Heaven and Earth: Christmas Jazz & Jenks

Down East Singers present Heaven and Earth: Christmas Jazz & Jenks

Sunday, December 11th at Rockport Opera House
Concert starts at 2pm. Reception to follow at 4pm.
Tickets are $20 and available online, from The Grasshopper Shop in Rockland, and The Owl & Turtle Bookshop in Camden.

This blog post is written by Down East Singers. Edited by Rockport Opera House.

Down East Singers likes to vary its repertoire – especially at Christmastime. They’ve had yuletide celebrations of English, French, Russian, Greek and Latin-American music in recent years but never delved into the jazzy pieces of the holiday season. Could Down East swing for a change? The prospect appealed to them even though they’re far from a swing choir. Then, as they talked it over, a powerful musical member of their community passed away - Glenn Jenks. Down East had to pay tribute to him, especially since he had written a piece for their concert tour to Russia in 2001. This concert is dedicated to the memory of Glenn and features a work that isn’t jazzy but speaks so poignantly of their world at this time of year.

Bouncy rhythms are nothing new to Christmas music. Much Renaissance vocal music is based on dance music. Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) was a German composer, organist and music theorist. As a linguist and writer, Praetorius is also famous as the author of of Syntagma Musicum, a three-volume encyclopedia of music and musical instruments. His Psallite is typical of the period with its mishmash of Latin and German which is typical of Protestant (Lutheran) music of his time.

Jazz-influenced choral music isn’t just about jumpy rhythms. It’s also intertwined with the lush harmonies of the Romantic Period, especially as they influenced chord structures in 20th-century choral music. Franz Biebl (1906-2001) studied composition in Munich and then served as Choir Director at the Catholic of St. Maria in Munich from 1932 to 1939. He was then drafted into the military and taken prisoner of war from 1944 to 1946, being detained at Fort Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan. Down East Singers will sing his most famous piece, Ave Maria, which was brought back to the US by the Cornell University Glee Club in 1970 after a concert tour of Germany. Cornell conductor Thomas Sokol met Biebl during a recording session at a radio station. Biebl’s original score was for male voices. After it became famous Biebl rearranged the piece for mixed chorus.

Ragtime was one of Glenn Jenks’s passions. Down East Singers will pay tribute to this tradition in a scene from Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha entitled “We’re goin’ around.” Joplin (1868-1917) an African-American composer and pianist, was born in Texas and died in New York City. He is often called “King of Ragtime Writers.” During his brief career he wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet and two operas. One of his first pieces, “Maple Leaf Rag,” became ragtime’s first and most influential hit and is Joplin’s most famous composition. Although the opera Treemonisha was not well received when it was first performed in 1915 it was resurrected in 1972 and was widely acclaimed. In 1976, Joplin was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Glenn Jenks was born in Boston in 1947 and before his second birthday he had learned to conduct the William Tell Overture while standing in front of the family phonograph. As a teenager he studied at the Wellesley branch of New England Conservatory and then went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in music from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. He taught in private schools for three years before embarking on a career as a solo performer of folk music and ragtime, and in 1975 he joined the country music singer Jud Strunk as guitarist and vocalist. He toured with Strunk for three years, appearing all over North America including the summer musical theater circuit where he and Strunk joined acts such as Manhattan Transfer and Andy Williams.

Jenks had been composing since the age of 12. His works included a String Quartet in Ragtime and also classical chamber works, songs and pieces for solo piano. In 1975 he moved to Camden where he combined music with a remarkable talent at growing roses. In 2001 when Down East Singers combined with the Rachmaninoff Choir to tour across the entire extent of Russia, the group commissioned Jenks to write Heaven and Earth are Full of Thy Glory. The words are by American poet Margaret Fishback Antolini, the mother of conductor Anthony Antolini.

About Down East Singers:
A non-auditioned chorus, Down East Singers generally has 60–70 members in any given season ranging in age from high schoolers to seniors. The members' musical experience varies widely. Some have sung in different choruses for years; others are new or are resuming their interest in singing after an absence of many years. Almost all sang in high school or college choruses and some received formal vocal training or continue to study music and take lessons today. Chorus members represent a wide variety of professions and come from many mid-coast communities. All share an interest in singing a classical repertoire under the direction of a nationally-recognized Artistic Director and a superb accompanist. Follow us on https://www.facebook.com/Down-East-Singers-61317021662/

To purchase tickets to this concert, click on this link.