Every year the Ft. Worth Symphony Orchestra performs “Home For The Holidays,” its annual Christmas Concert series. As with most years, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Master Chorale, with which I am proud to sing, participates (it’s the principle chorus of the Symphony).
It’s a wonderful opportunity. Very few choirs have the opportunity to regularly perform with a first rate symphony orchestra; we get to do it many times each year. But it is also a significant commitment over the Thanksgiving holiday with a three hour dress rehearsal on Friday afternoon, followed by matinee and evening performances on Saturday and Sunday. What that means is being involved in the process from about 1300-2200 each of those nights, which includes two performances of two hours duration each day.
Most choral musicians have the opportunity to perform a given concert—all of the music learned for that concert—only once, so to have the opportunity to do it four times in quick succession is unusual, and a vital part of becoming a complete and experienced musician. Few people realize how physically and mentally exhausting it is to sing on that level.
Apart from the usual Christmas fare—which is always fun and one of my great yearly joys—we do an acapella number. “Acapella,” by the way, does not mean “without accompaniment.” It actually means “in church style.” In the early days of the church, instruments weren’t allowed. In fact, even harmony was a dangerous and hesitantly accepted innovation. The clergy—and not a few parishoners—worried that music would become so interesting and distracting it would overwhelm and replace the message of the Gospel. That argument remains unsettled today. So to sing without accompaniment, particularly sacred music, is to sing in church style.
Our work this year was Franz Biebl’s (a brief biography is available here) ”Ave Maria,” arranged for seven-part harmony, SATB. The work is, of course, in Latin, but here’s the translation:
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
Blessed art thou among women,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
pray for us sinners,
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.
now and in the hour of our death. Amen.
The Ave Maria—a prayer–is an integral part of Christian—particularly Catholic—theology and many of the greatest composers have set the text to beautiful music. Biebl’s setting is achingly beautiful and awe-inspiring. Much of the music I am fortunate to perform opens and enriches the soul, but this piece is special. I wish I could provide a link for you to hear our rendition—it was truly gorgeous—however, it was not recorded. But you’ll be well served by the work performed by the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club with Chanticleer in 2010. Take the necessary seven minutes to hear this work; you’ll have a better week.