Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"Music from the Heart": Georgia Festival Chorus' Carols by Candlelight, November 23

[Photo: Frank Boggs with GFC, April 2014]

The kind lady who made room for me in the second row at McEachern UMC Sunday night volunteered that she hadn't seen "that man," pointing at the director of the Georgia Festival Chorus, since 1972.  That happens to have been the year when that man, Frank Boggs, teaching chorus at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, first took care of me.  I needed a costume for the middle school musical; an accident in my family had my parents visiting intensive care at all hours; so Frank brought me in to his house where his wife Doris took measurements and created my costume.  Through four years in Chorale, he led me through a vast repertoire from Vivaldi and Brahms to Gershwin and Ives, singing around Atlanta, South Carolina, Poland and the Soviet Union.

From the looks on faces of the Georgia Festival Chorus singers as they boomed, whispered or floated their notes at their 24th annual Christmas program, Frank Boggs figures prominently in many of our best memories. Both tone and feeling are warm.

In his 80s now, his 71st year as professional musician, Frank sat magisterially center stage while his associate director David Scott and assistant directors Ken Terrell and Michael Cromwell led the group.  After pianist Cathy Adams and Organist Phillip Allen played a virtuosic organ / piano arrangement of "The Nutcracker," the program opened with "For Unto Us A Child Is Born" sung by a small ensemble that stood in the middle of the choir, sounding joyful while they contended with Handel's sixteenth-note melismas.  Suddenly, the whole choir stood to raise the roof on the words "Wonderful!  Counselor!  The Mighty God!"  I noticed Frank was singing, too.

After breaking us in this way, Frank paired Beethoven's grand "Hallelujah" fanfare with the contrasting lovely "God So Loved the World."  In the latter song, on the phrase, "should not perish," Frank punched the air on "perish" and got a sharp, cutting sound in return.  The group's musicality has learned a few things from Frank's love of theatre!

The music of John Rutter, Frank's longtime mentor, figures prominently in the program, along with the work of composer/arranger Mark Wilberg.  David Scott directed Rutter's "Carol of the Magi," a sensitive piece of choral storytelling that touches a deep place in the heart when the Kings, finding the baby Jesus, reflect, "It seemed we'd known Him from long before."  Ken Terrell directed the chorus in Rutter/Wilberg's "Child in a Manger," a tune I've known as "Morning has Broken," with a four-hand piano arrangement that dances and sparkles.  Other Wilberg pieces included "In the  Bleak Midwinter" arranged with "bleak" dissonance in the accompaniment, and a Calypso carol "The Virgin Mary Had A Baby Boy" which had everyone swaying and smiling.

Michael Cromwell conducted the Ensemble in "The Work of Christmas," the music of Dan Forrest sensitively interpreting a thoughtful text by Howard Thurman about the work that begins when the angels, kings, and shepherds have gone on with their lives.  The text tells us that it is our work "to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry" and "to make music from the heart." 

Frank introduced Barlow Bradford's arrangement of "Angels We Have Heard on High" by recalling Ken Terrell's first reaction to the score: "It has 14 keys and 14 different tempos!"  Every time the familiar "Glo-o-o-ria" came along, voices launched into a higher-than-expected key. It kept the song fresh.

Frank always looks for contrast and variety, this time including flutes, bass, and percussion. Some songs came close to "pop" (I heard "Close to You" in the vamp to one number), while others borrowed from mid-20th century avant garde.  But it was all informed by faith and love for the whole enterprise of communal singing.

As Frank Boggs himself is wont to say, "Bravo," and, "Ay-men, Brother!"

See earlier blog posts about the Georgia Festival Chorus:  Carols by Candlelight (2008) and Total Praise (2009).

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