Prime Time: The Bemidji Chorale Christmas concert
Did I go to the Bemidji Chorale's concert Last Mother's Day? I don't remember going; maybe I had a conflict. Anyway, I think their annual Christmas concert at First Lutheran on Dec. 4, 2011, was the first I attended alone since the group's founding 34 years ago. That sort of thing happens a lot lately. I went to the afternoon concert because I prefer to drive in daylight.
It was splendid. The first half was devoted mostly to harvest and Thanksgiving themes, the second to Christmas songs. Overall, it was as fine a selection as I've heard them do, followed as usual by sinful refreshments provided by the "First Lutheran Ladies." (No, no liquor, just seductively prepared calories and fat grams.)
Patricia Mason conducted, as she has for several years, and Wayne Hoff accompanied, sometimes on organ and sometimes on piano. The comments that follow are not in strictly chronological order. The program did not list vocal soloists, and I didn't jot them down because I had no idea until well into the second half that I was going to write this.
Some of the works were composed recently, but most were older, and some were anonymous but with named arrangers. On a Web search, I was surprised to learn that the music for "Christ the Apple Tree" (an 18th-century poem) is by Stanford Scriven, who was born in 1988. Another recent composition was "Ubi Caritas" by Ola Gjeilo (pronounced YAY-lo), who was born in Norway in 1978. You can hear and see it on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?vtcRqMPBhuyo .
A favorite of mine is "A'Soalin'" by Paul Stookey. It combines two or more traditional British songs. You may have first heard it on a Peter, Paul, and Mary LP or CD. The Chorale's arrangement was lovely, as were their renditions of "Sing to the Lord of Harvest" and pieces by Bach and Mozart.
The second half started with Isaac Watts' "Joy to the World" (music by G.F. Handel) and also included the Norman Luboff arrangement of the Austrian carol "Still, Still, Still," William Dix's "What Child is This?" to the familiar 16th century English melody "Greensleeves," and two contemporary carols, "Carol from an Irish Cabin" by Dale Wood and "Torches, Torches" by the late James Schell. It ended, as usual, with Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber's 1818 "Silent Night."
Among the Christmas pieces after intermission was "Away in a Manger," using the English rather than American tune, in an arrangement by John Stewart, a current Bemidji State University student who is in the Chorale. "Torches, Torches" also particularly interested me because I know the soloist, Linda LaFond. Her voice seemed particularly rich, and I told her so after the concert. She modestly suggested that it was because it was all well within her easy range.
"What Child is This?" was special for two reasons. The soloist was Gretchen Rusch, playing the English horn, my favorite wind instrument. (Is it surprising that my favorite string instrument is the viola?) I've seen Gretchen play oboe on many occasions, at Bemidij Symphony Orchestra concerts and in small group recitals at Lueken's Village Foods North and in the east lobby of the hospital. The English horn part was not the Greensleeves melody but a complement to it.
The other reason was that "What Child is This?" reminded me of Elaine, as many things do. During my senior year at Cornell in Ithaca and her first year at Cornell-New York Hospital School of Nursing, I saw her only during Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter breaks. While I was in Manhattan during Christmas break 1950, Elaine said she'd like us to go to a particular Christmas Eve service. I was on sabbatical from churches in general at the time, and didn't even know there were Christmas Eve services. If my former church (which I was sent to, not taken to) had them, I did not know about it.
She had picked a church -- I think Episcopalian, but maybe Presbyterian -- maybe on lower Madison Avenue a bit north of Madison Square, but I'm not sure. As I remember, there was a decent turnout but still plenty of room. I think we were about halfway back on the right side, and I don't remember much about the service. But either the choir or the congregation sang "What Child is This?" with organ accompaniment.
This was a good-sized stone Gothic church, and the amount of echo was just right. I don't believe I had ever heard "Greensleeves" before, and the music blew me away. It probably didn't hurt that I was with the girl I hoped to spend the rest of my life with. We came close.
Evan Hazard, a retired BSU biology professor, also writes "Northland Stargazing" the fourth Friday of each month.