The concert marks the debut of a new work composed by the choir's director, Sanford Dole, celebrating the musical saint.
His piece, called "A Song for St. Cecilia," had several inspirations. "She is the patron saint of musicians, so she has always been in my works throughout my entire life as a musician," Dole said.
Also, perhaps fittingly for a piece paying tribute to such a saint, the composition came about in part due to another musical work, one that Dole has long wanted to present: Ralph Vaughan Williams' Christmas cantata "Hodie." It's a piece on a grand scale that is rarely performed because it requires a large orchestra, large choir and children's choir. "Hodie" also clocks in at 50 minutes, or roughly one half of a concert program, and with the amount of personnel that's needed, would require another large-scale work to fill the program's other half.
"I would like to create the other half of the concert. That's the idea that has been in the back of my mind for (about) three decades. And finally, I came across this particular poem, and thought, 'That would be the perfect thing to pair with 'Hodie,'" he said.
Dole's piece may be brand new, but it sets to music words written in 1687 by poet John Dryden. "A Song for St. Cecilia's Day' is the ode that he wrote in London back in the late 1600s. They had a citywide celebration of St. Cecilia every year on St. Cecilia's feast, which is Nov. 22. There was a 30- or 40-year period when all kinds of music and poetry — odes — were created in her honor as part of a big citywide feast in London," Dole said.
Dole began writing the piece in 2015. He typically spends summers composing, when his conducting duties are less.
"Across three summers, I wrote this piece on spec, just hoping that maybe someday I will be able to perform it. The original version is, of course, for a large orchestra and choir," Dole said.
The scale of Dole's original work is actually too large for the Bay Choral Guild's current size, with 35 voices, and so the version debuting with the Bay Choral Guild will be a chamber version, for organ, piano, and percussion.
If writing a musical celebration of the patron saint of musicians sounds daunting, Dole said that Dryden's poem helped lead the way.
"It always starts from the text. The text suggests the mood and the approach to what the music should be," he said.
Dryden's poem has individual stanzas that Dole said he could clearly envision as separate movements. The poem mentions certain instruments, as well.
A reference in the text to a Biblical musician playing a ridged shell led Dole to imagine a giant scallop shell being played and producing a marimba-like sound. So the stanza where this imagery appears led to a movement that incorporates Latin rhythms.
"There are different sections which talk about the various instruments. There's one whole section about the trumpet, which is leading the troops to war, one section was talking about the sad, complaining flute, then there's the angry violin. The music comes out of trying to portray what has been talked about in the text," Dole said.
"A Song for St. Cecilia" will be presented in the second half of the choir's program, which includes another celebration of the saint. "Hail, Bright Cecilia," which dates from the same era as Dryden's poem, was composed by Henry Purcell and sets to music a different poem written in the saint's honor. The program also features a chamber version of Anton?n Dvo??k's "Te Deum" arranged by Dole.
The Bay Choral Guild presents "Hail Cecilia!" Dec. 2, 8 p.m. at First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto, 625 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto. The choir also performs Dec. 3, 8 p.m. at Campbell United Methodist Church in Campbell. Tickets are $30 general/$25 seniors/$10 students. Baychoralguild.org.
This story contains 762 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a member, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Membership start at $12 per month and may be cancelled at any time.