Tag: choral music

Choral Travels: Oh, the Places We’ll Sing!

I was recently catching up on some reading on the new Chorus America website and came across an article titled “When It’s More than Just Singing–Choristers Share Their Most Memorable Experiences.” The piece is a compilation of quotes from singers about their “mountaintop” choral experiences. Reading about life-changing choral touring experiences reminded me of the year before college when I was singing with the Royal Choral Society in the U.K. That summer, I was among more than 100 singers loaded on buses and driven to Lyon, France, where we performed in the Berlioz Festival. Three decades later, I still remember the thrill of performing in the festival and exploring the city with fellow singers–definitely a seminal mountaintop choral experience.

Every season, Melodia’s Artistic Director Cynthia Powell and I talk about the places we’d like to take the group to sing. Favorites on our list include a visit to one of the great cathedrals in England to sing evensong while the regular cathedral choir is on summer vacation; or a trip to Mexico to sing a commissioned piece by Allison Sniffin on poems by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz; or participation in the International Choral Festival in Havana, Cuba. All seem to us to be very exciting, appealing prospects, but they remain on our “dream” list as we ponder the dauntingly high costs and administrative burdens of such a trip.

I’m encouraged to see that despite the economic struggles of the last few years, choirs are still managing to transport themselves to festivals and performance opportunities all over the world. A notice just dropped into my email box this week about New York’s Collegiate Chorale’s scheduled tour this summer with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta and Riccardo Muti conducting. The tour includes two concerts in Israel and three at the Salzberg Festival. Repertoire includes works by Naom Sheriff, Schoenberg, Bruckner, Bloch, Mahler, and Verdi. New York Virtuoso Singers, with Artistic Director Harold Rosenbaum, is going to Denmark and Sweden in early June. The trip is sponsored by Roger Davidson’s Society for Universal Sacred Music (SUSM), and the choir is singing selections from past SUSM festivals, plus a collection of choral works written by Davidson, sung in Danish.

Many choirs that do not have sponsorship for their trips rely on a choral travel company to arrange the accommodations, travel, and performances. Recognized companies include KI Concerts, ACFEA Tour Consultants, and TRC’s Performance Tours. For these tours, a per-singer fee is calculated and members of the choir who can come up with the fee are on their way. While these trips are great for the choirs with enough singers who can pay the fee—which is often upwards of $3,000 depending on the destination—for many choirs, like Melodia, few singers can find the funds or take the time from other commitments and jobs. Some choirs are able to focus fundraising efforts on touring while others can’t afford to take the focus away from their regular seasons.

However you tour and wherever you go, planning for rest and music preparation in addition to some gentle sightseeing are additional ingredients of a mountaintop choral experience.

What are your experiences of choral touring?

Choral Themes

Since becoming more involved in the organizational side of choral music, I’ve noticed all the different ways choirs present music, often with works grouped together into themes that range from obvious to suggestive. With so much marketing now taking place through social media and online listings, having a theme that encapsulates the character and content of a performance in a few words can be a big advantage.

I’m impressed with the creativity of some choirs in selecting themes. C4: The Choral Composer/Conductor Collective‘s recent concert in New York, titled A Loss for Words, offered an evening of new choral music on alternative texts—repertoire that used a broad variety of vocal techniques, fragments of words, and made-up words–anything but real words that we might recognize. The repertoire selected was extremely broad and uniquely grouped.

The Esoterics, based in Seattle, is covering an interesting range of themes for its concerts this year. The ensemble’s September concerts celebrate a composer’s birthday–an endless source of concert themes. CAGE: John Cage Centennial features all of John Cage’s a cappella choral works in addition to Cage’s entire Songbook in a marathon performance weekend. The ensemble’s June/July concert, titled ANTAMA: Honoring the healing power of togetherness, has the theme of community and features works by lesbian and gay composers in preparation for the group’s participation in the tenth GALA Choruses conference in Denver this July.

Minnesota-based VocalEssence has British music as a theme for its upcoming concert, Brits & Brass, with Copper Street Brass Quintet, featuring U.S. premieres of The Night’s Untruth by Tarik O’Regan (co-commissioned by VocalEssence) and The Far Theatricals of Day by Jonathan Dove, as well as works by Judith Bingham, Britten, Parry, and Rutter.

The Brits across the pond are celebrating the Queens’ Diamond Jubilee in 2012 (a four-day holiday weekend June 2-5), a theme reflected in the programs of choirs throughout Britain this year. Repertoire seems to be mostly classical, with some new commissioned works featured, such as Ronald Corp’s This Sceptr’d Isle, to be performed by Highgate Choral Society, one of Britain’s longest established non-professional choirs.

Adding to the material available for performance for the Jubilee is a new collection of sacred music composed in the last ten years: A Choir Book for the Queen: A collection of contemporary sacred music in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee. Under the artistic direction of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, 45 anthems have been selected, twelve of which are new commissions for this project. During 2012, BBC Radio 3’s Choral Evensong is featuring anthems from the collection, live broadcast available online in the U.S. at www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006tp7r (adjust for time difference–U.K. is +4 hours until 3/25/2012 and then +5 hours).

What concert themes attract your attention?

Choral Learning Curves

Sitting in my choral rehearsal last weekend, I was struck with how laborious the process of music learning can be–for the singers and for the conductor as well. For non-professional choirs, the first few months of the year can be a painful period as singers find their way into the complexities of the music. Conductors start to encourage singers to study their music between rehearsals with increasing urgency as the weeks go by.

For many choral singers, learning music on their own can be challenging, especially for those who don’t have the keyboard skills needed to play more than just their own part. Learning one part, without the other parts or accompaniment, doesn’t usually get a singer very far. Once back in the rehearsal room, surrounded by other voices and the accompaniment, the music learned without a context soon fades away.

Conductors and composers have developed a number of tools and techniques to help singers prepare outside of rehearsals. Alice Parker, a conductor, composer, and teacher working in the choral field for more than 50 years, believes that a good place to start is to study and learn the text with rhythmic precision, forming a strong foundation for dropping in the pitches later.

Singers can access a variety of online tools to help with their practice and learning. Two free websites, Silvas Woodshed and CyberBass contain MIDI files that highlight separate choral parts. While CyberBass features all classical works, the selection on Silvas Woodshed is more extensive, and includes a small selection of 20th-century works. Additional sites where materials can be purchased include Rehearsal Arts, which carries a selection of classical works where the part is sung by a professional teaching singer with the accompaniment behind–much easier to listen to than MIDI files. Difficult passages are slowed on special tracks called StudySpots. ChoraLine in the UK also carries quality materials, although these are all classical except for a small selection of pieces by popular contemporary British composers. Very few works by contemporary American composers are available on these sites.

Conductors will often create rehearsal materials for their choir if none are available. Examples might include playing the vocal parts on the piano, recording them, and circulating them as MP3 files. Some contemporary composers will provide MIDI recordings of their work highlighting each vocal part. Some choirs will provide recordings with a soloist singing individual parts with piano accompaniment, although making such recordings is time consuming and can be expensive.

My hope is that one day there will be a comprehensive virtual library of learning tools for contemporary choral works. Since this material can be the most challenging to learn and commercial recordings may not be available, this would ease the learning process and encourage more choirs to tackle contemporary works. Composers and conductors (with permission) could place audio files into the library for singers to access.

What tools do you use or recommend to facilitate the learning process of choral works?

Choral Scores of the Future

At the recent Music of Now Marathon at Symphony Space, I was intrigued to see violinist Daniel Phillips play a piece by his father, Eugene, using an iPad instead of a score, turning the pages with a wireless foot pedal. I quickly imagined what it would be like to have a whole choir using iPads instead of scores. Singers would no longer have to deal with heavy folders stuffed with scores, audiences wouldn’t have to listen to multiple crackling page turns, and choir organizers could avoid spending weeks acquiring paper scores from multiple sources and dragging them from place to place. Royalties and fees would still be paid, as they are with e-books.

Until that day comes, choir librarians and administrators like me continue to face the endless challenge of obtaining the multiple copies needed for the singers, which can come from sources as diverse as the music itself. A typical Melodia Women’s Choir concert may have between six and ten different pieces and almost as many sources for copies of the scores.

As we all know, photocopying scores is not permitted except under special circumstances. In our current program, we have two situations where copying is allowed. One involves the composer, Johannes Somary, who died a year ago. Somary had sent us the unpublished score not long before he became ill, which we were able to copy with permission from his widow, Anne Somary. Another piece on our current program is an unpublished work by a living composer who provided a .pdf of the score and a license to reproduce it, for which we paid a per-copy fee.

Some of the choral scores programmed in a concert may be in the public domain and may be available at ChoralWiki, home of the Choral Public Domain Library which contains a vast collection of scores. However, if you find a score here, it’s important to check it thoroughly to make sure it’s the original notation and to review it for errors.

For purchasing scores, jwpepper.com and sheetmusicplus.com carry significant choral catalogues. Smaller companies can help find scores not available elsewhere. Cliff Hill Music, is one I have used consistently.

Several choirs in the New York area make their score libraries available to other choirs through a rental program. New Amsterdam Singers‘ rental catalogue carries more than 740 sets of choral music scores with accompanying instrumental parts, including classical and contemporary works, available at a fraction of the purchase price.

Perhaps ten years from now choral singers will carry a simple tablet instead of a score–or by then there could be some completely new technology available. Time will tell.

Searching for a Song

One day last week, I was trying to think of a place to meet a friend on our way out for the evening. “Let’s meet on West 56th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues— you know, where Patelson’s Music House used to be,” the friend said via cell phone. As I turned north on Seventh Avenue, happy memories flooded back of visits to this historic music store. Long gone are the days when you could actually go into a music store in New York and rifle through shelves, binders and bins, browsing and looking for classical and choral scores. My score browsing afternoons are now limited to occasional trips to The Schott Music Shop, Great Marlborough Street, London, a haven for choral treasures and information.

When I look at the scores we’ve accumulated at Melodia Women’s Choir, I marvel at the different ways we’ve come across them. When we started, all we had was a crumpled box of treble scores that had been left for our artistic director in the basement of the church where she was music director at the time. The box proved to be a valuable source of material, with some real treasures among the pieces inside.

Now, almost ten years later, what we still lovingly refer to as “the box” is a library that overflows from several large filing cabinets. Scores have found their way to us through recommendations from the online choral forum choralnet.org; and they’ve arrived in the mail and by e-mail from conductors, composers, and singers. We’ve also sought them out by browsing the repertoire lists of peer choirs online, digging into dictionaries and catalogs, and scouring programs and websites.

In addition to the Melodia library of scores, our audio collection has become a valuable resource for finding material. The CD browsing situation in New York is not as dire as the sheet music store scene since a handful of specialty music stores carry an eclectic mix of recordings and J&R on Park Row has a wide selection of choral recordings. In addition to choral CDs mixed in under composers’ names, a specialty choral section carries compilation choral CDs and some collections by individual choirs. While waiting on the long check-out line at J&R last Saturday, my fellow shoppers were voicing how vital it is to be able to really look at an actual CD before buying it—the internet just didn’t work for them.

Although shuffling through CDs is definitely productive and exciting, many of the CDs in our choir’s audio collection have come from other places. Conferences and concerts have yielded up some good material, and Primarily A Cappella’s Singers.com has become a great resource for rarely-heard material performed by choirs from all over the world. Some gems in the Melodia collection have also come from direct orders to choirs throughout the US, in Canada, and the UK, and from rummaging in used CD stores and market stalls during travels around the US and England.

Some music publishers are also adding audio to their choral catalogs. Hal Leonard’s Voices of Distinction 2011 catalog is a good example. Titles with the “Closer Look” icon frequently include an audio sample in addition to a score excerpt—a great way to discover composers whose work we’re not familiar with.

Once repertoire has been selected for a concert using all these resources, the next project is to find out where to acquire multiple scores and find any instrumental parts that are needed. Read more about that in my next post.

We Sing Life: Conspirare

Since its founding in 1991, vocal ensemble Conspirare has become not only part of the firmament of the Austin music landscape but also part of the national and international scene. Led by founder Craig Hella Johnson, Conspirare has recorded a number of CDs and DVDs on the Harmonia Mundi label and has received awards and media recognition, including the PBS television special “A Company of Voices: Conspirare in Concert,” an Edison award (Dutch Grammys), and five Grammy nominations. Among the highlights of last season were “Renaissance & Response: Polyphony Then and Now,” a weekend-long festival featuring works by Josquin Des Prez, Orlandus Lassus, Tomás Luis de Victoria, and J.S. Bach in four distinct programs, each featuring a world premiere by series composer-in-residence Robert Kyr. The ensemble’s out-of-town engagements included three performances in New York under the auspices of the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall. This year is shaping up to be similarly busy, and Conspirare has wasted no time in presenting two concerts of new music multiple times over the past few days.

Conspirare led by Craig Hella Johnson

Conspirare led by Craig Hella Johnson. Photo by Karen Sachar

The first concert featured the world premier of Peter Scott Lewis’s The Changing Light, a co-commission between Conspirare and the Sanford Dole Ensemble. On either side of the Lewis were a number of pieces by Eric Whitacre, including Five Hebrew Love Songs and the U.S. premiers of Whitacre’s Oculi Omnium and Alleluia. Conspirare opened the afternoon concert with Whitacre’s With a Lily in Your Hand, a light but driving movement in 7/8 in which faster figures were contrasted with longer, less rhythmic segments. Right off the bat, it became clear that this was a seasoned group of musicians performing at an extremely high level; singers who could probably sing the phone book and sound fantastic. Part of me noticed the nuts and bolts elements, such as communication among the members and the strong direction of Johnson, but another part of me was just floored by the sound both in terms of quality and quantity. The twenty-four singers produced truly impressive volume at one moment, and were able to draw in the audience with the lightest pianissimo the next.

Five Hebrew Love Songs on poems of Hila Plitman was distinctly different from the other Whitacre offerings, partly because of the addition of string quartet and partly because of the structural elements both within each movement as well as in the larger form outlined by the five movements. The second and fourth movements, “Kala kalla (Light Bride)” and “Eyze Sheleg! (What snow!)” were haiku-like in their length and syllabic structure. “Kala kalla,” with its tambourine and 3-3-2-2 contrasting sections had a compelling forward movement throughout before coming to something of an unresolved cadence. The final movement, “Rakut” (Tenderness), began with a “bum-bum-bum” vocalization which changed to what was virtually a speaking part complimented by string harmonics. The effect was a captured texture (I hesitate to say “frozen” here as the immobility was not cold, but static string harmonics can certainly have that effect) which began to move forward via rising tenor lines, their pitches circled by the strings. Alleluia was presented as a tribute to UT Professor of Organ Gerre Hancock, who had passed away earlier in the day. An arrangement of an earlier work for band, “alleluia” was the primary text of the piece, driving the sopranos higher and higher until an “amen” ending closed the work.

The Changing Light by Peter Scott Lewis on text by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and scored for string quartet, vibes, marimba, and choir in four movements was the centerpiece of the concert. The three poems (the second, “Big Sur Light,” was divided into two parts to create the middle movements) describe the light of the sun in various locales and times in California. In “Big Sur Night,” a steady opening pulse gave way to more animated movement, as soprano and tenor wound their way through the text. Throughout, the string quartet mostly followed and supported the choir until the instrumental and vocal roles came together when the pulse returned at the end. “The Moon Stayed Full Last Night” began with an instrumental introduction followed by a warm, lyrical accompaniment. An interlude into which the pulse seemed to disappear was followed by a gentle ending, hints of pulse returning as the final notes echoed through the space.

Conspirare rehearsal

Conspirare in rehearsal. Photo by Karen Sachar.

The second concert featured Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles. On text by Robert Dickinson, Path of Miracles is an a capella oratorio of sorts which describes four of the main stops along the route from France to the cathedral shrine of Santiago de Compostela. Commissioned in 2005 by Nigel Short’s Tennebrae ensemble, the piece features 17 separate vocal parts as well as a crotale here and there. The first movement, “Roncesvalles,” began with a bit of theatricality. An altar lit with red light remained empty for several minutes, allowing the audience to settle into the space in what felt like a brief meditative state. If that seems like a short amount of time to meditate, try to sit quietly for two minutes while bathed in red light.

Slowly and deliberately mimicking stylized pilgrims, the basses and tenors entered from the back of the church, and when they had made their way to the front they continued pacing in a circle for a short period. Eventually they turned to face the audience, the basses singing quite low in their range and developing a slowly rising glissando that culminated in a tremendous climax. They were joined in this climax by the female voices hidden in the choir loft above us. A decrescendo followed as the sopranos and altos came down and took up antiphonal positions along the length of the church. Long, vaguely Arabic motives were traded back and forth for a time as the women transitioned from the sides of the church to their places on stage. A fugal section gave way to declamatory phrases as the basses took the melody from the sopranos. A largely 6/8 section peppered by hemiola provided tension as piercing crotales cut through the texture. All this built to a climax which quickly dwindled to a solo bass ending the movement.

The second movement illustrated the drudgery of pilgrimage through a reflective, slow ostinato topped by various individual lines rising mirage-like over the top. A fever dream staccato tutti emerged from this texture and lead ultimately to a quieter, unsettled harmony, overtones pulsing against one another. Slowly and in turn, the vocal parts dwindled, leaving the basses alone at the end.

The third movement saw previous motives return in ostinato patterns sung by the tenors and basses. In a return to the antiphony of the first movement, the chorus took up a flanking position while the basses spread through the center aisle. Johnson turned to face the audience (and conduct his group) and during these moments it was difficult not to see the music on his face as clearly as you could hear it in the room. Conductors need no excuse to be emotional and effusive, but it seemed less like Johnson was conducting the music and more like the music was passing through him. It was something I’ve witnessed in a handful of experiences with performers, but very rarely with a conductor and it was, quite frankly, a powerful thing to see. The tumultuous motion of the piece culminated in a truly gorgeous arrival, moved briefly to the minor mode, and ended in a preparation for the final movement.

The final movement depicts the arrival at Santiago and starts with the initial motif of the piece. Overlapping entries played like stretti writ large, each voice gently entering in what seemed like an isorythmic treatment of the material. This gentle music moved to a declamatory tutti section, the men joined by the women as staccato major mode 5/4 figures transformed to 6/4. The piece ended reflectively with the members of the choir moving, one by one, out of the room in a reversal of the initial entrances. The wonderful difference was that instead of leaving the audience alone in silence, the singers continued to sing as they walked further and further from the space, which sounded (to listeners of a certain vintage) not unlike the fade-out on any number of albums, though one that lasted several minutes. The effect was tremendous and the audience responded strongly, applauding for some time after the piece ended.

Vocal music has the advantage of text to connect to the listener, but I’m not sure that it’s simply the narrative that keeps an audience connected to a piece like Path of Miracles. The power of the human voice directed and shaped by a significant musical mind like Johnson’s has the power to do nearly anything, including connecting with incredibly diverse audiences like the one at St. Martin’s church in Austin this past Saturday.

Virtually Choral

While recently searching online for some choral project ideas for next season, I was struck by the extent to which choral music–traditionally a group activity involving people being together in real time–has moved into the virtual world. Sure, choirs have been using the internet for years for communication, promotion, and networking, but now video is increasingly being used to connect choirs, singers, composers, and audiences without any kind of human contact.

For choral work, YouTube has transitioned from a fun showcase into an important tool. Even though I knew she had recorded it and asked the choir to do so, I was amazed to see a recording of a performance of a work by Catherine Aks by my ensemble, Melodia Women’s Choir, posted by the composer within days of the premiere! For composers who are self-published, regularly posting performances to YouTube is a powerful tool in getting a work heard and performed.

As a choral singer, it’s helpful to review recordings of different performances to get some familiarity with the work and the composer as part of the concert preparation process. Finding video clips to pass along to the rest of the choir as a learning tool, particularly of new or rarely performed work, is proving to be easier than locating audio recordings. In the past, I’ve spent hours online looking for a choir that has performed a piece that is not commercially recorded, tracking down contact info, finding out if there is a concert recording, and then waiting for the CD–a lengthy and inconvenient process.

The one drawback with the numerous video choral recordings posted on YouTube is that the quality is quite often mediocre. Live recordings, often taken in low-light situations with handheld video cameras or Flip cameras with minimal sound recording capabilities, only provide a sampling of the work and not a quality audio or video experience. San Francisco-based Volti has found an interesting way of posting work on YouTube that doesn’t include video, but features a high quality audio recording with a still photo of the choir, a blurb about the piece, the text, and a listing of the upcoming performance. Mark Winges’s Where Everything is Music is featured on this one:

Another recent development involving video is Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir. The YouTube video of Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 1 project, a recording of his Lux Aurumque by 185 singers who each recorded a video of themselves singing their part using their own computer, has attracted more than 2.8 million views so far. Virtual Choir 2 features a nicely produced video connecting 2,052 singers performing Sleep in a star-filled galaxy of interconnected singers, and his Virtual Choir 3 project is currently underway. To participate, singers go to the website, select a part (soprano, alto, tenor, or bass), and watch their computer screen as the music is played and sections of the score are visible on the screen. Whitacre even conducts! When the singer is ready, he or she records and submits their performance. Each singer needs headphones, a webcam, and preferably an external mic. The deadline for Virtual Choir 3 submissions is January 31, 2012.

The use of video has endless possibilities as the choral and virtual worlds collide and expand.

Choral composers–how do you present your choral work on video?

Resolving to Sing

New Year’s resolutions, while frequently focusing on the physical–going back to the gym, revisiting that diet, getting out the running shoes–can also bring singers out of hiding and into audition rooms. When January 1 comes around each year, audition requests start to trickle into choirs’ e-mail boxes as singers set new goals and plans for the year, and as groups broadcast audition details for the spring season.

Glancing through some of the messages I’ve received recently for Melodia Women’s Choir, I see inquiries from singers with as many reasons to audition as there are choirs in which to sing. An experienced professional who sings on commercials misses singing with a group. A recent graduate just moved to New York for a job and wants to continue her musical life and meet other singers. A singer recently completed a course of voice lessons paid for by a “passion grant” from the company where she works and is ready to try out for some choirs.

Many New York City choirs have a consistently rotating roster of singers as lives shift and change. Even when a choir may only have a few open spots, many choral directors are eager to hear all of the singers who are available to audition and who meet the choir’s membership criteria. Within a short time frame–usually 10-15 minutes–the director will make a rigorous survey of a singer’s skills. A series of vocal exercises, the performance of a prepared song, and a sight-reading exercise are usually part of the audition. For choirs that consistently tackle challenging contemporary works, a high level of sight reading is key in addition to highly accurate pitch.

For Melodia, we listen for a particular tone quality that is full-bodied but goes toward a straight tone without a big vibrato sound. Singers who don’t do well in the sight-reading part of the audition are rarely accepted. Melodia, like many choirs, has a lot of music to cover in a short time and needs singers who can read well and learn fast.

For a singer, finding a choir that is the right fit can sometimes take several attempts, but most will eventually discover a group that has the right pace, culture, and a repertoire that they love. Some singers, having joined a choir, will work on their vocal technique and choral repertoire in individual voice lessons. New York-based soprano and voice teacher Mary Ellen Callahan says that 95 percent of her voice students are currently singing in a choir. For many, voice lessons are an extension of their commitment to a choir and its repertoire, as well as their desire to continue working on vocal technique.

Have you defined specific music-related goals for 2012?

Holiday Music…Or Not

As seasonal decorations pop up all around New York City, holiday music now fills our ears wherever we go. Whether in a deli, a restaurant, or a department store, the annual holiday song mix rings out—a small taste of the vast selection of sung holiday music let loose in December. Notices of holiday concerts buzz into my smart phone all day long as choirs everywhere bring more than ten centuries of wondrous music to audiences who don’t seem to get tired of hearing it. But what about the choirs that don’t have a strong interest in performing holiday music? Where does contemporary choral music fit into the holiday music web? How do audiences choose what to go out and hear during this busy season?

For choirs that don’t have a burning interest in holiday-themed concerts—my own choir, Melodia Women’s Choir, included—an easy solution is to present a fall concert before Thanksgiving. Although this can mean a scramble to prepare and promote the concert in only a few weeks, it leaves the door wide open for broad repertoire choices regardless of the season. C4: The Composer/Conductor Collective based in New York that performs music written in the last 25 years with particular emphasis on works by composer-members also chooses dates before Thanksgiving for its fall concerts. C4 member and composer Martha Sullivan told me that she believes the challenge for a composer interested in writing seasonally appropriate choral music is to find texts that may lend themselves to a meaningful setting but still resonate with a broad audience. An example of one that Sullivan has used is the “O” Antiphons for Advent, adding that the “O” Antiphons are set to a text that is explicitly for sacred use, but many composers have used them in such a way that they are good for concert use as well.

San Francisco-based contemporary music vocal ensemble Volti presents a holiday concert of contemporary and premiere works that nods to the season but remains solidly rooted in the choir’s regular programming direction. Described by Volti as “a non-traditional program rich in poetry” and “an exploration of aspects of the divine in the most mundane moments,” this year’s concert features premieres by Mark Winges, Stacy Garrop, Ian Freebairn-Smith, and a 2009 work by Shawn Crouch.

Anonymous 4

As a choral music concert-goer as well as singer and organizer, I try to balance a couple of traditional holiday concerts by outstanding choirs with some performances that are especially exciting to me. Since treble repertoire is my favorite voicing, likely special treats will be Anonymous 4‘s performance of their “Anthology 25” program of ancient, traditional, and contemporary works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a performance of Messiaen’s Trois petites liturgies de la Présence Divine performed by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chamber Chorus. Other than that, I’ll dust off my holiday music choral CD collection featuring everything from plainchant to pop and listen to WQXR Holiday Music at www.wqxr.org. When I want some non-choral fun, I’ll watch my favorite holiday music YouTube clip of the Bowen Beer Bottle Band’s rendition of Angels We Have Heard on High. Enjoy!

What less-heralded music do you like to hear in this season?