The Bovine Chorus

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It’s quiet this morning just after dawn. I ponder the line “Happy are they who know the festal shout!” [Psalm 19:15]. A sound I’ve never heard here interrupts the bird calls and my daily reading.

The single loud moo from miles to the west drowns out the sounds of the wetland. A few minutes later the solo becomes a bovine chorus!  A festal shout — celebration perhaps? A bovine Handel’s “Magnificat“? Perhaps a mother has given birth to her calf? The herd is cheering!

Minutes later the shouting is over. The mooing stops. But I heard it — both the solo and the herd — the strange interruption of the wetland’s native sounds. An osprey flies overhead. The sounds are as they were before: the woodpeckers’ pecks and red-wing blackbirds’s song. All is quiet again. The cattle are lowing; the poor baby sleeps!

Maybe the wind has shifted. Or perhaps the Madonna and the rest of the cows are sleeping after the exhaustion of the birth and the festal shout. Or maybe my ears had tricked me. I think of Otis Moss III’s reflection on singing the blues and “the gospel shout” [Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World]. Only those who sing the blues can shout the gospel (i.e. good news) shout.

Then I drive into town. Had I been hearing the festal shout followed by the cattle lowing? Or had the bovine chorus ended in tragedy? “Probably a wolf or bear!” says a stranger at the hardware store. “Cows can raise quite a ruckus; they can become very aggressive when a bear threatens the herd.”

Whether the sound rose from the blues or from joy, my imagination prefers the festal shout, the bovine Magnificat. I could be wrong. The guy in town could be right. Whatever it was my ears heard this morning, I want to take it one step deeper: before and after the shout, there was and is the Great Silence from which comes every sound.

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland, May 8, 2018

Blessed Mary

The CHOIR magnificently sang
Bach’s LOUD complex “Magnificat!”
The orchestra was small, but rang
Out BRASS and DRUMS and ORGEL that
Reverberated through the Hall.

That GOD was GREAT there was no doubt,
The fugue repeated that till all
Could not help but join in the SHOUT!

(but then the oboe d’ amour stood
and quietly began with D
a tune of slave and poverty…
the cello cello cello droned

as pure and sweet soprano voice
recalled the Virgin’s humble choice.)

– Steven R. Shoemaker & Margaret R. Grossman

Note: Peggy Grossman is a Biochemistry professor at the University of Illinois who plays oboe in the Champaign-Urbana Symphony. She and Steve shared the experience of the Bach Magnificat.

The Countertenor’s Magnificat

Christopher Holman, Countertenor

strong>” A Blessing for Both”

He sings with flutes about the homeless poor
invited to the table of the rich
by God, by God! They eat their fill and more,
and not like dogs that lift their jaws and catch
the scraps, but guests with vintage wine
to match each course made by the Chef.
He sings
about the rich evicted from their fine
designer homes by God, by God! With rings
that flash and fancy shirts, they leave
their table before food is served! Instead
of feasting, they are empty and will have
no need for trainers, purging, before bed…

(Tonight, Sunday, December 15, 2013 A. D.,
at Holy Cross Catholic Church
In Champaign, Illinois, this ironic aria
will be sung as part of J. S. Bach’s
” Magnificat”– Mary’s song. Directed
by Chester Alwes.)

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, December 14, 2013

Christopher Holman, Countertenor

Christopher Holman, Countertenor

Editor’s Note: Christopher Holman is an American organist, countertenor, and choral conductor, currently residing and studying in Urbana-Champaign at the University of Illinois, whose primary interests lie in the realm of historically-informed performance.

Verse – “Blessed Mary”

The CHOIR magnificently sang
Bach’s LOUD complex “Magnificat!”
The orchestra was small, but rang
Out BRASS and DRUMS and ORGEL that
Reverberated through the Hall.

That GOD was GREAT there was no doubt,
The fugue repeated that till all
Could not help but join in the SHOUT!

(but then the oboe d’amore stood
and quietly began with D
a tune of slave and poverty…
the cello cello cello droned

and high above soprano mild
sang about the coming child.)

– Steven R. Shoemaker & Margaret R. Grossman, December 13, 2013