CONCORA Sings Bach! – The Aftermath
Three days after CONCORA's "exceptional performance" of music by Bach with The Hartford Symphony Orchestra...I'm still reveling in persistent aural memories of my favorite passages. (That's the phenomenon that CONCORA's Artistic Director Richard Coffey calls "tune-be-gone.")
I've also got a pile of scores, papers, books, articles, and programs to sort through before I can wrap this project up intellectually and emotionally. Let me explain.
One of the delights of singing with CONCORA is that we rehearse very efficiently. For this ambitious all-Bach program (a motet, a Mass, and a cantata), we had just two choral rehearsals, plus a single "dress" rehearsal with the orchestra. (The vocal soloists, all drawn from CONCORA's ranks, had a separate rehearsal with Mr. Coffey and the orchestra, and Mr. Coffey had an additional rehearsal with the orchestra alone.)
This compressed rehearsal schedule always leaves me a bit sad because 1) I love good choral rehearsals and 2) we have so little time to immerse ourselves in this music together. Of course, the CONCORA singers are excellent musicians, so we form a cohesive ensemble quickly; and since everyone is fully prepared for rehearsals, we begin to make music together very quickly.
I make up for the short rehearsal schedule with substantial reading and research on my own, both to enrich my musical preparation and, if I’ve been engaged to prepare program notes, to aid in that preparation.
And indeed, there was much to learn in order to prepare — that is, to prepare thoroughly — for a program of this depth....
Though I've prepared notes many times for CONCORA, this was my first year to do so for this big Bach program, having assumed the job long held by the erudite and eloquent Louis G. Neuchterlein, a Lutheran pastor and church musician who served as CONCORA’s inspired Bach program annotator and lecturer for 16 years. I was very aware of Lou's presence as I worked hard to prepare good notes for an audience that had come to expect the best.
So, in addition to learning the music for singing, I also had to learn enough about each piece of music — origins, texts, musical forms and analysis, and performance history — to be able to write cogent, compelling notes. And in addition to the three choral works, the program included an unusual work for organ, so I also had to learn enough about that instrument to write an informative note!
As part of this research and thinking process, I did the following:
♪ Listened to several recordings of the programmed works.
♪ Read or consulted several scholarly books on Bach, including one devoted entirely to the analysis and performance of the organ works.
♪ Conducted in-depth online research, using open-web and professional sources. (Remember, I am a professional librarian and research consultant, so this work goes way beyond the major search engine!)
♪ Consulted Mr. Coffey, Mr. Neuchterlein, and other colleagues on technical, musical, theological, and textual issues
♪ Drew on my own library of program notes, particularly my program essay on Bach’s B Minor Mass.
♪ Focused my research on several areas in which my knowledge was thin, such as the life of Martin Luther, Bach’s organ registrations, and the place of the Latin Mass in Lutheran church music....
This entire process was a delight, from learning the music, to reading about Bach's work as an organ consultant, to considering how Bach adapted some of his cantata movements to create the "new" Mass in G Minor. By the time we got to our dress rehearsal, I felt that I really knew this music and was ready to perform with the understanding and appreciation it deserved. I can’t imagine not preparing for a concert in this way.
(Read this and all the Bach-related posts here.)