The words might not have anything in common — lost love, springtime, going to sea, the mysteries of God and night — but the music does. Because all of the pieces on Saturday’s program by the Northwest Repertory Singers are written by Northwest composers, many from right here in Tacoma.
“The Northwest region is recognized within the choral music community for the creativity, innovation and spirit of the region’s composers,” says the group’s director Paul Schultz in his program notes, and Saturday’s concert at Mason United Methodist Church reflects that statement. Musically, the works range from jolly folk-tunes to hushed meditations and neo-romantic harmonies, and include guest instrumentalists Maria Sampen on violin, Becky Krebs on djembe and Gina Gillie on horn.
Gillie is playing French horn for her own composition, “To Spring,” written for three-part women’s chorus, horn and piano. It’s a lush composition that echoes the romanticism of Blake’s poetry in warm harmonies that occasionally take a Britten-like turn with chromatic modulation, whole-tone scales or augmented fourths. The piece is one out of a song-cycle of four “seasons” originally written in 2009 for solo soprano, horn and piano. This will be the West Coast premiere.
“I liked the poetry, how the verbiage flowed the way I wanted my music to flow,” explains Gillie, assistant professor at Pacific Lutheran University and principal horn with the Tacoma Symphony, and a soprano herself. “Soprano and horn work well together, because they’re in different registers, so the soprano can sing above the loudness of the horn and not get buried, and the horn has a lovely tone to complement the singing.”
Another Tacoma composer on the program is Tom Walworth, one of the basses for the Repertory Singers who wrote “The Song of the Whaler’s Wife” in January after many years of hearing female singers in his choirs complain that “the men always got to sing rough, rowdy songs while women had to sing about love and water. Or both.” Walworth wrote both music and lyrics for the folk song-style piece based on historic experiences of women in 19th-century New England who stayed home while their menfolk sailed off on whaling ships. While the fast-flowing verses are in unison, the choruses expand into tight, three-part harmony to “bring out the ale and whiskey, bring out the brandy and gin.” By the time the last one arrives, the whaler’s wife has made up her mind to have her own adventure.
“The challenge was, once you come up with a verse you think is clever, then you have to do it four more times,” says Walworth. “And musically you don’t have as much freedom of texture as with a full chorus … you have to keep the notes close together.”
Other Northwest-composed pieces include the multi-metric psalm-based “O Sing to the Lord” by Puyallup composer Dan Davison, with four-hand piano accompaniment; a setting of Robert Burn’s “The Banks of Doon” by Schultz’ wife, Donna Gartman Schultz, with a violin solo; the roiling piano and heartbeat djembe of “Fair Ines” by Eric Barnum; and two works by the renowned Morten Lauridsen — “O Magnum Mysterium” and “Sure on This Shining Night,” with their radiant, ethereal harmony and deeply rooted hope.