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For the concluding concert of their Fine Arts Series, the musicians of Edenton Street United Methodist Church pulled out all the stops for a spectacular concert featuring the works of composer Paul Basler. This concert was the result of a quite fruitful collaboration between Kevin Holland (the Director of Music), musicians of the church, and Basler; in fact, the concert ended with the world premiere of a work written specifically for this occasion. Because of this, it was clear to see that all of the performing musicians were able to connect deeply with the music after working with the composer himself over the previous several days.
The concert began with several performances by the Boylan Bridge Brass, Edenton Street's resident brass ensemble. The quintet became a sextet when joined by Basler himself on the horn. "Harambee," which means "all pull together" in Swahili, exemplifies the Kenyan streak in Basler's compositions, with a syncopated and active melody that is distributed among all instruments. "Harambee" is joyful and catchy, with glimpses of canonic styles that exemplify the name's meaning. The sound of this brass ensemble was clear and ringing throughout the church.
The Boylan Bridge Brass then played several of Basler's hymn settings, which made familiar tunes unique through creative countermelodies and harmonies.
Next, purely horn music was featured, with the talents of Pamela Burleson (of Boylan Bridge Brass) and Basler coming together to produce beautiful music. Combined with Associate Director of Music Josh Dumbleton playing the organ, Basler's arrangement of "Cantilene" was a mellow and lyrical experience. Burleson alone played Stephen Gryc's piece "Reflections on a Southern Hymn," consisting of short, more abstract meditations that blossom into the familiar hymn "Wondrous Love" (or "What Wondrous Love is This"). It was quite mesmerizing to hear the virtuosic possibilities of a single horn melody.
Edenton St.'s Chancel Choir then took the stage to perform Songs of Faith, Basler's intriguing suite of sacred choral music for choir, piano, and horn. The six individual songs of the suite ranged greatly in mood as well as language. "Psalm 150" is an energetic proclamation, with fast melodies and emphatic seventh chords. The graceful "Ubi Caritas" highlights the women's voices with a flowing and overlapping melody that leads quite well into the beautiful piano introduction to "Be Thou My Vision." With this song especially, the passion that the choir had for this music was quite obvious. "Alleluia" is triumphant and bell-like, with a direct exchange of melodies between the choir and horn. The suite ended with "Psalm 23," a setting of the English text where the music clearly communicates the mood and meaning of the text. The melodies and harmonies in this setting are simply serene.
The concert concluded with the world premiere of Basler's Te Deum, a setting of the text which he explained as a selection of the most positive passages of the Te Deum text. For this work, both the Chancel Choir and the Boylan Bridge Brass came together with organ and additional percussion as well, forming a strong ensemble. The main theme of the work is grand, with thunderous timpani to announce its beginning and end. There is constant pulsing motion among the musicians that moves the music along. A sparser texture is sandwiched in the middle, where the choir sings nearly a cappella with a solo trombone melody. This section begins slowly, but soon more instruments are added to build the same texture as the opening. The choir"s and other musicians" energy made this piece live fully. Furthermore, it seemed that every ensemble member was fully committed to the successful presentation of the music, making the concert successful itself.