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Mornings Like This: Songs of Daybreak and Childhood/Choral Arts/Bode
Mornings Like This: Songs of Daybreak and Childhood - Choral Arts - Robert Bode


 
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Program and Notes
 
Mornings Like This: Songs of Daybreak and Childhood
Choral Arts (formerly Choral Arts Northwest)
Lee Thompson, Melissa Loehnig, piano
Robert Bode, conductor

Winners of The 2010 American Prize in recorded choral performance and the 2010 Margaret Hillis Award from Chorus America!

The "Pure Sound" of Choral Arts under their new director, Robert Bode presents several world premiere recordings, including The Dream Keeper, a piece in four movements, each featuring a different text from Langston Hughes. Other pieces feature the poetry of Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman and the conductor of Choral Arts, Robert Bode.

"My Lord, what a mornin'"—Spiritual, arr. Harry T. Burleigh (1866–1949)
Sunrise, from Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun (1990)—Michael Hennagin (1936–1993)
The Waking (2008)—Giselle Wyers (b. 1969) *
Fern Hill (1960)—John Corigliano  (b.1938)
Dawn (2008)—Eric William Barnum  (b.1979) *
A Child's Prayer (1996)—James MacMillan  (b.1959)
In Dreams—John David Earnest (b. 1940)
The Dream Keeper—William Averitt  (b.1948) *
     The Dream Keeper
     Dream Variations
     As I Grew Older
     Song
Will there really be a "Morning"?—Craig Hella Johnson *
Beautiful River (1995)—arr. William Hawley  (b. 1950)

* World Premiere Recordings

Program Notes

My Lord, what a mornin’

arranged by Harry T. Burleigh (1866–1949)

 

When the great composer Antonín Dvorák lived in New York for two years, he became exceedingly homesick for his native Bohemia. In this mindset, he met the African-American baritone Harry Burleigh, who introduced the great composer to slave spirituals. Dvorák promptly declared that, if his host country wished to find its own, uniquely American musical style, they had best develop it from the traditions of its black culture. He was eventually proven right, as jazz and rock music steadily emerged. Ironically, Burleigh’s own arrangements of spirituals are rather traditional, handling them almost as Dvoøák would have handled a Bohemian folksong. Burleigh composed more than 265 vocal works, mostly settings of spirituals as solo art songs. His choral version of My Lord, what a mornin’ is a fine example of his writing: the text is clear, the harmonies straightforward and subtle.

 

My Lord, what a mornin’, when the stars begin to fall.

Done quit all my worldly ways, join that heavenly band.

My Lord, what a mornin’, when the stars begin to fall.

 

 


Sunrise, from Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun (1990)
Michael Hennagin (1936–1993)

 

Michael Hennagin was a student of Darius Milhaud and Aaron Copland at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. He began his professional career composing music for Hollywood, but eventually settled for twenty years (1972–92) as a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma. Hennagin composed for orchestra, ballet, choir, and chamber ensemble, and developed a close relationship with the New York–based professional choir, the Gregg Smith Singers. His cycle Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun, on texts by Walt Whitman, is melodic and gratifyingly written for the voices. The second movement, “Sunrise,” emphasizes the poet’s repeated plea: “Give me…”

 

Give me the sunrise when I can walk alone;

Give me the nights perfectly silent on high plateaus, and I looking up at the stars;

Take me away, take me back home again.

Give me a garden of flowers;

Give me an arbor, the trellised grape;

Give me an orchard, the bough rich with fruit;

Give me the field, the meadow;

Give me the sunrise, the sunset, give me the harvest moon;

Give me to sing my songs, give me to sing spontaneous songs.

 

                — adapted from Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman (1819–1892)

  


The Waking (2008)
Giselle Wyers

 

Giselle Wyers is a member of that special breed, the conductor–composer. Wyers trained as a choral conductor at Westminster Choir College in New Jersey and at the University of Arizona, and is currently on faculty at the University of Washington in Seattle. Though she had not previously composed extensively, her 2002 Ave Maria gained national prominence. Her many works are now published and performed internationally. The Waking is a straightforward setting of Theodore Roethke’s equally straightforward poem celebrating a disappearing art: the summer-morning stroll.

 

I strolled across

An open field;

The sun was out;

Heat was happy.

 

This way! This way!

The wren’s throat shimmered,

Either to other,

The blossoms sang.

 

The stones sang,

The little ones did,

And flowers jumped

Like small goats.

 

A ragged fringe

Of daisies waved;

I wasn’t alone

In a grove of apples.

 

Far in the wood

A nestling sighed;

The dew loosened

Its morning smells.

 

I came where the river

Ran over stones:

My ears knew

An early joy.

 

And all the waters

Of all the streams

Sang in my veins

That summer day.

 

                — Theodore Roethke (1908–1963)

 


Fern Hill
(1960)
John Corigliano (born 1938)

 

John Corigliano is one of the most decorated American composers, recipient of a Pulitzer (2001, Symphony No. 2), a Grawemeyer (1991, Symphony No. 1), an Academy Award (1999, The Red Violin), and several Grammys. Corigliano’s orchestral music has gained an immediate hold on the standard repertory, and includes concertos for piano, violin, flute, clarinet, and oboe. Fern Hill, however, predates all of those successes. The composer had just graduated from New York’s prestigious Juilliard School, and a colleague had requested a setting of Dylan Thomas’s most famous lyric, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night. Unfamiliar with Thomas’s works, Corigliano consulted his collected poems, and instead became entranced by Fern Hill. An ensuing lifelong fascination with the poet culminated in A Dylan Thomas Trilogy (1976, revised and expanded 1999), which incorporates Fern Hill as its second movement.

 

Dylan Thomas’s passionate, lyrical, almost Romantic verse lends itself beautifully to music. The Welshman lived all his life in or near the coastal town of Swansea, but spent his childhood summers at the family farm, called Fern Hill.
When he wrote this nostalgic poem about those summers, he was in his early twenties—roughly the same age as Corigliano was when he set it to music. Corigliano is carefully attuned to the text, but often in extremely subtle ways. For example, in the first stanza of text, Thomas recalls having been “young and easy under the apple boughs,” and being “prince of the apple towns”—who among us did not have such play fantasies in our youth?—which Corigliano assigns a slightly more regal rhythm in the piano, while still maintaining a carefree overall mood. Solo mezzo-soprano invokes the dangers of seeing vague images “flashing in the dark,” but morning soon arrives, gentle as Eden. When the choir returns, Thomas’s words turn to commentary. Eventually, the nostalgia of having been “young and easy” becomes tinged with bitterness and resentment. The piano closes with a recollection of the innocent opening, but the final two chords are particularly telling: the penultimate chord with a biting cross-relation of A-flat against A-natural, such that the closing chord, with A-flat removed, retains just a tinge of that bitterness.

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
                The night above the dingle starry,
                                Time let me hail and climb
                Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
                                Trail with daisies and barley
                Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
                In the sun that is young once only,
                                Time let me play and be
                Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
                                And the sabbath rang slowly
                In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
                And playing, lovely and watery
                                And fire green as grass.
                And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the night jars
                Flying with the ricks, and the horses
                                Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
                Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
                                The sky gathered again
                And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
                Out of the whinnying green stable
                                On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
                In the sun born over and over
                                I ran my heedless ways,
                My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
                Before the children green and golden
                                Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
                In the moon that is always rising,
                                Nor that riding to sleep
                I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
                                Time held me green and dying
                Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

                — Dylan Thomas  (1914–1953)



Dawn
(2008)
Eric William Barnum (born 1979)

 

Educated at Bemidji State University and Minnesota State University, Eric Barnum is now a doctoral student at the University of Washington in Seattle. Several of his works have been premiered by the most prominent American professional choirs, including Chanticleer in San Francisco, Kantorei in Denver, and VocalEssence in Minneapolis. Choral Arts commissioned Barnum’s Dawn, setting a text written by its conductor, Robert Bode. It shares the simple, resonant harmonies of the Scandinavian choral tradition so prevalent in Minnesota’s rich heritage. There are moments of subtle text-painting, as in the very first lines, when the choral texture becomes continually richer, just as daylight would fill a dawn-lit room.

 

From the door’s soft opening

And the day’s first sigh,

Filling the room,

I see before me

A life of doors,

One opening on another,

Doors upon doors,

And sighs upon sighs,

Rising in a tide of mornings,

Rising, until that final sigh,

And the last morning,

And the last holy breath,

Whispering “this…”

 

                — Robert Bode (born 1957)

 


A Child’s Prayer (1996)
James MacMillan (born 1959)

 

James MacMillan is Scottish and Catholic. Even his purely instrumental works resonate with one or the other of those descriptors. In A Child’s Prayer, these two elements combine. On March 13, 1996, a gunsman entered the elementary school at Dunblane, in central Scotland, killing sixteen students and their teacher before committing suicide. Politically, the tragedy led to the British government’s banning private ownership of handguns. Musically, the event inspired James MacMillan to compose this homage, which was first heard at Westminster Abbey that July. The choir’s repetitions of “welcome” are given poignancy by the two treble soloists’ melodic lines, steadily rising as two children’s souls to heaven. A central section infuses anguish into acclamations of “joy.” MacMillan’s music is particularly beloved by the international choral community for its well-written vocal lines, beautiful and rich harmonic sonorities, and always heartfelt connection to the text.

 

Welcome, Jesu,

Deep in my soul forever stay,

Joy and love my heart are filling

On this glad and sacred day.



In Dreams
John David Earnest

 

Carry me up, carry me up in dreams,

Carry me to the place where borders melt and forests flow to the sea.

 

Carry me up, carry me up in dreams,

Take me where oceans rock in gentle hands and the blue earth floats as if dreaming.

 

Carry me to the place where dreams fly

Let me rest where silence breathes like songs of the Divine.

 

 


The Dream Keeper (2009)
William Averitt  (born 1948)

 

Born in Kentucky, William Averitt trained at Florida State University and, since 1973, is on faculty at Shenandoah University in northern Virginia. His catalogue is rich with works for orchestra and chamber ensemble, particularly emphasizing the flute. But it is for over sixty choral works that Averitt is best known. His 1991 Afro-American Fragments is particularly prominent, having been performed by major choirs across America. That work is a cycle of six poems by Langston Hughes. The Dream Keeper continues in this vein, setting four additional Langston Hughes texts. The work is scored for mixed chorus with piano four-hands, and was commissioned by Choral Arts.

 

The first movement, which shares its title with the complete cycle, is especially striking for the unusual sonorities Averitt selects for the word “dream.” Instantly, the very concept of a dream seems somehow separate from our normal world with its relentlessly tonal harmonies. The second movement functions as a quick-footed scherzo, with the top piano line in a constantly running pattern. The sopranos’ first phrase sets the stage, leaping dramatically to their highest register for the text, “To fling my arms wide.” The third movement, As I Grew Older, is the focal point of the cycle both poetically and compositionally. The poem addresses the universally experienced moment of awakening from sleep as a dream gradually dissipates out of memory. Again, the very word “dream” is treated with striking, otherworldly sonorities. The finale sets a text titled by Hughes simply Song. The inaugural lines—“Lovely, dark and lonely one, / Bare your bosom to the sun”—return as a melodic, indeed song-like, refrain for the tenors and basses. By the end, the bright sonorities of the sun completely overwhelm Averitt’s earlier, harmonically exotic dreams.

 

                1.  The Dream Keeper

 

Bring me all of your dreams,

You dreamers,

Bring me all of your

Heart melodies,

That I may wrap them

In a blue cloud-cloth,

Away from the too-rough fingers

Of the world

 

                2.  Dream Variations

 

To fling my arms wide

In some place of the sun,

To whirl and to dance

Till the white day is done.

Then rest at cool evening

Beneath a tall tree

While nigh comes on gently,

Dark like me—

That is my dream!

 

To fling my arms wide

In the face of the sun,

Dance! Whirl! Whirl!

Till the quick day is done.

Rest at pale evening…

A tall, slim tree…

Night coming tenderly

Black like me.

 

                3.  As I Grew Older

 

It was a long time ago.

I have almost forgotten my dream.

But it was there then,

In front of me,

Bright like a sun—

My dream.

And then the wall rose,

Rose slowly,

Slowly,

Between me and my dream.

Rose slowly, slowly,

Dimming,

Hiding,

The light of my dream,

Rose until it touched the sky—

The wall.

Shadow.

I am black.

I lie down in the shadow.

No longer the light of my dream before me,

Above me.

Only the thick wall.

Only the shadow.

My hands!

My dark hands!

Break through the wall!

Find my dream!

Help me to shatter this darkness,

To smash this night,

To break this shadow

Into a thousand lights of sun,

Into a thousand whirling dreams

Of sun!

 

                4.  Song

 

Lovely, dark and lonely one,

Bare your bosom to the sun.

Do not be afraid of light,

You who are a child of night.

 

Open wide your arms to life,

Whirl in the wind of pain and strife.

Face the wall with the dark closed gate,

Beat with bare brown fists

And wait.

 

                — Langston Hughes (1902–1967)

 

 


Will there really be a “Morning”?
Craig Hella Johnson  (born 1962)

 

The Midwest, particularly the state of Minnesota, has given choral music more of its shining stars than any region in America. Craig Hella Johnson, for example, was born in Minnesota, studied at St. Olaf, Juilliard, and Yale; taught at the University of Texas at Austin, and has since become widely known as the founder and conductor of the Austin–based professional choir, Conspirare. Johnson’s Will there really be a “Morning”? is set for two-part women’s voices. Its smooth melodiousness matches perfectly the childlike simplicity of an innocently questioning text.

 

Will there really be a “Morning”?

Is there such a thing as “Day”?

Could I see it from the mountains

If I were as a tall as they?

                Morning, Morning,

                Where does Morning lie?

 

Has it feet like Water lillies?

Has it feathers like a Bird?

Is it brought from famous countries

Of which I have never heard?

                Morning, Morning,

                Where does Morning lie?

 

Oh, some Scholar, oh, some Sailor,

Oh, some Wisemen from the sky,

Please to tell a little Pilgrim

Where the place called “Morning” lies?

                Morning, Morning,

                Where does Morning lie?

 


Beautiful River  (Shall We Gather at the River)  (1995)
arranged by William Hawley  (born 1950)

 

In the nineteenth century, American hymnody achieved an unprecedented flowering. One of the most enduring examples is “Shall we gather at the river,” with words and melody written in 1864 by Robert Lowry, a Baptist pastor then serving in Brooklyn, New York. Lowry himself did not particularly like the hymn, comparing it unfavorably to an insistently swaggering brass-band march tune. Fortunately, the twentieth-century giant among American composers, Aaron Copland, disagreed and included it among his popular arrangements of Old American Songs. William Hawley, today one of America’s most prominent choral composers, made his arrangement in 1995 for the Dale Warland Singers. Hawley assigns the hymn a rich, eight-voice texture.

 

Shall we gather at the river,

Where bright angel feet have trod,

With its crystal tide forever

Flowing by the throne of God?

 

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,

The beautiful, the beautiful river,

Gather with the saints at the river

That flows by the throne of God.

 

On the margin of the river,

Washing up its silver spray,

We will walk and worship ever

All the happy, golden day.

 

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,

The beautiful, the beautiful river,

Gather with the saints at the river

That flows by the throne of God.

 

                — Robert Lowry (1826–1899)

 

 

— Program notes by Gary D. Cannon

 


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