If you go
What: Chor Anno concert featuring “Come Away to the Skies: A High Lonesome Mass.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Trinity Lutheran Church, 309 W. 39th St.
Cost: $15, adults, $10, seniors and students.
Howard Meharg knows how to catch more than salmon when he has a fishing rod in his hands. Meharg, the conductor and music director of Chor Anno, went fishing last year with Tim Sharp and ended up with a commitment from the composer for a new piece of sacred music, which Meharg’s Vancouver-based choir will sing this weekend.
Sharp isn’t just any composer, he also happens to be the executive director of the American Choral Directors Association, which is the national professional association for choral conductors, educators, scholars, students, and industry representatives. On top of his duties as the head of that 20,000 member organization, Sharp conducts the Tulsa Oratorio Chorus and is a highly respected clinician who works with choirs all over the nation. He also is an avid fisherman.
So, a year ago, when Sharp was in Portland for an ACDA conference, he got into a conversation with Meharg, who invited Sharp to go salmon fishing on the Cowlitz River.
“Tim had never fished in the Pacific Northwest before,” Meharg said. “He caught a nice steelhead, and I caught the largest salmon that I’ve ever caught. So we ended up trading our catches, and he took some excellent frozen salmon back to his home in Oklahoma. We also talked about a new work that he was writing for choir and a bluegrass band, and he agreed to let my choir do the world premiere.”
Titled “Come Away to the Skies: A High Lonesome Mass,” Sharp’s newest piece incorporates elements of a traditional Catholic mass with some early American hymns like “Do Lord, Oh Do Remember Me” and “What Wondrous Love is This.”
“I wanted to do something folk-wise and started with tunes from the Episcopal hymnal that are from the Sacred Harp tradition of early America,” Sharp said. “So I made a hybrid out of the hymn tunes and the Latin in the mass.”
The bluegrass ensemble features mandolin, violin, bass, guitar, and banjo, with Sharp on the latter. He grew up in West Virginia and has always had a fascination with mountain music. Sharp wrote this piece with the help of his longtime collaborator, Wes Ramsay, who lives in Nashville, where he works as an orchestrator and trombonist.
Because Sharp and Ramsay’s new work draws from early American hymns, the Vancouver concert will start with four songs that date back to the nation’s earliest years. They include arrangements by Mark Wilberg of “Saints Bound for Glory” and Alice Rogers of “Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal,” as well as a Paul Carey’s arrangement for double choir of “When Jesus Wept.”
The second half of the concert will feature Reginald Unterseher conducting Arvo Pärt’s “The Beatitudes,” and a performance of “Alleluia,” which was written by the young female Korean composer Hyowon Woo. Chor Anno will also sing Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo’s “Northern Lights,” which has text from the Song of Solomon, Vijay Singh’s “Carpenters of God,” and an arrangement of Shenandoah by Richard Nance, who is on the faculty of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. The concert will end with “Make Our Garden Grow” from Leonard Bernstein’s opera “Candide.”
“All of the songs on the program talk about heaven, going there, and how wonderful that’s going to be,” Meharg said. “Life may be bad here, but it’s going to be really good later.”
Times might be good for Sharp while he is in Southwest Washington, because he plans to go fishing again.
“I hope to go for the big ones on the Columbia River,” said Sharp, “and I hope to go to one of the lakes and fish for some of the smaller salmon.”
Maybe Meharg will land another piece for Chor Anno as well.