Notes on Our Program



Our first concert of the season is this Sunday, November 20, at 3 pm at the Church of the Incarnation, 209 Madison Avenue at 35th St. Tickets are $30 online and at the door.

To get you in the mood for the music, enjoy our program notes:

“When We Were” is a song poem for choir, organ, cello and soprano. It is in three parts: "Then," "Now," and "When.” Each part consists of distinct roles: the nostalgic chorale reminisces memories; a solo cello emulates the voice of the present reality, and conscience; the organ records the passing of time; and a solo soprano invokes innocence and hope.

The text is driven by fragments from a poem that my grandfather, Dr. Dong Whan Lee, wrote shortly after the Korean War in ancient Chinese calligraphy—one in a collection of 86 poems translated and published in Korean titled “Field of Tea/Snowy Mountain/Spring Mountain.” This text depicts the devastation and displacement that war leaves behind, time unwarranted. These fragments are sung in Korean, written out phonetically in English for the choir.

In the eight minutes of the piece, the music pushes and pulls in and out of the feeling of the present and past, eventually letting go completely. This is depicted in the ascending line of the cello harmonics, which disappear on a high “E” tremolo, closing the piece.

The chorus holds onto the key of D minor while the organ counterpoints a dissonant B minor stubbornly against it. The cello lives in a sound bubble of five notes C, D, E, F# and Bb. Much like Messiaen, inspiration was found in the birds that would sing me awake at dawn. A rhythmic notation unveiled itself, working its way into the solo cello. In the “Now” middle section, the choir blows through organ pipes and sings articulated percussive sounds which collectively mimic a sense of the rustling of the leaves and wind blowing through the trees.

One of the many discoveries in writing this piece was that my grandmother was a church organist. This is how my grandfather met her. My mother, Moon Hie, the youngest of six children, grew up to be a soprano and sang in church when my sister, brother, and I were growing up.

I am especially grateful to Christine Kim, my beautiful and talented sister, who is playing this premiere performance on solo cello at the invitation of Artistic Director Dr. Matthew Lewis.

Unintentionally, this has become a deeply personal piece. My hope is that it might resonate with you in a personal way too, providing needed solace, strength, and peace—a respect for the fragility of life.

My dear friend Joanne Cheung, who took on the task of translating this poem, found in reaching out to her grandfather for guidance in translating, that he had fought in the Korean War. He currently resides in Los Angeles where my grandfather also lived.      Pauline Kim Harris

Argentinian composer Alberto Evartisto Ginastera (1916-1983) is considered one of the most important composers of the Americas. He wrote Psalm 150 in 1938 and the world premiere was in Buenos Aires in 1945. The North American premiere was given in 1968 by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting. This colorful work employs several interesting composition techniques, most notably polytonality, while some sections refer to Renaissance polyphony. A serene Alleluia grows into an outburst of joy, concluding the work.

Jean Berger (1909-2002) is known primarily as a pianist and composer of choral music. He was born Arthur Scholssberg into a German Jewish family. He moved to Paris in 1933, after the Nazis took power, changing his name to Jean Berger. He eventually moved to the United States where he established himself as a college educator. His Brazilian Psalm is an extended a cappella work, rarely performed in its entirety. An interesting mix of harmonic styles, it eventually settles into an Alleluia which concludes the piece.

The Missa Brevis of Zoltán Kodály is a tour-de-force—colorful, expressive, exuberant, and energetic, this is a masterpiece of the choral literature. Kodály (1882-1967) was a Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist. In addition to his many compositions, he is known as the founder of the Kodály Method, an approach to music education. The original version of the Missa Brevis is the one heard today, scored for organ, chorus, and soloists. He later orchestrated the piece. Kodály remained in Hungary during the Nazi occupation. Amid the chaos of war, during which the Red Army eventually overcame the German forces in Budapest, he took refuge in the Opera House. During repeated bombings of the city, he finished a composition he had started years earlier: this very Mass setting. Amazing that in the middle of such chaos, such beauty emerged! 

Writing "When We Were"

St. George’s Choral Society will debut a commissioned work by violinist-composer Pauline Kim Harris at our fall concert on November 20. The composer attended a recent rehearsal to speak to the choir about her new piece, which is her fourth opus.

Pauline Kim Harris. Photo: Eli Akerstein.

Pauline Kim Harris. Photo: Eli Akerstein.

"When [Artistic Director] Matthew [Lewis] suggested the idea” of commissioning a work, “there were so many things I wanted to do," she said.

Eventually, Kim Harris used her recent discovery that her grandfather, Dr. Dong Whan Lee, was a poet as inspiration for "When We Were," an 8-minute piece for choir, organ, cello, and soprano with text in Korean. Words are written phonetically in English for singers.

“When We Were,” said Kim Harris, combines the "unusual and familiar" in expressing "how we relate to each other" and yearn for the "things that help us stick together and stay strong."

After the Korean War, Kim Harris’ grandfather relocated to Seoul, which was not then the cosmopolitan city it is today. In this new and unfamiliar place, he and so many others had to start over. "In hard times," Kim Harris said, "we find ways to reconnect, rebuild, and remember that we have each other."

"The tone of the poem predominantly directed the composition of the piece, rather than the actual words themselves," said Kim Harris. "Challenging, because the words are not necessarily translatable. One has to capture the essence of their meaning."

"When We Were" uses fragments of the poem, originally written in ancient Chinese calligraphy by Dr. Lee, nicknamed "Bamboo." The piece is in three parts: "Then," "Now," and "When." Each group has a role: the nostalgic chorale, reminiscent of the past; a cello solo (to be performed by Christine Kim) representing the reality of the present; the organ stating the passing of time; and a soprano solo evoking memory and transcendence.

"I’m excited to hear the piece come alive," Kim Harris said. And we can’t wait to perform it in November.

Every Night I Walk Home Singing

Rehearsals for our Fall 2016 concert began this past Wednesday, September 7. Our new and returning members arrived excited to learn the repertoire for our November 20 concert: Berger’s Brazilian Psalm (to be sung by auditioned chamber singers); Ginastera’s Psalm 150; Kodály’s Missa Brevis; and “When We Were,” a commissioned work by Pauline Kim Harris for choir, organ, cello, and soprano.

Artistic Director Matthew Lewis and the choir at the first rehearsal of the 2016–2017 season.

I asked several members what they enjoy about singing with St. George’s Choral Society. Here are their replies:

“What I like the most about singing with St. George's Choral Society: [Artistic Director] Matthew [Lewis] and my fellow soprano ones! He never gives up on us and is always challenging us to be better, and they understand that the struggle is real but the result is sweeter.” – Blessing Agunwamba, Soprano

“I've been in St. George's Choral Society since 2008, and I treasure my time singing with the group. Taking my mind off of work and singing beautiful music every week with wonderful people is really a pleasure. I look forward to every rehearsal!” – Zac Rider, Bass

“I am so happy to be back after a taking a break last season! Singing with St. George’s Choral Society is a pure joy. The music is beautiful and well chosen and it's exciting to work with professionals, like Matthew and our ringers. But the best parts are that our choir has its own eccentric character, our director has a hilarious sense of humor, and we have fun learning complex pieces and lifting our voices together. Choir practice has a way of putting every thing else in perspective. Every night I walk home singing.” – Cara Hoffman, Soprano

It isn’t too late to join these members and sing with the choir. Contact to schedule an audition.

If you can’t sing with us this fall, we hope to see you at our first concert of the season on November 20 at 3 pm at the Church of the Incarnation, 209 Madison Avenue at 35th Street.

Sing With Us!

Rehearsals for our Fall 2016 concert begin on September 7. We want you to sing with us! 

We will hold rehearsals from 7:00–9:30 PM on Wednesday evenings at St. George's Chapel, 5 Rutherford Place, one block east of Third Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets. Find out more about membership in the Members section of our website, and download our rehearsal schedule.

Our Fall concert features works by three outstanding 20th-century composers, Jean Berger, Alberto Ginastera, and Zoltán Kodály, along with a commissioned work by Pauline Kim Harris. Learn more about our entire season.

Want to sing with us for the first time? We will hold auditions for all voice parts on September 7 and 14, just prior to the start of rehearsal. 

If you are singing with for the first time, or if you are a returning singer, please let us know that you will be singing no later than August 26. We want to make sure we order sufficient music.

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