This year we are lucky to have two specialist music groups for our Christmas Revels show. The Arab Andalus group of musicians is named Layali El Andalus and is led by Rachid Halihal.
Rachid is a world-class musician who brings, to us, the true character and spirit of music from Andalusian Spain, the diverse regions of Morocco, and North Africa. As a child, growing up in Morocco, Rachid played the nei and sang, imitating the famous singers of the time. At age fourteen he entered “Dar Aadyil” the Conservatory of Music in Fez. At first he studied Western classical and Andalus music on piano and violin. He soon expanded to include a variety of other instruments in order to better express his native music. In addition to his voice, which is best featured in the Andalus style, his strongest instruments are the oud (similar to a lute without frets) and the violin, which he plays in both the classical manner and upright resting on the knee for Moroccan folkloric music.
Rachid arrived this Friday evening (November 25th) from Colorado, where he was presenting workshops and concerts in Boulder and Denver. Soon after his arrival he began rehearsing with local musicians Tina Chancey (you’ll hear more about her soon) and Elisabeth Myers–Tina and Elisabeth will be joining Layali El Andalus on a few of their songs, and the Washington Revels chorus will be singing with the group as well.
Learn more about Rachid by visiting his Web site (rachidhalihalmusic.com). And, visit the Layali El Andalus band Web site to learn more about his group (ayalielandalus.com). We are so excited to have them as part of this year’s Christmas Revels.
Did you know that the hand clap is something of an “art form” in Spain? Indeed, palmas (hand clapping) is an essential ingredient to the musical accompaniment used for dances like the flamenco and sevillana. If you want to know just how important, try a Google search for “palmas clapping” and you will be amazed at the amount of tutorials, instructional videos, and examples that will come up (like the following instructional video from YouTube).
While this Christmas Revels will not have any flamenco dance in it, we will be dancing the sevillana, and, there will be palmas! In fact, you will hear palmas used in many of our musical numbers.
To explain the two distinct ways of hand-clapping, here is an excerpt from “Flamenco Compas for Alegrias Analysis of the 12-pulse palmas (clapping) rhythm and its relationship to the standard African bell pattern,” by Jerry Leake:
Palmas refers to the specific accompanying clapping pattern that is built within the compas structure. There are two types of palmas techniques: sordas and claras. Soft claps (sordas) are produced when the open palms strike together in a low, muted tone. Louder, higher-pitched claps (claras) are produced when the fingers of the strong hand land into the open palm of the weak hand.
Each year, our amazing Washington Revels Chorus (adults and teen) and Children have to memorize their music. The process begins in September, as we learn each piece, but the actual memory crunch tends to occur sometime in November (like… now!). Some years our job is easier than others… like last year, when the music was almost all in English. But, this year, we are singing in Arabic, Latin, Hebrew, Judeo-Espagnol (also known as Ladino), Galician Portuguese, Castilian Spanish, and Catalan — this definitely makes the process of learning and memorizing more challenging!
With the exception of a few lucky folks (and yes, Greg Lewis, Washington Revels ED and song leader, is one of them), the memorizing process can be the most frustrating last step on the learning to performance continuum.
Have you ever had to memorize a poem, or some lines of text to repeat in front of an audience, or a class? This form of memorization only involves words… and, that alone can difficult. When you memorize music, there are many more details that become part of the process:
pitches (the actual notes that you sing)
rhythms (the amount of time each note gets)
expression (loud, soft, smooth, bouncy, etc.)
tuning and harmony (how does your part fit in with the other parts)
timing and rests (when do you sing? when do you breathe?)
text and pronunciation (what syllables go with what notes, and how do they sound)
As you see, this is a pretty complex set of variables to put together. And you have to do all of this while walking, interacting, dancing, carrying things, going up and down stairs, spinning around, messing with your costume, ringing bells, gathering children, etc. (and not standing next to someone who is singing the same part that you are singing). We spend a lot of rehearsal time really learning the music, and then each singer has to “lather, rinse and repeat” on their own, in order to develop the muscle memory needed to be able to perform all of this music in a typical Christmas Revels production! You are memorizing not only what the music sounds like, but what it feels like to perform it.
Here is a list of all of the songs that the chorus has to memorize for this year’s show (including the languages that each song is in):
1. Tan buen ganadico(Castilian Spanish) 2. A vint-i-cinc de desembre(Catalan) 3. Lamma bada yatathanna(Arabic) 4. Quando el rey Nimrod(Ladino) 5. Children’s Songs: Gatatumba (Spanish); Matesha, matesha (Ladino); Tafta Hindi (Arabic) 6. Pues que tanto bien tenemos(Spanish) 7. New Year’s Prayer (Ladino) 8. Rodrigo Martinez(Castilian Spanish) 9 Bain el bareh we’el youm(Arabic) 10. El desembre congelat(Catalan) 11. Riu Riu Chiu(Castilian Spanish) 12. Ay luna que reluces(Castilian Spanish) 13. Cantiga 185: Poder a Santa Maria(Galician Portuguese) 14. Abinu Malkenu(Judeo Espagnol) 15. Hanuka(Ladino) 16. Ocho Kandelikas(Ladino) 17. Shalom Chaverim/Assalam wa aleikum(Hebrew and Arabic) 18. Qum Tara(Arabaic) 19. Siete modos de guisar las berenjenas(Ladino) 20. Hoy comamos y bebamos(Castilian Spanish) 21. Convidando esta la noche(Spanish)
Well, it certainly was a big weekend in the life of this year’s Christmas Revels production — the full cast (adults, teens, children, musicians, and actors) finally has an opportunity to work through the entire show… in costume! The “November weekend” at the Washington Episcopal School is also notable because it is the first time that we get together each year with our wonderful brass quintet. As Music Director, I can tell you that we have THE BEST brass quintet! Not only are they great musicians, but they are family. In fact, they consider each Christmas Revels run (since they started with us in 1996) to be a “family reunion.”
Led by Robert Posten (the guy with the beard, above, playing the bass trombone), this group has performed under many “names” over the years — Boar’s Head Brass (2007), Belsnickel Brass (2006), Royall Noyse Brass (2004), Trombadori i Firenze (2009), Puddletown Brass (2010), and more — I wonder what their name will be this year??? Other members of the group are Robert Birch (trumpet), David Cran (trumpet), Sharon Tiebert Maddox (french horn), and Ben Fritz (trombone).
Prior to their yearly gig with The Christmas Revels, these musicians were known as the Annapolis Brass Quintet (at least, most of them). America’s first full-time performing brass ensemble, this group spent twenty-two years (from 1971 to 1993) playing in all fifty states and throughout Europe, the Orient, the Middle East, Central America and Canada. Learn more about them at http://www.annapolisbrass.com/ (and you can even see some great photos of the group).
The next time we see the brass will be on Sunday at our run through at the Sidwell Friends School, and then we all move into Lisner Auditorium on Monday. I will be sure to get some candid shots of the group in their dressing room. There are two features that I look forward to each year: 1. A photo retrospective (group photo) from each year that they have performed in The Christmas Revels; and 2. Lots and lots of baked goods and chocolate treats… the brass room is a great place to get a little “nosh” during the show. Stay tuned …
Tonight at 7:30pm, Trio Sefardi will be presenting a special concert at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church. This will be Washington Revels’ second “salon-concert” presented in conjunction with the 2011 Christmas Revels show–offering a great opportunity to hear and interact with our guest musicians in a more intimate setting than Lisner Auditorium. Tickets are available online or at the door tonight.
Performers Howard Bass, Tina Chancey and Susan Gaeta share a love of and a wide-ranging experience with Sephardic music. Its members have performed and recorded with La Rondinella, the Western Wind, and with NEA National Heritage Fellowship awardee Flory Jagoda, the renowned Sephardic singer and composer, who will be joining them tonight in this very special performance.
Trio Sefardi combines a respect for tradition with a creative approach to arranging and scoring to bring the vibrant past into the living present. After making their Washington-area debut on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage in November 2010, the trio is now releasing their first recording, Sefardic Celebration this month! In fact, if you attend tonight’s salon-concert, you will have an opportunity to purchase one of the first copies of this new CD (Hear audio excerpts from their new CD online).
Learn more about the performers in tonight’s concert:
Flory Jagoda (from the NEA National Heritage Fellowship Web site)
What is Sephardic Music?
Music of the Sephardic Jews, including traditional songs encompass ballads, romances and wedding songs that were passed on orally and sung originally in various Iberian languages (Castilian, Catalan, Galician, etc.), as well as Hebrew.
Who are the Sephardim (Sephardic Jews)?
Those Jews whose roots can be traced to the Iberian Peninsula where Jews first appeared in the early years following the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and exile from the Holy Land. There are references to a Jewish presence in Iberia from the time of Solomon, when Jewish adventurers sailed the Mediterranean Sea. The first notated date is 79 AD. Spanish Jews in Iberia lived in relatively good times under Moorish rule during the 10th and 11th centuries when Islamic power was at its zenith. Jewish physicians, advisors, diplomats and financiers were important participants in the Islamic Courts in Spain. They were classed as politically neutral and used as arbitrators in all disputes between Muslims and Christians.
Information on Sephardic culture excerpted from Susan Gaeta’s Web site (www.susangaeta.com)
Want more information on the show or to buy tickets? Click here!
As I mentioned previously, we have two guest artist groups joining us for this year’s Christmas Revels show. Over the next few days, I would like to profile each separate musician so you all can learn a bit more about them and the many talents and skills they bring to our show.
Daphna Mor is originally from Tel Aviv, Israel, and began her music studies at the age of eight. She graduated as the valedictorian of her class in the Boston Conservatory of Music for recorder performance. She plays all size recorders from the sopranino to bass recorder. In other words, she is a master recorder player who specializes in early music of the Rennaissance and Baroque era. But, I guess that just wasn’t enough…
In that spirit, over the last several years she has also included in her wind collection, the snakecharming sounds of the crumbhorn, the turkish outdoor party instrument, the Zurna, the melodica, and has been specializing in the classical Arabic flute, called the ney. As part of Layali El Andalus, Daphna plays various neys and recorders.
When Daphna worked with the chorus on October 29 (with Rachid Halihal), she told us all about the ney. First of all, it is hard to play (really hard…) — you have to both blow into the mouthpiece as well as over the mouthpiece so that 50% of the air will go in and the other 50% out. This is why it is played from the side of the mouth. The ney is made of a hollow cane or reed with five or six finger holes and one thumb hole. Daphna explained to us that she had a different ney for every key that she plays in (as evidenced in the bag of instruments shown below).
Daphna will be featured in the 2011 Christmas Revels, playing the ney, as part of the Layali El Andalus group. But, we are very lucky that Daphna is also a master recorder artist, and she will be featured in many of the Spanish Renaissance pieces in the show as well. Did I spark your interest? If so, here are some links to learn more:
One month from now, we will be opening The Christmas Revels in Lisner Auditorium! Whoa…
Over here in “music land,” there are lots of moving parts this year. First, there is the chorus — made up of adults and teens, and numbering about 55. We have been learning music in Spanish, Catalan, Judeo-Spanish (otherwise, known as Ladino), and Arabic. We have been rehearsing since the beginning of September, but things are really picking up now! This year, we have two groups of specialist musicians (in addition to the fabulous Washington Revels brass), and we have already gotten to work with both of them.
Last weekend, Layali El Andalus came down from New York City to teach us their music, and then they performed in a salon-concert that evening. You can learn more about them at http://revelsdc.org/revels2011/layalielandalus.html. They are fantastic musicians and really great teachers. We had lots of fun learning their music.
Last night, we had a visit from Trio Sefardi (Howard Bass, Tina Chancey and Susan Gaeta). They specialize in Sephardic music (music of the Spanish Jews). Howard plays lute and guitar, Susan sings and plays guitar, and Tina… well, she plays just about everything (there will be more about her later). Learn more about these great musicians here: http://revelsdc.org/revels2011/triosefardi.html. They will be presenting a salon-concert with Sephardic singer, Flory Jagoda, on November 17.
Meanwhile, we have an amazing group of children, busily learning their music — and guess what, they sing in Spanish, Catalan, Ladino, and Arabic too! And we have lots of guitars (who happen to be members of our chorus), and some fiddlers, and a recorder player… so, stay tuned for lots more about this year’s music.
Want more information on the show or to buy tickets? Click here!