Seattle Sings, 2019

See our Seattle Sings Album here!

Sonoro Women’s Choir sang at the Greater Seattle Choral Consortium‘s biannual festival bringing together all the area choirs for a big 3 day concert series. This year marked the retirement of beloved composer Morten Lauridsen. He attended the night we sang and we were honored to sing his work Dirait-On for him. It was tons of fun!

We purposefully chose a wide range of arts music to demonstrate our love for all kinds of music from cheery gospel to intense contemporary works. Check us out below!

“How Can I Keep From Singing” by Sarah Quartel. Soloist Carrie Penkman
“Muusika” by Part Uusberg
“Stars” by Eriks Esenvalds (lyrics by Sara Teasdale)

Like what you hear? We’ve got a chorus available for your next event.

Spotlight on Mendelssohn

We’re excited to perform Felix Mendelssohn’s Drei Motetten, Op. 39 for you this Christmas concert (Dec. 2, 3, 2017). It is a beautiful, luxurious piece of music perfectly suited to the rich, full tones of the organ played by our guest organist, Dr. Curt Sather. It is a collection of three “motets” or small, religious songs and though not overtly Christmas-y, fits well in our program.

The first motet, Veni Domine (Come, Lord) is as plantiff a call to God as is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The words are translated as follows:

Come, Lord, and do not delay!
Forgive the transgressions of your people, and call back the dispersed to your land.
Stir up, Lord, your power and come to save us.

Though the melody is solemn, it’s not heavy or dreary, but full of lilt and danceful rhythms.

The second motet, Laudate Pueri (Praise the Lord) begins with musical references to Gregorian chants with the rather thoughtful melody line given to each voice part in succession. The choir quotes from Psalm 113:1-2, translated as: “Praise the Lord ye servants: O praise the Name of the Lord. Blessed be the Name of the Lord: from this time forth for evermore.”  The melody is quickly stacked and reworked by each part into an interweaving polyphonic texture, broken in the middle by soloists who enjoin the listener with a quote from Psalm 128:1, “Blessed are all they that fear the Lord: and walk in his ways”. The melody is firm and absorbed rather than a wild and exuberant Baroque-type quality you might expect from a “Praise the Lord” song which lends a sense of strength and command to an otherwise joyful lyric.

The third motet, Surrexit Pastor Bonus (Good Shepherd), softens into a very pastoral, sentimental sensibility. The soloists and choir pass lyrics back and forth with rising cheer and zeal. The composition plays with elements of Baroque-style fugue, but ultimately blossoms into full-textured polyphony–each voice part singing independently, yet synergistically with each other. The lyrics center around Christ’s death and resurrection, which we think is a wonderful counterpoint to the Christmas story. Especially since the piece ends with sincerely enthusiastic runs of celebratory ‘alleluias!’

The good shepherd who laid down his life for his flock has risen, alleluia. And it was fitting that he should die for his flock, alleluia. [based on John 10:11-18]

They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. If you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away. [John 20: 13 & 15]

Christ, my hope, is risen; he will go before you into Galilee, alleluia. [from the Easter sequence Victimae paschali laudes]

mendelssohn_bartholdy

Composer Felix Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn’s three part Op. 39 is absolutely a child of the Romantic era. Composed in 1830, it is influenced by Romantic ideals of the time. Composers in the previous Classical period were focused on exploring the rules and ideal forms of music while the Romanticists began to explore art’s ability to invoke rich and multi-layered feelings in the viewer or listener. Composers and artists explored the boundaries of emotion from the sublime, to abject desperation. They frequently used polyphony to build up layers of textured emotion. Mendelssohn, in particular, will often deliver you a theme, and then pass it around and around, changing bits here and there.

As you listen to this Romantic-era piece, listen for a) the depth and colors of emotion which Mendelssohn is playing with as he attempts to relate humanity to God. And b) the musical texture which is created by multiple melodies being woven together like lace. 

See Sonoro Women’s Choir perform this piece this holiday season.

 

Polyphony

I have a secret to confess.

Despite my many years as a choral singer, I don’t really choose to listen to classical music that much. In fact, most of the classical music I’ve been exposed to has been at a) my brother’s band recitals in school, b) that one Handel concert my parents made me go to and c) choir. I don’t think I’m alone when I say: sometimes I find classical music difficult to listen to. I just don’t always “get” it.

Fortunately, one of Sonoro Choral Society’s missions is to make music of all forms accessible to the lay listener/singer like me. We’re a teaching choir! And here’s what I’m learning about polyphony.

One of the cool things you can do with choirs that you can’t do with soloists is give each voice a different part. Many, many, many (all?) songs on the radio are homophonic which means they have one melody line and some accompaniment. The accompaniment (voiced, instrumental, or both) is designed to support the melody, but isn’t usually that nice to listen to by itself. [Side note: homophonic is not to be confused with monophonic which is a melody by itself with nothing else].

Polyphony, on the other hand, is multiple melody lines playing independently of each other at the same time. They are harmonically related, but usually rhythmically independent. It’s similar to a fugue in that a musical theme or “subject” is often passed from voice to voice with each voice expanding upon or changing the subject. But it is different from a fugue in that it doesn’t have to be as orderly. Here is a short video with a really great example of polyphony. He breaks down each snippet for you, so that it’s easy to hear the interplay.

I think polyphony is one of the ways Classical music can be hard to listen to, because the many melodies and rhythms can feel dense–cacophonous even. Fortunately, there’s a few tricks I’ve learned which make polyphonous music fun to listen to.

  1. Polyphony is really big in the Romantic era of music which valued music’s ability to produce intense and multi-layered feelings in the listener. So ask yourself: what does each melodic line have to say? How does it support or re-frame the lyric or emotional content of the piece. Are the voice parts in conversation?
  2. If there’s a theme, listen for it to pop up from the morass. How is it disguised this time? Listen for counterpoint like in the video above. Do they compete? enforce the main? How do they change the context in which the initial theme sits?
  3. Now that you’ve listened to the melodies weave in and out, metaphorically stand back from the music as if from a painting. How does it sound together? How does the piece as a whole swell and fade?

While researching for this article, I came across this quote from music expert John Rahn:

It is hard to write a beautiful song. It is harder to write several individually beautiful songs that, when sung simultaneously, sound as a more beautiful polyphonic whole.

He makes a good point, I think. I’m tremendously impressed by people who compose, but to compose TWO simultaneous, interdependent pieces? That’s cool.

Find out where Sonoro is singing polyphony at our events page.

–Johanna Hanson, Marketing Director and singer in Sonoro Women’s Choir.

Want more?

Here’s a little extra:

Sonoro Presents “Mysterium”

Sonoro is proud to announce our Christmas 2017 concert series, “Mysterium” featuring Felix Mendelssohn’s Three Motets for Women’s Choir and Organ, Op. 39 played by organist Dr. Curt Sather.

We will also be singing O Magnum Mysterium by Tomas Luis de Victoria and many Christmas favorites.

Mysterium Web Link

We’ll be presenting two performances:

Saturday, December 2nd at 7:00 pm.
First Presbyterian Church
20 N Tacoma Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98402
Tickets Here

Sunday, December 3rd at 3:00 pm.
Steilacoom Community Church
1603 Rainier St
Steilacoom, WA 98388
Tickets Here

Tickets are $15 in advance at Brown Paper Tickets or $17.00 at the door.

Keep an eye out for sneak peaks and announcements on our Facebook page!

Or visit our YouTube videos from rehearsals like at the end.

About our Guest MusicianIMG_3043

CURT SATHER received degrees in Organ Performance from Arizona State University, and the Eastman School of Music, Rochester NY. After serving 13 years as Organist & Choirmaster at St. Barnabas on the Desert Episcopal Church, Scottsdale AZ, he joined the Benedictine monastery of San Miniato al Monte, Florence, Italy, where he also served as organist for several churches. He is currently Organist & Choirmaster of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Olympia, where in March of this year he performed the complete organ works of J. S. Bach on a 24-hour recital marathon.

Youtube videos

Songs of Empowerment

12045367_10153624296054799_9207590057271539424_oWe have always been proud here at Sonoro of our commitment to empowerment for amateur artists. We empower our singers by providing them a supportive place to practice and grow in their art and by providing them high quality places to perform.

We also empower our singers–currently all women–by selecting meaningful literature and challenging music to perform. Historically, women-only choirs have been given frivolous, useless songs to sing. We often credit Brahms (1850s) for being one of the first composers to write large, important works strictly for women’s voices.

This season, some of our music is more specifically concerned with women’s empowerment. For instance, Voice on the Wind by Sarah Quartel was commissioned for an all girl’s choir to “celebrate 20 years of providing a place where girls find their voices.” It’s an earthy, a capella song accompanied by hand drum with the following lyrics:

I heard a voice on the summer wind
hoo wah hoo wah hoo
Who she is I can’t explain
hoo wah hoo wah hoo

I heard a voice on the summer wind
Blowing free and blowing strong
Strength and spirit in her song.
hoo wah hoo wah hoo

I heard a voice on the summer wind
Sounds familiar like my own
hoo wah hoo wah hoo

I am the voice on the summer wind
hoo wah hoo wah hoo
Strong and sure where e’er I stand
hoo wah hoo wah hoo

The singers, rooted and confident, finding their voice on the summer wind reminds me so strongly of Walt Whitman asserting his hale and hearty human-ness with his “barbaric yawp” in verse 52 of “Song of Myself”. In the poem, Whitman explores his place in nature, his exuberance at being alive, and his abhorrence of death while reveling over grass in the woods. Finally, he says:

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me– he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed–I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

There is something obstinate and joyful about shouting wordlessly into the space between; something wonderful about finding your strength, untamed and untranslatable. That’s what we want for you and for our singers.

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Come here the Sonoro Women’s Choir sing “Voice on the Wind” and other delights May and June.

Summer 2017 Concert: Love and War…

About our concert:

The Sonoro Choral Society is excited to present an intense and powerful concert entitled, Love and War: The Conflict and Passion of Humanity.

This program will explore the intensity of the human existence from deep love and joy to the harshness of our conflicts and ultimately, the unifying qualities in these shared experiences. We are proud to feature a trilogy of songs by Keven Memley based on the poetic work by Sara Teasdale, named Reflections on Humanity, with Ms. Hope Bales on oboe.

We will also be presenting Eric Whitacre’s wonderful work, Five Hebrew Love Songs, featuring Ms. Gwendolyn Taylor on violin.The rest of the evening will range from exciting and passionate Spanish folk music to Broadway favorites!

Still curious? Read more about our concert pieces at the links below:

Tickets

This season, we are offering a discount for online ticket sales:
$15 for online tickets, $17.50 for tickets bought at the door.

Please note, if you buy a ticket online for one night, you may exchange the ticket for another night at no extra charge. Just show up on the night you want to attend and we’ll exchange it at the door. (Premium tickets will be exchanged for regular seating with no refund.)

If you belong to the congregation at Steilacoom Community Church, your ticket is free. However, you must have a ticket to enter the performance. Simply pick up a ticket ahead of time from your church staff.

Follow the links to buy online tickets for your night.

Love and War1_link Love and War2_link Love and War3_link

Singing Like Rain

I (Johanna, volunteer women’s-choir attendee and occasional alto) just finished listening to one of my favorite podcasts “The Allusionist” which is usually about the etymology of words but in this episode was about music. The subject was “vocables” the application of which any choir member will be familiar, if with not the actual term. In linguistic parlance, a “vocable” is simply a sound used in speech (not to be confused with phoneme. Phonemes are the atoms, vocables are the molecules of speech). In musical terms, a vocable is a thing you say on purpose but which doesn’t have meaning, for example: shoo bop sha wadda wadda yippety boom de boom.

The music experts on the Allusionist (read the transcript or listen to the story here) made the distinction between vocable use and “scatting” which is more improvisational, though equally senseless. Especially in pop music, vocables are planned and are used strategically to set the tone and rhythm of the song, provide a memorable hook, and/or fill in the background. Sometimes, they are used to leave things unsaid. For instance, here’s JLS’s “She Makes Me Wanna”

While it can seem lazy to not finish the dang sentence, the song-writer allows the listener to fill in the meaning of the lyric, leaving radio-friendly vocables as scaffolding. It won’t take you long to find tons more examples of vocable use in pop songs. In fact, often the music industry relies on these vocable hooks to sell music and keep you tuned to their radio station (read this New Yorker piece on the subject).

But in choral singing, vocables take on an even weightier meaning. Like in jazz scatting, vocables allow choral singers to treat their voice like an instrument. Notice how the scatting in Ella Fitzgerald’s “One Note Samba” sounds like a saxophone.

The difference is, in choral music, vocables are all meticulously planned and strategically organized. This season, Sonoro Women’s Choir is singing several different pieces which all use vocables for different purposes.

Firstly,”Tundra” by Ola Gjeilo (which we did last season) uses simple “ooh”s to evoke a wintry wind. This is a great example of how choral music uses vocables to paint a picture beyond words. On the other hand, in Eric Whitacre’s “She Weeps Over Rahoon,” the choir is instructed to sing “muttering rain and” over and over on one note at each singer’s independent speed for a whole page. The overlapping words–though initially meaningful–are divorced from their meaning and become unquestionably the sound of soft rain. Listen carefully, in this video it’s hard to tell they’re saying words at all!

The second way song writers use vocables is to use them as color. At first peek, Kevin A Memley’s “If I Were the Velvet Rose” (based on Sara Teasdale’s poem “A Maiden”) seems to use vocables as run-of-the-mill filler. However, as you can see below the vocable-singing altos are deliberately instructed to match vowels with the lyric-singing sopranos.vocable eg

Matching vowels in the vocable line makes sure that there is no tonal turbulence. (It just sounds clash-y when one person sings an ‘ehh’ and another person sings an ‘eeee’. Try it with a friend.) In this way, the writer was very careful about the selection and use of vocables. Another great example of this careful consideration of nonsense syllables is “Adiemus” by Karl Jenkins.

Here, Jenkins uses sounds meant to evoke Latin, but which are actually nonsense. He uses vocables the whole song through and selects them based on rhythm and color. They are not simply background, but the whole song. Jenkins asks the listener to place their own meaning upon the song.

We’re singing a similar song: “Tango to Evora” which began as a violin piece by Loreena McKennit and adapted by Jon Washburn for choir. There is not a single word, only “la la la” the whole way through. I asked our Director, Jeremy Shilley, ‘isn’t it a bit lazy to not put words to a song?’ He replied, ‘no, because when you use words, you have to make a decision as to the meaning of the piece. Using ‘la la la’ allows the listener to decide on the meaning.’

‘But,’ I countered, ‘why even bother to adapt a song which does so well as a violin piece to choral music in the first place?’

‘Why not?’ he shrugged and we laughed. That’s art. Adapting and and reinventing. If we can have Gregorian chant version of Metallica songs, I suppose we can have women be a violin. ‘Think of it as an impressionistic painting’ he told me. Where “Tundra” uses vocables to evoke a place, “Tango to Evora” uses vocables to inspire a feeling.

Vocables: the paintbrush strokes of music.

See Sonoro Women’s Choir at their vocable best this summer; details to come.

Extra Reading

Northern Lights

We love Norwegian-born Ola Gjeilo (pronounced yay-lo) for his challenging, close harmonies, shimmeringly delicate chord movements, and for the sense of place enclosed in his music. His cold an elegant Tundra (2016) claimed a semi-permanent rotation in our collection.

This season we’ve taken up Northern Lights (2010), an arresting and earnest work. The music is chant-like with swelling and ebbing waves. Listen to it here. The lyrics are taken from a the Song of Solomon (sung in Latin):

img968

Thou art beautiful, O my love, sweet and beautiful daughter of Jerusalem.

Thou art beautiful, O my love, sweet and comely as Jerusalem,

terrible as an army set in array.

Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have made me flee away.

The theme of our concert, this season, is passion of both love and war. We love how the above author portrays beauty as–not a frivolous, passing thing–but as compelling and frightening. As terrible as an army ready for battle. Our experience of love is sometimes solemn and consequential. Important and deeply lovely.

The astute reader may notice the title of the work: Northern Lights seems out of place next to the Song of Solomon. Gjeilo says that while near Oslo during Christmas, he looked out over an icy lake and:

northern-lights-bo-vesteralen-northern-norway_d65f4e1d-f28c-4dca-a20a-b75bf6d50549

I was thinking about how this “terrible” beauty reminded me of the northern lights, or auroa borealis. The northern lights are one of the most beautiful natural phenomena I’ve ever witnessed, and they have such a powerful, electric quality that must have been both mesmerizing and terrifying to people in the past, when no one knew what the lights were, and when much superstition was attached to these experiences.

–Author’s note, “Northern Lights” Walton Music Corporation, 2016.

Love is like a terrible, beautiful army and like the mysterious, electric Northern Lights on a crystalline winter’s night. Keen. Formidable. Ineffable and momentous.

We look forward to singing Northern Lights and a few others for you on June 10 and 11, 2017. Details coming soon.