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February 7, 2013: Bach Mass in b minor

Every week, Artistic Director David Cherwien shares his Thursday rehearsal notes with the choir following the Tuesday rehearsal. These notes are from February 7, 2013 and are meant to be used by the choir members in their preparation of Bach’s Mass in b minor. The performance will take place at Central Lutheran Church on Bach’s birthday on March 21, 2013 at 7pm. The performance will be broadcast live on Minnesota Public Radio.


It feels as though each of you is practicing at home between rehearsals – it shows. That preparation provides for invigorating and productive rehearsals like last week's!  When things start coming into greater focus, it's so amazingly exciting to hear the result. I noticed two exercises we did that were enormously helpful as a group, but probably would also be helpful for your work at home:  

  • "tut" short notes. This forces you to really concentrate and hit the pitch, squarely.
  • go really slow so that you can intensely focus on pitch, rhythmic and phrase accuracy. It's not too early to be hard on yourself regarding accuracy. Remember, the choir will only be as accurate and/or strong as its weakest singer. What we need is all 66 of you being the 'best' singer with regard to accuracy and preparation. 

We're drawing closer, but there are three areas still some not in compliance with each other – which smudges the musical effect for all of us:

1. Articulation of fugue subjects. First sopranos had the best "Kyrie 1" articulation, but didn't quite carry it into the rest of the movement. The rest of you still don't quite "feel" the lower two notes and push weight into each of those two notes, then add a sense of growing weight with the upper two note groups, with slight lifting of weight between all of them (almost a lift, but not quite).  

How are they articulated? Detached? Scat? Lifts?  

ONE person can effect all 66 of us. "Scat" can also quickly become detached as it did with cum sancto. Practice first the subject, then the "middle" parts that surround it.

Practice as if we were to go down the line and hear each of you sing by yourself. Would you prepare differently? (That was an NLC tradition before my time…) Or imagine the microphone focusing on YOU during the live broadcast – if you knew that was to happen, would you prepare differently?  

Pretend both scenarios are for sure and prepare accordingly.

2. Pesky spots with leaps – high (or low) notes grabbed from quite a distance. Patrem omnipotentem is a great one to practice – it leaps all over the place.  

3. Melodic runs – especially the spots where he changes a pattern with an accidental - a critical moment that needs complete accuracy.  

4. Pronunciation – the letter "e" is "eh," the letter "o" is "aw." Our instinct is quite counter to that. Not "aye," and not "oh" respectively.  

Are we having fun yet?  Absolutely!

David Cherwien