Guest Blog: from Megan Balderston
What’s in a name? Artistic Director Bruce Tammen mentioned in his last blog that our affectionate, behind-the-scenes name for this concert in its planning stages was “Chorale Goes Rogue.” Longtime followers of Chicago Chorale may be aware that our programming is adventurous and eclectic; one thinks of the “Northern Light” concert that featured twentieth century music of the Baltic and Scandinavian countries, with the choir singing in four or five different languages.
The dictionary definitions of rogue tend to have negative connotations, or at the minimum focus on deviance rather than deviation. We are using the following definition of rogue: “A person or thing that behaves in an aberrant or unpredictable way.” What, exactly, is our deviant behavior? Well, in this case, it is simply the fact that we are not singing music with religious text, in a (traditionally) sacred space. That said, this concert leans close to our traditional norm in style and composers. One big difference, to me, is the breadth of language we are working through in this concert. It’s one thing for us to sing religious texts in German; we’ve sung the entire mass and many Bible verses so often that German is second nature for many of us. This concert, however, features poetry in Nynorsk, German, French, English…and English with a Scottish pronunciation. But because we are singing poetry, even the German is not familiar to everyone. This means that we have to spend time with the group and on our own to understand how these languages sound and what the text means. Last week I listened to and practiced our Nynorsk piece so much that by the end of one session, I almost believed I could speak the language. For example, French is not intuitive to me at all and I plan many listening/practice sessions with Poulenc in my future. Singers have to create a mood with their phrasing, diction, and use of the language; proper pronunciation and emphasis is key. Ideally, the audience doesn’t notice the language when it’s done well, but it is jarring when it’s not. We work hard to make the language aspect second nature to ourselves, and invisible to the listener.
As a singer and managing director of the group, I am finding that the music is difficult to describe. In its earliest planning stages, we joked: “And then, after we work on the Bruckner mass, let’s do a concert of only show tunes!” As the idea of a secular concert took hold, Bruce took on the challenge of planning this concert over the course of the last two years, and was able to find a number of works arranged for full choir that hit all of the requirements we set for ourselves in Chorale. The works themselves are hauntingly beautiful and treacherously difficult, though I won’t tell you which is which. Bruce found a wonderful representation of secular music, in a wide variety of forms, from waltz to torch song. And the concert does in fact have a gorgeous and complex “show tune” in its midst.
Ultimately, though, this concert is about love: obsessive and complicated love, in the Brahms. Love of nature, in the Grieg. Love of country and the fair maiden, in the Vaughan Williams. Unrequited love, in the Kern. And of course, lost love in the Poulenc. So, love is the unifying theme and a subject that we could explore for years.
But it’s also about love in a different way—the love for singing. The Brahms Liebeslieder and Neue Liebeslieder Waltzes are tricky, but fun. They are, essentially, a couple dozen songs about different stages of love, all written in waltz form: reminiscent of sprightly dances and drinking songs, utilizing sweet poetry and varying in subject matter from wry observations to infatuation to deep despair. And the other side of this program is a set of wonderful songs. They’re the kind of songs that make one sigh deeply at the end, both beautiful and satisfying in their emotion, in their chord progressions, and artistry. Another surprise for our audience will be the variety of solos featured in this concert. Chicago Chorale is made up of a wide range of individual voices. I believe that when you hear some of our singers individually you will marvel, as I do, at the great variety and talent within Chorale’s depths.
We look forward to seeing you at our concert on May 18.