The Mississippi Chorus at Galloway U. Methodist Church, Apr 29, 2017

   The program opened with four selecions by the MS Youth Chorale, a group of 20 younger singers. The first, "The Word Was God," by Rosephanye Powell, had many rhythmic detached repetitive phrases, with some polyphony, and was sung a capella with precision and to great effecct. Then André Thomas' "I Dream a World," a setting of a poem by Langston Hughes, with piano, was a pleasant contrast, and was followed by an arrangement by John Leavitt of a setting of Linda Marcus' "River In Judea," with piano, and a compelling melody. The Youth Chorale concluded with Unruh's setting of "Kyrie Eleison," to a jazz piano accompaniment. It was largely 4 part with solo, and a big ending. The Youth Chorale sang from memory, accurately and with enthusiasm, over a modest dynamic range. We hope to hear them again, and that as they mature they will continue their choral activities.

Then the MS Chorus itself - a group of about 100 - with an orchestra including musicians from the MS Symphony, and Angela WIlloughby at the organ, sang John Rutter's "Te Deum." The text - from the Latin liturgy - was a poem, but unrhymed and partly metric, in that the text determined the rhythm, with different parts in different rhythms. The singers were well-balanced with themselves, and with the instruments, and the dynamic range was substantial. The music itself was typical of Rutter, with bewitching melodies.

Tschnekov's "Salvation Is Created" an sattbb a capella staple of Russian church music, was sung next and dedicated to the memory of the Red Army Chorus, who perished last year in a plane crash. Sung in Russian, this piece has a singular musical message with religious meaning even if one does not know the title or text. It starts very low and softly with the basses, and literally explodes shortly after the womens' voices are added. It matches the drama of the birth of a savior, a resurrection, and even the creation. The MS Chorus sang it beautifully, with great expression, although one might have liked a bit more of the very low bass. Basses who can sing powerfully in that low range, however, are scarce.

Mendelssohn's Psalm 42 ("As pants the hart", op.42) followed, with seven parts, some not separated, but basically including an opening chorus, an aria, a recitativ (and women's chorus), sung passionately by soprano Kristen Johnson Gunn; a chorus, another recitativ and solo by Gunn with a men's chorus, followed by a closing chorus. Mendelssohn was a master at this kind of work, and it was a joy to hear. The organ played an important role, especially in the choruses, providing a fuller sound, particularly in the pedal. Mendelssohn both played and composed for the organ, although he came to the instrument later in his career, taking a year off to learn to play the pedals. This enabled him to play better the baroque literature (recall that he led a revival of Bach's music, in which - like other baroque music - the bass line assumed considerable importance). In Psalm 42 Mendelssohn used women's and men's choruses separately, satisfying - for me, at least - a thirst for those ensembles (like the opening of "Salvation Is Created."), and for polyphony, including a vocal fugue in the closing chorus.

The program concluded with the equivalent of a "grand march past" (Scottish terminology) with the Youth Chorale rejoining the MS Chorus and orchestra, as well as 6 dancers from the Ballet Magnificat, in a memorable performance of John Rutter's "The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation." Like other of his works, this is one of Rutter's most expressive and optimistic ones, and the members of Ballet Magnificat danced in the aisles, adding a visual dessert to the great feast of music that had fed the souls of so many during the evening.

We thank Mark Nabholz, the MS Chorus Director (see photo above), the Assistant Director Andy Beasley, and soprano Kristen Gunn, who shone like a bright star in the Mendelssohn. To read more about her, Click Here We also are grateful to Galloway U. Methodist Church for providing a satisfying venue -including the organ - for our community for many decades.

Glenn A. Gentry