Saturday, November 21, 2009

Annual BSC Carol Service Dec. 4 and 6

The annual BSC Carol Service is about to exciting program this year, balancing traditional carols in beautiful arrangements with anthems and motets for the season. The choirs are all working hard and I'm looking forward to the magic moment when the processional sounds and we start down the aisle of the church.

It all crystallizes in that moment: the hours of hard work, the learning, the rehearsal epiphanies and the reason why we do it at all--reflected in the smiles and look of expectation in the audience, the beautifully-decorated sanctuary, the story that is about to be told yet again, so meaningful to so many, for so long...

My illustrious predecessor of blessed memory, Hugh Thomas, once said that "nobody does Christmas" like we do at BSC...and every year, at that moment, I know exactly what he meant.

Monday, October 5, 2009


A short biographical sketch of Francis Poulenc, a blurb from a Phaidon biography of the composer of the "Salve Regina," on which we're currently working. More to follow:

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) fought the label of 'charming, minor master' throughout his life, but today his oeuvre has achieved worldwide respect and popularity. Admired for his fine songs and religious works, he is perhaps best known for his humorous, insouciant pieces. From the freshness of Les Biches, composed for Diaghilev in 1924, to his ambitious 1956 opera, Dialogues des Carmélites, the author discusses Poulenc's work in the context of his colourful personal life and turbulent times.
The composer's affairs with younger, working-class men, which inspired major compositions, and his sensitivity about his role in the wartime occupation of France, have always been somewhat obscured.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This week's work

I'm totally intrigued about your observation in "The Cherry Tree Carol" that cutting the last verse doesn't give Joseph a chance for "redemption!" While this is far from a religion class (we're performing artists more than we're about making a religious statement), coherence is important when performing a choral work! I'm quite serious when I allege that redemption may be found (1) in Joseph witnessing the miracle of the cherry tree in the penultimate verse, and (2) the closing E Major chord, coming unprepared from a verse in G Major, may be "redemptive" in its own right!

But I'm open to thoughts on this!
FYI here's some background on this carol that I cribbed from a web source, just for your delectation:

Bradley notes that multiple theories exists concerning the symbolism of the carol. He writes, "Some folklorists point to the widespread use in folklore of the gift of a cherry, or similar fruit carrying its own seed, as a divine authentication of human fertility." He also notes the relationship between the eating of the fruit by Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the eating of cherries by Mary whose son would erase the transgression. He adds that some versions have Mary and Joseph walking through a garden, rather than an orchard, reinforcing the motif of the Garden of Eden.

It has also been noted that the apocryphal Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, Chapter 20, has a story that during their flight into Egypt, Mary sits beneath a palm tree and desires its dates, but is unable to reach them. Joseph is unable to climb the tree, but when Jesus intervenes, the tree bows down to give Mary the fruit.

Most versions likewise follow this pattern: when Joseph refuses to retrieve the fruit of the tree for Mary, Jesus intervenes from the womb and the tree bows down to deliver the fruit to the Virgin Mary. There are two notable exceptions. In one version of Joseph Was An Old Man, it is Joseph who commands the tree to bow to Mary (and it does!). More astonishingly, in Joseph Were A Young Man, it is the Lord Himself who issues the command. You can be certain of the result.

Ian Bradley also mentions a carol collected in the United States, but likely of English origin, titled The Apple Tree, which he cites in part:

This beauty doth all things excel,
By faith I know but ne'er can tell,
The glory which I now can see,
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

Compare this longer version: Jesus Christ The Apple Tree.

In their notes concerning When Righteous Joseph Wedded Was, the editors of The New Oxford Book of Carols noted that that carol was one of several "doubting Joseph" carols, including The Cherry Tree Carols, Joseph Being An Aged Man, Joseph Being An Old Man Truly, and Joseph Was An Old Man. See Keyte and Parrott, eds., The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), Carol #129, pp. 446-8.

The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, Chapter 20:

And it came to pass on the third day of their journey, while they were walking, that the blessed Mary was fatigued by the excessive heat of the sun in the desert; and seeing a palm tree, she said to Joseph: Let me rest a little under the shade of this tree. Joseph therefore made haste, and led her to the palm, and made her come down from her beast. And as the blessed Mary was sitting there, she looked up to the foliage of the palm, and saw it full of fruit, and said to Joseph: I wish it were possible to get some of the fruit of this palm. And Joseph said to her: I wonder that thou sayest this, when thou seest how high the palm tree is; and that thou thinkest of eating of its fruit. I am thinking more of the want of water, because the skins are now empty, and we have none wherewith to refresh ourselves and our cattle. Then the child Jesus, with a joyful countenance, reposing in the bosom of His mother, said to the palm: O tree, bend thy branches, and refresh my mother with thy fruit. And immediately at these words the palm bent its top down to the very feet of the blessed Mary; and they gathered from it fruit, with which they were all refreshed. And after they had gathered all its fruit, it remained bent down, waiting the order to rise from Him who bad commanded it to stoop. Then Jesus said to it: Raise thyself, O palm tree, and be strong, and be the companion of my trees, which are in the paradise of my Father; and open from thy roots a vein of water which has been hid in the earth, and let the waters flow, so that we may be satisfied from thee. And it rose up immediately, and at its root there began to come forth a spring of water exceedingly clear and cool and sparkling. And when they saw the spring of water, they rejoiced with great joy, and were satisfied, themselves and all their cattle and their beasts. Wherefore they gave thanks to God.

(taken from -- VERY well-researched and annotated!)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BSC Concert Choir Alum to lead Collegiate Chorale

James Bagwell, BSC alumnus and former member of the BSC Concert Choir, has been selected as the new music director of the Collegiate Chorale, one of the premier choral ensembles in the United States. Based in New York, James directs the choral program at Bard College and regularly appears as a conductor at the Mostly Mozart Festival.

Congratulations to this outstanding choral conductor from all of us who are proud to claim him as one of our own!

From Johns Hopkins University: Promoting Good Health in this Flu Season!!

Musicians must especially watch their health in this season of flu. Please note the following valuable information from one of the nation's premier medical research universities.

The Johns Hopkins H1NI glossary for students

(September 14, 2009)

A new disease demands a new dictionary. The Johns Hopkins University Office of Communications and Public Affairs offers these suggestions for campus conversations about the H1N1 pandemic.

Pig: A student ill with suspected or presumed H1N1 flu. (Variation: Piglet: a sick freshman.)

Pig in a blanket: A sick student complying with doctor’s advice to stay home, drink fluids and get plenty of rest.

Pig in a Snuggie: A student complying with doctor’s advice in a blanket with sleeves.

Glazed ham: A pig with fever sweats.

Pig Latin: A sick student’s Classics homework.

Pig pen: A sick student’s room, where he or she stays until 24 hours without fever, off of fever medication.

Pig sty: A sick student’s room before he or she properly disposes of used tissues and cleans doorknobs, desktops, keyboards and other surfaces with virus-killing wipes.

The Farm: Mom and Dad’s house, where pigs who live near campus go to recover rather than sit in the pig pen day after day.

Sleeze: to sneeze properly (into one’s sleeve) when a tissue isn’t handy.

Sloff: to cough properly (into one’s sleeve) when a tissue isn’t handy.

Boar War: An all-out on-campus effort to prevent the spread of H1N1.

Bacon: What a pig experiencing an H1N1 fever feels like, i.e., fried. (Usage: Doctor: “Pig, how are you feeling today?” Pig: “Like bacon, doc.”)

Oink: A pig’s cry to his/her friends for help with deliveries of food (“slop”), class notes, over-the-counter medicine or other necessities to the pig pen.

Pork barrel: Derogatory term for an entire residence hall afflicted with H1N1 (knock on wood that never happens!).

Hog blog: the university’s flu information Web site at

Hog tide: Alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Hogwash: Washing hands frequently and thoroughly, with either hog tide or plain old soap and water.

The Arnold zniffle: The sound a pig makes just before properly using and disposing of a tissue. [For derivation, see]

Trough: A dining hall, where unsanitary pigs could easily transmit the H1N1 virus if they share drinks, utensils, etc.

Pig tale: The story of the aches and pains a pig experienced while sick with H1N1.

Piggy cold: The name Dean Susan Boswell's daughter uses for H1N1 flu.

Pig puns: H1N1 jokes.

A Shameless Plug.

I am really looking forward to accompanying two exciting young singers, Veronica Chapman-Hart and Zach Borichevsky in recital on September 25 at 7:30 pm and September 27 at 2:30 pm. An amazing program: art songs by Strauss, Wolf, Canteloube, Duparc and others; arias by Mozart, Carlisle Floyd, Puccini; Broadway songs from West Side Story and much more.

Both performances are at Brock Recital Hall on the Samford University campus. Student ticket prices are $12, and at that special rate, cannot be obtained by online purchase. If you'd like a ticket, let me know and I'll go get it for you. BSC students get CEIS credit for this.
Go here: and scroll down to the event: "From Broadway to Boheme"