Behind the Music

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Commissioned by WomenSing in 2019, The Light of Hope Returning adds to the centuries-old midwinter tradition of the festive concerts, pageants, caroling parties, and services we need to mark our year, raise our spirits, renew our bonds, and re-center our priorities. In The Light of Hope Returning we are invited to place our own personal “temporal” journeys into the larger “eternal” cycles marked by winter festivals: the cycle of seasons (Solstice), the cycle of the year (New Year’s), and the cycle of birth and renewal (Christmas).

The composition includes settings of traditional carols and songs alongside an equal number of original compositions, set to texts by author Susan Cooper. Kirchner’s music draws us in an exploration of the eternal oppositions that keep the wheels of the world turning: light and dark, life and death, heat and cold, new and old. Eventually we witness the rebirth of light at the hour of greatest darkness. Through that we find our hope again.

The thematic aspects of this composition, while timeless, feel very appropriate to the current stifled conditions we are all under. The coronavirus pandemic has put the world in a “winter-like” state. Threatening the lives of many and separating us from each others’ warmth, this pandemic has definitely lowered our spirits. It was not long ago when our choirs realized that for singers, these conditions may be even longer than we first anticipated. Singing together, an activity that gives us joy and purpose, is especially risky in a viral environment.
 

Movements

PART I - WELCOME
How Have You Come This Night?
The Light of Hope Returning • Words by Susan Cooper

PART II - THE MORNING STAR
Bright Morning Star • Traditional Appalachian Song
Brightest and Best • From “Southern Harmony” by Reginald Heber
Remember • Words by Susan Cooper
Behold That Star • Based on tune by Thomas Talley
 

PART III - AT THE BIRTH
Angels We Have Heard On High • Based on the French Carol
Rocking Carol
In the Bleak Midwinter • Words by Christina Rossetti
Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming • Based on the German Carol

PART IV - A SIGN OPPOSED
Little Rose

Green Grows the Holly • Based on carol fragments by Henry VIII

Coventry Carol Interlude
Coventry Carol • Words by Robert Croo
The Tyrant's Rage
Holy World

PART V - PARTING
The Light of Hope Returning

The Recording Process

Recording such a rich piece as The Light of Hope Returning during Covid-19 brought many logistical challenges. But, our two choirs were thrilled to work together. All choral rehearsals were shared and handled via Zoom. With two rehearsals per week, half were hosted by Elektra Women’s Chorus in Vancouver, BC, and the other half by WomenSing in Orinda, CA. The singers were able to attend all rehearsals, or at least one per week. The ability to see each other created a nice sense of collaboration, with occasional opportunities to visit during the rehearsals. With six weeks (36 hours) of rehearsals accomplished, it was time to record.

The first layer to the piece was recorded at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music by our brilliant instrumentalists from the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. To this foundational layer we  temporarily superimposed  spoken cues to provide consistency for 70 singers to indicate fermatas and other rhythmically subtle moments. The singers then sang to these guide tracks at their recordings, both done professionally in their respective cities. Planning for small, pre-set groups of singers and following rules of Covid-19 screening and distancing were important elements to maintaining safe recording surroundings. The choral recordings were done over a one-week period, in shifts of small groups with each singer being recorded separately. The final layer was the addition of vocal soloist Allison Girvan who recorded separately in Nelson, B.C.

There are many stages involved in bringing each individual voice together into one stunning recording. Needless to say, many hours of planning and coordinating the many musical elements were necessary. We are excited to present a wonderful Women’s choral performance that shows what can be done when we work together… even during a world-wide pandemic.

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Artist Kevork Mourad Discusses The Light of Hope Returning, his work process, and influences at WomenSing's Virtual Gala, October 2020.

Audio engineer Greg Francis describes the process of mixing together all the tracks for The Light of Hope Returning.