Only in America

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

On today’s show, Kent Tritle looks at the immense diversity and richness of American choirs. From the intimacy of New York Polyphony to the oomph and virtuosity of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, the Americans have it all. They can be more English than the English, as in the case of St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, or even more avant-garde than the French (!) as in the case of Meredith Monk.  There’s no question that American choruses offer an amazing diversity.

Case in point: the San Francisco male choir Chanticleer: in this week’s show we will hear them singing Josquin des pres and American spirituals. Regardless of the repertoire, Chanticleer always leads with the heart, always goes for an immediate emotional connection with the audience.

Also on the program: Philip Brunelle’s VocalEssence from Minnesota, and the essential American sound of Robert Shaw’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus.


1. New York Polyphony/Tudor City/track 5 O Come in One to Praise the Lord/Thomas Tallis/NYC/

2. Chanticleer/Mexican Baroque/track 21 Hieremiae Prophetae Lamentationes/Manuel de Zumaya/San Francisco

3. Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Muti/Giuseppe Verdi Requiem/Disc 2 Track 2 Sanctus/Chicago/

4. Musica Sacra, Richard Westenburg/Monk and the Abbess/track 10 Astronaut Anthem/Meredith Monk/NYC

5. Chanticleer/How Sweet the Sound/track 7 Keep Your Hand on the Plow/traditional African-American Spiritual/San Francisco

6. Chanticleer/How Sweet the Sound/track 8 My Soul is a Witness/traditional Gospel/San Francisco

7. Vocal Essence/The Songs We Sang/Track 14 Shenandoah/trad. Arr. James Erb/Minneapolis

8. Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Robert Shaw, Arleen Auger, Richard Stillwel/Ein Deutsches Requiem/Brahms/ Ihr habt nun Trauerigkeit, Denn wir haben hie/Atlanta, Ga

Weigh in: Is there a distinct "American sound" among choruses? Tell us what defines it in the comments below.

Comments [11]

Gary Ekman from Manhattan NYC

Wonderful selection. The purity of Chanticleer is wonderful -- it's hard to believe that there are only four singers. The songs have an almost monastic, medieval purity

Feb. 26 2011 09:18 AM
Cynthia Powell from NYC

What a great show! So glad you added Meredith Monk's Astronaut's not easy to find that Musica Sacra recording, and more people should be aware of Monk's extraordinary works for chorus. Thanks, Kent!

Feb. 16 2011 11:43 AM

Jeff and Bob,

These shows are in response to Gramophone's ridiculous British bias in their top 20 choirs list. There is a balance to be struck and I think Kent gets it right. If you looked at what groups he regularly plays, you would see that he gives a large amount of airtime to the Brits. Try not to take things so seriously.

Feb. 13 2011 08:10 AM
Liege Motta from Manhattan

Thank you, Kent, for ending today's program with the magnificent fugue in Ein Deutsches Requiem!

Feb. 07 2011 01:01 AM
Jeff Sturgeon from LES

Agree with Bob Moore. I love the show but the "rah rah" American patriotism is a bit much. Especially when we'll be getting more than our fill of that later today during the Super Bowl. America doesn't do everything better than the rest of the world, just differently.

Feb. 06 2011 10:27 AM

Kent's breadth and depth of knowledge and his extraordinary experience in this music gives this program a very important place in the WQXR programming. Each of Kent's programs is fascinating and encourage one to do further exploring of the topic and to expand one's horizons in this critical area of music. I only wish that the schedule might allow the pprogram to be mid afternoon or early evening.
Thank you so much for this effort.

Feb. 06 2011 09:56 AM

Thanks so much for making this available to listen to any time. It is definitely not obscure to me, and perfect for this (finally!) sunny day!

Feb. 06 2011 09:55 AM
Bob Moore from Manhattan

Kent, I love the program and choral music in general but could you just suppress the competitive bit a little? There should be no compettion between choral music from all parts of the world.
Let's just glory in the difference between British, American and other nationalities of choirs and enjoy the music of all of them regardless of where they come from. All have their special sounds and intonations and particular qualities and are worth hearing. Just keep playing (and conducting), the wonderful music.

Feb. 06 2011 09:54 AM
T.W. Barritt

I have really been enjoying this program since its debut - I've learned so much about choral music traditions and groups in New York. Thanks for bringing such richness to Sunday mornings.

Feb. 06 2011 09:07 AM
Antonio Hernandez

Excuse me but this is not a music for a Sunday morning. Too obscure. Today is sunny. I am sorry but I am switching of the radio.
Have a good day.

Feb. 06 2011 08:58 AM
Michael Meltzer

The elevation of America's choral sound in performance was just one-half of Robert Shaw's enormous contribution. Together with Walter Gould, brother of composer Morton Gould, the publishing company of Lawson-Gould was created. With the arranging talents of Shaw, his former assistant and composer Alice Parker, and composer-conductor Robert de Cormier, LG became the practical ethno-musicologists of the American folk idiom, putting a wealth of Americana into beautiful and stirring four-part harmony to the delight of both choristers and students and bringing us admirers abroad as well.
Also, I don't think the presentation of Americana would be complete without citing the contribution of the jazz idiom, through groups like the Hi-lo's, the Fifth Dimension and Manhattan Transfer, whose harmonies were influenced by the post-war big bands like Stan Kenton, Sauter-Finnegan and Les Brown, and probably more classically by early 20th-century composer Charles Martin Loeffler. Their music was distinctly and proudly American and impacted on many of our composers of the late 20th century and today.

Feb. 06 2011 08:07 AM

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