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The Monmouth Civic Chorus
Dr. Ryan Brandau, Artistic Director
Close to Perfect, Close to Home

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In this issue:

MCC Sings Eternal Light
Gala Dinner, Cabaret to Benefit MCC
An Interview with Morten Lauridsen
How Rachmaninoff Changed My Life
MCC Announces Scholarship Auditions
What's on your mind?
Welcome to the "May 2014" issue of ECHOES, targeted to fans and audience of the Monmouth Civic Chorus. Look for an issue of ECHOES in your e-mail before each of our upcoming concerts.

Monmouth Civic Chorus Sings Eternal Light

Richly layered harmonies will fill the air when the Monmouth Civic Chorus performs Eternal Light at the First Presbyterian Church, 255 Harding Road (Tower Hill), Red Bank on Friday, May 16, 2014 at 7:30 pm. This concert pairs the mystical Vespers by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff with the shimmering Lux Aeterna by American composer Morten Lauridsen. Tickets are $25 ($22 seniors, $20 groups, $5 students). Tickets and information at or (732) 933-9333. Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) came to Monmouth County to escape the Russian revolution; he had a summer home in 1922-23 at Locust Point on the Navesink River, then a haven for Russian expatriates. His Vespers, also called the All-Night Vigil, is a fiercely expressive meditation on life and death, based on the Russian Orthodox Good Friday service. The Monmouth Civic Chorus’s 1999 presentation was called "a spirited and deeply felt performance that was beautifully sung and convincingly presented" (Classical New Jersey).

Morten Lauridsen (born 1943) is the most frequently performed American choral composer in the world. He commented on listeners’ responses to his music: "There are lots of hospices, I’ve heard, that use the Lux Aeterna. Of course, I wrote that piece to heal myself as my mother was dying. I simply wanted to go to those texts that gave me great strength and comfort – timeless texts about enlightenment of all sorts: intellectual, and, of course, spiritual, artistic. I wanted to write a very beautiful piece, a meditative piece, on those words, to transport people."

Artistic Director Ryan James Brandau holds the Doctor of Musical Arts and Master of Music degrees from the Yale School of Music, an MPhil in historical musicology from the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), and a BA in Music from Princeton University. He returned to the New York/New Jersey area from California, where he was the Artistic Director of the Santa Clara Chorale, and the Director of Choral Activities and faculty member at Santa Clara University. Dr. Brandau is the Artistic Director of Princeton Pro Musica and works with the Symphonic Choir at Westminster Choir College of Rider University.

The Monmouth Civic Chorus has been called "close to perfect" (Asbury Park Press), "alive and evocative" (The Star-Ledger) and "exceptional" (Red Bank Green). The Chorus is the proud recipient of the 2008 ASCAP/Chorus America Alice Parker Award, and the 2010 Spinnaker Award for Arts and Culture from the Eastern Monmouth Area Chamber of Commerce.

Gala Dinner, Beatles Cabaret to Benefit Monmouth Civic Chorus

Beatles fans will Come Together at the Monmouth Civic Chorus Spring Soirée, celebrating the music of the Fab Four. The evening includes a gourmet three-course dinner with Beatles tunes performed by Chorus members in a cabaret setting. Guests will enjoy cocktails at the cash bar while bidding on Something in the Silent and Chance Auctions. With a Little Help From Our Friends, the Peter Laurance Jazz Quartet, It Won’t Be Long before all tickets are sold, so don’t Wait!

The event is on Saturday, May 10, 2014, 5:30-9:30 pm. at the Deal Country Club, 1 Golf Road, Deal, NJ. Reservations are $85 and must be received by May 5; no reservations will be accepted at the door. Visit or call (732) 933-9333 for reservations and information.

An Interview with Morten Lauridsen

Excerpts from an article in the Wartburg College Magazine by Saul Shapiro

Morten Lauridsen [is]a giant in his profession — the most frequently performed American choral composer, “the only American composer in history who can be called a mystic,” according to Nick Strimple, author of Choral Music in the Twentieth Century.

He is one of only eight composers to receive the National Medal of Arts and has been honored as an American Master Composer by the National Endowment for the Arts.

“(With) Lauridsen’s greatest music — O Magnum Mysterium or Lux Aeterna or Nocturns — we have the sense of operating at the highest levels of creativity at the very limits of our senses in a way which leaves us breathless with our perception of beauty,” remarked poet Dana Gioia, a past NEA president.

Poetry is frequently the source of his inspiration. He reads a poem at the start of all his USC [University of Southern California] classes.

“Poets not only speak to us in elegant language, but they’ve been honing these words just like musicians do with notes,” Lauridsen said. “They are philosophers and teachers. They inform us about ways of dealing with the parts of the human condition that we all experience: loss, love, hope, happiness and sorrow, etcetera. The great music, the great art, the great literature are the things that elevate us as a human species.”

The soft-spoken Lauridsen conveys a deep sense of serenity — perhaps reflecting summers he spends on his beloved Waldron Island, a primitive outpost on the San Juan Archipelago in northwest Washington state that had been a family retreat during his childhood. He has found refuge there as an adult since 1975, when he hauled a $50 Spinet piano in the back of a VW van and converted an abandoned general store into his home without electricity or running water.

“I’m right by the water. It’s complete quiet. The lapping water.  The eagles. It’s a place where I can go very deeply, because I’m not distracted by ambient noise and other things,” said Lauridsen who composed O Magnum Mysterium and Lux Aeterna there.

The latter work … reflected his deep love for his mother, who was dying at the time, and resonates widely.

“It’s about eternal life and illumination — intellectual and spiritual,” he said. “You should see the letters I get from all over the world. People latch onto that piece. It helps them cope.”

As for being a mystic, he seems sent from central casting with a bushy gray beard and flowing hair. But it’s more than a façade.

“I’m dealing with universal themes and with texts that have great meaning for people, especially those pieces in time-tested Latin, passages in the Bible,” Lauridsen said. “When you combine these words with music that often has a meditative quality. It seems to put them in a state of deep contemplation. I think that’s the mystic that is being talked about.”

His journey conjures up a magical, musical mystical tour — from a sudden discovery of his calling to finding sanctuary on Waldron Island.

He grew up in suburban Portland, Ore. His father worked for the U.S. Forest Service. His mother, a bookkeeper and a pianist with dance bands, “nurtured my love of music.”

After graduating from high school in suburban Portland, Ore., Lauridsen enrolled at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., studying English, history and philosophy, but not music. The next summer was spent as a lookout with the U.S. Forest Service for 10 weeks on pre-eruption Mount Saint Helens in southwest Washington.

“It was quite a mystical experience, because as a young man I was trying to figure out my direction. I realized while on that tower that music should be a greater part of my life,” Lauridsen recalled. “So I simply got off that tower, went back to Whitman and took every music class I could.”

But it wasn’t enough. “I made the decision that if I were to get into music, it would be beneficial to go to a school of music in a large urban area so I could take part in concerts and have a large banquet of possibilities. USC had great people at that time,” he said, including the likes of violinist Jascha Heifitz and cellist Gregor Piatigorski.

His parents were wary.

“My mom’s words were, ‘If it doesn’t work out, you can always come back and eat crow.’ I had two responses. If I’m going to go into music, I better go where the action is and build up a body of knowledge. I may fail. Most people do when they go down there. But I’m going to give it my best shot. I had no idea musically what my path was going to be. And, part two? Crow ain’t on my menu.”

“I was allowed, luckily for me,” he added, “into a beginning composition class as a junior in college conditionally for one semester to see if I could cut it with (composer) Halsey Stevens. Within two years I had two choral pieces that had been published. It was a brand new field for me, something I hadn’t explored.”

Lauridsen was invited to join the faculty upon graduation and subsequently earned both his master’s and doctoral degrees there. Lauridsen also would become the composer-in-residence for the Los Angeles Master Chorale (1994-2001), where his most renowned work debuted.

As the story goes, [the late] choral director Paul Salamunovich told the audience, “Until now, Vittoria’s O Magnum Mysterium has been the most beautiful and well-recognized setting of this text composed to date. I predict that will change after tonight.”

Find out more about Morten Lauridsen at

How Rachmaninoff Changed my Life
By Susan Metz, MCC Marketing Manager (and alto)

When the Monmouth Civic Chorus began rehearsing for our first performance of the Rachmaninoff Vespers in 1999, learning the music was quite a challenge for chorus members like me. The sonorities were new to us, the dense layering of vocal parts made it hard to hear a single line, and the Church Slavonic text was completely foreign. We had cassette tapes of the music and the text for practice (remember cassette tapes?), which I played in the car on my commute to and from work every day for months, just to get the sounds in my ear. Every rehearsal revealed more depths as we came to understand the music and its origin in the Russian Orthodox Church.

One Sunday morning, my husband (MCC bass Jerry) and I drove to the Russian churches in Howell, Lakewood and Jackson, and handed out concert flyers to people coming out of church services. Everyone was friendly and receptive; one elderly gentleman who didn’t speak much English managed to say, “You know Rachmaninoff? I know Rachmaninoff!” I wasn’t sure if he meant he knew the music or the man; since Rachmaninoff lived in Monmouth County during the 1920’s, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were old pals.

When we sang the concert, all our hard work paid off; the tuning was perfect, the excitement was palpable, the audience was rapt. As soon as the piece was over, I burst into tears on stage with pent-up emotion. In a strange way, I felt the presence of Rachmaninoff among us (call me crazy; you wouldn’t be the first). Ever since then, this has been the music I turn to in times of trouble. I listened to MCC’s recording of the Vespers every day for weeks after 9/11. I listened to it on my way into the operating room at Sloan Kettering (patients were allowed to bring a CD player on the stretcher). I listened to it when I lost close family members, and I played an excerpt at a memorial service for my mother. I’m not Orthodox, and I’m only distantly Russian, but somehow this music speaks to me like no other. It has a mysterious power that leaps across religion, history and language to tap into something at the core of being human. Will you feel it too?


MCC Announces Scholarship Auditions

The Monmouth Civic Chorus will hold its annual vocal scholarship auditions for New Jersey high school seniors planning to pursue higher education. Auditions will be held by appointment on Saturday, May 10, 2014 by appointment in Red Bank. The application deadline is May 3 and the application fee is $10. For information or an audition appointment, call 732-933-9333, e-mail or visit and click Support Us.

A total of $2500 in scholarships is available to be awarded to students of outstanding vocal promise. Contestants must be prepared to perform two selections from the standard vocal repertoire (opera, operetta, art songs, oratorio or Gilbert and Sullivan), with at least one selection in Italian, French or German. Show music is not acceptable. Contestants will be judged on technique, choice of material, poise and musicianship. An accompanist will be provided if needed.

Last season, the First Place winner was bass/baritone Andrew Moore, Point Pleasant, who was awarded $1200. The Second Place winner was mezzo-soprano Kelly Koerwer, Shrewsbury, who was awarded $500.

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