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Choral Music Review Print

Hinshaw's Celebration Concert a Worthy Experience

August 4, 2006 - RTP & Raleigh, NC:

Hinshaw Music presented its 32rd annual Celebration choral workshop at the Sheraton Imperial in RTP on Friday and Saturday, August 4 and 5. A "Celebration" concert at Edenton Street United Methodist Church on Friday was a highlight of the workshop. The concert, free to the public, was introduced with a welcome from Roberta Van Ness, President of Hinshaw Music, and promptly proceeded through some of the highlight organ and choral music from their vast and eclectic catalogue.

Organist Monica Umstaedt Rossman played "Six Sketches on Children's Hymns" by Barrie Cabena and "Partita on Lobe den Herren" by Richard Peek. Both pieces – but especially the venerable and familiar "Lobe den Herren" ("Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation") – gave the fine Moller organ and the organist a varied and exciting workout.

Rodney Wynkoop, leading the Vocal Arts Ensemble of Durham, began the choral feast with four anthems or hymn settings. Isaac Watts' "A hymn to Unity" in a fine setting by Howard Helvey was singable and moving as the audience joined in on the fourth verse. André Thomas chose a text by Langston Hughes for his richly harmonized "Hold Fast to Dreams," performed with piano accompaniment by Rossman. "Alleluia Brasileira" by Ralph Manuel featured moderately challenging and tantalizing rhythms from South America sung a cappella. The fourth piece of this first set moved in a more meditative and almost ethereal mode. The Latin text of "O Lux Beatissima," set to music by Helvey with tight, rich harmonies, mostly in the lower register, was a soul-satisfying piece to hear. This was also sung exquisitely a cappella by the Durham choir.

Composer David Schwoebel took the baton next to conduct the VAE in four of his own hymn settings, all performed with piano accompaniment. The familiar hymn "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus" was given a new twist by setting it to an arrangement of Bach's "Jesu, meine Freude" (more popularly known as "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring"); it was sung by the men only. "Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven" received a dramatic introduction and reharmonization. "In The Garden" ("I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses"), and "No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus" were heard in settings that did little to balance the saccharine sentimentality of these hymns but will obviously please those who go for this sort of music.

The second half of the concert focused entirely on the music of K. Lee Scott, one of America's foremost composers of music for the church. His 300 published compositions include anthems, hymns, works for solo voice, organ, and brass, and major works including a Christmas cantata and Te Deum.

Scott received two degrees in choral music from the University of Alabama School of Music under the tutelage of Frederick Prentice. He also studied composition with Paul Hedwall and Gail Kubik. Scott has served as adjunct faculty for the University of Alabama School of Music, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Music, and Samford University School of Music (Birmingham, AL). He has traveled extensively as a guest conductor and clinician throughout the United States and to Canada and Africa.

To begin, he conducted the VAE in two seasonal anthems, the Advent Carol "The Apple Tree" and the Easter hymn "Now Glad of Heart." Both were well crafted and worthy of any choir capable of handling the moderate challenges in the music.

Next came the highlight of the evening, the world premiere public performance of his Requiem, performed with reduced instrumentation from the intended full orchestration. The instrumentalists were flutist Rebecca Troxler, violists Suzanne Rousso, Michael Castelo, Diane Stephens, and Petra Berenyi, cellists David Oh and Lisa Ferebee, and harpist Winifred Garrett. Rounding out the ensemble were Chris Caudal and Rachel Niketopoulos, horns, Steven Burke, timpani, and organist Rossman. Patricia D. Philipps and Donald Milholin from the VAE were impressive in the soprano and baritone solos.

Liturgically, a requiem is a mass (service) for the dead. As a service in a liturgical church, it has a strictly prescribed form and texts. Musically, a requiem is generally a large work, usually in memoriam or commemoration of a person or an event. It may or may not follow the form and text of the liturgical mass. For example, Brahms chose texts from the Lutheran Bible for his German Requiem. From the Middle Ages to the present, many classical composers have written requiems as a means of expressing personal and deeply felt emotions about life and faith. One web site lists 2,751 Requiems written by 1,802 composers. Some of them are among the greatest statements of human creativity, some of the obscure ones deserve greater appreciation, and others will lie quietly and be mercifully forgotten.

Scott has put together seven movements using a variety of texts from the New Testament book of Revelation, the Psalms, the English parson/poet John Donne, and a striking description of the new Jerusalem by poet/hymnist Timothy Dudley-Smith. Time, devotion, and attention to detail are apparent throughout the work. In general, the composition is neither bold nor groundbreaking, but it is pleasant and should be heard and appreciated. It was written for use in larger Protestant churches for special occasions and is certainly suitable for community and college choruses. There are moments of radiant beauty and inspired creativity. Tone clusters on the phrase "the street of the city was of pure gold" sounded indeed like gold. The closing movement, "That Blessed Dependancy," a setting of a passage from the last sermon Donne preached before his death a few days later, was another special moment. Scott uses the modest orchestra well and provides a variety of colors and solos and mostly homophonic choral richness in communicating a positive and comforting message.

Hinshaw Music and President Roberta Van Ness deserve high praise and honor for putting together these workshops – they always seem to have the ebullient spirit of Don Hinshaw hovering around them – and for making these fine concerts available to the public free of charge.