Bringing 2O17 To A Choral Finale

by Sam Black

After three and a half years, this will be my final column in The Reader. I hope your 2017 was a rich arts-filled one, and I hope you will support all of our local arts in each and every year to come.

A celebration of the choral experience

Choral music is at the center of my life, and is very much at the center of my entire Christmas experience. From December 14 - 25, multiple choral opportunities have been presented to satisfy the sentiments of the season and the richness of the choral experience. The Rose Ensemble brought Baroque Malta back to the northland. The choral groups at The College of St. Scholastica offered their annual O Holy Night program. Arrowhead Chorale provided a spectacular assortment of Christmas music with instrumental guests. Finally, Jerry Upton brought his Choralaires from East High School to semester’s end with a rich and varied celebration of the Christmas spirit.

Baroque music from the island of Malta

The Rose Ensemble, based out of St. Paul, MN, is one of a half dozen groups on Planet Earth who celebrate magnificently the choral music from the 1400s to the present day. Music that was written on the island of Malta during the late 17th and early 18th centuries was their featured program. After this past twenty years, the personnel of the ensemble has completely changed, but the goal remains very consistent. Beautiful choral music from all centuries is still valid in the 21st century. The song of Mary, known in Latin as the Magnificat (because of the opening My Soul magnifies my Lord), was a beautiful closing to the evening. The traditional text, with the richness of an individual, anonymous composer from the remote world of Malta, opened my week with the brilliance of light. I hope you choose to listen to this(now available) recording by the Rose Ensemble.

Choral music from CSS
For several years now, Bret Amundson (now joined by Sarah Ludwig) has brought the hundred or so singers from The College of St. Scholastica into a spectacular Christmas celebration known as O Holy Night. This year, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary was the site, and it was quite full for two nights in a row. Thomas Hamilton was at the organ, Emily Valine was at the piano, and a variety of instrumentalists were present to add to the delights of the texts. This was completely sacred, from many cultures and generations. The Alleluyah Sasa, by Ben Allaway, was a highlight of the evening. Lively percussion, along with the solo from tenor Michael Moxley, added a new spirit to the holiday message from the angels.

Multicultural sacred anthems

If this was not enough, Arrowhead Chorale offered a completely sacred program on Sunday afternoon at the Great Hall of The Depot. Once again, percussion and brass joined Bret Amundson and Sarah Ludwig to lead the Chorale in a richly varied program. Opening with a medieval processional with brass - Personent Hodie - the stage was set for an energetic program. The handbell ensemble Strikepoint offered several pieces as well. The total sensitivity of Alf Houkom’s setting of the Rune of Hospitality, with guitarist Harry Park, was a centerpiece. Recognizing Christ in the stranger’s guise is the whole point of Christmas.

The traditions of the Choralaires

My full week ended with the final seasonal presentation by the East High School Choralaires out at Duluth Congregational Church on East Superior Street. Spanish carols, British carols, American carols, with  full and dimmed lights highlighting this annual event, turned out to be very special. These eighteen young singers, completely unaccompanied, offered one of the best programs of the past decade. As they concluded in the darkness with Silent Night, it was clear that the whole Christmas event was immediately at hand. 

I hope your musical activity of the past week was as rewarding as mine. I also hope you have a very arts-filled 2018, and I look forward to chatting with you at events in the coming year. Keep all the local arts as alive as you possibly can. That’s what truly matters in our moment in time.