Judith Clurman - Essential Voices USA "Season of Light" (Sono Luminus)
As the days get shorter, and the light gradually diminishes this time of year, Judith Clurman and her choral ensemble Essential Voices USA brighten the season with their fourth recording, Season of Light. It's a holiday sampler that celebrates Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah and the New Year.
In addition to her role as the musical director for Essential Voices USA, Judith Clurman serves on the faculty at the Manhattan School of Music. She's a lifelong conductor and choral educator, and early in her career she gained valuable experience as the Associate Music Director for Public Television's Sesame Street. So what was that experience like?
"Fun, exhausting! It taught me more about how to be a professional than anything I've ever done," Judith admits. "And that came about because I invented the Lincoln Center tree lighting and I brought about 300 kids to sing on the plaza. And I was just thrown into this. But I also learned patience. I must say, in the recording studio, I was recording one Muppet at a time and hearing what the arrangement would sound like in my head and then I had to put it all together. It was difficult, but I had a good time. And I got to work with some of the who's who. I learned so much from them. One of my greatest moments — working with LL Cool J. I didn't even know who he was and there I was, recording him, and having a great time because I learned what hip hop was."
Season of Light is Judith's fourth recording with the Essential Voices USA. The overall concept encompasses several aspects of the holiday season. "Well, there's a little history here, speaking of the Lincoln Center tree lighting and why this album came to pass," Judith explains. "In 2001, Steven Schwartz and I met. First, it's an adorable story — he was telling me that he was going to write a show called Wicked, and I said I've read that book, it'll make a great musical. Then, I said, 'OK, I'm doing the Lincoln Center tree lighting, do you want to play and would you like to write a Hannukah piece?' He said, 'That's a great idea.' I went to Steve Young and they composed this piece. That was 15 years ago, and sometimes things take a long time.
"The arrangement that people are going to hear is a very poignant, holy experience for me, conducting this piece and the way it was done. Hannukah really celebrates religious freedom and I think this arrangement conveys that message.
"And I started thinking how religions all create festivals and light is an important part of these festivals. And here we are with Season of Light. I went to a young composer I know in Kansas City, Jakub Narverud, and he wrote 'Season of Light.' And, I put this stocking stuffer, Hannukah present, New Year present, Thanksgiving present together.
"I love the end of each stanza. 'Surrounded by comfort and stillness of night/We live in the memories of the season of light.' But my favorite is your favorite: 'For a moment on earth, all the wrong turns to right/And we're warm in the spirit of the season of light.'"
Judith Clurman has many fond childhood memories that have also worked their way into this recording. "I come from Hicksville, New York," she says, "which had a great public school music program and I'll say I am who I am because it had a great choral program and I found myself accompanying choruses since 4th grade. So there I was in junior high school, playing rehearsals for people to learn 'Carol of the Bells' and the Mouton 'Ave Maria,' and I wanted to pay homage to what I did way back when because I always loved those two pieces."
I have to tell you, I put this recording on in the background. The arrangement that David Chase did of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, it's just amazing
"That's fabulous that you say that. He's known for the more Broadway world. He was a scientist at Harvard. And he comes to New York and starts working on all these Broadway shows. And he's just excellent. I said, 'I love your work and your sense of counterpoint and a sense of moving forward and let's do some arrangements with just piano' because that's reality — everyone doesn't have an orchestra. We all love the arrangement … it's one that just worked with the chorus, though we worked on the nitty gritty, on the recording studio we were taking these big takes and everyone had fun, everyone was excited for Christmas and we were in June, recording."
Tidings of comfort and joy, during this Season of Light.