Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Shawnee Press: Celebrating 75 Years in Music in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Shawnee Press: Celebrating 75 Years in Music in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Presents Shawnee Press: Celebrating 75 Years in Music
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concert Singers International
Tim Seelig, Conductor Laureate; Greg Gilpin, composer/conductor; Mark Hayes, composer/conductor; Joseph M. Martin, composer/conductor; Sean Berry, Ben Cohen, Heather Sorenson, accompanists
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
February 17, 2014

For seventy-five years, the Shawnee Press has published music which has become part of the core repertoire of choral groups all over the United States and in many foreign countries. What better way to celebrate this anniversary  than by presenting a sampling of this music performed by fourteen choral groups from twelve states (Ohio and Pennsylvania each sent two groups), a contingent of individual singers from around the globe, vocal soloists, three piano accompanists, and a large orchestra led by four different conductors, all brought to Carnegie Hall by Distinguished Concerts International New York?

First a little history, adapted from the concert’s program notes: “In the late 1930s Fred Waring, renowned bandleader and choral master, and some of his friends formed a music publishing company called WORDS AND MUSIC, INC. As he and his famous singing group, The Pennsylvanians,” grew in stature and popularity, school choral and church choir directors began requesting copies of his unique arrangements. In 1939, the first choral arrangement became available, and in 1947 Mr. Waring changed the name of the company to Shawnee Press.”

Each of the two halves of the concert featured seven of the above mentioned choruses and was divided into two sets, each set directed by a different conductor. First on the podium was Conductor Laureate Tim Seelig, who led the assembled singers and instrumentalists in an arrangement of “America the Beautiful” by Marvin Gaspard. This lush, technicolor arrangement set a pattern for the concert which, for this listener, contained too many works which would have served as perfect concert finales. It sounded great – the DCINY Orchestra played at its usual high level (although the timpanist did get a little overexcited at times), and who isn’t thrilled by the sound of a huge chorus of avocational singers? The audience loved it, and loved all of the concert’s finale-like works, but did these works give a clear idea of the breadth of the massive Shawnee Press catalogue? This catalogue contains fourteen other arrangements of “America the Beautiful,” and multiple arrangements of many of the nineteen other works on the program. It would have been good to hear some of the more simple arrangements and some of the versions of works with just a piano accompaniment. The audience didn’t mind at all, and reveled all evening in the massed sound.

Next on the podium was Mark Hayes, who led performances of his own compositions and arrangements. The accompanist was Shawn Berry, who also accompanied the first set. I do wish he and the other accompanists, Ben Cohen and Heather Sorenson, had more to do.

A different, even larger chorus took the stage for concert’s second half. Although both choruses produced a pleasant sound, the men were sometimes overpowered by the more numerous women, and both by the sometimes too loud orchestra. Crisper consonants would have also improved the diction. Conductors Greg Gilpin and Joseph M. Martin each led performances of their own compositions and arrangements. As with most of the evening’s arrangements, I found these and those on the first half by Mr. Hayes “too much of a muchness,” often obliterating the simplicity and beauty of the original material. I suspect that these “over the top” works were chosen to make a big impression for this celebratory concert, but to continue with my series of clichés, “less would have been more,” if a more varied repertoire had been offered.

I remember with great pleasure the music in Shawnee Press editions I sang many years ago with the Midwood High School Mixed Chorus. I am sure, thanks to the continued success of Shawnee Press, many thousands of people are now creating, and will in the future create, similar memories.

Bluegrass 57@7: The Music of Pepper Choplin, Joseph M. Martin, and Carol Barnett (DCINY) in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY)
Bluegrass 57@7: The Music of Pepper Choplin, Joseph M. Martin, and Carol Barnett
Distinguished Concerts Singers International, Monroe Crossing, Guest Artists
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall; New York, NY
February 18, 2013
Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY): Photo credit: DCINY Production/Hiroyuki Ito

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) : Photo credit: DCINY Production/Hiroyuki Ito


In a concert with the title “Bluegrass 57@7” (the 57 referring to 57th Street, the location of Carnegie Hall, and the 7 referring to the 7:00PM start time), Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a program dedicated to the Bluegrass genre and its various sub-genres.  Featuring Bluegrass quintet Monroe Crossing, it had the makings of an interesting and educational evening.

The first half featured the vocal music of composers Pepper Choplin and Joseph M. Martin, with the able support of Monroe Crossing. I do believe the most accurate description of the selections presented would be Bluegrass Gospel. The music was mostly joyful and almost always tonally consonant. Indeed, no dodecaphonists were harmed in the making of this music.  Each composer conducted his own works. Highlights of Mr. Choplin’s pieces were the anthem-like “Circle of Love”, featuring the talented vocalist Emily Drennan, and the electrically-charged energy of “Joy on the Mountain”.  Mr. Martin’s “Coming Home” with soloist Sue Martin’s emotional vocals was touching. Then the ebullient Martin waved Choplin back to the stage, handing him the conductor’s baton as he took to the piano for his own “Great, Great Morning.” It had the feeling of a revival meeting. It brought the first half to an exuberant close.

The second half opened with selections from Monroe Crossing.  Monroe Crossing takes its name as homage to the “father of Bluegrass” Bill Monroe and the fact that his music was the common thread that brought the group together (“we crossed paths through the music of Bill Monroe”). Mandolin player Matt Thompson regaled the audience with stories about the group and its members with both humor and humility. in what was probably a well-rehearsed part of Monroe Crossing’s regular performances.  All showmanship and shtick aside, when this ensemble got down to the business of playing, they showed themselves to be not only committed to the art of Bluegrass, but also possessing some serious “chops” as well. The energy was infectious as they played four signature works.  All four pieces were crowd pleasers, but the last called “Bullet Train” was just pure fun from start to finish, and the audience roared its approval.

The final work on the program, Carol Barnett’s The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass, was composed with the talents of Monroe Crossing in mind. Matt Thompson told the audience about the challenges Monroe Crossing faced when first receiving their parts.  Not all Bluegrass musicians read notated music, as the art of Bluegrass is largely improvisatory, so this “jumble of dots” was a challenge that was overcome by having each player learn his part by listening to a recorded version. After much hard work, the parts were mastered, and Monroe Crossing has performed this work about “40 times”, according to Thompson. Composer Carol Barnett stated, “My highest hope is that listeners coming from one tradition, classical or bluegrass (and perhaps dubious about the other), might discover something new and wonderful in the combination”. It was an interesting thought and a worthy goal, but one also might feel that neither classical nor bluegrass enthusiasts would be fully satisfied by the end result.  The work is quite moving in sections, and the addition of Monroe Crossing added color, but it is open to debate how much “Bluegrass” was present amid some of the more sophisticated rhythms. Marisha Chamberlain’s libretto is quite provocative in sections, including an unconventional Credo, the thinly veiled 9/11/01 reference in the third verse of the ballad, and the feminization of God in the Conclusion. Conductor Nancy Menk was charged with the challenge of bringing this interesting concept to life, which she did with marked ability. Any reservations I might have had were of no concern to the audience, who responded with a prolonged standing ovation. The Gloria was repeated as an encore to the delight of the audience.  Ms. Barnett and Ms. Chamberlain joined the conductor on stage for bows.