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May 18, 2004


Press Herald

Contributors to the a cappella choir Renaissance Voices are grouped under gemstones, from topaz through ruby. The system is appropriate, because each of the group's concerts is a carefully faceted jewel. The Spring program, "To Music," at the Chestnut Street Church on Saturday night­ was only a little longer than an hour in length, but more satisfying than many concerts twice as long. It was also revealing. Many of the late Renaissance pieces are not often heard, and they were interspersed with equally unfamiliar works from the modern repertoire and the increasingly recognized upsurge of American vocal music that occurred around the time of the Revolution.

The choral works by Boston's William Billings (1746-1800) and Maine's Supply Belcher (1751-1836) hold their own, to a modern ear, with Dowland, if not Purcell. Conductor Harold Stover programmed a wonderful piece by Billings as an encore. Entitled "Modern Music" and written in 1790, it musically illustrates the construction of one of Billings' famous "fuging tunes," beginning with the bass line and building through increasingly complex additions to an appeal for applause.

His "Creation" was sung during the scheduled program. Supply Belcher's own "Creation," from "The Harmony of Maine," was also worthy of close listening. Both Billings and Belcher stem from the shaped-note singing school tradition, in which the shapes of the notes indicate the pitch, and the harmony and counterpoint operate in glorious American disobedience of the rules. If you want to hear real shaped-note harmony, get the Anonymous Four's version of "Amazing Grace." More

Posted by acapnews at May 18, 2004 8:54 AM


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