American Masters-Robert Shaw
By Rey Lambatin, Choir Director
I love watching PBS. I especially love the American Masters series where they feature in-depth and comprehensive biographies about the broad cast of characters who comprise our cultural history. I’ve always been fascinated watching documentaries, and learning facts about people, places, and our environment. In a way, it’s my own version of “reality show” draw, only the characters are more widely relevant to our culture and educational development. In one of these American Masters episodes, Robert Shaw was featured.
Robert Shaw is one of the well-known musicians in the choral community whom I truly admire and admittedly aspire to be. He is regarded as one of America’s greatest choral music conductors. With no formal training, Robert Shaw was legendary for his interpretations of classical music’s choral masterpieces and inspired generations of musicians with the power of music. And as I watch the documentary, I can’t help but be more inspired and be in awe of the man, that even with humble and challenging beginnings, rose to be the director of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for two decades, from 1967 to 1988. His love and passion for music and his craft is very apparent with the way he connected to the people he worked with. I’m particularly touched to learn that he used to write letters to his choir singers after every rehearsal, thanking them, and letting them know how his singers inspire him to create beautiful music. He is also instrumental in using music to bridge and connect with the African-American community in Atlanta, by hiring T. J. Anderson as the first African-American resident composer for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
This is one of the things I aspire for our choirs here at CGS - to use music to bridge gaps between our differences, cultures, and religious backgrounds, and to be able to sing in unity to worship our God, and help and serve each other. I hope to continue to use Mr. Shaw’s legacy as an inspiration, to effectively carry on the healing and unifying power of music in our choral ministry.
By Rey Lambatin, Choir Director
The "Hallelujah Chorus," from Handel's Messiah, is such an iconic piece of music — and is so ingrained as a high church service tradition (Christmas, Easter) — that it's easy to take its exuberance and its greatness for granted.
Rob Kapilow, an American composer, conductor, and music commentator from Yale University, looked deeper into the structure of Handel's popular little chorus to discover why the music has such a powerful grip on singers and listeners — all the way back to King George II of England, who (legend has it) began the tradition of standing during its performance.
Much of the power of the piece, according to Kapilow, lies behind the rhythm of the word hallelujah. Handel could have assigned the four syllables of the word to four notes of equal length. But that would be boring — and it wouldn't be Handel. "What makes Handel great, is that first note is lengthened and then we explode at the end. We have this HAAAA-le-lu-jah." Another key to the chorus' power is in what Kapilow calls the "King of Kings" section.
"The thing that's so amazing about it, is that it's actually based on one of the simplest ideas you could possibly imagine: a single note repeated over and over again, one note per syllable — king - of - kings and lord - of - lords. But Handel keeps repeating the passage in higher and higher registers. "Each one seems to be the highest you could possibly get. That's the climax of the piece," Kapilow says.
For CGS, this song has become a part of our music tradition and is sometimes sung as part of our special services. What I think makes this song even more special is when we invite non-choir members to sing along, either up in front or staying in pews, and join our voices together carry out this very familiar and majestic tune. It fills our worship space with this music that creates a sense of unity for singers and listeners, as we all raise up our voices in Hallelujahs!
Our CGS Mixed Choir is constantly looking for singers who would like to be a part of a ministry and group of people who share the same passion for singing. We meet for a couple of hours every Thursday in the Fireside Room to learn music that we sing in our worship services and a quick review of the song before each Sunday service. Our rehearsals normally comprise of not just singing, but also a lot of fellowship - catching up and checking in with each other, most of the time, over food and refreshments. Choir members often bring food and refreshments to rehearsals that they’ve prepared to share with everyone. We’ve always felt that our CGS church is a big family, and that is especially undeniable among our choir members. The amount of time we spend in each other’s company, doing something we enjoy and love, for a common objective of serving God and edifying our congregation with music, nurture a special connection and relationship with each other.
Something that may explain the special connection we develop with music-making - according to Aniruddh D. Patel, a researcher at Tufts University and self-described “neuroscientist of music,” human song connects us, not just to each other, but to other species. But there are key differences in the way humans and other animals sing, and those differences point to the unusually important role that sound plays in human brain function. Music provides a way to access regions of the brain and reawaken autobiographical memory when language won’t. Just as parrots use their learned songs as a way to identify themselves as belonging to a specific flock, “human vocal learning may have started as a way to mark ourselves as being members of a group, maybe before we had full-blown language.” He connects this group identification with the way accents tell us what region or country a speaker comes from today.
So, come join us on Thursdays, 7 – 9 in the evening, Fireside Room, and be a part of our wonderful choral ministry.
- REY LAMBATIN, Choir Director
Christ the Good Shepherd
Various editorials, articles, and other items of interest.