Thursday, December 6, 2012

Singing City Remembers Dave Brubeck

The world lost one of its treasures yesterday when jazz legend Dave Brubeck died just one day shy of his 92nd birthday. Singing City's association and friendship with Dave goes back to May 1970, when the choir, with Dave at the piano, gave the premiere performance of The Gates of Justice at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia (photo above). 

To music and jazz lovers, he is remembered for his "distinctive mixture of experimentation and accessibility that won over listeners who had been trained to the sonic dimensions of the three-minute pop single," says Ben Ratliff of the NY Times. He said of himself that he was a composer who happened to play the piano.

He was also a man of strong convictions, refusing to tour in South Africa in 1958, for example, when the contract stipulated that his band should be "all white."  He composed  The Gates of Justice in 1969. He wrote, "The essential message of The Gates of Justice is the brotherhood of man. Because of their long history of suffering, the Jew and Negro know better than any other people the consequences of hate and alienation. It is impossible to concern oneself with the history and tradition of either without feeling overwhelmed by the inequities and injustices which have pervaded all strata of society. The spiritual and emotional ties, born of suffering, which bind these people together, have much to teach all of us on this shrinking planet. It is the strength of such moral fiber that will be our ultimate salvation."

After the premiere, Samuel Singer of the Philadelphia Inquirer said" "But most of all, Brubeck's Gates of Justice, using words thousands of years old from the Old Testament, and quotations from such contemporaries as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Beatles, is a work for today, an eloquent plea for justice and brotherhood."

SC Artistic & Music Director Jeff Brillhart remembers: "My first encounter with Dave was in 1989 when he came to Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church for three performances of La Fiesta de la Posada. I was to meet him late on a Thursday morning, in the church. Excited, I went to the organ to practice what I was to play on Sunday morning, a wonderful work by Bach that all sorts of quick figurations in the hands. Unbeknownst to me, Dave entered the church quietly and settled in at the piano at the opposite end of the church. I neared the end of my Bach and out of nowhere, the piano roared to life, taking Bach's figures and moving into something new-Brubeck meets Bach. Astonished, I got off the bench, turned around and Dave roared! Every encounter with Dave since that first meeting was magical, with many warm conversations, much bawdy humor, and some serious talk as well. We met a giant and that giant changed us!"

Singing City performed Brubeck's Fiesta de la Posada in December 2003. It is a re-telling of the Christmas story with influences of both jazz and Mexican folk tunes. "The ethnic music," wrote Brubeck, "reflects those qualities I most admire in people...dignity in moments of tragedy, infectious high spirits in moments of joy, and an unshakable religious faith made evident in a strong sense of one's own worth and a deep respect for the shared values of one's group - family, church, village.

In May 2007, the choir again performed The Gates of Justice and premiered a  new work, The Commandments, a work rooted in his experiences during WWII. In this archival video from the concert, Brubeck talks about the work.

Dave Brubeck touched many lives. All of us at Singing City will miss him and his passion for life, music, and people everywhere.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hypno Design CreateAThon benefits Singing City and 9 other area non-profits

Hypno Design, in Moorestown, NJ, held its 10 annual CreateAThon during a 24-hour period in October to benefit area non-profit organizations. Singing City was one of those who benefited from the generosity of designers and printers. In honor of our 65th anniversary, we have an updated logo, letterhead, business cards, and a 65th poster highlighting all of this season's concerts. We are grateful to this intrepid group for their support! Thank you, Hypno Design!

The Hypno Design team at a celebratory party on November 15.

Monica Cuartero worked on Singing City's designs.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Photos from the Tour

Leaving the church in Belgrade after rehearsal

Gili points out a poster advertising our concert
Tony fixes the bus with flowers in his hair

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sarajevo from the hills

We spent our first full day in Sarajevo yesterday. Our morning tour took us to the heart of the oldest part of the city and we got an overview of the city's rich history and saw firsthand the places that became infamous during the civil war of the 90s -sniper alley, the old brewery situated over stores of fresh water where people braved snipers to fill containers with the only available water. The city was completely cut off from the most basic supplies during the three year siege.

Jeff being interviewed on TV
Army Hall

On stage at Army Hall

Downtown was filled with people - mainly tourists, we were told. Sarajevo is reminiscent in some ways to the Adirondacks of upstate New York. A city nestled in a valley surrounded by beautiful green mountains. The population is estimated at 400,000 but no one is quite sure since there hasn't been an official census in over 20 years. Prior to our morning tour, Jeff and I went downtown with Dragana for another morning television interview, this time with the conductor of our host choirs for last night's concert. It was a benefit concert in support of a local orphanage. Choir members donated funds and Jeff and I were able to purchase a new computer to present at the concert. The American ambassador was in attendance. Each choir sang a program on its own before joining together to sing My Lord What a Morning and a traditional Bosnian song. By the end, the audience was singing too - everyone was on their feet. A wonderful musical and personal exchange. The concert was held in the Army Hall in the old part of the city. 

Post-concert reception

In a few hours we will head to Zenica for a joint concert with the Zenica Youth Choir.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hi all, A LONG day... arrived in Sarajevo at about 8 p.m. (three hours behind schedule). Spectacular scenery, with hour after hour (after  hour) of severely winding mountain roads. Gorgeous, and happily, Singing City members do not get bus sick (hehe). We stopped someplace in Bosnia for a massive lunch (roast lamb and veal, potatoes, great salad, beer). Border crossings were nuts.... huge wait to leave Serbia, turning in passports, etc.... then a 2nd huge wait to get into Bosnia, again, turning in passports. Once in Bosnia, we began to see signs of the war... bullet holes in countless buildings, bombed out shells of buildings, etc. Clearly Bosnia is in worse shape financially than Serbia (which is hardly strong, to be quite honest). I believe that unemployment is something like 40% here. Backing up... yesterday in Belgrade.... amazing. I appeared on live national TV in the morning with a real blond Serbian bombshell interviewer. Was fun. Our concert in the evening... unbelievable. Packed to the rafters and, since it was Serbian Orthodox, no chairs. Our audience STOOD in the incredible heat for the entire concert. The church was visually and acoustically breathtaking.... so inspiring. We were hosted by the Belgrade Choral Society, which was founded mid 19th century. Their choir members cooked all day for our post concert reception in the parish house of the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church (big time, for sure!) The choir nailed the concert, truly.... I was so pleased and honestly, it was the best jet lagged choir I've ever had the pleasure to conduct! The audience went nuts, especially over our attempts at singing in Serbian. The reception.... well!!! Loads of Serbian Rakia (plum brandy) and, I mean loads.... I survived one shot of the stuff with the head priest then escaped to Serbian red wine... kind of a soft, semi dry and quite drinkable wine! Then they brought out platters of roast fish, salads, bread, etc.... great. One by one, choir members hit a wall, thanks to the Rakia (geez, what lack of discpline!) At 11:30 I left with a small group of wimps... we did stop for amazing Serbian ice cream en route to the hotel. Others went out on the town, visiting the Bohemiam quarter, hearing live music, etc. So, now, Bosnia...  seems to be mostly Muslim now and in the countryside at least, very poor. Sarajevo still shows loads of war damage, though our hotel is located on the outskirts, in a newly built area.... BMW dealer and a McDonalds right next door. So, somebody has money and I suppose McDonalds is a symbol of success.... The hotel is quite modern, filled with Muslim tourists. I'm waiting for a meeting with the choir director whose choir we meet tomorrow... then another live TV appearance in the morning. I'll be the most wrinkled guest, that's for sure!! ANYWAY.... that's it from Bosnia.... and oh yes.... Happy 4th of July! Jeff

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

We arrived in Belgrade yesterday afternoon after a long, but uneventful, journey from Philadelphia via Franfurt. We were greeted at the airport by Dragsna, our courier for the trip. We did not waste any time. Upon leaving the airport the coach stopped to pick up our two tour guides for the afternoon. In spite of blistering heat, we walked to a famous fortress in the middle of the city and spent time learning about its long and troubled history. We also visited a massive and beautiful, though unfinished, church.

After checking into the Hotel Moscow and taking much needed showers, we ate a fantastic meal chockfull of local favorites at Opera restaurant, conveniently located a few blocks from our hotel.

A weary and well-fed choir made its way back to the hotel for a good night's sleep. Today has been a day of leisure - still very hot - but much to explore. Jeff and I went with Dragana to the local television station for an interview. We were on a poplular morning show talking about Singing City and our concert tonight in Belgrade. TV is really not at all intimidating, especially when you don't speak the language!

A couple of blocks from the hotel is a wonderful outdoor farmer's market. Stall after stall of beautiful fruits and vegetables, costing far less than what we pay in the States.

Look for more posts - we are excited about our first concert tonight, hosted by a local choral organization. I'm told they are all at home preparing an after-concert reception for us. Tomorrow we will spend a good part of the day traveling by bus to Sarajevo. I'll post again as soon as I can.
Singing City arrived in Belgrade Monday afternoon July 2, safe and sound and a little weary from our two flights! From the airport we went directly into a 3 hour long city tour. Whew! I'm not sure whether anything could have prepared us for Belgrade's sights or the vastly complicated history of this city and the region. Our guide pointed out that Belgrade was severely bombed four times in the 20th century, surely something of a record. Sitting as it does at the confluence of the Danube and Salva rivers, it is directly in the path between central Europe and Turkey... one begins to understand why this has been the site of so many invasions, so much violence over the centuries. In spirte of everyone's physical state, we managed to soak up the bus tour and the two walking tours - first visiting the enormous unfinished Orthodox Cathedral, then a second walking tour through the pedestrian zone and up to the ancient fortress that overlooks the Danube. Quite amazing, really. And, yes, it is very hot here!! Somehow, seeing the temperatures advertised while in Philadelphia didn't quite begin to capture the intensity of the sunlight here in Belgrade. Our guide was a charming young man who was a college student at the outbreak of the civil war. When asked how people of the region felt about Americans I felt he was dipolmatically evasive.... in a nutshell, he expressed that the Serbs had been promised one thing by NATO and the US but at the end, did not get what they were promised. He expressed that many here were angry at the bombardment of the city by NATO and the US, with extra anger reserved for Secretary of State Albright. Well, we'll see what we glean over the coming days. As to our reception, everyone has been charming and friendly. We have learned that we are only the 2nd American choir to visit Belgrade... and the first to go to Saraajevo. This morning Lauren Anderson and I had the pleasure of appearing LIVE on Serbian national TV. Wow... I don't think we bombed, but it sure was interesting! Tonight is our first concert, hosted by the Belgrade Choral Society (its members are hard at work cooking the post-concert dinner as I write this!!) More on that later.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Interview with Composer Karl Jenkins

Don't miss our concert on Sunday, May 13 at 4 p.m. featuring Jenkins' The Armed Man - A Mass for Peace. Check our website for details.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Our 64th Anniversary Concert includes Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace and will be performed with a full-length film as a backdrop.

So what is this piece all about?

It was created to remind all of us about the horrors of war and how destructive war is to everyone.  During the writing of the music, the war in Kosovo was unfolding so the music is dedicated to the victims of Kosovo.  It was first performed on September 10, 2001 - the day BEFORE 911.  It includes 13 pieces of music beginning with L'Homme arme' (The Armed Man) where you'll hear a marching army and the beat of military drums with the chorus singing in French a tune from the 15th century.  As the composition moves from one piece to the next you will see and hear the preparation for war, the battles themselves, and the action that takes place after war has ended and healing has begun.

Singing City Music Director Jeff Brillhart has been educating us week after week about the history of this piece, why it was written, and why singing this is an important thing for us to do.  Singing and music are beautiful, but there are times when we all need to take a stand for what we believe in.  There still is too much violence on the Earth, including in the homes and communities that we all live in. 

Here are links to three of the pieces "The Armed Man" as conducted by Karl Jenkins, himself.  Take a few minutes to listen (and watch) to get an appreciation for the power of this work.

1. The Armed Man:

5. Sanctus:

12. Benedictus:

But one word of caution.  This really is not entertainment.  it is a highly enriched experience that you will feel in your heart, mind, and soul.  When we sing this piece we will be accompanied by organ and orchestra and behind us will be the "silent movie" that was created a few years after the piece was written.  The scenes in the film depict the different stages of war and is pretty powerful.  

This concert will be performed at:

Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts
William Penn Charter School
3000 West School House Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19144

Sunday, May 13th at 4:00 pm

Tickets are available through the Singing City online box office or by calling 215-569-9067.