Evolutionary Spirits - The Crossing. © 2019 Navona Records LLC

CD Spotlight

Evolution of a Spirit

ONA JARMALAVIČIŪTĖ reviews the latest CD
from Donald Nally and The Crossing

'All the composers bring their own flavors and sense of music-making to their works, and yet harmony and unity are prominently felt.'


As American author and Christian mystic Corinne Heline said in 1965: '... man is a musical being ... By sound was he sustained and by music he evolved'.

Music has been the tool of spiritual evolution for a long time. The spiritual idea that nature and human beings evolve, extending from an established cosmological pattern, is refreshing to remember, while listening to this album which proves these ideas and expresses pure musical power, drawing listeners into spiritual contemplation. It is not surprising that performing such music here is The Crossing - a Grammy-winning professional chamber choir from Philadelphia. This ensemble is characterized by the press as 'ardently angelic', and 'something of a miracle', and the spiritual pursuits of their music are noticeable throughout the ensemble's fourteen year career. Founded by a group of friends, the choir began a long journey and can now be proud that it consists of forty-two singers and five instrumental musicians, and enjoys the admiration and respect of the musical community.

The Crossing's newest and eighth CD, Evolutionary Spirits, was released on 28 June 2019. Since focusing on the performance of new music-making and producing a number of world premieres, it is no surprise that this recording consists of contemporary pieces by six different composers. Such variety points out a strong collaborative aspect, very prominent in the creation of Evolutionary Spirits. It consists of a group of composers, singers, musicians, and conductor Donald Nally, who could be considered as the one responsible for the interpretational and performative nature of the creation. Donald Nally is an American conductor, chorus master, and professor, specializing in chamber choirs, opera and new music. Such a great mix of creative personalities produces a rich, variable and yet harmoniously delicious delicacy of music magic. The unique musical fingerprint of each composer is felt, although all the different details blend to final product effortlessly, as all of the compositions share the contemporary flavor of vocal sound which permeates the whole CD.

Gregory W Brown wrote three of the compositions, filled with both simplistic and complex music material, connected to English and Latin texts. This type of music expresses the spiritual purpose by inviting the listener to contemplation, away from the everyday mode of life. Brown's creative work is always known as the embodiment of a link to intangible spiritual experience, as the sound of his music is described as 'higher-power-bells, those of science, faith, and the human voice'.

Listen — Gregory W Brown: Asking of Nature (Vidi Aquam)
(track 7, 0:01-1:00) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

The creativity of another contemporary artist, Edie Hill, has a similar meaning - her music is often called 'an evocation of magic'. Two of her compositions presented here, Poem for 2084 and Marvellous Error!, are both distinctive of its mysticism of the unclear draw of harmonic structures. The solo soprano line in Poem for 2084 creates tough dynamic effects. Thus the effective bright and the hidden/unclear take place in the piece as the contrasting forces that manage the world of sound. This distinctive power in Edie Hill's music and The Crossing's strength of performance create a very compelling listening experience.

Listen — Edie Hill: Poem for 2084
(track 1, 3:41-4:40) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

Another creative mind behind the music is Christopher J Hoh, who brings new flavors as he re-imagines Shakespeare's famous sonnet My Mistress' Eyes, and honors the late composer Elliott Carter in To Elliott. These two compositions show the range of Hoh's work, ranging from simply accompanied music for church choirs to a cappella pieces.

Listen — Christopher J Hoh: My Mistress' Eyes
(track 10, 0:01-0:47) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

Composer Jonathan Sheffer is also prominent here, via his composition y'did nefesh. A graduate of Harvard, Juilliard and the Aspen School of Music, Sheffer was also a student of the legendary Leonard Bernstein. In y'did nefesh, an ancient Hebrew prayer is used, thus offering another base for union with the Divine as such music touches the spirit.

Bruce Babcock, another impressive composer featured here, is known for his expressive and vibrant sound and for the joint and joyous celebration of musical art. Surprisingly, his composition is called Be Still and it reflects on the meditative nature of music listening. It uses a liturgical source for its text - Psalm 46:10. The shimmering musical textures connect with the ascent, whilst only eight words from the psalm are used throughout the composition.

Another creative mind, James Schrader, a retired professor of music from Valdosta State University in Georgia, USA, has one piece on the CD, Angels Sang With Mirth and Glee. It reflects on the angelic and spiritual sense that can be evoked only by vocal music. Therefore it expresses the main core of Evolutionary Spirits really well.

Listen — James Schrader: Angels Sang With Mirth and Glee
(track 3, 2:14-2:59) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

All the composers bring their own flavors and sense of music-making to their works, and yet harmony and unity are prominently felt. This creation is rich in context and creative collaboration as it resembles simplistic Medieval vocal music, but with modern approaches to harmony. Despite the fact that songs of praise from the Biblical era, contemporary poetry and the remake of a Shakespearean sonnet are used, the CD deals with spiritual aspects of life, both mortal and eternal, and this sums up the experience as an opportunity to dive into yourself and get in touch with the angelic side of the magic of music. Indeed, there is something new yet timeless and deeply spiritual that is rooted in this type of choral music. It is deeply needed for the man of today - the one that is always in a rush and losing himself in business and never-ending innovation. As Corinne Heline said: 'One day ... [man] will recognize music as a vital factor in the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual evolution of the whole human race.' And it might be that such a journey is felt through the newest creative work of The Crossing.

Copyright © 8 July 2019 Ona Jarmalavičiūtė,
Vienna, Austria



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