Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fujit Fiat Vox: Latin, sort of, for eclectic choral

Fujit Fiat Vox's concert next week at the First Religious Society will be the debut for the chamber choir and a homecoming, of sorts, wrapped into one, and we're going to talk about that, we really are, but, first, what's the deal with the name, Music Director Joshua Anand Slater? Like how do you pronounce "Fujit," which looks like a first declension Czech verb or something vaguely Japanese, and what does it mean? Well, bit of a story here: Slater pronounces it "foo-jeht," but leaves the pronunciation up to individuals. There's no correct way to say it since it's not a real word. He made it up or, rather, adapted it from Tempus Fugit, Latin for "time flies," the name of a colleague's ensemble several years ago, back when he was teaching at the Sparkhawk School. He changed Fugit to Fujit ("for the profound reason that I think it’s prettier spelled that way") and tacked on Fiat Vox ("my hubristic Latin motto") lifted from the Vulgate Old Testament: the let-there-be-light business being transformed into 'let there be voices,' more or less — "silly, probably," Slater says, "but I think it's fun."

Yeah, he's a down-to-earth guy with a quirky sense of humor who thinks classical musicians are a little too full of themselves sometimes, the kind of guy who leaves possibly embarrassing tidbits in his online bio, like the reference to his nickname, Butterfingers. That came when Slater — a singer, an organist and conductor — got "roped into" filling in on bass drums for a performance of Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." He figured, how hard could it be? Just whomp the drum, right? Famous last words: Stick went flying, face went deepest shade of scarlet possible and then he got "the Indiana Jones look," the one from the final scenes of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," when faces melt. And then there was the egg ocarina incident at Sparhawk, where Slater taught from 2004 to 2007: "They break pretty easily," he says. That was the end of his percussion career ("probably best for everyone involved," he says), and right about the time that Tempus Fugit timed out. Slater, who had been talking about starting a chorus for years, picked up the musical ball and ran with it, but the project stalled without ever getting to the point of performance. Then this spring, when Slater was "running my notoriously large mouth" about choral music, a friend called his bluff, told him, essentially, that he should put up or shut up. He started collecting singers from around Boston "who can sing anything, any time and sound fantastic doing it" and rehearsing through the summer.

The program for the Newburyport debut will be eclectic, from the medieval (Antoine Busnoys’ "Missa L’homme Armé," French sacred music from the 15th century) to the Baroque ( Johann Sebastian Bach’s "Lobet den Herrn") to the modern (Ralph Vaughn Williams' "Mass in G minor" and Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Bendita Sabedoria"). "Maybe in that order," says Slater. There is, plainly, no overarching theme — a deliberate choice. "Sometimes themed shows work too hard to be cohesive," he says. He selected the material because the music is worth doing for its own sake. There will be 15 voices in the Port program, which will be repeated the next day in Boston, but the number is not fixed and will number 12 to 24 people, depending on the program. Slater chose Newburyport, in part, because his wife has family in the city — "guaranteeing," he says, "that we'll sell at least 10 tickets."

As long as they're not expecting comps.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Fujit Fiat Vox performs at 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at First Religious Society, 26 Pleasant St., Newburyport. The program features Johann Sebastian Bach’s "Lobet den Herrn," Antoine Busnoys’ "Missa L’homme Armé," Ralph Vaughn Williams' "Mass in G minor" and Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Bendita Sabedoria." Suggested donation is $20 adults, $15 students/seniors. The ensemble will also perform at 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at Church of Our Savior, 25 Monmouth St., Brookline. There's more information on Fujit here.

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