Brantford’s Musical Garden Blooms Reply

Review by Murray Charters (*Murray’s Music*)reviewerMurray C

In J.S. Bach’s time it was commonplace to attend a concert of brand-new music, everything written by the same composer. In fact, most of the notes would still be a bit damp on the page, so recently had it been set down, and everyone would be excited to hear the latest compositions. And no one questioned the interpretation, for there was the composer himself conducting. Perhaps many of the performers had even been taught all they knew about music from this same man.
ARCADY ENSEMBLE  singersArcady choir So at the end of the evening, attendees would also leave with that peculiar satisfaction and comfort of knowing that within their community there would always be a fresh crop of music, of musicians, of fine art. Their music garden was looking very healthy.
One might think these situations don’t exist anymore, but there’s a modern music garden in Brantford which is flourishing as in older times. At its centre is Ronald Beckett, organist and choir director at Central Presbyterian Church.
Beckett, a graduate of McMaster and Western Universities, has been an active composer for many years now. Much of his music focuses on singers, and in the 1990s he formed the Ensemble Arcady primarily to give voice to his compositions. (But they also present a scintillating Messiah all over the region at both Christmas and Easter.) Most importantly, Arcady became a terrific training ground over the years with former and even continuing members having matured into well-respected musicians in their own communities.
On Friday evening, June 13th, Beckett and Arcady once more put their vivid musical garden on display with the annual “Voices of Summer celebration”, held at Beckett’s church in Brantford. The first indication of Arcady’s ongoing success was a large and colourful choir of about 30 very young singers standing together with about 20 of the continuing Arcadians ranging from teenage to young adult.
On the program were 20 compositions by Beckett, all but four of them being heard for the first time. Setting the tone was the first set, “Seven Sharpes”, choral songs on texts by British teenager Lydia Sharpe who responded to Beckett’s internet shout-out for material. The poems are whimsically delightful and Beckett captures their flavour admirably. But the real joy is the musical material these youngsters sang, many from memory. This was free-ranging 21st-century music full of challenging twists of harmony and metre but retaining a childlike innocence appealing to young singers and adult audiences alike.
This is Beckett’s way. His music captures the essence of the poets he loves. (We also heard from Keats, Yeats, Dickinson and Blake through Beckett’s ears.) That music is fresh and original and feels very new, but it remains immediately accessible as it tickles the fancy and makes listeners smile. It’s the kind of music which worms into your head and sets up housekeeping while charming you with melodies and sounds so comfortable you think you’ve known them all your life.
The evening continued with these modern delights. When not setting famous (or not-yet-famous) poets he was setting psalms and spiritual texts. When not writing soaring lines for young choral voices to enjoy he wrote more profound and deeply expressive pieces for some of the many soloists who stepped out of the Arcady choir ranks.
And when not writing for voices Beckett provided a Passacaglia on a simple but effective repetitive harmony for the two excellent instrumentalists supporting the singers’ efforts: Caroleen Molenaar on flute and Monica Admiral on piano. In fact, Admiral was outstanding as a truly collaborative pianist throughout the entire evening.
Several very young dancers from the Meyerhofer Academy in Cambridge added their expressive gestures up and down the aisle during some of the music as well, making for a very complete display of youthful talent. The evening ended with the addition of two adult church choirs for an exuberant performance of one of Beckett’s most popular and spirited anthems, “Give thanks unto the Lord”.
As so-called classical music gets pushed increasingly to the sidelines by a mushrooming phantasmagoria of popular styles it is immensely reassuring to witness a modern Bach challenging young musicians with material created right in their own lifetime by the person standing before them, material which is well crafted, fun to perform and pleasing to the ear.

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