Show 243: Listening Guide

From the Top’s broadcast for Show 243 was taped at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain, MA on Sunday December 18, 2011. We asked our performers to tell us about the music they performed on the show:

Boston Children’s Chorus, featuring the Premier Choir & Young Men’s Ensemble

“Alleluia,” by Randall Thompson
Anthony Trecek-King, Artistic Director

This is a great piece of music – one of the standard choral pieces out there. Written by an American composer for the Tanglewood Festival, he originally intended it to be more of a practice piece (particularly for conductors). It has everything you could want in a piece: tempo changes, meter changes, a large dynamic range, difficult harmonies. It is a challenging piece for choirs to pull off, and is just the kind of piece I like to challenge our singers with – even though it’s a standard, it’s still a difficult piece.

From the Top Alumni String Quartet
II. Molto adagio from String Quartet No.1
 By: George Walker

Tessa Lark, Violin

It’s so beautiful and powerful! I’d actually never heard of the composer or heard this piece until a couple weeks before the show – but I’m so glad I know about it now! The piece seems to tell a story of love and the many faces it wears- tenderness, warmth, passion – what a beautiful work.

These kinds of tear-jerker pieces are my absolute favorite to play. It’s easy to relate to and as a performer I can really pour my heart and soul into it which acts, in a way, as my own personal emotional therapy!

Ryan Shannon, Violin

This piece has quickly become one of my favorites, even after such a short time as it is one of the most beautiful, poignant, and heartwarming pieces that I have ever played. I believe it is a piece that touches a very deep part of our souls, a part of us that is not effected very often in our day to day lives; a part of us that is near the very root of our being, part of our foundation, part of the essence of our humanity that makes us who we are. When I play this piece I am transported in a way that I have never been before in my life: it takes me out of time and space to a medium beyond my understanding. I feel, so strongly, but I cannot put my finger on what I am feeling, as if the music has transformed the physical world around me and I cannot breath without being a part of it and feeling the emotions that it evokes, as if the very air has become imbibed with emotion, with meaning. It is almost impossible to describe these emotions, as I have never felt them before: some sort of combination of extreme sadness and elation, or perhaps the point at which these two meet and become one and the same.

As a group, I think the most difficult, or rather important, aspects of performing this piece is the blending of sound. Each of us has an equal role in creating and filling the sound and we must all be a cohesive and unbreakable whole in order for the effect of the intense emotions to come across. Our sound is the foundation for our audience’s experience and it must be capable of raising them high, to experience the foundation of their soul. They must be able to find themselves in the sound that we create.

Post-Show Reflection: The show was an absolute blast!! As totally expected! I was wowed by the choir and their truly remarkable ability to change the music so quickly while being completely together! At times it felt like I could almost see the air as it was blown away by a blast of sound or as it disappeared in a sudden dramatic quietening. Alexandra’s tone on the bassoon was so poignant, it was all I could do but look up into the rafters and feel the beauty in the sound fall over me. And of course I would have given an arm and a leg to see Tessa fiddle, but it was all delivered quite wonderfully! (No amputations necessary :D)

I want to thank the entire From the Top crew and staff for giving me this amazing opportunity (again!) to play with such incredible musicians, tell my story at the Hope Lodge (through From the Top’s Center for the Development of Arts Leaders) to the world, hear and play such moving music, and be a part of everyone that enjoyed! Thank You!!

Clayton Penrose-Whitmore, Viola

This piece is a very beautiful piece; the type that gives me goose bumps. It has a beautiful calm opening that builds and climaxes into the middle of the piece, and then slowly deflates through the end.

This piece is very beautiful and slow, so it is difficult to sustain the phrase. One thing we watch out for especially is intonation. It’s so beautiful that I feel like I would let everyone down on experiencing the full beauty of the chords and harmonies if I were to play something out of the tune.

Michael Dahlberg, Cello

It captures the emotional journey and stillness of Barber’s Adagio for Strings but casts it in a new light. Because it is played less frequently, I find it easier to hear anew, like a fresh way to experience that feeling of eternity.

I think what makes it tick is the right balance of flow and stillness. It has to get across a feeling of timelessness while being grounded in an inevitable pulse.

Post-Show Reflection: Returning to the show, I was reminded of how much fun concert productions can be. The staff is intent on bringing out your best playing while keeping you focused on having fun and being yourself. So glad to take part again!

Boston Children’s Chorus
“My Soul’s Been Anchored In The Lord”, trad. spiritual (arr. Moses Hogan)
“In His Care-O”, trad. spiritual (arr. William Dawson)
Anthony Trecek-King, Artistic Director

I like to regularly touch on different spirituals. They are truly an American idiom, and something that we can call our own, not a borrowed genre of music. Historically, such deep roots important, so I try to do a couple of different ones every year. Though these spirituals may appear joyful, they each have a profound sense of seriousness.

When listening to the theme of “My Soul’s Been Anchored,” for example, just that statement says, “I am sure of myself – I’m anchored in the Lord.” “In His Care-O” conveys a similar message of comfort in having faith. Both come out of the context of slavery – being enslaved and not really having a future, it was nice to find solace in something else, something beautiful. A lot of time spirituals are performed too carefree – what we try to do is, though we may appear joyful in performance, bring a sense of seriousness to this music. That’s what I try to bring across whenever we are performing a spiritual.

Boston Children’s Chorus
“I’ll Fly Away,” by Albert E. Brumley (arr. Jim Papoulis)
Anthony Trecek-King, Artistic Director

This is a gospel hymn, and we just want to have fun with it – it is very different from anything that we’ve done before. I wanted a very bluegrass, roots-y feel to it – we brought in a guitar, a bass, and a fiddle to help set the stage for this. The composer actually wrote it when he was picking cotton in Oklahoma – it as though he literally wanted to “fly away” from his responsibilities in the fields. We tried to change our sound for this piece to a slightly brighter, more “twang-y” sound, so hopefully we sound different here than from the previous three.