Oakland East Bay

Our Audience Responds to December ’15 concert

I was fascinated to witness how dozens of varied voices came together into a beautiful whole. I especially was struck by the voice of one soloist in particular (I believe her name is Emily Crawford). Lynne Morrow’s intention of peace helped set the tone for receiving the experience. The printed translations helped me take in the meaning where my unaccustomed ears couldn’t make out the lyrics or feel the message. I’m glad I got to participate in this part of my friend, Erica Peng’s, life.

Best,

Kiran Patel

Note: This was Kiran’s first ever choral concert.


I cannot tell you how moved I was by the concert at the Crowden School last Saturday. It is a pleasure to be reminded of what a really good group of fine voices can sound like, but to hear them singing selections so perfectly in tune with the times and arrangements so fresh that they bring life to even familiar pieces went beyond just pleasure to being inspirational. By the end of the “Sure on this Shining Night” it was apparent that this concert was going to be an emotional experience and with the explosive entrance of the choir after the Soulful Messiah “King of Kings” section I was simply overwhelmed.

Thank you and the entire choir for an evening to remember and an experience I will not forget.

Rick Dougherty


Of course, loved the Holiday Concert

I went home to check out Warren’s “Hallelujah” on the internet, and you were way better than the You-Tubes, how you slowly built up over the course. Wow; I’m so glad I heard you do that arrangement.

I did think the Magnificat was lovely but a lot of the first half of the program was the same “tenor”–all beautiful music–and I worried about the friends I had brought. We like a little more variability. We can only take so much beautiful music. 🙂

So, those are the thoughts of a non-music person, ha! Thank you for performing again this year and in SF.

Sincerely,

Joy Hahn

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Member reflections on December ’15 concert

This was my first concert with PEV. I just moved here from New York and was delighted to be accepted into the ensemble. My husband, law-school daughter, and a sister from this area came to the performance. My husband especially has been to many choral performances to see groups I’ve sung with for several years in NY. Although they were all top-notch ensembles, his usual response has been something along the lines of, “Very nice, dear. Shall we get something to eat?” My daughter has been similarly supportive but not wildly enthusiastic.

From all of them, the response to PEV was very different than in the past: almost speechless and stunned by the power of the music and the excellence of the ensemble. The word “Wow” did come out several times, and some much more colorful expressions of appreciation. All agreed that it was not only the best performance I’d been part of, but probably the best choral performance they’d ever heard. They were blown away by the soloists, the repertoire, by Lynne’s conducting and comments. Along with the pure joy of singing with PEV, what a thrill for me to be part of something that elicits this response!

Suzy Logan (Alto)


Hi, all. I wanted to share two thoughts with all of you as we head into a well-deserved break for the holidays.

The first is a big collective thank-you to all of you for the hard work, commitment and spirit that everyone put into this concert, both in our months of preparation and in two gloriously rich performances. As many others have commented, we created many wonderful sounds, and it was thrilling to be a part of it.

The second is a specific thank-you to Lynne M., which I expressed privately to her after rehearsal but wanted also to share with the rest of you. I am very grateful to Lynne for all that she does, all the preparation time and the focus and concentration in rehearsals, to make us better musicians. After every concert set, I feel I’ve learned more about phrasing, lines, diction, dynamics, vocal sound production, performance and presentation, and so many other aspects of musicianship. I wish I’d known all of this 15-20 years ago, when my voice was that much younger and stronger – sadly, the graphic representation of my musical state has a declining voice line to offset the rising musicianship line – but better late than never, right? Anyway, the preparation for a rigorous concert like this last one is a tremendous learning and growing experience, and the performance is pure, unadulterated joy. Thanks, Lynne, for all the hard work and talent you apply to make that happen, and to make us better, individually and collectively.

Happy and safe holidays to all, and an early toast to whatever 2016 holds in store. I’m sure it will be fun.

All the best,

Don Kelley (Bass)


I second what Don says. Yes, this is a very talented group of singers and it is a pleasure working with all of you. But Lynne’s direction and coaching makes us an even better group. The variety of what we sing is impressive, interesting and exciting. That’s what keeps us alert and inspired.

Thank you Lynne.

Doug Jackson (Bass)


Dear Lynne,

I wanted to add to the ‘chorus’ of thank you’s for this beautifully-programmed concert in particular and for all you do for us in general. As we ratchet upward in excellence, it’s fascinating to see over the years how your patience with us has borne fruit and how your coaching always has exactly what we need to make it over the next hump.

I could go on about how much I enjoyed the Raminsh and the challenge of Friede auf Erden, but I wanted to say thanks for “Sure on This Shining Night,” which means a lot to me. The way we sang it, with a kind of quiet radiance, I found emotionally overwhelming at times. It’s a great poem and I don’t tire of returning to it every year, whether performing or listening.

Thanks again,

Dale Engle (Bass)

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Extreme Topography of Human Emotion

marymagnificatA piece that features prominently on our upcoming holiday program is the 1983 setting (for piano, choir and soloist) of Magnificat by Imant Raminsh. One of our fabulous baritones, Dale Engle, contacted Mr. Raminsh by email, to let him know we would be performing the work, and was delighted to receive the following reply:

Dear Dale,

Many, many thanks for your e-mail and your kind words about my Magnificat. I do occasionally hear when my music is being performed, but not often. (Maybe that is just as well…it could lead to a puffed-up ego).

The Magnificat was commissioned by the British Columbia Choral Federation and premiered in 1983 at its annual “Chorfest” in the piano/vocal version. The orchestration was commissioned by Dr. Elmer Iseler and premiered by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir a few years later. At that time I was drawn to a number of the standard sacred Latin texts, not so much for their liturgical significance, as for their great humanity. The Magnificat is first and foremost about humility, and heaven knows, most of us humans have a lot to be humble about. However it clearly does not stop there but goes on to explore the extreme topography of human emotion. That may be all I really want to say about the work. Hopefully the music speaks for itself.

I hope you will let me know how your performance went…perhaps send me a recording if you make one.

Once again, many thanks, and all the very best.

~ Imant Raminsh

Raminsh was born in Latvia in 1943, but his family emigrated to Canada in 1948. A graduate of the University of Toronto, he went on to study composition, fugue, violin and conducting at Universität Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. Returning to Canada, he established the music department at College of New Caledonia in British Columbia. He is a two-time winner of the biennial Canadian National Choral Awards in the “Outstanding Choral Work” category. As a composer, he is particularly known for his vocal music. To quote Raminsh, from an interview elsewhere:

I could not live without the human voice. The oral tradition is strong in Latvian culture; there are millions of folk songs. Latvian influences in my music go deeper than just folk song and probably invade everything I write: melodies, stories, memories, etc.

In his note to Dale, Raminsh spoke of the quality of humility being at the heart of the Magnificat text, and there can be no doubt as to the truth of that. There is a lovely and pure, melodic exuberance Raminsh has brought to the music.

Another key toward understanding Magnificat in context comes in a line that occurs just before the Magnificat portion. In response to Mary’s question of how she could have a child when she hadn’t been with a man, the angel Gabriel says to her: “Nothing that can be named is impossible with God.”

Themes of impotence, barrenness and powerlessness are central to Luke’s story of how Mary became the mother of Jesus and her cousin, Elizabeth, became the mother of John the Baptist. Our text is the Latin translation from the original Greek. English translations frequently use the word “handmaid” or “servant” in the line where Mary describes herself, although the proper meaning of the original Greek word, “doulos”, is slave. By contrast, the Latin word “magnificat” has a range of meanings, including praise, glorify, celebrate, adore, enlarge and exalt.

To me, Mary’s song of praise to God springs partly from a realization that her purpose is not bound to any inevitable outcomes based on her station in life. An open and humble heart is a place from which various unexpected outcomes can occur, given the right conditions. Mary’s understanding of the world and her place in it has been enlarged by this epiphany, and, as the composer said, she cannot help but “explore the extreme topography of human emotion.”

Elisabeth Eliassen

P.S. The concerts are just a few weeks away. Book your tickets soon!

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Friede auf Erden – Peace on Earth

Without a doubt, the most intriguing piece on our upcoming concert set is Schoenberg’s Opus 13, “Friede auf Erden.” The music is extremely challenging and full of densely beautiful melodic/harmonic elements from Schoenberg’s early period; this is truly rich chromatic harmony of the late Romantic era.

No less challenging is the text, by Swiss writer Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825-1898). Here is an excerpt, translated from the German, from toward the middle of the poem:

“… the heavens continued to resound:
“Peace, peace on earth!”

Since the angels gave that counsel,
Oh, how many bloody deeds
Have been perpetrated by Discord,
Steel-clad on its savage steed!”

I can tell you the text is brilliantly set, complete with word painting, to highlight the intent of the text, which levels a direct challenge to humankind about our part in either creating peace or creating something else entirely.

Lynne Morrow, Music Director, Pacific Edge VoicesMusic Director Lynne Morrow gave us the following insight on this work:

When I was thinking about the program for December 2015, I wanted something seasonal as well as something that made a statement about what we want for the world. Schoenberg’s “Friede auf Erden” says it all: Peace on Earth. It does not say it simply, it does not make it easy to attain, but the message is there. Strive for peace, listen for harmony. Schoenberg talked about “Friede” in a transcendent way, that mixed up descriptions of the musical work with descriptions of human harmony.

“Friede auf Erden” was written in 1906 and Schoenberg believed that “pure harmony was conceivable.” In a 1923 letter, he called the piece “an illusion for mixed choir.” He began to understand that the harmonies in “Friede auf Erden” should be “safeguarded…, not left unaccompanied.”  And we will perform them with the piano accompanying. But he firmly believed that this early work of his was a “natural forerunner” of his later works and that he was “a natural continuer of properly understood good old tradition!”

We invite you to steep yourselves in the purity of these harmonies and meditate on the challenge in the text at our upcoming concerts!

Elisabeth Eliassen

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Group Singing for Sharing Good Vibes and Good Health!

As a singer and voice teacher, I am continually surprised by the number of people who will come up to me after a church service and say, “I am so glad you were singing; I could actually hear the melody and sing along…” This is frequently followed a statement, offered sheepishly, “I wish I could really sing.”

Elisabeth Eliassen Voice TeacherIf you have, or anyone you know has, ever been told, “you shouldn’t be singing” or “stop that racket!” or “you can’t carry a tune in a bucket”, I am here to say, it ain’t so! And I heartily encourage you and everyone to make a joyful noise!

The human voice is an essential built-in coping and self-healing mechanism, not just a tool for artistic expression. I have rarely encountered a small child who doesn’t sing while playing alone. When I was a child, I made up songs that I sang to my cat at bedtime. My teenagers still sing songs at night and in the shower and while doing chores and homework, or when they have been upset.

More and more clinical studies are outlining the measurable health benefits of singing. The release of endorphins and oxytocin during the act of singing has been found to: Alleviate anxiety and stress; lessen depression and loneliness; enhance a sense of wellbeing and belonging; contribute to feelings of trust, bonding and community. At least seven therapeutic outcomes from group singing experiences have been documented and studied: Communication, cognition, cooperative engagement, confidence, relationship building, personal empowerment, and physical exercise culminating in stress reduction.

The long and the short of it is this, to paraphrase the title of the well-known hymn, “How can you keep from singing?”

All of this is just a way for me to say you don’t have to wait: Come on out and join us for our next Spirituals Sing-along!

When is that, you ask? And where? Why, it is coming up this very weekend! Halloween Saturday, to be exact! You can find all the details at this link to our event ticket page.

Mary Had a Baby: Advent and African American Spirituals
11:00 am St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 525 29th St, Oakland

We look forward to singing with you!

Elisabeth Eliassen,
member of the alto section since 1994

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The following articles were consulted in the writing of this entry:

Brian Eno Lists the Benefits of Singing: A Long Life, Increased Intelligence, and a Sound Civilization, Colin Marshall for Open Culture, February 27, 2015

Singing Changes Your Brain, Stacy Horn for Time Magazine August 16, 2013

Singing on Prescription? for Medical News Today, January 18, 2010

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