The Carolina Master Chorale starts its 32nd season this weekend with two performances of “Songs of a Passionate Life,” before delving into other heartfelt themes for the season ahead, with jazzed-up Christmas carols, “Love Like You’ll Never Be Hurt” for Valentine’s Day weekend, and “A Big Band in the House of God” in two schools at the end of April.
Timothy Koch, in his 15th year as music director and conductor, said the Chorale joining Long Bay Symphony for its season opener last month for the “Ode to Joy” part in “Beethoven’s Ninth” gave the singers quite the warmup in rehearsals leading to this weekend.
“It was a great way to give our chorus some early momentum,” Koch said, glad to have taken part with three other area vocal ensembles. “We had ages 16 to 80-something in a really neat multi-generational collaboration.”
For the concerts Saturday at Waccamaw High School in Pawleys Island; and Sunday at Trinity Episcopal Church in Myrtle Beach, both at 4 p.m., Koch will welcome a composer back for a reunion. Michael Isaacson, who lives in Hollywood, will conduct the premiere of a work he wrote for the Chorale.
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Koch, who has recorded some of Isaacson’s music for the Milken Archive of Jewish Music, said he has had a longing to perform a piece “on the different stages and ages of life through music … a cradle-to-grave program, … but to illuminate certain aspects of certain ages.”
With Isaacson’s composition, Koch brought up the title, “The Last of Life, for Which the First Was Made,” a line from the beginning of the Robert Browning poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra.”
“That title implies that are going through the first part of life to prepare ourselves for things to come,” Koch said, referring to how the poem “suggests that all the pain and things we go through in our lives are so important to us.”
He also said through this kind of introspective program, “it’s part of our responsibility to make music relate to people’s lives.”
Addressing Alzheimer’s, too
Through “Alzheimer's Stories” by Robert S. Cohen, Koch said the music takes a therapeutic touch in “a beautiful artistic way to … have an opportunity to laugh at what a person endures and to treasure the important moments that come through that experience.”
Koch, who brought up a “handful of people” in his life who have or coped with memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease, said one Chorale member spoke in some early rehearsals about facing this tear-jerking challenge, but he reassured the singer about its very vital purpose and that “this is what music needs to do.”
“I hope people see it in that light,” Koch said.
He counts Isaacson’s latest work, his third for the Chorale, among 35, including several by Andrew Fowler of Myrtle Beach, that the Chorale will have had the honor of debuting.
Speaking by phone Monday from California, Isaacson said Koch had asked if he had anything in mind that the Chorale could bring to life.
Isaacson said he has wanted to write a suite about aging, because compositions about aging or understanding the later years” aren’t the most common themes. He brought up the intrigue of Browning’s line “The last of life, for which the first was made,” and using “four settings” to the story in his song, covering how people coping with the aging process “get through to that acceptance, to understand while it’s very different from what they knew of know, it still can be positive.”
Concluding with a setting about “What is more beautiful than growing old” Isaacson said it’s easy to view that reality “as a pain in the neck” and more, but “between spiritual insights, and acceptance of others within yourself, then it could be quite a nice experience.”
“This is the most philosophic, thoughtful piece of music I have ever written on the subject,” he said, and that working with Nicholas Gordon, a poet who wrote the accompanying text, “we talked for a while about what it means to get older.”
Issacson said Koch will begin singing a passage “that will act as a topic sentence,” in a work overall that gives “a different way of approaching a subject, musically.”
Thanks to the Chorale’s ambition, Issacson said he looks forward to the whole concert program, with two parts that flow together.
“That’s why I love to come to Myrtle Beach,” he said. “Only there can you make something like this happen with a group that is willing to take a chance to be adventurous.”
Isaacson also thinks that as the baby boom generation gets older, more outlets on this subject will “address their lifestyle.”
“At one time, everything was all about youth,” he said, “then after, you got to be middle aged, then you became invisible.”
Yet with changes in longevity and understanding in living amid transitions in the whole cycle, Isaacson said, “if you’re lucky, the alternative is not the alternative.”
More sites means more exposure, access
Helen Andrews, the Chorale’s new executive director, said by scheduling concerts this season at more venues across Horry, Georgetown and southern Brunswick counties, this continues an effort to enlighten the public on the Chorale’s history and “our story.”
“They started this because they love music, and they wanted to sing,” said Andrews, noting one woman has stayed in the group from “the very beginning.”
The first performance of “Christmas & Carols and All That Jazz” will be belted out Dec. 13 at Socastee High School, another place the Chorale has never played. Andrews said this site opens up another easy access for Conway-area residents to drive a few miles east on S.C. 544, another spot seen “as a hub for the community.”
Koch, thrilled to have Andrews’ idea after idea after idea” to help the Chorale gain additional recognition, also said the Chorale will perform twice in Waccamaw High’s “brand new, 625-seat auditorium.”
With about 70 members all donating their time and voices with backgrounds “from all walks of life” across the three-county area, Andrews stressed how they are all musicians, for “their voice is their instrument.”
Andrews said one common characteristic of the Chorale membership “amazes me.”
“They not only do this,” she said, “but most of them volunteer in the community with other nonprofits or charities.”