My Love Affair With Choral Music

It’s been a while since a music post, so I thought I’d dedicate today’s blog post to one of my favorite genres of classical music: choral. I am very lucky to have been born and raised in a state that not only highly values classical music (well, at least we used to – I’ll avoid getting up on my soap box regarding the current MN Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra lockouts), but many different types. Specifically, Minnesota is a large participant in the Lutheran Choral Tradition (I capitalized it because I think it deserves it…even if grammatically incorrect :)) which was popularized by F. Melius Christiansen. We have some wonderful private Lutheran colleges with highly praised choral programs which have continued this tradition, including my alma mater, Concordia College. I was lucky enough to get to sing with the Concordia Choir under the direction of Dr. Rene Clausen for three years, and they were some of the most rewarding years of my life thus far (and most likely to come).

Choir-Tour-Graphic

Current Concordia Choir (image courtesy Concordia College)

I don’t talk religion often, because I views beliefs as highly personal, but something about the action of singing together with 70 other people is a very spiritual experience for me. I can’t articulate specifically what it feels like, but for you choral singers out there, you know the instant where everything just *clicks* and you lose yourself in the music? There’s nothing else like it. It’s simultaneously very personal and very public, because you are sharing this experience with peers you have worked so hard with to create the best music you can, while basking in the feelings you as an individual are feeling. I get goosebumps just thinking about it!

In my second year of the Concordia Choir, we performed Dr. Clausen’s piece, “In Pace” (Latin for “In Peace”). One of the best parts of choir was Dr. Clausen – not only an incredibly talented composer, arranger, conductor, musician, etc., Dr. Clausen is a wonderful human. He would always tell us the background behind the pieces we were singing in order to appreciate more when performing (and, as a music history buff, this was especially appreciated on my part). According to what he told us during rehearsal, Dr. Clausen wrote “In Pace” in response to his visit to a concentration camp in Germany during one of the Concordia Choir’s international tours. After hearing that, I don’t think I made it through a rehearsal or performance without tearing up. One of Dr. Clausen’s strengths as a composer is to use chords and voicing to create crescendos that build and build to a climax that is typically very emotional for the performer and audience member. There are two main climaxes in this song, the first occurring around the 4:55 minute mark and the second occurring around the 6:30 minute mark which can be heard in the version the Concordia Choir performed back in the 90s that’s made available through Spotify to listen to: Concordia Choir – In Pace.

The text translated to English reads:

In peace, I shall lay me down and take my rest. If I surrender my eyes and eyelids to slumber, I shall sleep and rest. Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Even to this day, I have trouble getting through listening to the song without becoming emotional. To me, this piece transcends singing notes on a page – it speaks to a part of my soul. I wish for everyone to have this experience – even if it’s not with music, that you find something that speaks to you on a level that could never be accurately articulated.

And with that, I wish you a wonderful Friday and a fantastic weekend!

Happy listening, singing, running, exploring, or doing whatever else gives you great joy!

 

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Gustav and Alma Mahler

Well, this blog isn’t called runninginthepark, so how about I finally post on my love affair with classical music? Winking smile

With all the snow we’ve gotten over the past 36 hours, I decided that the playlist for this dreary Tuesday most definitely needed to include Symphony No. 6 by Gustav Mahler (nicknamed his “tragic” symphony). Mahler wrote this with his wife Alma as the inspritation. There is some question as to the order of the four movements – if memory serves me, at the premiere, Mahler put the Andante moderato movement second, but later revised it to come third. At any rate, the Andante moderato movement is probably my most favorite classical music piece – it contains Alma’s theme and brings me to tears each time I hear it.

Here’s the link to a recording on YouTube:

Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 Andante moderato

Gustav and Alma’s relationship was complicated (as most relationships are…right?). I feel, through my own research during my college years, that there was a deep sense of conflict within Gustav as he wanted to give Alma more than he was able. Alma had been a composer prior to marrying Gustav, and after marriage, Gustav demanded that Alma stop composing. She obliged, but it’s evident that she resented Gustav for this demand. I think it’s one of those things where one just can’t compromise – it doesn’t come from a malicious place, but rather through recognizing one’s own weaknesses (even if we hate admitting those weaknesses). Mahler had an ego and I think he recognized that there was only room enough in their relationship for one composer.

Gustav Mahler courtesy of www.scena.org

Alma Mahler courtesy of www.austria-forum.org

I have always felt that Maher uses his Symphony No. 6 Andante moderato to express this longing and turmoil he feels within himself and his relationship with Alma. There are the bright sections that remind me of spring, which is often the metaphor for new love, around minute 6:10 in the above video. There are also sections full of dissonances and resolutions which build to create a sense of urgency and longing beginning around 10:40 minute mark and continuing to build through to the climax at minute mark 12:25 in the above video. The music seems to come in waves, which reminds me of how emotions can come in waves, especially when thinking on that special someone.

I was able to see this symphony performed live two years ago by the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis and it was a truly magical experience for me. I know that most people don’t have a love affair with classical music as I seem to have (but luckily my mom shares the same passion, so I don’t feel completely alone on an island), but seeing and hearing this live was a memory I’ll cherish as long as I live. The Minnesota Orchestra’s interpretation matched closely with what I hear in my head, and it completely exceeded my expectations.

If anyone out there (is there anyone out there???) is interested at all in getting into classical music, I can make some suggestions to get you started on your adventure. While I love me some Mahler, it can be heavy at times and I don’t want to scare you off!

Happy listening, everyone!