Songs of Sanctuary
(Caroline Records, 1995)

Aside from the wonder of the music itself, the most intriguing thing about this album are the lyrics -- or rather, the lack of them. Songs of Sanctuary is a choral-type work with the text written "phonetically, with the words viewed as an instrumental sound." The result is stunning.

Miriam Stockley is the key to the success of this album. She grew up in South Africa, and was exposed there to the stylistic differences of ethnic music. The obvious tribal sound of Sanctuary is a result of this upbringing. Miriam, along with Mary Carewe, had to sing fortissimo and without vibrato. It's almost impossible to believe that all this sound comes from two women and not a full chorale.

The London Philharmonic gives a stellar performance on this album. While the vocals are very tribal, the orchestra grounds the music in the classical tradition. The combination of the two is a perfect blend.

The formula is a good one; the orchestra starts out very somberly, sounding like a Vaughan Williams piece. The music soon starts to change, the strings soaring ever upward. Suddenly, a primitive chant is introduced, joined by percussion and the orchestra. Or, the vocals lead in a chant reminiscent of ancient church hymns before transforming into something completely new. The music gradually builds to a joyous pinnacle, inviting the listener to leap up and dance. And the fact that the words aren't actual words doesn't stop you from singing along. This is music in its purest form -- it draws you in, catching you up in its rhythms and melodies, carrying you along to a place of joy and beauty.

Karl Jenkins, the composer, writes: "Apart from religious connotations, 'sanctuary' means a place of refuge. This music is somewhere to escape to. This is not to say that the music is introspective and somber. We believe the emotion to be wide-ranging." Hope. Power. Awe. Peace. Joy. I would say that they have succeeded.

[ by Crystal Kocher ]

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