The Amarillo Master Chorale Christmas Concert
Dec 1, 2022: St. Paul Methodist Church
“Echoes of Joy” was the title Dr. Nathaniel Fryml, conductor of the Amarillo Master Chorale, gave to this concert. What the audience heard, however, were the glorious sonds of the spirit of the season, which echoed in listeners’ heads long after the actual concert ended.
The Chorale sang in five languages: Yoruba; Ukrainian; Renaissance Spanish; Latin; English. And the songs, hardly a part of the standard Christmas repertoire, evoked the Magnum Mysterium, the joyful mystery of the season, though musical hints of reformatted popular carols emerged, enhancing the “Echoes of Joy.”
A few of the selections are noted.
Betelehemu is a Nigerian carol, sung in Yoruba. The composers are Via Olatunji and Wendell Whalum. Olatunji was an exchange student at Atlanta’s Morehouse College where Whalum was choir director. It is uncertain whether the song was an original by Olatunji or taught to Whalum.
Regardless, it has achieved a certain popularity, recorded even by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And typical of African singing, body language is just part of the score: stand still and sing just don’t cut it!
The men begin by chanting “Betelehemu,” with a soft answer from the women. Halfway through, however, it starts romping, with all bodies swaying to the rhythm in a manner that a Nigerian audience would have applauded. In fact, the world-famous Stellenbosch University Choir, which has gained a mighty reputation for singing African spirituals, would be hard-pressed to eclipse this performance from a chorale in the Comancheria!
In a musical nod of solidarity to the Ukraine, and their fight to endure as a people, as a culture and a nation. the MC sang the traditional Carol of the Bells (Lastivka Kolyadka) in Ukrainian! Lidiia Bova, Ievgenila Bova and Nathaiel Fryml were credited with pronunciation and additional text.
Prior to the song the audience met Glenda Moore, owner of Kind House Ukrainian Bakery, who first went to the Ukraine as a missionary, but fell in love with the people and decided to fund aid to them through a bakery. For years she operated out of her home, but now has a store front on South Western St. in Amarillo. No items are priced, and all purchases are treated as donations for non-military aid. She has made fourteen trips to the Donbas, giving humanitarian aid and rescuing over two thousand Ukranians from war zones and moving them to places of safety, often in other countries. Sounds like the sort of activity which earn folk a CNN Hero of the Year nomination!
So, in song, and in deed, Amarillo is saying Slava Ukraini and Heroyam Slava!
Riu, Riu, Chiu has become one of the most recognized songs from the Renaissance. It is part of a category of songs known as Vellancico a popular poetic and lyrical form in the Iberian peninsula from the 15th – 18th c, becoming a Christmas carol in the 20th century.
The basic theme, according to many scholars, is birdsong, has been elevated to apply to the Immaculate Conception, the Incarnation as well as the angelic annunciation.
The work has eight verses, with a chorus after each, which meant eight soloists. The piece is robust and pulses with lyric energy. And, it is sung in Renaissance Spanish, which treats the “s” as a “z.” Quality singing of a song from another age: not bad for a bunch of singers from Cowboy Country!
Three of the selections embody a profound and deep spirituality: O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen; Goria by John Rutter; Echoes of Joy by Nathaniel Fryml. The first two works were in Latin, and the last in English and Latin. The Lauridsen work was ethereal, synonymous with the”Great Mystery.” The second was majestic and complex, requiring brass and percussion accompaniment. As this chorus recently performed Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, the singers were more than equal to the challenges posed by the Rutter.
Echoes of Joy opened with a cascade of choral whispering which shaded into the traditional and beautiful “There’s a Song in the Air.” The concluding section becomes an intricate melange of songs and carols that ends with the triumphant assertion that “Jesus is King!”
At all points in the concert, the Fryml touch was evident, which lent a newness and authenticity to what is generally offered as standard repetoire. Not only did he compose two major works which the chorus performed, but interspersed the program with his arrangements of the Prologue and three Reflections,
Jim Rauscher on piano and organ, as well as Evgeny Zvonnikov on violin rendered yeoman service in accompaniment as well as the performing the smaller accent works, as the Chorale prepared for another number.
Thanks to Nate Fryml and the talented singers of the Master Chorale, the Amarillo audience heard a concert that was both national class and unique!
But such outstanding quality is what we in the Amarillo Arts Scene have come to expect. That’s why we say, in the Spirit of the Season,
Keep Amarillo Artsy!
Keep Austin Weird!
Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!