Season 43: Sessions

Session 5: “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” – Dan Forrest

“My Country ‘Tis of Thee” – Dan Forrest

What is it about music that draws us into it? That gives us satisfaction as we listen? Music has a way of brilliantly using tension and release through tones and texts that allow us to express ourselves in a way that is unique to the spoken word. In addition to this, music is also unique in its power to bring people together for a common cause and to create something magnificent. Something that has been so sorely missed in the days of a pandemic.

Music as we hear it and perceive it now, however, has been a growing and evolving process through time. There is an obvious and stark difference from music of the renaissance to the music we hear on the modern day radio. Ironically, the same concept of tension and release that draws us to the music we listen to also helped create music as it exists today. Developments and changes with music were often met with controversy. Beethoven’s ninth symphony was poorly received in its beginning and he was criticized for using a chorus in a genre meant for instrumental music. Verdi’s Messa da Requiem received a poor review from someone who called Verdi a “corrupter of Italian artistic taste” (the critic later changed his mind).

I think you may be able to see the metaphor being drawn here: controversy breeds progress. It is uncomfortable, it may seem defeating, but as history suggests, it leads to progress. The greatest strides in our nation from its development were wrapped in controversy: The Revolution, The Civil War, the World Wars, Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights, BLM, etc. Today’s world is also wrapped in controversy.

Today holds one of the most important (and perhaps tense) elections of our lifetime. As we move forward, as the tensions in the tunes of society release, may we find comfort in the lesson history has taught us: tension releases, controversy breeds progress. Our video release today is a musical celebration of our country…the music that swells the breeze and rings from all the trees…while recognizing the path we have taken to form the more perfect union and ultimately, liberty.

Session 4: “The Blue Ridge” – Elaine Hagenberg

Elaine Hagenberg captures the hushed majesty of an evening in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with crystal clear melodies and fervent harmonies illuminating the poem of Harriet Monroe. The ascent and descent of the opening lines trace the mountains’ silhouette against the sky, followed by the treble and bass voices that draw us by turn to view each detail of the scene and listen for the wisdom of the mountains.

Elaine Hagenberg’s music “soars with eloquence and ingenuity” (ACDA Choral Journal). Her compositions are performed worldwide and frequently featured at national and regional American Choral Directors Association Conferences, All-State festivals, Carnegie Hall, and other distinguished international concert halls from Australia to South America and throughout Europe.

Session 3: “Meet Me Here” Craig Hella Johnson

“Meet Me Here” is excerpted from the concert length work Concerning Matthew Shepard, which pays tribute to the young gay man who was beaten, tortured, and left to die outside Laramie, Wyoming, on October 12, 1998. The composer writes, “In the context of the larger work, it is at a pivotal movement which takes a first step from a difficult story and asks the question “where do I go from here?” At its core, ‘Meet Me Here,’ is a folk style hymn which invites the participants to be open to meeting at a place which may seem difficult or painful…to finding the healing together, excluding no one.” This is poignantly phrased in the repeated line “Where the old fence ends and the horizon begins.”
Craig Hella Johnson (1962- ) a native of Minnesota, Johnson studied at St. Olaf College, the Juilliard School, and the University of Illinois, and earned his doctorate at Yale University. Before becoming the first Artist-in-Residence at Texas State University School of Music in the fall of 2012, he was Director of Choral Activities at the University of Texas at Austin from 1990-2001. He remains an active educator, teaching workshops and clinics statewide, nationally, and internationally. Johnson is also music director of Austin-based choral ensemble Conspirare, the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble and conductor emeritus of the Victoria Bach Festival (where he was the conductor and Artistic director from 1992-2015). He has served as guest conductor with Austin Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, Oregon Bach Festival, Harvard University and many others in Texas, the U.S. and abroad. He was Artistic Director of San Francisco-based Chanticleer (1998-1999), and has studied with Helmut Rilling at the International Bach Academy in Stuttgart, Germany.
Program Notes by David Blum, Researcher, The Moravian Music Foundation”Meet Me Here” Craig Hella Johnson

Session 2: Cantique de Jean Racine – Gabriel Fauré

Session 2: Cantique de Jean Racine – Gabriel Fauré

Perhaps because he was already renowned as an outstanding organist and teacher, Fauré only slowly gained recognition as a composer. Although he wrote several works involving a full orchestra, his particular talent lay within the more intimate musical forms – songs, piano music and chamber music. His somewhat austere style and highly individual, impressionistic harmonic language contrasts markedly with the music of the Austro-German tradition which dominated European music from the time of Beethoven until well into the twentieth century.

The subtlety of Fauré’s music, and his concentration on the small-scale, led many to criticise him for lacking depth, a judgement based on the mistaken premise that the bigger and bolder a composer’s music the more worthwhile it must be. Fauré deliberately avoided the grander kind of orchestral music that could easily have brought him fame and fortune. He preferred instead to embrace an elegant and subtle musical language that has won him increasing numbers of admirers.

The Cantique is a setting of words by the 17th century dramatist and poet Jean Racine. It was Fauré’s first significant composition, written in 1865 whilst he was in his final year at the École Niedermeyer, the ‘École de musique religieuse et classique’. He submitted the piece for the composition prize, and won, though it was only published eleven years later, with a full orchestral version following in 1906. Fauré went on to write a good deal of religious music – most notably the Requiem, written in 1888 – but of the shorter sacred pieces it is the Cantique that has particularly captured the affections of choirs and audiences.

Program notes by John Bawden

Season 43 is here!

Session 1: “Lift Every Voice and Sing” arr. Roland Carter

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” is a song of hope and freedom. It was first written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and was recited in a segregated school of 500 children.  In 1905, Johnson’s brother, J. Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) set the poem to music. Since then, it has been performed widespread as a message of hope for the African American community and was named the “Negro National Anthem” by the NAACP in 1919. Included in nearly 40 hymnals, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is an essential piece for innumerable choirs and distinguished soloists across America. 

The arrangement presented by PCS was written by Roland Carter, Copyright © 1978 by Edward R. Marks Music Corp. and is distributed by Hal Leonard Publications and used by permission.

Piedmont Chamber Singers stands with our brothers and sisters in the pursuit of social justice and equality.

Welcome to Season 43

Piedmont Chamber Singers Season 43 Announcement