CHORAL INSTITUTE AT OXFORD: RECITAL
Colton Martin has sung with Westminster Williamson Voices for the duration of his studies at Westminster Choir College, and has served its director Dr. James Jordan as accompanist and graduate assistant (2016-17). The choir is now preparing to sing a sacred service at St. Stephen's House (Oxford, UK) for Martin's graduate recital. This summer marks the 5th anniversary of this incredible summer institute lead by Drs. James Jordan and James Whitbourn.
Williamson Voices is also being featured this summer as a participating choir in the 2017 International Choral Festival, sharing the stage with groups such as Tenebrae, the Choir of Magdalen College, and Cinquecento.
Martin will be the first graduate student to hold his MM project during the Oxford institute. Modeled after the Adventen "Lessons and Carols" service, this program will feature choral works interspersed with prayers and readings (both sacred and secular). The Vigil of Repentance will be candle-lit, evoking the Orthodox tradition of an all-night prayer vigil. With selections from varying folk-traditions and chant-influenced choral works, the program's reverent and introspective atmosphere will only be amplified by the magnificent warmth in the stone of Oxford's sacred spaces.
VIGIL OF REPENTANCE
“Maidan”, Kiev’s Independence Square – February, 2014
In a country long afflicted with turmoil—straddling the historically tectonic ground between East and West, Ukrainian nationalism, Naziism, Chernobyl, Orange Revolution (2004)—the latest conflict, known today as the “Revolution of Dignity” (2013-14) came to a bloody end. An encamped protest in Kiev lasting ninety-four days brought down the regime of Pro-Russian President Victor Yanukovych early in 2014. The protest ended in gunfire as nearly 100 peaceful protesters were killed in Independence Square. During the mass funeral on February 21, as caskets were passed over the heads of mourners at the funeral, music played that quickly became associated with the massacre and the struggle for freedom. It became an anthem for Ukrainians who felt more allied with the West than with Russia. An old folk-song, newly arranged and recorded by the ensemble Pikkardiys’ka Terciya (translated “Picardy Third,” a fitting choice of name) became a solemn requiem for those who gave their lives in resistance to oppressive rule and corrupt government. This song is the first on our program: Plyve Kacha, Po Tysyni. This song speaks a warning of the risks of warfare.
The service opens with the reality of the world around us, with the heartbreak and catastrophe we see most every day. Indeed, we are a people in darkness. The reflection following this first piece, excerpts from a blog post by Ann Voskamp entitled “Dear Aylan…”, reveals a Canadian mother’s sorrow at the lifeless body of a young Turkish boy washed ashore (September 2015). The refugee crisis, the effects of civil wars and regional turmoil across eastern Europe and the Middle-East, has proven costly to many families driven from their homes, their homelands.
Beati quorum remissae represents a prayerful response to the carnage we find. The text reflects a tension between a hopeful prayer in the face of pain and hostility with a deep steadfast assurance in God’s deliverance. This is beautifully painted with writing for double-choir, ending on a chord torn between G-major and B-minor, expressing discord despite close relation.
At the heart of prayer lies reflection and meditation, a turning inwards recognizing our own smallness and need for guidance. A prayerful response to a broken world leads us to reflect on our words and actions, our roles; and further, how we may be held responsible for this darkness in which we live, either through our action or silent inaction. The starkness of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 146 stands alongside the next work, a North Russian Old Believer versicle: My sinful, sinful soul. The personal grievance and dread of man’s failings—my failings—alive in the Orthodox spiritual traditions is encapsulated in this short piece for men’s choir. We continue our theme of exploring grief and sorrow and darkness through folk-melodies: for when man is broken down into fragments of a human being, he sees the pieces of his life strewn about him, and his spirit sings in anguish the simple, broken songs of his people. This ascetically inspired “penitential poem,” until the later part of the twentieth-century, and others like it were only sung by beggars, tramps, and those considered to be lower-class. Whether this chant was used during the penitential season of Lent, or at the bedside of the dying, or at the graveside memorial service is little matter for our purposes: its mournful message rings clear.
The historical significance is Allegri’s Miserere Mei, Deus can hardly be exaggerated. A repetitive work for double-choir (often performed and recorded with the second choir at a distance), this masterwork forms the core of the program. Not only is it the longest work programmed, but its message of committed repentance and its liturgical use as the final psalm in the Tenebrae service keep us transfixed as watchers in the night. The text, taken from Psalm 50 (Vulgata), is a prayer for pardon. More deeply, there is an anchor of hope in God’s love for His people and his faithfulness to deliver them from bondage.
Juxtaposing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 146 is Psalm 146, a psalm of praise. Having come through the darkness, having turned our hearts to prayer and repentance, the light of a new dawn begins to break. We are comforted by the image of our sorrowful Mother Mary at the foot of the cross, and as a “prayer to the Theotokos,” we quiet our hearts and pray in thanksgiving for Mary’s intercession on behalf of our suffering. Sir John Tavener’s Mother of God, here I stand is a relatively short excerpt from his incredibly large work The Veil of the Temple. Considered by himself to be his greatest and most important work, The Veil lasts more than seven hours, modelled after the Orthodox all-night vigil service—another image of our journey through darkness to morning light.
Much like Job, who waited for an encounter with God, we hear God’s voice in our darkest moments—those moments when we are most empty, when divine silence can penetrate our hearts. The reading from the book of Hosea reminds us of God’s love and fidelity to His people, as His “anger has turned from them.” We blossom and take root, we are fragrant and beautiful: for we are the people of God. The final piece in the program brings us full circle to the promise of life. Just as we began with the reality of young Aylan, dead on the shore, we are given hope and promise with the light shining in the darkness, and are also reminded of this ‘new’ reality: that our LORD will shepherd His people, give them new life which knows no bitterness, and calls to each of us, saying, “Come unto Me, Ye Children.”: Mu mano, tulge latse.
(Program notes compiled by Colton Martin)
VIGIL OF REPENTANCE
Colton Martin, conductor
featuring Westminster Williamson Voices
PLYVE KACHA, PO TYSYNI
Traditional Ukrainian folk-song
Tenor soli: (TBD)
MY SINFUL SOUL
North Russian Old-Believer spiritual versicle
Tenor soli: Chris Nappa, (TBD)
MISERERE, MEI DEUS
Latin motet for double choir: SSATB + SSAB
Text from Psalm 50 (Vulgata).
Choir II soli: (TBD)
ChantSchola soli: (TBD)
MOTHER OF GOD, HERE I STAND
Sir John Tavener
Excerpt from The Veil of the Temple.
MU MANO, TULGE LATSE
Estonian folk-song, arr. Colton Martin
Tune after folk hymn Ma vaatan üles mäele from Saaremaa parish.
Text anonymous after Lasset die Kindlein kommen by Kornelius Becker (1561–1604).
I offer my gratitude to the Westminster Williamson Voices, Dr. James Jordan and Dr. James Whitbourn, as well as all who have contributed to this project to help make it a reality: thank you.
- Colton Martin