We arrived at the Presbyterian church as we normally do, but instead of going into the large fellowship hall, we made our way to the sanctuary. Imagine 170 men and women crammed into a choir loft and pulpit area designed for less than a quarter so many people! Sopranos and baritones on the left, altos and tenors on the right (as you look from the back of the church)… we’re squeezed as tightly as we can into the choir pews, on steps, on the floor… I cannot resist quipping how lovely it is to see men strewn on the floor about my feet.
Trumpets, trombones, tuba, timpani, all warming up, then tuning with the organ…
Al steps to the box in the middle of the main aisle and raises his baton — The trumpets begin an introduction built around “Taps”…

“Here rests in honored glory….” we sing a tribute to fallen soldiers of America’s wars.

I am very very proud to announce the release of the CD, “Here Rests in Honored Glory,” from The Don and Mary Miller Foundation. The song, recorded by the North Carolina Master Chorale in October, 2005, was written by Don Miller, a well-known jazz musician and composer. Sales of the CD (which I am shamelessly promoting here!) will go to benefit TAPS – the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors – a charity to serve the families of men and women who have died for America.

Please visit the website and order one of these CDs. It’s a worthy cause, good music — and if I may be so brash, we do sound GOOD. Out of the purchase cost, Mary Miller informs me that $5 goes directly to TAPS. That’s a mighty good deal.

Hey – let ’em know I sent you, will you? I’d like to know how effective my marketing efforts are – wink.

What CAN we do with a drunken sailor?

Make him sing Samuel Adler’s “Rogues and Lovers”?

Okay, I am relieved none of my fellow choristers read this blog, because I’m about to make an embarrassing confession:


Mostly. It would have been more fun if some of our sopranos didn’t sing so much like white women or divas (Imagine a heavy soprano vibrato singing “Limbo, Limbo, Limbo Limbooooo”) and if there hadn’t been so much bitching and moaning among the ranks… but by and large, it was just good fun.

This is a piece that really showcased the North Carolina Wind Orchestra, but it offered some stretch for the imagination for the chorale, also. It begins with some wild percussion work (yeah, even wind ensembles use percussion) — then we joined in a rolicking rendition of “Drunken Sailor,” followed by the English folk ballad, “He’s Gone Away,” “Limbo,” Banuwa,” “Valencienita” and finally “Gypsum Davy” — all folks songs about loves or rogues.

It was a little schizophrenic-feeling at times, but what the hey — so is life.

I also enjoyed the Holiday Pops concert pieces with the NC Symphony, last November. Music doesn’t have to always be stodgy and highbrow in order to be fun to sing. Boogers! to the naysayers and whiners.

Master Chorale ROCKS!

Friday and Saturday the NC Master Chorale performed with the NC Symphony in Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “The Resurrection.” This is a strong complex work with three fully symphonic movements, a fourth movement featuring a contralto soloist, and a fifth movement featuring soprano and contralto soloists and a full chorus.

We’ve worked and worked on this piece — and I’ve worked particularly hard because it’s the first time I’ve done anything in German before. Those German vowel sounds bear no relation whatsoever to vowels as I’ve known them all my life! “Hor” is pronounced like “Her” and there’s this “u” that fits somewhere in the palate between “You” and “yih” and “Yeah!”

Working with Grant Llewellen and the NC Symphony was a huge charge of energy. He’s a wonderful conductor, and unlike most instrumental conductors (band or symphony) he understands and appreciates vocalists (he’s formerly from the Handel and Hayden Society). His directions were sensible, coherent, and do-able.

Meymandi Hall in Raleigh was quite full for both performances, even the Friday night one. And both nights, almost before Grant could lower his baton after the final, great, thunderous chord, the crowd was on its feet, cheering. Four calls back to the stage each night — thunderous applause that only swelled louder when the Master Chorale was acknowledged…

It’s hard to return to the real world after something like that.

You can hear this performance in October, when the Symphony Concert series aired on WCPE is broadcast. It’s scheduled for October 2. You can stream WCPE through your computer, so I hope you’ll tune in.

UPDATE: 5:00 p.m., 5/15 — and here’s a review you might enjoy reading.


You’re sitting in your seat in a lovely, modern auditorium. The house lights dim, the stage lights go up… the conductor steps onto the podium and lifts his baton… a small orchestra plays a lovely and rousing overture, then after a pause, the strings pick up a gentle introduction,the tenor steps forward and tenderly sings

“Comfort ye — comfort ye, my people.”

It’s almost startling, even after I’ve heard it a dozen or so times. We expect a story about the Messiah to begin with the Incarnation, the Nativity — but instead we’re shown why we need a Redeemer: we are out of step with God, our lives are marked by sin and confusion; we need help, we need… comfort.

But this prophetic beginning also warns us of a coming Judgment. “The Glory of the Lord shall be revealed…” “for He is like a refiner’s fire” “and He shall purify…”

And how shall this work be accomplished? “Behold, a virgin shall conceive…”

Then, after more vocal prophecy about the Coming One, how He will bring light to the Gentiles and Light to the ends of the earth…

there is an interlude, a “pastoral symphony,” which seems musically to mark the passing of generations from the utterance of the promises to their fulfillment.

The voices return with the wonderful narrative of Luke’s Gospel: “There were shepherds abiding in the field….”

How can you not be caught up in the story? The Savior is born! “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion, for behold! thy King cometh unto thee!” And during his lifetime, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd,” so we must “Come unto him, take His yoke upon you and learn of Him –” “For His yoke is easy and His burden is light!”

And by now, after all those weeks of intense labor, the melismas dance over the tongue and the burden of them is light… and somehow all the music is pouring out of my heart even more than from my lips, and this oratorio is an offering of praise and thanksgiving to Christ.

Even after the intermission, when we abruptly turn from joy to sorrow — “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world” — and instead of light and joyous singing we are following Him to the Cross and His passion — we lift our voices to dramatize that Passion — we paint pictures with our voices of the One Who, without blame or iniquity of His own, took on our own and bore it for us. We become the angry mob condemning Him with scorn and derision. We mock, we sneer, we flout… we stand back in awe, for “He did not leave His soul in hell, nor suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption.”

We watch as the powers of darkness rail and try to deny the Power of God… in vain of course, for “Hallelujah! The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth! And He shall reign forever and ever!”

And we look ahead to the coming Judgment, and the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, where we all shall sing — can it possibly be more glorious music in Heaven than this? Can my heart bear it that it is? — “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain… to receive power and wisdom and riches and strength, and honor and glory and blessing… forever and ever — Amen!”

And somehow through this music we are given a glimpse into that Final Day when we all shall be prostrate at His pierced feet, honoring Him for Who He is — seeing Him clearly and without mortal hindrance for the first time for all eternity….

Wouldn’t you know it, two days before our performance of Handel’s Messiah, I started developing an upper respiratory infection? By Sunday, I was whispering and lip-syncing, not singing. Still, I think I would have fought my way out of far worse to stand on that stage at Meymandi Hall with these people who have become my dear friends — many of whom are fellow brothers and sisters in Faith — to worship Our Lord in this glorious music.

“Blessing and honor, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and ever. Amen.”

Chorale News and Reflections

I just got off the phone from ordering my chorale outfit; it’s starting to get more and more real to me that I’m actually singing with this phenomenally wonderful group.

Tuesday night we recorded a demo of a new composition entitled “Here Stands in Honored Glory,” by Donald B. Miller. This is a very nice choral piece based on the inscription of the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetary, and it is going to be marketed, I understand, to be performed at funerals and patriotic events for servicemen, veterans, and others; proceeds from the sale of the sheet music and the CD are going to benefit the widows and orphans of those courageous men and women who have given their lives in the war against terrorism. I’m proud to have been part of this project.

Don and his wife were present Tuesday evening for the recording session, a lovely couple, so warm and gracious. I arrived at our rehearsal venue at the same time they did, so we struck up a conversation before I found out why they were there. Don autographed my copy of the score, and I’ll be framing it … probably next week.

The recording was a lot of fun. We were squeezed like sardines in the sanctuary of the church where we rehearse, and I had the great thrill of sitting right beside the tenor section. Tenors were pouring out of the choir pews and sitting on the floor, right by my feet — ah, bliss! And when we sang, I found it was actually easier for me to hit my pitches with the other voice part beside me. hmmm… I’ll have to think on that one a bit.

The really cool thing was, after each take, the sound man, after a moment of silence, could be heard saying “Wow.” We had a small brass ensemble playing with us, you see, and a tympani — and after the first take he actually had to ask the chorale to back off a bit, we were overpowering the brass! Oh, what a good laugh we all had over that. And the First Trumpet stood up and said, “Impossible!” as if he were truly indignant — but of course he was joking with us. It was a lovely experience.

I’ll be posting info about how to order the CD single as soon as it’s available — and I’ll try to figure out how to post a sound file here on the blog, even a short excerpt. Don’t hold your breath, though.

Messiah rehearsals continue apace. The hardest thing for me, so far, is that Al wants to lighten up the melismas a bit by varying the emphasis on certain notes. Ordinarily, 16th notes are counted in a very rigid ONE-ee-And-a-TWO-ee-And-a… But Al wants us … well, to scat the runs! Like a jazz arrangement, almost — YA-da-da-YA-da-da-YA-da… It actually works! The emphasis falls according to the movement of pitch instead of a rigid four-count, and the effect (when we get it right! — you’d be amazed how hard a habit it is to develop, those alternate rhythms!) is to lighten the long runs considerably, making them dance rather than plod.

I’m having a blast! I only wish you could all come and join us!

Okay — This is post #99, I’m going to go now and post my obligatory 100-post party.


If you love classical music, WCPE is a fantastic listener-supported radio station that offers full internet streaming in a variety of formats. Fortunately, I live near two of their translators, so I can listen just about everywhere I go! — In fact, my car radio is preset: 1: Raleigh 2: Aberdeen 3: Foxfire Village. As I migrate from one signal area to another, I just push buttons.

This week they’re observing the Fall Fund-Raiser, but they’re still playing a lot of great music.

And on Sunday mornings they have several hours of glorious sacred music. It really helps support my mindset as I prepare for Mass.


His Yoke is Easy

Another of the choruses in Messiah is “His Yoke is Easy,” taken from Mt. 11:30. It follows immediately on the heels of the wonderful Alto and Soprano Airs, “He Shall Feed His Flock” (which I sang for my audition, anyone’s interested) and “Come Unto Him.” The airs are a gentle, serene legato (smooth and connected); the chorus completes the passage with a light, airy series of melismas — a single syllable sung over multiple notes (think how the word “Gloria” is expanded over many notes in “Angels We Have Heard on High”) — “His yoke is easy, and his burthen is light.”

The joke is, the piece isn’t easy! In fact, my section leader sent us the notes on this chorus in an email entitled “His Yoke Is Easy — but this piece isn’t!” It’s hard work perfecting those 16th-note melismas so they sound light-hearted and airy and even playful, rather than heavy, thumping and downright pedestrian.

It occurs to me, practicing at the piano last week and this, that this chorus is a great metaphor for being a Christian. His yoke is easy, His burden is light… but to train ourselves to take it up and joyfully to fling ourselves into His life of grace is a hard lesson to achieve. But look! I spend minutes each day at the piano, working out these runs in very slow and plodding steps so that, when December 11 rolls around and we’re performing this cantata before an audience, I’ll be able to trip those 16th notes as lightly as a feather floating through the air, or a child skipping a rope in unself-conscious joy. I practice similar exercises in prayer, spiritual discipline and attempted obedience so that in the really crucial hours of need I can lightly, gracefully perform that service for which God is preparing me.

It’s all about preparation, practice.