2014-03-23 Notes from the Bench

“Sicut cervus” (Psalm 42:1) by Reginald Unterseher

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

Sicut cervus desiderat ad fonts
ita desiderat anima me ad te, Deus

English translation:

As a deer longs for the flowing streams,
So longs my soul for thee, O God.

The text for today’s offertory anthem, Sicut cervus is Psalm 42:1. Psalm 42 is one of the psalms of lament that expresses our soul’s yearning for God, comparing this desire with that of a deer searching for water in the desert. Psalm 42 is a particularly suitable reflection for the Lenten season.

Psalm 42 has been set musically by numerous composers, Palestrina, Handel, Bach, Mendelssohn, and Howells to name just a few. The choir will sing a twenty-first century setting written by the American composer, Reginald Unterseher (b. 1957). In addition to his work as a composer, Unterseher is an active voice teacher, choral director, clinician, and is the Music Director and Composer-in-Residence at Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland, Washington. In 2013, Unterseher was named “Composer of the Year” by the Washington State Music Teacher’s Association.

Unterseher utilized various minimalist techniques for his setting of Psalm 42, creating a hypnotic experience for the listener. With just a few musical ideas, he created short motives that are repeated as an ostinato creating periods of a static harmony. Melodic material is likewise limited and repeated with harmony parts added gradually. Other minimalist techniques used in this work, particularly at the end, are polyrhythms and place shifts or rhythmic displacement; each voice part sings the final portion of the text at different times as the piece fades away to it’s conclusion.

Music has been a part of Unterseher’s life since his childhood; he studied voice, piano, violin and horn, and was involved with various music ensembles at his school. He studied at Walla Walla College (now Walla Walla University) where he earned a Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance and the University of Missouri-Kansas City where he earned a Master of Music degree in vocal performance. Unterseher has performed with the Oklahoma Symphony, the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, the Mid-Columbia Symphony, the Walla Walla Symphony, the East Oregon Symphony, and toured with the Texas Opera Theatre. He has been the conductor of the Columbia Chorale, the Consort Columbia, co-founder and past Chorus Master of Washington East Opera, an active member of Male Ensemble Northwest, and a founding member of Chor Anno. Since 1990, Unterseher has devoted more of his musical energies to composing. His works are performed regularly throughout the world, including performances at Carnegie Hall and have been being featured at regional and national conventions for the American Choral Directors Association of Music Education (formerly known as the Music Educator’s Nation Conference – MENC).

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