Welcome to tonight’s concert, which begins the fifth year of the existence of Griffin Choral Arts. This first noteworthy anniversary offers a time for both gratified retrospection and enthusiastic anticipation of the future.
Those who have attended previous seasons’ concerts may recognize some familiar composers on tonight’s program: Grotenhuis, Rutter, Whitacre, Caldwell and Ivory. This re-visiting is primarily a tribute to the quality of their music, but having some “old friends” on the program also seems a good way to begin a celebration of our fifth year.
We also look with great excitement to the promising future of this choral ensemble, with at least two important milestones highlighting the fifth anniversary: our first commissioned composition (by David Childs, to be premiered in the May concert) and the first GCA appearance at world-famous Spivey Hall, on April 10, 2012.
An even more important looking ahead brings us back to the theme of tonight’s concert. In one way or another, each piece on the program considers the prospect of what may lie ahead in the future for each of us beyond this earthly life. Let anyone still unsure about the importance of the arts to human survival listen closely to tonight’s music. While the concert title–“Heavenly Light”–may seem to draw our attention away from life on earth, the music on the program reminds us even more profoundly of the values that sustain us from day to day in this world.
Song of Triumph Dale Grotenhuis, b. 1936
Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty, just and true are all your ways;
You, O Lord, over all are King.
Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring great glory to your Name?
You alone are holy, alleluia.
All nations shall come and worship before you, for your mighty and holy acts have been revealed.
(Revelation 15: 3-4)
The connection between this piece and tonight’s “heavenly” theme is heart-rending. At the 1983 funeral of their son Jack, killed in a motorcycle accident while a graduate student in a DMA program at Arizona State University, Jack’s mother, hearing the words of the Revelation passage read in the service, suggested that her husband Dale write his next anthem based on that text and with the title “Song of Triumph.” Mrs. Grotenhuis writes of the ensuing development of the piece: “The seeds were planted, and two days after the funeral, God inspired Dale to write ‘Song of Triumph.’ With broken heart he worked nonstop for sixteen hours in the privacy of his office [at Dordt College in Iowa, where he served as a mentor to GCA conductor Steve Mulder during his undergraduate days]. Carrying the completed composition, he returned home like a conquering hero. We were both elated in the midst of deep sorrow” (Eleanor Veldman Grotenhuis, Song of Triumph, Grand Rapids MI: Baker Book House, 1991; p.52). The work received its official premiere in 1984 at the National Choral Symposium at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, at which Grotenhuis also spoke of the background of the composition, leaving (in Eleanor’s words) “not a dry eye in the auditorium.”
An especially poignant musical detail in this story is that in one of Jack’s compositions for his DMA project shortly before his untimely death he used such unusual chords in a cadence ending a hymn paraphrase of Psalm 17 that he wrote in jest on the manuscript, “Eat your heart out, Dad!” Finding this note after Jack’s death, his father made sure to pay homage to that chord progression by quoting it in measures 34-35 of “Song of Triumph.”
Requiem John Rutter, b. 1945
Widely considered to be John Rutter’s masterpiece, this contribution to the long and venerable line of musical settings of the Mass for the Dead recalls the free setting of the mass by Johannes Brahms (performed by GCA in October 2009), and is indeed very Brahmsian in many ways, with its “arch”-like, symmetrical overall structure, its free use of biblical texts not normally included in the traditional Requiem mass, and its lush, Romantic sonorities. It also exhibits Rutter’s characteristically subtle eclecticism in choices both of texts and music, with stylistic borrowings all the way from thousand-year old church chants to modern film scores.
Rutter wrote the Requiem in 1985 in memory of his father, who had died the previous year. Music scholar Steven Ledbetter cites Rutter’s own explanation of the dedication of the piece to his father: “I wanted to remember him in music in some way, and preferably in a way that he might have enjoyed and appreciated [even as a non-trained musician]. . . . It was particularly important in this case to write something that could be appreciated by people everywhere.” Ledbetter continues, “[Rutter] was . . . inspired by the example of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, a work he had always loved, the manuscript of which happened to turn up about that time, so that he was able to study it at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.” (www.heritagechorale.org/pdf/Fall2010ProgNotes.pdf; accessed 9.5.11)
The work premiered in 1985 at Lovers’ Lane UMC in Dallas TX, with the composer conducting. The immediate and lasting popularity of the work surprised the composer, who accounts for the work’s success in these terms: “For me, it stands as a clear sign of humanity’s quest for solace and light amidst the darkness and troubles of our age. Art, André Gide said, must bear a message of hope—a message which is embedded in the age-old texts of the Requiem Mass, and also in the [Anglican] Burial Service, some of which I have interpolated into the structure of the work, using the incomparably resonant and glorious version from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.” (Program notes, Columbia [MD] Pro Cantare, www.procantate.org/images/Rutter.pdf; accessed 9.5.11)
1. Requiem aeternam (from Misssa pro defunctis [Mass for the Dead])
2. Out of the Deep (Psalm 130)
3. Pie Jesu (from “Dies Irae,” Missa pro defunctis)
4. Sanctus (from Missa pro defunctis)
5. Agnus Dei (Latin text from Missa pro defunctis; English from the Burial Service, 1662 Book of Common Prayer)
6. The Lord Is My Shepherd (Psalm 23)
7. Lux aeterna (English text from the Burial Service [slightly altered]; Latin text, Missa pro defunctis)
Festive Concertato on JERUSALEM THE GOLDEN Arr. Larry Visser, b. 1962
The “goldenness” of Heaven–also often described in both Christian and Jewish traditions as the “New Jerusalem”–is an age-old image, based on both biblical and other imaginative sources. The text of this grand Victorian hymn comes from a Latin poem written in the early twelfth century by the French monk Bernard of Cluny satirizing the fallenness of the mortal world (De Contemptu Mundi [“The Contemptible World”]). The Original English translation was by John Mason Neale in 1858, and the words were first set to the tune named EWING, composed in 1853 by Scottish-born composer Alexander Ewing.
Jerusalem the golden, descending from above, the city of God’s presence, the vision of God’s love–
I know not, oh, I know not what joys await us there, what radiancy of glory, what bliss beyond compare!
They stand, those halls of Zion, all jubilant with song, so bright with many an angel and all the martyr throng.
The Prince is ever in them, the daylight is serene; the tree of life and healing has leaves of richest green.
There is the throne of David, and there from pain released, the shout of those who triumph, the song of those who feast.
And all who with their leader have conquered in the fight, forever and forever are robed in purest white.
How lovely is that city, the home of God’s elect! How beautiful the country that eager hearts expect!
O Christ, in mercy bring us to that eternal shore where Father, Son, and Spirit are worshipped evermore. Amen!
Even for all its High Victorian, imperial/colonialist British tone–indeed perhaps even because of it–Neale’s original text differs in some revealing ways from the text used in tonight’s concert piece. Neale’s original opening lines of the hymn read “Jerusalem the Golden, with milk and honey blest,/Beneath thy contemplation sink heart and voice oppressed.” Yet by the 1990’s many hymnals had begun to “soften” that social-consciousness theme to the more distant, abstract wording quoted in first stanza above. Even today, the Anglican and Episcopal hymnals are among the few retaining the original Neale wording.
Tonight’s “concertato” setting–inviting the audience to sing along–is by Dr. Larry Visser, Minister of Music and Organist at LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Lux Aurumque Eric Whitacre, b. 1970
Contemporary American Wunderkind (some say “Enfant terrible”) Eric Whitacre is another favorite from past GCA concerts, most notably for his Five Hebrew Love Songs, performed in May 2009 with the Vega String Quartet. Of the origin and performance of his 2001 Lux Aurumque (Golden Light) the composer writes in a preface note to the music, “After deciding upon the poem by Edward Esch (I was immediately struck by its genuine, elegant simplicity), I had it translated into the Latin by the celebrated American poet Charles Anthony Silvestri. A simple approach is essential to the success of the work, and if the tight harmonies are carefully tuned and balanced they will shimmer and glow.” The work was commissioned by the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay.
Further describing details of the composition is music scholar Phillip A. Cooke: “[Whitacre’s] work Lux Aurumque . . . is perhaps . . . the most succinct example of his compositional style. The opening setting of the word “lux’ is Whitacre in a nutshell, with C# minor chords moving to either G# minor (with C# and E) or to a different position of C# minor (with B and D#)–whichever way you look at it these soft, slowly moving added chords are pure Whitacre. The warm bath of modal C# minor is interrupted for a chromatic descent on the word ‘gravisque’ (heavy) . . . . There follows some antiphony between men and women before a resounding F# major chord for those celestial angels. Whitacre then modulates to the relative major for the final sonorous utterances, leaving us . . . in no doubt that this was the journey to the ‘Lux’ of the title.” (http://www.phillipcooke.com/on-eric-whitacres-lux-aurumque; accessed 9.1.11)
Let Me Fly Arr. Robert DeCormier, b. 1922
This 1984 arrangement of the African-American spiritual is by prominent American choral director, composer, and arranger Robert DeCormier, most famous for his choral group the Robert DeCormier Singers but also as a heavily relied-upon arranger for popular vocal artists Harry Belafonte and Peter, Paul, and Mary.
The text is a typical example of the “code” of many slavery-origin spirituals. The desire to “fly” to Heaven is also a veiled expression of the desire to escape life on the plantation.
Illumined By Your Light James E. Clemens, b. 1966
A 1999 piece composed for the secular Schola Cantorum based at Saint Peter the Apostle church in the downtown Chicago Loop, this composition reflects in its catchy sub-Saharan African/Caribbean sounds, rhythms, and instrumentation the delightful melting-pot energy of the contemporary American metropolis. Yet the text is also traditionally devotional, its source being the Uniontown, Pennsylvania-based religious order of the Sisters of Basil the Great, who translated the Psalm 50-based text used in the Matins of St. Michael and All Angels from the Byzantine Festal Menaion.
Composer James E. Clemens, an essentially self-taught composer, grew up in Northern Indiana and attended Goshen College.
I’m But a Stranger Here Gilbert M. Martin, b. 1941
This familiar hymn is set not to the traditional hymnal version by Sir Arthur Sullivan but to an Appalachian-flavor folk tune by prolific choral composer Gilbert Martin, honored as a distinguished composer by Westminster Choir College, where he studied under Alexander McCurdy and George Lynn.
The text is by English Congregationalist minister Thomas Rawson Taylor (1807-1835).
I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home; earth is a desert drear, heaven is my home.
Danger and sorrow stand round me on ev’ry hand; Heaven is my fatherland.
There at my Savior’s side heaven is my home; I shall be glorified, heaven is my home.
There are the good and blest, those I love most and best; and there I too shall rest, heaven is my home.
Therefore I murmur not, heaven is my home; whate’er my earthly lot, heaven is my home;
And I shall surely stand there at my Lord’s right hand, Heaven is my fatherland, heaven is my home.
Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down Arr. Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory
This remarkable arrangement pays homage to the colorful author of the lyrics, “Brother” Claude Ely (1922-1978), a Pentecostal Holiness preacher and musician active in churches in Kentucky, Virginia, and the Cincinnati, Ohio, area. His radio program, “The Gospel Ranger Show,” aired widely across the Southeast. Of both Brother Claude and his inimitable style Washington Post writer Eddie Dean observed, “Holiness preachers such as Brother Claude Ely rave on like renegade rockabilly cats. . . Even the wildest rockabilly rarely reached the unhinged delirium of ‘There Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down,’ . . . a country hit in 1953. Ely and many others . . . foreshadow the rock-and-roll explosion, when church-reared performers such as Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin fused sanctified and secular style to revolutionize pop music.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Ely; accessed 9.1.11)
While perhaps the most familiar recent use of the lyrics is the online posthumous tribute to Johnny Cash in which the Man in Black sings a more somber version of the song, tonight’s setting by prominent Calvin College-alumni composers Caldwell and Ivory captures the cut-loose gospel style of the Brother Claude Ely original.
Deep River Arr. Donald P. Moore
This simple yet lush arrangement of the classic spiritual is by Don Moore, a prolific contemporary composer twenty-two times a winner of the ASCAP Composers Standard Award and recently listed by the American Choral Directors Association Choral Journal as one of four hundred composers of significance in the history of American choral music. Currently organist at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Medina, Ohio, he is also President and CEO of Moore [Midget-Car] Racing Enterprises.
Program notes by Bill Pasch © 2011
With thanks for help from George Brown and Steve Mulder
Additional Copyright Acknowledgment:
All works on the concert are performed under ASCAP license.