Saturday, December 21, 2013

Union Choirs: Third Annual End of the Year Movie Clip

The semester swiftly came to a close but not before Union's Choral Program presented its annual Christmas Festival Concert. I am proud beyond measure of the musicality and devotion to excellence of the Union Singers, Union Harmony, and the Regional Chorus. I am also thankful for (and humbled by) the support of the Union College family and Barbourville community.

For the third consecutive year, I have put together a brief movie clip of the choirs.  The music playing in the background (Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming) was recorded by Union Harmony (2012) and the photos were all taken this fall.

Merry Christmas and enjoy the clip!


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

UC Singers and Union Harmony Visit Barbourville High School

About a week and a half ago (October 30th) the UC Singers and Union Harmony went to Barbourville High School for a Choral Exchange; we sang a few pieces for their choir and they sang a few for us.

I asked the admissions office if we could take some promotional material with us and they were more than happy to supply informational sheets, little banners, etc. Thanks Summer!

Between the songs, I spoke about Union and all it has to offer prospective students . . . with special emphasis on Art, Music, and Theatre.
There were also several Union students who spoke about their major and their participation in not only the choir, but other organizations on campus. These students were articulate and engaging as they talked about their life at Union! I was also pleased with my choirs as they embraced the “mingle” time after all groups had sung.
Please find below a few pictures from our Choral Exchange at Barbourville High School.

(Thanks to Alex Estes for the use of her camera and Steve Chafin for taking some of the pics).


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

String Orchestra Resonates in Conway Boatman Chapel

Last night the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra performed in Conway Boatman Chapel as part of the FAA of Southeastern Kentucky’s 2013-2014 concert season. What a privilege it was to host this outstanding string orchestra. These musicians were technically sound and their musicality was brilliant!

They opened with Elgar’s Serenade for Strings in e minor. With its broad sweeping gestures set in a tonal framework, it was an exquisite work to begin the program. I found myself moved by this serenade as the sound filled the room and swept over the audience.

The Shostakovich symphony was an excellent programming choice, though it may have been a bit more challenging for some listeners since it left one apprehensive with its sharp attacks and dissonant leanings. Shostakovich dedicated the work “In Memory of Victims of Fascism and War.”  Although I was taken with the piece, there were a few concert goers I spoke with who found it to be harmonically challenging. The conductor may have (in part) taken this into account when he decided to immediately follow the symphony (with no break or applause) with Contrapunctus No. 1 from The Art of the Fugue by J. S. Bach. In the program notes, Misha Rachlevsky (the conductor) explained his reasoning: “Years ago, when I began performing this work, it struck me how unsettling it felt to hear the applause after this composition. . . . The moment I thought of Bach’s First Contrapunctus, it just felt right. Starting in the similar emotional atmosphere as the opening of the Chamber Symphony . . . it then takes a drastically different road, becoming a majestic hymn to the human spirit.” Playing the Bach fugue after the Shostakovich serves two purposes I believe; it relieves the unsettled feeling of applause and it also releases musical tension for those who are challenged by the harmonics of the work.

[Side note: The “subject” (or theme) of Bach’s Contrapunctus No. I is played and examined in my Introduction to Music class. It is my hope some students recognized the theme.]
After intermission, the consort played Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings. Once again, in terms of programming, this was an excellent choice to end the concert; it truly was a serenade and offered release and balance to the evening.

The musicians welcomed our efforts to make them comfortable and Misha expressed his appreciation for the chapel and its lovely acoustics.

A big thank you to Alexandra Estes and Cody Sizemore for assisting me last night.  There was much to do in hosting this group and I could not have done it without their able assistance. I also want to express my appreciation to safety, the physical plant crew, Don Merriam, and Bobby Doolin. It is vital concert goers (from all around Southeastern Kentucky) leave our campus with an appreciation for the ambiance of our beautiful chapel and the helpfulness/professionalism of the Union College Community.

Virginia Gay
(PS "Blog Too" and the footer are currently not taking updates)

Postlude: There were a few comments from faculty, audience members, and the orchestra’s manager concerning the noise produced by the HVAC. I explained we do have a switch in place to shut the system down just prior to a concert beginning, but the system was being “allowed” to kick back on for some reason. What I didn’t say was this has been an ongoing issue for a couple of years, which needs to be remedied.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Prelude to my quasi-annual post “A Time of New Beginnings”

I have been thinking quite a lot this summer about qualities like: graciousness, politeness, cordiality. I am reluctant to express a cliché, but it seems we (the collective “we”) are not as cordial as we once were. I suppose there could also be a case made for my just getting older and becoming more aware of the absence of these qualities (although I don’t believe this to be the case).

Let’s just suppose for a moment I am correct and we are living in a time when a simple thank you, please, sincerely, etc. are no longer part of our day-to-day vocabulary. If this is the case, one may wonder…why? Is it our informal means of communicating electronically? Could it be we are living in a climate where one is civil/polite only to those we are trying to impress: those with rank or status?

I don’t have a cannot change another’s innate character, if that is the issue.  However, if likeminded people would for a moment consider these qualities and endeavor simply to be a bit more gracious, polite, cordial…well, we could change the world! Okay, I just wanted to employ hyperbole.
So my point is this: (note to self) be more gracious, polite, and cordial. Our lives can only be enhanced as a result and this new academic year will indeed be, yet again, a time of new beginnings.

Here is a passage from an earlier post and although I am literally repeating myself, it remains just as true for me now as when I first penned it.

Each new semester brings with it a new beginning, a “do over” if you will. One can reflect upon the previous semester(s) and decide what worked, what didn’t work, and what worked even though one may be unclear why! This feeling I get (especially as the fall semester approaches) reminds me of how I felt growing up -- a new school year would be on the horizon and I knew it was a time to make changes, to try something new…

(PS Thank you UC Singers and Union Harmony for a fantastic first rehearsal. Truly, you are awesome!)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

"Contemplation: Panis Angelicus" Heinrich Lichner/Choral Arrangement, Virginia Gay Gandy

In an earlier post, I mentioned my trip to the University of South Carolina where I spent time in the music library looking through scores. I brought copies of several scores back with me and have begun making a choral arrangement of a piece entitled “Contemplation” by Heinrich Lichner. This etude for piano has a copyright date of 1913, which places it in the public domain and can therefore be adapted, arranged, edited, etc.  When one takes preexisting material and manipulates/modifies/changes it to make a new arrangement or setting it is called “music borrowing” and was  commonly practiced by great masters of music throughout the ages.

Even at first glance, I envisioned ways in which I could make a choral arrangement of this work. I began with the opening homophonic (chordal) passage from which I wanted to draw out the melody.  I “found” the melody, not in the top line, but primarily in an inner voice with an occasional “sweep” to the top line. Once I identified a theme (main melody) I could begin the process of setting it against an accompaniment.
For the opening accompaniment, I wanted to use broken chords to contrast against the linear pull of the unison voices.  I also set the opening passage in triple meter instead of the original quadruple.  It is tempting to continue an in-depth analysis of my work on the opening, but I will refrain and move onto the next section of the piece.

Following the homophonic opening of the original work, one discovers a long, soloistic passage played in the right hand with chords in the left. I went “around and around” with this passage – there were more than a few directions I could have gone.  But in the end, I wanted to retain the original soloistic line as accompaniment and in contrast to the vocal lines.  I set this long, linear line (with its running eighth notes) against the choir in two parts (SA/TB).   I also wanted the harmonic rhythm to pick up a bit and accomplished this by going back to the original quadruple meter.

While I was pleased with the arrangement, a crucial decision was yet to be made.  What text would I underlay to this music?  I couldn’t seem to settle on a text I felt was appropriate for the work (and frankly one that “spoke” to me).  I knew I wanted a text which stood the test of time as in the Magnificat, Te Deum, texts from the ordinary or proper of the Mass, etc.  I was looking to underlay a Latin text that would set a reflective mood. It also needed to work metrically with the music; the natural accents of the words must fall on accented beats in the music without “forcing” it, so to speak.  And then I came across “Panis Angelicus” a text I was very familiar with and to which I was naturally drawn.  Composers have set this text to music countless times through the centuries and I have sung Cesar Franck’s setting of this text many times.  Metrically it fell into place with only a few note value adjustments. Those who know me well are aware of my love for not only music, but also for the “marriage” of music to an inspiring, moving text.

I am gratified with this portion of the composition, though there may be some minor changes as I have my choirs sing through the work.  Thus far, I have completed the “A” section of this arrangement. One can view the entire work to be in A-B-A or ternary form (although one could also subdivide these sections further and come away with a different analysis).  Regardless, the portion I have completed is the “A” section of this overarching ternary form. The “B” section, with a return to the opening material (with modifications), is forthcoming.
I have entitled the work “Contemplation: Panis Angelicus” and have provided a link to view and listen to the score.  Keep in mind the sound generated is computerized piano, so the vocal/choral line will sound a bit “vacant” without the sustaining power, timbre, and color of the voices.

Naturally, I feel a bit "exposed" in opening it up for public view.  At the same time and in the same breath, I am eager to make it available for viewing/listening. To view and listen to the score, click on the link below. You will be directed to “Contemplation: Panis Angelicus” at You may scroll down to view the score. To listen to the computer generated recording, go to the drop down menu above the manuscript – click on “play” and then “play from start”.

Virginia Gay

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Take a Moment and Listen to Rachmoninoff's "Vocalise"

This is one of my favorite pieces...I can listen to it over and over. And in fact, I have been known to set my CD player (yes that is right, CD player) so it would play the same track again and again.

As I was looking for a rendition on youtube (to which I was drawn), I came across many arrangements -- voice/piano, cello/piano, violin/piano, string trio/orchestra, violin/orchestra, etc. With all these possibilities, I am still drawn to the violin as the primary instrument for this work.

With its long romantic lines, it is a beautiful piece. I very much like Joshua Bell's playing, although Pearlman seems to let it "breathe" just a bit more.

Sit back (close your eyes) and enjoy!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Trip Down Memory Lane.....

This past week I drove to Columbia, SC and got “all nostalgic” as I spent some time at the University of South Carolina's School of Music (where I received my doctorate).  One of the things I wanted to do was hangout at the music library and plunder through music manuscripts, collections, etc.  I was prepared to be inspired!

So there I was – upstairs amongst the racks of books and scores.  I pulled manuscripts from the racks and sat on the floor between the stacks with music all around me.  Now, I could have gone and sat at a table, but where is the fun in that!

Essentially, I was looking for music composed before 1923. Well, even if the music was composed before 1923, if it was part of a collection, the date of the collection also needed to be prior to 1923!  Most of you know where I am headed with this – I wanted music that was soundly in the public domain.  As I waded through the manuscripts and collections, I was drawn to a multi-volume collection of music for the piano.  As I turned the pages, I came across a piece called “Contemplation” by Heinrich Lichner. It didn't take long for me to see how it might be re-worked/arranged into a
choral work.  Once I got home, I noticed a long, linear line that is soloistic in nature.  So now this arrangement may very well be for choir and soprano solo. But, we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks as I work with not only the music, but also select and underlay a text.

Those who know me well would not be surprised to learn that even before I saw the music, I was taken by the title – “Contemplation.”  Indeed, the music is introspective, contemplative and even somewhat melancholy.  I confess, I have a melancholy streak– there are certain tonalities that strike a chord within me.  I find this to be true not only with music, but with the written word as well.
There are other intriguing pieces I brought back with me, but I’ll save that for another time.  

First Presbyterian Church (Associate Reformed), Columbia, SC. I attended this church for a time while in Columbia. It is a majestic church with a rich history; but more importantly,
great preaching echoes within these walls.