A new song is born — Ging heut’ morgen über’s Feld (Mahler)!

Sincere thanks to Rocky Mountain Chamber Choir for this spectacular recording. For song description and sheet music, see below.

Description: As a lifelong fan of Gustav Mahler’s music, when I started my “late in life” choral composing project in my mid-60s, I knew that one day I would have to tackle one of Mahler’s songs.

And now, in my early 70s, I am excited to share my a cappella arrangement of one of Mahler’s most remarkable creations, “Ging heut’ morgen über’s Feld,” from his song cycle “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen” (Songs of a Wayfarer), which later became the opening theme of Mahler’s 1st Symphony.

“Ging heut’ morgen über’s Feld” is dedicated to my friend Elizabeth Gluckstal.

And for any choirs that might prefer to sing a happy ending to this song, I have created an alternate arrangement that leaves out the not-so-happy coda of the original song:

Sheet music (SATB div.): available at https://musicspoke.com/downloads/ging-heut-morgen-übers-feld/.

Reflections on 2022 – a “Renaissance” year for choirs, audiences and choral composers!

2022 was an eventful year for everyone, and for me personally, as I entered the 8th decade of my life and the 7th year of my crazy “late in life” choral composing project.

The covid pandemic still loomed large everywhere, and in particular for those in the world of choral music.

Matthew Larkin directing the Rideau Chorale in a December 3, 2022 concert in Ottawa.

Hesitant first steps towards in-person rehearsals and public concerts marked the first half of the year, which culminated in a massive outpouring of joyful, well-attended choir concerts in December, both here in Ottawa and throughout the choral world. And yet, the existential question of our age – to mask, or not to mask – could not be escaped, for both choirs and audiences.

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A new song is born: The Lamb (William Blake)!

My newest song – William Blake’s “The Lamb” – is dedicated to my grandson Daniel, a wee lamb himself. It is a companion piece to my more intense choral creation, “The Tyger,” also based on a Blake poem. I invite you to have a listen and then continue reading below…

“The Lamb” appears in Blake’s poetry collection “Songs of Innocence” and there is indeed a child-like innocent quality to the poem, and also a spiritual questioning: “Little Lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee?”

Blake’s “The Tyger” appears in his collection “Songs of Experience” and explores the more terrifying energies that can be found in the natural, human and spiritual realms. It also asks a fundamental spiritual question, about good and evil: “Did He who made the Lamb make thee?”

A question for listeners. If the two songs were to be sung in sequence in a concert, which order works best for you:

  1. to sing “The Lamb” first, and then build up to an intense, terrifying ending with “The Tyger”; or
  2. to sing “The Tyger” first and end less intensely (and more optimistically) with “The Lamb?”

NB: to obtain sheet music for “The Lamb” (SATB div. or TTBB), visit: https://davidrainchoralcomposer.ca/songs/the-lamb-william-blake/

With thanks to my buddies in Quartetto al Volo for again rising to the occasion with this 4 part virtual choir recording.

Reflections on Podium 2022: Canada’s national choral conference

Some random thoughts from a 70-something, “late in life” composer attending his first Podium, Canada’s national choral conference in Toronto:

  • I was a true “sponge,” soaking it all in, heart and spirit open to learn from choirs, fellow composers, choral directors and music educators from all parts of Canada. And learn I did.
  • After 2 years of the pandemic, the pent-up choral energy in the room was palpable. Canadian choral music is indeed alive and bursting out in song!
  • And wow, I thought I had written some “not too bad” songs myself, but my mind exploded when I heard such a diverse mix of so many beautiful choral works by dozens of great Canadian composers over the course of 5 wonderful days, wow!
  • Masks on, choirs still managed to break through that tough barrier and carry forward the aural beauty and intense emotions that only live choral singing can bring to audiences.
  • And yet, one of the unforeseen byproducts of the pandemic is that so many choral lovers could attend this Podium virtually, from afar. And that made the conference even richer and more accessible to those without the means to easily travel.
  • Podium 2022 was a logistical achievement of the highest order. Kudos to Choral Canada, Choirs Ontario, the Podium committee, the many dozens of presenters and panelists, and the Podium volunteers who were there to answer all our questions.
  • Kudos to fellow composers Katerina Gimon, Marie-Claire Saindon, Tracy Wong, and Laura Hawley for organizing a special “Meet The Composer” booth for the more than 30 composers (like me) who benefited from this chance to interact directly with Podium participants!
  • Amongst many highlights, Podium offered the chance to explore a subject that is close to my heart: how can people of different cultures find ways of overcoming their differences, to interact with mutual respect and understanding?
  • On that note, I greatly appreciated the diverse 51-song Cameo Concert playlist that Podium assembled. I was honoured to have my Hymn to Biodiversity included (it was International Biodiversity Day on May 22!), but the song that really caught my spirit was Hussein Janmohamed’s “Eid Mubarak! Grateful Heart.” Worth listening to over and over again!
  • Antonio Llaca from Carleton University gave us a fascinating exploration of the historical, cultural melting pot that makes up Cuban choral music. Music that has both European and African roots and which in turn has had a huge influence back in Europe, Africa and throughout the Americas.
  • I was blessed to have attended the session on “Snewíyalh tl’a Staḵw (Teachings of the Water)”, a collaborative project with First Nations, led by Morna Edmundson, Jeanette Gallant, T Patrick Carrabre, and via video Rebecca Duncan. Be sure to mark June 9, 2022 (7pm PT) on your calendars, when Elektra Women’s Choir will premiere the 3 videos that capture this amazing 3 and a half year project on their Youtube channel. Not to be missed!
  • Instead of Keynote speeches, Podium organized 3 “Critical Conversations,” where panels discussed themes such as expanding the choral canon, making diversity work within the choral world, and a particularly engaging and emotional session where we heard directly from indigenous voices on their experiences in Canada.
  • What barriers or obstacles have existed within the choral world in Canada? How has race, religion, gender, orientation played a role? So much choral music is sung in acoustically magnificent churches and cathedrals. And yet, these physical religious structures may present an obstacle for indigenous performers and audiences, or those from other religious backgrounds. What can be done? Can these concert venues be made safe spaces for many who might be hesitant to attend? Or is there the need to expand choral concert venue possibilities? Could there be an opportunity here for reconciliation, through cross-cultural collaboration and partnerships? We need above all to listen to our indigenous colleagues, and others who have been marginalized, and allow their voices to help guide us on the way forward.
  • Podium 2022 presented so many great concerts, but the one that stood out for me was “Captive,” put on by Winnipeg group Dead of Winter. Curated and narrated by Cree composer Andrew Balfour, this was the third in a series of Truth and Reconciliation concerts. The concert’s emotionally intense title piece drew inspiration from the life of Chief Poundmaker, who tragically died while incarcerated in Stony Mountain Prison. It was hard to walk away from this concert and not think of the many unresolved injustices that we settlers have inflicted on First Nations. I do hope this piece and this concert get many more performances across Canada, that might stir the hearts of many of us to seek our own pathways to reconciliation.

I hear that Podium 2024 will be held in Montreal. It will be interesting to see what lessons the choral world will have drawn from Podium 2022. Whether or not our choral landscape has grown more diverse and accessible to many more who may feel left out at the current juncture.

Thank you Podium 2022, merci beaucoup, meegwetch, ahsante sana!

Reflections on a Song Premiere: “Where then could pain find a hold?”

Now that was a whale of a concert, literally! What a deeply enriching experience yesterday evening at Orleans United Church.

Attending my first live concert in over two years, I heard artistic director Antonio Llaca and his wonderful Coro Vivo Ottawa (CVO) sing the world premiere of “Where then could pain find a hold?”, my musical plea for reconciliation to those who find themselves in conflict.

This is the fifth of my 30 choral compositions to be performed in front of a live audience, and for a “late in life” composer like me, I can openly share what a thrill that was. And I really loved the way Antonio put his own stamp on the song, giving it a special flow and interpretation that adds immensely to my original music and words. Thank you, Antonio and CVO!

I was doubly honoured, as mine was not the only world premiere on the program. In fact, the concert took its Ojibwe name, “Nibi,” from a hymn to water created especially for Coro Vivo Ottawa by Andrew Balfour, a celebrated Toronto-based composer of Cree descent. It was a hauntingly beautiful choral work that Antonio and Coro Vivo Ottawa gave birth to last night, with a blending of spoken, sung and whispered text.

The composer wanted to explore water in all its forms, including the water within us. And this was beautifully represented by the choir surrounding the audience and bathing us in aquatic sounds.

This was such a diverse program that Antonio Llaca prepared, as he included an engaging mix of choral works in this multi-lingual, multi-cultural “Nibi” concert.

Other featured composers included John Rutter, Lili Boulanger, Joseph Haydn, two songs in indigenous Mexican languages adapted by María Roselia Jiménez Pérez and Leticia Armijo, two Hebrew songs composed by Israeli composer Nurit Hirsh, plus a song composed by Canadian Sid Robinovitch based on a text by 20th century Uruguayan feminist Juana de Ibarbourou.

One song in particular caught my attention, and is well worth performing more frequently. As narrated by chorister Tony Atherton in his excellent program notes:

“[It was called] ‘Los Cuatro Elementos’, by Haydn’s New World contemporary, Cuban composer Esteban Salas. This playful Baroque villancico, or Christmas carol, features the four traditional elements of nature — earth water, fire and air — arguing about who has the greater claim on the Christ child.”

The concert ended with a superb performance of Vancouver composer Larry Nickel’s “Mother Whale Lullaby,” a choral setting of American saxophonist Paul Winter’s “Lullaby of the Great Mother Whale.”

The choir, surrounding the audience again, joined accompanist Louise Léveillé and the taped sounds of a whale singing to create a mini masterpiece of sonic beauty. As Tony Atherton put it:

“When the choir hushes, the whale sings us to the end of the concert, and, ideally, sends us home, with renewed hope and the will to make a difference.”

A whale of a concert indeed! And if you’re in the greater Ottawa area, there is a repeat performance tonight (Saturday) at 730pm. Click here for tickets: https://www.corovivoottawa.ca/tickets/.

Thank you, Antonio Llaca and Coro Vivo Ottawa!

Peace must be the answer!

My newest song – “Peace must be the answer!” – is dedicated to the victims of war and armed conflict. It is the third and final installment of my “3 Songs for Peace & Reconciliation,” joining “Da pacem Domine” and “Where then could pain find a hold?” I invite you to have a listen and then continue reading below…

“Peace must be the answer!” is my 30th choral composition and in many ways expresses my personal reaction to the world we live in.

There are multiple energies flowing through this song. On the one hand, we honour all that is good and beautiful in this ongoing human experiment.

“Speak out, oh prophets, of love and life
And the noble purpose of creation –
Your words may bind all humankind
Into a brotherhood of all nations.”

On the opposite side of the human ledger, however, we are forced to pose these harsh, eternal questions:

“Oh, why do we fight? Why do we fight? Oh, why?
Oh, why do we kill? Why do we kill each other?
Oh, hear our cries for an end to war.
Lay down your guns, please no more war, we pray for Peace.”

I have tried to channel these two different energies, with alternating musical sections, that may seem to be fighting or arguing with each other, like two tectonic plates in extreme friction, ready to erupt at any moment – which will win out in the end?

And yet, there is a third energy at work in this song:

“Sing, little children, and play your games,
Your hearts are too young to know sorrow,
But the conscience of countries will never know rest –
Should your songs be stilled on the morrow.”

This essentially lays down what is at stake for our human experiment. Can we somehow find a sustainable way to resolve our differences, for the sake of our children and grandchildren? That they can play their games, in all their beautiful innocence, without the threat of war or armed conflict looming on the horizon?

The song provides no easy answers. For the answers lie deep within the human spirit. And yet, we can all agree that “Peace must be the answer,” for without it, “the noble purpose of creation” will have been wasted and our human experiment judged a failure.

Sincere thanks to the Rocky Mountain Chamber Choir for this powerful recording, which has been lightly edited.

For sheet music (SATB div., TTBB div.), contact rain@magma.ca.

NB: The song lyrics have been drawn from two sources: an anonymous anti-war poem that I came across in 2021, supplemented by some of my own words.

Welcome to my website!

Welcome! My name is David Rain and I am a “late in life” Canadian choral composer, having caught the composing bug in my mid-60s.

Professionally, I received English and Law degrees from UBC and a Masters in Development Studies from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. For 40 years, I worked in the fields of international development and refugee and immigrant support, the last 12 years as a fundraiser.

I have been an amateur singer most of my life, singing with the Christ Church Cathedral boys choir in Vancouver in the 1960s and with the Vancouver Bach Choir in the 1970s. After a 10-year hiatus while living in Tanzania, I settled in Ottawa, where I sang tenor with the a cappella choir The Stairwell Carollers for 28 years.

I began composing in my spare time in 2015 and have written or arranged more than 30 songs since. Five of my songs have been premiered in public performances — the other songs present choirs with a unique opportunity to sing a world premiere. Three of my songs have been published by the outstanding Canadian choral music publisher, Cypress Choral Music.

I am a great fan of Mahler, Bruckner and pioneering Medieval & Renaissance composers. I donate 50% of my income as a composer to two Ottawa charities: the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization and Orkidstra, an “El Sistema”-inspired program for kids from under-served communities.

I invite you to explore my website and have a listen to my songs. Interested choirs can find sheet music details on the individual song pages.