Celebrating America!

Music has the power to change us. The words composers use in choral music can make us pause and think, or can entertain us, or evoke emotions in us. In this program, our hope is that you will be “Celebrating America” with us and be motivated on a personal level to emphasize the good that unites us.

 We begin with the inspiring words engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The lyrics to “Inscription of Liberty “are based on the poem by Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus (1833). It celebrates the millions of immigrants who entered the US through Ellis Island and other ports of welcome.

 The words for both songs in the “Freedom of Speech” section were written by two famous African Americans of the 20th century. We sing civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.’s powerful words of a dream for peace and racial justice by using love, compassion and understanding of others. Jean Berger penned “Hope for Tomorrow” in 1968, during a time of unrest in the US.

 “Jazz poet” Langston Hughes poem of equality and equity for a complex world were written in the 1920’s, pre-dating MLK’s most famous speech, “I Have a Dream”. Twenty-seven year old Connor Koppin set this poem in “I Dream a World” to memorialize a music teacher who personified Hughes’ ideal world of love, equality, and plenty for all.

 A trio of pieces in the “Freedom of Religion” illustrates how music is used in houses of worship. Known as “the Father of Black Gospel Music”, Thomas Dorsey composed both the words and music for “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” after his wife and baby son died in childbirth. The contrast of what was the typical choral style of singing a hymn and Dorsey’s style of incorporating jazz and blues rhythms is made obvious in this arrangement.

 Although now a retired physics and chemistry teacher, Robert Applebaum has been quite prolific in writing choral music for Sabbath services and as a jazz pianist/composer. Applebaum’s “A Prayer for Healing” uses both Hebrew and English text in this setting of part of the Jewish liturgy.

 SCCC adjunct instructor Alfred V. Fedak wrote “A Different Season” for the Schenectady Choral Society, which was directed by Myron Hermance, his wife’s father. The text by New Zealander Shirley Erena Murray is a paraphrase of the Biblical passage from First Corinthians, chapter thirteen.

 The “Freedom from Want” portion speaks to the greater needs of the world for prosperity, peace, and security.  “Dear Land of Home” uses Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ melody from the tone poem, Finlandia. The words are by American Charles F. Manney, who was the music editor at the Oliver Ditson Music Publishing House for 32 years. The lyrics idealize our country as a land of great beauty and wealth. The music has been used by a number of countries as their national hymn.

 Using Daniel Elder’s own words in describing, “Dona Nobis Pacem”: “Give us peace.” These three words may command a broad reach that shatters the barriers that divide us, whether if be culture, language or religion. There is turbulence everywhere. All who read these words may recall some hurt that has become a part of their identities. As the world effectively grows smaller and cultures clash for breathing room, it has never before been so vital to remember this ancient plea, born among the Roman Catholics but lingering on the tongues of all the earth”.

 John Rutter’s “Distant Land”, subtitled a prayer for freedom, was written in 1990, shortly after South Africa’s anti-apartheid political leader Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the Berlin Wall’s demolition. Rutter’s poignant words urge us all to strive for that time when “we can all be one, one human race.”

 Bravery takes on different forms in “Freedom from Fear”.  In “Who Are the Brave?”, J. Paul Williams describes three ways in which all of us can honorably serve others.

 “For the Future” imagines a tomorrow that is a little greener, brighter, and kinder than it is today by planting trees for the birds to sing in. Andrew Maxfield sets Wendell Berry’s positive words in an intricate tapestry of melody and rhythm.

 In an acknowledgement of the 100th anniversary of American composer Leonard Bernstein’s birth, we are singing some of his music from “West Side Story”. Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics remind us of the bravery shown by young people in crossing boundaries. Originally conceived as “East Side Story”, a Romeo and Juliet adaptation of an Irish Catholic family and a Jewish family living on New York City’s East Side, the musical became two rival gangs in the West Side of Manhattan fighting over turf and ethical differences.

 Lastly, with Gwyneth Walker’s rendition of Sara Teasdale’s poem, “Refuge”, we close our program with words of strength of the human spirit. As Ms. Walker writes, “Despite adversity, one can still sing, and in the singing find a refuge, a house of shining words (the shining image led to a shimmering accompaniment. And when I sing, I am free!”

On the Water

     All of the music in today’s performance has something to do with that resource so essential to life on this planet—water: what it means and how we use it. Rivers and streams represented a pathway to freedom for slaves. For the downtrodden or dispossessed, “crossing the river” described the pathway to a better life in heaven. For sailors, the sea is a source of both livelihood and adventure. Water continues to be used and referenced in religious ceremonies, as a symbol for the passage of time, and as a place that is missed and longed for. 

     Here in New York State, we recently celebrated the bicentennial of the start of construction on the Erie Canal, a monumental undertaking that still allows for the transport of goods and people between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. The canal led to the greater and quicker development of the interior of the continent. HMC’s accompanist and composer-in-residence, Al Fedak, has arranged “Low Bridge” (The Erie Canal Song) especially for today’s performance.

     So, step into our musical boat, and join our journey “On the Water.” The music will flow and carry you to new places of insight, ferry you to tears of remembrance, and hopefully transport you to an elemental area of your being!

    Bon voyage!

                                                                                   -Susan Hermance-Fedak

'Tis The Season!

Having to describe a November concert with a theme of winter after one of the warmest Octobers in recorded meteorology is, well, problematic. Yes, we live in upstate New York where many of us can remember snow up to whatever height, that lasted for weeks, and bitter cold winds. Sitting here in my home in shorts with the windows open on Nov. 1 makes it difficult for me to turn to thoughts of snowflakes, darkness, and holiday music! But we know that winter weather is just around the corner.

This program is a diverse mix of sacred and secular music appropriate for the upcoming season of winter. We open with “Here We Come A-Caroling,” a brand-new arrangement by Josh Sparkman of the traditional English carol of the same name. One cannot lay aside the musical treasures of the Christian tradition: Luboff’s, “Still, Still, Still” and “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” by Harold Darke are two gorgeous mid-20th century pieces crafted with rich harmonies to announce the birth of the Christ Child. Both of John Rutter’s pieces, “Candlelight Carol,” written in 1984, and almost 30 years later, his “All Bells in Paradise,” use the biblical narrative with shepherds and angels and kings all arriving in Bethlehem. Al Fedak’s compositions, written for church use, remind us of the new year to come and hope for our future. Originally composed in Norwegian, some may recognize Ola Gjeilo’s use of the German text, “Es Ist Ein Ros’ Ensprungen” (as in the carol, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”) in his “Spotless Rose.”  The lively “African Noel” rounds out the sacred part of the concert.

Metaphorical thoughts of winter as we age are expressed through Randall Stroope’s masterful rendition of Kahlil Gibran’s poetry. Sheena Phillips’ music paints a fanciful picture of a bird singing at midnight in the stable with a delightful flute solo, in “The Christmas Bird.”

We end with two secular pieces, a novelty number called, “The Twelve Days after Christmas,” which is sure to provoke some giggles, and a very engaging Alice Parker arrangement of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

So please enjoy our music this afternoon and begin the winter season on a pleasant note!

-Susan Hermance-Fedak

The Splendor of Beauty

Welcome to The Hudson-Mohawk Chorale’s Spring Concert! We are glad that you are here to join in the celebration of honoring the Earth through beautiful and thoughtful music.

Today’s concert grew out of the idea of commemorating the 47th anniversary of Earth Day, April 22, which fell close to our performance date. First celebrated in 1970 in the U.S. to honor the earth and the concept of peace, this secular holiday now has more than 193 countries participating in various events on that day. Finding music to praise the beauty of this planet we inhabit was not difficult as poets and composers alike find inspiration through nature. But there is more to be considered as we travel through time and space. Not only is our environment lovely, it is also fragile, and we humans need to protect it. The words from “The Web of Life: Litanies For the Earth” remind us of the importance of being aware of the condition of our home. Al Fedak’s musical settings and choice of readings emphasize that awareness.

Joining us for a second time, the Saratoga Children’s Chorus will sing songs about peace, our moon, and the joy of singing and enjoying the things of earth. Their presence is also a reminder of why we adults must do all that we can to preserve and watch over our “Big Blue Marble”.

-Susan Hermance-Fedak

“Teach your children what we have taught our children,

That the earth is our mother.

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of earth.

This we know.”


The basic principle underlying The Web of Life: Litanies for the Earth is what the radical Christian theologian Matthew Fox calls “Creation Spirituality.” Creation Spirituality takes as its starting point not the sinfulness of human nature, but the essential goodness of all of creation. Its emphasis is on the inherent beauty and wisdom of the cosmos, and on God’s supreme act of creative love in calling it into being and sustaining it. We humans are beloved creatures, made by the Creator to live in harmony with the rest of creation, which is also beloved. Living out this theology in practice involves treating all of creation with reverence, holding all life as sacred, valuing beauty and creativity, and actively working for peace, harmony, and justice. It can be argued that embracing this approach to life may be our last, best hope for the future of humanity and of the ecosystem we inhabit.

                Nearly all the world’s religions include an element of mystical Creation Spirituality. This tradition is strong, of course, in Native American spirituality, and in various non-western faiths, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and the native religions of Africa and Australia. But there is also a venerable strand of creation-based mysticism in both Judaism and Christianity, extending from the early church and the ancient Kabbalists, through the medieval Rhineland mystics, to the present day. The texts for The Web of Life were selected to reflect this broad diversity and to be inclusive in as many ways as possible. Thus, represented in the texts are sources as varied as the Old Testament book of psalms, Native American prayers, ancient Sanskrit writings, African tribal poetry, Christian mystics, two nineteenth-century men of letters, three modern women (including a radical feminist), the UN Environmental Sabbath Program, and the Christian Eucharistic liturgy.

                The texts are so arranged as to present a coherent (if not exactly linear) message. They celebrate the beauty of creation, affirm the interconnectedness of all things, acknowledge our abuse of creation and of each other, recognize the reality of our own mortality, and offer a vision of hope and of promise for the future.

                The style and structure of the musical materials employed in the work were suggested by the poetry itself. Since several of the texts are in the form of litanies (as suggested in the title), the music is sometimes quite repetitive and minimalist in character. But there is also an early American hymn tune, a German Lutheran chorale, and a Taizé-style ostinato chant. Beyond providing variety, the eclectic range of musical sources and styles further serves to illustrate, I hope, the all-encompassing nature of the work’s overarching theme.

-Alfred V. Fedak, composer

From Generation to Generation: Cherished Classics to Future Favorites

Do you have a favorite choral work? For those of us who sing, the answer to that question may depend on our participation in choirs, the choice of musical era that appeals to us most, our age, our voice part, our ethnicity, our upbringing, our religion, etc.  This is the question I considered as I began to plan today’s program.

My own background includes long-time involvement in church music, a musical family life from the time I was a child to being married to a musician, singing in choirs beginning in elementary school, and pursuing music as a career to name the major factors. Over the years, I have sung all but two of today’s pieces – not including the TTBB sections of Frostiana! So as I chose songs to sing, I considered what others may have been familiar with such as the Brahms and the Mozart works.

What I didn’t know was that the music I thought “everybody knew,” perhaps less than half of the chorale did know. My desire then became to have all the singers learn these magnificent and treasured pieces of the choral literature and to internalize the messages of them. In that way, each singer would be able to pass the “musical DNA” down to future generations.

Perhaps you will know many or maybe just a few of these pieces today. Perhaps you will recall a time, a place, or a person when you hear “Danny Boy” or the “Ave Verum.” Perhaps you will be moved to experience the human emotions we strive to share with all of our audience members.

Amy Bernon’s words in “A Song Sung Once” encapsulate the message of this afternoon’s concert of “cherished classics to future favorites.” Paraphrasing her poetry:

A song sung once then forgotten … will linger,

Waiting for a willing singer to give it life again.

So let your song be remembered, and help it thrive and breathe and grow,

Teaching us the wisdom we need to know, to heal, to love, to learn to sing again.

Thank you for listening to us. May you always have a song in your heart.

-Susan Hermance-Fedak


On Love & Loss

Today’s concert seeks to address, in music, two universal experiences which define the human condition: love and loss. The joys of love, in all its many forms, are both balanced and made more poignant by our awareness of the brevity of our earthly existence.        

The composers and poets whose works appear in today’s program have come to terms with this theme in a variety of ways. Alice Parker, rooted in the tradition of early American frontier Protestantism, exuberantly anticipates a heavenly afterlife in her setting of the hymn Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal. By contrast, the Rilke poem Dirait-on is preoccupied with the sheer beauty of life and self-awareness: Morton Lauridsen’s hauntingly exquisite setting serves it well. Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of Marta Keen’s Homeward Bound, expresses love in a pastoral setting, tempered by the singer’s longing for freedom. And John Tavener’s powerful Song for Athene, which became widely known after its performance at Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997, is both a mournful dirge and a hopeful expression of comfort, faith, and even joy in the face of death.       

The Five Hebrew Love Songs (2002) by Eric Whitacre are completely and touchingly romantic. Their music is suffused with the composer’s love for his then wife-to-be, poet Hila Plitmann, who wrote the texts. The bell-like sounds at the beginning of Song IV, Éyza shéleg!, are the exact pitches that rang from a cathedral tower and awakened the couple each morning as they vacationed in Speyer, Germany.             

Stephen Paulus’s The Road Home is a wistful setting of another early American hymn tune, “Prospect,” paired with a text by the poet Michael Dennis Browne, a former Bennington College professor who resides in Minnesota. The music expresses well the poet’s yearning for meaning, beauty and a sense of belonging. Paulus himself, one of America's leading composers, died last year after suffering a stroke. The program’s preceding piece, Kim Arnesen’s Child of Song is dedicated to the memory of Stephen Paulus: its text by Euan Tait includes the memorable line, “No child of song falls into silence but into love’s rest…”

The Saratoga Children’s Chorus sings of a peaceful and idyllic future in Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze, and of a happy hereafter in I’m Goin’ Up A Yonder. John Rutter's I Will Sing with the Spirit joyfully celebrates the love of music.

In Williametta Spencer’s 1968 At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners, the poet John Donne, a 17th-century Anglican priest, meditates on the mystery of human mortality. He calls upon the angels to summon the Last Judgment, enumerates some of the many ways life can end, and then prays forgiveness for his own sins. The music admirably reflects the poem’s rapidly shifting emotions.

Al Fedak’s Last Verse: A Cycle of New England Epitaphs was commissioned by Schenectady’s Octavo Singers and completed on Martin Luther King Day, 2003. The poems, taken from 18th and 19th century tombstones, run the full gamut of human emotional responses to death. From the tragic to the heroic, from the defiant to the comedic, the words often reveal as much about those left behind as about the deceased themselves. Movements 1, 5, and 6 use contemporaneous hymn tunes as settings for the texts.