COMMENTARY: Memorable harmonies to note in the RGV


“Carmina Burana” is an intense piece of music. It is both sensuous and sensual. On April 6, the Valley Symphony Orchestra and Chorale presented “Carmina Burana” and gave full play to both those aspects. But this is not an article about their exquisite performance. This is about a twist added to their production that was all RGV, all inspiration and all that any one could ask for. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

The first thing to know is that I am totally unschooled and unskilled in all areas of music. I took violin lessons for two years while in elementary school, carrying my precious school-issued violin to and from school in the middle of Colorado winters without ever realizing what the cold was doing to the strings. I would get home and saw away at that poor, innocent violin for hours without ever realizing that the fiddle was grossly out of tune. At the end of the second year the instructor sent a letter home asking my parents to please take me out of the orchestra. That is about the same time the leader of the youth choir at my church made the same request of my parents. His exact words were: “She is very well behaved but is simply ruining the sound of the choir.”

That is when I decided that my musical future lay in being the audience. I do that exceedingly well.

Oddly enough, given my lack of talent, I also discovered that I love classical music. I guess the heart wants what it wants. And that leads to “Carmina Burana.”

If you don’t think you know this piece, you are wrong. It is probably the most frequently performed chorale of the 21st century. The opening and closing section “O Fortuna” is pirated for everything from Old Spice ads to movies that wants to create an ominous tone. Check out “O Fortuna” on any music venue you choose and within six bars you will be nodding your head in recognition.

Burana started as a collection of 13th century poems, written in a conglomeration of Teutonic German, Latin and early French. It was originally collected at an abbey and probably sequestered there as an attempt to limit the amount of salacious and bawdy verse being produced during a period of time when earthy pursuits seemed to be the only ones available. Brought to light in 1803, it wasn’t until 1934 that the composer, Carl Orff decided to put these delicious morsels to music.

I have heard “Carmina Burana” performed before, so this was my second bite at Orff’s juicy apple. The VSO’s performance was better. What made it better is also the reason I love the Rio Grande Valley. All the elements of greatness were there: Skilled musicians under expert direction, talented, disciplined singers, three amazing guest artists handling the solos, but then — then — there was a touch of genius.

During the second act, and the grand finale, the adults were joined by a “Greek chorus” of singers from several local high schools and middle schools. Pace Early College High School, Morris Middle School, and Fossum Middle School provided young people who formed up on either side of the stage, joining their voices to the chorale. Here were these beautiful adolescents, polished, standing like statues, all eyes on their choir directors, singing in Latin and adding a layer of burnished bronze to “Carmina Burana.”

Henceforth, this youth chorus will be the standard by which I will measure the performance of “Carmina Burana.” But what I took from this is nothing compared to what the young choir members will take away. They have rocked a demanding classical music chorale. They have heard the applause and felt the satisfaction of hard-won success. They were a part of excellence. They have tasted victory. By the look on their faces, they liked it.

I have said before that one of the things I love about the Rio Grande Valley is its regard for education and inclusion of children in its plans for the future. Certainly, the Valley Symphony Orchestra and Chorale were walking that walk in their production of Carmina Burana. They also took a great piece of music and made it better.