Lovers of choral music are in for a major treat, when the Chautauqua Chamber Singers perform their May 14 concert.
The program will consist entirely of music by composers from the 21st Century and will highlight ''She Walks in Beauty,'' a piece which was commissioned especially for this concert by the singers' Music Director, Rebecca Ryan. Composer Daniel Gawthrop will be present for the world premiere of his composition.
Earlier that same day, while he is in our community, Gawthrop will offer musicians in our area a workshop in which he will introduce participants to a number of his recent compositions, and discuss his method of preparation and analysis of choral music. Normally we would wait until closer to the date of the performance to give coverage to the event, but the registration deadline for the workshop will be May 1, so the singers were eager to have the public announcement be this weekend, and we're glad to oblige.
Members of the Chautauqua Chamber Singers, preparing to perform “She Walks in Beauty,” by Daniel Gawthrop, which was composed especially for them.
It is interesting to note that for much of the 20th century, the majority of new classical music was atonal, was often non-melodic, and was often unpopular with audiences. Those who have been avoiding contemporary music may be surprised to learn that in the 21st century, music has largely returned to the tonal, melodic, richly harmonic style which audiences love very much. Among the works to be performed on May 14 will by music by Morten Lauridsen, Joan Szymko, and Roland E. Martin, in addition to that of Gawthrop.
So, let's gather the basic facts of the concert, then learn a bit about Ryan and about Gawthrop, and finally, a few words about the workshop for musicians.
The concert will be performed May 14 at 7:30 p.m., at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, at the intersection of Main St. and Fourth St., in downtown Jamestown.
Admission is without additional charge to season members. For information about individual tickets, phone 664-2227 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since the autumn of 2008, the Music Director of the Chautauqua Chamber Signers has been Rebecca Ryan.
Ryan's knowledge of music, her canny choice of programs, which manage to both challenge and delight listeners, and her warm interaction with both singers and audience have made her very popular in our community. I couldn't find a single soul to say anything negative.
When she's not pulling artistry from the Chamber Singers, she works as lecturer, Director of the Sullivan Conservatory, and Director of Choirs at Mercyhurst College, in nearby Erie. Under her direction, Mercyhurst choirs have performed with five orchestras in the area, and have toured extensively - most recently to cities in Poland.
She and her husband own and operate a small farm in Pennsylvania, where she owns and actively rides and trains horses. In 2007, their daughter Anne, one of their five children, died unexpectedly. At her memorial service, the couple's older daughter read the poem ''She Walks in Beauty,'' by George Gordon, Lord Byron. Ryan decided that the poem related so beautifully to her late daughter's life, that she would like to commission a composer to set those beautiful words to music, to create a living memorial to Anne.
Not long before that, she had conducted her Mercyhurst choir in a performance of the lovely anthem ''Sing Me to Heaven,'' by composer Daniel Gawthrop.
''I had never met the composer,'' she told me recently. ''But, I loved the way his music joined with the words to give life to them. I contacted him and asked if he could compose an a cappella anthem for voices, S-A-T-B, which set the Byron poem.''
An a cappella anthem is one which is performed without instrumental accompaniment. The letters S-A-T-B refer to the common voice parts of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.
''I think the result is so lovely, and the Chamber Singers do such a wonderful job with it - I just can't wait to share it with the community,'' the director said.
There followed something of a hymn to the Jamestown community, including its musicians, its organizations and its audiences.
''The Chamber Singers are wonderfully gifted, and they are so flexible and enthusiastic,'' Ryan continued. ''I can introduce them to something new and they won't close ranks against it, as so many music groups can do. Because negative singers can make even a musical masterpiece fail.''
She also praised roundly the gifts of organist and pianist Ron McEntire, who will be accompanying the singers' musical works which require accompaniment.
''Ron is a joy to work with, and he can play just about anything," Ryan said. "We owe him a real debt of gratitude.''
She has found Jamestown audiences warm and welcoming and, like the singers, willing to listen to new things, prepared to enjoy them.
Does she have a message for her potential audience?
''This music is all new, but it's lyrical and tuneful and richly harmonic," Ryan said.
Among the composers whose music we'll be singing is Roland E. Martin, who was Director of the Singers shortly before her tenure.
''Ron's music is such a delight to perform, and we want to keep his connection to the community alive and welcoming," she said.
Daniel Gawthrop has accomplished a feat which even Mozart could not achieve: he makes his living entirely from income earned from commissions and from royalties paid by organizations performing his compositions.
I spoke with him recently by telephone from Tennessee, where he now resides.
''It was an honor to be chosen by someone as knowledgeable as Becky, to memorialize her daughter's life," Gawthrop said. "In fact, I bent one of my usual rules in order to do it.''
Gawthrop usually insists upon choosing the texts which he sets. He often composes for solo organ and sometimes for other instruments or a combinations of instruments. But, he has a number of writers whose work he finds to blend especially effectively with his music, including his wife, who writes many of his texts.
''Becky was set upon having the Byron poem set," he said. "I worked with it for a while and decided that it did sing within me, and I could make music for it."
There were negotiations about how difficult the music could be, and other such matters, but he felt the composing went quickly.
''The music hasn't been published yet, Gawthrop said. "Once the Chamber Singers give the world premiere, it will be available for purchase and performance by ensembles all over the world."
Gawthrop said he always agrees to do workshops when he travels to premiere concerts of his music. He said he does so because, for nearly a century, the music community prided itself on creating music which involved deep expressiveness and emotion on its own part, but made little or no effort to communicate with its audience.
''Especially in academic music departments, it was almost a matter of pride that only those with advanced music degrees could understand or appreciate what they were doing,'' he said.
He quoted composer Milton Babbitt's famous essay which began, ''Who cares if you listen?'' which suggested that composers and performers should create only for themselves or for some abstract concept of good music, not to inspire or thrill an audience.
''Sometimes a local musician can work and work to introduce new ideas to a community, and the out-of-town Jasper like myself can come in and they'll listen to us," Gawthrop said. "It's certainly worth a try.
''My last job, before I went entirely to living from my compositions, was as an announcer on WETA, the giant PBS station in Washington, D.C. I'm comfortable speaking in public, and I enjoy interacting with musicians and with music lovers. The workshops give me a chance to introduce church music directors, public educators, and other working musicians to my music and my ideas about music.
''They often get ideas of things they could perform with their musical groups, and they come away with a new idea of what contemporary music can be like,'' he said.
The composer said that the disconnect from audiences has not been healthy for music, and while the refusal to communicate has almost completely been abandoned, he still finds people with negative expectations when they learn that a performer or performing ensemble is going to perform something by a living composer.
He recounted an incident in which an audience member had approached him after a concert and told him she almost didn't attend the concert when she learned he was still alive, but she had come because there was music by Haydn on the program, and now she was glad she had.
You'll have reason to be glad, as well, that Daniel Gawthrop is still among us. I hope you can attend his workshop and/or the concert in which his new composition will be debuted.
The workshop will be given from 10 a.m. to noon on May 14. Like the concert, it will be held at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, in Jamestown.
Seating is limited to 100, so prompt registration is a good idea. There is a fee of $5 for the workshop which includes a light lunch. The deadline for registration is May 1.
The intended audience is church organists, choir directors, and choir members, although anyone who is truly interested is welcome to apply.
In addition to the public workshop, Gawthrop will be conducting workshops for area scholastic music departments as well.
For the benefit of readers who might not be familiar with the Lord Byron poem which has been set to music for the upcoming concert, here are the words:
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect, and her eyes;
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place
And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent;
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.
Imagine all that, and add beautiful music.
Only a few days ago, the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra visited our community and deeply moved a large audience at the Reg Lenna Civic Center in a concert for the Jamestown Concert Association.
Only days after its departure, the orchestra was forced by the current economic conditions to declare bankruptcy. The future of their music making is uncertain, at best. I hope we can rally behind our cultural community. Believe me, if we don't, no one else will do so.
Canada's wonderful theatrical festival, the Shaw Festival and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, are already open for the 2011 performing season.
Stratford opens today with a preview performance of its first production, the Lerner and Lowe musical ''Camelot,'' starring Geraint Wyn Davies.
The Shaw Festival has been open nearly two weeks with its first three productions in previews. These would be the musical show ''My Fair Lady,'' - based on George Bernard Shaw's play ''Pygmalian" - ''Heartbreak House,'' and ''Candida.''
Both festivals will continue to add new productions until late July and early August. Both have four theaters running as often as twice per day. Performances then will decline in number through early November.
The Jamestown Audubon Society is seeking sponsors for their fourth annual Art in the Woods Art Show, which will be held July 16 and 17.
The show will have dozens of artists, both inside their beautiful headquarters on Riverside Road and in the natural surroundings outside the center. Businesses and individuals who agree to support the show are largely responsible for past shows' successes which have made them one of the most successful fundraisers of the year.
Sponsors receive various recognitions for their support which include having their name and logo on the Audubon web site and newsletter and on posters and publicity for the festival. Free admission tickets and naming rights are among the recognitions.
For sponsorship information, phone 569-2345 or visit www.jamestownaudubon.org