Tonight’s concert is a double celebration.
First is the highlighting of the fifth season in the history of Griffin Choral Arts with its first commissioned work, by New Zealand-born composer David N. Childs.
Then there is the celebration of the concert theme. The title, “Earth Songs,” resonates on at least four levels of meaning, two of them literal and the others more broadly metaphorical.
The literal meanings refer to the planet earth and all its natural elements. Celebrated here are the marvels of creation and of growth and fertility. Several pieces caution us to better stewardship of these wondrous gifts.
In the wider figurative sense, “earth” also means the global diversity of human cultures, a broad variety of whose musical styles are sampled tonight, especially from the Caribbean, South America, and Africa.
Perhaps the most important symbolic sense of “earth” is what most directly connects it with “songs.” Celebrated in various ways tonight are the “earthy” basics of human values and longings that give life meaning–including the expression of these fundamental needs through music. Thus, it is especially fitting that tonight’s accompaniment features percussion–arguably the most primal of all musical instruments. A serendipitous reinforcement of the connections between music and fundamental human truths came just prior to the recent observance of Earth Day on April 22, in a popular Internet forwarding that could well summarize tonight’s deepest theme: “Earth” without “art” [in our case, music] is just “eh.”
Praise the Lord Arr. Ralph M. Johnson (b. 1955)
This is a traditional Communion processional song used by women in the Republic of Cameroon in west central Africa. The French title (in French-speaking Cameroon) is “Louez le Seigneur.” Collected by Elaine Hanson, a missionary in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the song is now found in the hymnals of many church denominations. The arranger, Ralph M. Johnson, is a member of the American Composers Forum and an expert on world church music.
Salmo 150 (Psalm 150) Ernani Aguiar (b. 1949)
Sung in Latin, this is a high-energy setting of Psalm 150 for men’s voices.
Ernani Henrique Chaves Aguiar was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and has risen to become a well-known composer, choral conductor, and musicologist. He is currently professor of music at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, a fellow of the Villa-Lobos Institute, and a member of the Brazilian Academy of Music. Salmo 150 has become his best-known work worldwide, and is especially popular in the American Choral Directors Association.
Earthsongs David L. Brunner
In his preface to the choral score, composer David Brunner describes this piece as follows:
“Earthsongs is a group of three pieces, intended to be performed without pause. The texts speak of the wonders of nature and of the importance of protecting the animals, caring for the plants and nurturing one another. The World Is Full of Poetry is a text by the 19th century geologist James Gates Percival. It should be sung simply and with feeling. In Safety and Bliss is a Buddhist writing from the Sutta Nipata. It should be sung solemnly, in chant-like character. . . . We Join with the Earth is a text from the United Nations Environmental Sabbath Program. It is a litany with the refrain ‘We join with the Earth and with Each Other’ prominent. . . . . The original treble version was commissioned by Keynote Arts Associates for the Children in Harmony Choral Festival . . . and premiered at EPCOT in Orlando, Florida, in 1996. This mixed chorus version premiered at Carnegie Hall in the spring of 2007.”
David Brunner is a prominent composer, teacher, and conductor, and is especially interested in music for youth and in world poetry. Holding the DMA in Choral Literature and Conducting from the University of Illinois, he currently serves as Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at the University of Central Florida.
Earth Song Frank Ticheli (b. 1958)
This song speaks of the power of music and singing to be both refuge from and beacon of hope through adversity. In a statement for the Bay Choral Guild of Palo Alto CA, composer Frank Ticheli wrote, “Earth Song . . . sprang out of a personal need during a time when so many in this country, including myself, were growing disillusioned with the war in Iraq. I felt a strong impulse to create something that would express my own personal longing for peace. . . . I knew I had to write the poem myself, partly because it is not just a poem, but a prayer, a plea, a wish–a bid to find inner peace in a world that seems eternally bent on war and hatred. But also, the poem is a steadfast declaration of the power of music to heal. . . . Perhaps music has the power not only to nurture inner peace, but also to open hearts and ears in a world that desperately needs love and listening.” (http://baychoralguild.org/program-notes/pacific-passions-march-2011-composers)
Louisiana-born Frank Ticheli earned a Bachelor of Music from Southern Methodist University and master’s and doctoral degrees in composition from the University of Michigan. His compositions for concert band have become standards in that repertoire. He currently serves as Professor of Composition at the University of Southern California.
Balia Di Sehú (Let’s Dance the Sehú) Edouard Toppenberg
The language of this song is Papiamento, a mixture containing elements of African, Portuguese, Spanish, English, and Dutch, and is the native language of Curacao, Bonaire, and Aruba, Caribbean islands off the northern coast of Venezuela.
The lyrics describe the anticipation of the dancing and singing in observance of the Sehú, the spring-time corn-harvesting festival.
Composer Edouard Toppenberg lives on Aruba, and wrote the song for his mother, who grew up on the nearby island of Bonaire
Selections from “Saint Francis in the Americas: a Caribbean Mass” Glenn McClure
Of his groundbreaking Caribbean Mass begun in 1997 composer Glenn McClure has said that the work “celebrates the marriage of Latin American cultures and the spiritual legacy of the medieval Italian saint, Francis of Assisi. Followers of ‘Il Poverello,’ the little poor man from Assisi, have left their mark on this hemisphere with cities named for the saint (San Francisco) and customs such as the Christmas nativity scenes we see at holiday time. This concert mass sets several of Francis’ writings into languages and musical styles of the New World. The instrumentation features steel drums (invented in the islands of Trinidad and Tobago in the mid 20th century) and other percussion instruments from Latin American traditions. Just as Francis said that his cathedral was the whole world, we see that his simple wisdom could not be limited to one language or musical tradition. A Caribbean Mass combines musical styles of samba, salsa, calypso, rumba, and New Orleans blues. It incorporates Mexican and African melodies, and utilizes Latin, Italian, Greek, and Spanish texts.”
[http://www.cmchorale.org/season/07/spr07notes.htm] On the Trinidadian origin of steel drums, the composer adds, “In response to a legal ban on the use of drums, musicians began searching for other ways to play their music. They discovered that pounding dents into the bottom of a 55-gallon oil barrel could create pitches. Decades later, this instrument is now capable of playing music styles ranging from calypso to classical, from samba to jazz.” [http:www.rclpc.org/spiritMarch10_10.html]
Indeed, the talents of tonight’s pan (steel drums) player led GCA conductor Stephen Mulder to select the excerpts that best utilize this unique instrument.
A leading exponent of international music education and an eclectic and integrative composer in a wide variety of musical forms and style, Glenn McClure has been chosen by leading choral conductors such as Anton Armstrong of the St. Olaf Choir and Andre Thomas of Florida State University for collaborations.
Kyrie (Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy)
To the traditional Greek text of the Kyrie, McClure adds a prayer by St. Francis (1182-1226) sung in Italian.
The infectious music is that of the Brazilian-origin samba. Perhaps the best known and most popular section of this Mass, the Kyrie has been performed three times in Carnegie Hall. Although in a minor key, the excitement of this up-tempo setting may cause some to question its penitential appropriateness. But the setting seems to understand that even in joy we still need mercy.
The traditional Latin language of the Christian statement of belief (“I believe in one God, Father Almighty, . . .”), is sung to a “salsa groove.” A soaring baritone solo sings the words of the Creed, accompanied by a choral block-chord ostinato repeating “Credo in unum Deum” (I believe in One God).
In the Mass, this response is part of the prayers preceding the distribution of the Communion elements:
“Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” The singing of the text in English matches the more Anglophone-European choral style. The quieter contrast to the surrounding exuberant movements sounds similar to types of service music used today in many liturgical churches in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Sanctus in most settings of the Communion liturgy is a bold hymn of praise (“Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. . . .”). McClure brightens the hymn even further with driving rhythms and rapid articulation. In keeping with the global reach of his Mass, McClure uses Italian for the text, no doubt in homage to the Roman origins of the Mass in Western Christendom.
Apamay Shungo (Giving of the Heart) Arr. Gerardo Guevara (b. 1930)
Composer, pianist, and orchestral and choral conductor Gerardo Guevara was born in Quito, Ecuador. He is the only Ecuadorian composer to receive a fellowship from UNESCO to study at the Paris Conservatory with legendary pianist Nadia Boulanger. In 1980 he was appointed director of the Quito National Conservatory of Music. He was also the founder and director of the Quito Central University Choir.
Apamay Shungo is a traditional Ecuadorian folk melody sung in Quichua, an indigenous Ecuadorian language. The musical style is that of Yumbo, one of the foundational rhythmic styles of the Ecuadorian Andes. The identifying characteristic of the Yumbo rhythm is its stress on the first and fourth beats of the 6/8 metric motif. The traditional accompaniment for the Yumbo rhythmis a low-pitched drum called a bombo.
The lyrics praise the sun as worship-worthy source of all heat and life.
Alma Llanera (Soul of the Plains) Pedro Elías Gutiérrez (1870-1954)
As the choral score for this piece indicates, “The Alma Llanera . . . is one of the most popular Venezuelan songs. Gutiérrez was mainly a composer of light music, particularly waltzes and zarzuelas. He was Director of the Caracas Band for over 40 years, and always animated the life in the old city. The Alma Llanera, which belongs to a zarzuela of the same name, became so popular that it is considered a second national anthem by the Venezuelan people. It is a joropo, a typical Venezuelan dance rhythm which is based on the simultaneous combination of 3/4 and 6/8 meter. Because of its joyous character, it is usually performed during celebrations accompanied by the cuatro (a small guitar with only four strings), a diatonic harp, and maracas.”
Bullerengue José Antonio Rincón (b. 1937)
The title Bullerengue (Boo-yah-REEN-gay) refers to a traditional rhythm used in the music of Colombia. The text is by Colombian poet Jorge Artél, and refers to the speaker’s wish to be a drum and maracas exclusively for the dancing pleasure of the loved one, “so that you would dance for me.”
Nigra Sum (I Am Black) Pablo Casals (1876-1973)
Legendary cellist Pablo Casals was born in the Spanish province of Catalonia, with the given name Pau Carlos Salvador Defilló. Perhaps his most famous statement was “I am a man first, an artist second,” as witnessed by his eventual exile from Spain by the fascist Franco government and by many other acts of conscience both in the arts and in the larger society. He steadfastly refused to perform in countries that recognized the Franco regime, but eventually made an exception when he accepted a 1961 invitation from U.S. President John F. Kennedy to perform at the White House. He was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.
The “I am black” of the title refers to the opening of a selection from the biblical Song of Songs, a compilation and slight re-arrangement of chapters 1:4-5 and 2:10b-12a, and adding a closing Alleluia: I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem. The king delights in me and has brought me into his chambers. He said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of pruning is come. Alleluia.
While so popular as to be arranged for various combinations of voices, tonight’s version is the 1966 original for three-part treble voices with piano or organ accompaniment.
There Is No Creation That Does Not Have a Radiance Carol Dyck
Carol Dyke is a Canadian composer (from Alberta) with whom GCA Director Stephen Mulder shared choral festivals in Canada and Europe.
Her text in this 1992 anthem comes from the remarkable medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen, a German Benedictine nun (1098?-1179) who became one of the most famous women in the history of European literature, music, theology, natural science, and holistic medicine. The “radiance” mentioned in the title refers not only to Hildegard’s mysticism but perhaps also to her experiencing of visions. Yet in the context of the poem (including additions to Hildegard from Psalm 104), mystic visions come specifically from nature: “There is no creation that does not have a radiance, be it greenness or seed, blossom or beauty.”
Tshotsholoza (Go Forward) Arr. Jeffery L. Ames (b. 1969)
Tshotsholoza (or Shosholoza) has become perhaps the best-known South African song of freedom and of racial healing.Originally, it was a song sung by Zimbabwean miners riding trains from southern Zimbabwe (formerly known as Rhodesia) to their hard labors in the mines of northern South Africa. As in tonight’s arrangement, the song was sung in a call-and-response style, as a means of workers’ encouraging each other and making their labors more bearable. During his nearly thirty years in Robben Island Prison Nelson Mandela also relied on the singing of Shosholoza to sustain his own spirits. As recounted in the popular 2009 film Invictus, the 1995 South African rugby team (then all white) were encouraged by Mandela to see themselves as representatives of a racially united South Africa. The song became the symbol not only of the team’s victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup but more importantly of the racial healing achieved through good will and determination. When the 2010 World Cup of soccer was hosted by South Africa, the song gained renewed national pride–the South African team singing it as they took the field for their tournament-opening match.
The language of the song is a mixture of Zimbabwean Ndebele dialect and South African Zulu, reflecting the origins of the song on the mine-workers’ trains between the two regions. A rough English translation is “Go forward, go forward on those mountains, train [to/from] South Africa. Go forward, go forward. You are running away, you are running away on those mountains, train [to/from] South Africa.”
Arranger Jeffery Ames holds the PhD in Choral Conducting/Choral Music Education and a Master of Choral Music Education from The Florida State University. He was honored as the first recipient of the National American Choral Directors Association James Mulholland Choral Music Fellowship. He composed the arrangement for the Belmont University Chorale (in Nashville, TN), which he conducts as part of his work as Director of Choral Activities.
You Were the Wind David N. Childs
Griffin Choral Arts is pleased and proud to have commissioned this work from leading international composer David Childs in celebration of its fifth season.
Long an admirer of Childs’ work, both Artistic Director Steve Mulder and the chorus fondly recall singing Childs’ Where Your Bare Foot Walks on its May 2010 concert. Like that song with its hand-in-glove link between the music and the text by Sufi (mystical Islamic) poet Rumi, tonight’s commission also reflects a total word-music, this time featuring a combination of two short poems by the American poet Sara Teasdale (1884-1933): “After Love” and “A Little While.”
A little while when I am gone
My life will live in music after me,
As spun foam lifted and borne on
After the wave is lost in the full sea.
You were the wind and I the sea —
There is no splendor any more,
I have grown listless as the pool
By the shore.
A while these nights and days will burn
In song with the bright frailty of foam,
Living in light [before they turn]
Back to the nothingness that is their home.
A little while when I am gone
My life will live in music after me.
Of the composer’s masterful blending of the Teasdale texts with their musical communication, Dr. Steve Mulder has observed, “David’s artistry . . . [united the texts] through the image of the sea and the wind. The juxtaposition of the two poems resulted in a complexity of emotions that really amplifies the expressiveness of the work. One fears that a commissioned work will look ‘too obvious’ in its purpose or intended function. But what we have here is a developed and rich work of art that goes from being a nice listening experience to something that is at once intimate and infinite. The melody at the beginning is quite dramatic, with an internal octave leap on the word ‘when.’ David is known for being a master at melody, and this one is no exception: perfectly suited to the text, interesting, and yet natural and singable. The harmonies are full of gentle dissonance and frequent suspensions. The word ‘Light’ gets a special harmonic treatment, resulting in a shimmering acoustical effect. The rich male chorus sound, which is becoming a characteristic trait of GCA, is given a chance to shine right before the final recap/return of the ‘A Little While’ melody. As I sat at the piano to play the piece after a few days’ practice and some time to ponder the gravity in the texts, the emotion of ‘You Were the Wind’ hit me between the eyes.” [memo to GCA Board, 3.21.12]
No choral group could wish for a more poignant celebration both of its accomplishments and of its humble place in the art it practices than to conclude a milestone year singing the words “my life will live in music after me.”
David Childs earned a bachelor’s degree in composition and musicology from Canterbury University, Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1990; a Master of Music in conducting from The Florida State University in 1995; and the DMA from Louisiana State University in 2004. He is a tenured associate professor of Choral Studies at the Blair School of Music of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. In 2004 he was appointed Director of Choral Music at Highland Park United Methodist Church near Southern Methodist University in Dallas TX, where he now resides with his wife (a physician and medical school professor) and their ten-month-old child. His nearly one hundred published compositions are performed worldwide.
Program notes (with thanks to Steve Mulder) by Bill Pasch, copyright 2012
All works on tonight’s program are performed under ASCAP license.