It goes without saying that we collectively have felt detachment and loneliness due to the pandemic the last 12 months, and although the vaccines are giving hope for a better future, we'd be remiss to not recognize what we have been through. It comes as no surprise, though, that art provides a salve to help us understand, process and cope with what we are going through.
That idea that music can help us to work through our experiences was the inspiration behind Houston Chamber Choir's A Time To Journey Inward, which will be available online starting Sunday and is available through August. In the same fashion of all other presentations during the To Everything A Season-themed year, the choir's performances are prerecorded and will be available on the organization's Virtual Stage.
The pandemic has forced us to hit the reset button on our lives, and it has sparked - in some - a renewed interest in self-care actions like meditation or practicing presence in each moment. It's also birthed a renewed interest in mental health, or at least made us give mental health more than just a passing thought. As such, Houston Chamber Choir Founder Bob Simpson wanted to use part of the concert for a professional to help attendees look into the business of being alone as the audience takes a journey inward with the help of the music. Noted author, lecturer and psychotherapist Patti Henry will join as a special guest to offer insights for finding the inner peace and balance we so often lack.
"I’m not interested in just filming on a visual platform and leaving it with that. I want there to be an interaction and give people who are watching something that is more encompassing and fulfilling to experience than just a performance. Patti has years of experience helping people find their true selves. It takes time to be introspective and reflective. When you go inward, you connect with yourself in a way. It’s a challenge and an opportunity. I hope this concert gets to explore that," Simpson said.
Henry will speak briefly during the concert about the need to be quiet, to think about moving to a centered space and provide tips on how one might attempt to enjoy the peace meditation brings. The music will also serve as a conduit to facilitate that introspection.
Simpson added, "All of us have spent a great deal of time by ourselves. Being in solitude and having the sense of depravation that we’re not with our friends and family the way we like gave me the opportunity to think of solitude in both its positive and negative contexts."
It was that thinking that guided his music selections for the concert. The program kicks off with “Stars” by Latvian composer Eriks Ešenvalds. In it, the narrator is alone on a hill looking up at the heavens, sees an array of stars and is honored to witness such a majesty. Channeling their inner Gracie Lou Freebush à la "Miss Congeniality," the musicians will utilize a not-so-common instrument in this performance.
"The piece involves water glasses. When you wet your finger and run your finger around the goblet, it rings. You put water in the goblet to the level to produce the specific pitch. When we recorded this, about 40 minutes before the concert, several of us were spinning our fingers around the rim to make sure the pitches weren’t sharp or flat," Simpson said. "There are also spinning bowls, primarily used for meditation. They're about the size of an indoor planter you would use for a ficus tree. You use a leather dowel to create this deep hum that is almost like a musical hug."
The concert will also include two evocative works by Bob Chilcott, who draws upon the wisdom of American indigenous peoples from the Lakota and Sioux nations. The pieces speak about the qualities of honesty,
integrity, compassion and humility — all virtues that are instilled from within.
Next up, the setlist includes the American premiere of “Solitude” by noted English composer James Whitbourn, featuring guitarist Marc Garvin. Whitbourn is no stranger to the choir as he is also the composer of "Annelies," performed for the group's September 2019 season kickoff at Holocaust Museum Houston. Additionally, guests will enjoy the Simon and Garfunkel classic “The Sound of Silence,” performed in a dazzling Pentatonix arrangement. The Whitbourn piece focuses on the strength of peace found in solitude whereas "The Sound of Silence" talks about silence in a way that shows how it can be counter-productive.
The concert concludes with the “Dona Nobis Pacem” by Johann Sebastian Bach to mark the revered composer’s 336th birthday on the day of the concert (born March 21, 1685, in Eisenach, Germany).
"We couldn’t let this occasion pass without drawing on Bach' genius. We conclude our journey inward with the ancient prayer for peace — the final movement to his immortal 'Mass in b minor'," Simpson said.
The entire "For Everything A Season" lineup with Houston Chamber Choir, planned at this time last year, has demonstrated a near prescient timeline on behalf of Simpson and the team, especially with this concert hitting right at the one-year mark of COVID-19.
Simpson said when he was planning the season, he broke down the various components that dealing with a pandemic would entail. 'A Time to Give Thanks,'…'A Time to Give Hope,'…'A Time to Lift Up,'…'A Time to Journey Inward,'….and the May finale, 'A Time to Draw Closer,' have almost perfectly paralleled the phases we have experienced during the pandemic. As a season arch, the concerts range from celebrating the holiday season in new ways, to holding onto the hope of better times, to recognizing those who have sustained us during hard times, and now reflecting on the journey we've been through and ultimately being reunited with our loved ones during whatever the new normal will look like.
For now, though, while the pandemic is still not over, this weekend provides the perfect time to learn patience and self-reflection...and the Grammy Award-winning Houston Chamber Choir will provide the soundtrack.
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