One of the things about contemporary choral music that makes me crazy is the composers’ need to tell you all about the music. Imagine Beethoven telling a chorus, “Friends! This piece is about joy and brotherhood! As you sing, think about someone you like! And smile, so the audience will get the point!” But no. He trusted the words and music, silly man.
These days, composers leave nothing to chance. They will tell you when a piece is “joyous, celebratory,” just in case you weren’t clear on the meaning of “Alleluia.”
Even the otherwise wonderful Leonard Bernstein gets into the act. At one point, the sopranos and altos are instructed to sing in this manner: “Blissfully unaware of threat.” Huh. I ask you, were the female singers more blissfully unaware of this threat before or after the composer pointed it out? The melody here is gorgeous, and I’d be all kinds of blissful just singing the thing and since the text is in Hebrew I’m feeling suitably unaware. But now that I’ve been TOLD to be blissfully unaware, I feel like a participant in that psychology experiment where people were told to not think of a white bear. “Threat? What threat? I’m blissfully unaware! Yes I am! No, really! I’m not thinking of a threat at all and OMG THAT TENOR IS COUGHING UP A LUNG AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO GET AN EXOTIC STRAIN OF THE FLU AND DIE.”
And then there’s Eric Whitacre: “(This piece) is a ceremony, a celebration of the unleashed kinetic energy in all things. The mood throughout is reverent, meditative, and centered. This does not imply solemn or calm; it simply means the performer must take the spiritual journey with total respect for the power of the water and profundity of the regeneration.”
I suppose this sort of prose is to be expected of a man who used to sell life-size cardboard standees of himself on his website, but still.
And while we’re on that topic, seriously, WHO DOES THAT? Not even Donald Trump sells life-size cardboard standees of himself. Though if he did, I’m sure KellyAnn could move a few hundred units in one of her impromptu press conference commercials. Maybe have a toll free number scroll across the bottom of the screen. That would be so, so great. Tremendous. Most presidential standee in the history of the country. And I’m sure someone could write a choral piece to accompany the commercial, complete with detailed notes so the singers would know how to feel about it.