September 15, 2007
Times Community Newspaper
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December 6, 2006
The Connection Newspapers
Eclectic Christmas: A cultural take on Christmas carols.
Sitting in a circle inside the sanctuary of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Herndon, the Voce Chamber Singers came together for one of its last rehearsals before this weekend's holiday performance — which they have rehearsed since Labor Day. Kenneth Nafziger, the artistic director of the group, wasted no time in getting things started. "Let's go through this mistake free and get out of here by 8:15," he said with a smile, resulting in a few laughs among the singers.
The Voce Chamber Singers newest performance, "Christmas in the Americas," is a challenging collection of holiday songs ranging in geography from as far north as Canada to Central America. Learning the music has only been part of the process.
"There are difficulties for different reasons — there's language and the stiffer music challenges," said Nafziger. "There weren't any surprises with what would be difficult. Some of the pieces I had wanted to do before," he continued. "I'm always interested in new ways of structuring music programs."
Ryan Schmelz, one of the newest members of the group, agreed that this performance has been tough to master. "The language and tempo were both challenging — it's been a few years since I've sung, so even more so," he said. Joan Winter Skerritt, executive director of Voce, also agreed. "For things like the Haitian Creole, we had to ask singers who they might know to help us pronounce," she said. "It definitely adds a whole other element." A few minutes into the rehearsal, one member asked for a reminder on the pronunciation of a word in Latin. "I couldn't find a translation for this so I just made it up based on the words I recognized," joked Nafziger.
WITH A GRIN, Nafziger switches from humor to vocal coaching without missing a beat. Led by simple hand gestures from Nafziger, the singers rehearsed the songs, jumping to various stanzas in order to work the few remaining kinks out of the program. With each note, St. Timothy's vaulted ceilings reverberated from the 19 voices in harmony.
The structure of "Christmas in the Americas" segues from popular Christmas songs, sung in English and Latin, to Albanzas — religious folk songs of Spanish origin sung throughout Latin America. Tina Bonhivert, who sings and plays guitar accompaniment, was excited about the eclectic opportunity of the Albanza. "There is a combination of Spanish traditional instruments and indigenous instruments like maracas and some musical stones," she said. According to Skerritt, one piece even calls for a Huilacapitzli, or a clay flute in the shape of a disk. "All of the Latin American songs are neat," she said. "It's nice to not sing the same old things that everyone knows."
The program is divided into four parts beginning with Canada and ending with the United States. Some of the songs include, "This Blessed Christmas Night," Wayland Rogers' "What Sweeter Music," "We Three Kings" arranged by Dave Brubeck, Emile Desamours' "Noel Ayison," Dulce Consuelo's "De Napa," and Alden Ashforth's "Hodie Christus natus est." The later of which is one of Skerritt's favorite because it begins with a soft whisper.
The Voce Chamber Singers will be performing "A Christmas in the Americas," this weekend at three different locations. On Friday, Dec. 8 they will sing at the Vienna Baptist Church, Dec. 9 at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Herndon and again on Dec. 10 at St. Francis in Great Falls.
WHILE THE PROGRAM offers an eclectic mixture of material, there will still be opportunity for some audience participation. "We will be doing some sing-a-long carols and then some things people might never have heard of," said Skerritt. "The variety of music will really be something for people to hear. We also have complimentary receptions at all our performances with complimentary sweets from Latin America."
December 10, 2002
The Washington Post, Loudon section
Voce is listed as a "top pick" for entertainment this weekend.
December 8, 2002
The Washington Post, page LZ09
Baroque Version of 'Messiah'
Voce, Northern Virginia's premier choral ensemble, will perform a baroque rendition of "Messiah" for the first time this month, adhering as closely as possible to the instruments and vocal style that Handel used when he composed the hymn to Jesus's life in the mid-18th century.
"'Messiah' is so common, but I'm reminded every year when I approach it again of how spectacular it is," said Kenneth Nafziger, Voce's artistic director. "It has such vitality, and it's great fun to let the work speak in the familiar language of the composer. It does the composer justice."
One of the most renowned pieces of English sacred music, "Messiah" has undergone many rearrangements since it was first performed in Dublin in 1742. Music historians suggest that its popularity as a fundraiser during the mid-1800s may have led to its being performed so often during Christmas season.
The baroque version of "Messiah" runs about two hours, about twice as long as contemporary versions based on changes that Mozart made in 1788. Among other things, he dropped two movements from the second part of the three-part oratorio of Jesus's birth, death and resurrection.
A baroque performance traditionally consists of a small chamber chorus of about 20 people and soloists accompanied by baroque-period instruments, including harpsichord, brass, strings, woodwinds and percussion. A contemporary performance can include hundreds of singers accompanied by a larger, more modern arrangement of instruments.
Baroque style features the light use of vibrato, dramatic leaps within melodies and a somewhat quick but steady, deliberate tempo, with a focus on two or more relatively independent melodies unfolding simultaneously and with equal volume and prominence.
"The energy of baroque music is very physical, rooted in dance, an element that was lost to 19th-century music when rhythm was no longer the focus," said Nafziger, a music professor at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., who conducts the Youth Orchestra of Charlottesville-Albemarle. "In a way, the performance will be like one long dance concert."
Voce will perform the baroque version of "Messiah" on Friday at 8 p.m. at Christ the Redeemer Church, 46833 Harry Byrd Hwy., Sterling, and Saturday at 8 p.m. at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, 11900 Lawyers Rd., Reston.
Featured soloists are soprano Jeanne Fischer of Washington, a graduate student in voice at the University of Maryland; mezzo-soprano Alexis Haller of Fairfax, a graduate student in voice at George Mason University; tenor Daniel Buchanan, a recent resident of Houston and graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois; bass Patrick M. Walders, a doctoral fellow in choral/orchestral conducting at the University of Maryland.
For more information on Voce, call 703-277-7772 or visit www.voce.org.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
April 23, 2000
Voice of America Radio
Kaleidoscope broadcast transcript
HOST: Welcome to Kaleidoscope, your cultural tour of the United States on the Voice of America. I'm Susan Logue in Washington…
THEME: up full and hold to 1:03
HOST: Today Christians around the world celebrate Easter. During the weeks leading up to the holiday, concert halls, churches and cathedrals around the United States have offered a variety of sacred music programs. Last weekend, at St. George's Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia, Americans were introduced to a popular Cuban mass — "Misa Cubana" by Jose Maria Vitier. Zlatica Hoke was there and has a report:
TAPE: MUSIC "GLORIA" FROM MISA CUBANA
ZH: "Misa Cubana" is devoted to the Virgin Mary of El Cobre — the patron saint of Cuba. Cuban tradition has it that some centuries ago, the Virgin Mary saved three drowning sailors off the shore of the Cuban island. As a result, the Mother of Jesus has had a prominent place in Cuban art and culture. The sanctuary of El Cobre, named after the copper-rich mountains near Santiago de Cuba, marks the place where Mary was allegedly seen. But, until "Misa Cubana," there had never been a Cuban musical tribute to the patron saint. Composer Jose Maria Vitier says he has always planned to correct that. When his son speedily recovered from a tragic accident about ten years ago, he and his wife — writer and poet Silvia Rodriguez Rivera — decided to create together a musical thanksgiving to Saint Mary:
TAPE : VITIER IN SPANISH & TRANSLATOR :27
"I come from a family of Catholic intellectuals for whom our Catholic faith is a very important and strong concept. So we wanted to capture some of that. So these were the two main reasons why we've done this piece."
TAPE: MUSIC "ave maria" FROM MISA CUBANA
ZH: The Virginia-based choral group "Voce" led by their artistic director Kenneth Nafziger, performed "Misa Cubana" during (Christian holiday) Palm Sunday weekend in two churches near Washington D.C. Mr. Nafziger says "Misa Cubana" is a regular Catholic liturgy with special poems devoted to Mary.
TAPE: NAFZIGER :32
"There are twelve parts altogether, all the traditional parts: the Kyrie, the Gloria Sanctus, Agnus Dei are there, but the Credo is not there. And there is a poem in the beginning, written by a leading Cuban poet, that tells the legend of the appearance of the Virgin Mary to the sailors and then there are two traditional Marian hymns inserted: the Ave Maria and the Salve Regina. And there are also two other poems inserted ' both by Silvia Rodriguez who is Jose Maria's wife."
ZH: The Composer's wife, Silvia Rodriguez, says her poem "Misteriosa Transparencia," which replaces the Credo in Misa Cubana, contains a lot of traditional Cuban imagery about the Virgin Mary of El Cobre. Her poem, which concludes "Misa Cubana," is a prayer to the Mother of God.
TAPE: RODRIGUEZ & TRANSLATOR :19
"It is the way that I experience the virgin. It is the way that I would like to see her and would always like to know that she's there for me and it's the way of talking with her, conversing with her."
TAPE: MUSIC ' "MADRE DE DIOS" FROM MISA CUBANA
ZH: Misa Cubana was first performed in (the capital of Cuba) Havana in December of 1996 and was an instant success. It was used during the religious service in honor of Pope John Paul's historic visit to Cuba two years ago. In subsequent years, it has been performed in Spain, Mexico, several Central American countries and now the United States. Jose Maria Vitier says he has done very little to promote the piece, but he keeps receiving offers for its performances. New premieres of Misa Cubana are expected later this year in other parts of America and in Israel.
TAPE: VITIER IN ENGLISH :27
"I think that the mass has very deep roots in our popular music and in the western music too. In the mass, I don't use the most obvious ways to do Cuban Music — only subtle touches through the rhythm or through the melodies. Because melodies are very important for all Cuban (music) — not only the rhythm."
TAPE: MUSIC ' "GLORIA"
ZH: Jose Maria Vitier is one of Cuba's most famous contemporary composers. He has written music for more than 50 movies, several television series and numerous symphonic and chamber works. According to Virginia music professor and conductor Kenneth Nafziger, the originality of Vitier's music lies in the creative drawing from Cuba's traditional as well as classical roots.
TAPE: NAFZIGER :33
"What it does is to combine — in, I think, very ingenious ways — a whole host of things about Cuban music history. They have a rather glorious rich tradition of baroque music that we in this country know next to nothing about. And then there are the various folk dances that are represented: the contra dance, the trouva, the guajira — a variety of dances and uniquely Cuban rhythms that find their way in. So it's kind of a history, a very pleasant way of learning the history of Cuban music of all kinds."
ZH: Kenneth Nafziger says his choral group "Voce" has only 25 members and the score enables every one of them to do something interesting. Soprano Joan Winter-Skerritt, a member of "Voce," says everybody in the group is excited about the performance.
TAPE: Winter-Skerritt :20
"We absolutely love this piece. This has only been brought to us because of our director's love for Cuba. He has always wanted to go visit, he went there last year and brought this back just completely in awe — last March — and had been trying to work it out so that we could perform this for the first time in the U.S."
ZH: Joan Winter-Skerritt says "Voce" attracts good singers because it never hires soloists from outside so the choir members get to sing the solo parts. In the case of Misa Cubana, director Kenneth Nafziger has made an exception. He brought baritone Alexander Grant from Havana to sing the final part of Misa Cubana ' the prayer to the Virgin Mary of El Cobre. It was Mr. Grant who first introduced the Virginia music professor to the popular Cuban mass. I'm Zlatica Hoke.
TAPE: MUSIC — GRANT SINGS FINALE OF MISA CUBANA
HOST: You're tuned to Kaleidoscope on the Voice of America. I'm Susan Logue.
April 13, 2000
WETA TV Broadcast Program 'ABOUT TOWN,' Voce listed as a 'Best Bet':
NOW, LET'S GO TO OUR BEST BETS FOR THIS WEEK.
BILL DUNLAP: Voce, the Washington area choral ensemble is presenting two performances in two locations of the Misa Cubana. Jose Maria Vitiers' wonderful Cuban Mass. Friday, the 14th, they're at St. George's Episcopal Church in Arlington; and on Saturday, the 15th, they're at St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Reston. 703-277-7772