Quantum Leap, Sea Quest, and Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Name: Hannah McMeans (Soprano)
Job: Summer Associate at Venable, LLP until the end of July, then back to being a law student for one more year.
Fun Musical Fact: The only piece I've ever sung in Carnegie Hall had no words (Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe with the Boston Symphony).
Fun Non-Musical Fact: My favorite TV show ever is The West Wing and my latest TV obsession is Chef's Table.
Name: Rose Taylor (Alto)
Job: Student at Cal State Fullerton
Fun Musical Fact: I can play the tenor recorder... barely!
Fun Non-Musical Fact: I have a secret obsession with microbiology, and am saving up for my own microscope!
My heart is a compass
Guiding me to light
When darkness chases the fading day
My heart, a star in the night
When salty waves are clawing near
And troubled waters assail the ship
My compass guides me,
Steadies my grip
When winds sing high,
Gust and gale cast adrift
My compass hoists me
Like wind beneath wingtip
When rope tears, sails shudder,
And death by tempest is near
My compass delivers me
I follow the arrow without fear
My heart is a compass
Guiding me to light
When darkness seduces
My faithful heart, a star in the night
- Courtney Prather
As co-founder of Choral Arts Initiative, a founding board member and Choral Artist, Jeffrey Derus was the perfect fit to be one of the composers commissioned to write a piece for this special milestone, the fifth anniversary of the organization. He is also a close friend of Artistic Director, Brandon Elliott, having been at Cal State Fullerton as Music Majors at the same time. Although this is not the first piece of Derus to have been premiered and performed by Choral Arts Initiative, it is perhaps the most meaningful for both composer and Artistic Director.
“I have a personal connection to all we have accomplished," expressed Derus. "CAI is where I have experienced world-class performance, education and philanthropy. Witnessing so many wonderful collaborations throughout the years as a choral artist, I could not be more thrilled to be on the composer side for this season.” In addition to writing a new work, Derus also commissioned poet Courtney Prather to write the text for the piece. "After some time with no luck finding the right text for this commission, I decided to partner with a good friend of mine and poet, Courtney Prather. We had many discussions on what we wanted this text to express; adventure, passion, a journey that encompasses light and dark. I have been with the organization and the ensemble since its inception and that also influenced the story line of the text for this commission. It’s a journey through struggles that can be guided by your heart, thus giving birth to the beautiful text, 'My Heart is a Compass,' by Courtney Prather."
The composition reflects the imagery of the text in overall structure as well as the music that accompanies specific words and phrases from the poem. The flow of the music reflects the ocean, following the path of a ship that is guided by the compass of the heart toward light, which Jeff feels strongly relates to the journey of CAI. The music begins with a swell of the female voices building a “wave” of music up to the highest peak, where the men join to reach the “heart,” “compass,” and the ultimate goal, “light.” The undulation of the ocean is a constant sound heard throughout the piece, with the voices rocking back and forth with patterns of eighth notes, triplets, and patterns of dotted eighths and sixteenth notes. The rhythmic patterns and the meters change with the changing tide of the ocean. There are challenges along the journey, personified in “troubled waters” – the sound crashing and ebbing as the waters “assail” the ship – but the compass of the heart always steers the boat clear; it “guides me/steadies my grip.”
A particularly poignant part of the piece comes in what Derus refers to like a scene from a movie that is suddenly set in slow-motion. The tempo gradually and consistently slows down, with ritardandos, fermatas, and written metronome changes, though the passage that says, “When rope tears, and sails shudder/ and death by tempest is near,” with a soaring soprano duet capping the phrase. The brief plaintive refrain and held high notes of the two sopranos are reminiscent of so many moments in movies when something is about to happen to a beloved character and everything slows down, tugging at our heart strings. But then, everything is ok. Softly, we are reminded, “My compass delivers me,” reassuring with the knowledge that “I follow the arrow without fear.” We then return to the swell of the wave triumphant, knowing that we can withstand whatever storms may be ahead; with our heart as that compass, we will always find the light.
"I want the audience to have an experience of excitement, suspense, and adventure, to feel the push and pull of the heart guiding them through the journey presented in the text." When asked what his favorite part of the piece was, he cited the last section of the piece. "This is the section where the push and pull of the heart climaxes in the phrase, 'My Heart is a Compass, Guiding me to light. When darkness seduces, My faithful heart, a star in the night.' This phrase is the message of the text and the piece. The chord on the word 'Heart' functions as a suspension both in the music and the story of the text." Another suspension comes at the very end of the piece, on the word "night." The same motive had repeated and been traded back and forth between different voice parts to depict the waves in the night, using a descending line going from B-flat to A-natural and ending on G before the motive starts over again, but when the final measure comes, the sopranos descend from the B-flat, which serves as the suspension before the final resolution to an A-natural, where it rests, completing the final D-major chord in the choir. Although the journey continues, we are safe; we are home.
Born in California, Jeffrey’s major compositional influences come from the stunning array of natural landscapes throughout the Western Coastline. He is the co-founder of Choral Arts Initiative, and currently serves on the board and as a choral artist. As a professional choral artist, he has sung with the LA Philharmonic Symphonic Chorus, Pacific Symphony Chorus, Pacific Chorale and Choral Arts Initiative. Pursuing composition has always been a passion of his. Jeffrey has five choral pieces available through MusicSpoke, and his compositional journey continues. He recently attended his first composer residency in Aldeburgh, U.K. at Benjamin Britten's Red House, hosted by the Britten-Pears and Holst Foundation. Jeffrey holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Choral Music Education and Choral Conducting from California State University Fullerton. Upon graduation, Jeffrey’s passion for inspiring young musicians led him to further studies in CSUF’s Secondary Music Education Credential Program. Currently, Jeffrey serves as the Choral Director at Anaheim High School.
Don't wait! Get your tickets now to hear this piece, one of the five World-Premiere pieces written for Choral Arts Initiative's Fifth Anniversary celebration, "Seeking Light." Tickets include the concert and a reception where you can meet the Choral Artists, composers, Artistic Director, and Board Members of Choral Arts Initiative while enjoying food and drinks. You can be part of it on June 16th! Buy your tickets online by clicking here to save time and money at the door. See you there!
When David Montoya was originally approached to compose a piece for Choral Arts Initiative's fifth anniversary concert and celebration, Seeking Light, he had a completely different piece in mind that would utilize harp and a Buddhist text, but what ended up being written turned out completely different. Going back to his roots, he instead decided to set a Catholic prayer as a dedication for his mother.
Immaculate Heart of Mary
listen while I plead to you
my dearest mother
for all my earthly needs.
Help me in my sorrows;
some joys to me afford.
Oh, dearest Mother Mary
help me serve my Lord,
and soon will be forgotten
all these sad days
as you light the road of darkness
with your own immaculate rays.
- Traditional Catholic Prayer
"I was sitting at the ACDA National Conference in Minneapolis when I heard a conductor do a piece that he had commissioned in honor of his mother. I thought to myself, 'my mom is 70 this year and I've never written a piece for her.' I contacted her right away asking if she had any favorite texts and she sent me the text for LIGHT OF MARY. She told me that she has prayed that prayer daily for over 50 years, since my did was in the US Army, and she still prays it to this day. I began to compose the piece in my hotel room and finished it a few weeks later."
The piece is largely tonal with a linear structure, but there were many parts of the composition process that were unique to this composition. Even though the piece is based on a Catholic prayer, there are still some ideas and sonorities in the music that reflect Buddhist influence as well, which was the type of piece Montoya originally planned to write for CAI. Toward the end of the piece at the climax, "when the word 'darkness' comes in, if you know about Buddhist philosophy, there is the idea of opposites - nothing is really as it seems, everything is always constantly changing - so the darkness is actually one of the brighter chords you hear in the piece. The singers are saying 'darkness' but you're hearing a bright sonority, so you have this yin and yang type of thing going on."
Another unique part of the compositional process had to do with the "worldly" modes used. This technique is influenced by mentor and teacher William Allaudin Mathieu, much of whose music Montoya has also transcribed from manuscript. "When I land in a tonal center, major or minor," Montoya explains, "I use basically any tones that are available to me, within that context, from all of the church modes. You can call it quasi magic-mode music, as in Allaudin's book [the Harmonic Experience], but it's not really that. So for example, if I'm in G where the soprano solo is, I can choose any notes from the parallel G modes that work well against the tonic-dominant drone in the choir. Eb is used from minor, Ab is the Phrygian note, F natural is the lowered sixth of minor, and even though the minor third Bb doesn't show up, it still sounds like minor until it lands with a gentle portamento down to the major third of G major at the end of the solo." Rare insight into the process and methodology of a composer!
The idea of divine light happens throughout the piece, which is aligned to the theme of the concert that was given to all five composers who received this commission for the fifth anniversary. "The piece moves in a line from beginning to end with the climax of light hitting just before the end. Both the harmony and the rhythmic ideas try to depict the text with the ultimate goal of showing the shining light at the end." The words, ideas, and moods are expressed by changing harmonies. "I will usually outline a whole piece harmonically, where it's going, and what I'm doing. In fact, I outlined where I was going on my original page of text with which kind of chord progressions and what kind of center it was going around for some of the different lines of text that seemed to make sense to me. But in general, in this piece, I tried to be a little more free. I usually choose all my modes ahead of time to define where I'm going - not just major or minor modes, but world modes and some modes of my creation. It's still very tonal; there's always 'Do' present somewhere. But I didn't want to think about it too much this time. I usually like to compose at the piano, but this time I was in a hotel room typing things into the computer as they occurred to me with my headphones on. It seemed to go where it wanted to go this time, and I allowed it to do that, even if it was maybe not the most logical sometimes, but I think it turned out very logical, especially after listening to it live."
David Montoya sat in on a rehearsal to hear the ensemble sing through his piece, which was the first time he had heard it performed live by singers. He was very excited to hear it in person after only having heard it through MIDI on a computer, and the Choral Artists were enlightened by hearing his insight on the piece he had written for them and for his mother. This is an experience that lies at the very heart of what Choral Arts Initiative fosters in their mission and vision. This commission also was a welcome challenge for Montoya, much of whose work has been written for and performed by high school and University choirs (African Processional: Jambo rafiki yangu remaining his most popular and best-selling composition to date, with arrangements spanning across voicing for SAB, SSA, SATB, and TTBB). This piece was written for SSAATTBB to fit the complexity of music Choral Arts Initiative excels in. "I'm not as used to writing such thick sonorities - I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and try some new things - and Choral Arts Initiative is singing it so beautifully. I'm loving hearing how the lines are working being handed off to one another."
"Writing for CAI has been a great joy for me. I am amazed at the work that they have been doing to further the choral art. Their tone, musicianship and musicality are the perfect environment for any composer to write in, and I am honored and humbled at the opportunity. I'm also thrilled that my mom will get a top-notch performance of this piece in the first performance of the first piece I've written for her." When asked what he wants the audience to hear or experience, he said, "If the audience closes their eyes, they should hear need, sorrow, joy, and then comfort in the form of divine light."
David V. Montoya (b. 1968) received a bachelor’s degree in music education from California State University, Los Angeles (1992) and a master of music degree from the University of Nevada, Reno (1998). He has taught in the Southern California public school system for 23 years, currently teaching at both La Habra High School and Sunny Hills High School where he teaches choir and guitar. In the 2009-2010 school year Montoya was named LHHS Teacher of the Year. As a composer, Montoya’s music, including African Processional: “Jambo rafiki yangu” has been performed throughout the world by high schools, colleges, churches, and such prestigious groups as the US Air Force Singing Sergeants, El Café Chorale (Costa Rica), the Kansas City Chorale, Louisiana State University A Cappella Choir, The Philippine Chamber Singers, and has had works commissioned and performed by the Grammy Award-winning Phoenix Bach Chorale. His compositions range from a cappella and accompanied choral music, from the silly to the sacred, to works for solo voice, guitar, harp, piano, brass, ukulele, and even harmonica. Montoya currently serves as the Repertoire and Resources Chair for Choral Composition on the California branch of the American Choral Directors Association, and is a member of ASCAP. Montoya has been a mentor to many up and coming teachers and finds himself fortunate to have worked closely with his own mentors, W. A. Mathieu and George Heussenstamm to name two. Montoya lives in Southern California with his wife Patricia, his three sons, and Dusty, the family canine. For more information about him or his music, visit www.montoyamusic.com.
Make sure to get your tickets now to hear David V. Montoya's piece, "Light of Mary," in a concert about light that celebrates Choral Arts Initiative's fifth anniversary, Seeking Light: one performance only, July 16 at 5:00pm, St. Mark's Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, California.
Last week, Brandon Elliott and four board members of Choral Arts Initiative attended Chorus America's 2017 National Conference, held in Los Angeles, California, where the ensemble was awarded the ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music.
The 2017 Chorus America National Conference was held in Los Angeles, June 21-24, where representatives from choirs across the country came to learn, share ideas, share music, and be recognized. Choral Arts Initiative was honored to be one of those to be nationally recognized by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) at the Chorus America Conference with the award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music. Artistic Director Brandon Elliott received the award with CAI board members Jeffrey Derus, Rich Messenger, Evan Mooney, and Lorraine Joy Welling present. Special guests Krissy Evanilla and Lisa Murphy were also invited to join in our celebration.
Brandon Elliott was a presenter for a three-part seminar series he co-facilitated and helped develop called "The Choral Entrepreneur," offered as part of the Chorus America Conference. He also presented at the 2016 Chorus America Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, and will be presenting at their Conducting Academy in July held at California State University, Fullerton. Elliott was also selected as one of the 30 choral leaders from across the country to participate in the Choral Ecosystem Forum in April of 2016, which was a collaboration between Chorus America, the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), Barbershop Harmony Society, and Yale University School of Music, where the Forum was held.
In addition to the honors Choral Arts Initiative received as a group, we were happy to see composers we have worked with and whose music we have performed, premiered, and commissioned, who were participants, presenters, and whose music was being performed at the conference. Christina Whitten Thomas joined us to watch the first concert of the conference on Wednesday evening, where Vox Femina performed her piece, "Kindness," a piece that was commissioned by the group this year. Dale Trumbore was in a composer's forum as part of the seminar offerings of the conference, and she also had a new piece, "Breathe in Hope," performed by the Los Angeles Children's Chorus at a conference concert held at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral. "Hope" had been commissioned and premiered by the LACC in May of this year and used the Facebook text of Maya Jackson on the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Dominick DiOrio, a member of CAI's Artistic Advisory Committee, was often seen as a master of ceremonies and facilitator of seminars throughout the conference, and we also crossed paths with Saunder Choi, who is one of our five featured composers in our upcoming concert, Seeking Light. Choral Artists Ashton Hackwith and Yngwie Zamarippa also came to join the week's festivities for Choir Night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, where Chorus America participants and members of local choirs had the opportunity to sing with composers Moira Smiley and Eric Whitacre prior to Los Angeles Master Chorale's concert that featured new music by these composers and the 20th Anniversary performance of Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna.
Choral Arts Initiative was proud to be honored with the national ASCAP award and that our Artistic Director, Board Members, Choral Artists, and composers we have collaborated with had the opportunity to participate in and be part of the 2017 Chorus America Conference. In the words of Brandon Elliott, "So much excellent and transformative work is happening in our country thanks to so many stellar choral organizations. Amidst the dangerous and divisive rhetoric we confront, music will always rise from the "noise." I can't wait to see what's ahead for us and for the choral profession. Onward!"
Buy tickets now to see and hear this award-winning ensemble present their next concert of "Adventurous Programming," Seeking Light, and help us celebrate our five year anniversary with a reception following the concert. Don't forget to like our page on Facebook to keep up with all our latest happenings, to see more photos from the 2017 Chorus America National Conference, and to see video of the ASCAP award presentation to Choral Arts Initiative at the Conference.
After collaborating with Choral Arts Initiative since the group's beginning, including the recent eight-movement secular requiem, How to Go On, and an entire album of her choral music by the same name, Dale Trumbore was an obvious choice as one of the five composers whose music would be part of the fifth anniversary celebration and concert, "Seeking Light." What was surprising was the fact that her inspiration for the piece being performed, Perhaps, ended up coming from Brandon Elliott himself, the Artistic Director of the group. The words were part of his program notes that were read as the introduction to a previous concert, "Such Things As Flowers" last spring. Even more surprising was that before Elliott approached Trumbore about the commission, she had already composed a piece as a gift. The piece was completed and presented to Elliott and the Choral Artists at the conclusion of the recording sessions for How to Go On. “Though Brandon's words weren't originally intended to be set to music, I thought they captured the essence of what Choral Arts Initiative does: 'Perhaps we may live an answer or illuminate a story.' This is why I love collaborating with Choral Arts Initiative, be it on a new piece, an old piece, or an entire album; this ensemble is committed to 'music that can teach and inspire,' and they sing it with such passion. I hope this anniversary is the first of many major milestones for Choral Arts Initiative!”
In our lifetime, we will undoubtedly have so many questions left unanswered.
So many stories will be left untold.
Perhaps we may live an answer or illuminate a story.
Perhaps we may not.
So we turn to the security of constancy as dependable as the sea,
nature full of beauty and peace,
music that can teach and inspire.
Perhaps all we can do is seek comfort
in such things as flowers, and song, and you.
Saunder Choi chose to approach the subject of seeking light "through the lens of darkness and strife." Originally, when Artistic Director Brandon Elliott approached the composer, it was the two year anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda, which was the most intense and deadliest tropical cyclone to ever to hit the Philippines, and the composer wanted to write something inspired by the tragedy akin to the Katrina Ballads by Ted Hearne. However, the focus went from his homeland to his current home when things changed here. "The decision on immigration and the travel bans shook me to my core. I am an immigrant and the developments truly terrified me. I decided to use this opportunity to ponder on migration and what it means to move. I asked my partner Mike to craft a poem about seeking light in a foreign land, and I Follow the Sparrow was the result of that." Together, they chose the subject of the migration of birds to address the subject of immigration, a subject that hits close to home for this immigrant from the Philippines.
Leave it to sparrows to migrate at night;
their crisp silhouettes cross the moon.
If warm winds arrive before afternoon,
The stars heed the birds with their light.
In the shade of their wings run the refugees
Afraid of their lords and the turbulent seas
To the warmth and the light, unbounded they run
To beat the oppression of land without sun.
Imagine denying the migrating birds.
Picture a shield in the sky.
It stifles the light
For the lies that we write
Still the brilliance of nature flies by.
- Michael Yarsky
When our Artistic Director, Brandon Elliott, approached the five composers who received commissions for our upcoming concert, Seeking Light, to celebrate our fifth anniversary season, he gave them only one word that would be the overarching theme of the concert: Light. For Luke Flynn, that light came in the form of his baby girl, Serena, who was about to be born when Flynn first received the commission, and her birth and impact on the lives of Luke and his wife informed and inspired this simple yet profoundly beautiful choral lullaby.
White moon comes in on a baby face.
The shafts across her bed are flimmering.
Out on the land White Moon shines,
Shines and glimmers against gnarled shadows,
All silver to slow twisted shadows
Falling across the long road that runs from the house.
Keep a little of your beauty
And some of your flimmering silver
For her by the window tonight
Where you come in, White Moon.
- from "Baby Face"
by Carl Sandburg
Once more we take the path down through the trees
to meet the Sound. Last winter’s storms have thrown
some maples down – like strings tuned by the wind
the tall ones stand against the water. This spring
the mountains have returned.
Through ferns and moss and mud we wind our way
without speaking, to clamber over driftwood, sandy dogs
and purple mussels. Last year here at high tide
a young grey whale tipped his hat. This spring
our bodies have returned.
I’ve come here with questions and found smooth
green stones, once spotted a raccoon
sampling shells at low tide. Our bodies
tuned by water stand against the wind.
Sun, discover us again.
- Poetry by Dierdre Lockwood (2011)
“Discovery is about finding renewal and strength amidst the beauty of the natural world. Deirdre wrote the poem while walking through Discovery park in Seattle, which borders Puget Sound. But the words speak to anyone who has found answers to life’s questions while being out in nature.”
The eight-part a cappella choral piece was commissioned by the Esoterics and its founding director Eric Banks, so Christina sought out a Seattle-based poet and found Dierdre Lockwood. “They hold an annual choral composition competition and I was chosen for their National composer's commission in 2011. I wanted to write a piece that might connect directly to a Seattle audience so I thought about finding a Seattle-based poet to write a brand new poem. Through an Internet search, I found a Seattle poets organization and contacted them about possible interest in the project. I heard from several poets who sent me examples of their work. I chose Dierdre Lockwood and she chose to write a poem about Discovery Park, an expansive and beautiful park bordering Puget Sound. Discovery is about finding renewal and strength amidst the beauty of the natural world. Musically capturing moments of searching, uncertainty, and, ultimately, contentment, this piece speaks to anyone who has found answers to life's questions while being out in nature.” The music and the poetry for this beautifully lyrical and melodic piece that evokes all the wonder of nature were written together for this commission and premiered by the Esoterics in 2011.
Thomas began her collegiate studies as a Bio-Chem Major, but took music classes and was in a choir while at Middlebury College in Vermont. Her first switch came when she changed her major to Vocal Performance because her experiences in her choir and music classes were what she was most passionate about. Her turning point from Vocal Performance to Composition came when she performed Morten Lauridsen’s “Magnum Mysterium.” The work had such a strong influence on her that she not only wanted to change her focus to Composition but wanted to study with the composer who created the catalyst piece, so she “talked her way in” to USC and completed her Master’s Degree there in 2005. “It wasn’t such a leap to switch from singing in choirs as a Voice Major to writing for them.”
Christina Whitten Thomas’s works have been performed throughout the United States including at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Disney Concert Hall. Christina has received commissions from the Los Angeles Master Chorale Chamber Singers, the Denver Women’s Chorus, Vox Femina of Los Angeles, the Esoterics of Seattle, Melodia Women’s Choir, the Apollo Men’s Chorus, and the Vermont Choral Union. Her awards include 1st place in the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir competition, 1st place in the Los Robles Master Chorale competition, 1st place in the Park Avenue Christian Church competition, 2nd place in the NATS Art Song Composition Award, the Sorel Conductor’s Choice award, and the Sorel Medallion. Her choral cycle Choral de Bêtes can be heard on Musica Sacra’s 2012 CD release Messages to Myself.
Her music is published by E.C. Schirmer and Hal Leonard, as well as available through MusicSpoke.com. Christina holds a M.M. in composition from the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and resides with her family in Pasadena, California, where she is also an active teacher and vocalist. More information can be found at www.christinawhitten.com.
Come hear "Discovery" at our concerts celebrating Earth Day THIS weekend! First performance is Saturday 4/22, 7:30pm at Newport Harbor Lutheran, with a second performance on Sunday 4/23, 4:00pm at the Anaheim United Methodist Church. For more information about this concert, "All We Need," go to our webpage for the concert. For more information about our ensemble, to audition to be a Choral Artist, or to submit compositions to our PREMIERE|Project, go to www.choralartsinitiative.org.
I believe in the sun, even when it's not shining.
I believe in love, even when I feel it not.
I believe in God, even when He is silent.
These words were written on the wall of a concentration camp after World War II ended and the world discovered the atrocities committed in Nazi Germany. The author of this text was an anonymous prisoner who had undoubtedly suffered unimaginable horrors, and yet wrote words of extraordinary faith and hope. In 2011, Kim Arnesen, a composer from Norway, composed the piece Even When He Is Silent using this text, truly reflecting the uplifting beauty and the hope of these words amidst pain and suffering.
"Imagining what that person went through makes the words so powerful." Says the composer in the notes for his piece. "As I read them, it was a Credo - when everything is dark and difficult in life you might wonder where God is, or if God is there at all. This is about keeping faith in God, love, and hope. I think of the sun as a metaphor for hope."
The arrangement being performed by Choral Arts Initiative for the upcoming concerts for Earth Day, "All We Need," April 22 and 23, is an a cappella piece for SATB with 8-part divisi, but the composer simultaneously wrote an unaccompanied version for SSAA choir as well. It was originally commissioned by the St. Olaf festival in Trondheim, Norway. "The assignment was to write a work in two separate versions." The piece works with interchanging chords of consonance and dissonance. The most interesting thing is that the phrases lead into and use dissonance as the resolutions of the phrases at the beginning of the piece. There is a constant struggle to fight through the dissonance, struggling for freedom into consonance, and when that freedom finally happens and the consonance is achieved, it is even more glorious because of the struggle, much like it must have been for the prisoner when they actually did get to experience the sun and for whom faith must have been a true struggle amidst so much suffering. The entire piece ends very quietly, with a dynamic of pianississimo. There is still dissonance, but there is also a beautiful peace.
"This is a work about hope even in the darkest time of life," Arnesen reflects on his page dedicated to the piece at kimarnesen.com. "Even if your freedom and the people you love [are] taken away from you, no one can take away your faith and hope." The piece, Even When He Is Silent, has been performed many times around the world and has been recorded on several CDs.
Kim André Arnesen (b. 1980) is one of the most frequently performed classical composers from Norway today. He grew up in Trondheim and started at the music school at the age of 6 playing the piano. At the age of 10 he started singing in the Nidaros Cathedral Boys´ Choir.
He was educated at the Music Conservatory in Trondheim. As a composer he had his first performance in 1999 with the boys´ choir. Since then he has written music that has been performed by choirs and venues all over the world, including performances at Carnegie Hall and the White House. Several new commissioned anthem length pieces are also being premiered throughout 2017, including a commissioned work for the Texas Directors Association.
Hear this and other contemporary pieces reflecting on nature and the Earth in Choral Arts Initiative's concert, "All We Need," with performances on April 22 and 23 in Newport Beach and Anaheim. Check out our webpage for the concert here for more information and to purchase tickets at a 25% discount!
Lorraine Joy Welling