Many remember, in the events leading up to January 1, 2000, how the phrase “harmonic convergence” was bandied about by self- styled savants to predict a coalition of rare celestial alignments which heralded either the Age of Aquarius or an imminent Apocalypse.
On April 11, a literal harmonic convergence occurred right here in Yellow City when the Tuscon Arizona Boys Chorus and the combined choirs of Amarillo College and Oklahoma Panhandle State University teamed with local musicians to perform John Rutter’s Mass of the Children.
But, unlike the cosmic form, this harmonic convergence wasn’t circumstantial, but the result of a fortuitous set of relationships and ensuing commitments going back over two years.
Dr. Dee Wilkins of OPSU shared that he has had a long-time love for this under-performed piece of music, which also involves a children’s choir. He and Dr. Julian Ackerley, of the TABC, began collaborative discussion on this performance as early as 2017.
According to Nate Fryml, AC choral director, Dr. Wilkins first contacted him at the Bellingham Music Festival in Washington state to talk about the prospect of a combined performance.
It all came together April 11 at the Polk Street United Methodist Church in Amarillo, assisted by ten local professional instrumentalists, with b&b for the boys provided by local families.
But, before the mass, the TABC got center stage and the audience was stunned by what it heard. Purity is an ideal, normally considered in the conceptual and abstract and rarely encountered in reality, From the opening note, the fortunate attendees encountered pure sound, as can only be delivered by young male voices not yet altered by life’s advances.
The numbers selected for the program highlighted the capabilities of this group, now celebrating its eightieth year, which makes it the longest-running, secular boys chorus in the country!
A few of the selections are noted here. The opening piece was Vivaldi’s Sing Unto the Lord, which alerted those listening to the tonal quality of this ensemble. In Mozart’s Ave Maria the boys fanned out down the two main aisles of the church where each boy, in effect, sang solo for those sitting nearby, but that voice then melded into an overtone of praise.
A poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, Gardener of the World, scored by Philip E. Silvey, had a final chord in eight part harmony! This feat would challenge state-class high school choirs.
And, this being cowboy country, the TABC, in hats and embellished with some fancy trick roping by a trio of lariat Wunderkinder held the final chord of Ghost Riders in the Sky for sixteen beats! These young fellers can come back to the Panhandle any time as singing cowboys.
Rutter’s work is a non-liturgical Missa Brevis representing a fusion of English poems by Thomas Ken and William Blake, prayers of St. Patrick and Bishop Lancelot Andrews, and aspects of the traditional Latin and Greek mass.
First performed in 2003, the five-part piece consists of soprano and baritone soloists, childrens and mixed choir, and accompaniment of various combinations, of which the audience heard chamber orchestra and organ.
Sixty plus choristers from both collegiate choirs, plus ten musicians made for a crowded stage. The TABC divided antiphonally in the sides of the balcony.
The admixture of children, community college, university and adult performers proved congenial, with the boys especially noted for maintaining a stoic discipline and a steady focus on the director.
This work is a masterpiece, embodying the magnum mysterium of the traditional mass while Anglicizing with poetry and modernizing with soloists and instrumentation.
The only downside to this performance was the audience size. It’s regrettable that such a tour-de-force of composition and performance wasn’t enjoyed by more. If Dr. Wilkins has his wish, perhaps more performances are in store.
But, for those present, the experience remains memorable. For those who traveled here and performed, as well as local performers, our gratitude, because all have helped to “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”