At the Seattle Recorder Society’s December playing session we welcomed back Director Emeritus Peter Seibert to lead us in making cheery music this snowy week in western Washington.  Fifteen members braved the variable road conditions and arrived in person at Maple Leaf Lutheran Church, while another fifteen of us Zoomed in from the cozy comfort of our homes.  We applauded Peter when he was introduced by Laura Townsend; he replied with a wry smile, “I always appreciate applause before I actually do anything!”

Peter had selected several Bach chorales for our enjoyment and warned that the fermatas — “those things that look like birds’ eyes” — are only meant to designate a place to breathe, and then keep right on going.  These are not long holds as we might have assumed.  The bases for Bach’s chorales were all old Lutheran hymns, and the congregations would have been familiar with their melodies.

Die Kön’ge aus Saba kamen dar /Puer natus in Bethlehem

Our first chorale for the evening was Die Kön’ge aus Saba kamen dar /Puer natus in Bethlehem (The kings came out of Sheba/A boy is born in Bethlehem), arranged — as were all of our pieces for the evening — by Peter Seibert.  We had our choice of six parts, and at this point, Peter introduced a “guest musician” who turned out to be Mike Woolf playing his tuba! Peter explained how this music was based on harmonic triads, but that we should listen for the dissonance which makes the music interesting.

Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier

Next up was Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier (I stand here at your manger) for SATB.  We sightread it once through, then Peter dissected it, starting with everyone on the melody (soprano line).  We were warned not to breathe at the ends of the dotted notes — rather to keep going and have those notes in dissonance against the other parts.  By having us play the lines that weren’t ultimately our own, Peter made us aware of the other parts, which in turn made the music-making more meaningful.

Brich an, o Schönes Morgenlicht 

Brich an, o Schönes Morgenlicht (Break out, o beautiful morning light) had our attention next, as we encountered more moving parts which at first created some challenges in playing together.  Once again, we all played various duet combinations (any instrument, any octave): soprano and bass, tenor and bass, soprano and alto — with the idea that “as long as you know what these other parts are doing, you can fit in your own part.”  After our last time with all of us on our own parts, Peter exclaimed, “Wonderful music! Lovely! Isn’t that wonderful – it’s just a hymn!”

In dulci jubilo

In dulci jubilo (In sweet rejoicing) was a familiar sounding adventure.  The 1582 source became a hymn and then a Christmas carol.  The SAT parts were very straightforward, with an “athletic bass part (sets of running eighth notes) that can afford to come up in volume.”  Regarding the ties across the bar lines, Peter warned us not to breathe since these ties created desired dissonance.  After duets with various parts, Peter said with a twinkle in his eye, “Let’s have all four parts.  What if we take it a little faster? I don’t know what’s going to happen!”  Afterwards, he concluded that that had been a good tempo, and said, “Sounded good here!  How about there?” and we Zoomers all gave thumbs ups.

Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

The grand finale, or as SRS likes to say, the “Christmas Bon-Bon” arranged by Peter, was an old favorite, Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!  He first talked us through the six part piece and noted the “upside down V’s” which we should treat in a heavy staccato fashion, “Duh! instead of dat.”   Peter coached the basses to push a little ahead on their parts due to the slower response of the instruments and asked the higher voices not to get ahead of the basses.  “Pay attention to the others!” was a recurring theme for tonight, and as we did, we noticed that the melody got traded around between the parts.  Peter complimented the players that were playing this piece in pop music style, that is, correctly playing the inflection – not as actually written. Then, “Once more through from the beginning…”

A Little Concert

“Now let’s give ourselves a little concert,” Peter said happily, “and play all of these pieces in sequence, straight through.”  Leaning in close to the microphone, he announced in his best radio voice, “Coming to you live from Maple Leaf Lutheran, it’s the Seattle Recorder Society!!”  At one point he tried to look out the church windows to see if snow was falling and asked if any of us on Zoom were having snow yet. “Well, we tried with this Let it Snow! song.”

Upon completion of the whole sequence, Peter said, “That’s it! Thank you!” and we all thanked him for a wonderful winter evening.  After we said our thanks and good-nights, the Zoom session ended, and I tidied up my music and instruments, and went downstairs…my husband was just coming inside from taking the dog out, and proclaimed, “It’s snowing like gangbusters out there!”

Peter will return to lead SRS in March with music by William Byrd, the greatest English Renaissance composer. The American Recorder Society’s February magazine will feature an article on the 400th anniversary of Byrd’s death that you might find interesting.  (Hint, hint: now’s a fine time to become a member of ARS if you aren’t already!)

Best wishes to all, and see you in the New Year!