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PROGRAM

Ezekiel Saw de Wheel – Moses Hogan
Elijah Rock – Moses Hogan
The Battle of Jericho – Moses Hogan
Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel – Moses Hogan

MLK – U2, arr. Bob Chilcott

Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing – Herbert Howells

Prayer – René Clausen

from Sirens – Mason Bates

Die Lorelei
“Stelle, vostra mercé l’eccelse sfere”
from The Book of Matthew

In My Life – The Beatles, arr. Steve Zegree
Blackbird – The Beatles, arr. Daryl Runswick
I’ll Follow the Sun – The Beatles, arr. Grayston Ives
Got to Get You Into My Life – The Beatles, arr. Paul Crabtree

A Marshland Elegy – Shawn Crouch

Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine – Eric Whitacre

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Heroes can be legends, certainly…especially if enough time has passed.  Legends can also be heroes, although the criteria are perhaps a bit murkier (Billy the Kid and Jesse James are both legendary, but one man’s folk hero is another man’s cold-blooded thug).  The inspirations for this program are less ambiguous about having to straddle that hard-to-discern line – with the possible exception of the Sirens, who clearly don’t fall into the heroic category!  Surely the men, women, and children who struggled under the yoke of slavery are heroes, while their suffering is legendary.  The prominent African-American composer Moses Hogan is well on his way, since his early death cut short so much promise.  Martin Luther King, Jr., and JFK are both, and would have been so even if they had been allowed to live to a ripe old age.  Mother Teresa was truly a legend in her own time, and a hero to millions around the world, not just in the slums of India.  What more is there to be said about the Beatles (although many will try)?!  If Aldo Leopold, one of the earliest heroes of the conservation movement, isn’t as well known as John Muir and Ansel Adams, he indubitably should be.  And ultimately, who could ever be more legendary than Leonardo da Vinci, the very definition of the “Renaissance Man”?

Ezekiel Saw de Wheel
Elijah Rock
The Battle of Jericho
Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel 
– Moses Hogan

Moses Hogan, a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Juilliard, was an award-winning concert pianist and director of the admired Moses Hogan Chorale.  He left us too young, dying of complications from a stroke at age 45.  The Negro Spirituals were born out of the slaves’ deep need for comfort and community, and also served as sorely needed reminders that Jesus promised them a better life.  Spirituals spoke to many levels of need, be it a retelling of Biblical stories, such as Ezekiel Saw de Wheel (although those who consider that Ezekiel was documenting an early visit from a UFO would hardly call it “simple”); songs of mourning, as in Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child or Nobody Knows the Trouble I See; a call for help from the formidable patriarchs, like Elijah Rock or Go down, Moses; tales to bolster and inspire perseverance, such as Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, Ride On, King Jesus, and When the Saints Go Marching In; and perhaps most intriguingly, the coded songs designed to provide information for escape attempts, including Follow the Drinking Gourd (the Big Dipper), Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, De Old Ark’s A-Movering, Deep River, and Steal Away.  Many spirituals could fall into more than one category as well, of course (indeed, even Ezekiel Saw de Wheel is considered by some to be a reference to the Underground Railroad).  It is easy at this remove to forget to listen for the undercurrent of woe that runs through even the liveliest spirituals, as so eloquently illustrated in the words of Frederick Douglass:

I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness.  Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my experience. I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness. Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery. The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.

MLK – U2, arr. Bob Chilcott

Bob Chilcott, for twelve years a member of The King’s Singers, retired from that group in 1997 to devote himself to composing, and has built for himself an equally illustrious solo name in that field.  MLK, a lullaby in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., is his arrangement of the haunting and lovely ballad by the Irish band U2, always known for its social conscience.  It was written by their lead singer Bono (it purportedly came to him one day while he was vacuuming) for their 1984 album, The Unforgettable Fire, and was one of the songs they chose for their half-time show for Super Bowl XXXVI, when they paid tribute to those lost in the terrorist attacks of September 11th.

Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing – Herbert Howells

The sorrow of losing his nine-year-old son to spinal meningitis understandably colored Howell’s music to a great degree, calling forth first his Requiem, and then his masterpiece, the Hymnus Paradisi.  When he first planned his Hymnus, he turned to the Hymnus circa Exsequias Defuncti of the early Christian poet Prudentius, born in Spain in 348; however, he did not, in fact, end up using much of that text, turning instead to parts of the Requiem Mass and to Biblical texts such as Psalms 23 and 121.  When he was commissioned in 1964 to write a piece in honor of the recently-slain John F. Kennedy, therefore, he returned to the lines which had so moved him before, “Nunc susipe, terra, fovendum, gremioque nunc concipe molli,” although he chose to set them in Helen Waddell’s translation, “Take him, earth, for cherishing, to thy tender breast receive him.”

Prayer – René Clausen

For the past twenty years, René Clausen has been the conductor of the internationally renowned Concordia Choir of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota (a choir that, incidentally, has had only three conductors since its founding in the 1920s), where he also serves as artistic director of the Choir’s much lauded annual Concordia Christmas Concert, which is broadcast nationwide.  Although he composes in all genres, Clausen is one of America’s most popular choral composers, writing as he does music that is suited to all levels of ability and expertise.  One of his most recent works is Memorial, a piece in honor of the victims of September 11, which was commissioned by the American Choral Directors Association.

Mother Teresa, the diminutive if indomitable Albanian nun who devoted her life to feeding the poor in India, is almost universally beloved and admired (with Christopher Hitchens as one of the few outspoken exceptions).  She joined the Sisters of Loreto at the age of 18, serving as a missionary in India, and eventually became the headmistress of the Loreto convent school in Calcutta, until “a call within the call” jolted her to take her place amidst the destitute and found a new order, the Missionaries of Charity.  For her tireless work, she was awarded the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, the Pacem in Terris Award, the Order of Merit from both the United Kingdom and the United States, India’s Bharat Ratna, and the Nobel Peace Prize.  Since her death in 1997, the cry for sainthood has been steady, and Pope John Paul II declared her beatified in 2003, which is the final step before canonization.  Her daily prayer, “Dear Jesus, help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go,” is perhaps even more meaningful since we now know of her inward struggles and despair, her battle against hopelessness and desolation, which she never allowed to come between her and her commission to serve the most hopeless and desolate of human beings, the “least of these” with the face of Jesus.

from Sirens – Mason Bates

The young American composer Mason Bates combines his love of classical music with electronica, which he has been incorporating into and blending with his more traditional pieces with startling and effective results.  His undergraduate degrees (in both music composition and English literature) were earned from the Columbia University-Juilliard School exchange program with a doctoral degree from the University of California, Berkeley.  The recipient of numerous awards, including a fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a fellowship from the Tanglewood Music Center, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and numerous residencies, one of his most recent commissions was a piece for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, Mothership.  In 2010, he began an appointment as Composer in Residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that will last through 2012, and he has worked with some of the most important conductors of the day, including Michael Tilson Thomas, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Leonard Slatkin.

Sirens was commissioned by Chanticleer in 2008.  In its six movements (three of which will be presented in this concert), Bates explores the hypnotic thrall of the Sirens’ song in different cultures and in different languages, including Greek, German, Italian, and Quechua.  In Greek mythology, the Sirens are monstrous bird women who sing with voices of unutterable beauty, irresistibly luring all who hear them to their deaths in the rocky shoals around the island.  The hero Odysseus escaped their spell by having the crew of his ship bind him tightly to the mast and plug their own ears with beeswax; Jason and the crew of the Argonaut were saved by fellow passenger Orpheus, the father of music, who drew his lyre and sang more loudly and beautifully than the Sirens until the danger point had been passed.  In Germany, the Siren is known as die Lorelei, a beautiful woman combing her long golden locks.  Traditionally, she sat and sang on the echoing cliff at the narrows near Sankt Goarshausen in Germany, a treacherous stretch where the river is constricted to its narrowest point.  In Stelle, vostra mercèl’eccelse sfere, the celestial stars are the Sirens, singing “almost in the language of angels.”  Intriguingly, in The Book of Matthew, Jesus himself is the Siren, beguiling the rough fishermen on the edge of the Sea of Galilee to become fishers of men.

In My Life – The Beatles, arr. Steve Zegree
Blackbird – The Beatles, arr. Daryl Runswick
I’ll Follow the Sun – The Beatles, arr. Grayston Ives
Got to Get You Into My Life – The Beatles, arr. Paul Crabtree

The Beatles, as any life form that is not an actual beetle already knows, are the most successful band in history.  Headed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the band received seven Grammy awards, fifteen Ivor Novello Awards, and almost innumerable Diamond, Platinum, Multi-Platinum, Gold, and Silver albums.  In 1965, Queen Elizabeth appointed them Members of the Order of the British Empire, and Time magazine included the band in its list of the 20th century’s 100 most influential people.  The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988; unfortunately, it was a posthumous award for John Lennon, who was shot in 1980 by a deranged fan, to worldwide distress.  The majority of the band’s greatest hits were written by Lennon or McCartney, or by the two in collaboration (there are some songs whose actual authorship is still hotly contested).  In My Life began as an autobiographical song about Lennon’s boyhood, describing one of his regular bus routes.  However, upon review he recognized that the poem was full of platitudes, denounced it as “the most boring sort of ‘What I Did On My Holidays Bus Trip’ song,” and rewrote the text as a more metaphysical meditation.  Paul McCartney elaborated on the origin of Blackbird in an interview with KCRW Radio in 2002: “So, I was doing explanations [for my audience] and I actually just remembered why I’d written Blackbird, you know, that I’d been, I was in Scotland playing on my guitar, and I remembered this whole idea of ‘you were only waiting for this moment to arise’ was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird. It’s not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it’s a bit more symbolic.”  In his 1997 biography, Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, McCartney revealed that Got to Get You Into My Life, which Lennon described as “one of [Paul’s] best songs, is actually about marijuana.

A Marshland Elegy – Shawn Crouch

Aldo Leopold is considered by most to be the father of America’s wildlife conservation movement.  In 1909, he became one of the first graduates of the newly-formed Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and thereafter joined the U.S. Forest Service.  Within three years, he was named supervisor of the Carson National Forest in New Mexico (which encompasses a million acres), and in 1924 became the Associate Director of the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin.  It is largely due to his persistence and persuasiveness that the Gila Wilderness, a portion of the Gila National Forest, was set aside in 1924 to be managed as an untouched wilderness area, the first in the world to be so designated.  In 1935, Leopold and seven other committed conservationists founded The Wilderness Society, which has to date preserved some 110 million acres in 44 states.  Looking for a weekend retreat, Leopold bought an abandoned farm near the river outside of Baraboo, 80 barren acres that had been over-farmed, over-grazed, and subjected to numerous prairie fires.  In the middle of these “sand counties” (not an actual county, but rather the gently rolling, sandy prairies of central Wisconsin where the rivers run “gin clear,” much to the delight of fly fishermen), Leopold and his family rebuilt the decrepit chicken coop for their bunkhouse (fondly nicknamed “The Shack”) and set about bringing the land back to life.  Sand County Almanac is Leopold’s love letter to the land, with one chapter for each month of the year, turning his meticulous eye on each new marvel of the season.  After its publication in 1949, it slowly became a bestseller, but Leopold did not live to see it – he died of a heart attack in 1948 while helping a neighbor battle a prairie wildfire.  His legacy lives on in the Leopold Conservation Award, presented by the Sand County Foundation to a private landowner “who exemplifies the spirit of this emerging land ethic – an individual or a family committed to leaving their land better than they found it.”  The Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

A Marshland Elegy, extracted from A Sand County Almanac, was commissioned for Charles Bruffy and the Phoenix Chorale by Frank D. Skinner, in honor of his mother, Ruth Skinner Hutchins.  A talented musician, she was an early advocate of living green, and had a particular affinity for Leopold’s writing.  Shawn Crouch, who received his degrees from the New England Conservatory and Yale, has been winning acclaim from Gramophone Magazine, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), Chanticleer, and numerous other performing groups, and was the first recipient of the Dale Warland Singers Commissioning Award.  Something of a hero himself, Crouch is the Founding Director of the Miami Choral Academy, a tuition-free afterschool program for children in the underserved, economically-disadvantaged communities of Miami-Dade County in Florida.

Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine – Eric Whitacre

In 2000, Whitacre became the youngest composer to be honored with the Raymond Brock commission from the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA).  The result was Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine, a collaboration between the composer and longtime friend Charles Anthony Silvestri, who wrote the text.  In his interview with Tom Schnabel for KCRW’s Café L.A., Whitacre discussed his general approach to composing a new piece:  “I very much want to create a dramatic piece.  Most of the time I feel like I’m writing little movie scores without the movie and so I’m trying to take the listener on a little journey…mostly I just want to try to write beautiful or breathtaking or exciting or heartbreaking music that’s incredibly pure, that simply is that thing.”  Certainly Leonardo is the perfect summation of that philosophy.  Whitacre threw out the possible title, and immediately Silvestri began combing through da Vinci’s notebooks, culling ideas and tidbits that could be used to create a cinematic narrative, such as the vignette describing how da Vinci would release pigeons so he could sketch them in flight and at the moment of take-off.  Eventually the text coalesced into an English “plot” interspersed with Italian interpolations from da Vinci’s diaries, a device used by Silvestri to “increase the sense of urgency, frustration, mania, desperation, obsession – whatever you want to call it – that drives Leonardo to attempt the flight.”  And finally, as the man triumphs, so does the music, bubbling up in joyous eddies of sound and sweeping both the dreamer and the listener away on swirling thermals of rising air to drift on the distant winds.

– Kathryn Parke

The program notes for our concerts are written by a great friend of Charles Bruffy and the Chorale, Kathryn Parke.  A soprano who specializes in early music, she taught for many years at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg Kansas.  In addition to performance and research, her musical interests include composition and arranging, and her pieces have been performed by the PSU Choirs, the Early Music Consort of Kansas City, and several District Honor Choirs.  She has written the liner notes for the majority of the Chorale’s recent CDs.