On Harvest Home, the Dale Warland Singers delve into the rich legacy of mostly American sacred and folk music. With the lush vocal orchestrations and thoughtful arrangements, many of these familiar songs take on new life and emotional depth.
As a boy, I grew up in the Mennonite church tradition and one of the distinctive things about our church services was the a cappella 4-part harmony. As I got older, I thought this was a bit odd and wished we used instruments in church like most people. In looking back now, I am thankful for that tradition and what it taught me about music and harmony.
Throughout high school I was involved with choral groups, doing several programs each year. The first year after high school I spent a few months at a religious school that had a long-standing tradition of chorale music. I well remember the hours of rehearsal to get the song just right, practicing enunciation and dynamics and expression.
So when I hear a group like the Dale Warland Singers, I have a small insight into the dedication it takes to do choral music at the level of this recording. These are singers and a director at the top of their game, with attention to detail everywhere, creativity in the arrangements and technical brilliance. And what a vocal range, with “how low can they go” bass and sopranos that my normal laptop headphones have trouble reproducing without distortion.
I’ve long been a fan of spirituals; they are at times moving to hear, at times playful and fun (and can be even more fun to sing). This album features a couple of my favorites: “Shall We Gather At The River” and “Deep River”. Upon first hearing this rendition of the latter, I was nearly moved to tears by the stark beauty and emotional depth of this arrangement. It’s a prime example of the power of music to take us places emotionally and connect us with the deeper feelings and longings of the soul.
In addition to several spirituals, there is a unique variety of other religious pieces pulled from the traditions of Quakers and Baptists among others. The album also mines some rich treasures from the Shaker tradition, including the comforting “Not One Sparrow Is Forgotten” and the poignant tenderness of “Lay Me Low’, with the simple text of
Lay me low where the Lord can find me, where the Lord can own me, where the Lord can bless me
Not everything leans towards the serious or sacred though. A fun, light-hearted arrangement of “She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain” (arr. by Emma Lou Diemer) features bouncing bass lines and lots of syncopation and sibilance to keep things interesting. And the traditional Dixie folk song “Cindy” tells the story of a heartsick man with tongue-in-cheek lyrics that playfully bounce from part to part.
The liner notes are exceptional, with lots of helpful historic and musical notes on the various selections. This is one of the final albums from The Dale Warland Singers after 31 years. The group disbanded in May 2004 so that the founder Dale Warland could focus more on teaching, consulting and guest conducting. He certainly has left his mark on the choral landscape and this recording is no exception. Highly recommended if you appreciate choral music, especially traditional folk and sacred selections.