Folk Choir Music With Hammer Dulcimer
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Youthful voices, lilting hammer dulcimer, winsome melodies: this recording is a surprising gem, and lives up to the name Pleasure. I say "surprising," because I'm not always attracted to that form of music loosely referred to as "children's choral." Makes me think of interminable school assemblies endured on hard cafeteria benches. However, when the choral director is Malcolm Dalglish, the result takes you out of the multi-purpose room and onto the playground. |
Listeners may be familiar with Dalglish's hammered dulcimer recordings, both as a soloist and with Grey Larsen and the group Metamora. But in the last decade, Dalglish has become interested in composing and arranging folk-based choral music for young choirs, and this interest prompted him to form his chorus, the Ooolites. (In case you're wondering about the name, Dalglish's press release explains: "An Oolite with two 'O's is a spherical particle with concentric layers found in the famous bedrock limestone of southern Indiana where Dalglish resides. An Ooolite with three 'O's is a Dalglish invention, which he explains is 'a word that's cool to look at and fun to say.'")
The initial result of Dalglish's foray into choral music was a recording called Hymnody of Earth, released in 1990 and featuring the American Boychoir. Subtitled "A Ceremony of Songs for Choir," the music is rather ethereal and precious, evocative of chapel and concert hall. (Think of Benjamin Britton's Ceremony of Carols.) In contrast, Pleasure is subtitled "Folk Choir Music with Hammer Dulcimer," and is much more earthy and free-spirited. (Think of Carl Orff's Streetsongs but not as percussive.) The Ooolites, ranging in age from 12 to 20, are obviously trained, but are more natural-sounding then their liturgical predecessors, and their sound is given depth by baritones (one of which I think is Dalglish's), and the occasional addition of bagpipes, fiddle, guitar, piano, Dalglish's glistening dulcimer, and the hand percussion of Glen Velez.
All of the songs were commissioned by different children's choral groups around the country, and they are quintessential Dalglish, drawing from Celtic, French Canadian, and Appalachian sources, and exploring a wide range of moods and tempos. The first tune, Swifts, is as playful and swooping as the little birds it celebrates; while the following cut, a Northumbrian lullaby called Sheep in the Meadow, is sweet and hymn-like, as is the familiar Psalm of Life. At times the arrangements include both humorous and lovely vocalese, such as the hound-dog howls on Bushy Tail, or the seagull cries on the beautiful and sad Selchie and the Fisherman. The singers also engage in zestful Celtic mouth music on the title cut and Reel a' Bouche. Toward the end, the repertoire turns to African-American spirituals, and these are some of the most stately and grand selections on the recording; the final cut, "Sail Away," is an exuberant hoedown. Throughout, the Ooolites perform with style and grace. Their harmonies are tight and rich, their phrasing is crisp, and you can tell they're having all kinds of fun. (And it's cute to hear the chorus sing with the sort of quirky grace notes or syncopated phrasing that Dalglish once used in his own singing.) Indeed, there is much material here with which a music director can challenge and enrich his/her chorus, and it's uplifting to hear what the young vocalists can accomplish. The play list includes the parts used for each song (SATB, SAA, 2 pt. treble, etc.), and information is provided on how to send away for the scores.
Mainly, it's uplifting to hear what young vocalists can accomplish, given good training and excellent material. So perhaps Malcolm Dalglish's Pleasure isn't so much a gem, as I initially said, as an entire treasure trove. Whether your audience is sitting in your living room listening to this recording, or sitting in the multi-purpose room listening to your senior chorus, they won't just be impressed, they'll be moved.
TRACK LIST(all compositions or arrangements by Malcolm Dalglish)