Category Archives: James K. Bass

“Word-Painting” and Handel’s Messiah

One of the most extraordinary aspects of Handel’s music is the use of “word-painting,”  the musical technique of composing music that reflects the literal meaning of a song’s lyrics. For example, ascending scales would accompany lyrics about going up; slow, dark music would accompany lyrics about death.

This technique is employed throughout Handel’s most famous work, “Messiah.”  Today we will examine the use of word painting in two  arias, “Ev’ry Valley,” for Tenor and “But Who May Abide” for Bass.

In the very first aria, or air, of the composition — “Every valley shall be exalted,”  Handel literally begins the work with powerful word painting.  Many a composer would be content with just composing a melody with half the beauty of Handel’s, but he went much further.  The text is: “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain.”  When the tenor sings the word, “crooked,” Handel toggles between two notes; and with “straight,” he writes one long note. The effect wonderfully contrasts uneven with straight.

“But who may abide the day of his coming?” contains one of the most dramatic moments in the entire oratorio. The text from Malachi prophesizes about Judgment Day, asking “who may abide the day of his coming?” This Handel crafts into a mysterious, slow air. But at the text, “for he is like a refiner’s fire,” the music explodes into … well … a fiery exclamation. The acceleration and ferociousness captures perfectly the threat of hell and damnation.   The word “shake” uses a melisma that actually sounds like the singer is shaking.  And, if you listen really closely you can hear the violins play a run that is reminiscent of  the “flames” of the “refiner’s fire” licking at the singer’s feet!

These are just two examples of many in Handel’s Messiah that make it interesting, exciting and accessible.  This is why the work has endured since its first performance in 1742.  We hope you will join the Long Beach Camerata Singers in their performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Beverly O’Neill Theater in Long Beach on November 30 and December 1, 2018.  Click HERE to purchase tickets.

 

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Homer (Simpson) Loves Handel

We all know that GF Handel is famous for his iconic chorus from the oratorio, Messish, the Hallelujah Chorus.  He’s so famous, it turns out, that even Homer Simpson likes his music.  This is evidenced by the fact that the Hallelujah Chorus has appeared in the soundtrack of The Simpsons not once, not twice, but FIVE times!

  1.  “Bart Gets An F” (1990) —   Bart is about to flunk out of 4th grade.  A snowstorm saves him, to the accompaniment of the Hallelujah Chorus.  Other music in this episode:  Row, Row, Row Your Boat.
  2. “There’s Something About Marrying” (2005) —  Bart becomes a minister to capitalize on the rash of weddings about to take place due to the legalization of gay marriage.  Other music in this episode:  Let’s Twist Again.
  3. “Thank God It’s Doomsday” (2005) — Homer hears about the Rapture, and by using numerology to calculate when the Rapture is coming he learns that it is only one week away.  Other music in this episode:  The Flower Duet from Lakme.
  4. “The Treehouse of Horror” (2017 — Maggie gets possessed by a demon; Lisa discovers a creepy/perfect version of her family in an alternative universe; Homer cannibalizes himself.  Other music in this episode:  On the Road Again.
  5. “Singin’ in the Lane” (2017) — Homer gets his old bowling team back together and they wind up competing with arrogant millionaires.  Other music in this episode:  The Boys Are Back in Town.

Long Beach Camerata Singers will be performing Handel’s Messiah, including The Hallelujah Chorus, on November 30/Dec 1.  We hope you will join us.  Click HERE to buy tickets.

Peanut Interviews Dr. James K. Bass

In a recent interview with the Artistic Director of Long Beach Camerata Singers, Dr. James K. Bass, we discussed his approach to the group’s upcoming performance of Carmina Burana:

Peanutsez:  What makes Carmina Burana an enduring favorite?

Dr. Bass:  First of all, the piece has a special combination of rhythm, melody and imagery.

PS:  Imagery?

DB:  Yes!  First there’s the big beginning, “O Fortuna,” and then we are immediately introduced to the imagery of spring — the magic of the forest and first love.  Next is the tavern scene — in taberna — with all the images of drinking.  You know, drunken abbots, dozens of toasts, and the swan roasting on the spit.  Finally, we enter the Court of Love, populated with Greek Gods and their “higher” feelings.  The whole thing is a prescription for musical perfection!

PS:  What does it take to reach this music perfection?

DB:  Carl Orff composed the piece in such a way that there is nothing superfluous.  The ideas are repeated, albeit in an old german/latin dialect; the melodies are short and memorable and the rhythmic qualities are strong and appealing.  This music is easily consumed by the ear and the heart.  It is accessible to all levels of music lovers.

PS:  As Artistic Director, what interpretive choices have you made?

DB:  First, I decided to use the version written for 2 pianos and percussion.  This allows us to take the tempos faster and make the piece more exciting.  Also, I want to elicit an emotional response from the audience, so when a key moment or phrase occurs, I can choose to make it last longer, to make it louder or to make it softer, all for emphasis.

PS:  What do you want your audience to take away from the performance on April 22?

DB:  First and foremost, I want our audience to rejoice in the music, to take pleasure in the human voice as it touches the human heart.  I hope this performance will provide a “sonic meal” of different sounds, a live, high-fidelity experience.

If you would like to hear more from Dr. Bass about our performance of Carmina, please join us on Tuesday, April 17 at 3:30pm at the Long Beach Airport Holiday Inn for “Orff Revealed.”  Click here to reserve your free seat: http://longbeachcameratasingers.org/lbcs/carmina-burana-2/

To purchase your ticket for Carmina Burana on Sunday April 22 at 4:30pm, at the Beverly O’Neill Theater in Long Beach, click here:http://longbeachcameratasingers.org/lbcs/carl-orffs-carmina-burana/

What’s Your Sign?: The Camerata Peace Project

Because inclusion and belonging are the overriding theme for our Peace Project concert on Sunday, we want to make this beautiful concert accessible to a group that you wouldn’t normally associate with music — the deaf community.  However, it turns out that music plays a significant role, both therapeutically and recreationally in the lives of deaf people.  That is why we will have a song signer at our concert on Sunday.

So, how can the hearing-impaired enjoy music?  According to one   young man, they “Feel” the music and “listen with the heart.”  Here is a heartwarming video called “How Deaf People Enjoy Music:” https://www.facebook.com/aimediaAUS/videos/10155189131339220/?id=100010747232096

Deaf people often retain some degree of hearing.  In addition to sound, the tactile, the visual, and the kinesthetic all play important roles in deaf perceptions of music.  Song-signing performances use four principal forms of expression: music, lyrics, the signs of ASL, and other gestures independent of the signed language (i.e. dancing, swaying, pulsing, etc.).  One of the earliest records of song signing can be found in a film project by the National Association of the Deaf, produced between 1910 and 1920

The song signer portrays musical elements like rhythm, pitch, phrasing, and timbre through productive musical signs and non-linguistic gestures.  In fact, many song signing videos have gone viral on YouTube, and people are beginning to understand that signing can enrich the musical experiences of the deaf and hearing alike.  Song signing presents us with an opportunity to expand our understanding of familiar songs and to experience them in new ways.

Join us for The Camerata Peace Project on Sunday for an incredibly rich experience, including song signing!  Here is a link for tickets: http://longbeachcameratasingers.org/lbcs/camerata-peace-project/

Peace by Piece: The Camerata Peace Project

How we spend our time IS very important.   As we have seen this week, some people spend their time planning the cruelest deeds imaginable.  Not us, no not us.   We spend our time making our community better.

And making our community better is exactly what Long Beach Camerata Singers is all about. That is why our first concert this year is The Camerata Peace Project – how timely is that??? Now more than ever . . . we need to keep reminding ourselves that decency, goodness and belonging are alive and well, and that is exactly what we will be singing about in our concert on Sunday.

 Without pause or second thought, all of the singers are working together to create a work of art. Musical performance is without question an endeavor towards peace. On Sunday you will hear music representing many styles, religious traditions, cultural differences and generations. We hope that this afternoon will be unlike any “concert” you have ever experienced …and is instead a visual and sonic representation of community at its very best. 

The concert is comprised of a series of individual pieces from many different traditions — Pop/Folk (Gilkyson’s “Reqiem”), African-American (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”) Hebrew (“Hine Ma Tov”), Russian (Rachmaninoff’s  “Bogoroditse Devo”) and so much more.  Peace by Piece . . . each piece of music will add to your understanding and sense of belonging.      

Please come and spend an afternoon with us! Our music and our message has no meaning without your ears!  We promise you will leave moved and inspired 

 

Peace Be With You: The Camerata Peace Project

When our new Artistic Director, James Bass, suggested that we perform a concert around the theme of Peace, we were intrigued.  That concept has grown into a community effort that we are calling The Camerata Peace Project, and it will take place on Sunday, October 8 2017.

This first Peace Project — the first of five annual events — will revolve around the theme of diversity and inclusion, the the importance of a sense of belonging.  The centerpiece of the concert is “We Can Mend the Sky” by contemporary composer, Jake Runestad.  Also included are “Requiem” by Eliza Gilkyson, Rachmaninoff’s “Bogoroditse Devo” and Bernstein’s “Almighty Father.”  We will explore the repertoire more fully in future posts.

Instead of a pre-concert lecture, we have arranged a community roundtable discussion.  We have invited representatives from many stakeholder groups around the area to discuss these issues, including LGBT, Developmentally Disabled, African American, Children, and more.  We will focus on how our diversity is expressed through music and how music leads to inclusion.

According to Dr. Bass, “When we come together to sing, it is almost exclusively in a peaceful manner.  There is no other place like the concert stage to cultivate human relationships:  Relationships with the past, with each other as performers and with the audience. We will ask our audience to  put the thoughts and concerns of the outside world away and join us in a musical celebration of human relationships and of peace.”

Prepare to be uplifted by this beautiful concert; prepare to be moved; prepare to think about important issues; prepare to count your blessings; prepare to appreciate the goodness that comes through human connection.

Please join us on October 8!  Here is the link for tickets:  http://longbeachcameratasingers.org/lbcs/camerata-peace-project/

All About Camerata’s New Artistic Director, James K. Bass

Artistic Director transitions are important moments in the culture of a chorus.  There is the sad good-bye to the departing individual, the wishing-well-but-holding-on phase.  There is the selection process, where hopes and dreams are lit aflame.  Finally, there is the Choice.

The Choice, in the case of Long Beach Camerata Singers, was Dr. James K. Bass, three-time GRAMMY®-nominated singer and conductor, and  Professor and Director of Choral Studies at the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA. He is the Associate Conductor and Director of Education for the Miami based ensemble Seraphic Fire and is the Artistic Director of the Long Beach Camerata Singers.

Bass is an active soloist and ensemble artist. In 2017 he made his Cleveland Orchestra solo debut singing with Franz Welser-Möst and the orchestra in Miami and in Severance Hall, Cleveland. He has appeared with numerous professional vocal ensembles including Seraphic Fire, Conspirare, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Trinity Wall Street, Apollo Master Chorale, Vox Humanae, True Concord and Spire. He was the featured baritone soloist on the GRAMMY nominated recording Pablo Neruda: The Poet Sings with fellow singer Lauren Snouffer, conductor Craig Hella-Johnson and the GRAMMY winning ensemble Conspirare. Bass was selected by the master conductor of the Amsterdam Baroque Soloists, Ton Koopman, to be one of only 20 singers for a presentation of Cantatas by J. S. Bach in Carnegie Hall and was an auditioned member of Robert Shaw’s workshop choir at Carnegie.

During his tenure as Artistic Director for the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, the official chorus of the Florida Orchestra, he was responsible for five recordings and multiple world premieres. In 2012 he served as chorusmaster and co-editor for the Naxos recording entitled Delius: Sea Drift and Appalachia featuring the Florida Orchestra and conducted by Stefan Sanderling.

His professional career has coincided with the development of Seraphic Fire as one of the premier vocal ensembles in the United States. During the summer of 2011 he co-founded the Professional Choral Institute. In its inaugural year of recording, Seraphic Fire and PCI received the GRAMMY® nomination for Best Choral Performance for their recording of Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deuthches Requiem. As the Director of Education for the ensemble he has been involved with annual events that service more than 2000 students in the Miami-Dade county area each year. In 2017 Seraphic Fire and UCLA launched a new educational initiative entitled the Ensemble Artist Program that aims to identify and train the next generation of high-level ensemble singers.

Bass received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Miami, where he was a doctoral fellow, and is a graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy.

Indications are that The Choice was a good one!  Welcome to Camerata, James!