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Communique: The Music Of Sir Karl Jenkins | Cape Fear Chorale 20th Anniversary

Royal Armouries
Sir Karl Jenkins

The Cape Fear Chorale marks 20 years of bringing free concerts to the Cape Fear region this Sunday, November 18. Over seventy voices and nearly three dozen musicians celebrate royally with a performance of "Gloria," "Te Deum," "Palladio," and "Adiamos" by Welsch composer Sir Karl Jenkins.

The concert is Sunday at Kenan Auditorium at 4:00pm. 

Gina: The Cape Fear Chorale is celebrating 20 years with this concert. And I’m really interested about the theme of the concert, the music of Karl Jenkins, a fascinating Welsh composer. Could you talk to me about why Karl was chosen as the theme? What you can tell me about him?

Credit Gina Gambony / WHQR Public Media
WHQR Public Media
Kevin Ulisnik & Jennings Trawick in the studio

Jennings: Karl, as you say, the Welsh composer, was actually chosen for our concert by our director Jerry Cribbs. We had been looking forward to performing this music for several years and have finally gotten the opportunity to do it. It's so exciting and very different for us. Just wonderful music. And Sir Karl, of course, was classically trained. He also played jazz for a while and I feel that in this music we're singing, you can see that somewhat coming out in some of the pieces that we're doing.

Kevin: Like Jennings said, he's classically trained—actually he spent some time doing some jazz. So it all gets reflected in his music very well. The rhythms are intricate, they're difficult, but it's amazing how they all kind of come together. It's a real journey for us as singers to be able to perform it. But once we're there at the end, it's just magical what he does.

Jennings: Absolutely magical.

Kevin: I think another reason why Jennings has said that we've been wanting to perform Sir Karl for so long is because nobody else has really done him in town. So, it's a chance for the community to experience his work and be exposed to some of the greatest new things that he's done. I guess that's a main reason why.

Gina: Why do you think his music hasn't been performed much in town?

Jennings: Well, I think because it's forward-thinking and a little contemporary and different than most of the music that's on the Wilmington scene, in the classical era especially. But it's so moving and so beautiful, and we should also say that he is the most-performed living composer in the world.

Credit Cape Fear Chorale
Cape Fear Chorale

Gina: Will each of you tell me what piece you're most excited about performing?

Jennings: Well, it's very hard to pick between the ones we're performing. I suppose I would have to single out the "Adiemus" because it is so—we keep saying magical—but this piece was composed by Sir Karl and his goal was to achieve a tribal, world music sound, which he certainly did. And in order to make that happen, he also composed the language for the song. It's not a real language, except one that he composed for this piece. And it has soloist, has the chorus, it has a recorder section, and it truly is just amazing.

Gina: So you had to learn another language?

Jennings: Yes. Most of our songs of his songs are in Latin, but for this one, he composed everything, the language and the music.

Kevin: For me, I'm looking forward to doing the "Te Deum." That's the first piece that we'll start out with. It’s big music. It's right in your face, right away. It's really cool, it's really upbeat. It's fun to sing.

Jennings: This music is particularly, I think, interesting and fun to sing and hear because it swings so much from a huge percussive sound—we have a 30 piece orchestra?

Kevin: 35.

Jennings: Thirty-five, lots of percussion. Like he says, big in your face, and then immediately you go to some angelic, lyrical melody that just takes your breath away, and that just goes back and forth. So it keeps you on your toes, listening and singing.

Kevin: A lot of people have heard his music before, but they just don't know it. If you can remember Delta Airlines, the little ditty back in the day—that was the "Adiemus" as the advertising jingle. And the other thing that people probably don't know is the “Palladio” from the De Beers Diamond advertising campaign, that was all over that. So yeah, that's his music and I'm sure people have said, “Ah, I've heard that before. I don't know where.” So, it's by Sir Karl.

Jennings: I wanted to say one word about the "Gloria," which is one of the three works that we’re singing. It of course is the Latin text of the angels song, the birth of Jesus, but Jenkins uses this occasion to incorporate texts from other ancient religions. There are Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Tao texts that are incorporated in between our singing. And his hope was to show the universal love of God and how it all went together. In one part of this piece we sing Psalm 150 in Hebrew. The rest of it is in Latin. But it's quite moving. 

Gina:   That's very timely.  What was it like trying to learn the new language and be able to do that correctly? I mean, you can't just kind of mumble it, you're singing together. So what was it like to learn these new sounds and new words?

Jennings: Well, most of the people in this group are fairly familiar with Latin because we do many Latin pieces. The "Adiemus" was not particularly difficult to learn. It was just different. The Hebrew on the other hand, we have worked diligently with the Hebrew, on the rhythms in the piece and fitting the text where it goes with the notes. So that's been a little difficult.

Kevin: As far as learning the new language, if you will, on the "Adiemus," Jerry provided us a sheet of phonetics and how things should sound, so there's a lot of help for us in that regard. And I have to be honest, it's repeating it, repeating it, memory, going over, practice, practice, practice until you get the muscle memory part of it down. And then once you have that, it's just there. But yeah, Jennings is correct, the Hebrew in the end of the "Gloria" was especially challenging.

Gina: And do you have a translation for the "Adiemus?" Is there a translation for that language?

Jennings: There's not really.

Kevin: Nope.

Jennings: I looked that up, and there was something that someone had used, but I think they had just pretty much made it up because I don't think Jenkins intended for there really to be— that composition is meant to be felt, not necessarily heard diction.

Kevin: I think when he wrote it, he wanted to incorporate some tribal things about it. And so there's definitely that quality. The language is, as Jennings said, just there because you kind of need something, but it's definitely more feeling—the whole feel of the piece.

Jennings: I would like to send out a thank you to our wonderful accompanist, Libby Oldham, who plays piano for us at rehearsals, and we couldn't get through without her.

Kevin: And to the community, as well, for supporting us for this long, for 20 years. Hopefully there's a whole lot more ahead of us and we do appreciate what you do for us, and allow us the opportunity to provide good music for the community. Yeah, it's just a really rare opportunity for the community to hear a master among us, a living master that will be around for a long time. You know, Mozart, Beethoven, all those guys, 200-300 years later, people are still listening to them and performing their work. This is going to be Sir Karl 100 years from now, 200 years from now. His stuff is gonna be around for a long time. So it's rare. It's cool.

Jennings: I agree. And I'm glad that we're doing this in Wilmington because I don't feel that it will be done here again by another group. So unless you're going to go to London or somewhere away to hear Sir Karl, you need to come to Kenan on November the 18th.

Gina: And it's the 20th anniversary.

Kevin: It's 20 years, a milestone. And it's been 20 years of free concerts to the community, so a whole lot of exposure to different genres, different composers, different types of music. And it's really neat for those of us that are in it to be a part of this as it continues to go forward.

Jennings: And we do have a few charter members who are singing, who have been in the group the whole time.

Gina: That's so exciting.

Jennings: Well, most of the people that are in this group are very dedicated musicians. We practice once a week and we don't miss, and we look forward to it.

Kevin: We do, we do.

Jennings: And working with Jerry.

Kevin: Yep, we work hard and it pays off. It is a commitment. But, as with any commitment, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.

Gina: And always a free concert. You do take donations.

Jennings: We do.

Kevin: We rely solely on donations, grants, those kinds of things. Part of the mission for the Chorale is to offer the community a high-quality free concert. So it's not like you go down and hear a backyard [banjo?] player, something like that. Nothing against that. But these are high-quality concerts—a lot goes into it, a lot of behind the scenes. The musicians that are brought in are first rate. So we're serious about it.

Gina: You have to audition to be in the Cape Fear Chorale.

Kevin: Yes. There's a link on the website CapeFearChorale.org that specifically addresses auditions for the spring semester. The audition is by appointment on Monday, December 3rd, and there's some information on the website that they can go to, click on, fill out a form, and email it. There's an email address that they can send it back to. We encourage every and all. So please look it up.