Vær Velkommen Herrens år by Bergreen & Gruntvig

The Seattle Recorder Society welcomed in the new year with Music Director Vicki Boeckman’s opening tutti choice of Vær Velkommen Herrens år (Welcome, Year of the Lord) composed by A.P. Bergreen (1852) with text by N.Frederik Gruntvig (1849). Long tones in octaves were our warm-ups and tuning; we were encouraged to fill the room with sound. Gruntvigs Kirke (Gruntvig’s Church) in Denmark is named after Danish philosopher, pastor and hymn writer Frederik Gruntvig, and is so big that it has a nine second reverb! Vicki coached us to push only from our support muscles, not our throats, nor our lips. Some of us played recorders while others opted to sing.

After announcements the three Back Room Gang players were excused to make their own music with Laura Townsend, leaving eighteen participants in the sanctuary with Vicki and another sixteen of us on Zoom.

Sicut Cervus by G.P. da Palestrina

Vicki talked us through Sicut Cervus, with Latin text based on Psalm 42: “The deer longs for spring water like my soul longs for you, God.”  She pointed out the texts for the notes rising upward toward the heavens: “My soul longs for you” versus the falling notes: “When it is said to me, where is your God?”  The Prima Pars began with tenors who were followed by the other voices in imitation, almost in canon, but then everyone had to pay attention as the parts started doing different things.

Vicki reviewed the double whole notes, the subdivision of beats, where to breathe, and instructed us to take the ficta (alterations above the notes) – these were not in the original score because the musicians at the time were expected to know these.  We in this century need reminders!

In the Secunda Pars, she conducted “a smidge” faster; although not historically grounded, the text felt more urgent, so this seemed right.  Vicki asked the cantus and tenor lines to play in unison for practice, beginning in their respective measures, and then the same for the altus and bassus.  So, when we played our actual parts, it sounded “like angels” compared to the somber Prima Pars.  We played one phrase at a time, with Vicki translating the text to add meaning and emotion to our notes, such as “tears have been my daily bread.”  Vicki said joyfully, “Isn’t this beautiful?  Absolutely gorgeous!”  After once more from beginning to end, she exclaimed, “Ahhh, beautiful!  Thank you!  Can you imagine this at 6′ (half an octave lower)?  That cleansed my soul!”

Andante Festivo by Jean Sibelius

When Vicki promised she wouldn’t select Jean Sibelius’s (1865-1957) Andante Festivo for every year, the members responded with a disappointed “Awwww!”  The first semi-public performance of this piece in 1929 was with a pair of string quartets at Sibelius’ niece’s wedding.  Encouraged by a World’s Fair music critic to go public, Sibelius reworked the piece to accommodate the crackle of radio broadcasts, which made it soooo slow.  This piece was arranged for SATBGbCb recorders by our very own Charles Coldwell – including a timpani part!

Vicki instructed the in-person players to split up the divisi notes with their neighbors, while the Zoomers would play the lower notes of the octave pairs, with basses playing the F-sharps for “delicious dissonance.”  Sopranos had the melody, but “We need the inner voices just as much as the others.”  The “half note folks” (inner voices of alto and tenor) were the glue that held the music together in the middle section, sounding like a Christmas carol: simple but beautiful, pure and bright.  “Imagine New Year’s Day in Finland: it’s really cold, crystal ice crackling underfoot.”

After the introduction the baby basses (F basses) had the melody, joined by the tenors.  By the middle of the piece the F basses and sopranos carried the melody, with the altos and tenors pulsing half notes on the beat, and the great basses and contra basses pulsing the heart beat on the off beats.  It sounded really awesome when it was put together in this alternating rhythm, with something happening on every beat, like bells. “Yes There we go!  Really, it’s all about you (the rhythm section) but don’t tell the baby basses and sopranos that!”  During the allargando (enlarged) part in the last couple of measures, we could imagine being accompanied by timpani! “Isn’t that gorgeous? What an amazing piece – so slow!”

Hodie Christus natus est by Jan Pieters Sweelinck

Our final piece Hodie Christus natus est by Jan Pieters Sweelinck was so much fun to play!  A predecessor of J.S. Bach, Sweelinck was mostly known for his organ works, and never left the lowlands (Netherlands).  His music was a link between the late Renaissance to the Baroque.  The text was not his own, but translates to “Today Christ is born, today the Savior appeared, today the angels sing, the archangels are singing and rejoicing, the exalted are singing in the highest.”

With little time left in the evening, after a brief lesson on transitioning from 3/2 to common time signature, we dove right into this glorious five-part piece.  Vicki cheered, “There we go, yea!  Thank you, thank you!  What a fun bunch of pieces!”

Back Room Gang

A small but mighty group of three players joined Laura Townsend to play in the Back Room Gang.  Two lively English dance tunes, All in a Garden Green and Lilliburlero, provided an opportunity to compare different time signatures.  Laura encouraged the players to bring out the strong beats and let the weak beats take a back seat.  We left the meeting tapping our toes to lilting triples and sturdy duples!