By Paul Lamar
Overview: The theme of this concert puts one in mind of “Seasons of Love,” the song that opens Act II of Rent. It asks, “How do you measure a year?” And the loudest answer is, “Love. Measure in love.”
Today’s program is all about it, in its various manifestations: romantic, religious, filial, fraternal, sororal. Or as the Beatles said, “Love is all you need.”
The three songs in the opening section—“A New Day”—share the sense of looking forward. About “You Are the New Day,” composer John David said that he wrote it at a low point in his personal life and during a global crisis. “I started singing to the (hopefully) soon-to arrive New Day like it was an entity, that would rescue me from the depths. If the sun came up and the birds started singing as usual then I could believe that it really was the new day in which life would go on, and in which hope would survive.”
Healey Willan’s largely homophonic treatment of text from the Song of Solomon underscores the imagery of a new day (with a lover): spring’s flowers and birds. There’s charming word painting in the climbing musical line of the exhortation, and the basses (like roots) begin the phrase about blossoming.
“My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose” captures the kind of head-over-heels romantic feelings through metaphor and hyperbole, though the musical treatment is sweet and chaste, as if to emphasize the young swain’s sincerity.
There are eight numbers in the section called “Hope, Faith, Life, Love,” emotions that cover quite a bit of territory but are, of course, not unrelated. These pieces delve deeply into these feelings, starting with Eric Whitacre’s treatment of eight words from an e. e. cummings poem. The a cappella chorus utters each new concept, fleshing out rich chords that give way, seamlessly, to the next idea, with the music on “Joy” being the most exultant and memorable.
Maurice Durufle’s setting of “Ubi Caritas”—with sopranos weaving a Gregorian chant line over simple harmonies—shows the relationship between philia (brotherly/sisterly love) and agape (love of God for humanity and humanity for God): “Where charity and love are, God is there.”
Moses Hogan’s treatment of “Abide with Me” reveals the delicious challenge arrangers have: to take the familiar and make it fresh without disregarding original intentions. Working in the nooks and crannies of harmony, phrasing, and dynamics, Hogan makes this existential supplication personal, not congregational.
A folk song of Scottish origin, “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” conveys the meditations of a young man on his beautiful girlfriend, though the minor mode and rustling piano accompaniment in Churchill’s setting suggest a desperate longing: ah, the agitations of love! But there may be hope in the final chord.
If there is a song on today’s concert that speaks to all four words of this section’s title, “I Love You/What a Wonderful World” might be it. Our common struggle with the global pandemic and our desire to see a newly made world come to mind with these tunes and these words.
“Cindy” is a bluegrass folk tune, which in Carol Barnett’s arrangement becomes a minidrama between a cocky whistler and a saucy young woman, both of whom know that their flirtation will probably not end in marriage. But they will have a grand time not getting to the altar!
The final grouping of songs is called “Love, Kindness, Joy…Sing On!”
This section begins with David Dickau’s lush setting of a 1690 poem by Henry Heveningham. Taking a line from Shakespeare, Heveningham celebrates the power of music to foster feelings of romantic love. “Sing on!”
Nocturnes: The first three of these night pieces were composed by Morten Lauridsen (b.1943) in 2005; he added the fourth in 2008. The poems pivot on the tension between love and death: the sweet pain of being alive. Romantic desire characterizes the first two poems, and a kind of rhapsodic, existential self-awareness colors the third. Finally, love of—and gratitude for—the earth itself is what the fourth is about. Why “night pieces”? Perhaps because it’s then that we go more deeply into ourselves than we do during a day of being public.
The fun continues with “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain.” I grew up singing a number of verses (replete with hand gestures) that are not covered in this arrangement—not surprising, of course, when we talk about folk songs. Oral tradition means that something gets tossed and something else gets added when a text is passed on. This arrangement ends with a verse I had never heard: “We will sing hallelujah when she comes!” A celebration, then of community.
Concert Notes from the Arranger and Composer
By Steve Murray, Albany Pro Musica Honorary Composer in Residence
“I Have Dreamed”
What can be said about the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein that hasn’t already been said? Added to The King and I during its road show and not for the original production, this tune fits squarely in the rich genre of American popular music otherwise known as the Broadway Standards. I prepared this arrangement for one of APM’s past Broadway concerts and my goals included giving each section a shot at the melody and an opportunity to explore various choral textures from unisons to five and six-part rich harmonies. It is always a pleasure to work with wonderful material from the American songbook favorites.
“If You Tend My Grave”
Merle Winn sang tenor with APM for many years. He was kind, funny, loving, very invested in the chorus, and he was loved by the members. Merle could summon a dark sense of humor that was quite impressive. One always had to be on the lookout for his retorts from left field.
He was very aware of the cancer that took him and was never bitter or despondent. It was a labor of love for me to prepare this composition in his memory and to know that it would give the singers a vehicle whereby they could publicly salute and remember him. I tried to style the piece in a contemporary folk music fashion with a tuneful melody, repetitive phrases, and modern harmonies. I also wanted to take advantage of the conversation that occurs in the text. What made the compositional process even more meaningful was to be able to set the words written by my poet friend, Christopher Nye. With them, I believe he captured Merle’s spirit wonderfully. They are quite typical of what Merle would have said, himself.