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  Shenandoah: Songs of the American Spirit/John Alexander Singers/John Alexander, conductor
Shenandoah: Songs of the American Spirit/Pacific Chorale's John Alexander Singers/John Alexander, conductor


 
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Program and Notes
 
Shenandoah: Songs of the American Spirit
Mindy Ball, harp
David Clemensen and Lisa Sylvester, piano
Tim Emmons and James Garafalo, bass
David Montoya, harmonica
Robert Slack, drums and percussion
Pacific Chorale's John Alexander Singers
John Alexander, conductor
 
Conductor John Alexander takes the listener on a musical tour of American historical touchstones, celebrating the diverse folk culture of the United States, as well as the emotions and experiences of pioneer life.
 
The John Alexander Singers, one of America's rising professional choirs, captures the essence of the American Spirit in this inspirational recording.
Program Notes
1. Shenandoah, arr. James Erb
2. SourwoodMountain, arr. John Rutter
3. She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain, arr. Emma Lou Diemer
4. Down to the River to Pray, arr. Philip Lawson
5. Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, arr. Robert Fountain
6. Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier, arr. Robert De Cormier
7. Aura Lee, arr. Ralph Hunter, Alice Parker & Robert Shaw
8. Goober Peas, arr. Mark Hayes
9. He’s Gone Away, arr. Ron Nelson
10. Cindy, arr. Mack Wilberg
11. Billy Boy, arr. Mark Hayes
12. BuffaloGals, arr. John Alexander & Ryan McSweeney
13. The Erie Canal, arr. Mark Hayes
14. Home on the Range, arr. Mark Hayes
15. Colorado Trail, arr. Norman Luboff
16. Sacramento~Sis Joe, Jackson Berkey
17. How Can I Keep From Singing, arr. Ronald Staheli

TOTAL 56:44


The history of our country is written in our song, and what a variety of song it is! Our ancestors brought with them from abroad the music of their homelands, and over time many of these songs were set to English texts and found their way into our national repertoire.
 
Then there is the cornucopia of songs that sprang from the American experience itself, but for which no composer or librettist is known, music often called “folk” or “traditional.” The wars we have fought, the slave experience, the conquering of the West, our loves, and our tragedies are all recorded here.
 
And few other countries can match the diversity of native songs written by identified composers of every ethnicity and national origin. The period from 1850 to 1940 saw an explosion of popular song, starting notably with the music of Stephen Foster, and culminating with the prolific songsmiths of Tin Pan Alley in New York.
 
The music on this recording is chosen from this great body of music and takes us on a tour of American historical touchstones as well as the emotions and experiences of everyday people.

—Dr. Gordon Paine

 

 

1. Shenandoah

The end of the Civil War marked the beginning of the great westward migration: millions of pioneers in search of riches or simply a new life set out in endless wagon trains, pushing the frontier ever closer to the Pacific. With them they took precious few belongings, but many memories of the land they loved and left behind. “Shenandoah,” the words of a wistful Virginia settler transplanted west of the Missouri river, is an expression of his homesickness. Not only is “Shenandoah” one of the greatest American songs; James Erb’s arrangement stands as one of the most unforgettable folksong arrangements in the repertoire.

arr. James Erb

2. Sourwood Mountain

Aaron Mosley, tenor
Carver Cossey, bass

The words to “Sourwood Mountain,” an Appalachian folksong, exist in a great variety of versions, owing to its popularity and wide dispersal over time. The nonsense syllables of the refrain, “hi-ho, hi-ho diddle-um a-day,” may well be an imitation of the banjo, the characteristic instrument of the Appalachians.

arr. John Rutter

3. She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain

“She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” serves as a wonderful example of how “traditional” music can morph into different genres. It appears to have been adapted after the Civil War from a Negro spiritual entitled “When the Chariot Comes,” then converted by Appalachian whites into a folksong, and finally transformed into a railroad work-gang song. American composer Emma Lou Diemer takes the evolution a step further in her light, jazz-influenced, art-music arrangement.

arr. Emma Lou Diemer

4. Down to the River to Pray

Aaron Mosley, tenor
Thomas Ringland, bass
Kellee King, soprano

“Down to the River to Pray,” an African-American spiritual, has been around for perhaps two centuries. In songs like “Shenandoah,” rivers were important geographic and spiritual landmarks to white pioneers, and to slaves they were metaphoric borders between freedom and slavery, heaven and earth. Here the poet calls on all mankind — sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, and sinners — to “come down to the river to pray,” and on the way to contemplate who is to be saved.

arr. Philip Lawson

5. Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

Zanaida Robles, soprano

The plaintive words of the African-American spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” can be interpreted literally as the lament of a young slave sold away from his parents, but they were likely metaphoric. The “motherless child” could be a slave separated from and yearning for his African homeland, a slave suffering “a long way from home” — home being heaven — or most likely both. “Sometimes I Feel” was a repertoire piece for the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the first post-Civil-War choir of African-Americans to sing the music of their people in public concerts.

arr. Robert Fountain

6. Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier

Kellee King, soprano
Laura Harrison, alto

American conductor and arranger Robert De Cormier introduces his interpretation of “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier,” a song of the American Revolution, by writing, “The heartbreak and tears that accompany every war when a young soldier leaves his home is the eternal theme expressed in this gentle, haunting song. Probably the most beautiful song sung by Washington’s men is an American version of an Irish ballad, ‘Shule Aroon,’ which goes back to 1700, when Irishmen were leaving home to fight in the armies of France.” In another fascinating example of musical cross-pollination, “Shule Aroon” found its way in adapted fashion into the nineteenth-century African-American folksong repertoire.

arr. Robert De Cormier

7. Aura Lee

Daniel Babcock, tenor

The cultured poetry of “Aura Lee” betrays the fact that the song is composed rather than of folk origin. Written by W.W. Fosdick and George R. Poulton around the start of the Civil War, “Aura Lee” expresses the yearning of a young soldier for his “maid of golden hair.”

George R. Poulton, arr. Ralph Hunter, Alice Parker and Robert Shaw

8. Goober Peas

Aram Barsamian, baritone
David Clemensen, piano

Mark Hayes describes “Goober Peas” as “a Civil War song” and “a favorite of Confederate soldiers.” “With food in short supply, the soldiers joked that they had to survive on peanuts (goober peas), which grew easily in the South.” The song was first published in 1866, immediately after the Civil War.

arr. Mark Hayes

9. He’s Gone Away

Like “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier,” the tender North Carolina ballad “He’s Gone Away” presents the lament of a girl for her soldier gone to war. Neither the specifics of its origins nor its age are known. But unlike “Johnny,” “He’s Gone Away” is filled with hope for the young man’s return as the lass who sings it continually looks for a familiar silhouette on the horizon, “over yondro” (yonder).

arr. Ron Nelson

10. Cindy

Daniel Babcock, tenor
Aram Barsamian, baritone
Aaron Mosley, tenor
Dennis Houser, bass

Folksongs typically consist of just a melody, and for choral performance, composers have to “arrange” them, adding harmony, additional parts for the choral voices, changes of texture, and so on. Whereas most folksong arrangements are rather simple in keeping with the original material, Mack Wilberg’s “Cindy” is truly “symphonic.” The text comes in endless variations, from innocent to downright raunchy, and the twelve verses Wilberg chose are among the more polite.

arr. Mack Wilberg

11. Billy Boy

Katharin Rundus, soprano
Daniel Cardwell, tenor
David Clemensen, piano

Of his version of “Billy Boy,” a sweet song in which a boy chats with his mother about his maternally dominated girlfriend, arranger Mark Hayes writes, “Dating to at least the early nineteenth century in the United States, ‘Billy Boy’ is one of the more popular ‘courting songs.’ Its lively comic banter inspired numerous improvisations over the years, including ‘She can make a loaf of bread with her nightcap on her head,’ and the ever popular ‘Yes, she took my hat and she threw it at the cat!’”

arr. Mark Hayes

12. Buffalo Gals

Nicholas Preston, tenor

“Buffalo Gals” is a rollicking piece that celebrates the joy of dancing under the night sky. Its roots are in the years before the Civil War, but the composer is unknown. John Hodges, a minstrel who performed in blackface under the stage name “Cool White,” published the first printed version in 1844. The words could change according to where it was sung, and so it might be known in Buffalo as “Buffalo Gals” but in California as “California Gals.”

arr. John Alexander and Ryan McSweeney

13. The Erie Canal

James Martin Schaefer, baritone
David Clemensen, piano

It is hard for us today to think of western New York as “the frontier,” but it was just that at the turn of the nineteenth century. To reach the Great Lakes with goods from the East required painfully slow oxcarts and vast amounts of time. That changed in 1825 when “The Erie Canal” opened, permitting barges of up to seventy-five tons to make the trip via water. Late in the nineteenth century, the mules that had pulled the loads fifteen miles a day were replaced by steam engines, and with their demise, an era came to an end. In 1906 Tin Pan Alley composer Thomas S. Allen mourned that lost age in this wistful song.

Thomas S. Allen, arr. Mark Hayes

14. Home on the Range

Familiar to every Boy Scout, Girl Scout, and most other Americans, “Home on the Range” is one of those tunes that sounds like a folksong but was actually written by an identified composer. It appeared in print in 1873 with words by Kansas doctor Brewster M. Higley and music by Daniel Kelly. Its popularity spread far and wide, and it became the state song of Kansas in 1947.

Daniel Kelly, arr. Mark Hayes

15. Colorado Trail

Colorado was a critical juncture for American pioneers: either they would stay on the eastern plains to farm or ranch, or they would journey across the Rockies, where many would die of cold or exhaustion. At first only hearty miners and cowboys lived in the mountains, where the latter drove cattle to market. “Colorado Trail” is a cowboy love song of unknown origin, but one writer reports that it was likely the work of “a cowboy from Duluth, Minnesota, whose name is unknown. He was brought to the hospital after being thrown and trampled by what he called ‘a terribly bad hoss. . . .’ As the unknown cowboy convalesced and his strength returned, he sang across the hospital ward in a mellowed tenor voice, and the other patients always called for more. One of the songs he sang was ‘Colorado Trail.’”

arr. Norman Luboff

16. Sacramento ~Sis Joe

Composer Jackson Berkey writes that his “Sacramento ~ Sis Joe” “is a joyous, eclectic mix of Americana at its best! It is a combination of [Stephen Foster’s 1850 song] ‘Camptown Races’ (with text about the Sacramento Gold rush) and ‘Sis Joe,’ a railroad work song used by Aaron Copland in his famous ‘Rodeo!’”

Jackson Berkey

17. How Can I Keep From Singing?

Lorraine Joy Welling, soprano
I-Chin Feinblatt, alto

“How Can I Keep from Singing?” That is the question Baptist minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry (1826–1899) poses as a refrain in his hymn of the same title. It appeared and still is found in many hymnals with his lyrics, which folk singer Pete Seeger rewrote to soften their Christian focus and widen the song’s audience. It is in this form that most people know the piece and it is Seeger’s text that Ron Staheli used in this gentle, radiant arrangement.

arr. Ronald Staheli


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