Far back in 1998 Garrison Keillor had this to say about the singing of “Shenandoah“…
… And there ought to be a law against the singing of “Shenandoah” by any choir, and the penalty ought to be prison time. No probation. The singing of “Shenandoah” is a main cause of the unpopularity of choral singing today. Somewhere in America about once every four minutes, a choir commits “Shenandoah” and it usually sounds like this….
…Every time a choir sings “Shenandoah” you see a look of horror and revulsion on the faces of the audience, and yet, choir directors cannot put this song behind them.“Shenandoah” is a virus. You try singing other songs but everything sounds like “Shenandoah.” Even Schubert…
When this was first broadcast on A Prairie Home Companion I was singing with two different choral groups, both of which had a version of “Shenandoah” on their program. I must say that I empathized with Garrison a bit.
On Sunday we presented a concert with the Chorale Chamber Ensemble, and I am reminded of other choral atrocities. Here I’m going to step on a few toes, especially those of some of my colleagues in the Greenville Chorale. So be it. First, there is the matter of P. D. Q. Bach, the apocryphal son of composer J. S. Bach. I find P. D. Q. to be quite humorous, but a little goes a looooong way, especially in certain venues.
I didn’t perform with the Chorale in the fall. This was mainly because of scheduling conflicts. However, I couldn’t imagine PDQ performed at the Peace Center, especially so much of it. There were the madrigals, the Birthday Ode to Big Daddy Bach, and finally Oedipus Tex. It just seemed like the wrong venue – too many people singing and too many inside jokes. However, it seems to have been received well, despite my misgivings.
So now we come to Sunday, and a repeat of the fall concert for the Greenwood Music Festival. I figured this would be OK – a smaller ensemble in a more intimate venue, which is better suited for PDQ. That is, until I found out what the venue actually was. We were billed as a “sacred” concert, and would be performing at First Baptist Church. I was just hoping that we could escape before the stoning began.
As it turns out, the pastor is a former Furman Singer from my graduating class, and is very familiar with PDQ Bach. At least he wouldn’t call down fire from heaven. The concert went well, and only two people left in disgust.
And so we come to the rest of the season. We have two regular concerts left, both with a bit more normal repertoire. We are also scheduled to sing at Artisphere. Guess what’s on that concert – Shenandoah!