Hemiola [hem-ee-oh-luh],~Greek, n.
a musical figure in which, typically, two groups of three beats are replaced by three groups of two beats, giving the effect of a shift between triple and duple meter.
I sometimes forget just how spoiled I am by the incredible choristers of the Chattanooga Boys Choir. Following an INCREDIBLE collaborative performance with one of the most prestigious collegiate choirs in the country (Florida State University…yes, this Gator just said that!) and a much-needed spring break, the boys returned to work this week as they set their sights on the repertoire that will serve to close the 2016-17 season. Despite egregiously high pollen levels and shaking off the “rust” from spring break, the boys absolutely floored me with their sight reading skills and musicianship.
They began rehearsal by singing a stirring arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner, with which the CBC will open the Chattanooga Lookouts’ season next week at AT&T Field. Listening to them sing our anthem instills a feeling of pride and optimism about our future. The boys then took their first look at Pablo Sosa’s arrangement of the Argentinian song ¡El Cielo Canta Alegria!, which is a rousing and exciting piece filled with all types of rhythmic and dynamic challenges. After just one sing-through of the piece, it was exhilarating to watch the boys high-fiving each other over their successful first attempt!
We then made our way to a marvelous original work entitled My Heart is Steadfast by the choir’s dear friend Ken Berg of the Birmingham Boys Choir. This piece is filled with the aforementioned hemiola figure, whereby the choir constantly shifts the six beats in a 6/8 measure into alternating groupings of two groups of three and three groups of two (think of the opening of “I Want to Live in America” from West Side Story). This is a tricky concept, as it can be difficult for some singers to settle into a comfortable pace of executing this pattern, while others might have difficulty delivering each beat correctly while effectively delivering the alternating emphases. It requires a complicated mix of math, language skills, musicality, and teamwork to do this well and - wouldn’t you know it! – our boys delivered. I should not have been so surprised, but I was somewhat surprised with just how well they did this and how seemingly easy it was for them to do so. I was so proud of our boys through this rehearsal process, and I could not have been more pleased with their initial efforts…I already know that you will be delighted with this and more at their Finale! concert in May.
While I know the concept of performance is the public and outward representation of the hard work and talents of our boys, it is not lost on me just how impressive our daily achievement, our weekly process, and our constant improvement is. As a choir festival adjudicator recently told me, “Choral excellence is an amalgam of incredible individual efforts.” These boys bring their intelligence, their artistry, and their hard work into rehearsal each day, and I benefit greatly from their efforts, the amazing and dedicated work of our staff, and the support of our choir families. It is quite the sight – and sound! – to behold, and I never take it for granted.