Fun! Entertaining! Musical! Intelligent! These are words that came back to me from those who experienced our concerts and other performances over the last year. Once again, our concerts were filled with familiar selections and area premiers.
Last summer, we were invited to perform at Pilgrim Baptist Church, to help celebrate the life and work of Thomas A. Dorsey. Dorsey, former music director of Pilgrim, is considered the “Father of Gospel Music.” He is probably best known as the author of the hymn “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” This was our second invitation, which came from the Church’s current music director, Arnold Sevier. What a pleasure and honor it was to have been able to be part of the celebration.
In December, for our central work and also a Chicago premier, we featured the “Cantata for Christmas,” for chorus and chamber orchestra, by British composer, John Gardner (1917-2011), along with many other songs of the season. We introduced our audience to composer, Rosephyne Powell and her energetic “Ogo Ni Fun Oluwa!” as well as to Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of “Christmas is Coming,” for chorus and piano-four-hands. Rounding out the program, were carol arrangements and John Williams’ crowd-pleaser, “Three Songs from Home Alone.”
Sing, Illinois! was our theme for the spring, as we featured the choral works of composers born in Illinois or who spent parts of their lives cultivating their crafts in Illinois. Those composers included, among others, William Ferris, Leo Sowerby, Norman Luboff, Ned Rorem, and Ron Nelson. Women composers prominently featured included Margaret Bonds, Florence Price, Shirley Whitecotton, and Oak Park resident and Unity Temple Music Director, the late Lora Aborn. The central work was John La Montaine’s “Nonsense Songs from Mother Goose.” La Montaine, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, also grew up in Oak Park.
Joining us specially for the concert was guest trumpet virtuoso, Joseph Burgstaller. Burgstaller (formerly of the Canadian Brass and a Yamaha Artist) performed with the ensemble on several selections, including his own arrangement of Astor Piazzola’s song, “Oblivion,” for flugel horn and a cappella chorus. He dazzled the audience with his performances of music by Reicha and Rafael Mendez’s arrangement of “La Virgen de la Macarena.” Organist, Corrado Cavalli deftly supported the ensemble on several selections, with his exceptional musicianship and insight.
We look forward to Season 12 and beyond, hoping to continue to introduce wonderful literature, but always keeping in mind that we must touch our audiences – oh, and have fun!
This year’s spring concert will be a musical celebration of Illinois’ Bicentennial. We will feature the choral music of sixteen composers who were born in Illinois or had an impact on the State’s musical life. We are including some unique discoveries, such as “Union and Liberty” by Frederick Stock, to a text by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Frederick Stock was the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra 1905-1942. We will present “To Music,” by Oak Park composer, and music director at the famed Unity Temple, Lora Aborn, and “Aftermath,” a piece for treble chorus by Aurora native, Shirley Whitecotton.
Joining us for this concert will be special guests trumpet artist, Joe Burgstaller, and organist, Corrado Cavalli. Joe Burgstaller, formerly a member of the Canadian Brass, will perform the flugel horn solo with the chorus on his arrangement of Astor Piazzola’s song, “Oblivion,” as well as a muted trumpet feature on William Russo’s “I Lift Up My Eyes.” Organist, Corrado Cavalli, will accompany the ensemble on several selections, including William Ferris’ “Festival Alleluias,” Eric De Lamarter’s “God is Our Refuge,” and “O Give Thanks Unto the Lord,” by Leo Sowerby. The central work for this concert is Oak Park native, John La Montaine’s rollicking “Nonsense Songs from Mother Goose.”
This is our contribution to the State’s bicentennial celebration.
The Michael Teolis Singers begins its next decade with a holiday concert that includes
some new Christmas sounds, new takes on old Holiday favorites, and reprises from the MTS
Our season opens with “Christmas is Coming!” As with our previous concerts that have always
presented lively songs of the season, this one display the ensemble’s versatility and a
variety of musical genres and styles.
Featured on our Christmas program will be the music of William Mathias, Allan Bullard, Noel
Goemanne, William Ferris’ haunting Christmas carol, “Gentle Mary.”
The concert title piece is Mack Wilbeg’s rollicking arrangement of the carol, “Christmas is
Coming,” arranged for chorus and piano four-hands. As always, the ensemble likes to bring to
light the music of established contemporary composers. For this concert, and as our central
work, we will present the Chicago premier of “Cantata for Christmas,” by British
composer, John Gardner.
Some familiar songs of the season will include, “Welcome Christmas,” from the film,” The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”; “The Pretty Little Dolly,” which was first performed by Mona Aboud on the Tonight Show in 1962; and we will close with the medley from the film “Home Alone.” In anticipation of its 200th anniversary, we will also perform the traditional carol, “Silent Night,” as arranged by William Ferris.
There were ten seasons of exploring and research, resulting in unique, enterprising, and amazing music, along with perceptive, energetic, musical, and convincing performances!
We introduced new music and looked at the “other sides” of some established composers. Who would have thought that songwriters such as Harry Warren and Meredith Willson would have written Catholic Masses; or that “The March King,” John Phillip Sousa, would have written a “Te Deum”; or that Charles Strouse (Annie, Bye Bye Birdie) would have studied with the great pedagogue, Nadia Boulanger, and would have written a psalm setting for a cappella chorus? When was the last time a vocal ensemble programmed the two cantatas written by the orchestrator of the works of Kern, Gershwin, and Rodgers – Robert Russell Bennett? When and where was there ever a concert dedicated to 17 woman composers? To black composers, from Colonial times to the present?
None of this would have been possible without the dedication and commitment to the organization’s vision by the founding members, the MTS Board and, especially, the singers – past and present.
The Michael Teolis Singers reached the point a while ago that the organization needs to go beyond being one of the area’s best kept secret. In the coming seasons, we hope to continue to explore – in order to present – unique material and bring to the audience music that is accessible and should be in the mainstream repertoire. After ten years, we will be doing some reprises of selections we already introduced, in addition to some more “hidden gems.” Our themes will continue to be innovative. We will continue to educate, but always keeping in mind our main job is to entertain.
We have come a long way, but there’s still so much to look forward to.
We began the celebratory season with a “Brassy Christmas,” presenting some traditional favorites dressed up with brass, percussion, and organ: Ovid Young’s “A Christmas Intrada”; the David Willcocks arrangement of “O Come All Ye Faithful”; Ferris’s “The Lord Said to Me”; and the Teolis arrangements of “The Sussex Carol (On Christmas Night)”; “Joy to the World”; and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The Daniel Pinkham “Christmas Cantata” added a wonderful centerpiece to the Holiday musical festivities.
As with all of our concerts, we like to add the “hidden gems.” For this concert, they included Teolis arrangements of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Ives, and the world premiere of an “Ave Maria” constructed from sketches by 3-time Academy Award winner, Harry Warren. Adding to the fun, was the jazzy arrangement by Ray Charles (the choral director/composer/arranger for the Perry Como Show, not the R&B artist) of “Jingle Bells.”
To cap off the regular season, we presented “An Evening of Irreverence.” As the title suggests, the programming for this concert was never intended to be anything less than fun and, at times, madcap. The King’s Singers version of the “Barber of Seville” set the tone for the rest of the concert. Among the selections were Jonathan Willcocks’ “Drunken Sailor”; Randy Newman’s “Short People”; and Robert Russell Bennett’s “Crazy Cantata #1 Three Blind Mice,” which we reprised from an earlier season. The men of the ensemble presented the Teolis arrangement of Steve Goodman’s “The Lincoln Park Pirates” and PDQ Bach’s “Art of the Ground Round,” while the women brought down the house with their renditions of Frank Bridge’s “Peter Piper” and “The Cat Duet.”
As always, we try to include premiers and special presentations. For this concert, there were arrangements that were presented for the first time, including the Midwest premier of H. Leslie Adams’ “There Was an Old Man” and an arrangement of Allan Sherman’s “Hello Mudduh, Hello Faddah,” as arranged by yours truly. Fun fact: we were able to procure permission from Robert Sherman, the son of Allan Sherman. I was only able to track down the copyright owner after going to the ASCAP site and typing in “Hello Mother, Hello Father,” after several tries of typing in “Hello Mudduh, Hello Faddah.” Allan Sherman, by the way, was a Chicago boy, born on the near north side of the City.
The full ensemble presented arrangements of Tom Lehrer’s “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” and “Pollution,” among many others, including a rollicking version of “Zombie Jamboree,” which closed the program.
There was sort of a coda to the season, as MTS was specially invited to perform at the annual Thomas A. Dorsey Commemoration, which was held at Pilgrim Baptist Church, 3300 S. Indiana, on Chicago’s south side. Pilgrim Baptist Church is the birth place of Gospel Music. This style of music was introduced and developed by Thomas A. Dorsey, author of the well-known hymn “Precious Lord, Take My Hand, which, by the way, was the favorite hymn of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was also performed at King’s funeral. This was the second time in the past three years MTS was invited to the Dorsey Celebration.
What will the next ten years hold for us? Please check our website for our plans for the coming season and for any special events or announcements.
“Irreverence” is a theme I’ve had in mind almost since the inception of the ensemble. A founding member and friend, Mark Peterson, suggested the concept to me after our first concert. With this being the 10th anniversary, I thought the timing was right to “loosen our ties” a bit and explore some silliness in music.
Nothing on this program is serious – this is intentional.
There is so much artistic material out there that is intelligent, well constructed, and fun. At the same time, there is literature that is all of that and just plain silly. Comedic pieces can be just as challenging to prepare and perform as serious, legitimate works, and just as entertaining for the audience. There will not be a lot of visual gags at this concert, but there will be some. The idea is to have the music pretty much speak for itself.
One can’t plan a program like this without including certain pieces or certain composers. Composers/song writers Allan Sherman (Chicago-born), Tom Lehrer, and PDQ Bach will be featured. Along with their music, there will be reprises of pieces we’ve performed over the last 9 seasons. Among them are Robert Russell Bennett’s “Crazy Cantata – Three Blind Mice,” and my arrangements of “Lincoln Park Pirates,” “The Typewriter,” and “If You’ve Only Got a Moustache.” Rounding off the program will be some other unique, witty, and sometimes zany selections – some written by legitimate composers.
If you’re looking to get away from all of the insanity in the world, come to this concert for some madcap musical entertainment. I’m sure this performance will put a smile on your face, no matter what your age. You might even walk away humming a few of the tunes!
It’s hard to believe that it all started with a few friends chatting “what if…?”, then sitting down in a living room for more chatting; making some phone calls, and then an assembled ensemble. Many of us had sung together for many years. Others were coming with experience with other ensembles in the area, including the Chicago Symphony and with ensembles as afar away as the Dallas Symphony Chorus. Our membership has evolved. We have lost some dear friends and added new ones. I’m proud to say that a third of our membership is made up of the original 24 Singers from that first season: Louise Brueggemann, Nancy Greco, Peg McMahon, Susan Wolz, Sidni Kiely, Julie Zeller, Ben Beach, Kim Lyons, Carl Janus, Erik Johnson, Mark Peterson, Walter Shalda, and Rebecca Lake, who joined us later in the first season. Thank you so much for your continued dedication and friendship.
Over the years, the ensemble has introduced and re-introduced to the public literature that was or should be part of the standard repertoire. Our programming is unique and enterprising. Our concerts are entertaining, enlightening, and historic. In the past nine seasons, MTS has presented many world, Mid-West, and Chicago premiers. We have shown sides of composers that no one knew existed: Catholic mass settings written by award-winning songwriters Harry Warren (“Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “At Last”) and Meredith Willson (Music Man); a psalm setting written by Charles Strouse (Annie, Bye Bye Birdie), and a “Te Deum” written by a young John Philip Sousa, the “March King.” We reintroduced Margaret Bonds’ amazing “The Ballad of the Brown King” and film composer Alex North’s cantata, Negro Mother, which hadn’t been heard since 1947. We have presented concerts of Broadway composers, of Chicago composers, of all-black composers, and of all-women composers. We will continue to present the music of these important and talented composers, and we will remain true to our mission throughout the coming season and seasons thereafter.
My thanks to the singers who sing with us now, who have sung with us over the years, and to the many faithful audiences members who have joined us at each concert. We look forward to presenting more “undiscovered gems” created by gifted composers whose names are familiar and unfamiliar, and who represent many diverse backgrounds and styles.
Wow, what a concert!
The evening was truly historic. We presented the choral music of 17 women composers. We were fortunate and most grateful to have present as our guests some composers whose works we performed: Lita Grier, Lena McLin, and Regina Harris Baiocchi.
We were also thrilled to have as our guest, Mr. Aaron Gandy, who is the Artistic Advisor for the Kay Swift Memorial Trust and who flew in specially to join us for the concert. Our performance of “God Is Our Refuge,” which was written by Kay Swift, was the world premiere. We feel honored to have been given the opportunity by Katharine Weber and Mr. Gandy to introduce the work.
The program included a variety of sounds and styles that demonstrated the versatility and range of our organization. What a wonderful end to an amazing season that included magnificent performances of more uncovered gems, more world premieres, and rediscoveries of some remarkable composers.
There is more to come as we plan for our astonishing 10th season.
Our next concert, Saturday, May 7th, will be a special experience. It features the music of 17 women composers from the United States. Each composer in our program has had an effect on musical life in America, music education, and on other prominent composers – male and female.
This music is touching, beautiful, and well crafted. This concert is for everyone. Our selections are sure to educate and open your eyes and ears. Contemporary composers include Lita Grier, Regina Harris Baiocchi, Gwyneth Walker, Diane Bish, and Lena McLin. We will also honor women from the past: Dana Suesse, Kay Swift, Marion Bauer, and Katherine K. Davis, among others.
You’ll hear music from composers who are connected to other famous names in the history of music, including George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and Nadia Boulanger.
Come join us as we reveal our feminine side on Saturday, May 7th at 7:30 PM at the first United Methodist Church of Oak Park. View ticket information.
This event should not be missed!
The Michael Teolis Singers is pleased to present an hour-long recital at the historic Pleasant Home, 217 Home Avenue, Oak Park , on February 28th at 4pm. (Click here for ticket information.)
Over the years, wonderful and familiar tunes have been set chorally by talented arrangers; some of them very well known to the musical world. Among those composers are Samuel Barber, Sir David Willcocks, Aaron Copland, W.C. Handy, and Duke Ellington.
Among others, featured selections will include a collaboration between Ira Gershwin and Aaron Copland – “Younger Generation”; Samuel Barber’s own choral version of his “Sure on This Shining Night”; the legendary W.C. Handy’s arrangement for double chorus of James P Johnson’s “Aintcha Got Music”; and Alice Parker’s arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday.”
We always like to uncover hidden vocal gems too, so expect a unique offering from Sir David Willcocks’ “You Bring Me Happiness.” Willcocks is better known as a composer and conductor of serious compositions and his work at King’s College Cambridge; however, he wrote this song while serving for the British Army during World War II. It is quite a different statement by such a highly-revered musician, as it was written in a rather English-music hall vein.
Rounding out the program will be Clay Warnick’s brilliant medley arrangement of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.”
To audiences familiar with our ensemble, this is a wonderful opportunity to experience reprises of your favorite pieces from some of our past concerts. For those who have yet to discover the Michael Teolis Singers, this might be the perfect occasion to be introduced to a truly special voice in Chicagoland’s music scene.