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Musical Weekly: Happy New Year!

Firstly, with the start of a new decade, I wish all good things to everyone, both for the coming year and the coming decade, “the 20’s.” Hopefully not the “Roaring Twenties,” but perhaps the “Peaceful Twenties,” or even just the “Unremarkable Twenties!” I’m a bit tired of drama on the national and international levels, as well as in one’s personal life, and hope for tranquility and concord, above all. MB and I re-watched “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and I found myself very much drawn to and yearning for the domestic comfortability of a hobbit’s life.

Here’s a link to a 20 second New Year’s video greeting I made for St. Martin’s Chamber Choir supporters, and which I extend to you. Watch it to see what a good boy Clive was, if not for anything else! Click Here.
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I was very pleased with the enthusiastic reactions to St. Martin’s Christmas concerts last month, and we almost reached 1,000 attendees between the three concerts! In a subsequent e-mail exchange with David Rutherford, who was one of the readers (Conductor of Stratus Chamber Orchestra, Director of Bands and Orchestra at Fairview High School, and former host on KVOD), we were discussing how emotional we both got during the reading about the Slaying of the Innocents. Along with discussing the more difficult sides of the holidays, I confessed to fears about how people would react to the concerts. I think the relevant paragraphs are worth reproducing here, as a personal musing on both Christmas itself, and the tricky art of programming a concert (I’ll change fonts to identify the quotation from my e-mail):

“You know, the more I experience Christmas – the planning of music for services and concerts, and trying to come up with something new and interesting each year on something a million other people have had to do in their work, too – the more I think we cheat ourselves of the power of Christmas by dwelling only on the soft, pleasant themes of “the mother meek and mild,” the babe in the manger, oxes and asses, angels, etc. All very important, but if we ignore the shadier bits, like the Slaying of the Innocents, as well as the Simeon story (the Nunc dimittis and all that), I think we rob the story of much of its power. In the last few years I’ve been very moved by the idea of the incarnational season lasting from the beginning of Advent (or, even more expansively, from March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation – a very literal 9 months before Christmas Day!) until Feb. 2 (the Feast of the Presentation – a literal 40 days after birth, when, according to Jewish custom, a baby is presented in the Temple), and that the story in its entirety encompasses the full scope of life and death, from conception to Simeon’s death, with birth and everything else in between.

“I was worried that ending the concert with such “downers” as slaying the innocents and Simeon’s acknowledgement of his own death would not be popular with the audience (which is one reason I chose a Nunc dimittis that was warm, affirming, and even celebratory). This worry prompted me to insert the silly carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” at the end . . . but then I was afraid of the opposite – that the dramatic expanse of the entire nativity story would be violated by such a juxtaposition; literally going from the sublime to the ridiculous! Anyway, audiences seemed not to be bothered by these things, and the handful of people I asked specifically about these worries assured me they loved it.”

So there it is, my rumination on both Christmas and the treacherous process of programming concerts!
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Without going into too much detail at this point, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir’s next set of concerts is “Shiru L’Adonai: Jewish Sacred Choral Music,” exploring the history of the liturgical music of Judaism. I’ve uncovered quite a few interesting currents and movements in the tradition, and some fascinating and beautiful music to explicate and celebrate it. I will confess to almost all of it being new territory for me, and, as is often the case when one expands into previously unexplored territory, I’m embarrassed by my previous neglect, as this personal exploration has highlighted my utter ignorance on the matter. I look forward to sharing my discoveries with audiences.

Here are the names of just a few of the composers we will perform: Salomone Rossi, Louis Lewandowski, Salomon Sulzer, Ernst Bloch, Joshua Jacobsen, Coreen Duffy, Yehudi Wyner, and, somewhat surprisingly, Franz Schubert!

The concerts are Friday, Feb. 21, 7:30pm, and Sunday, Feb. 23, 3:00pm. Details to follow!