Advent playlist – Part 1: Between two voices and tutti

I’ve heard a lot of goosebump-inducing live music lately. Over the past couple of weeks, Emmanuel Music’s worship service offerings have included Igor Stravinsky’s “Ave Maria,” Arvo Pärt’s “Magnificat,” and deliciously rich Bach Cantatas. Last Friday afternoon, an anonymous donor made it possible for PW and me to attend the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s mind-blowing program of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3, John Harbison’s Second Symphony, and Schumann’s Second Symphony.

I don’t know about you, but my experience of music — especially live music — is that it goes right into my cells, settling in there among the mitochondria, lysosomes, and, my personal favorite cell component, the Golgi Apparatus. I don’t just hear music with my ears. When I’m listening to live music that moves me, I feel as though I’m hearing it with my whole being, as though my body has become a sounding board.

Emmanuel Music’s recent offering of Stravinsky’s “Ave Maria” bathed me in goosebumps, and then cracked me open like an egg. I have absolutely no attachment to or history with the prayer Ave Maria, or to the sappy musical settings that the text often receives. I didn’t grow up in a religious tradition that spent much time talking about Mary, much less praying to her. So I didn’t see it coming — this business of getting cracked open. I certainly didn’t expect to be completely liquified before the Emmanuel Music singers had finished singing the first phrase.

I can’t guarantee you’ll have the same experience listening to this through your computer, but if you haven’t heard this piece before, I’d wager your musical life is missing an essential texture. I think it’s particularly important to have this echoing in your ears before you listen to Pärt’s “Magnificat,” which comes next on our Advent playlist.

Annoyance warning: after you click the play button on the video below, you’ll have to click on the “Watch on YouTube” link to hear this. They won’t let me embed the video into the website. Sheesh.

In last Sunday’s bulletin, Ryan Turner’s Music Notes for Pärt’s “Magnificat” described the texture of the piece as alternating “between two voices and tutti.” When I read that, I knew I had a title for a post for this website. I love the rhythm of the phrase, and the way that the friction between the English and the Italian words echoes the friction of the music itself.

If you play the video below, you can hear what I mean, particularly if the Stravinsky has already wound its way into your cells. Don’t bother watching the video. Just click play, close your eyes, and listen to what “between two voices and tutti” sounds like.

And now for something completely different. Just this morning, somewhere in the midst of re-scheduling my half-century hazing ritual whose medical term is “colonoscopy,” making an appointment for my annual checkup with the eye doctor, and working on our 2010 Holiday Letter, I stumbled across this song about birth. Since Advent is an expectant, pregnant season, I couldn’t resist adding this infectiously happy song to the playlist. Rubblebucket’s “Came Out Of A Lady” swarms with all kinds of tutti-ness.

Lucy with her flat penguin

Hairpin turn warning: If you’re still basking in the post-Stravinsky-Pärt glow, you might not be ready for Rubblebucket just now. Musically, it’s a little like sitting in a comfy chair, sipping tea, quietly reading a collection of Rumi’s poetry, when suddenly an overly friendly dog shoves her nose under your arm and drops an eviscerated, formerly-stuffed animal in your lap. However, if you’ve had it up to here with quiet wintertime reflection and are ready to shake shake shake your booty, then by all means press play and invent a Happy Advent Dance.


5 responses to “Advent playlist – Part 1: Between two voices and tutti

  1. That Stravinsky Ave Maria is exquisite. Does Jane Bryden still sing at Emmanuel?

    • I don’t see her name on the Emmanuel Music website, so perhaps not. You should come to Boston and hear them with their new Artistic Director, Ryan Turner. The chorus has found a whole new gear. Stunning.

  2. Wow I really like the Rubblebucket piece — so fun! so happy! Thanks for introducing me to this group.

    And, of course, I like the expectant look on Lucy’s face with her eviscerated toy, the best kind.

    • I love the song, too. Here’s what the singer in the band says about writing the songs: “Sometimes I’ll start out with shapes and melodies, random word shapes. I’ve had a few instances of being into poetry, but that’s not my inspiration. It comes from the music and the vibrating sounds in my body. The shapes become lyrics, and the lyrics come up from experiences I’ve had.” I love that description. I also like Lucy’s ever-hopeful invitation to play. She’s relentless, in a goofily cheerful kinda way.

  3. Jane Bryden doesn’t sing at Emmanuel anymore, but she’s still teaching at Smith and did a wonderful CD a year or so ago with her daughter Nell, a folk-singer/song writer. You can read about it and hear it at

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