Wednesday, September 8, 2010

In review---Angels in the Rafters

Stile Antico
Puer natus est
Tudor Music for Advent and Christmas
Harmonia Mundi

It’s the first week of September and I’m not dreaming about the Christmas holiday. In fact, I’m clinging to the last embers of summer so why would I review 2 Christmas music albums (see the Anonymous 4 review below), this month?  Puer natus est is the second Stile Antico album I’ve heard, Song of Songs was the first. Again the young English choir sings with razor-sharp intonation and the soprano vocals possessing bell-like clarity, grounded by the tenors, baritones, basses, and altos.

Stile Antico isn’t the first young early music choir I’ve heard that performs Thomas Tallis sacred works or Catholic Church music of the Tudor period (English Tudor kings and queens reign).  The Tudor Choir of Seattle can boast the same claim. And both choirs provide their audiences with compelling and stunningly beautiful programs. Certainly someone could listen to this sacred music with a religious mindset or listen to it for its meditative qualities.  But in either case it’s a real challenge to walk away without feeling some kind of spiritual transcendence. Sacred renaissance polyphony has in recent years has in addition to fans of early music, has also attracted people into a new age lifestyle and Gothic music.

Puer natus est features three main works, Thomas Tallis Missa Puer natus est, William Byrd’s Gradualia I, and John Taverner’s Audivi vocem de caelo, along with an anonymous plainchant, Puer natus est, Robert White’s Magnificat and John Shepherd’s Verbum caro. I’m not familiar enough with these renaissance/Tudor period composers to critique each of the tracks, but I can comment on the gorgeous tapestry of voices ranging from bass to soprano and the antiphons followed by a glorious wall of voices that these 12 vocalists represent.  The opening piece, Tallis’ Videte miraculum, lasting over 11 minutes quickly became my favorite.  It certainly sets the mood for the entire album, and acts as doorway into a compelling realm—provides a nice transition from the secular world to a sacred space. I’ve even played this music in the background while meditating, as well as, playing the music before falling asleep.

So Christmas comes a few months early this year ushered in by Anonymous 4 and Stile Antico.  Perhaps we need the spirit of Christmas during these hopeless times.  Perhaps we need this music to open our hearts and reclaim the act of giving to others. Even so, I’ll most likely put this recording away until December when there’s a chill in the air, darkness in my window, and the need for 12 friendly voices to warm the hearth. It truly feels like a feast for all the senses and would grace any holiday environment.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

In review--Children Raise Your Voice

The East Village Community School
Songs from the East Village
Independent release

When I was around 7 or 8 years old my mother bought me my first record player, one of those portable players with the handle on top, mine was orange and white. She also bought me my first collection of 45s which featured old American folk and Disney tunes which my sister and I learned with much enthusiasm. My favorite song was “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and I could sing that song all day long. And although our school district was a poor one, it provided music programs from 1-12 grades. I imagine that music even brought the community together and I certainly felt more at peace having music in my childhood years.

While many grade schools especially have lost their music programs due to budget cuts, many schools find a way to incorporate music into their educational programs despite what the economy is doing or not doing. The East Village Community School in the Lower Eastside of New York City brought parents, children and diversity together in creating its musical program. According to the liner notes of Songs from the East Village, many of the parents representing a variety of ethnic groups were also musicians and among them is Susan McKeown, a champion of music and language preservation, and now music programs in schools preservation.

And as you can imagine with all of this ethnic diversity the songs that appear on the fundraising CD, Songs from the East Village represent a variety of cultures with songs hailing from Iraq, Tibet, Spain, Puerto Rico, Ireland, the Appalachians and the Deep South (US). The children brought in songs taught to them by their parents and they helped in the production of the CD, lending their enthusiastic voices too. The proceeds from the CD keep this hands-on learning school in operation. Many of the CD listeners will hear traditional songs for the first time or will sing along with the ones they know from their own childhood.

This CD not only raises much needed funds, but would make a lovely gift for children of all stripes and sizes. It proves what a group of children can do to empower themselves and keep a roof over their school, so to speak. A worthy cause, you bet. and