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Program notes for "Where the wild songs are" concerts, Mar 30, Apr 5+6

on Saturday, 15 March 2014. Posted in Newsletters, Artistic Director Blogs

Written & researched by Timm Adams, edited by Toria Burrell

A Note From The Artistic Director

Dear friends and music lovers,
Welcome to the Chicago Chamber Choir's 2014 spring concert series! If you are a first time CCC goer, you’re in for a treat. It’s our passion at CCC to present to you a moving concert experience that is memorable and life affirming, one that elevates the beauty and diversity of the human voice. And to help us with that in these concerts, I’m thrilled to welcome Carling FitzSimmons and the young singers of the Pro Musica Youth Chorus! Actors are advised to avoid working with animals or children, but I’ve chosen to throw caution to the wind and embrace a program that celebrates both. And the result has been great joy!

This spring program is an expansion of one of my first concerts with CCC, dating back to 2002: All Creatures Great and Small. I’ve changed the tone a bit, from a mostly sacred program to one with a bit more humor and bite, and added some newer works. Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb has long been a favorite of mine, and it’s been so rewarding to revisit this peculiar, jubilant work. We also performed a sampling of Ivor Davies’ Prayers from the Ark in 2002, and I have a whole new appreciation for these delicate, clever gems. The declamatory style of the music appropriately highlights the wit and sincerity of each poem. Add to that the humorous works of Eric Whitacre, Sam Pottle, and Marshall Bartholomew, an educational and delightful cycle by Robert Cohen, and captivating songs by John Tavener, Toria Burrell, and CCC Composer-in-Residence Edward F. Davis, and you’ve got an enchanting program that the whole family will enjoy.

And what better way to herald the (eventual) onset of spring than paying tribute to God’s remarkable, inquisitive, quirky, powerful, funny, ferocious, and amazing animal kingdom!

Please come join us - I look forward to seeing you there!

--Timm Adams.

“De Animals A-Comin” – Arr. by Marshall Bartholomew
What better way to kick off today’s light-hearted program about the wild kingdom than Marshall Bartholomew’s humorous spiritual about Noah and his shipmates! Bartholomew (1885 – 1978) penned this tune for the Yale Glee Club, which he directed from 1921 – 1953.
“Prayers from the Ark” – Ivor Davies
This delightful collection of prayers comes from a larger collection of poems (27 in all) penned in the 1940s by the French poet Carmen Bernos de Gasztold. De Gasztold lived most of her life in a convent south of Paris where she was welcomed after suffering a physical and mental breakdown at the loss of her mother. The author Rumer Godden discovered the Prayers from the Ark in the 1950s quite by accident, and she set off to locate de Gasztold to seek her permission to translate the poems. After some convincing, the French poet agreed to work with Godden on the translations. Prayers from the Ark was published in English in 1962 and discovered by composer and organist Ivor Davies not long after that. Ivor R. Davies (1901 – 1971) was a Welsh musician and organ builder who spent most of his life in London. He trained at the Royal Academy of Music alongside the renowned organist E. Power Biggs, who won the performer’s prize upon graduation while Davies won the composition prize. With some 70 compositions to his name, his settings of Prayers from the Ark, published in 1966, are the most frequently performed.
“Lost Animals” – Robert S. Cohen
Composer Bob Cohen says this about our next set of songs: “This collection of choral works for children, inspired by my recent trip to the Galapagos Islands, musically and lyrically examines four different species that have become extinct as the result of human actions. It is my hope that through a combination of education, humor and pathos, these works will help children to understand more fully the responsibility we have to help preserve critically endangered species so that they survive to be appreciated by future generations.” Robert S. Cohen is an American composer of choral, orchestral, dance and theater music. Cohen studied music at Brown, Queens College, and Columbia University. He is currently an Adjunct Professor of Music at Montclair State University, NJ. A long-time fan and friend of CCC, Bob’s works have been performed and recorded by CCC numerous times.
“A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” – Edward F. Davis
Emily Dickinson wrote many wonderful poems about animals, and this particular one depicts a snake using delightful alliteration (primarily using the letter S) to imitate its hissing and slithering through the grass. In this piece, Mr. Davis uses this alliteration (e.g. whenever the singers have an "S" or "F," they hold that consonant for at least an extra eighth note, as in “the graSSSS divideSSSS”), as well as the timbre of the cello (which, for the majority of the piece, plays sul ponticello, meaning that each bow stroke is made close to the instrument’s bridge, producing a glassy, somewhat shrill tone) to musically depict the snake.
“The Lamb” (John Tavener) and “Tyger, Tyger” (Toria Burrell)
The next two songs are settings of William Blake poems, from a relatively early collection called Songs of Innocence and Experience. Blake said that these two groups of poems (47 in all) represent the world as it is envisioned by “two contrary states of the human soul.” From the Innocence poems, John Tavener’s setting of The Lamb captures the sense of haunting premonition that exists within Blake’s representations of innocence. The musical tension and counterpoint, as well as the open, almost lonely harmonies, seem to betray the innocence toward the inevitable fall from grace with which Blake occupied himself. “The Lamb was written… for my then 3-year-old nephew, Simon. It was composed from seven notes in an afternoon. Blake’s child-like vision perhaps explains The Lamb’s great popularity in a world that is starved of this precious and sacred dimension in almost every aspect of life.” (John Tavener).

Toria Burrell’s Tyger, Tyger, from Blake’s Songs of Experience, was written in 2002 for CCC’s concert Fresh Ayre: Songs of Earth and Sky. The piece is dramatically set in 7/8 time. Each chorus illustrates the dark, ferocious nature of the tiger (and at the same time, the darker side of the human soul), but then each verse communicates the awe we have for such a majestic, beautiful creature. It builds, using each rhetorical question to fuel the intensity, until the final question; the attempt to reconcile two such opposing forces, “Did He who made the lamb, make thee?”
“Rejoice in the Lamb” – Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten (1913 – 1976) is arguably the most prolific and famous English composer of the mid-20th century. While Britten did write symphonies, concertos and works for solo instrument, the bulk of his work is operatic and choral. In 1943, the Rev. Walter Hussey asked Britten to write a work for his small church choir to commemorate the 50th anniversary of St. Matthew’s Church. Britten had been suffering from a bout of depression and eagerly accepted the challenge in an attempt to lift his spirits. He had recently found an odd religious poem by the 18th-century poet Christopher Smart, entitled Jubilate Agno, and immediately began to set the long poem to music. Smart wrote this particular poem while incarcerated in a London insane asylum, and the piece appropriately reveals moments of madness and genius—often mingled. The poem’s primary theme is the worship of God by all created beings and things, each in its own way.  
“Animal Crackers” – Eric Whitacre
Here’s what Eric Whitacre has to say about his collection “Animal Crackers:” “I’ve always dreamed of writing a substantial collection of choral works that might enter the standard choral repertoire, something with the depth and passion of Monteverdi’s Fourth Book of Madrigals and the charm and timelessness of Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes. …I wrote this instead.” Set to five of Ogden Nash’s ridiculous animal poems, Whitacre’s take on the poems are tonal, humorous, and immediately accessible. Listen closely to the poetry!
“Jabberwocky” – Samuel Pottle
Composer Sam Pottle remarks, “Jabberwocky first appeared in Through the Looking Glass (1871), the sequel to Alice in Wonderland. It was written by Charles Dodgson under his famous pseudonym, Lewis Carroll. The ultimate satire of heroic narrative poetry in English literature, it foreshadows a major trend in twentieth-century writing in its eerie and evocative use of nonsense words. This setting emphasizes the mock-heroic aspects of the poem, and it is a parody on the musical devices and attitudes of large, traditional choral works.” Sam Pottle (1934 – 1978) was an American composer and musical director who worked mostly in TV and theatre. Perhaps best known for his work as musical director and composer for Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, he composed the iconic Muppet Show Theme. 
“All Creatures of Our God and King” – Arr. Fred Bock
All Creatures of Our God and King is a hymn arrangement based on the German hymn-tune Lasst uns erfreuen (“Let us please you”) from the Geistliche Kirchengesang. It provides an appropriate ending for tonight’s program of music inspired by the worship and praise of God by all living creatures—great and small. CCC is thrilled to share the stage with Carling FitzSimmons and Pro Musica Youth Chorus on this triumphant arrangement by Fred Bock. 


"If all the beasts were gone,
men would die from a great loneliness of spirit,
for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. 
All things are connected."
~CHIEF SEATTLE OF THE SUWAMISH TRIBE, letter to President Franklin Pierce

Program Notes for our "Nocturne: Music of the Night” Concerts, Oct 26 + 27

on Wednesday, 25 September 2013.

The full program notes -- by Toria Burrell.

--Researched by Toria Burrell, assisted by Andraya Abrego, Erica Beall, Lee Cravens, Kathryn Duncan, Amy Keipert & Genevieve Klein

  1. Abendlied” - Josef Rheinberger

We open our program tonight, with the 1st of several reflective songs about evening. This is the 3rd song from Joseph Rheinberger's collection of 3 sacred songs, titled "Geistliche Gesänge", first published in 1873. Meaning “Evening song”, it contains the text from Luke 24, 29: - “Bide with us, for evening shadows darken, and the day will soon be over.” This was when 2 disciples met Jesus on the road to Emmaus after the tumultuous events of the crucifixion. The disciples urged Jesus to stay with them after dark, when they reached the village.

Josef Rheinberger (1839 – 1901), was a very gifted German composer, who was also an organist, conductor and professor at the Munich conservatory and various other musical organizations and churches in Munich.

German Text

English Translation, from Luke 24 - 29

Bleib’ bei uns, denn es will Abend werden,
und der Tag hat sich geneiget.

Bide with us, for evening shadows darken, and the day will soon be over.

  1. Three Evening Songs” - Johannes Brahms

We continue with 3 songs by Brahms, that take us from evening into night time. Although each song has a night theme, they each come from a different set or song cycle.

a) “Abendlied”

The first of these songs has the same title as the Rheinberger: - “Abendlied” (Evening Song). This is the 3rd song from a set of 4 by Brahms, published in 1884, and is a lovely rendition of Christian Friedrich Hebbel's poem, originally titled “Abendgefühl,” (Evening Mood.) The text speaks of the transition from day to night; the descending darkness creates a similar sensation to that of falling asleep; we gradually let go and release our hold on the worries and joys of the day, and allow ourselves to “dissolve” into “slumber”.

German Text, by Christian Friedrich Hebbel

English Translation

Friedlich bekämpfen Nacht sich und Tag;

wie das zu dämpfen, wie das zu lösen vermag.

Der mich bedrückte, schläfst du schon, Schmerz?

Was mich beglückte, was war's doch, mein Herz?

Freude wie Kummer, fühl ich, zerran,

aber den Schlummer führten sie leise heran.

Und im Entschweben, immer empor,

kommt mir das Leben ganz wie ein Schlummerlied vor.


Night and day are engaged in peaceful struggle

As if they are able to dampen or to dissolve.

Are you asleep, Grief, who depressed me?

What was it then, my heart, that made me happy?

Both joy and sorrow, I feel, did melt away

But gently they introduced the slumber.

And, while evermore floating upward,

Life itself appears to me like a lullaby.

b) “Abendständchen”

This next song is the 1st in a set of 3 part-songs, op. 42, by Brahms, written between 1859 and 1861. Meaning “Evening serenade”, the text comes from the German operetta libretto, “Die Musikanten” by Clemens Maria Wenzeslaus von Brentano. Composed for 6-part mixed chorus, Brahms divides the altos and basses, so that the women and men can be divided into 2 groups of 3-part harmony and in this way, be effectively set off against each other, in antiphonal call-and-response. This creates a rich, full texture, which emphasizes the emotional words of the poem, as they speak of the gentle music shining through the encroaching darkness of the night.

German Text, by Clemens Maria Wenzeslaus von Brentano

English Translation

Hör es klagt die Flöte wieder
Und die kühlen Brunnen rauschen,
Golden wehn die Töne nieder,
Stille, stille, laß uns lauschen!

Holdes Bitten, mild Verlangen,
Wie es süß zum Herzen spricht!
Durch die Nacht die mich umfangen,
Blickt zu mir der Töne Licht.


Hark, the flute laments again

and the cool springs murmur;

golden, the sounds waft down -

be still, be still, let us listen.


Lovely supplication, gentle longing,

how sweetly it speaks to the heart!

Through the night that enfolds me

shines the light of the music.

c) “Nächtens”

This next night-themed song by Brahms, is the 2nd in a collection of 6 quartets, op. 112, written in 1888, originally for SATB soloists and piano (although this version is for full chorus). Meaning “At Night” or “Nightly Visions”, this song is rather darker in mood than the previous two. With this song, we move on from evening, and now encounter full-on night time. The text, by Franz Theodor Kugler, speaks of how the night brings fearful shadows, confusion, death (of sorts), or at least a shutting down of life, a state of cold suspense, and sorrow. With its dark minor key and spooky piano accompaniment, the music illustrates this sense of eeriness. Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897), one of Germany's most famous composers, was also a conductor, teacher, pianist and cellist.

German Text, by Franz Theodor Kugler

English Translation

Nächtens wachen auf die irren,

Lügenmächt'gen Spukgestalten,

Welche deinen Sinn verwirren.

Nächtens ist im Blumengarten

Reif gefallen, daß vergebens

Du der Blumen würdest warten.


Nächtens haben Gram und Sorgen

In dein Herz sich eingenistet,

Und auf Tränen blickt der Morgen.

At night, the deranged,

deceitful specters awake

and perplex your mind.


At night, in the flower garden

frost has fallen; in vain

would you wait for the blossoms.


At night, grief and sorrow

entrench themselves in your heart,

and the morning looks upon tears.


  1. The Day is Done” – Stephen Paulus

This song continues our journey from the end of the evening, into the night. “The Day is Done” was commissioned in 2006 by the Minneapolis based choir, Vocal Essence and dedicated to one of their board members, Mike McCarthy. It is a beautiful setting of a poem, written in 1844 by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, that speaks of seeking the familiar and the comfortable, at the end of a long day. Paulus' descriptive music captures the yearning and sadness of things that come to an end, with its combination of simplicity (¾ meter and D major key) and depth (lyrical melodies that drift and dream and paint the longing of the text). Born in New Jersey in 1949, Stephen Paulus has a doctorate in composition from the University of Minnesota and has composed 10 operas and many choral and orchestral works. Stephen Paulus had a stroke in July 2013, and while he is currently breathing on his own, he is unresponsive. This makes his “The Day is Done” so much more poignant. Hopefully by the time our concert occurs there will be some good news.

  1. Dark Night of the Soul” - Ola Gjeilo

This song brings us even deeper into night time. “Dark night of the soul” is a dramatic, modern setting of the mystical, medieval text by 16th century Spanish poet and Carmelite friar, Saint John of the Cross. The text, "La noche oscura del alma," (dark night of the soul), narrates the journey of the soul, from its bodily home to its union with God. The darkness represents the hardships that the soul meets, detaching from the world and reaching the light of the Creator. Whether journeying from life to death, or from spiritual darkness to maturity and enlightenment, the experience is a painful one. The stages of the journey are portrayed in each stanza, and there are 2 main phases; first the purification of the senses and then (more intense), the purification of the spirit. At times, the poet seems to offer encouragement and comfort to the reader, as we struggle with the darkness.

The music, published in 2011, is epic in length and cinematic scope, drawing on Gjeilo's studies of film music in Beverly Hills. We also see Gjeilo's desire to feature the piano more heavily than in most choral works, with the piano part, aided by the string quartet, becoming more than mere accompaniment.

Born in Norway in 1978, Ola Gjeilo (pronounced Yay-lo), studied at the Norwegian Academy of Music, the Royal College of Music, London, and Julliard, and is now a full time US-based composer.

One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
- ah, the sheer grace! -
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.


In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
- ah, the sheer grace! -
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.


On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

  1. Nox Aurumque” – Eric Whitacre

Now, with this song, we encounter the shadowy dreamland of night time. Meaning “Night and Gold”, this song was written as a companion piece to Whitacre's Lux Aurumque (Light and Gold) of 2009. It is a much darker work than Lux, with themes of night, darkness, death, war and shadows. The music reflects this with heavy dissonance in places; e.g. at times, all the voice parts are stacked a half-tone apart. However, the dissonance is sublimely crafted, with exquisite moments of magical beauty bursting through. Whitacre uses what he calls a "light/dark" chord for the words "war" (bellorum) and "shadows" (umbrarum). This is Whitacre's 7th collaboration with poet Charles Anthony Silvestri. Their work was intricately formed together, as a combination of ideas, themes, sounds and meanings. Much of Whitacre's music was already composed before Silvestri wrote the text. Born in 1970, Eric Whitacre received his Masters in composition from the Juilliard School of Music and is one of the bright stars in contemporary concert music. An accomplished composer, conductor and clinician, regularly commissioned and published, Whitacre has received many prestigious composition awards.

Latin Text, by Charles Anthony Silvestri

English Translation

Aurum, Infuscatum et obscurum,
Canens noctis, 
Canens mortis, 
Acquiescens canendo… 
Et angelum somnit aurorarum et bellorum, 
Saeculorum aurorum fundit lacrimas, 
Lacrimas rerum bellorum. 
O arma! O lamina aurata! 
Gestu graves nimium, 
Graves nimium volatu. 
Aurum, Infuscatum et torpidum 
Suscita! Dilabere ex armis in alam! 
Volemus iterum, 
Alte supra murum; 
Angeli renascentes et exultantes ad alas 
Aurorarum, Aurorum, 
Somnorum. Aurum, 
Canens alarum, 
Canens umbrarum.

Gold, Tarnished and dark,
Singing of night,
Singing of death,
Singing itself to sleep.
And an angel dreams of sunrise,
And war.
Tears of the ages.
O shield! O gilded blade!
You are too heavy to carry,
Too heavy for flight.
Gold, Tarnished and weary,
Awaken! Melt from weapon to wing!
Let us soar again,
High above this wall;
Angels reborn and rejoicing with wings made
Of dawn, Of gold,
Of dream. Gold,
Singing of wings,
Singing of shadows.

  1. Draw on Sweet Night” - John Rutter

As we continue through the night, this song reminds us of why artists invoke the night: – to desperately seek relief from the pain and despair of the day's reality. This is the 2nd in a cycle of 5 songs from a choral suite entitled Birthday Madrigals and was commissioned by the Cheltenham Bach Choir in 1995, in honor of the 75th birthday of the legendary jazz pianist, George Shearing. The text, by Renaissance poet, John Wilbye speaks of the longing for night time, to take away the pain of life's “cares” and “griefs”, to at least temporarily relieve some of the “melancholy” of the day. Rutter was inspired by Shearing’s fusion of contemporary jazz and the English madrigal, and wrote these songs honoring his style. For this song, Rutter draws on the influences of late 19th century English composers, setting it in a dark minor key and emphasizing the despair of the text with dissonance and chromaticism. The first performance of the Birthday Madrigals was conducted by Rutter with George Shearing in the audience. Born in 1945, John Rutter is a British composer and conductor, mostly of choral works. He was director of music at Clare College, Cambridge in the late 1970s, and is the founder and conductor of the Cambridge Singers

  1. Nocturnes” – Morten Lauridsen

We continue on our journey through the night with Lauridsen's cycle of 3 Nocturnes, written in 2005. These songs feature poems in 3 languages: firstly French, by Austrian/German mystical poet and novelist, Rainer Maria Rilke, secondly Spanish, by Chilean Nobel Prize poet-laureate, Pablo Neruda, and thirdly English, by American Pulitzer prize winning poet, journalist and critic, James Agee. All 3 nocturnes intertwine recurring themes of night and the romantic love often associated with night time. (Not included here, a 4th movement was added to the cycle in 2008; an Epilogue: “Voici le soir”, by Rilke.)

a) “Sa Nuit d’Été”

Meaning “Its Summer Night”, this 1st nocturne is a rich, atmospheric setting of Rainer Maria Rilke's French poem from 1910, which speaks of the sensual desires of romantic love, heightened by the starry beauty of a summer night. In Lauridsen's own words, several melodic themes are supported by dense, colorful harmonies in both the choral and piano parts, leading to a climactic section where all are combined and stated simultaneously.”

French Text, by Rainer Maria Rilke

English Translation

Si je pourrais avec mes mains brûlantes

fondre ton corps autour ton coeur d'amante,

ah, que la nuit deviendrait transparente

le prenant pour un astre attardé

qui toujours dès le premier temps des mondes

était perdu et qui commence sa ronde

en tâtonnant de sa lumière blonde

sa première nuit, sa nuit, sa nuit d'été.

If, with my burning hands, I could melt

the body surrounding your lover's heart,

Ah! how the night would become translucent,

taking it for a late star,

which, from the first moments of the world,

was forever lost, and which begins its course

with its blonde light, trying to reach out towards

its first night, its night, its summer night.

b) “Soneto de la Noche”

Meaning “Night Sonnet”, this 2nd nocturne is a beautiful setting of Pablo Neruda's beloved 89th sonnet from his Cien Sonetos de Amor”(100 Love Sonnets) from 1959. Dedicated to his wife, the stunningly poignant text urges the poet's beloved to continue on, after his death, to thrive and revel in the beauty of life, while he waits for her, asleep. In Lauridsen's own words, “My a cappella setting of this gorgeous poem is predominantly quiet, serene and folk-like, utilizing direct harmonies accompanying long, lyrical vocal lines.”

Spanish Text, by Pablo Neruda

English Translation

Cuando yo muera quiero tus manos en mis ojos:

quiero la luz y el trigo de tus manos amadas

pasar una vez más sobre mí su frescura:

sentir la suavidad que cambió mi destino.


Quiero que vivas mientras yo, dormido, te espero,

quiero que tus oídos sigan oyendo el viento,

que huelas el aroma del mar que amamos juntos

y que sigas pisando la arena que pisamos.


Quiero que lo que amo siga vivo

y a ti te amé y canté sobre todas las cosas,

por eso sigue tú floreciendo, florida,


para que alcances todo lo que mi amor te ordena,

para que se pasee mi sombra por tu pelo,

para que así conozcan la razón de mi canto.


When I die, I want your hands upon my eyes:
I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands
to pass their freshness over me one more time:
I want to feel the gentleness that changed my destiny.

I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep,
I want your ears to still hear the wind,
I want you to smell the scent of the sea we both loved,
and to continue walking on the sand we walked on.

I want all that I love to keep on living,
and you whom I loved and sang above all things
to keep flowering into full bloom,

so that you can touch all that my love provides you,
so that my shadow may pass over your hair,
so that all may know the reason for my song.


c) “Sure On This Shining Night”

This 3rd Nocturne is Lauridsen's 2005 setting of the same poem that became famous by Samuel Barber's setting in 1940: that of James Agee's verse from his first and only poetry book, “Permit me Voyage”, from 1934. This song sets only the 6th through 8th verses of a 12 verse poem. The full poem paints an impressionistic picture of an elysium of peace and tranquility; heaven-like, with no time and no death, where nothing withers or changes. All destruction, fear and pain is healed; everything is once more whole. The part that is set to music seems to speak of a wanderer in this elysium, witnessing the contrast between day and night, summer and winter, life and death. Night is a metaphor for death, but night also offers us glimmers of hope, in the form of stars: – tiny lights that hold the promise of the new light of day and new life.

Born in 1943, Morten Lauridsen is one of America's most frequently performed choral composers, and has an impressive resume of awards, from the National Medal of Arts, to the American Choral Master award. Over 200 CDs have been recorded with his works, 5 of which have had Grammy nominations.

  1. Yonder Come Day” – Arr. By Craig Carnahan

Finally, we reach the end of our journey through the night, with this up-beat song about the dawning of a new day. This is a challenging rendition of a traditional Georgia Sea Islands spiritual, with energetic and syncopated rhythms. The Georgia Sea Island Singers began in the 1920s, and preserved much of the musical heritage of the islands. The Sea Islanders use overlapping call-and-response, anticipated entrances, improvised phrases, and rhythmic and harmonic embellishments. This song is often performed in the style of a gospel choir, with swaying steps and off-beat claps. Craig Carnahan is an American composer from Concordia College, MN, and the University of Minnesota.


Burst Out Singing! The Joy and Art of Singing: - Part 2

on Thursday, 11 April 2013. Posted in Artistic Director Blogs

--by Toria Burrell. (Part 2) - Inspiration, Meditation & the Marriage of Music & Text

In Part 1, I explored some of the historical, musical and physical elements of singing, and the physical and emotional benefits of it.

Now, in Part 2, I shall explore the spiritual (or psychological) elements and benefits of singing, through inspiration, meditation and the marriage of music and text.

In Part 3, I will finally compile (as promised) some of the different stories from our choir members, which offer a fascinating insight into the world of singing, music and performing.

But first, I want to explore two of the most important spiritual (or psychological) phenomena that can happen when we sing, or when we listen to songs. Those things are: a) Inspiration and b) Meditation.


Our choral concert - “Burst out Singing” - has been described by our artistic director (Timm Adams) as inspirational. We use this word a lot, especially to describe music, writing, and art, but what precisely does “inspirational” mean? And how does it apply to singing? The word “inspiration” has several definitions. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the two primary definitions of “inspiration” are:

  1. a divine influence or action on a person, believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation.” (My italics).

  2. the act of drawing in; specifically: the drawing of air into the lungs.

Let's start with the first definition. To be inspired is to be filled with a “divine influence; a sacred revelation”. Without having to be religious, most of us have experienced those times when we have been transported by music, taken to a place outside ourselves, or moved in a way that we can't even rationally define. It can certainly be shown that through singing, (especially of certain powerfully moving songs), we can “receive” and “communicate” this sacred revelation, whatever it might be. It doesn't even have to be some precise idea, it is often a sub-conscious revelation that we feel instinctively: – a shift of attitude or mood, perhaps. We can experience this both in the act of listening to a song, and in the act of singing to an audience. Also, I remember hearing a sermon once (back in the days when I used to attend church occasionally), talking about the word “inspire”; that if you break the word down, you get “in spirit”: - i.e. to be filled with spirit.

I've always liked this idea of being “filled” with spirit, and it is especially interesting if you look at the second definition of “inspiration”. The word also comes from the verb, “inspire” - to draw breath, to fill up your lungs with air. How appropriate a verb this is for us singers! Breathing and filling our lungs with air is what all humans do, of course – nothing special there. But singers have to master and control this breathing action. We have to train our lungs to hold more air than the average person draws in, and we have to train our lungs to let it out very slowly, over a long period of time, to control the phrases of our songs. I feel there's a nice connection between the physical aspect of breathing and the spiritual aspect of being “filled” with something divine, something sacred. As we sing, perhaps we become vessels or mediums of communication, between the “source” or spirit (or God) and the audience. We draw in air, and as we let it out, we impart our breath, our air and our “inspiration” to others, through song.


As a life-long singer, vocal coach and also meditation practitioner, I've always compared singing to meditation. I expect its link is obvious to most. We all know (or think we know) what meditation means. However, several years ago, I taught a series of meditation classes at a yoga center, and was surprised by the number of people I met who didn't really know exactly what meditation was, or assumed it was some esoteric thing that they were not capable of. Okay, so bear with me while I take a look at the dictionary definition of “meditation”, and ask what it means precisely and how it relates to singing. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the two primary definitions of “meditation” are:

  1. a discourse intended to express its author's reflections or to guide others in contemplation.

  2. the act or process of meditating.

Again, I found these definitions to be most fascinating, especially when applying them to singing. The first meaning fits singing perfectly! Many songs (in fact most of the songs on our “Burst out Singing” program) are designed to express the composer's “reflections” and to guide others ( i.e. the audience), in “contemplation”. Each song is about something: – be it love, spring, freedom, war, peace, healing, nature, birds, overcoming death, etc. Each song reflects, not only through the words, but through the music, the composer's ideas, reflections, thoughts and emotions about the subject. In performing the song, we singers commit ourselves to learning the composer's intentions and we do our best to interpret and impart them to the audience. In listening to a performance of the song, the audience hears and is guided into a meditation on, or contemplation of the composer's ideas or message.

Now for the second definition - “the act of process of meditating”. OK, we have to delve further. So what precisely does “meditate” mean? Once again, there are several definitions, but I like this one, from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

  1. to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness. (My italics).

Ah ha, we are seeing the word “spiritual” coming up again! Meditation is a mental exercise, but it can lead to something beyond purely mental, intellectual or “cerebral”. It can lead to a “heightened level of spiritual awareness” - in other words elevation of the spirit, or enlightenment. (Not saying it does this every time, but that is usually the goal anyway!)

And look at what it says in parentheses: - “concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra”. Both of these things are fundamental elements of singing. Breathing in singing (as I said above) is not just a reflexive action, but a carefully controlled technique, requiring mindful concentration, the counting of beats, and diaphragm control. The counting of beats while singing is a technique that is akin to the counting of the breath in meditation. It is an act of meditation. It may sound boring (to the non-singer), but it is in fact very soothing, calming and enables the mind to expand and just be in the present moment. And meditation is often defined as “the art of being in the present moment”.

Also, the repetition of a mantra has obvious parallels in singing. Most songs repeat certain key phrases, such as in a “chorus”. Many songs repeat certain lines or words over and over, to emphasize their meaning, and to penetrate the listener's mind with their ideas, feelings and message. Not all meditation has to involve repeating mantras of course, and not all songs have to be like mantras, but there are definite similarities. Again, repetition of words may sound boring at first, but it can be a soothing technique, and one that, if done properly, can enable the mind to expand and grasp deeper meanings.

As a composer of choral music myself, I'm very aware that when conveying words through song to a LIVE audience, you need to repeat the important words, because they might not be heard properly the first time. Or they might not be grasped or remembered. So, whether we have written the words ourselves or whether we are setting someone else's poem (or prose or biblical text), we composers use repetition primarily for that purpose: – to make sure the words are being heard. Which brings me to the 3rd section of this article...

The Marriage of Music and Text

What would singing be without words? Just instrumental music! (And there's nothing wrong with “just” instrumental music of course! As a pianist and flautist, I have devoted many years of my life to performing instrumental music, through solos, orchestras, bands and other instrumental ensembles). Music without words is just as important, of course, but it is more abstract. It leaves much open to interpretation. It can convey images, stories and emotions, but it is open ended – some would say freer – not constricted by precise words and meanings. It paints an impression, an abstract image.

Song however, is a unique art form. It is grounded in words. It is more like painting a precise landscape or portrait, with all the details there to show an in-depth picture. It also relies on just one instrument: – the voice.

The voice is unique instrument because it can not only produce sounds and tones, but it can also enunciate words and tell vivid stories or impart precise messages. This inevitably adds extra depth and richness to the art of song. Creating a song involves not only a composer who is an expert at creating musical forms, harmonies and melodies, but also a poet or writer who is an expert at creating expressive, meaningful lyrics. Sometimes the composer and poet can be the same person, sometimes the music and lyrics are written by two separate people; a collaboration that can occur with the two artists working together, or not. The two artists don't in fact have to be together at all: – they could be on different sides of the world, or even separated by generations or eras! Many choral composers choose texts by poets who have been long dead. How magic it is, then, that the words of these dead poets can be brought alive again, and communicated to new living audiences, through the composer's music!

Some “songs” may not have actual words, such as the first song of our program – Leonard Bernstein's “Warm Up” which has instead bell-like and scat sounds, e.g. “Du-bing, du-bang, du-bong” etc. This is a different kind of song: - a deliberate imitation of instrumental or percussive sounds. Some songs use a mixture of vocal percussion, instrumental imitations and words. What I'm focusing on are the songs that primarily use texts and blend together the words with the music in a harmonious “marriage”.

Which comes first? The words or the music? That is a good chicken-or-egg question! The answer is: - it depends. In choral music (in my experience) most songs start with the text. As a composer, you seek a text that you want to set to music, whether it be a secular poem or prose, or a religious (often biblical) text. And you then take each phrase and design a melody to fit it. Using the structure of the poem, you create a structure for your music. You use chords and harmonies (as I described in Part 1) to convey the emotions of the words, you use rhythms and phrasings to illustrate the meanings, to tell the story, to paint the picture.

I know some songs that start with the music first, and then have the words fitted into the melody, but this is more unusual. An example of this is actually in our program - “Thank you”, by Robert Cohen. Parts of this song have had words inserted into them, after the melody was written, because Cohen has customized this song to fit our chosen mentors, whom we wish to thank.

Another good example is the famous Beatles song - “Yesterday” (which started out as a melody that apparently came to Paul McCartney in a dream!) As legend has it, he wrote the melody down first, and, until he had thought of some good lyrics, he filled in the syllables with these funny words:

“Scrambled eggs
Have an omelet with some muenster cheese.
Put your dishes in the washbin please
so I can clean the scrambled eggs.”

But whether the crafting of words and music is done together or separately; whether the composer and lyricist have worked together or are separated by time and space, the over all effect of a song can be a powerful one, which can inspire and elevate us, both as singers and listeners. Songs can have far reaching effects, combining physical, emotional AND spiritual (or psychological) benefits. The combination of all these elements within a song can inspire us, elevate us, provide a catharsis for grieving, a method of healing, or recipe for joy, hope and happiness.

Burst Out Singing! The Joy and Art of Singing

on Thursday, 04 April 2013. Posted in Artistic Director Blogs

-- by Toria Burrell. (Part One). A look ahead at our upcoming Spring concerts on April 7 and 13.

Why are singers so passionate about their art? Why does singing move us like no other form of expression? When are we humans most prone to sing? The Chicago Chamber Choir's spring concert in April will take us on a journey that explores the connection of vocal art and the human spirit. Humorous, powerful, and inspirational, this concert features the music of J.S. Bach, Leonard Bernstein, Kirke Mechem, Moses Hogan, and many others.”

This paragraph above (by Timm Adams), is what inspired me to write this blog article about the phenomenon of singing, as an art form. It also inspired me to ask the singers of CCC to tell me their stories and experiences of singing.

In Part 1, I will explore some of the musical, historical and physical elements of singing, and the physical and emotional benefits of it (as if we needed to be persuaded that singing is beneficial!)

In Part 2, I will then explore the spiritual (or psychological) benefits of singing, and will also compile some of the different stories from our choir members, which offer a fascinating insight into the world of singing, music and performing.

Much of what I'm about to explore here, is related to singing as a discipline or practice. Not just singing along to your favorite song on the radio for a minute or two, or those few moments of singing in the shower, but as a dedicated discipline, within a choir. (Or any other musical, performance group that involves singing). Singing in a choir is very much like playing a team sport. You show up to weekly rehearsals (or practices), you listen carefully to your conductor (or captain), you work together with your fellow choristers (team players), and you put in your practice (or training) at home. Your goal is to produce the best strategy for “winning the game”, i.e. winning the audience over with the most awe-inspiring, beautiful and technically sound music.

Of course, there's much more to choral singing than just “winning the audience over”. It's also about interpreting the composer's music, communicating, healing, inspiring, crafting and teaching. Singing has many levels of profound effects, both for the singer and the audience, and our upcoming concert is an exploration of this phenomenon.

Our concert will feature some truly beautiful and inspiring works by a wide variety of composers, from J.S. Bach to Leonard Bernstein, and from 20th century to current composers. Each of the works is about “singing”: - each one expresses something about the art of singing, and the powerful effect it has on us who perform, and those who listen. Through this performance (and especially with one of the pieces, called “Thank you”), we're also celebrating the way singing has changed our lives, and pausing to thank the people who have inspired us, or helped us get involved with singing in the first place.

Singing is one of the most fundamental forms of musical expression and communication because it needs no tools or instruments except a healthy pair of lungs, a throat and a mouth. And singing has so many benefits – physical, emotional and spiritual (or psychological, if you prefer).


Physical Benefits of Singing

According to research, singing keeps you healthy, exercises your heart and lungs, and releases endorphins that make you feel good! Going back to my “team sport” analogy, the practice of singing in a choir is a very physical one. For instance, you stand up for much of the 2 or 3 hour rehearsal, you take in lots of deep breaths, you have to sing long phrases without breathing, you have to stand with a good upright posture and hold your music up, and the breathing / singing co-ordination takes a lot of physical energy and mental concentration. At the end of rehearsal, you may feel physically exhausted, but you also (usually) feel exhilarated and deeply satisfied.

In fact, the physical benefits of singing (especially performing to an audience), are somewhat similar to that of sex. Further, the main purpose of a choir is to give to the audience, through performance: – to give them pleasure, satisfaction and maybe even love. Being in the audience is somewhat similar to receiving a massage. The physical sensations and chemicals produced in the body (e.g. endorphins and seratonins) while listening to beautiful live music, can be equivalent to physical pleasure, resulting in better oxygen flow, energy exchange, soothing of the nerves and relaxing of the muscles. And in the process of giving this pleasure, we the singers, find pleasure and satisfaction ourselves; – probably even more so. It is very much a giving and receiving process.


Emotional / Intellectual Benefits of Singing

It hardly needs to be stated that singing (and music in general) is often an emotional experience, covering a wide range of emotions, from happy to sad, depending on the music or song. However, I do want to look at some of the emotional benefits that might perhaps be overlooked or taken for granted, and ask why is it (and how is it) that music stirs our emotions?

Also, I'm going to look at the intellectual or cerebral benefits too, and put them together in this section, although really they blend into my 3rd section on “spiritual / psychological benefits”. Of course, all 3 states of being (emotional, intellectual and spiritual/psychological) are interconnected, especially when it comes to music. (And that is the power of music: – that it combines all of these things simultaneously!)

Initially, I had thought I would focus mainly on the emotional experience of music in this section, but then I started to remember the many exceptions, where the process of singing is more intellectual than emotional, for instance, when learning a long, complicated work by a cerebral composer such as J.S. Bach! So, let's digress for moment, and take a quick historical look back at the evolution of music styles and trends over the last 4 centuries, and the importance of cerebral versus emotional music.

Historical Evolution of Performance Music

During the late Baroque period, c. 1650-1740 (e.g. J.S. Bach, Handel, Purcell, etc) to the Classical period, c.1740-1820 (e.g. Mozart, Haydn, and early Beethoven), the main composers of the day were following the trend of the “Enlightenment” which was more concerned with rational and cerebral art, rather than emotional art, and this of course included music. So, for example, these composers liked to display intricate forms, techniques and mathematical structures (such as contrapuntal textures, fugues, sonatas, scales, keys, time signatures, etc). That is not to say that their music lacked emotion entirely; – much of it is very beautiful and moving, but their primary purpose was not to tug at our heart strings (like movie music for example), but to stimulate our minds and intellects. That is why so-called “classical music” (which of course covers more than just the “Classical” period), is not appreciated today, by as wide an audience as, say, modern movie music or pop music. In order to appreciate “classical music” fully, it helps to have at least some knowledge and understanding of music theory. (Just like listening to a novel being read in French would be more appreciated if you actually understood the French language!)

During the Romantic period, c.1820 – 1920 (e.g. Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Rachmaninoff, etc), composers reacted against the strict rational / cerebral “Enlightenment” movement, and became more concerned with producing emotional music again. They still kept the intellectual forms, techniques and structures of the Classical period, but they broke many of the “classical rules”, in order to produce more heart-tugging harmonies, dramatic rhythms, dissonant and disturbing key changes, and musical devices that enabled more emotion and drama.

There was a brief period of “Neo-Classicism” in the early 20th century, c. 1918-1945, (e.g. Stravinsky, Schönberg, Webern, etc), in which composers reacted against the emotionalism of the Romantic era, and brought the focus back to much more cerebral music, creating new and even more complicated forms, techniques and mathematical structures (e.g. serialism, atonalism, etc).

This back-and-forth between cerebral and emotional trends influenced many later 20th century (what we call “Modern”) composers, (e.g. Elgar, Britten, Vaughan-Williams, Prokofiev, Poulenc, Satie, Orff, Bartók, Ives, Copland, etc), who really blended the old Romantic styles with the new Neo-Classical style, creating music that was both intellectually satisfying and complex but also emotionally pleasing, dramatic and moving.

Also, “classical” composers, from the late Romantic period onwards, looked more to the national folk music of the day for inspiration, blending folk music styles and forms into their classical music. (Just as we have a “fusion” today of many different styles: - pop, rock, new age, hip-hop, world-music, etc, as well as folk, which are being blended into today's “classical” music).

That's our little history lesson about music trends. Now back to the emotional benefits of singing. As we will see, with some of the stories from our choir members, many of us have experienced times when singing has been emotionally beneficial in some way, either for us, the singers, or for the audience. Singing and performing to an audience can enhance the joy of happy occasions, such as celebrations, weddings, etc, it can also alleviate the grief of sad occasions such as funerals, memorial services, etc. It can act as a healing tool, a therapy for depression, etc.

But, how is it that music stirs our emotions so much? To show this requires some amount of explanation of the theory of harmony, musical form and structure. Composers know how to tug at our hearts (as I mentioned above), by their clever manipulation of harmonic structures, chords, suspensions, phrasing, chord progressions, etc.

Theory of Harmony and Form

To start with a simple example, the major triad chord is usually associated with a “happy” or “bright” sound. The minor triad chord, by contrast, is usually associated with a “sad” or “dark” sound. Both are treated in an almost sacred way in “Classical music” (or at least in music from the Classical era - c.1740-1820). They both contain 3 notes (or pitches), played simultaneously, and in their root positions, they are each separated by the following intervals, from the bottom to the top:

a) Major triad = 1) Major 3rd and 2) Minor 3rd.

b) Minor triad = 1) Minor 3rd and 2) Major 3rd

These triads are what we call (in musical theory terms) consonant (as opposed to dissonant). From a physics stand-point, this is because they produce well balanced, smooth, even sound-waves, where the peaks and troughs of the sound-waves align together, without “bumping”. The 3 pitches therefore blend together pleasantly, without “clashing” or disturbing our ear drums with anything but the gentlest of vibrations.

Four or five centuries ago, our ears were more delicate – or perhaps less experienced. (Kind of like a child that has not got used to spicy food yet). We were trained to hear certain chords as “consonant” and certain other chords as “dissonant”. Back in the 1700s, major triads (and minor triads) were acceptable as “consonant”, but other types of chords (such as 7ths, augmented or diminished triads or suspended chords) were considered “dissonant” and they were used extremely sparingly, and briefly, (just to create a little tension) and were always quickly resolved back to consonant chords again. Certain chords such as jazz 7ths and combinations of different keys (polytonality) were simply not used at all in the Classical era, and would have been immediately rejected as a mistake or a “horrible noise”!

However, as time went on, especially into the Romantic period, composers became more “worldly” and influenced by the folk music of the day, and so they broke the “Classical” rules and experimented more and more with “dissonant” chords, changing the intervals in the common major and minor triads, for example, to open 4ths (more typical of folk music), instead of major or minor 3rds. Remember how I described the form of a (root position) major and minor triad, above? Both of these chords are made up of 3rds (whether major or minor). Once you take away the third in a triad, and replace it with something else – a 4th or a 2nd, for example – you break the rules of a “consonant” chord and create a “dissonant” chord. (Not to mention throwing in augmented 4ths and major 7ths!)

As they did this, composers discovered sounds that were more “clashing” to the ear. Again, from a physics stand-point, this was because the chords produced uneven sound-waves, where the peaks and troughs of the sound-waves bumped into each other, creating harsher, more disturbing vibrations on our ear-drums. At first, people were horrified and thought the music was “just a horrible noise”! But, as our ears got used to these new sounds, listeners soon realized that these sounds were not “clashing”, but “crunchy”; not “horrible”, but “dramatic” or “intense”. Composers had found a rich new palate of colors (or a rich new menu of spices) with which to create far more interesting, varied and emotionally satisfying music.

Composers also now reveled in the art of creating tension, and releasing it. Composers from the Baroque and Classical era had done this too, but very gently and decorously. Now, from the Romantic period on, composers did it much more dramatically. (And, just like in any good movie or novel, you can't create proper tension without releasing it at some point). To create moments of tension, you can put in a “dissonant” or “suspended” chord, e.g. taking away the 3rd and replacing it with a 2nd or a 4th, or taking away the tonic, and replacing it with a 7th. The absence of the 3rd (or the tonic), makes our ears crave it... This tension can feel very much like yearning or longing and is what tugs at our heart strings. Then to release that tension, you resolve the chord progression, by ending up on a nice, pleasing, consonant chord, with a 3rd or by resolving back to the tonic. Sometimes, the resolution, or the releasing of the tension, creates an even more powerfully emotional effect, because it can be bitter-sweet. Sometimes, composers mix Classical, consonant chords over a gently dissonant back-ground, in order to create a really poignant moment.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Coming up in Part 2: -

Spiritual / Psychological Benefits of Singing

Catharsis for grieving. Healing grief, depression, etc. Elevation of joy and hope and happiness.

 Meditation – art of being in the present... elevation that music can create, allowing us to meditate, to reach a godly state of being. State of enlightenment – out of body almost.

Moving beyond death and grief, e.g. “Sing me to Heaven” - comfort in sorrow.

... the over-whelming challenges and suffering in the world and how we are left mystified and helpless by them, but that, ultimately, we can find purpose, meaning and hope through singing. Singing brings joy, laughter and thereby elevates us or brings us closer to God.

Marriage of music and text – how this makes singing different to instrumental music.

* * * * * * * * * *

Compliation of stories from the CCC singers.

I asked the singers of CCC to tell me their stories, using the following questionnaire as a guide...

1. How old were you when you first started singing? (i.e. performing, singing LIVE to an audience)

2. Who was your main inspiration or reason for singing in your early years? (It could be a teacher, a parent, a family member, etc).

3. Who has inspired you to sing, in recent times? (It could be a special friend, a teacher, a famous singer, etc - it could be for a special occasion, such as a wedding or funeral, or could be in general).

4. Describe a moment during a LIVE performance, when you really FELT the magic of communicating the music to the audience with your voice.  What was it like?  How did it feel?  (It could be a solo, or with a choir).


Stay tuned for Part 2 - coming soon!

Program Notes for our "Christmas in Germany" Concerts

on Monday, 03 December 2012. Posted in Artistic Director Blogs

The full program notes --- by Toria Burrell. (A shortened version of this will be printed in our hand-out programs at the concerts.)

  1. Christmas in Germany postcard

    1. Resonet in Laudibus, Arr. by Chester Alwes

What better way to start our Christmas in Germany program, than with this delightful appetizer, from 14th century Medieval Germany. The opening line translates to “"Let the voice of praise resound!" And that's what we hope to do, in this concert.

 This splendid contemporary arrangement by Chester Alwes (born 1947), a retired university professor from the UIC-Urbana, was written in 1995. Clever shifts of meter keep the momentum driving forward. The opening section is like a brass fanfare, and then in the middle, we hear the original tune, which is the same as “Joseph Dearest, Joseph mine” (up a half step from the Luboff arrangement, which we'll be singing later in the program). The piece closes with a return of the jubilant brass fanfare.


Original Latin text

Resonet in laudibus,
Sion cum fidelibus
Apparuit quem genuit Maria.

Sunt impleta quæ præ dixit Gabriel.
Eia, eia.
Virgo Deum genuit,
Quod divina voluit clementia.

Hodie apparuit in Israel,

Ex Maria Virgine est natus Rex.

English Translation

Let Zion resound in praises

With the joyous acclaim of the faithful:

He whom Mary bore has appeared.

The things which Gabriel predicted are fulfilled.

Joy, joy!

The Virgin has given birth to God,

That which his divine mercy willed.

Today in Israel has appeared,born of the Virgin Mary, a King. 


2. Magnificat, by J.S. Bach

And now for our spectacular main course offering - the Bach Magnificat – a resplendent and classical German work, which Bach wrote in 1723 for the Christmas Vespers in Leipzig. In this original Christmas version, Bach incorporated several Christmas texts into the traditional “Magnificat” form. These Christmas “interpolations” lend a joyful, celebratory feel to the whole work, which makes it a highly appealing Christmas piece. It wasn't until 10 years later, in 1733, that Bach revised it, removing the Christmas interpolations to make the piece suitable for use throughout the year. Tonight, we are performing it in its original Christmas form.


The Magnificat opens with a triumphant prelude, led by the trumpets and full baroque orchestra, bringing us into the first grandiose chorus, “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” (My soul doth magnify the Lord). This work was ambitious for its period; the orchestral instrumentation and structure larger than usual.


Unlike Oratorios or Passions, which are comprised of many different texts and use recitatives to narrate some of them, the Magnificat is one long text, and therefore has a more consistent format. Each of the 10 verses and Gloria are set to a theme, and crafted with intricate baroque detail. The bold chorus sections highlight the dramatic phrases, such as “Fecit potentiam in brachio suo” (He hath showed strength with his arm). The quieter solo sections portray the more pensive phrases.


As an example of Bach's clever design, the trio, “Suscepit Israel” (He hath holpen his servant Israel) features an oboe melody, originating from an ancient Magnificat plainsong, and the 3 soloists embellish above and below it, with intertwining threads. Another example, in the last verse, “Sicut erat in principio” (As it was in the beginning), Bach recapitulates the opening theme, to echo “the beginning”, and brings the whole work to a close with triumph and jubilation.


Original Latin Text:

Magnificat: anima mea Dominum.
Et exultavit spiritus meus: in Deo salutari meo.
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae:
ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
Quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est:
et sanctum nomen eius.
Et misericordia eius, a progenie et progenies:
timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam in brachio suo:
dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede:
et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis:
et divites dimisit inanes.
Suscepit Israel puerum suum:
recordatus misericordiae suae.
Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros:
Abraham, et semini eius in saecula.

English Translation (from the Book of Common Prayer):
My soul doth magnify the Lord: and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded: the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth: all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me: and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him: throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel : as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.


3. Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen, by M. Praetorius, arr. by Jan Sandström

This is a contemporary setting of the traditional German Christmas carol, “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” (Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming). The origin of the text is unknown, but the original music was written in 1609 by German composer, M. Praetorius.

This new version was written in 1990 by Swedish composer, Jan Sandström (born 1954). It is set for 2 choirs: “Choir 1” (usually soloists) sings the original 4-part carol in slow-motion, above a hummed, 8-part accompaniment by “Choir 2” (usually the rest of the choir). The rich, close harmonies of Choir 2 support and bring out the beauty of the original carol above.


Original German Text

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen,
aus einer Wurzel zart,
Als uns die Alten sungen,
von Jesse kam die Art
Und hat ein Blümlein bracht
mitten im kalten Winter,
wohl zu der halben Nacht.

Baker's English Translation

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow'ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night


4. Stille Nacht, by Joseph Mohr/Franz Gruber, arr. by Philip Lawson

There are many wonderful stories and legends surrounding this world-famous song. The first is of its creation. According to legend, it was December 24th, Christmas Eve or Heiligabend (Holy Night), 1818 in the small Austrian village of Oberndorf, just hours before Christmas mass. The pastor of St. Nicholas Kirche ,Joseph Mohr, was in a dilemma. The church organ wasn't working (due to recent floods), and so his musical plans for “Heiligabend” were ruined. In a moment of inspiration, he took a Christmas poem he had written two years earlier and set off to the neighboring village, where his friend Franz Gruber, the church organist, lived. It is believed that Franz Gruber was able to set this poem to music in just a few short hours that night, and produce the first version of the world renowned Christmas hymn “Stille Nacht”. And, since they couldn't use the organ, he wrote it for guitar accompaniment.

Since then, it has undergone countless arrangements and many translations. The meditative lullaby version that is generally sung today differs from Gruber's original, which was more sprightly and dance-like, in 6/8 time. It has been translated into approximately 140 languages, and recorded by virtually every artist, past and present who has made a Christmas album.

It is famously known for being sung by German soldiers, in the trenches, during the extraordinary World War 1 truce on Christmas Eve, 1914.

Philip Lawson's arrangement (written in 2001) brings out all the warmth, beauty and romanticism of the song. Philip Lawson is a British composer, born in 1957 in Crawley, England. He is a former baritone with “The Kings Singers” and their principal arranger, as well as a prolific composer and choral director.


Original German Text

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kund gemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb' aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund'.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

English Translation

Silent night, holy night
All is calm all is bright
'Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ the Savior is born.
Christ the Savior is born.

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.


5. Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine, Arr. by Norman Luboff

This traditional German carol (Joseph Lieber, Joseph Mein), was originally sung as a lullaby by the Virgin Mary in the 16th Century “mystery plays” in Leipzig, Germany. The melody comes from the medieval Latin Christmas hymn, “Resonet in laudibus” and historians believe the German text comes from the Monk of Salzburg. The carol first appeared with its German lyrics in 1544 in the Reformation Hymns of John Walter and has been sung ever since by both Catholic and Protestant churches.

This is a lovely contemporary setting, written in 1960 by Norman Luboff (1917 – 1987), a Chicago born composer, who scored music for many TV shows and movies, and worked with artists such as Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.


English Text

Joseph dearest, Joseph mine,
Help me cradle the child divine;
God reward thee and All that's thine
In paradise, So prays the Virgin Mary.

Gladly, dear one, lady mine,
Help I cradle this child of thine;
God's own light on us both shall shine
In paradise, As prays the mother Mary.

He came among us at Christmas tide,
At Christmas tide, in Bethlehem;
Men shall bring Him from far and wide
Love's diadem: Jesus, Jesus,
Lo, He comes, and loves, and saves, and frees us!
Peace to all that have goodwill!
God, who heaven and earth doth fill,
Comes to turn us away from ill,
And lies so still
Within the crib of Mary.

German Text

Joseph lieber, Joseph mein,
Hilf mir wiegen mein Kindelein;
Gott der will dein Lohner sein
Im Himmelreich, der Jungfrau Sohn Maria.

Gerne, liebe Muhme mein,
Helf ich dir wiegen dein Kindelein
Dass Gott miisse mein Lohner sein
Im Himmelreich, der Jungfrau Sohn Maria

Er ist erschienen am heut' gen Tag,
Am heut' gen Tag in Israel:
Der Maria verkandigt ist
Durch Gabriel
Eya, eya,
Jesum Christ hat uns geborn Maria.

Nun freu' dich, christenliche Schar
Der himmelische K/Snig klar
Nahm die Menschheit oftenbar
Den uns gebar die reine Magd Maria.


6. Still, Still, Still, Arr. by Norman Luboff

Another lovely setting by Chicago born composer, Norman Luboff (1917 - 1987), this is originally an Austrian carol (stretching our German borders a bit!) although of course, written in German, the official language of Austria. The first line in German, "Still, still, still, weil's Kindlein schlafen will," means “Hush, hush, hush, for the little child wants to sleep.”

The melody is a folk tune from the State of Salzburg and appeared for the first time in 1865 in a folksong collection of Maria Vinzenz Süß, founder of the Salzburg Museum. It has changed slightly over the years but remains attributed to G. Götsch. The words, which run to six verses in German, describe the peace of the infant Jesus and his mother as they sleep.


English Text

Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
For all is hushed,
The world is sleeping,
Holy Star its vigil keeping.
Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.

Sleep, sleep, sleep,
'Tis the eve of our Saviour's birth.
The night is peaceful all around you,
Close your eyes,
Let sleep surround you.
Sleep, sleep, sleep,
'Tis the eve of our Saviour's birth.

Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.
While guardian angels without number,
Watch you as you sweetly slumber.
Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.

Original German Text

Still, still, still,
Weil's Kindlein schlafen will.
Die Englein tun schön jubilieren,
Bei dem Kripplein musizieren.
Still, still, still,
Weil's Kindlein schlafen will.

Schlaf, schlaf, schlaf,
Mein liebes Kindlein schlaf!
Maria tut dich niedersingen
Und ihr treues Herz darbringen.
Schlaf, schlaf, schlaf,
Mein liebes Kindlein schlaf!

Groß, groß, groß
Die Lieb ist übergroß!
Gott hat den Himmelsthron verlassen
Und muss reisen auf der Straßen.
Groß, groß, groß
Die Lieb' ist übergroß.


7. How Great Our Joy! Arr. by Craig Courtney

The origin of this traditional German carol seems to be unknown, but its first published arrangement was by German composer, Hugo Jüngst, around 1900, and its first English translation was by Theodore Baker around the same time.

This is a brand new setting, arranged this year (2012) by Craig Courtney, an Indiana born composer, choral director and pianist. In his performance notes, Courtney says, “Everyone is familiar with the cheerful, exuberant side of joy. My goal in arranging this anthem was to explore the other side of joy – the reflective, lyric and rhapsodic.... [which] is borne of wisdom and experience... The anthem should slowly gather excitement as it continues to the glorious words, “praise we the Lord on high” [which] begs for a mighty peak in dynamic energy and tessitura... The final measures lead us back to the opening... and we arrive at the destination of this joyful journey: - peace.”


English Text

While by the sheep we watched at night,
Glad tidings brought an angel bright.

How great our joy! Great our joy!

There shall be born, so He did say,
In Bethlehem a Child today.

How great our joy! Great our joy!

There shall the Child lie in a stall,
This Child who shall redeem us all.

This gift of God we’ll cherish well,
That ever joy our hearts shall fill.

Praise we the Lord in heav’n on high!

How great our joy! Great our joy!

Original German Text

Als ich bei meinen Schafen wacht
Ein Engel mir die Botschaft bracht.

Des bin ich froh, bin ich froh!

Er sagt', es soll geboren sein
Zu Bethlehem ein Kindelein

Des bin ich froh, bin ich froh!

Er sagt, das Kind läg da im Stall
Und soll die Welt erlösen all.

Den Schatz muß ich bewahren wohl,
So bleibt mein Herz der Freuden voll.

Benedicamus Domino

Des bin ich froh, bin ich froh!


8. Kling, Glöckchen, Kling! Arr. by Robert Sieving

This sweet little German Christmas carol, originally written in the 19th century makes us think of all things German. Everything about Christmas in Germany is magical:- gingerbread houses, Christmas trees, wooden toys, little fruit dolls, decorated cookies, pastries, marzipan, candies, spiced cakes, fruit bread, sausages, sauerkraut, mulled wine, Christmas ale, and of course – bells.

The onomatopoeic words, "Kling, Glöckchen, Klingeling"; or "Ring, Bells, Ringalingaling", imitate the bells, and the lively, playful setting for all-women's (or boys') voices evokes bright, joyful celebrations. The lyrics, (written by Karl Enslin,1819–75) tell of the infant Jesus coming out of the wintry cold, amid the ringing of bells, to join children inside a warm house for celebration of his birthday.

This setting was written in 1997 by Robert Sieving, (born 1942), a Minneapolis-based composer and conductor.


Original German Text

Kling, Glöckchen, klingelingeling,
kling, Glöckchen, kling!

Laßt mich ein, ihr Kinder,
Ist so kalt der Winter,
öffnet mir die Türen,
Lasst mich nicht erfrieren!
Kling... etc.

Mädchen, hört, und Bübchen,
Macht mir auf das Stübchen,
Bring euch milde Gaben,
Sollt euch dran erlaben.

Kling... etc.

Hell erglühn die Kerzen,
öffnet mir die Herzen!
Will drin wohnen fröhlich,
frommes Kind, wie selig.
Kling... etc.

English Text by R. Sieving

Ring, bells, ring-a-ling-a-ling,

Ring, bells, ring!

It's so cold in winter,

Will you let us enter?

Safe and warm together,

In this freezing weather!


Maid and infant tender,

Oh please let us enter!

We have come to greet you,

Gifts of love we bring you!


Candle-light is glowing,

Cattle softly lowing,

From the Child lowly,

Love so pure and holy.



9. O Tannenbaum, Arr. by William Hall

"O Tannenbaum" ("O Christmas Tree") is a traditional German Carol, originating as a 16th century folk song. The word Tannenbaum means “Fir Tree” and the German lyrics praise the fir's evergreen quality as a symbol of constancy and faithfulness:

Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit, Nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.” means “You are not only green during Summer time, but also in Winter when it snows.”

Later verses were added in the 19th century, celebrating the tree as a symbol of Christmas, praising it for “proclaiming the Savior's birth” and for symbolizing the message of “Good will to men and peace on earth.”

The Christmas Tree is one of the most important features in German Christmas celebrations. Its history dates back to a 16th century legend surrounding Martin Luther (German monk and founder of Lutherism). On his way home one snowy evening, Luther was overcome by the beauty of a fir tree. The snow that covered it shone and twinkled in the star-light. Unable to describe its magnificence to his family, he chopped it down and brought it home to share with them. To mimic the twinkling star-light on the tree, (that reminded him of the Nativity stars), Luther decorated the tree with candle tapers. It is said that his wife then hung cookies and candies on it, then his children hung their toys on it too. And so, this became the first Christmas tree.

Since then, German Christmas traditions have revolved around several key elements, the tree being the main one. In most households in Germany on Christmas Eve, songs are sung and the family dances together around the Christmas tree, as a way to prepare for, give thanks for, and earn the gifts that are about to be opened.

This brand new arrangement was written this year (2012) by renowned, California-based composer and conductor, Dr. William D. Hall (of the William Hall Chorale).


Original German Text

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
Nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!


English Text

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,

Thou tree most fair and lovely.

The sight of thee at Christmastide

Spreads hope and gladness far and wide.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,

Thou tree most fair and lovely.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,

Thou hast a wondrous message.

Thou dost proclaim the Savior's birth,

Good will to men and peace on earth,

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,

Thou hast a wondrous message.


10. Ave Maria, by Franz Biebl

This gorgeous German piece is a choral gem from the Bavarian-born composer, Franz Biebl (1906 – 2001). He originally wrote it in 1964, at the request of a fireman, for an all-male fireman's choir in Munich, to participate in a choral festival.

It gained very little recognition in Germany at first. However, in 1970, Biebl (as head of choral programs for the Bavarian Radio), invited the Cornell University Glee Club to sing on the radio, and introduced them to his Ave Maria. They brought it back to America and it quickly gained popularity, most notably after becoming part of the repertoire of Chanticleer.

After this, Beibl rearranged the piece for full choir. This 7-part mixed choir arrangement, written in 1985, is now probably the most popular version. The text is unique in its conjoining of two sources – the original Ave Maria and the Angelus, both devotional prayers from the Catholic church. The work is a hybrid of the two ancient texts.


Original Latin Text

Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae
et concepit de Spiritu sancto.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
Et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.

Maria dixit: Ecce ancilla Domini.
Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
Et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.

Et Verbum caro factum est
et habitavit in nobis.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
Et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

English Translation

The angel of God visited Maria
and she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, Full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

Maria said: See the servant of the Lord.
May it happen to me according to your word.

Hail Mary, Full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

And the Word became flesh
and lived among us.

Hail Mary, Full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus..

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Holy Mary, pray for us now and in the hour of our death. Amen.



11. Hark, the herald Angels Sing, by Felix Mendelssohn, arr. by Carol Barnett

Hark the herald angels sing” is a Christmas Carol that has evolved through the hands of several different composers. It was originally written by Englishman, Charles Wesley, (brother of John Wesley founder of the Methodist church) in 1739. The original tune was slow and solemn, with slightly different lyrics.

However, over a hundred years later, in 1855, English musician William H. Cummings took Wesley's lyrics and adapted them to fit a different tune – that of German composer, Felix Mendelssohn's Cantata of 1840 (which Mendelssohn wrote to commemorate Johann Gutenberg's invention of the printing press). And so it is Mendelssohn's majestic and jubilant melody that has carried this carol forward into our popular repertoire today.

This arrangement, by American composer Carol Barnett (born in Iowa in 1949), brings out the jubilant elements of the melody, with the addition of hand bells, oboe and a score for double choir that emphasizes the words “Hail!” and “Hark!” 


Original English Text

Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!

Come Desire of Nations, come,

Fix in us Thy humble home.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with men to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

The Stories and Music of Christmas in Germany -- (Part 2)

on Friday, 23 November 2012. Posted in Artistic Director Blogs

A look ahead at the Chicago Chamber Choir's upcoming Christmas concerts on Dec 13, Dec 15 and Dec 16. ---by Toria Burrell

In this article:

1. “O Tannenbaum” - Martin Luther and The First Christmas Tree

2. Christmas Eve in Germany

3. “Stille Nacht” - The true story of the World War 1 Truce on Christmas Eve

Gingerbread houseWhy are we so excited about celebrating “Christmas in Germany”? There is something very magical, youthful and legendary about the German Christmas. Much of what we love about Christmas: – the excitement, the delicious foods, the sweet treats, the beautiful music, the warmth and glow of lights and decorations, the love and fellowship with friends and family – is encapsulated by the German stories and traditions. The way the Germans celebrate Christmas has become the way MANY people celebrate Christmas here in the US. Many of their traditions were adopted and borrowed by the English, and in turn, adopted and incorporated into US culture too.

 We can't wait to share with you our sampling of some of the best German Christmas music – to take you back to the ROOTS of these German Christmas legends and traditions.

Bach Magnificat PosterThe main offering on our program will be the Bach Magnificat – a resplendent and classical German work, which Bach wrote in 1723 for the Christmas Vespers in Leipzig. In this original Christmas version, Bach incorporated several Christmas texts into the traditional “Magnificat” form. These Christmas “interpolations” lend a joyful, celebratory feel to the whole work, which makes it a highly appealing Christmas piece. It wasn't until several years later that Bach revised it, removing the Christmas interpolations to make the piece suitable for use throughout the year. CCC will be performing it in its original Christmas form.

I will write more about the Bach Magnificat in Part 3 of this blog.

But first, I want to share with you the stories surrounding some of the other music we will be performing for you.


1. “O Tannenbaum” (Oh Christmas Tree) - Martin Luther and The First Christmas Tree

Such a well known German carol, but why a song devoted to a tree? Well, the Christmas Tree is traditionally one of THE most important symbols or features in the German Christmas celebrations. The Christmas tree, as we know it today, originated from Germany. It was adopted by the English during the Victorian era, but it started well before then, in 16th century Germany.

Martin Luther (a German monk, priest and professor of theology) is most famous for beginning the Protestant Reformation in 1517, and starting an entirely new branch of Christianity. But, he was also a great lover of the Christmas season.

Martin Luther Christmas TreeAccording to popular legend, Martin Luther was responsible for introducing the first Christmas tree into the home, in Germany. On his way home one snowy evening, Martin Luther was overcome by the beauty of a fir tree, and the way the snow that covered it shone and twinkled in the reflected moon and star-light. He ran home to tell his family about it, but found that he just couldn't adequately describe the magic of the snow-covered tree, so he went back out, chopped it down and brought it home to share with his family. To mimic the twinkling moon and star-light of the snow on the tree, (that reminded him of the stars that hung over the manger where Christ was born), Martin Luther decorated the tree with candle tapers. It is said that his wife, so taken with this tree in their house, then hung the cookies and candies she had just been baking for Christmas, on the tree too. And then his children followed suit, and hung their toys on it too. And so, this became the first traditional Christmas tree in Germany.

2. Christmas Eve in Germany

Since then, throughout the centuries, the German Christmas traditions have revolved around several key elements – St. Nicholas, Advent, Christkindle and the “Weihnachtsbaum” (Christmas Tree). The Christmas tree is typically not put up until December 24 - “Heiligabend” (Christmas Eve). But, it also marks the beginning of the “Bescherung” (the gift-giving), which happens on December 24, (not the 25th).

Christmas Tree GermanyTypically, in most German households, the family gathers together on December 24, and the children are kept occupied in some way (either out at church or playing games in another room), away from the main living room, while an adult brings in the Christmas Tree and decorates it, secretly. The tree is traditionally placed in the center of the room, and is festooned with lights, garlands, ornaments, little toys, cookies, candies and sweet treats. Colorful wrapped presents are also placed under the tree. When it is all ready, a little bell is rung, signaling that the children can now enter the living room. And so, on the evening of Dec 24, the children see the “Weihnachtsbaum” (Christmas Tree) for the first time, their eyes lighting up in awe and wonder.

A simple meal is served on “Heiligabend” (Christmas Eve), in contrast to the large Christmas feast the next day, on December 25, either before or after the“Bescherung” (the gift-giving) begins. In many house-holds, before the presents are opened, songs are sung and the family dances together, traditionally around the Christmas tree, as a way to prepare for, give thanks for, and “earn” the gifts that are about to be opened.

In some households, it is thought that an angel or Christkindle is the gift-giver, (representing the Christ child) and, to re-enact this, a child dressed up as an angel will hand out the gifts. In other households, a Santa-like figure (the “Weihnachtsmann”) holding the gifts in a big sack, will hand out the gifts.

Christmas tree and giftsBut, in either case, the “Weihnachtsbaum” - the Christmas tree - is central to the room, and central to the family celebrations. The tree itself is thought to be a symbol of life, at least, if not the main symbol of the Christ child.

In our Christmas concerts, CCC will be singing “O Tannenbaum”, one of the most famous German carols celebrating the magic of the Christmas tree.



3. “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) - The true story of the World War 1 Truce on Christmas Eve

One of the most extraordinary examples of the Christmas spirit of peace occurred on Christmas Eve, 1914, between German soldiers fighting in the trenches, and their British “enemies” across the way. Fraternization between the two sides had already begun – noone knows which side started it, but living in such close quarters, both sides were aware of each other and could hear each other talking. They had begun offering small signs of (temporary) peace and friendliness towards each other, inbetween battles. e.g. putting up white boards to signal a (temporary) cease fire while soldiers retrieved the bodies of their fallen comrades to bring them back for burial.

But then, on Christmas Eve, something really amazing happened. The whole day had been quiet with very little shelling or firing. The British soldiers were waiting and watching, wondering when the next attack would start. The German soldiers had put up a row of Christmas trees along the top of their trench and had decorated them with small candles. The British soldiers, seeing this, were suspicious at first, wondering if this was some trick. But then, the Germans began singing “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night). Can you imagine, the sound of this beautiful carol, floating across No-Man's land, into the silence, after so many months of shelling, noise, death and destruction.

After they finished, the British troops burst into applause, and then reciprocated with a carol of their own – “The First Noel”. The Germans applauded them, and offered another carol - “O Tannenbaum”. After this, the British came back with “O Come All Ye Faithful”. The Germans knew this song and joined in, but with the words in Latin that they were familiar with - “Adeste Fideles”. After this, both sides laughed and clapped and then began shouting greetings across No-Man's land to each other, inviting each other to come over. Still uneasy at first, both sides hesitated, but eventually, a small group of German soldiers bravely walked into No-Man's land towards the British side. Astonished, a few British soldiers went out to meet them, and they shook hands.

World War 1 Truce3

After that, they began conversing using a mixture of broken English, some sketchy German, and sign language. Soon, both sides sent their captains, and a truce was agreed upon, for the remainder of Christmas Eve and day. Before long, a bonfire was lit, and more and more soldiers from both sides began gathering around it, mingling together – British khaki and German gray. And then, in the spirit of Christmas, they started exchanging small gifts: - British cigarettes for German cigars, English tea for German coffee, English corned beef for German sausage. Badges and buttons from their uniforms were exchanged, as were pocket knives and belts. Some men shared post-cards and photos of their sweet-hearts and loved ones.

World War 1 Truce2Here are the words of one British soldier, writing home to his sister about this event: “These (Germans) are not the “savage barbarians” we’ve read so much about. They are men with homes and families, hopes and fears, principles and, yes, love of country. In other words, men like ourselves. Why are we led to believe otherwise?

The next day, on Christmas day, they gathered again, with more talking, joking, laughing and gift exchanging. Someone found an old leather ball, and many joined in a football game. Eventually, as Christmas day came to an end, there were hopes of extending the truce, but senior officers would not hear of it. With heavy hearts, the men realized they were bound by orders from above to continue the fighting.

Here again, are the words of British solider, in his letter: “I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?” I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”

He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we must ask our hearts.”

World War 1 TruceIt may only have been for 24 hours, but the music and magic of Christmas brought peace and a new understanding between these two warring sides. And the legacy of this true story has proved to be far reaching and powerful in the (nearly) 100 years since.


In our Christmas concerts, CCC will be singing “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) - the famous German carol, that has become well known and loved throughout the world.

For more details and to buy tickets, please click on "Current Season and Tickets" above.

Coming up, in Part 3 – “The Bach Magnificat” – Christmas Vespers and German celebrations. What this classical work means for us today.

The CCC's “Nightmare Before Magical German Christmas” -- (Part 1)

on Saturday, 10 November 2012. Posted in Artistic Director Blogs

A reflection on the Chicago Chamber Choir's recently completed Halloween concerts, and a look ahead to our upcoming Christmas concerts. - - - By Toria Burrell.

Jack Skellington1Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, (in the 1993 movie, “The Nightmare before Christmas”) was an entertainer, as well as a leader. Each year, he strove to make Halloween the best and most thrilling ever for his towns people. Jack was an artist and a musician. He loved songs, art, colors, decorations, dancing and entertainment. He was a man with a vision.



Jack Skellington3One year, Jack Skellington accidentally discovered Christmas Town, and fell in love with it. He wanted to try to understand this phenomenon of Christmas and bring it to his fellow citizens. His new vision was to inject a Christmassy twist into Halloween, to make it the best, most exciting thing ever for them! His fundamental goal? He wanted to entertain his citizens, and more; he wanted to inspire them, excite them, and make them happy.  


Timm AdamsTimm Adams (our Artistic Director) reminds me of Jack Skellington, not just because he wore the Jack Skellington costume, at the end of “This is Halloween” during the concert, and danced and twirled down the aisle so dramatically in it! Timm reminds me of Jack because he too is a man with a vision. He too has a passion for music, art, dancing, and entertainment. He too wants to inspire, excite and make his audience happy.

And, in the process, he makes us singers of CCC happy too. We love enacting his vision and bringing it alive. We love to be part of this creative, inspiring process, and connect with our audience too, through the magic of our singing and performance.

No matter what our “theme”; be it Halloween, Christmas, “nature”, the elements, etc, Timm brings to CCC a sense of purpose and cohesiveness. And he enables us to express and show these ideas, these visions, with conviction and dynamic passion.


 And, what an epic series of Halloween concerts it was! This year's performances went further than last year's, with more drama, more acting, more movement, more choreography. From the serious and poignant “Come Sweet Death” by J.S. Bach, to the frivolous and irreverent “Time Warp”, and all the fun, show-stopping songs inbetween, it was a resounding, visual and musical success.  


 “Well, you'll never be a Show Choir”!” Timm joked to us, after our very first run-through of the “Time Warp”. There we were, awkward and stiff, and not a little self-conscious, practicing our “pelvic thrusts” and thinking “Seriously? We're going to do this in a CCC concert?” But, we had faith in Timm – our Jack Skellington, our Pumpkin King. And it worked. And it was fabulous.

How appropriate it is that we are now transitioning from this Halloween adventure, to our new, exciting Christmas concert series. Our focus now is on the magic of Christmas in Germany.

Gingerbread houseAnd how sweet a theme this is. Everything about Christmas in Germany is magical – think gingerbread houses, Christmas trees, wooden toys, little fruit dolls, decorated cookies, pastries, marzipan, candies, spiced cakes, fruit bread, sausages, sauerkraut, mulled wine, and Christmas ale.

In our Christmas concerts, CCC will sing a resplendent German work – the Bach Magnificat, for chorus, soloists and chamber orchestra. For this, we'll be joining forces with the sublime Amadeus Consort.

Also on our German menu, we will be offering the exquisite sounds of traditional German carols, sung in English, German and Latin. Familiar gems such as "Still, Still, Still", "Lo How a Rose e'er Blooming" and "Stille Nacht" (Silent Night) will tap into that magical quality of Christmas in Germany, and bring a sense of joy and wonder to our audience.

For more details and to buy tickets, please click on "Current Season and Tickets" above.


The Stories and Music of Christmas in Germany

  • Christmas Tree GermanyThe legend of the first Christmas Tree. Discover the story of how Martin Luther, in early 16th century Germany, discovered and brought home the first Christmas Tree into his house.

    In our Christmas concerts, CCC will sing “O Tannenbaum” (Oh Christmas Tree) the famous German carol dedicated to the Christmas Tree.

  • Christmas Eve in Germany. Learn about the German tradition of revealing the Christmas Tree only on Christmas Eve, to the awe and wonder of young children who enter the room and see the tree all lit up and decorated with candies, cookies, fruits and toys, with treats and presents under it.

  • World War 1 TruceThe true story of the World War 1 Truce on Christmas Eve. Learn about the German soldiers who, on Christmas Eve, put up a line of little Christmas trees along the top of their trench, and began singing “Stille Nacht”. This led to a 24 hour truce, with German and British soldiers actually coming together, talking, sharing gifts, sharing carols, and eating food and drink together. How music and the magic of Christmas brought peace between them – for 24 hours.

    In our Christmas concerts, CCC will sing “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) - the famous German carol, that has become known and loved throughout the world. 

For more details and to buy tickets, please click on "Current Season and Tickets" above.

Please stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon...

The Making Of “Earth, Wind and Choir"

on Tuesday, 25 September 2012. Posted in Artistic Director Blogs

The Chicago Chamber Choir's latest CD recording. Behind the scenes at our recording studio, June 3, 2012 --- By Toria Burrell

IMG 7068(Photo by Erich K. Kurschat)

“You will need comfortable clothing”, said our director, Timm Adams.

“And make sure to wear your quiet clothing” said one of our witty basses.

“As opposed to your loud clothing,” joked Timm Adams.

“In other words, no squeaky shoes, no loose change in your pockets, dangling key-chains, etc”.

It was good advice.

“Oh and it goes without saying, turn your cell phones off...” Eye rolls. (duh)

Well, of course everyone thought they'd turned their cell phones off, but... hours later, during an extremely quiet moment of intense concentration, we all take a silent breath and pause, ready to sing the next note, and... BZZZZZZ!! BZZZZZZ!!

Ouch! Who forgot to turn their cell phone off?? We all stop – let out sighs of frustration - and glare accusingly at each other.

“Oh my god... it's mine!” says a shame-faced soprano, going bright red, shaking her head in disbelief and running to the chair to turn off the offending device.

Hers wasn't the last cell phone to interrupt our recording attempts, nor was it the only external noise to interfere with that elusive perfection of sound we were attempting to create.

Airplanes (even distant over-head ones), chair scrapes, pencil clatters, page rustles, sneezes, coughs, and hiccups all led to - “CUT!” from either our recording engineer, Joel Fox, or our director, Timm Adams, or simply a fit of giggles from the choir, which sufficed to bring the proceedings to a halt.

IMG 7044 - Version 2(Photo by Erich K. Kurschat)

External noises, however, were really the least of our concerns. What made this recording session so intense was the level of singing perfection required, to make a CD worthy of the Chicago Chamber Choir. What is most important in any good choir is to make a group of voices (40 plus singers in this case) sound like one instrument. Tiny mistakes, that can be glossed over or forgotten in a live performance, become set in stone and magnified a hundred-fold on a CD recording.

IMG 7055(Photo by Erich K. Kurschat)

Words, consonants, and breaths, for example, become very challenging to perform perfectly in synch, without any individuals sticking out. We must all breath together as one and begin each phrase together, at exactly the same time, with no “bumps”. Words that start with hard consonants, (especially double consonants such as “cr”) are fiendishly difficult to get precisely together.

But, like a Music Sorcerer, Timm Adams conjures the magic to make it smooth. With his conducting, timing and accuracy, he blends 40 voices into one. Like a Master Puppeteer, he pulls the strings and we follow. He lifts his hands; we breathe. He flicks his hands, as if conjuring a spell with his magic wand; we begin to sing...  

IMG 7061 - Version 2(Photo by Erich K. Kurschat)

And sing we do – We sing our hearts and lungs out. Each of the 17 songs has to be recorded 4 or 5 times. We sing each song through without stopping, and then sing it again. And again. And maybe we stop half way through because of a noise or glaring mistake. And we go back and sing it again. We are standing up for all of it, our arms aching from holding the music still, (without rustling a page); our legs stiff from trying not to shift or scrape our shoes. Our throats ache from not clearing them. Our noses itch from not blowing them. Our whole bodies are tense from itches we are not scratching, muscles we are not flexing, and other noises we are trying to refrain from making.

Like children hiding in a closet trying not be found, we have to achieve that level of silence, holding our breath, not moving a muscle. But we have to do this constantly in the recording studio, before, during and after each song.

We sing for hours, breathing deeply, concentrating, focusing – hard. It's exhausting, exhilarating, exasperating (at times) but ultimately one of the most fulfilling experiences we could have; creating this sublime music.

IMG 7053(Photo by Erich K. Kurschat)

And then of course, there's the magic of our recording engineer, Joel Fox; another Musical Sorcerer who can digitally “spirit away” the few noises and bumps that we failed to catch, and “conjure” exact tuning and tempo from tiny moments of imperfection. He is the Master Sculptor, crafting the finished product from the raw material, in his studio, during post-production. However, as the old saying goes, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. And our engineer already has silk to work with.   

Joel Fox-001(Photo by Erich K. Kurschat)

The whole team and crew, from Timm Adams and his magical vision, to Joel Fox and his fine crafting, to each individual singer, pulling out all the stops making each note perfect, will make this CD a fine work of art. And I'm proud to have been a small thread in this beautiful tapestry.

IMG 7056 - Version 2(Photo by Erich K. Kurschat)

Earth, Wind and Choir: Songs of Nature” – is due to be released on or around October 13, 2012. Stay tuned for updates.

Toria Burrell is now the Official CCC Blogger.  She is also an Alto in the choir, and is on the CCC Board of Directors.  She has been involved with the choir in various capacities, as a singer, as the former Artistic Director and former composer-in-residence, since its inception in 1996.  

Program Note for Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna

Written by Timm Adams, Artistic Director on Thursday, 23 February 2012. Posted in Artistic Director Blogs

to be performed during Luminous: Songs of Fire & Light

Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, written in 1997 for the Los Angeles Master Chorale, is a 25-minute work in five movements set to various Latin texts about light. It is a poignant, modern requiem rich in unashamed consonant harmonies and lush haunting melodies. Lauridsen writes, “I composed Lux Aeterna in response to my Mother’s final illness and found great personal comfort and solace in setting to music these timeless and wondrous words about Light, a universal symbol of illumination at all levels—spiritual, artistic, and intellectual.” The piece is often compared to Brahms’ Requiem, also written after the passing of the composer’s mother, but “without the 19th century guilt”—no Day of Judgment or gloom here, just generosity and radiance throughout. Lauridsen uses the chant-like melodies and sophisticated counterpoint of the high Renaissance, especially the music of Josquin, for his inspiration in this composition.

The work opens with the beginning of the Requiem Mass and introduces several themes that occur throughout the work. The second movement, In te Domine, Speravi, speaks to the hope and trust the composer has for life eternal after death, and includes the most angular melodies of the entire work and an inverted canon between sopranos/altos and tenors/basses at its center. The central movement, O Nata Lux, is an a cappella motet that asks the “Light of Light” to accept the speaker’s praises and prayers. It is paired with the fourth movement, Veni, Sancte Spiritus, which begins with praise and moves into supplication (“grant us everlasting joy!”). The final movement is a quiet setting of Agnus Dei, followed by a reiteration of the opening Lux Aeterna. The work closes with a glorious “Alleluia”—the angels joyfully summoning the soul to heaven.

Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943) has long been a professor of composition at University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and was Composer-in-Residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale when Lux Aeterna was written. His music consists primarily of choral works, which have become a staple to choirs around the world. Of his seven vocal cycles and handful of a cappella motets, O Magnum Mysterium, Sure on this Shining Night, Dirait-on, and O Nata Lux (the center movement of Lux Aeterna) are by far his most popular.

See CCC at Evanston Symphony concert

on Thursday, 19 January 2012.

CCC and ESO collaborate in March

The Evanston Symphony Orchestra hosts the first performance of Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on March 11.  Click here for more information about this collaboration with the Chicago Chamber Choir.

Listen to us on WGN with Bill Moller

on Tuesday, 20 December 2011. Posted in Artistic Director Blogs

Click here to listen to Bill Moller interview Timm Adams and CCC singers on WGN.  Listen to "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" and find out why Timm has two m's in his first name!

Caroling at Cloud Gate 11/25/2011

on Tuesday, 13 December 2011. Posted in Photos


CCC entertains fans at Millennium Park as part of the Caroling at Cloud Gate program.

CCC Welcomes New Singers

Written by Timm Adams, Artistic Director on Tuesday, 11 October 2011. Posted in Artistic Director Blogs

After four days of competitive auditions in July, I'm thrilled to welcome the following new singers to the Chicago Chamber Choir for our 16th season. It's so exciting to see and hear the amazing talent that comes to auditions, and it's difficult to turn away strong singers and musicians. This is a good problem to have, though, and it only means that this year's ensemble promises to be the best in our 15-year history.


CCC welcomes the following new singers to the choir:

Sopranos: Caroline Eichler and Cristin Colvin

Altos: Toria Burrell, Margaret Jungels, and Joanna Tomassoni

Tenors: Kurtis Ellison-Williams

Basses: Trent Stewart, Justin Tuffy, and Nathan Waller

  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. cccsings@gmail.com