WESTERLY — Veronica Kushner stood inside the George Kent Performance Hall one afternoon last week, waiting for chorus rehearsal to begin. The 13-year-old Bradford resident, who has been singing with the Chorus of Westerly since she was eight, was smiling broadly and doing her best to exude confidence.
Kushner will sing her first-ever solo during the quartet part of Allegri’s “Miserere, mei Deus,” at the “This is the Day” concert this weekend. It’s a part, said chorus Music Director Andrew Howell, that is “one of the most revered and one of the most feared.”
The top line in the quartet section is a high C, said Howell. A very high C. And he has great faith his choristers will hit the right note.
“She’s very talented,” said Howell, with a nod toward Kushner. “She’s prepared and she’s confident.”
“I’ve had a lot of help,” said Kushner, the oldest daughter of Jennifer and Joseph Kushner of Bradford. “I am really thankful. This is an awesome community.”
Kushner will join two of her fellow teen choristers — Nelly Gross and Lilia Gwaltney — and soloist Elliott Pillsbury, in singing the four solo parts of the “Miserere,” a piece that not only contains a high C but is considered to be a cornerstone of of Early Renaissance music. It also has a curious history.
Chorus Executive Director Ryan Saunders said the “Miserere,” composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII, was written to be sung only in the Sistine Chapel.
“It was so good that, to preserve the sense of mystery around the music, the Pope forbade anyone from transcribing it, on pain of excommunication,” according to Ed Newton-Rex in “Medium.” “Only three copies were made: one for the Holy Roman Emperor, one for the King of Portugal, and one for an eminent music scholar . But these versions were so simplified from the original that the King of Portugal actually complained. The Pope wanted to keep its genius a secret — and so it remained for over 100 years.”
“But then the Mozarts popped into a Wednesday service at the Vatican at which the ‘Miserere’ was being performed,” Newton-Rex writes. “A couple of hours later, back at home, young Wolfgang Mozart proceeded to transcribe the entire piece from memory. He went back on Friday to make a couple of corrections — and the Vatican’s secret was out.”
“Later on in their travels, the Mozarts bumped into British music historian Dr. Charles Burney,” Newton-Rex writes. “They passed on the manuscript to Burney, who took it to London, and it was published there in 1771.”
“It’s a very expansive, meditative piece,” said Howell. “There is a back and forth sort of chanting quality ... it’s very cool.”
Howell said he has a particular soft spot for “Miserere, mei Deus.” When he was a music student at the University of Rhode Island, he played the “Miserere” for one of his classes and was accompanied by a young soprano named Emily, who sang that high C. Today he is married to that soprano and the couple has four children, two of whom sing with the chorus.
The chorus, which will be performing a cappella for the concert, will also sing the premiere of a piece called “Praise Be the Lord,” written by chorus alum Peter Niedmann.
Also on the program will be “Psalm 121,” an Anglican chant by Davies; Berger’s “Speak to One Another of Psalms;” Angela’s “Jubilate Deo;” Mendelssohn’s “Hear my Prayer;” “Lift up Your Heads,” by Mathias; Handel’s “De torrente” from “Dixit Dominus;” Hailstork’s “I Will Lift up Mine Eyes,” and Willcock’s “Sing!”
Dylan Tallardy, 11, one of the chorus’ trebles, will be singing the middle solo in “Hear My Prayer.”