A lovely fall afternoon befitting Sacred Words welcomed all to the Church In The Forest. Under the direction of Dr. Sean Boulware, the women of Aria continue their vocal excellence. So many of the afternoon's pieces carried messages that endure through the ages. Even with contemporary settings, words from thousands of years ago from diverse sacred texts are strikingly comforting in today's world. As Boulware described, these texts are important in many faith journeys as anchor, comfort, and strength.
Words from Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, interspersed with Psalm 21, were the basis for the Joan Szymko setting, “I Lift My Eyes.” This was a most appropriate lead in to “Gate Gate” which is a Sanskrit text. “Gate” means gone – as in from suffering, from forgetfulness to mindfulness, as into the other side. Fragments of Sufi Rumi poetry were the inspiration for “Where Your Bare Foot Walks.” This romantic work was written for David Childs' bride as an emotional present of love.
Gustave Holst is probably most well known for “The Planets.” However, Holst has beautifully cast the “Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda.” Of the twelve, number three – “Funeral Chant” – was on this program. These texts pre-date Egypt and are thought to be between 3500 to 4000 years old. As a canon, just like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” the melodic interchange was a different take on the thought of funeral dirge. Z. Randall Stroope, a most prolific choral composer, conductor, and educator, has taken yet another Psalm – the most well-known number 23 – “The Lord Is My Shepherd” and given a contemporary yet comforting setting. Matthew Levine of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music has taken a Bahai text, “O Son of Spirit,” exhorting the bearer to turn to justice and equality. Rounding out the first half was the Jim Papoulis “Sih'r Khalaq.” Starting as a chant and leading to prayer, Papoulis explores the world of Arabic rhythm, textures, and style in the interest of global fusion. Meaning magic that exists in art, that transforms, grows and permeates the soul. This was the most rollicking ending of the first half.
As if the languages and rhythms of the first half were not enough, the second half opened with Jewish prayer in Gospel style! In call and response, Phyllis Davis and Andrea Lewis provided a strong enthusiastic “call” to the chorus equally strong “response.” Sherry Kosinski was the composer of this musical hybrid. Of the myriad hymns to the Virgin Mary, the “Salve Regina” text remains one of the most popular. Josu Elberdin joins Vivaldi, Handel, and Schubert among others to create this most worthy addition to the repertoire. From Latin to Zulu comes a prayer for peace. Andre van der Merwe's version of “Ukuthula” was sung at Nelson Mandela's funeral. This featured the dynamite trio of Diane Ehlers, Karin Forno, and Julie Posey. Again using a call and response technic, there was never a lack of enthusiasm and vigor. From songs of songs, comes Yehudi Wyner's arrangement of “Shir Ha-Shirim.” Although sounding as a love paean between a man and woman, it is really expressing the deep love of God – in whatever form of belief. The oft-recited poem, “Invictus” by William Ernest Henly is about light in darkness. Having to memorize this poem long ago and far away, there is a real fondness for hearing the Joshua Rist arrangement. Michelle Boulware and Abby Warburg provided the excellent and clearly dazzling above the staff notes. The strength of the chorus underpinning made for an especially strong ensemble.
Having used the variety of faith beliefs and languages, Boulware chose a most apt finale in “Atheists Don't Have No Songs.” This Steve Martin totally hilarious number mentions most if not all religions and the fact that there is not an actual repertoire for those who are not traditional “believers!” This indeed was the best rounding out of an afternoon of Sacred Words. Throughout all the languages, rhythms, and text meanings, this group of women never fails to communicate with the audience. And continuing as the backbone of accompaniment support is Michelle Galindo. Her considerable keyboard talents never interfere, but support and ground whatever the style of music calls for. She makes the varied styles sound so easy and never appears to struggle!