• News/Talk
  • Music
  • Entertainment
Saint Paul Sunday home page

Mixed Company®

Mixed Company is written by Saint Paul Sunday staff, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the show and the classical music they love. We welcome your online comments.

« Sui Generis | Main | Mystery Man »

September 14, 2006

Visual contrasts

We recorded Anonymous 4 at St. Bernard's Catholic Church in north St. Paul (rather than in the studio) so that the last notes of their music could resonate and linger like the singing you might hear in a cathedral or another large, echoey space. It turned out to be an acoustically, and especially visually, stunning change of scenery.

We recorded in the evening after the last mass and turned off all of the lights and air circulation so that the church was completely silent. It was also completely dark, which made finding your way around a bit of a trick, but the music stand lights left Anonymous 4 and Bill McGlaughlin in a small pool of light.

Senior Producer Vaughn Ormseth listens to Anonymous 4 during the sound check. Photo by Suzanne Schaffer Susan Hellauer and Marsha Genesky discuss the tradition of shape note singing. Photo by Suzanne Schaffer Susan Hellauer, Marsha Genesky and Johanna Rose go over some last minute notes before recording begins. Photo by Suzanne Schaffer

I'm not sure if it was the stark contrast of the dark church to the lighted altar or the ethereal sound produced by size of the church, however there was something spiritual, maybe even sobering, about the music. Anonymous 4 is well-known for their clean, pure and passionate sound and I found that they are also great image evokers. Their singing brought to my mind the hard-working, early pioneers, many of whom didn't have formal musical training, but whose determination and purity of intent resulted in rich hymns. What images come to your mind when you listen to Anonymous 4?

Posted by Suzanne Schaffer at September 14, 2006 5:25 PM



Absolutely breathtaking. What a marvelous use of air waves.

By karen klaske at September 4, 2005 8:04 AM


As a shape note singer in Southern Appalachia, I was most pleased to hear the presentation. It is technically excellent.

What is not possible to convey is the joining of many, many mostly untrained voices, both male and female in a wooden church for all day singing and dinner on the ground. It's not just the sound created; it is the fellowship and sense of community that happens there. There are traditional singings that have been held in the same location on the same day for years. There are also groups who meet monthly.

www.fasola.org is a good resource for learning more of the history as well as current goings on.

By Don at September 4, 2005 10:48 AM


What a luminous way to wake up and have breakfast. Magnificent voices; history of content of program most interesting. THANK YOU.

By Madeleine Sullivan at September 4, 2005 12:14 PM


What a delightful expansion upon, yet deviation from, the normal programming. I had never heard of this group before, but promptly purchased a CD from the music store. Thanks for sharing.

By Dan at September 4, 2005 1:13 PM


The Anon 4 were beautiful!

Fortunately our two public radio stations broadcast you at 8 and 10 am. I could hear them twice!


By Carl at September 4, 2005 1:18 PM


Lovely and beautiful music by Anonymous 4. Thoroughly enjoyed your program today.

By Marianne at September 4, 2005 2:01 PM


I'm a regular listener to St. Paul Sunday, and I wake up earlier than necessary to start my day with that show. Today I particularly enjoyed the vocal music by Anonymous 4, which tempted me to wake my daughter who also has a beautiful voice. Instead, I will have her listen to the archive. The group was a timely inspiration, and provided some much-needed calm on a day when we remembered the Hurricane Katrina victims with our own special music at church. Thanks again to Maestro McGlaughlin for his wonderful selection.

By Elana at September 4, 2005 2:45 PM


While recognizing the beauty of A4's voices, and their nearly breathtaking harmony, I find their efforts are often out of sync with the music they sing, creating a kind of harmonic disonance.

Shape note singing for instance: this is music of the common folk (of which I count myself a member), meant to be sung--and best heard by-- untrained (though impassioned) voices. It's rough hewn stuff. Does A4 sound nice? Sure. Is it overkill? Yeah.

Does other religious music (Gregorian chant, for instance) deserve this meticulous treatment? Perhaps.

Some things are best served in plain wrapping. Beer in a chalice? Hot dogs on a silver plater? Overkill in my view.

John Niesyn

By John Niesyn at September 4, 2005 10:17 PM


Mr John Niesyn, There is nothing out of place with beer in a chalice or hotdogs on a silver platter! Mewsic comes in many wonderful shapes and sounds!

I tuned in a tad late, but the part I did hear was SO moving! Gospel/folk/traditional songs are my kind of mewsic, and the Anon4 did sound so lovely. Sorry, Ladies, for giving you such an anemic accolade. I just cannot put into words the feelings and emotions you envoked Sunday. I cannot sing, but you encourage me to play my Mt Dulcimore more and try to put my feelings into my mewsic as you do yours!

I am listening to the archived show even as I comment to hear the whole show. I think this show and Jimmy Galway's show will be played and replayed many, many times!

By Mewsicat at September 5, 2005 9:33 PM


Like gossamer strands of silk, its strength in harmony, the music of Anonymous 4 slipped its way into my mind, to soothe and wrap the hurt of the Hurricane. I felt restored by their beautiful sound. Thank you.

By Fran Janssen at September 6, 2005 6:27 AM


I absolutely LOVE this music of this fantastic music vocal ensemble, and I love them, too, personally, they are pretty and beautiful in both their physical beauty, their ineer beauty and their beautiful music, which is so high quality and so prefessional, sounds like UK and English and Irish to me and European!!!! LOVE IT SO MUCH! Thanks, MPR, for bringing this excellent group of four ladies and pro vocalists to the USA airwaves! Sincerely, John in Indianapolis, IN

By John D Thomas at September 6, 2005 6:17 PM


While travelling, we tuned in to our favorite classical station (KCSC 90.1FM, Edmond, OK) & happened to catch this wonderful group. I was very excited to hear them as I am in a mountain dulcimer group & we play some of this same music. We enjoyed it tremendously & I look forward to getting their albums & having our teacher listen to them. I had the pleasure of hearing the broadcast again last Sun., again while travelling. I will certainly tune in this station every Sun. a.m. before going to church.

By Ellen Jantz at September 15, 2005 8:13 PM


Oh joy, what an entrancing sound. I have just joind a Sacred Harp 'Shape Note' group in Tucson AZ and would love to start one in East Phoenix area.
I love this sound, I love singing in a full square of sacred harp singers, full voice and full of joy. This musical experience is like no other. Thanks to the group here presented for sharing this 'performance' but to truly experience Sacred Harp (the voice alone joined to others in these praise singing) you should go to fasola.org to find a sing near you. K. Garrett

By kathy garrett at September 18, 2006 10:16 PM


Reading "Visual Contrasts" article about MPR recording Anonymous 4 at St.Bernard's Catholic Church in North St. Paul,prompts me to suggest that you consider recording the violin and guitar ensemble-Duo46's www.duo46.com "Music of the America's Concert at Sundin Hall,Hamline University St. Paul September 28.i realize i am bias ,because i am matt and beth's father and father in law. But,the critics like American Record Guide,Cincinnati Enquirer ,Detrot Free Pres,Gramophone,Il Fronimo ,NewMusicBox,Strad,Sequenza 21 ,etc. also recommend Duo46 .

By bob schneider at September 21, 2006 1:39 PM


Anyone wishing to pursue an interest in shape-note singing
should consider attending the 17th Annual Minnesota Sacred Harp Singing Convention this week-end, Sept 23&24. Details available at www.freude.com/mnfasola/

By Elizabeth Senger at September 21, 2006 2:10 PM