Special guests The Carroll Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Terry Lowry, join the choir to present music celebrating our American heritage and our freedom.
“An American Celebration” honors the diversity of our nation both in its people and in its music–a diversity so great that representing it in a single concert is indeed impossible, rich though tonight’s concert is. Featured are a modern oratorio on texts from the American Revolution, an African American spiritual, a song from a distinctly American opera, a Stephen Foster parlor song, settings of Native American texts (representing three different tribal nations), a Sacred Harp setting, music by “the March King” including a premiere of a sacred piece with newly added voice parts, and even more. We also welcome the collaboration tonight with Maestro Terry Lowry and the musicians of his Carroll Symphony Orchestra.
American Salute Morton Gould (1913-1996)
By the end of his life prominent American composer Morton Gould had conducted every reputable American orchestra, as well as those of Canada, Australia, Mexico, Japan, and Europe. In 1986 he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. A longtime member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, Gould was elected president of ASCAP in 1986, and served in that post until 1994. The same year, he was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor for his contributions to American culture, and the following year, his final orchestral work, Stringmusic, written for the farewell of Mstislav Rostropovich from the National Symphony Orchestra, won him a Pulitzer Prize. Gould’s unerringly accurate ear for the sounds and resonances of American life and history shaped his characteristic style of solemnity without pomposity, humor without frivolity, and a deep appreciation of the American musical “Melting Pot.”
From its first performance on NBC radio on November 11, 1942, American Salute–an ingenious series of variations on the Civil War song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”–has become a staple of patriotic music programs. “What amazes me now is that critics say it is a minor masterpiece,” Gould recalled in 1985, more than 40 years after writing the Salute. “To me, it was just a setting. I was doing a million of those things.”
Shenandoah arr. Mack Wilberg (b. 1955)
This arrangement for orchestra and chorus is by one of the world’s leading choral arrangers, Mack Wilberg, Music Director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (Another setting of Wilberg’s, America the Beautiful, closes tonight’s program.)
The source tune is one of the most famous of American folksongs, existing in a wide variety of texts. Wilberg’s arrangement reduces the words to the basics, allowing the sound of voices and orchestral instruments to sweep as wide and unobstructed as possible, befitting the expansiveness of its subject.
Perhaps surprising to many listeners is that the “Shenandoah” referred to is not necessarily the well-known Virginia Valley–which is quite far from “the wide Missouri.” The word Shenandoah is likely the anglicized spelling of the name of a Native American chief from the upper Great Plains, whose daughter was the love interest of a French-Canadian or frontier American river trader working in the region where the popular folk song arose.
The Promise of Living (Thanksgiving Song from “The Tender Land”) Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
First presented in “I Hear America Singing” by GCA in May 2010, The Promise of Living returns tonight, the music of Aaron Copland having become virtually synonymous with the “Sound of America.” As put by GCA program annotator Teresa Chafin for that 2010 concert, “Copland’s large intervals and wide-open harmonic structure are often considered to be reminiscent of the apparent limitlessness of the expanse of American prairie. The Promise of Living uses these techniques to paint a musical picture of the fields, the grain, and the people who sing of their gratitude. A Thanksgiving hymn at its heart, this chorus also provides an example of music written for an opera chorus, which is sometimes overlooked as a facet of choral music.” Tom Wachunas, program annotator for the Canton (Ohio) Symphony Orchestra, provides further background to the opera and its most famous song:
Between 1952 and 1954, Aaron Copland composed the music for his only full-length opera, The Tender Land, with libretto by Horace Everett (actually a pseudonym for Copland’s then companion, Erik Johns), for the NBC Television Opera Workshop. The opera, originally intended for television broadcast, tells the story of young Laurie Moss, on the verge of graduating from high school and soon to leave the Midwestern farm where she grew up. After NBC producers rejected the work, it premiered on April 1, 1954, at the New York City Opera. Reaction from critics and public alike ranged from hostile to tepid at best. In 1958, Copland arranged a three-movement orchestral suite consisting of the opera’s love duet and square dance from Act II, and the vocal quintet from the conclusion of Act I. The composer conducted the first performance of the suite in April, 1959, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This time, the reviews were far more favorable.
The melody in the final movement of the suite–featuring the opera’s best known song, “The Promise of Living”–was largely derived from “Zion’s Walls,” a revivalist hymn written by John G. McCurry (1821-1886), a Georgia farmer, and one of the songs included in the second set of Copland’s Old American Songs (1952). Copland’s adoption of the hymn made for an especially noble and wistful sequence in the original opera, and is a shining example of the composer at his most lyrically engaging. The setting for “The Promise of Living” is a gathering of three Moss family generations, along with their hired itinerant farmhands, as they sing a stirring hymn of hope, love and gratitude for life and harvest.
Three Native American Settings Kevin A. Memley (b. 1971)
Rising among GCA’s most frequently-programmed composers is Kevin Memley, a versatile composer whose works have received world-wide attention. Though largely self-taught, Memley has received praise for his craftsmanship and dedication. A working educator, he teaches Music Technology at Clovis East High School, near his home in Fresno, California. An accomplished accompanist, he serves with the San Joaquin Chorale of Fresno Pacific University and with the Willow International Community College choir (to whom the first piece in the set is dedicated). Since 2009, he has directed the choir at the Kingsburg Community Church and often writes for them.
A very recent publication (2014) is tonight’s trilogy of settings of Native American lyrics, drawn from three separate tribal nations, representing three regions of what is now the United States: the Cherokee people from the Southeast (though eventually displaced to the mid-plains on the “Trail of Tears”); the Shoshone, from the mountain West; and the Navaho, from the Southwest. While inevitably anglicized, Memley’s musical settings take care to imitate the sounds and even instrumentation of the original traditional songs.
Cherokee Traveler’s Greeting: Information is lacking on whether this lyric pre-dates the 1838 beginning of the “Trail of Tears” forced migration, but there is no reason to doubt that the lyric resonates with that painful historical episode. The minor-key, often pentatonic mood is mournful, and the frequent use of semi-canonic layering of voice parts imitates the labored trudging of many individuals in a weary procession.
Shoshone Love Song: This highly impressionistic setting evokes the longings for his female companion, “my heart’s friend,” of a young man returning from the hunt. The inclusion of a spoken narration in the middle section over the “diminished diction” of the chorus suggests an almost mystical blurring of the boundaries between the human being experiencing the emotions of longing and the natural world in which the moment is situated.
Come on the Trail of Song: The swaying rhythm evokes the image of striding across a mountain-dotted landscape in the Desert Southwest. Ascending and descending scale passages clearly depict movement “over the rainbow bridge, down the mountain stair.” Perhaps the solemnity of the minor-key (even modal) mood owes to the similarity in First Nations Peoples’ experience between “trails” of song and of tears.
While the two previous lyrics are anonymously traditional, this lyric was transcribed by an Anglo scholar, Eda Lou Walton (1894-1961), who wrote her Ph.D. dissertation at UCal-Berkeley on Navaho Traditional Poetry, based on her field research growing up in New Mexico.
The Testament of Freedom Randall Thompson (1899-1984)
A secular oratorio, featuring the recitative and chorus structural units characteristic of that classic form that for many listeners reached its zenith under Handel in the eighteenth century, The Testament of Freedom serves as an historically appropriate vehicle for the words of the most eloquent of the eighteenth-century American Founders, Thomas Jefferson. As recounted by GCA singer Alan Benson, who had served as an assistant to Randall Thompson, text was almost invariably the starting point for the composer in any project, and especially so in this case, as reflected by the dramatic musical impact of every verbal phrasing.
Randall Thompson summarized the background of the composition in his preface to the score (writing in the third person): “The Testament of Freedom was composed in honor of the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson. The texts, from the writings of Mr. Jefferson, were chosen by the composer. Originally written for men’s chorus, the first performance was at [the] University of Virginia, on Founder’s Day, April 13, 1943. Dr. Stephen D. Tuttle conducted the University of Virginia Glee Club with the composer as accompanist. The performance was broadcast nation-wide and rebroadcast by the Office of War Information to the Armed Forces overseas. The orchestral version of the accompaniment was written shortly afterwards. Of the many performances that followed, the one that meant the most to the composer was that given by Serge Koussevitsky at Carnegie Hall in 1945. A Boston Symphony Orchestra performance had been scheduled, when news came of the death of President Roosevelt. Instead of calling off the concert, Koussevitsky insisted that the concert be given, but open to the public without charge. The program started with a moment of silence followed by the first movement of Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony, the first two movements of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, and The Testament of Freedom. Another moment of silence and The Star Spangled Banner completed the concert.”
The first of the piece’s four movements is hymn-like, opening with a five-note instrumental motif whose rhythm spells out the name “Thomas Jefferson.” The melody of the first movement reappears in various forms throughout the piece. The second movement is slower, opening with a solemn recitative likened by Thompson’s composer colleague Virgil Thompson to Eastern Orthodox chant. The third movement is march-like. The fourth recapitulates themes heard in the other movements. The work ends with a return of the initial melody and text.
Hard Times Come Again No More Stephen Foster (1826-1864); arr. Alice Parker (b. 1925)
Renowned choral composer Alice Parker says in the score, “This is one of the sweetest of Stephen Foster’s songs, balancing nostalgia with heartfelt lament. The refrain . . . seems to bear the weight of the world on its shoulders, embracing all in its warm lyricism. It seems made for male chorus, with the kind of piano or guitar accompaniment that would have been found in 19th century homes.”
As a “celebration within a celebration” it is worth noting that 2016 will mark the 150th anniversary of Stephen Foster’s birth. Despite now being acknowledged as the “Father of American Song,” Foster died virtually penniless, in an age before copyright laws gave composers at least some chance of reward for their efforts.
Some sources include a third stanza for the song: “There’s a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away, / With a worn heart whose better days are o’er: / Though her voice would be merry, ’tis sighing all the day, / Oh! Hard times come again no more.” Either Dr. Parker’s own source did not contain this stanza, or perhaps she chose to sharpen the lyric’s social-justice focus.
Hold On! Jester Hairston (1901-2000)
The grandson of a slave, Jester Hairston rose to become a remarkably gifted performer not only in music but also in television and movies. Graduating from Tufts University in Boston in 1929, he worked as the assistant to prominent African-American musicologist and conductor Hall Johnson, who reminded him of the importance of musical authenticity in performing the spiritual. As Hairston would eventually tell his own students, “You can’t sing legato when the master’s beatin’ you across your back.” In characteristic Slave-era spiritual style, the text is “coded”: references to “heaven” and the “promised land” and “Mary had a golden chain. / Ev’ry link spelled my Jesus’ name” were almost certainly secret reminders about the possibility and logistics of following the Underground Railroad to freedom.
Awarded four honorary doctorates (including from his alma mater Tufts, along with the University of Massachusetts), Hairston served as a cultural ambassador for American music, traveling to numerous countries. In 1961 the U.S. State Department appointed him a Goodwill Ambassador, and in 1985 he took the Jester Hairston Chorale, a multi-racial group, to sing in the People’s Republic of China, before the time of widespread foreign travel to that country.
Hallelujah arr. Kenney Potter (b. 1970)
One of GCA’s new favorites is a composer/arranger with local ties. Kenney Potter, Director of Choral Activities and Music Education at Wingate University, near Charlotte, North Carolina, is also the son-in-law of Gloria and C.E. (“Chubby”) Williams of Griffin. Tonight’s “Hallelujah” is an arrangement of a tune from the boisterous yet heartfelt Sacred Harp shape-note tradition originating in nineteenth-century Appalachia but still a highly popular form of choral folk music practiced by sacred and secular ensembles alike.
The text borrows verses and refrain from hymns of Charles Wesley (1707-1788). The music is based on tune # 146 in The Sacred Harp, compiled by William (“Singing Billy”) Walker (1809-1875).
Flight of Valor James Swearingen (b. 1947)
This orchestral piece was commissioned to honor United Airlines Flight 93, whose passengers, on September 11, 2001, prevented a terrorist attempt to crash the plane into the U.S. Capitol, instead forcing the plane down into a field in rural Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The director of the Somerset County Community band commissioned his favorite band composer to write the memorial piece, which was completed in time for its premiere to be played by the SCC band exactly one year after the crash. Noteworthy in the music is the homage to the well-known nineteenth-century American hymn “It Is Well with My Soul,” an especially poignant reference since both the text-writer and the composer of the famous hymn had themselves experienced vehicular tragedies: text-author Horatio Spafford lost four daughters in an Atlantic ship sinking (the hymn tune name VILLE DU HAVRE being the name of the sunken ship); and music composer Philip Bliss died along with his wife in an Ohio train derailment shortly after composing the tune at the request of his friend Spafford.
The commissioned composer of Flight of Valor is James Swearingen, Professor Emeritus of Music at Capital University near Columbus, Ohio, and still active as a staff manager for The Ohio State University Marching Band.
Songs of Grace and Glory John Philip Sousa (1854-1932); arr. Terry B. Lowry
Perhaps no work in tonight’s concert better illustrates the blending spirit of American cultural history than this, described by arranger and Carroll Symphony Orchestra Music Director Terry Lowry: “John Philip Sousa composed his wonderful fantasia on sacred tunes, Songs of Grace and Songs of Glory, in 1892 in part to protect himself from criticism by clergymen over his Sunday afternoon concerts. These Sunday matinee performances were critical to the financial success of the Sousa band. So, to allay any concerns about the frivolity of a band concert on the Sabbath day on the part of the local clergy of the small towns in which the band performed, the composer offered this religious work as a peace offering. It was an immediate success and became one of his most popular and most performed works during his lifetime.”
“We hear first the opening phrases of Verdi’s Requiem, followed by Thomas Hastings’s famous 18th century hymn “Rock of Ages.” Next are two spirituals, “Steal Away” and “Mary and Martha,” the former made famous by the Fisk University Jubilee Singers. Faure’s great anthem “The Palms” is next, followed by Sousa’s brilliant scoring of Lowell Mason’s “Nearer My God to Thee,” which, as director of the Marine Band, he had scored for the funeral of President Garfield. To end his fantasia, Sousa selected Stainer’s famous Sevenfold Amen from the oratorio The Crucifixion. These works were as well known in the late 19th century as they are today, perhaps even more so. At the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, over 100,000 people joined together and sang these pieces as Sousa and his band performed.”
The Stars and Stripes Forever John Philip Sousa
In his autobiography, Marching Along, Sousa wrote that he composed the march on Christmas Day, 1896, on an ocean liner on his way home from a vacation with his wife in Europe, just having learned of the recent death of David Blakely, the manager of the Sousa Band. He composed the music in his head and committed the notes to paper on arrival in the United States. The new march was first performed near Philadelphia on May 14, 1897, and was immediately greeted with the same enthusiasm it still enjoys today. A 1987 Act of Congress made it the official National March.
Perhaps little known is that Sousa also wrote words for the march, for example these for the grand conclusion:
Hurrah for the flag of the free.
May it wave as our standard forever
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray,
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.
America the Beautiful arr. Mack Wilberg
The unofficial alternate U.S. National Anthem is the famous hymn tune MATERNA, by Samuel Ward, setting the equally famous words by Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929).
Born in Massachusetts, Bates was the daughter of a Congregational pastor. After spending a year at Oxford University in England, she graduated from Wellesley College, near Boston, remaining there to teach literature. In 1893 she taught a summer course at Colorado College. Many of the sights on her train trip to the West inspired her: the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, referred to as the “White City” with its promise of the future contained within its alabaster buildings; the wheat fields of America’s heartland; and, perhaps most importantly, the majestic view of the Great Plains from high atop Pike’s Peak. As Bates later recounted that memorable occasion, “One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pike’s Peak . . . . We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.” In a notebook she hastily jotted down the first draft of a four-verse poem originally titled “Pike’s Peak.” The poem immediately became wildly popular. Bates published amended versions in 1904 and 1913. (Bates’s original draft contained a number of noteworthy, even surprising phrases. For example, the draft opening line was “O beautiful for halcyon skies,” and the lyric concludes with the lines “Till nobler men keep once again / Thy whiter jubilee!”)
Just as Bates had been inspired to write her poem, Ward, too, was inspired to compose his tune. The tune came to him in 1882 on a ferryboat from Coney Island back to his home in New York City. He was reportedly so eager to capture the tune that he asked a fellow passenger for his shirt cuff to write the tune on. The model for his tune was the old hymn “O Mother Dear, Jerusalem,” but Ward soon retitled the tune MATERNA. Ward’s musical setting of Bates’s poem was first published in 1910 as “America the Beautiful.”
Program notes by Bill Pasch, © 2015 (except as otherwise acknowledged), with thanks to Alan Benson, Teresa Chafin, Terry Lowry, and Steve Mulder.