Conversation with Aurora Chamber Singers director, David Neiweem
DAVID: So people have been writing about Mary for some time bringing tremendous devotional art her way for millennia.
JAMES: That’s the voice of David Neiweem, the music director of the Aurora Chamber Singers in Burlington, Vermont.
DAVID: …the Aurora Chamber Singers is actually an extension of what was the Oriana Singers of Vermont founded and directed by my, now deceased, longtime friend and colleague, William “Bill” Metcalf.
JAMES: David will be leading the Aurora Chamber Singers in performance on Saturday, May 13th at 7:30pm at College Street Congregational Church in Burlington.
DAVID: This program is kind of dear to me because we had scheduled a program for the May concert in the year of the pandemic. And that concert of course got canceled because we were just not operating. And then over the ensuing years, I had given a lot of thought to how the program could be tweaked a little bit and made a little bit more contemporary, a little bit more interesting and we rescheduled it for this spring.
The program is entitled All Generations Will Call Me Blessed and features music that was written to honor Mary, the person and Mary, the icon. The title is reflective of the length of time that people have been extolling this particular person. There is art and music about Mary, the mother of Jesus, which is well over a thousand years old and we start in about the eighth century. The total time that we're using is about 12 centuries.
So, we have Gregorian chant. We also have some baroque music by Michel Corrette, which will be played on the organ. We have quite a bit of Anton Bruckner who was a 19th century Austrian composer, Johannes Brahms, also a contemporary of Bruckner, and 20th century music by Henryk Gorecki, a very celebrated piece called “Totus tuus.” And for this particular concert, we are also including a new piece, a new four-movement work that I wrote over the course of the last couple of months to finish out the program and give the sense that the people are still writing music all based on the Virgin Mary.
JAMES: David’s cantata for SATB chorus, soloists, string quintet and organ is a setting of the 13th-century devotional poem Stabat Mater.
DAVID: And what it does is basically explain the situation of Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the moment where she is standing at the crucifix watching her son die. The poem itself has over 20 verses and I've selected six of them, I think. The first movement is “the mother is standing watching her son die,” basically a narrative explaining the situation. The second movement is the one that I'm doing in English. The third movement is a lovely duet about Mary, the fount of love. And the last movement is her own transformation from her sadness to the reward of eternal life.
JAMES: David was inspired to write the piece during the Summer of 2020; not just in the midst of the pandemic, but also in the middle of great social unrest and change across our nation.
DAVID: The particular thing that we all saw that summer was George Floyd's death. I realized that the prayer of having a mother watch her son die before her eyes was still kind of a contemporary useful thing. So I consciously set some of the movements, especially the second movement in English, with the idea of trying to examine that dramatic moment of who could look away, who would be the sort of person who would look away when a mother is witnessing the death of her child.
JAMES: Come to reflect and admire music from over a millennia of time with the Aurora Chamber Singers.
DAVID: The program is Saturday night, May 13th the day before Mother's Day. It is a program that is devoted to the famous mother of Catholicism, Mary, the mother of Jesus. And it seems to me, it’s a great way and a pretty happy way to spend some time thinking about the concept of mothers and perhaps you want to bring your own mother.
JAMES: Don’t miss the Aurora Chamber Singers under the direction of David Neiweem as they present All Generations Will Call Me Blessed, Saturday, May 13th at 7:30pm at College Street Congregational Church in Burlington, Vermont.
You can find out more at their website, aurorachambersingers.org and get your tickets at sevendaystickets.com.