Remembering that Palm Sunday was the next day, The Golden Olden Lady on It Helps Fill the Day, observed “I am not religiously observant, in fact, I am contentedly atheist, with humanist leanings and a protestant upbringing, but I am deeply attached to really serious liturgical music, as it's about the best stuff on earth to sing, in my view. So, even if you listen to nothing else like it this Holy Week can I suggest you put five minutes by to try this out for size.”
Being like-minded with the Lady, I was ready to “try this”. The ‘this’ in this case was the opening movement of Bach’s St. John Passion. Serious liturgical music indeed it is, and it came to me via Yahoo. I’d never known that they had such stuff in their repertoire, and, needless to say, I had to play some more pieces like that, then and there. I was like a kid with a new toy – I was there for a long time playing old favorites that day.
Sundays at our house always meant listening to the radio program of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from Salt Lake City – E. Power Biggs at the organ, of course. Along with the Saturday live broadcasts of the opera from the Met, it was part of our regular family weekend routine. (And in looking up the proper spelling of Mr. Biggs’ name, I discovered that Yahoo had a recording of him playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. I’ve got it playing as I type this particular paragraph. Now that I realize the music will play on even if I’m in another window or writing an essay, though I’ve got many CDs, this is so easy: just select something, let it play, and keep on keepin’ on.
But I digress! It’s the choral music I was going to cover today. So: the choral music from Salt Lake City, and an old 78 recording of a cappella Christmas Carols by the Robert Shaw Chorale, and maybe a chorus or two from an opera, were my introduction to group singing and my introduction to harmony. I could always ‘hear’ all the parts. I love to sing and I love to harmonize. I must amend that ‘sing’ bit by saying I love to sing at the top of my lungs. For me, nothing gets the work done faster than singing along and harmonizing with a CD of a Broadway show – Maybe South Pacific or Cats - or perhaps Sinatra or Streisand or folk songs from the 60’s. I’m old school. My dear Canadian friend loves old-time Gospel music in three-part harmony – and she isn’t even from the South! Well, she is from southern Canada! But what is it she loves? It’s the harmony. Harmonizing just sounds good in my head. If it’s good enough and close enough it really rings.
I must say that there are three choral things that can make my eyes start to tear and my nose crinkle when I sing along, that make me ‘fill up’ just thinking and writing about them: any group singing the Navy Hymn, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and any piece from Song of Survival. This last, while not actually sing along at the top of your lungs stuff, is a recording by the Women’s Choir of Haarlem, Holland, of a recreation of orchestral pieces that were sung, or hummed, from memory by women interred in the Dutch East Indies during World War II. Singing, and at first it was popular and folk songs, was what kept them sane, helped them to survive. I like to hum along with them. As I’ve been composing this paragraph I’ve been finding links to three and listening to some of them. I’m a teary mess! So, enough of that. I did put in the links in case you want to hear for yourself.
Winter is late this year in most parts of the continent - actually in most parts of the northern hemisphere! That means spring cleaning will be later than usual. I do recommend that before you lift that dust mop you put on a rousing CD – any of your favorite genres will do – and sing out loud – and harmonize - to your heart’s content.