There’s nothing like a good drinking song. From the corner pub to grand opera, it’s meant to stir the blood.
The tenors and basses of the Durango Choral Society, with help from their counterparts in Telluride and Farmington, are putting in extra rehearsals this summer to sharpen “In Taberna.” It’s the drinking and gambling song smack in the center of “Carmina Burana.”
Car Orff’s musical spirits will be served July 27 in the Community Concert Hall. Performed by the Music in the Mountains Festival Orchestra, soloists and an augmented Choral Society, “Carmina” is a gargantuan work. Conductor Linda Mack-Berven is preparing the chorus for Guillermo Figueroa, music director and conductor of the festival. She’s fine tuning phrasing and diction and revving the singers up for faster tempos – “just to be prepared for Guillermo,” she said with a smile.
The former director of choral studies at Fort Lewis College, Mack-Berven has scheduled 10 rehearsals for “Carmina,” right up to two long sessions with the orchestra for the weekend of performance. She’s also called the men in early Tuesday evenings for that pesky tavern song.
“‘Carmina’s’ a challenge for sure,” bass David Akire said at rehearsal. A FLC graduate, he works at Wells Fargo Bank and spends Tuesday evenings “rockin’ out to ‘Carmina Burana.’”
“Before rock ’n’ roll, there was Carl Orff,” he said.
Akire hasn’t sung “Carmina” before, but many of the singers have. The work achieved popularity right after Orff completed it in 1937. Since its premiere, it’s been performed regularly all over the world.
“Carmina Burana,” which means Songs of Beuern, is a collection of more than 200 poems written some time in the 11th and 12th centuries. Apparently, they were created by snarky clergy and students because the poems satirize church practices, comment on human folly and celebrate libidinous rites of spring. Rediscovered in 1803, the songs appealed to a number of 19th-century composers, and Orff is one of many moderns who set the old poems to new music.
His “Carmina Burana” is a one-hour piece with five major sections using 24 of the poems.
You’ve probably heard parts, especially the powerful “O Fortuna.” It frames Orff’s interpretation and has surfaced in Hollywood movies and television commercials as a threatening warning about the ways of the world.
The idea that life is random and turns like a wheel of fortune seeps through the music – along with its corollary: Enjoy yourself while you can because life is pure chance.
Orff’s muscular music is often compared to Stravinsky’s early 20th-century works. Strong rhythmic figures drive everything – a happy day for percussionists. Expect to see and hear bells, cymbals, castanets, gongs, glockenspiel and a variety of drums. Mack-Berven may relinquish the conductor’s baton to Figueroa for the concert, but you’ll see her at the piano. Yes, she does that, too.
And I, along with 99 or so other singers, will be in the thick of it on stage. Singers love this work; orchestra musicians do, too.
When the concert is over, chances are everyone will be exhilarated – deserving of a cold beer in a local tavern.
email@example.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.