Music professor Craig Russell’s “Wings of Bliss” is the only purely original piece of his that has been featured in such a way by Cal Poly choirs.
PolyPhonics, one of Cal Poly’s vocal choirs, performed two original pieces written by Cal Poly music professors Craig Russell and Meredith Brammeier at the World Projects 2014 New York Choral Festival as part as their spring trip.
Held at Carnegie Hall, the festival showcased PolyPhonics as the highlighted choir of the tour. The performance commenced with 30 minutes of traditional music, then continued with a joint performance with the Cal Poly Arab Music Ensemble.
Four years ago, PolyPhonics conductor and professor Thomas Davies asked Russell to write a piece for the choir — a piece which was featured by PolyPhonics at their recent Carnegie Hall performance. The piece, “Wings of Bliss,” was created largely through the influence of Russell’s close friend and former pastor, Mark Richardson.
“I said to him, ‘Mark, I love your poetry. Would you mind if I used one of your poems?’” Russell said.
After going through a collection of Richardson’s love poems and sacred texts, Russell settled on “Wings of Bliss,” a short poem Richardson wrote for his wife. Russell described being incredibly moved by the piece despite its short length, and he arranged it for PolyPhonics.
“The piece is about six minutes long,” Russell said. “It repeats a lot of words, as well as paints the mood of each section.”
“Wings of Bliss” was first featured at the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center (PAC) four years ago. At that performance, a violin part was played very abruptly from the highest level on the balcony, which Russell said colored the musical text.
“It was wonderful,” Russell said. “Thomas (Davies) liked it so much he wanted to take it on tour.”
At Carnegie Hall, however, the piece did not include the surprise violin part because of technical and time constraints.
Davies also asked Brammeier — who coordinates the music theory and musicianship programs — to write a piece for the chorale ensemble. The piece, titled “Psalm 150,” premiered at the PAC as well.
“Psalm 150,” which was arranged for piano and choir, opened the performance at Carnegie Hall.
Brammeier’s pieces have been featured in the past with Cal Poly Choirs, but for Russell, “Wings of Bliss” is the only purely original piece of his to be featured in such a way. Russell said he has done extensive musical research and additive musical composition for the department, but “Wings of Bliss” is the first full composition of his to be presented on such a large scale within the college.