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!”