Category Archives: Classical Music

Working with the resources at hand

I first heard Messiaen’s “Quartet for the end of time” in a live performance at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY many years ago.  If you don’t know the piece, it can be difficult listening for the first time.  Written in a POW camp during WW II, it is scored for violin, clarinet, cello and piano and is an eight movement meditation on passages from the Book of Revelation.  I remember reading in the program notes at the time that Messiaen composed the piece with that scoring because those were the instruments and players available at the time.  The result is quite an accomplishment.

This morning’s prelude at our 11 AM Eucharist was “Quiet City” by Aaron Copland.  Copland composed the piece as incidental music for Irwin Shaw’s play of the same name. The play was a flop and never made past the previews, but Copland rewrote the music originally scored for trumpet, sax, clarinets and piano and created an orchestral version for trumpet, English Horn and strings that has become a mainstay of the repertoire.  

While we have many fine musicians who play regularly at our Sunday Eucharists, including a fine oboist who doubles on English Horn, we don’t have a trumpet player with the technique or stamina to tackle “Quiet City.”  We do however, have a fine clarinetist and a great pipe organ, so several years ago, we decided to work with the players we had on hand and substitute the clarinet for the trumpet and the organ for the orchestra.  Once again, the result is quite an accomplishment.

My point here is that as Parker Palmer says, you have to wait for the “way to open” if you want to get anywhere.  Would it have been better to substitute a different piece?  Easier, perhaps, but not better.  The music draws people in, whatever the instrumentation, the same way that the organ music of Bach draws people in despite differences in organs and registration.  I have a happy congregation and two happy wind players.  Life is good.

Coming soon: Ballade for English Horn and Organ by Leo Sowerby

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The St. George Voices in Concert

The St. George Voices performed well in their annual concert Sunday for an appreciative audience.  The repertoire included music of the Renaissance, jazz, pop and contemporary choral music, all sung unaccompanied. From the opening “Sing we and chant it” by Thomas Morley to the closer, Billy Joel’s “And so it goes,” the Voices acquitted themselves admirably, navigating the differing styles and historical periods with finesse, great intonation and all around musicianship.  Great job everyone!

You can listen to a recording of the concert here:

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The Portland Guitar Duo in Concert

The Portland Guitar duo brought their unique blend of music for two classical guitars to St. George’s sanctuary on April 15th.  The concert covered a broad repertoire of music from the 16th through the 20th century, including several transcriptions of works for other instruments.  The duo performed several selections from the Romantic Period on restored 19th century guitars, and offered background information on the music and the instruments.

Their playing was technically precise and sensitive, particularly in St. George’s warm acoustic.  The combination of low lighting and the duo’s intimate sound was truly moving. Audience members shared with me after the concert that they found the experience to be transformative.  Beautiful music in a beautiful space…

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The American Boychoir at St. George’s

The world famous American Boychoir performed a spectacular concert at St. George’s on Saturday evening.  32 Middle School aged boys took the audience on a musical world tour, singing music from Austria to the South American rain forest, all with wonderful energy and perfect intonation.  Over 200 people attended, including some parents who drove down from NY to see their son perform.  The choir first performed at St. George’s in 2006, and were happy to return.  We hope to host them again in the future.  Selected video will be available soon.

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Filed under Children's Music, Church Music, Classical Music, Concerts

Chamber Music for Winds, Deconstructed

Members of the St. George Chamber Orchestra gave a concert for winds a few weeks ago which also featured St. George’s new Parsons Pipe Organ.  Video of Suite in Classical Style for Flute and organ is on the performance page.  Kudos to all the players, who had to reconstruct the program at the last minute when one of us was suddenly hospitalized.  As always, the show must go on….We substituted a piece at the last minute and performed two pieces minus one player, all of which was well received by our audience.  Musical courage under fire….

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The St. George Chamber Orchestra

On February 20th, St. George’s Chamber music series featured a program of concertos by the St. George Chamber Orchestra.  The program included works by Bach, Handel and Mozart, with solos played by orchestra members.  Video of the concert, along with samples of previous concert events,  is available on the Performance page.

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St. George’s New Organ Makes Its Debut

At long last, St. George’s new Parsons tracker organ is ready for its coming out party.  Parsons tonal director, Duane Prill, is touching up the tuning for the last time today, before returning to Rochester for Christmas.  After a month to give the organ time to settle in, he and a small crew will return to make final adjustments to the mechanical action and touch up the voicing.  The pipe organ is an organic instrument, (no pun intended), composed mainly of wood and sheet metal that respond to subtle changes in temperature and humidity.  For an instrument of this complexity, this important settling in time allows the materials in the organ to get acclimated to their new home and guarantees that the tuning will remain stable from season to season.

I came to St. George’s in July of 2005.  The old organ was removed in January of 2007, nearly three years ago.  I feel blessed to be able to play one of the finest instruments in the area.  It will be heard in worship for the first time at all four services at St. George’s on Sunday December 5th.

Our first formal concert will be on December 31st at 7:30PM as part of the Fredericksburg First Night Celebration, featuring myself and Trystan Bennett.

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Filed under Church Music, Classical Music