AMERICAN FOLK – March 4-6, 2016
Old American Songs – adapted by Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
Zion’s Walls – arr. by Glenn Koponen
Simple Gifts (Shaker Song) – arr. by Irving Fine
At the River – arr. by R. Wilding White
Ching-A-Ring Chaw – arr. by Irving Fine
The Little Horses – arr. by R. Wilding White
The Golden Willow Tree – arr. by Gregory Rose
The Boatmen’s Dance – arr. by Irving Fine
The Dodger – arr. by David L. Brunner
Long Time Ago – arr. by Irving Fine
I Bought Me A Cat – arr. by Irving Fine
Home on the Range – arr. by Mark Hayes
Shenandoah – arr. by Mack Wilberg
Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen (1934 – ), arr. by Deke Sharon
Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) – Billy Joel (1949 – ), arr. by Philip Lawson
That Lonesome Road – James Taylor (1948 – ), arr. Simon Carrington
And So It Goes – Billy Joel, arr. by Bob Chilcott
Light of a Clear Blue Morning – Dolly Parton (1946 – ), arr. by Craig Hella Johnson
Cindy – arr. by Mack Wilberg
Plus Bonus Track*
Quintessentially American, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, pianist, conductor, teacher and writer Aaron Copland (1900-1990) began creating music as a child, and while in Paris from 1921-1924 was one of the first American students of Nadia Boulanger. Boulanger mentored Copland by helping arrange the premiere of his organ concerto by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, initiating a long collaboration between Copland and conductor Serge Koussevitzky and leading to the composer’s involvement with Tanglewood’s Berkshire Music Festival. Copland himself befriended, encouraged and championed many colleagues including Charles Ives, Virgil Thomson, Carlos Chávez, Paul Bowles, David Diamond, Leonard Bernstein and Lukas Foss.
Copland admired the music of Stravinsky, Milhaud, Fauré and Mahler as well as popular music and jazz. He was also one of several major international composers in the early 20th century — like Vaughan Williams, Kodály, Bartók and Canteloube — who collected and transcribed folk music, often integrating it into their own creations. Along with his fellow American composers Ives, Samuel Barber, John Duke, Amy Beach and Edward MacDowell, Copland was additionally interested in preserving hymns, Native American melodies and African-American spirituals. Some scholars categorize portions of Copland’s work into an “American” period, catalyzed by the desire to create distinctively American classical music and also by the entry of the United States into the second World War — music like Lincoln Portrait, Fanfare for the Common Man, and The Tender Land as well as his two sets of Old American Songs from 1950 and 1952. The first set of Songs was premiered by tenor Peter Pears and pianist-composer Benjamin Britten, who had commissioned the set for Britten’s Aldeburgh Festival in England, while the second set was premiered by baritone William Warfield and the composer. Copland gave each song his personal musical style while retaining its original flavor (and, in some cases, echoes of instrumental accompaniment from banjo or harp), occasionally rewriting text to eliminate specific dialect; he explained, “I did not want to take any chance of it being construed as racist.”
Several of the Old American Songs (“The Boatmen’s Dance,” “Long Time Ago,” “Simple Gifts,” “I Bought Me a Cat” and “Ching-A-Ring Chaw”) were transcribed for chorus between 1952-1955 by American composer Irving Fine (1914-1962), who studied with Walter Piston, Boulanger and Koussevitzky before teaching at Harvard and Brandeis University. Fine served on the composition staff of the Berkshire Music Center, won Guggenheim and Fulbright Research fellowships along with an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and received commissions from the Ford Foundation, the Library of Congress, the Koussevitzky Foundation, Juilliard and the American League of Composers. With his wife, Verna, Fine shared a house with Copland for several summers at Tanglewood. He was influenced by Stravinsky and Hindemith, and interested in combining dissonance, serialism, tonalism and contrapuntal exploration. In a 1954 letter to Fine, Copland said of his friend’s choral arrangements, “They look ducky. How do you think up all those things?”
Set I begins with “The Boatmen’s Dance,” a minstrel song with a banjo melody dating back to 1843 from songwriter Daniel Decatur Emmett, who is also credited as the writer of the song “Dixie.” Copland used a “call and echo” effect before each verse to conjure the atmosphere of the Ohio River boatmen.
“The Dodger” was a campaign song from the presidential election of 1884, based on allegations of political corruption against Republican James Blaine by supporters of Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland. The tune was recorded by blind Arkansas folksinger Emma Dusenbury in 1936 for Vance Randolph and Laurence Powell, and this adaptation of Copland’s arrangement was transcribed in 2000 by composer David L. Brunner, Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at the University of Central Florida. Brunner specifies “banjo style” playing in the accompaniment.
Copland discovered the mournful ballad “Long Time Ago” in the Harris Collection at Brown University. It’s attributed to American poet George P. Morris, who helped found and edit The New-York Mirror and Ladies’ Literary Gazette and Home Journal, and C.E. Horn, with whom Morris wrote the opera The Maid of Saxony.
“Simple Gifts” (or “The Gift to be Simple”) was notated in 1848 at a Maine community of Shakers by Elder Joseph Brackett, who either composed the tune or wrote down an existing “dancing song” meant to be used in worship. Copland used the melody earlier in the 1944 ballet Appalachian Spring; his vocal version features accompaniment on weak beats to create a less regular pulse, and the choral arrangement is marked “quietly flowing” with the comment “to be sung freely, without rigid adherence to strict rhythm.”
Along with “Zion’s Walls” of Set II, the children’s nonsense song “I Bought Me a Cat” was originally intended by Copland for use in the unfinished musical comedy Tragic Ground. In a 1963 letter to Verna Fine, Copland wrote, “Incidentally it was Lynn Riggs (librettist of Oklahoma) who sang me ‘my’ version of ‘I Bought Me a Cat.’ I’ve never seen a printed version.” The song follows a traditional pattern, adding an animal — with accompanying sound effects — after each refrain.
After the success of the first set of Old American Songs, Copland opened Set II with the Southern lullaby “The Little Horses,” based on a version sung by Shirley Lomax Duggan and recorded by folklorists John and Ruby Lomax in 1939. “The Little Horses” and “At the River” were arranged in the mid-1960s by English-born American composer, writer and artist Raymond Wilding-White (1922-2001), a student of Copland and Jacques Ibert. Wilding-White was active in radio and television for Boston’s WGBH and Chicago’s WFMT and taught at DePaul University. With inspirations including John Cage, Wilding-White’s compositions have been said to “possess a distinctive nervous energy” (The Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd edition).
Copland added a contrasting section with countermelody to “Zion’s Walls,” a revivalist song attributed to American composer John G. McCurry, who compiled 222 pieces in the 1855 songbook The Social Harp. “Zion’s Walls” was also used by Copland as the basis for “The Promise of Living” in his 1954 opera The Tender Land. Glenn Koponen, dean of Nyack College’s School of Music, arranged “Zion’s Walls” in 1982. Koponen is known as a trumpeter, a conductor, and an expert on contemporary Finnish music, with degrees from the Eastman School of Music, Juilliard and Columbia.
Arranged to be performed “with gusto,” “The Golden Willow Tree” tells a tale of betrayal and loyalty at sea. It was based on an Anglo-American ballad known as “The Golden Vanity,” also used by Benjamin Britten. Copland’s version — with reworked melody — came from a Library of Congress Archive of American Folk Song recording for banjo and voice from 1937 by Justus Begley. Composer-arranger Gregory Rose, who arranged “The Golden Willow Tree,” studied at the Vienna Academy and at Oxford University under his father, conductor-composer Bernard Rose. Gregory Rose is the founder and music director of several ensembles including the Jupiter Orchestra and Singcircle, and a frequent choral, orchestral and operatic conductor as well as professor of conducting at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.
The hymn tune “At the River” (or“Shall We Gather at the River”) was written in 1865 by Robert Lowry, a Baptist pastor, composer, poet, chancellor at the University of Lewisburg, and editor and compiler of Sunday school songs. “At the River” was sung at memorial concerts for Copland and for Leonard Bernstein.
Copland rewrote the bouncy minstrel song “Ching-A-Ring Chaw” and its banjo inflections to create a “milk and honey” image of Paradise alongside rhythmic nonsense syllables; it too was arranged by Irving Fine.
Known as an anthem of the American West, “Home on the Range” was published in 1912 in Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by Texas folklorist John Lomax; some scholars trace its origins to “My Western Home” from the 1870s, with verse by Brewster M. Higley and music by Daniel E. Kelley. Mark Hayes, a Kansas City pianist, composer and conductor who earned a degree from Baylor University, arranged “Home on the Range” in 1990. Hayes’s works for chorus and orchestra have been recorded by the Kansas City Chorale.
“Shenandoah” — referring to Native American Oneida tribal chief Oskanondonha (also known as Skenandoa or Schenando) — is a traditional American folk tune which became a popular sea shanty and sailors’ work-song. Conrad Susa (1935-2014), who arranged “Shenandoah,” was an American professor of composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, a writer of operas including The Dangerous Liaisons and Transformations, and for 35 years the resident composer for San Diego’s Old Globe Theater. Susa’s music was influenced by bossa nova, Samuel Barber, tango, J.S. and P.D.Q. Bach, and jazz; he wrote many choral works and more than 200 theater scores.
Leonard Cohen’s 1984 song “Hallelujah” found fame through a recording by Jeff Buckley, and has been used in film and television ranging from Shrek to “The West Wing” to Lord of War. Cohen wrote more than 80 verses, and although some of the most popular lyrics follow the song’s chord progression (“It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift…”) and Biblical references abound, hundreds of interpretations exist. This arrangement is one of more than 2,000 songs from a capella advocate, director, producer and coach Deke Sharon, known for Pitch Perfect and “The Sing-Off.”
When Simon Carrington left The King’s Singers he was replaced by baritone Philip Lawson, who also arranged for the ensemble after Bob Chilcott’s departure. Lawson performed with The BBC Singers, The Sixteen and The Taverner Choir, and is musical director of The Romsey Singers. He arranged singer-songwriter Billy Joel’s 1993 song “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” — from the album River of Dreams — which Joel had written for his daughter Alexa Ray.
“That Lonesome Road” was written by composer-pianist Don Grolnick and singer-songwriter James Taylor, and recorded by Taylor on Dad Loves His Work, his 10th studio album. Taylor has been awarded five Grammys, the National Medal of Arts, and France’s Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. His wistful song is often described as a reaction to the impending breakup of his marriage with Carly Simon. It was arranged by Yale University professor emeritus and former Yale Schola Cantorum director Simon Carrington, who also served as director of choral activities at New England Conservatory and the University of Kansas. Carrington was a co-founder of The King’s Singers and a professional double bassist.
Billy Joel has won Tony and Grammy awards, the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song from the Library of Congress, the Billboard Century Award, the ASCAP Centennial Award, a Grammy Legend Award and a Kennedy Center Honor. He wrote the hymn-like “And So It Goes” in 1983, releasing it in 1989 on the album Storm Front; it’s believed to be written about his relationship with Elle Macpherson. The song was arranged by British choral composer Bob Chilcott, former tenor with The King’s Singers, principal guest conductor of The BBC Singers and former conductor of the chorus of London’s Royal College of Music.
Dolly Parton wrote both words and music for 1977’s optimistic “Light of a Clear Blue Morning,” from her first self-produced and pop-inflected album New Harvest…First Gathering. The song is arranged by Craig Hella Johnson, a Grammy-winning conductor, artistic director of the ensemble Conspirare, music director of the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble and former artistic director of Chanticleer.
The folk song “Cindy,” popular in the South and in the Appalachians as a fiddle and banjo tune, has been associated with a variety of lyrics. Several incarnations were recorded by musicologists Alan Jabbour and John Lomax, later forms were recorded by artists like Elvis Presley, Robert Plant and Johnny Cash, and this energetic version was arranged by Mack Wilberg “a la ‘hoedown,’” with vocal effects and percussion. Wilberg has served as music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir since 2008, and was formerly a professor of music at Brigham Young University, his alma mater along with the University of Southern California.
© Program notes by Katrina Becker