Norman Dello Joio (1913-2008) was a first-generation American from an Italian musical family. Raised in New York City and educated at Juilliard, by the late 1940s he was considered one of America’s leading composers, and by the 1950s was internationally recognized. Dello Joio wrote prolifically for orchestra, voice, chamber ensemble, television and film, concert and symphonic band, ballet, and choir. His emotionally direct, text-inspired vocal music is perfectly suited to Walt Whitman’s poetry, which he set frequently throughout his career. In Jubilant Song (1946), Dello Joio captures the idealism and beauty of Whitman’s dream for mankind, “a universal love awaking in the hearts of men” and the pure joy of singing as it expresses our youthful spirit and feelings of unity with others. Jubilant Song includes three sections: the opening “O…listen,” boldly calling us to the joyful song; a slow middle section with soprano solo reflecting on the ideals of universal love, and a fast ending with nonsense syllables “la la” perfectly capturing the joy of singing, life and destiny.
I Will Arise and Go is an evocative, folk-like setting of William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” The modal vocal writing is at once simple and sophisticated, and always expressive of the yearning in Yeats’ words, while the piano accompaniment suggests the rolling rhythm of a hammered dulcimer. An unaccompanied soloist opens the piece, singing the poem’s first stanza on the folk-like melody upon which the piece is based. The material is then repeated by the choir in harmony, enlivened by the piano’s ostinato figures. The poem’s second stanza takes the music in a new direction, depicting the “peace” that Yeats imagines “dropping slow”. Then a rising, modulating passage crests in a final flourish, suggesting the flight of “linnet’s wings,” before the main theme returns, bringing the piece full circle on the poem’s final stanza. [Notes on this piece and others by Shawn Kirchner on this concert were written by the composer and may be found on his website: shawnkirchner.com.]
I Was Glad is from Songs of Ascent, a ten-movement, 45-minute psalm cycle for harp, strings, chorus, and soloists that was written for Kirchner’s composer residency with the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Its premiere performance was March 10, 2015 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, led by Grant Gershon, with soloists Suzanne Waters and David Castillo. In 2017-2018, new movements were written, incorporating additional tenor and baritone soloists, and this version was premiered by Coro Allegro at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre on March 11, 2018, led by David Hodgkins. The texts for the work all belong to the “songs of ascent” — a set of fifteen Psalms (#120 – # 134) that were sung by pilgrims en route to Jerusalem, and which may even have been sung ritually in the ascent of the steps of the Temple itself. Several famous psalms are part of this set: Psalm 121 “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,” Psalm 122 “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord,'” and Psalm 130 “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee.” All but four of the complete set are utilized in this collection, and they are ordered in such a way to trace a dramatic arc from estrangement to reconciliation, dispersal to reunion, and anticipation to culmination. – S. K.
Tu sangre en la mia is a setting of Pablo Neruda’s 53rd sonnet from Cien Sonetos de Amor. The touching and passionate sonnet celebrates the daily domesticity that grounds an enduring love. After a melodious and romantic opening stanza, a contrasting middle section alludes to the challenges that the poet and his wife have faced (having been forced into exile), with rising figures in the piano accompaniment and high, arching vocal lines. But a rapturous return to the opening theme signifies a circling back home to the respite of “your blood in mine,” and the “endless simplicity of tenderness” that characterizes the poet’s daily life with his love. Kirchner originally composed the piece as a soprano-baritone duet, then turned it into an SATB choir piece for the Austin-based chamber choir, Conspirare, for their recording “Pablo Neruda: The Poet Sings.” The album subsequently received a Grammy nomination and was also included on Gramophone’s Best of 2015 list of classical recordings. – S. K.
The Cuckoo, commissioned by the Fort Worth Chorale for our 60th anniversary year, is based on an old English folk song that has been passed down and adapted through many generations in several countries, including the United States. The text is fluid and improvisatory in various renderings, but generally includes a version of the refrain “The cuckoo is a pretty bird, she sings as she flies; she’ll tell you no secrets, and she’ll tell you no lies.” When I approached Shawn about a commission, he suggested setting this tune to honor his long-time bluegrass and songwriting mentor, Steve Kinzie. The resulting piece, with its fiery banjo-like piano accompaniment, fiddle part and syncopated 6-part choral writing is rollicking, but with a wistful flavor; the singer-poet likens the cuckoo to the pretty girl he wishes were his.
Oh the cuckoo, she’s a pretty bird, she sings as she flies,
She’ll tell you no secrets, she’ll tell you no lies.
Gonna build me a log cabin on the mountain so high,
So that I can see my true love as my true love passes by.
I’ve played cards in England, I’ve played cards in Spain,
And I’ll bet you five dollars I’ll beat you next game.
Oh the cuckoo she’s a pretty bird, I wish that she were mine.
She’d never drink water, she’d only drink sweet wine.
Jack of diamonds, Jack of diamonds, I know you of old,
You robbed my poor pockets of my silver and my gold.
Oh sometimes I wonder how love makes us fools;
It leaves us broken-hearted, it breaks all the rules.
The music of Morten Lauridsen, Professor Emeritus of Composition at the University of Southern California, occupies a permanent place in the standard vocal repertoire of the 21st century. He was Composer-in-Residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale from 1994-2001 and serves as Honorary Artistic President of INTERKULTUR/World Choir Games. His works, including eight vocal cycles, individual songs, choral and instrumental works and a series of sacred motets, are regularly performed throughout the world and have been recorded on over 200 CDs, several of which have received Grammy nominations. Lauridsen originally composed Sure On This Shining Night as the third movement for his choral cycle Nocturnes on poems by Rilke, Neruda and Agee, which was the ACDA Raymond Brock Memorial Commission in 2005. Lauridsen describes his setting of James Agee’s tender, imagery-filled text as an “American musical theater piece,” with the singers telling a story through emotionally nuanced words.
Susan LaBarr is a composer and choral editor living and working in Springfield, Missouri. She has completed commissions for choirs worldwide, most notably Seraphic Fire, the National ACDA Women’s Choir Consortium, and the Texas Choral Director’s Association’s Director’s Chorus. She has served as the Missouri Composer Laureate and as Composer-in-Residence for the Tennessee Chamber Chorus, a professional choir based in Cleveland, Tennessee. Grace Before Sleep, set to a poem by Sara Teasdale, is an exquisite example of LaBarr’s penchant for delicate melodies and rich harmony, capturing the peace and thanksgiving of Teasdale’s evening prayer.
Sweet Rivers is a newly-created “traditional song” that pairs an old hymn text with an original melody. The banjo-like accompaniment adds considerable motion and excitement throughout the piece. The first verse is shared by the women, who introduce the theme. The men take the melody in the second verse as the women add echoing phrases. A modulation launches the third verse brightly, and quickly successive vocal entrances build the energy which crest in the first climax of the piece. An interlude follows, as the voices soar on the text “joy to be thine own.” The text of the first verse is heard again as the piece circles back to its home key for the jubilant final verse. A coda brings quick, unexpected modulations that rise to the rapturous conclusion: “sweet rivers of redeeming love lie just before mine eyes.” – S.K.
A banjo-like piano accompaniment and expressive fiddle stylings lend folk authenticity to this plaintive and moving choral setting of Stephen Foster’s classic song Hard Times Come Again No More. The text is set in simplicity and in fullness, by turns, as the expression of the words demand, with individual vocal parts always retaining a naturalness of line that create a musically satisfying and rich harmonic composite when combined with the other parts. Contrast is provided by the presentation of the melody in minor mode for the third verse, reflecting the grief of the text, before the major key returns in a final, full-throated expression of the text’s heart-felt plea. – S. K.
Unclouded Day is the bright, third movement of Heavenly Home: Three American Songs. A straight-forward first verse and chorus are followed by two verses in which traditional bluegrass vocal stylings combine with counterpoint and fugue in a crescendo of excitement that peaks in the roof-raising phrase “in the city that is made of gold.” The original song “Unclouded Day” was written by the itinerant preacher Josiah K. Alwood after a late-night horse ride under a striking vision of a sky: he saw a rainbow against a dark cloud which covered half the sky, while the other half was perfectly clear. He awoke in the morning with the song’s chorus in his head, and spent a day and a half working out the verses. – S. K.
The Martin Chambers Singers are comprised of the top students in the Martin choral program. The program has a total of 360 students involved in 12 performing organizations. Among the 35 members in Chamber Singers, the students are involved in band, orchestra, theatre, athletics, student council and many different clubs on campus. Ninety percent of the students in Chamber are in AP classes, take courses at either the CTC or CVPA. Martin Choirs have performed at four TMEA conventions (1995, 2005, 2008, 2016) and three National ACDA conventions (1997, 2005, 2013), Carnegie Hall (2006, 2016) Lincoln Center (2012) and in 2019 London, England. Martin Choirs consistently earn UIL sweepstakes each year and have students named to the prestigious Texas All-State Choirs.
Kay Owens is in her fortieth year of teaching secondary choral music. Prior to joining the Arlington Independent School District, in 1993, she taught in Natchez Public Schools, Natchez, Mississippi and Tupelo Public Schools, Tupelo, Mississippi. She received a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Mississippi State University in 1983, and a Master of Music in choral conducting from Mississippi College in 2000.
Presently Ms. Owens is in her twenty-fifth year at Martin High School. During her tenure as the assistant director at Martin, Chamber Singers performed at the 1999 Fringe Festival in Aberdeen Scotland, TMEA and ACDA (2005). Owens was named head choral director in 2006. Under her leadership the Martin Choirs have performed at TMEA (2008, 2016), National ACDA (2013), Carnegie Hall (2006, 2016), Lincoln Center (2012) and Cadogan hall in London, England (2019).
Ms. Owens is a member of TMEA, ACDA, TCDA, and TMAA. Owens has been voted teacher of the year in 1996 (Barnett Junior High) and 2016 (Martin High School). Owens was named the recipient of the 2000 Abbot-Ipco Scholarship presented by the Texas Choral Directors Association. Owens has served as chair of region 5 Vocal Division. She has served on the TCDA Executive Board 2009-2001. Kay was named the 2009 Distinguished Alumnae of the College of Music for Mississippi College. In 2013, Owens was honored with the UIL Sponsor Excellence Award. Owens was the recipient of the 2020 TCDA Choral Excellence Award. Kay serves as the organist at First Baptist Church Arlington.
The Paschal Panther Chorale is the flagship ensemble for the Paschal Choir Department. It consists of the Varsity Treble Ensemble, Resonance, and the Varsity Tenor Bass, Panther Corps. Nathan Benavides has conducted Panther Chorale and Panther Corps since 2015 and Trevlyn Nipper has directed Resonance since 2011. The Paschal High School Choir Department has a vibrant history of successful UIL performances, all-state members, and music majors and career musicians. In 2019 the Panther Corps was invited to perform at TMEA. The Paschal Fine Arts department has also had a long history of success in band, orchestra, and theater. Most recently Paschal Jazz Band was invited to perform for a second time in 10 years to the Jazz Educator’s Network national Convention held in Dallas, Texas. Paschal High School is a Title 1 6A high school consisting of 2,100 students. It is the oldest High School in Fort Worth dating back to 1882.
Nathan Benavides has been teaching choral music for 14 years at the middle school and high school level. His choirs gave gained consistent success throughout his career. In 2015, Mr. Benavides was named the Head Choir Director at Paschal High School. In 2019 his Tenor-Bass choir was invited to perform at TMEA. Mr. Benavides has a Bachelor's Degree in Music Education from the University of Texas-San Antonio. He also received his Master's Degree in Conducting from Long Island University-CW Post under the guidance of Dr. Mark Shapiro in 2015. He is a member of ACDA, TCDA, and TMEA and enjoys singing professionally with local churches and chamber ensembles, adjudicating, and mentoring fellow musicians. He is excited to be an interim conductor for the Coppell Community Choir working with their chamber ensembles. His boxer, Cadence, serves as the official mascot of the Paschal Choir Department.