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Bach Choir Of Pittsburgh Debuts Work Inspired By 'Wrinkle In Time' Author

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Courtesy of the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh
The Bach Choir performs it final concert before the lockdown, in February 2020.

As everyone learned early in 2020, one of the more dangerous things you can do during the coronavirus pandemic is choir practice: dozens of people singing at the tops of their lungs, in close quarters, for prolonged periods of time.

The Bach Choir of Pittsburgh performs "Shout Joy!": 7:30 p.m. Wed., March 24

But choirs have found ways to uphold safety protocols while still plying their craft. Take the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh. In December, it offered a virtual concert of Holst’s “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which was rehearsed via Zoom and then digitally quilted together from performances remotely recorded by choir members who rehearsed and performed in individual locations.

That’s untraditional, to say the least: Choir singers prefer to hear their choir mates in person and in real time. But it worked well enough that the Bach Choir is now employing a similar method for a world premiere.

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Credit Courtesy of the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh
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Courtesy of the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh
Thomas W. Douglas is artistic director of the Bach Choir, and composer of "Shout Joy!"

“Shout Joy!” is a short composition by the choir’s artistic director, Thomas W. Douglas. It was inspired by an eponymous poem by Madeleine L’Engle, the author best known for her classic young-adult fantasy novel “A Wrinkle in Time.” L’Engle, a devout if unconventional Christian, wrote “Shout Joy!” as a visionary poem of praise for God. One line runs, “the light of his Name / blinds the brilliance of the stars.”

“It combined both the sacred spiritual elements but also fantastical elements, you know, dragons and unicorns,” said Douglas. “It’s very uplifting, it’s very alive, it’s full of imagery. And as I read it, I just got pictures of some of the phrases that were contained in it. So I thought this would be a great piece to put to music.”

Douglas said he originally composed the work for a choir in Minnesota, but the group said it was too complicated. But he said he thought the Bach Choir could handle it, even remotely.

He described “Shout Joy!” as “contemporary sacred music” which incorporates elements of both classical and pop styles. The work runs just five minutes but incorporates the voices of 52 singers. (A Bach Choir performance usually involves 80 or more voices, but not all the venerable group's singers felt comfortable with the remote process, Douglas said.)

Interviewed a week before the March 24 premiere, Douglas noted that he’s been focusing on guiding singers through their individual parts. “None of us have heard it yet! We’ve just been rehearsing it.”

The online premiere is free. For more information, see the group’s website.

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Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: bodriscoll@wesa.fm
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