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American Voices: Program Notes

We begin with the rousing 18th-century anthem Chester by William Billings, considered to be the first American choral composer. The Morning Trumpet by Dr. Mack Wilberg is taken from the The Sacred Harp, a widely used and historically important tunebook, first published in 1844 with similar New England roots as Chester. Highlighting the sopranos and altos, the women of the Chorale sing the arrangement Will the Circle Be Unbroken, written in two American vocal styles, the bluegrass trio and the gospel quartet. With text taken from a leaflet of the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union, beloved composer Randall Thompson gives us God’s Bottles, a mini sermon in song of the virtues of sobriety! Composer/conductor/music administrator James Erb is now perhaps best remembered for his transcending setting of the American folk song Shenandoah, sung by countless choirs here and abroad. No Time is an arrangement of a traditional camp meeting song by American music educator Susan Brumfield and directed tonight by our own Laura Cole, winner of the Spring 2022 silent auction. You may remember the talented Ms. Cole as featured soloist in the Spring 2022 performance in the Duruflé Requiem. The Promise of Living, directed by Assistant Conductor Travis Kornegay, is a stirring number taken from Aaron Copland’s popular 1954 student opera The Tender Land, here arranged by the composer for mixed choir and piano duet. Dello Joio's exuberant A Jubilant Song is set to a text by that equally exuberant poet, Walt Whitman. One can hear echoes of the composer's early dalliance with jazz, along with the solid craftsmanship that marks him as a student of Paul Hindemith. Originally scored for women's voices and piano, it was written in 1945 and its celebratory mood certainly reflects America's exultation at the end of the War. Its first performance was at Sarah Lawrence College, a female-only undergraduate institution that became co-educational in 1968. Today's performance presents the composer's own re-setting for mixed voices.

Opening the second half of our concert is the iconic Alleluia by Randall Thompson, one of the best known and most oft sung choral octavos in the history of the United States. The work was commissioned in 1940 by Serge Koussevitsky to be performed at the dedication of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. The commission was to be in the spirit of a fanfare, but the composer instead set a single word (Alleluia) in a slower tempo (indicated as Lento). According to David Francis Burrows, Thompson biographer, “the work specifically reflected Thompson’s emotional response to the Fall of France, which occurred between his receipt of Koussevitsky’s commission, and the opening exercises of the Berkshire Music Center.” Now featuring the basses and tenors of the Chorale, the men sing the wonderful 1949 arrangement of the spiritual If I got a ticket, can I ride? by the great Robert Shaw, followed by Norman Luboff’s sentimental arrangement of the cowboy song Colorado Trail. For those lovers of Irving Berlin, we present an unpublished medley of three songs: Always, What’ll I Do, and Remember by Dr. Ronald Staheli. Continuing with the nostalgia, the Chorale sings Los Angeles arranger Shawn Kirchner’s rendition of the Jerome Kern The Land Where the Good Songs Go, described by Kirchner as “A lush, romantic setting of the Jerome Kern classic, with text by P.J. Wodehouse. Men’s and women’s choirs take turns with the verses; choruses are many-layered, with sumptuous harmonies and phrases that ‘sweep’ and ‘swoon’ – reminiscent of the hit ballads of the 1940’s and 50’s.” Prior to our rousing finale, we sing four spirituals, beloved of our Chorale audiences. Perhaps the most popular and well-known is Harry T. Burleigh’s My Lord, What a Mornin’, followed by the late Moses Hogan’s We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace, a gentle setting of There is a Balm in Gilead, and Hogan’s I Can Tell the World. The Chorale concludes tonight’s concert with the animated (to say the least!) setting of the American folksong Cindy by Mack Wilberg. Set for four-hands piano and double (SATB/SATB) choir, the work throws off all restraint with effects of call and response, clapping, stomping, and an invitation by the composer to “Whoop ‘n Holler”!

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