Hagerstown Choral Arts to shine with Gladsome Light
When Hagerstown Choral Arts Artistic Director Greg Shook met up with the group’s President of the Board of Directors Ryan Pask to discuss themes for the spring concert, neither knew what the other had in mind.
But when they shared their ideas, it was easy to come to a consensus. Both men thought about using “light” as a theme and each came to the table with related selections.
On Saturday, May 4, at 4 p.m., Hagerstown Choral Arts will present Gladsome Light at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hagerstown. The concert will convey the light that comes from faith, hope and love, Shook said, and will feature works of American composers Morten Lauridsen, Aaron Copland, Mack Wilberg and others. There will be no charge for admission, but a freewill offering will be collected.
Now in its 26th season, the roughly 60-member chorus is dedicated to bringing high-level choral music to Washington County and the surrounding area. Its singers are auditioned volunteers who perform at Christmas and spring concerts, and at other community-based events.
Hagerstown Choral Arts has been rehearsing pieces for Gladsome Light since January.
“We have some familiar tunes that people will know but that are arranged in different ways,” Shook said, “like ‘This Little Light of Mine.’ A lot of us sang that as children in church.”
The arrangement the chorus will use is by composer Keith Hampton, who is best known for his work with gospel songs and spirituals.
The program will feature three movements from Lauridsen’s larger work, “Lux Aeterna” which means “Light Eternal.”
“We’ve sort of taken from parts of it. There is a specific movement that talks about ‘Oh, great light,’” Shook said.
Lauridsen’s music is descriptive and sometimes uses dissonance that gradually resolves, he said. Though he is an active contemporary composer, Lauridsen uses a technique known as “word painting” that dates back to the Middle Ages. In word painting, the music reflects the literal meaning of a song’s lyrics.
“It’s from when chant was evolving and certain words took on musical characteristics in the music,” Shook said.
Copland’s piece “The Promise of Living” from his opera “The Tender Land” addresses growing, farming and working the earth.
“This community was a big farm community at one time,” Shook said. “There will be people in the audience who can really relate to the piece and to the themes of the piece. I’m looking forward to seeing how this is going to go over.”
Shook and Pask easily found an abundance of choral selections related to the theme of light.
“We both came to the table with pieces in mind and the more we talked, the more we discovered other things. We dreamed big and had to pull back a little bit,” Shook said.
The concert also will feature a piece inspired by the Bible’s Song of Songs, “Rise Up, My Love, My Fair One” by the late Canadian composer Healey Willan.
“It is kind of about light and love, God’s light, that loving light that is all encompassing and that breeds community,” Shook said. “There are a lot of similarities between love and light and this program ties them together.”
The chorus typically gathers once a week on Tuesday evenings. Inclement weather during the winter months presented scheduling challenges to the concert rehearsal process.
“It’s not always been kind and cooperative, with ice and snow and things,” Shook said. “We had to work around that a little bit. But it is really coming together. I think it’s exciting.”
The singers responded well to the program pieces, which challenged them in new ways.
“Vocally, it’s a real tour de force to sing this program,” he said. “It’s not the standard harmonies that you would hear in Mozart or Beethoven or things written many years ago. The harmonies are not as predictable and I think that keeps the singers on their toes a little bit.”
The program is relatable for both the singers and the audience.
“I think what we’ve chosen for this concert really compliments each other well,” Shook said. “I think it’s a good mix of things for the chorus, and a good compliment of musical selections too.”
Top photo: Greg Shook founded Hagerstown Choral Arts in 1993 along with Ned Wetherald. The two local musicians desired to create a vocal ensemble that would perform both sacred and secular music from a variety of musical periods, styles and cultures. (Submitted photo)