Monday Musical Moment: Choirs “Rach!”

Justin Langham   -  

Happy Monday to all!

Have you ever heard a performance by a choir that gives you chills? Naturally, those of you who attend services at First UMC experience this every week, but wherever you experience it, there is truly something magical about a choir. Though I may be biased since I am fortunate to work with a wonderful choir on a regular basis!

There are few clearer examples of our shared humanity than a group of voices joining together to create something beautiful. Choirs typically spend hours of rehearsal learning to perfectly coordinate the sounds of their vowells, the placement of their consonants, the flow and pacing in their musical phrases, and most importantly, blending all of that together!

One of my favorite composers for choir was one of the leading composers of the late 19th century by the name of Sergei Rachmaninoff. In addition to being a world-renown conductor and concert pianist with famously humongous hands, Rachmaninoff was a brilliant and prolific composer who wrote with gorgeous melodicism and richness. I promise, this will not be the last Rachmaninoff piece I will share with you!

The piece I chose for today is Rachmaninoff’s gem, Bogoroditse Devo (“Ave Maria”), which comes from one of his most well-known works, the All-Night Vigil. The All-Night Vigil is a setting of the Russian Orthodox All-night vigil ceremony and has been praised as the composer’s finest achievement. The entire work is 15 movements in length and is a cappella, meaning that is sung without instrumental accompaniment. Most pianos or organs are tuned in what is called “equel temperament,” which means that each key is tuned in equal distance from its neighbors. However, in order to correctly tune most harmonies, there needs to be small adjustments made, high or low in specific voices, in order to achieve a “perfect” harmony. As you might imagine, a choir without accompaniment can achieve just that!

I think Rachmaninoff’s Bogoroditse Devo beautifully illustrates all of the best characteristics choral singing. There are beautiful melodic lines, luscious harmonies, and a level of drama and power that is typical of Russian music of this time period. This recording of the radio choir of the German broadcaster MDR based in Leipzig is particularly powerful. The climax of the piece at about 1:50 should give anyone with a pulse shivers, and check out the low F in the basses on the last note!

Choral music is, and always has been, an amazing vehicle for human expression. The level of expression that choirs can achieve is what drew this “trumpet player” towards a slightly different path almost 8 years ago, and I am grateful that it eventually brought me here to First UMC!

Have a great week!