Monday, March 12, 2012

Voices United 2012

Full disclosure: I am a member of the Manassas Chorale and have been since August, 2003, after I retired from teaching. My wife Becky directs the Chorale and, with the phenomenal help of some incredible people, has grown the group from about 30 singers 20 years ago to its present size of about 100 singers. I am also somehow a part of the select pull-out group of 30 singers, the Chorale Ensemble. We do harder music and sing in a number of smaller venues. All this is the most fun anyone can have indoors.

Part of the Chorale has made an annual trip in December to Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg to sing as a part of their Candlelight Concert series for about a decade now. Generally about 60 singers make the trip and we finish the evening off with a dinner at a local restaurant. This past year, as we were singing in the altar area of the church, packed into the space very closely, I was surrounded by various vocal parts (which is how I prefer to sing SATB) and felt at one point as if I were a part of some large organism that breathed and moved together and produced the most wonderful sounds. Of course we have to breathe together to create a uniform sound and I've noticed that we tend to move in the same ways, even though we don't do choreography. It was quite a revelation.

The people in the Chorale are some of the finest human beings I have ever had the pleasure to know. They are almost without exception witty, warm, intelligent, talented, good-looking, faith-filled, responsible, community conscious and devoted to their families. It has been my distinct pleasure to come to know many of them.

This past weekend we experienced Voices United 2012, an annual choral event sponsored by the Chorale. Nearly 130 singers came together for a six-hour workshop with composer and musician Joseph M. Martin, who has written 1500 songs with 15 million copies out there. Martin conducted a seminar not only with the six songs that the VU 2012 Choir sang but also about the relationship between the arts in general and society. He considered music and its relationship to society and culture, talking about the interconnections between and among music, writing, visual art, sculpture, architecture, dance, photography, etc. He could very well teach a graduate level course on art and society.

Joseph talked about one of his anthems, "O Love that Will Not Let Me Go," as being operatic in nature. It tells a story (of salvation), begins with the statement of a theme both musically and theologically (the "A" part), shifts to a minor treatment of the motif, a variation (or the "B" part), reaches the climax of the story (the Resurrection) with the restatement of the "A" section and closes with a coda, again both musically and narratively. Wow. To do this justice would require a recording of the text and an image of the music score, both of which would violate copyright provisions, so I must leave them out. If you're interested you can go to and click on the "sample audio" button for a sample of the song.

Martin also  considered  the creative process, not only about music but also about the poetry he writes for lyrics to the songs. Much of what he said is good practice for any writer: working in odd pockets of time, revising, considering the freight and sound and heft of words, insisting on exactly the right word, and so on.

It was quite the weekend. I hope to explore some of these ideas further in future Biscuit City posts.


  1. One aspect of music that has always interested (puzzled, perhaps?) me is the relationship with math, partly because science shares that same territory. I don't know enough about music (or higher math, to be truthful) to understand the connection, but I will say that, in my teaching career, I often found that my best chem students were involved with music in either band or orchestra...I always chalked it up to the discipline required of both, but know there is more to it.

  2. I rhink you're on to something. Music involves rhythm, which has math underpinnings, so there is common ground between them. This seems counterintuitive, since there's a notion in our society that people who like math are usually not good at being "creative," i.e. making music.