Vocal Arts Ensemble
Tthe music of the spheres
by James Leonard
Only in later iconography are angels depicted with harps. Earlier, they are shown singing before the throne of God. While some might reasonably doubt the literal veracity of the earlier representations, the implication that a cappella choral music is the music of heaven is just about right. There is nothing more fully musical and more fully human than the voice singing - and nothing more deeply soulful and more profoundly spiritual than voices singing together.
And there is no better way to celebrate the coming of the light than voices singing together. Whether one partakes of the Boychoir of Ann Arbor's luminous hymns in St. Andrew's, or Vox Early Music Ensemble's numinous counterpoint in St. Thomas, or the Choral Union's massive Messiah in Hill Auditorium, choral music in the cold of winter is the best way of bringing the radiant warmth of the music of the spheres into one's heart.
For a choral holiday concert that combines the luminous and the numinous with passion and precision, the a cappella Vocal Arts Ensemble's performance on Saturday, December 18, at St. Andrew's cannot be beat. This year they will be performing Franck Martin's Mass, Francis Poulenc's Christmas Motets, and a select assortment of noels, carols, and glees. As they have in past years, the Vocal Arts Ensemble will be performing under music director Ben Cohen, a skilled conductor, a superb musician, and an absolute asset to the Ann Arbor musical community.
The ensemble has not essayed the main music on the program in the past, but on the evidence of their previous performances I expect them to transform the chancel of St. Andrew's into the stage celestial. Certainly, the music is celestial. Martin's Mass sets the Ordinary of the Roman liturgy to music at once severe and sublime, full of modal melodies and ecstatic harmonies and the pure, clear sound of souls singing. The Poulenc motets are suave, sophisticated, and very sexy. And although the select assortment of noels, carols, and glees might not be everyone's cup of spiritual tea, the Vocal Arts Ensemble's incandescent sonorities will no doubt sweeten the spiritual pot.
[Originally published in December, 2004.]