Thursday, November 19, 2009

Things I Can't Stop Singing

I suppose it is time to confess a few things. First of all, I am a total gleek. If that makes you think of a fancy way of streamlined spitting that was popular in the 80s, I'm sorry about that. But if it makes you think of a musical high school TV show that is totally not designed for my demographic, then you are right on. Did my school have show choir? No. Was I a singing geek nonetheless? HELL YEAH. I did do choir, madrigals, a cappella, musical theater, opera, a vocal jazz ensemble, and private singing lessons, so it's a pretty safe bet that if my school had had a "glee" club, I so would've been in it.

I think my husband and daughters were only mildly disturbed at dinner last night when, after the Gutsy Dad asked "It's Wednesday, right?" I looked up from my enchiladas and squealed "GLEEEEEEEEE!" I don't care if they use auto-tune. I am riveted to the screen any time they sing ANYTHING. And, because they keep singing favorites of mine, perhaps I need to rethink the demographic of this show after all.

I just tried to link to YouTube for you, and my computer crashed, so if you are curious about the music in Glee, I highly recommend trying "Somebody to Love" or "Lean on Me" for starters. When I heard them sing "Lean on Me" last night I was instantly in 5th grade again, at a sleepover at Cary Allen's, wearing leggings and an oversized sweatshirt, jumping around on top of couch cushions and sleeping bags, singing my guts out into a hairbrush. I just might have a problem that you'd understand... such as... how do I get this song out of my head?

Now, from the ridiculous to the sublime. My choir at the cathedral is singing an amazing anthem (motet, really) on Sunday, and I am going to do my best not to mess it up. It is called "Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing" and was composed in 1964 by the British composer and organist Herbert Howells. He wrote it "to the honoured memory" of JFK, our 35th president, who was assassinated on November 22, 1963. This Sunday is November 22. My choirmaster is nothing if not appropriate.

The words to this anthem make me cry. I tried to read them aloud to the Gutsy Dad last Sunday on the way home from church and I got all choked up. The words were written by Prudentius, a Roman Christian poet who lived from 348-413. Them's some old words. For the anthem, Howells used the English translation by Helen Waddell, an Irish poet who apparently translated a lot of Latin poetry into English. (At this point, I'm fairly certain the only person who is still reading who still finds this interesting is my dad.)

Take him, earth, for cherishing.
To they tender breast receive him.
Body of a man I bring thee, noble even in its ruin.

I wonder what noble warrior Prudentius had in mind.

Since I joined this choir, we have sung A LOT of Howells. Probably more Howells than any other one composer. I am used to choir directors favoring one composer or another (Rutter and Purcell come to mind), but I have never loved Howells. This piece, however, that we are attempting for Sunday, is quite extraordinary. Even with its often-harsh (tonal) harmonies and 20th-century-ness, it still leaves a chill in the bone at the end due to its majesty and mystery. (And yes, it's on YouTube, too.)

I am totally impressed by people who can compose music.

So that's that. Two vastly different grown-up songs that I cannot stop singing. I am sure, by the end of the week, I'll be back to my usual play list of "Twinkle, Twinkle," "Wheels on the Bus" and "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands" so I won't be boring you with geeky (gleeky), church-y musings.

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