Watch TO THE NINES
In a cruel irony, communal singing is one of the most dangerous activities in which to participate during the current health crisis, and yet singing and making music is needed now more than ever to maintain mental health, to transcend fear, and to keep hope alive.
The Griffin Choral Arts Board met over the summer to have a serious conversation about how to approach our 14th Season. All options were on the table, including cancelling the season. As Artistic Director, I felt strongly that we should demonstrate resilience and try to come up with a creative solution. “Even one voice singing to an audience of one, outdoors or virtually, is better than nothing at all and keeps us focused on our mission.”
From that starting point, the Board crafted a strategy based on what we could do safely, recognizing that no activity is absolutely risk-free. The result of the first phases is on display this month, as GCA presents its first ever recorded concert presentation: “To The Nines.”
The theme itself is descriptive of our safety measures, as each ensemble is comprised of 9 or fewer singers. Our 5 ensembles (we call them “platoons”) met each Monday for 30 minutes only in the sanctuary of Griffin First UMC, masked and physically distanced. The platoons remained outside until it was their designated time and sanitized their hands upon entering the space. After each platoon, the pews were santitized and the air was circulated in preparation for the next platoon.
The singers tolerated these limitations and guidelines, accepting them as a temporary necessity until the glorious day that we can again sing shoulder to shoulder, together, inspiring the same air.
The Music of “To The Nines”
The music performed for this program is a little less “serious” and the styles are a little more contemporary than our usual offerings. The selections fall loosely into three categories: heart songs, spirituals, and songs of hope.
Song of Ruth is a beautiful arrangement for women’s voices that captures the ardent loyalty of the Old Testament heroine, Ruth.
In this time of sickness and mounting deaths, our family relationships become more vital and the pain of loss is magnified. We weep with those who have lost loved ones and have not been able to properly celebrate their lives in community. We sympathize wth those who are unable to visit their sick and aging relatives.
Al Shlosha D’Varim is a song of hope calling us to truth, justice, and peace. It is a “partner song” with each melody line of text being presented alone and then combined into a lovely counterpoint.
Like a River in My Soul gently leans into the old Sunday School song “I’ve got peace like a river…” without quoting it completely. The familiar lines “peace like a river,” “love like an ocean,” and “joy like a fountain” alternate with commentary text of resilience, hope, and resurrection (“Once again you shall rise!”).
Praise, Praise, Praise the Lord is a Cameroon processional song typically used on communion Sundays. It is sung in French because of the influence of French-speaking missionaries from the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
You Do Not Walk Alone is a setting of a traditional Irish blessing. The gorgeous melody is presented three times in ever more dramatic form each time. The text echoes the sentiments of Psalm 23:4 (“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil for you are with me.”).
The text of the spiritual Give Me Jesus encourages us to find solace in the comfort of the Savior. From earliest family memories, through dark midnight, and even in death, we can rest in a surety that the world cannot provide.
The South African song We Walk in the Light is also a processional. Accompanied by African drums and simple movements, we can imagine a South African celebration involving all ages.
Show Us How to Love by Mark Miller is a heartsong that is a prayer (“show us how to love”) and perhaps also a challenge (“we must learn to love”). With so much hatred and division in the streets, on the news, and saturating social media, this is an urgent message for us all.
Come to Me by Dan Forrest was commissioned by the First United Methodist Church of Athens, GA. It combines verse fragments from Matthew 11, 2 Corinthians 6, and 1 John 3 into a message of restoration and comfort.
The spiritual Deep River (incorporating the hymn Shall We Gather at the River) carries the water themes of the program’s other selections to a final conclusion in this serene depiction of the “promised land” of heaven.
There will come a day when we return to choral masterworks and we will again be able to focus our efforts on purely musical and artistic achievements. But, here in October 2020, it will have to be enough that we are singing and that there are people listening. We continue to send the messages of resilience and hope, through our performances and through our actions.
With gratitude to the GCA Board of Directors, Griffin First United Methodist Church, our dedicated singers, our donors and advertisers–thank you for your continued support as we strive to use inspiration and beauty to create community.
Stephen J. Mulder
Griffin Choral Arts