The UW Summer Chorale takes the audience on a journey through a dramatic arc from despair, finding hope and faith, and concluding with a sense of comfort and happiness in liberation from sorrow. With music from the Baroque and Romantic periods, intertwined with contemporary choral repertoire, alternative pop arrangements, and Americana idioms, the program intends to connect historical music and texts with our modern aesthetics.
The Bach cantata, “My Hearts Swims in Blood”(performed in an English translation), serves as a narrator in this universal dramatic structure of anguish emboldened to resolve and strengthen. Other selections are interpolated between the movements of the cantata to contextualize and modernize the emotions expressed. Our adaptation of Bach’s music is a special anniversary appearance, as it was first performed on August 12, 1714, nearly 300 years to the day.
This program features newly composed music by local composer, Susan Maughlin Wood. In this collaborative project, she scored music for string quartet and electronics that incorporate textual and melodic themes from the program to create interludes between several selections. Susan explains:
“I have been electronically manipulating sound files of recordings of MRI machines and using these new sounds as the exclusive material for transitional interludes, as part of a collaborative compositional effort for this concert.
It has been a powerful feeling to take this blaring, intrusive, mutation-conveying MRI noise and impose mutations back onto it, and in the process, take back a measure of control from an uncontrollable, impersonal void and reshape it into something with dignity, purpose and grace. The experience is transformative in a very literal sense. In the same way that our challenges shape who we are as people, the underlying malignancy of the sound informs the end result, which is all the sweeter for having transcended its own grim origins.”
The anguish presented in the opening Bach recitative is echoed by the wail of Nginani Na, a South African song, which uses a familiar call and response style that informed much of American popular music since the Blues. In contrast, David Childs’Weep No More acts as a reply to Bach’s “sighing, crying…”with “Dry your eyes, for I was taught in paradise to ease my breast of melodies.”This dialogue of mortals is silenced when the full choir speaks as the voice of God in Knut Nystedt’s Be Not Afraid. He sets up the mantra: “I strengthen thee, for I am thy help”while overlaying a comforting message, repeated with increasing supplication.
Dead of Winter, by the Eels, begins the transformation of the heart and mind with the allegory of being in the “dark outside the house”, a place of calm contemplation, but burdened with the unknown. This voice, from the perspective of family and friends is that of only speculating on the heartache and desolation of a loved one going through cancer treatment. The following Bach recitative and aria answers that speculation from the patient’s viewpoint through developing a resolve in finding a place in the fight for redemption. Fix You by Coldplay sets the caretakers in a place of blind faith that can only point their loved one in the direction of light and hope.
The transformation of the soul begins with Gilkyson’s Requiem and through Gjeilo’s Dark Night of the Soul. They grapple with the idea of being saved from agony by some mysterious spirituality, a “sheer grace” that “makes broken hearts whole”. Ultimately, it is “with no other light or guide, but the one that burned in my heart.” The conviction is with the survivor to find the hope and faith that drives a fight for life.
Run Children, Run, a field yell from the African-American tradition during slavery sets the tone of redemption for Part II. There is nothing quite like a song of resistance from a people that endured oppression and abuse to sum up the sense of solidarity in a fight for survival. The Bach cantata has now turned the corner, as our narrator is joined by the sopranos in the expression of handing over all worries and troubles and residing in pure faith. Brahms has one of the most convincing crafts in expressing these sentiments. His Geistliches Lied (Spiritual Song) combines masterful counterpoint with long harmonic phrases to articulate a turning away from sorrow and embracing the calm that comes with true faith. “What do you want to worry about from day to day? Only be steadfast in all you do, stand firm.”
Now there’s only life. In The Rain is Over and Gone, we “sing of life, love, laughter, and freedom to live in peace”. The men present a special adaptation to an ancient Psalm through Bobby McFerrin’s 23rd Psalm that acknowledges all the special women in our lives. The Bach exuberantly concludes with a “joyful heart” and exclusion from “grief and pain”.
Although joyful, the journey does not always remain in bliss. This new outlook is what mostly prevails and allows an endurance on a whole new level. Rick Bartlett’s work, Breathe on me, day! is a reminder that each new day is a joy, even in the face of adversity. He thoughtfully chose this poem from Dr. Robert J. Smithdas, who has been deaf and blind since the age of five and just recently passed away on July 17. Rick explains:
“My hope is that everyone will sense the weariness and struggle that weaves through the work and how it builds to triumph! The vision I had when I composed this was that of an image of an individual at the summit of a great mountain. Behind them, all their sorrows, struggles, and burdens once carried, shed below. But love, encouragement, strength, endurance, hope, patience; they represent the light which burst forth from their innermost being, outward, in every direction, so much so, that even the clouds shook.
Knowing the stories behind Carmen and Jennifer (dedicated to), I can’t help but sense how “smothered”they must have felt, at times…probably more often than not…and what it must have been like to finally be able to take in that gasp for air. We all have our “battles”and we all want to rise above and be triumphant. I hope that this work will bring that kind of encouragement. I was having some difficult life events when I came across this poem. It was vivid. I thought of Carmen and Jennifer immediately and realized how small my “battles”were, compared to theirs. This work was therapeutic for me, musically and emotionally. Knowing that Dr. Smithdas was deaf and blind since the age of five, the text takes on a completely new dynamic.”
The women of UW Summer Chorale express that triumph through the allegory of “sailing away”into liberty on the water from those dark clouds. Sorrow is only natural, but our ability to turn tears into a watercourse for happy sailing is the true testament of victory. Malcolm Dalglish’s adaptation of the old American banjo/fiddle tune, Sail Away Ladies, celebrates this liberation.