A CHORAL ANTHOLOGY

CELEBRATING THE WORDS BEHIND THE MUSIC

For this special performance, we generated the above “word cloud” by combining the texts of all the musical items and calculating the words that appeared most frequently. The relative size of a word is proportional to the number of times it is sung. “Sleep” is clearly a dominant theme in the programme; this is not surprising since a number of items in the programme were about sleep, either literally or figuratively: “The Seal Lullaby” and “Sleep” (Eric Whitacre), “Only in Sleep” (Ēriks Ešenvalds) and “Song for Athene” (John Tavener).

“What a wonderful afternoon I experienced! Thank you all so very much for a splendid, memorable journey in sound and words. I was very moved by every item on your programme, and transported out of the mundane into an ethereal realm that only music provides.”

“I write to thank you and your choir for all your music, love, enlightenment, hard work, beauty, healing and perfect intonation this afternoon.”

“Superb sounds at Christ Church this afternoon. An uplifting afternoon. Beautiful voices.”

“Attending your full-house concert at Christ Church yesterday was a truly wonderful experience for me as a ‘first timer’ and, clearly, for your entire audience too.”

“It was a wonderful concert, with sensitive, well-controlled singing! I’m so glad I didn’t miss this one.”

“This was the MOST special experience! Bravo VOX Cape Town!”

On Sunday 6 May 2018, VOX Cape Town was invited to present a choral recital at the monthly concert series at Christ Church, Constantia. Entitled “A Choral Anthology: Celebrating The Music Behind The Words”, this performance of music from across the ages drew attention to the powerful words underlying the choral settings. To get into the shoes of the “characters” behind the words, the singers donned various shades of blue for the afternoon performance.

An unusual soundscape greeted listeners as they entered the light and airy church. Prominent words from the word cloud (see left) had been recorded by the singers and were interspersed with birdsong to create a tranquil atmosphere with equality between words and song. In a varied musical programme spanning the 16th and 21st centuries, choral items were preceded with readings from great writers and poets including Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī, Shakespeare, Rudyard Kipling, Sara Teasdale, Robert Frost, JRR Tolkien and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

For example, before the performance of Mozart’s “Ave verum corpus” was read an extract of a letter from Mozart to his friend, Joseph Stoll, for whom he wrote the motet 1791. Mozart’s words reveal the composer’s characteristic sense of humour that will be known to those who have watched his fictionalised biography, “Amadeus”. Eric Whitacre’s piece “Sleep” was composed under unusual circumstances and was originally based on Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”. Both the circumstances and the poem were introduced to the audience before the work was sung. And in the silence following the ending of this piece, Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy was recited to set the scene for the haunting “Alleluias” of Sir John Tavener’s “Song for Athene”.

Fictional texts were featured, too – a reading from “The Fellowship of the Ring” by JRR Tolkien was followed by a sublime arrangement of the Academy Award-winning song “May It Be” which contains phrases in Quenya, one of Tolkien’s Elvish languages. There was also a strong local theme – many of the writers had links to South Africa; for example, Rudyard Kipling (of “The Jungle Book” fame) frequently visited the Cape between 1989 and 1908, while JRR Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein.

After a tot of wine in the gentle autumnal sunshine, guests returned for the second half of the programme which featured 16th-century madrigals from Germany, England and France. Compositions and folk songs from South Africa and foreign shores culminated in a beautiful blessing by Peter Klatzow (“Cover Me With The Night”) preceded by a short exposition on the value of “ubuntu” by Archibishop Desmond Tutu.