Vox populi Santa Fe Desert Chorale
Music is political.” So says Joshua Habermann, music director and conductor of the Santa Fe Desert Chorale. “In the late 1980s, traditional song festivals held in Estonia became a political unifier, a rallying cry for what the Estonians proudly began to call ‘a revolution without a shot fired.’ In the American South, African-American slaves modeled their spirituals musically after Protestant hymns but used the songs as forms of protest. Jewish interns at Terezín prison camp during World War II created musical groups to lift their own spirits but would also perform sacred music from the Christian tradition for the entertainment of their captors.
“The larger theme for our entire summer season is the idea that music talks about more than music,” Haberman said. “It tells the story of the human condition in history. These are intense times. The music we are presenting speaks to the fact that we as humans keep playing out the same dramas over and over again. It’s not just choral music; it is resistance. Music can be revolution.”
The Desert Chorale presents four programs this summer: Liberté: Music of Resistance and Revolution; Music From a Secret Chapel; Justice; and The Hope of Loving. The chorale’s 35th summer season, running July 19 through Aug. 13, offers fourteen concerts and two film screenings. Performances are held in Santa Fe and Albuquerque at churches of varying sizes and acoustic qualities. The group will also participate in outreach activities, with the goal, as Habermann put it, not to sing “at” people, but to get people involved in making art themselves.
Then there is the music. Even though the group attracts some of the top choral singers in the country, “Francis Poulenc’s ‘Figure Humaine’ is so hard,” Habermann said. “It is written in 12 parts, it is super chromatic, and it’s sung a capella. The singers have to be able to pick their pitches out of the air. We specialize in what no one else can do. No one wants to perform this piece live. It’s like pulling off the triple axel in ice skating. We can do it because we have amazing musicians,” he said.
This summer’s repertoire spans centuries as well as political periods. The intimate Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel will be the site of Music From a Secret Chapel. Just nine singers participate in this concert of early music. William Byrd’s music will be represented by “Ave Verum Corpus,” which he wrote in secret as a covert Catholic in service to a Protestant nation under Queen Elizabeth I. Publicly, he wrote Anglican church music. His Catholic-themed pieces were smaller, more intimate, Habermann said. Hildegard von Bingen, whose Karitas Abundat is included in the program, was one of the first female composers to come to prominence in the Medieval era. She had mystical visions that she kept to herself until she became a nun. God appeared to her, the story goes, and told her to write down these visions. Her chants are ecstatic hymns to love that sound almost “New Agey” today, Habermann said.
Desert Chorale has hired an extra soprano for the summer (there will be a total of 25 singers, rather than the usual 24) to handle the “five mystical high C’s” in Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere mei, Deus.” Habermann said, “The piece has nine parts for the nine singers. Let’s hope no one gets sick. I would have to jump in