Lenten Choral Mysteries - April 13, 2014
by Nancy Bramlett
A bright and glorious Sunday afternoon, heralded a splendidly worshipful concert presented by the Schola Cantorum at Sacred Heart Parish in Sacramento. The concert was appropriately titled “Lenten Choral Mysteries, a testament of Faith, Comfort & Tranquility.” The audience of about 200 was truly blessed with the music selections and the outstanding performance.
Sacred Heart Church, completed in 1931, was a wonderful backdrop to the concert, with its Romanesque arches and columns, vibrant stained glass, gilded and yet simply elegant altar. In addition, the acoustics are marvelous. The incredibly lucky parish of 900 families is home to the Schola Cantorum. They have the privilege of hearing them every week. What joy and spirit that must bring to them!
The Director, Dr. Donald Kendrick, shared that the concert was offered to provide meditation and thought for Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter. He called attention to three pieces: “The Lord is Good” (based on the Lamentations of Jeremiah); “Lighten My Eyes” (Psalm 13); and “Mein Gott, Mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen” (My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me? - Psalm 22).
(Click here to open the concert program in a new window.)
The opening was reverent and reminiscent of earlier times, with the choir being preceded by bells and entering from the rear of the church with the men singing the first verse of “Pange Linga” (Thomas Aquinas, b. 1225). Then an organ interlude accompanied a graceful procession to the front of the church, where the pure tones of the women expertly intoned the second verse. Another artful organ interlude supported the procession to the altar where, for the third verse, all voices sang in powerful unison.
As Dr. Kendrick instructed, I paid particular attention to British composer Cecilia McDowall's (b. 1951) “The Lord is Good.” I was taken aback. The title had me expecting a cheerful piece with major tonality. What I heard was remarkably different. At first I was upset by this divergent experience, but then I referenced the text from which it came: the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Now it made more sense. The anguish of Jeremiah was depicted in the midst of his knowing of the goodness of the Lord. I could hear the angst, and the glimmer of hope Jeremiah held on to. Brooks Rollins and Rachael Sprague were impeccable in their rendering of the soprano duet that opened the piece. Perfect pitch and clear tone throughout this challenging work. Bravo.
“Lighten My Eyes,” by Swedish composer Bo Hansson (b. 1950), engaged us with wonderful ostinati and counterpoint. This complex and moving a cappella piece recalled the suffering of the author in Psalm 13: “How long will you forget me, O Lord?”
The Felix Mendelssohn (b. 1809) piece (translated to “My God, My God, Why have You Forsaken Me”), employed a number of talented soloists: Tina Breshears, Michelle O'Neill, Nephi Speer, John Proft, Aaron Catolico, and Rob Whitlock. All performed with excellence. The tone ranged from despair to praise, leaving one feeling uplifted. Having heard other choirs perform this piece, I can truly appreciate the tremendous blending of voices.
However, my personal favorite was “The Reproaches” by John Sanders (b. 1933). Within seconds I was tingling from head to toe. Then I was weeping, tears streaming down my face. The impeccable articulation made this piece exceptionally rewarding. “O my people, what have I done to you? Answer me!” My heart continues to break.
Though this is the first time I have had the honor of hearing the Schola Cantorum, their superb quality is not surprising. The 28-member chorus has enjoyed twenty-two years of making beautiful music under the direction of Dr. Kendrick. The Schola Cantorum has also recorded 9 CDs and toured nationally and internationally. They have had the honor of being invited to perform at festivals, conferences and conventions. But most impressive are the two visits to the Vatican in 2007 and 2013. What joy that must have been!
Dr. Donald Kendrick , the founder and director of Schola Cantorum, has an incredibly impressive history. Having studied at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, Boston's New England Conservatory of Music and Stanford University, he holds a doctoral degree from the Eastman School of Music. How fortunate we are that he has chosen to bless Sacramento with his knowledge, experience and talent. Dr. Kendrick is also Director of the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra, and Director of Choral Activities at Sacramento State University where he heads the Graduate Degree Program in Choral Conducting. One wonders when this man sleeps, yet he continues to create, mold and direct wonderfully moving performances, designed to bring those who hear to a greater knowledge and praise of God. Thank you Dr. Kendrick.
We had a wonderful surprise when the concert concluded! All those in attendance received a copy of Schola Cantorum's “Durufle Requiem,” recorded in 2011. I stopped by their table on the way out and picked up another recording. I am excited to put them on my phone and listen to their beautiful music wherever I go.
Nancy Bramlett is a Dramatic Coloratura Soprano from Kansas City, MO. She graduated from Bradley University in Peoria, IL with a Bachelor’s of Music in Vocal Performance. She has most recently studied with Marla Volovna in San Francisco and Zoila Munoz in Davis. Nancy has had the honor of traveling all over the US and to Europe with the Bradley University Chorale. She has sung in several choirs since then, as well as performing in opera and musical theater productions and singing solos for local churches, as well as weddings and memorial services. Nancy has directed choirs; taught voice, piano and Kindermusik; and has been a music director for musical theater. She is currently busy with Classical Music for Christ and as a regular soloist for Cottage Way Christian Church in Sacramento and the Placer County Youth Orchestra. Nancy resides in Rocklin with her husband Scott and three sons: Patrick, Riley and John.