Stop, said God, holding his head

I am working this afternoon in my garage, having cleaned off the top of my workbench for the first time in recent memory. I find a cassette tape next to the workbench–the garage radio is the only one in the house that can play cassettes–and put it in. It’s the Virginia Glee Club and Smith College Glee Club at Smith, fall 1992. I listen to side B first—Smith sings the “Alice in Wonderland” songs by Irving Fine, a few other tunes, and then a reasonable joint performance of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. (Though I’ve never forgiven the Smith director for insisting that we use an alto soloist in the second movement instead of a countertenor.)

Then I flip the tape to side A. The Glee Club set that fall opened with a four-part meditation on the death of Absalom: Josquin’s “Absalon, fili mi,” the Sacred Harp tune “David the King,” Tomkin’s “When David Heard,” and our premiere of Benjamin Broening’s setting of “When David Heard.” In other words, a fine uplifting set. Then I heard—a hum. Some multi-tonal stuff going on. I go over and look at the tape liner notes. It’s “Time Piece.”

Time Piece“! Written for the King’s Singers in 1972, it goes from polytonal to high comedy to low comedy. After a while, there are cuckoo clocks, roosters, and other vocal effects, and then C. J. Higley, bless him, as the voice of God, yells “STOP!” The chorus intones, “‘Stop’, said God, holding his head…” and then continues for another five minutes more. Total run time: about 15 minutes. The Smith chorus (and audience) were moved to laughter at more than a few points.

And then we wrapped up with another three song set of spirituals.

I can’t imagine doing such a long guest set today. I also can’t believe that we only performed “Time Piece” twice (once during the Kickoff Concert that fall, once at Smith). But by springtime we were on to Young T.J. and a totally different repertoire.

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