Kaleidoscope: a music review

Have you ever had an earworm? Stuck Song Syndrome? It is the experience of having a catchy piece of music lodge itself inside your brain and put itself on repeat. Sometimes these are a mere nuisance, but in the case of old favorites or sacred song, it can sometimes be cathartic and formational:

Consider your favorite song—the one you find humming when you feel like dancing or when you need to weep.  Often those “humming tunes” are songs we have known and loved since childhood. They comfort us and give us a sense of strength, hope, acceptance, and love. (from the linear notes of Gloriæ Dei Cantores’ Kaleidoscope: America’s Faith in Song).

Kaleidoscope: America’s Faith in Song-Gloriæ Dei Cantores (Paraclete Recordings 2007).

Gloriæ Dei Cantores is, of late, providing the soundtrack to my life. I listen to them as I work at my computer desk, I play their music in the evenings to help settle kids to sleep, I play their music as I sit down to read. Sometimes I just listen.  Gloriæ Dei Cantores are the choir of the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts (at the Community of Jesus)Their 2007 release, Kaleidoscope: America’s Faith in Song explores folk hymns, psalms, and sacred song from the American tradition (19 songs in all).

There are some standout performance. The first track is their rendition and interpretation of John Newton’s Amazing Grace (yes, Newton was a Brit). “This setting is arranged by a group of composers on Cape Cod, Massachusetts who have shared their own  needs, suffering and joys together” (linear notes). The vocal phrasing and the legato to staccato string accompaniment  (especially under “many dangers, toils and snares . . .) provides a  sense of movement through this arrangement capturing both the beauty, and tension of grace.

Bookending this collection is Paul Manz’s E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come, an anthem written while the composer was critically ill. Between these two songs are folk melodies, psalms, spirituals, and favorite hymns from various Christian traditions. The Gabriel V Brass Quintet does a rousing jazzy rendition of Let us Break Bread Together on Our Knees and organist James E. Jordan performs William Bolcom’s setting of the hymn (which Bolcom wrote having been ‘taken-in’ by the singing at a local African-American church, see linear notes). Other standout performances include those of the Baptist Hymn, At the River, and the Shaker Hymn, Simple Gifts.

On a whole a very solid collection and interpretation of American sacred song. I give it four stars.

Note: I was provided with a copy of the CD by Paraclete Recordings in exchange for my honest review.

Here is a full Track Listing

  1. Amazing Grace arr. Michael Hale, James Jordan, Timothy McKendree
  2. I Will Arise arr. Alice Parker
  3. Foundation arr. Alice Parker
  4. The Eyes of All Waite Upon Thee – Jean Berger
  5. The Morning Star – Virgil Thompson
  6. The Twenty-Third Psalm – Arthur Foote
  7. Holy Manna arr. John Carter
  8. Let Us Break Bread Together – Traditional, performed by Gabriel V Brass Quintet
  9. Ching-A-Ring Chaw arr. Irving Fine
  10. The Boatmen’s Dance arr. Irving Fine
  11. Zion’s Walls arr. Glenn Kopenen
  12. What a Friend We have in Jesus! – William Bolcolm; James E. Jordan, Jr, Organist
  13. Psalm 136 – Virgil Thomson
  14. Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal arr. Alice Parker
  15. Come, Holy Ghost – Leo Sowerby
  16. At the River arr. R. Wilding White
  17. The Best of Rooms – Randall Thompson
  18. Simple Gifts arr. Irving Fine
  19. E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come – Paul Manz

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