Two Christmas concerts at WTAMU School of Music, Dec 4th and 5th respectively, definitely amped up the Xmas spirit while infusing the listeners with a healthy dose of quality music.
The first, on Dec. 4th, and performed by the Chamber Singers, was a mixtue of classical and contemporary, the latter featuring seven numbers either composed or arranged by Dr. Sean Pullen, WTAMU choral conductor.
Two of the classical works deserve comment: Dixit Maria by Hans Leo Hassler; Adoramus te Christie by Quirino Gasparini.
Hassler (1564-1612) served as a bridge to the Baroque in German music. During his time in Venice he knew both Gabrieli’s, and was influenced by their harmonics, reflected in the lush beauty of Dixit Maria. Typically his compositions, at the height of the Reformation, could be sung in both Catholic and Protestant churches.
Gasparini (1721-1778) composed primarily church music and operas. He knew Mozart, and his work, because of its haunting ethereal quality, was attributed to Wolfy until 1922.
Any Christmas program, whether local or national, on media or in-person, typically blairs White Christmas or Winter Wonderland ad nauseam. But there was only one place to hear the magical sounds of Hassler and Gasparini, and it was here in Cowboy Country.
Sunday, December 5, was the annual Christmas concert of the WTAMU choirs and symphony orchestra, joined this year by the choir from Canyon High School. Downloaded free tickets were required for entry, and both programs (4 and 7) were fully subscribed, a testimony to the popularity of the event.
The program featured its traditional staples, namely audience singing and amazing ensemble performance, but also had surprises.
After the University Chorale took over after the audience singing of O Come All Ye Faithful, Welcome Yule by Charles Hubert Wilson Parry set the table for a musical feast. Two contemporary religious works of an importunate vein followed: Nunc Dimittis by Gyorgy Orban; Adoramus te, Christie by Eric Barnum. Orban was born in Romania but lives in Hungary while Barnum is choral director at Drake University.
Then the combined Chorale and Collegiate Choir performed eine kleine nachtmusik by Mozart in Veni Sancta Spiritus, a bold, high energy hymn/homily that takes listeners on a merry ride all over the dynamics map.
Then in the worlds of Monty Python, “Now for something completely different!” the choirs sang a piece of pure Americana, Go Tell It on the Mountain arranged by Stacey Gibbs.
Then, after an audience singfest of The First Nowell, the first surprise.
Rositza Goza, first violinist of the Harrington String Quartet, literally made her instrument sing as she, along with the WTAMU Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Mark Bartley, played the Meditation from Thais by Jules Massenet.
Thais, a pagan devotee of Venus and hedonism is converted to Christianity and is wrestling with the spiritual urge to become a Cenobite in order to achieve true spirituality. She ultimately resolves to go into seclusion and into the desert.
The music is painfully poignant, an expression of the spiritual and emotional turmoil raging in the heart of the beautiful Thais. And never has the Meditation achieved a more beautiful and sensitive expression than from Rositza’s bow.
But wait, there’s more in the way of surprises. How about an original, five part Chroal Symphony/Mass from a real-life Texan, Taylor Scott Davis! And, true to a long-standing concert tradition, the choir from an area high school is invited to perform the large number with the college kids. This year the choir was that of Canyon High School, and they appeared much at ease singing with the older students.
Of the five parts of the Magnificat, four are in Latin and only one, Shall I Rejoice is in English.
The first section, Magnificat, is high energy, not high church, with some lines purely melodic, some contrapuntal, and some in unison.
Eleisha Miller sang the second part, as noted above, with the accompaniment of complex orchestration.
Part III, Et Misericordia, again featured Rositza Goza, whose violin played a lyrical descant, a melody above the medoly and a deft touch by the composer.
The Deposuit, Part IV, features a male opening with all parts then coalescing melodically.
Gloria Patri, Part V, has a thunderous opening which transitions into a male/female echochamber. After an instrumental interlude, the males state the lines beginning Sicut erat in principio several times, a theme taken up by the females. The finale is a protracted sequence of Amens, decorated with chimes and cymbals, with a final last syllable that is sustained ad infinitum!
The final carole was Hark the Herald Angels Sing with the choirs putting an exclammation mark at the end with phrases from Go Tell It on the Mountain and Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.
This concert was, in a word, spectacular! All elements worked in tandem, noted especially in Davis’s Magnificat where the high school students were, like their eollegiate colleagues, flawless in singing liturgical Latin.
A comparison can be drawn with the nationally-televised Christmas concert at Belmont University in Nashville. WTAMU haas an articulation agreement with Belmont in some music production and music business fields, and so the two are sister schools insofar as music majors are concerned.
This year the Belmont concert did not feature a well-known recording artist, but focussed on the students, some six hundred of whom were on stage. And, the program was varied, with Christmas songs ranging from traditional to country.
But, WTAMU’s program was far more complex, and the quality of sound was on par or even surpassing that of Belmont.
The only negative about this annual concert is that the audience now has to wait a year for another.
But, there’s plenty of music and the arts between now and then. Out here on the High Plains, which Georgia O’Keeffe said poetically is a land where the sky meets the howling wind we enjoy a quality of the arts that is unsurpassed.
That’s why we say, at the end of 2021, and in the hopes of a safer, saner, more art-filled world in 2022,
Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!