For almost 40 years,
bringing classical choral music
of the highest quality
to midcoast Maine and beyond.

Down East Singers on FacebookDown East Singers on InstagramEmail Down East SingersDirections

Memorial Day 2018

Monday May 28, 2018, 5PM
Camden Opera House
29 Elm Street
Camden, Maine

Program Notes

American Hymn

The lyrics of “America the Beautiful” were written in 1895 by Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College. The original poem was entitled “Pike’s Peak,” and first published in the Fourth of July edition of the church periodical The Congregationalist. Samuel A. Ward’s melody was originally named “Materna” for the hymn “O Mother dear, Jerusalem” in 1882. The idea for the tune came to Ward on a ferryboat trip from Coney Island back to his home in New York City. Ward’s music combined with the Bates poem was first published in 1910 as “America the Beautiful.”

During the John F. Kennedy administration and periodically ever since, there have been efforts to give “America the Beautiful” legal status as a national hymn or as the national anthem to replace “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Proponents of this movement promote “America the Beautiful” because it is easier to sing, more melodic, and less war-oriented.

The arrangement we sing in this performance was first performed on March 11, 1967 in the Air Force Academy Chapel near Colorado Springs, only a few miles from where, in 1893, Katherine Lee Bates wrote the first lines of her now famous poem. The occasion was a concert given by the choral and brass groups of the University of Colorado for the Music Educators National Conference, Southwest Division.

E Pluribus Unum, Non Ex Pluribus Divisum

There are two things that have spurred me to write this piece. First, I have long puzzled over why the music to our country’s national anthem was taken from “To Anacreon in Heaven,” the official song of a men’s social club in 18th-century London. The original song, which celebrates the intertwining of sex and alcohol, seems to be a curious choice to base a national anthem on. Also, when Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to the “Star-Spangled Banner,” we were at war with the song’s country of origin (indeed, the White House and the Capitol building had been burned to the ground by British troops just a month prior).

Second, I have become deeply troubled by the rising level of xenophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric in our recent political discourse. Such rhetoric strikes me as being deeply un-American. With the exception of our Native American brethren, we are all either immigrants or descendants of immigrants to this country. These thoughts have inspired me to wend the melody and text of “The Star-Spangled Banner” with counterpoint, harmonies, and textures that allude to the music of people who actually want to be here, and music that celebrates freedom, liberty, and the strength in diversity embodied in our national motto “E Pluribus Unum.”

The first verse combines the melody of the Star-Spangled Banner with various Mexican songs. The folksong De Colores, which celebrates the beauty and diversity of the colors of the world, is featured prominently. Other songs used include Juventino Rosas’s Sobre la Olas waltz, and Chucho Monge’s pastoral México Lindo y Querido.

The text of the second verse juxtaposes a haughty foe and a fitful breeze (symbolizing freedom) that strengthens and as it comes in contact with our flag. Acute ears will notice in the bass part another country’s national anthem (set in a polymeter against our own) trying to disrupt our anthem’s progress. The “fitful breeze” uses the Syrian folksong Skaba, which in recent years has become a song of mourning for victims of the Syrian conflict. As it grows in strength, I use Zaki Nassif’s song Tallou Hbabna, which depicts the refreshing breezes that blow and the happiness that follows the arrival of beloved newcomers.

Slave owner Francis Scott Key’s original third verse dealt with his rage over slaves who escaped from their masters during the confusion of war. Though this verse was regularly sung during the first third of our country’s existence, it is rarely acknowledged today. Racism is a cancer that still unfortunately with us, and I believe that simply ignoring cancer does not lead to a healthy outcome. My hope is that by including this verse, people will reflect on racism’s endemic existence in our country and what they might do to address it. I use uncomfortable dissonance to depict the text’s cruelty and the hypocrisy of including a stanza defending slavery in the anthem for “the land of the free.”

For the last verse, I have used Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.’s Civil War era verse for the Star-Spangled Banner. This text argues that the promise of America will only remain viable only as long as we are committed to freeing and uniting with the oppressed. In this last section, I incorporate James and John Johnson’s inspirational hymn Lift Every Voice and Sing, a song often referred to as the “Black American National Anthem.”

Finally, I am extremely grateful to Anthony Antolini, the Bowdoin Chorus, and the Mozart Mentors Orchestra for all of the work done on making the performance of this piece a reality. The final edits were completed just a week ago, and it is not an easy piece. The commitment and dedication they have all shown (particularly Tony) is truly humbling, and I want to thank them all from the bottom of my heart. —Vineet Shende

Vineet Shende spent his formative years in Chicago and Pune, India. He holds degrees from Cornell University, Butler University and Grinnell College, where he studied composition with Roberto Sierra, Steven Stucky, Michael Schelle and Jonathan Chenette. He has also studied sitar with Ustad Usman Khan. Shende’s music has been commissioned, premiered, and/or recorded by ensembles such as the National Symphony Orchestra, the Portland Symphony Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the Amernet String Quartet, the Cassatt String Quartet and Flexible Music. He is an associate professor and chair of the Music Department at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

Different Ways To Pray

In September, 2014, a consortium of colleges and choral ensembles commissioned Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz to write a multi-movement work. The commissioning organizations were Cantori New York, Dickinson College, Franklin and Marshall College, Georgia State University, Grinnell College, Middlebury College, Spectrum Singers, Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music, and Bowdoin College.

Mr. Fairouz’s composition, Different Ways to Pray, was completed in 2015 and has been performed by the various ensembles through agreement with the composer’s management, First Chair Promotion.

The first movement is sung in Arabic. We are grateful to Chorus member Aban Zirikly, formerly of Damascus, Syria, now living in Maine, for his translation of the text and coaching of the Chorus in Arabic pronunciation.

The second movement is sung in English. We are grateful to Stacy Rohrer, Academic Department Coordinator in the Dickinson College Department of Music for sharing this material:

In his essay, “Poems and Prayers,” composer Mohammed Fairouz meditates on the shared traditions between Arabs and Jews: “With our shared musical and linguistic DNA, one of the most powerful things we have in common is the fact that we grow up with so many of the same stories. We have developed a shared history and culture in the region. Our languages have cross-pollinated, and just as Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic [are linguistically related], we have developed a united mythology and set of traditions.” During a 2012 visit to Dickinson College, it was a conversation about this text that hatched the idea for Different Ways to Pray —a choral work for collegiate students that could be an Islamic companion piece to the more standard liturgical repertory. Fairouz began with the Du’a, the act of supplication that is a conversation between Allah and the faithful, choosing a standard Arabic text of personal mourning. In the process of composition, he reached out to Arab-American poet, Naomi Nye, whose observational poem “Different Ways to Pray” captures and celebrates the diversity of Islamic prayer and Muslim life. Nye graciously offered to write a new poem for the commission as a personal Du’a of her own. As she describes, “Every Day” is a memorial to her father, Aziz Shihab (whose name is invoked in our opening Du’a): “He was my beloved Palestinian father. … The thought of such a simple elegy being arranged with music, considering lines sung and notes held felt exhilarating, a meditative tribute to a gentle man [and] a newspaper journalist…who worked all his life for increased knowledge, encouraging more peace and understanding— deeply frustrated by wasteful cycles of violence. … These songs feel like energetic prayers to me—secular prayers—joyful anthems of daily conviction and persistence.”

The third and final movement is also sung in English. It is a setting of parts of another poem by Naomi Shihab Nye entitled “Different Ways to Pray,” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). We have chosen to print Ms. Shihab Nye’s entire poem rather than just the lyrics selected by Mr. Fairouz. The parts set to music appear in italics. (See texts and translations section above.)

Mohammed Fairouz was born in New York in 1985. He began composing at an early age and studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music. His teachers have included Gunther Schuller, Halim El-Dabh, György Ligeti, Richard Danielpour and John Heiss. His compositions include opera, symphonies, vocal and choral works, chamber music and solo compositions. As an artist involved with major social issues, Fairouz seeks to promote cultural communication and understanding. He has been a member of the faculty at Northeastern University in Boston and now lives in New York City.

John Rutter: Requiem

John Rutter was born in London. He began his musical training as a chorister at Highgate School. He then attended Clare College, Cambridge. His first teaching position was at the University of Southampton. He then returned to Clare College were he became director of music in 1975. In 1979 he left that position in order to devote himself to composition and subsequently to found the Cambridge Singers, a professional choir that has made many recordings of his own compositions and other European choral works.

Rutter’s output as a composer has been mainly choral music. His works have become extremely popular in the UK and the USA but are not well known elsewhere, probably owing to the preponderance of English texts in his compositions. His style is rooted in the British choral tradition as exemplified by such composers as Vaughan Williams, Holst, Howells, Tippett and Britten. There are also strong influences from 19th and 20th century French composers like Duruflé, Fauré and Saint-Saens.

Other Rutter works that have gained wide popularity in addition to his Requiem are a Gloria (1974), a Magnificat (1990) and a large number of Christmas pieces. Rutter’s work as an editor for Oxford University Press (with Sir David Willcocks) includes volumes two, three and four of Carols for Choirs (1970, 1978 and 1980). He also published a well-respected performing edition of the 1893 version of the Fauré Requiem. Rutter has also written successfully for organ. His early work, Toccata in Seven (1974), written in 7/8 time, brought him to the forefront of English composers of his generation. It was commissioned for an organ album of new works by Oxford University Press. His name was included in this volume alongside such luminaries of English church music as William Harris and Herbert Sumison.

Rutter’s Requiem was written in 1985. The premiere of the entire work took place on 13 October 1985 at Lovers’ Lane United Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas. Movements 1, 2, 4 and 7 were first performed at Fremont Presbyterian Church, Sacramento, California on 14 March 1985. Both performances were conducted by the composer. The sixth movement, The Lord is My Shepherd, was originally written in 1976 as a separate anthem. The first recording of the Requiem in the full orchestra version was made in 1986 by the Cambridge Singers and City of London Sinfonia, conducted by the composer. The first recording of the version with small chamber ensemble was made in 2002 by the choir of Clare College, Cambridge and members of the City of London Sinfonia, conducted by Timothy Brown.

Following the practice of Brahms and Fauré, Rutter does not use a complete text of the Roman Catholic Missa pro defunctis but instead selected various texts, some from the Requiem Mass, some from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The seven sections of the work form an arch-like meditation on the themes of life and death. The first and last movements are prayers to God on behalf of all humanity. The second and sixth are psalms. The third and fifth are personal prayers to Jesus Christ. The Sanctus, which the composer describes as “celebratory and affirmative,” is the center and is an affirmation of divine glory, accompanied by bells as it is in the Roman Mass.

The compositional style of Rutter’s Requiem is best described as eclectic. His frequent use of chords with mixed tonalities poses an intonation challenge for the chorus. He also frequently suspends the orchestral accompaniment, allowing the choral writing to “bloom” but also challenging the singers to stay in tune with the orchestra when the accompaniment returns. The melody of the “Requiem aeternam” section in the first movement reappears in the final movement. Another device used often in the work is canon (strict imitation of the melody from one voice part in a subsequent one). This can be heard in the “Kyrie” section of the first movement, in the “Dona eis, Domine” of the third movement, and especially in the “Sanctus” fourth movement.

Rutter describes his composition in the 1997 liner notes to a recording by the Bournemouth Sinfonietta directed by Stephen Layton: “In style and scale, Requiem owes more to Fauré and Duruflé than to Berlioz, Verdi or Britten. It is intimate rather than grand, contemplative and lyric rather than dramatic, consolatory rather than grim, approachable rather than exclusive. I suppose that some will find the sense of comfort and consolation in it facile, but it was what I meant at the time I wrote it, in the shadow of a bereavement of my own.”

Rutter’s bereavement was the death of his father. His choice of texts were guided by a personal motive. He considered the work to be in language “...[my] father might have enjoyed listening to.”

The orchestration to Requiem exists in two versions, one for medium-sized orchestra and the other for organ and six instruments. The two versions were written concurrently so that the work would be easily performable in either a concert hall or a church where space, budget or an actual memorial service might be a consideration. We use the orchestral version in our performance this afternoon.

Concerning Rutter’s own view of his music and his critics he writes, “…I found out a long time ago that if a composer’s music starts to reach too many people, it pretty soon gets attacked by those who would prefer the non-specialist public to be kept at arm’s length. I happen not to believe in erecting needless barriers between composer and listener: given the choice between critical approbation and a chance of touching the hearts of people outside the limited circle of contemporary music aficionados, I know which I prefer. I am only sorry that we live in a critical climate where there has to be this choice.”

Down East Singers

PO Box 996, Rockport, Maine 04856