The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 7, 2003


Concord Chorus to premiere Russian music

On Saturday, March 8 at 8 p.m., the eighty-plus men and women of the Concord Chorus will step up to a new challenge in their style and repertoire by presenting "An Evening of Russian Music": an a cappella concert sung entirely in Russian. Choral director Andrea Goodman, herself a scholar of Russian music, has worked not only to train the chorus in the distinctive style of Russian folk and liturgical music, but also to have specific musical selections published, translated, and transliterated for the first time in the U.S. The result is that the chorus will present the greater Concord community with music never before heard live on these shores, in the style of its native singers.

The long journey to this March concert began with Goodman's professed "affinity for Russian choruses: they sound like synagogue music." The vocal music of composers like Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, and Tchaikovsky were originally published only in the Cyrillic alphabet. Russian singers who emigrated to the U.S. brought manuscript forms of these and their native folk songs with them. With state funding and help from the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA), a dozen of these émigrés took their music around to different choruses and performed with them. Goodman, who went on to receive a doctorate in choral conducting with a thesis in contemporary Russian choral music from Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, was able to call upon her NYANA association with the manuscript-carrying Russian singers to get the works published here.

Musicologists' notes in the scores tell us of the wide range of subject and expression in the music: Pavel Chesnokov's work is "characterized by poetical warmth, elegance, and soft humor." He is also capable of intricacy and intensity: "Coupled with the stylized 'folksy-ness' of Alexei Tolstoy's poetry, [his "Oh, If the Mother Volga"] gives eloquent expression to some of the restless and idealistic aspirations of Russian society on the eve of the Revolution." Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's folk songs are written in "subtle lyric miniature," and he wrote "sweet, optimistic music despite his assertion that he 'suffer[ed] from torments that cannot be put into words' " and may have died by his own hand. The music contains onomatopoetic sound too. In the traditional folk song "Wedding Bells Rang in Novgorod," chords and rhythms combine for a vocal backdrop of Russian church bells.

Singers from Carlisle include (left to right) Mary DeGarmo, Cynthia Sorn, Gertrude Behn and Karen Taylor.
The Russian folk music tradition is marginally familiar to most of us from movies like Doctor Zhivago and musicals like Fiddler on the Roof. Characterized by a large, rich sound wrapped in sumptuous bass voices, tenors and sopranos who hold their high notes "for days," and long rolls and slides up and down from one pitch to another, it lures the audience to react and participate. The sound is not only rich, but also "big" and high-powered. Goodman says the Russian pianissimo (very soft) sound is everybody else's forte (loud), and the Russian forte is as loud as one can possibly sing. And as she said in rehearsal, "A melody is a note looking for a place to sit down · it never drops in energy." This is music to stir the blood.

To train the Concord Chorus in both the style and the diction, Goodman begins the rehearsal of a piece of music by having the chorus speak through it in rhythm. She also uses practice tapes that chorus members work on at home. In Russian, the consonants are all very important. Most American singers are trained to move quickly past beginning consonants in the interest of getting to the open vowel sound, so our singers must make large adjustments to the necessities of Russian diction. Russian is an unfamiliar language to most of us, and does not lie easily on the English-speaking tongue. Music, however, is a language we all speak, and it is surprising how natural the Russian language sounds and feels in song. What is not surprising is the way the resonance and depth of the Concord Chorus is manifested by this beautiful music.

Carlisleans singing with the Concord Chorus include Mary DeGarmo, Cynthia Sorn, Gertrud Behn, Karen Taylor, Jack Campbell, and Natasha Westland.

"An Evening of Russian Music" includes selections from Sergei Rachmaninoff's The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, as well as sacred and popular Russian songs. Tickets are $18, $15 for seniors and children, and are available by calling 1-781-646-7186.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito