Program Notes - Pittsburgh Concert Chorale

Program Notes - Pittsburgh Concert Chorale

Program Notes – “Made in America” The Star-Spangled Banner Amateur poet Francis Scott Key wrote the words to our national anthem after witnessing the ...

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Program notes
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Program Notes – “Made in America” The Star-Spangled Banner Amateur poet Francis Scott Key wrote the words to our national anthem after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. It was set to the tune of a popular British song that was well known in the United States, and soon became a favorite American patriotic song. The Navy recognized “The Star-Spangled Banner” for official use in 1889, and President Woodrow Wilson approved its official use in 1916. A Congressional Resolution signed by President Herbert Hoover on March 3, 1931, made it the National Anthem of the United States of America. Sure on This Shining Night – Samuel Barber Samuel Barber was born in 1910 in West Chester, PA. His musical ability became obvious at an early age. He started piano lessons at age six and composed his first piece the following year. When Barber was 14, he entered the Curtis Institute of Music where he studied piano, composition, and voice. His compositional output includes works for orchestra, piano, chamber music, voice, operas, a ballet, and choral works. Throughout his life, vocal music was important to Barber. His aunt, Louise Homer, was a leading contralto at the Metropolitan Opera, and through her he had access to the best singers of the day. Written as a solo song, “Sure on This Shining Night” is one of Barber’s best known vocal compositions. It enjoyed immense popularity in both the United States and Europe. Thirty years after writing it, Barber arranged “Sure on This Shining Night” for chorus, enabling new audiences to enjoy this timeless American classic. Sure on This Shining Night – Morten Lauridsen Morten Lauridsen is considered to be the most frequently-performed American choral composer. His compositions appear on more than 200 CDs, and four of his choral works, including “Sure on This Shining Night,” have become the all-time best selling choral pieces distributed by Theodore Presser, a company that has been in business since 1783. Lauridsen has been on the faculty of University of Southern California since 1967, but he spends his summers in a cabin on a remote island off the coast of Washington state, drawing inspiration from the beauty and serenity of nature. The Voices Choral composer and conductor Dale Warland is best known for his professional choral ensemble The Dale Warland Singers. In the years that he led this group he commissioned over 270 choral compositions, a remarkable contribution to the choral repertoire of the 20th and 21st centuries. “The Voices” is a special commissioning project benefitting the programs of Chorus America. The Pittsburgh Concert Chorale is one of 21 choruses across the United States (and the only chorus in Pennsylvania) to participate in this commissioning consortium. This performance marks the regional premiere of the work, which features a text by Michael Dennis Browne.

Stomp Your Foot from The Tender Land Celebrated American composer Aaron Copland is most remembered for the music from his ballets Appalachian Spring (“Simple Gifts”) and Rodeo (“Hoe Down,” now recognized as the theme song behind “Beef – it’s what’s for dinner!”). His Lincoln Portrait and Fanfare for the Common Man have become patriotic standards. “Stomp Your Foot” is from Copland’s second opera, The Tender Land. Written in 1954 on a commission from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, The Tender Land is based on James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. (Coincidentally, poet James Agee is the author of “Sure on This Shining Night.”) Although not well received at its premiere, the opera has since become one of the few 20 th century American operas to enter the standard repertory. “Stomp Your Foot” is a rousing barn dance from the first scene of act two. Alleluia Noted American composer Randall Thompson wrote symphonies, instrumental works, songs, and operas, but he is best known for his choral works. Indeed he would probably be as well known by choral singers if he had only written one work, “Alleluia.” Commissioned in 1940 by Serge Koussevitsky and the trustees of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the opening exercises of the inaugural season of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, Thompson wrote “Alleluia” in five days, July 1-5. The first performance on July 8, 1940, launched a tradition that continues to this day. Each year “Alleluia” is performed at the center’s opening. Despite its title, “Alleluia” is not a jubilant celebratory work. France had just fallen to the Nazis. Profoundly affected by the events of the war, Thompson said of his composition, “"The music in my particular Alleluia cannot be made to sound joyous…here it is comparable to the Book of Job, where it is written, ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’" God Bless America “God Bless America” was written in 1918 by Irving Berlin while he was serving in the US Army. The lyrics originally included references to victory. After the rise of the Nazis, Berlin decided to revise the lyrics to emphasize peace. The revised version was introduced on Armistice Day, November 11, 1938, by Kate Smith on her radio show. It became Smith’s signature song. Berlin donated all royalties from the song to the God Bless America Fund for redistribution to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America. Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal The tune and lyrics of “Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal” appeared in William Hauser’s 1878 shape note book Olive Leaf. Alice Parker, known for her many choral arrangements with Robert Shaw and for her New England choral group Melodious Accord, arranged this hymn for mixed chorus. This arrangement has become a staple in the choral repertoire.

How Can I Keep from Singing? “How Can I Keep from Singing” is often cited as a Quaker hymn. In fact, the cover of the choral arrangement that we are performing says: “How Can I Keep from Singing? Quaker Hymn.” This apparently is not the case. The tune was written by Robert Wadsworth Lowry, an American Baptist minister. Authorship of the lyrics is disputed. The words first appeared on August 7, 1868, in The New York Observer and were attributed to Pauline T. Other sources cite Lowry as the author of both music and lyrics. Still others claim Anna Bartlett Warner, who had written words for some of Lowry’s other hymns, as the author. Folk singer Pete Seeger learned the song from Doris Plenn, a family friend who had learned it from her grandmother, a North Carolina Quaker. He recorded the song, changing the lyrics and adding a verse written by Plenn. The arrangement we are performing uses the original text in a lush a cappella setting by Connecticut conductor Edward Tyler. Over the Rainbow Written in 1939 for the film The Wizard of Oz, “Over the Rainbow” was awarded the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Judy Garland, who sang the song in the film, later wrote to composer Harold Arlen, "'Over the Rainbow' has become part of my life. It's so symbolic of everybody's dreams and wishes that I'm sure that's why some people get tears in their eyes when they hear it. I've sung it thousands of times and it's still the song that's closest to my heart." This arrangement by Kansas City composer Mark Hayes features the women of the Pittsburgh Concert Chorale. All the Things You Are Also written in 1939, “All the Things You Are” was composed for the musical Very Warm for May by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. This was Kern’s last musical, and it ran for only 59 performances. Yet from this unsuccessful Broadway production came what many regard as Kern’s best composition. The song spent thirteen weeks on the pop charts in 1939 with the Tommy Dorsey Band, peaking at number one. The following year it charted with both Artie Shaw and His Orchestra, rising to number eight, and with Frankie Masters and His Orchestra, rising to number fourteen. Take Me Out to the Ballgame This unofficial anthem of baseball was written in 1908 by two men who, ironically, had never attended a baseball game. The first recording of the song was named by the Library of Congress in 2010 to the National Recording Registry, which recognizes recordings that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The arrangement that you will hear is for barbershop chorus. Barbershop singing originated in the United States during the latter half of the 19th century, when barbershops served as a community gathering place for men. It began in the African-American community, where men waiting for a haircut would harmonize to folk songs, spirituals, and popular songs. This developed into the four-part, close-harmony, unaccompanied singing that is the hallmark of barbershop quartet music.

Shenandoah The origin of this well-known folk song is unknown. It first appeared in print in an 1882 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in an article entitled “Sailor Songs” by William L. Alden. Sea shanties were work songs sung by sailors to coordinate the efforts of completing chores on board ship. It is likely that “Shenandoah” originated with FrenchCanadian voyageurs, but this cannot be proven. The correct interpretation of the text is also not clear. The Library of Congress website states, “Some believe that the song refers to the river of the same name. Others suggest that it is of Native American origin, for it tells the tale of Sally, the daughter of the Indian Chief Shenandoah, who is courted for seven years by a white Missouri river trader. Regardless of these textual discrepancies, "Shenandoah" remains an American classic.” There are many choral arrangements of this folk song, but James Erb’s setting has become one of the most popular for its beautiful harmonies and the echo effect created in the third verse by the three-part canon in the women’s voices. I Can Tell the World The spiritual is a uniquely American form of vocal music. Spirituals arose out of the specific religious experience of African-Americans and their descendants, the result of the interaction of music and religion from Africa with the music and religion of European origin. Interestingly, this type of music only occurred in the US. Africans who converted to Christianity in other parts of the world, even as close as Latin America and the Caribbean, did not contribute to this musical form. Moses Hogan was a pianist, composer, and conductor best known for his arrangements of spirituals. Born in New Orleans, he completed a Bachelor of Music degree at Oberlin College and did graduate work at the Juilliard School of Music. His Moses Hogan Chorale and Moses Hogan Singers performed extensively, exposing countless audiences to classical music and to Hogan's spiritual arrangements. Sadly Hogan died of a brain tumor at the age of 45, but he left behind a wealth of spiritual arrangements that are performed regularly by choirs in the United States and around the world. "I Can Tell the World" is an excellent example of Hogan's gift as an arranger and of this uniquely American genre.. Battle Hymn of the Republic Julia Ward Howe wrote this poem in 1861 in response to a challenge from a friend, Rev. James Freeman Clarke. During the Civil War, the Union soldiers sang "John Brown's Body" as an unofficial anthem. Confederate soldiers sang it as well, but with words of their own. Clarke felt that the words should be more uplifting, so Howe wrote what has come to be known as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Her poem was published in February, 1862, in The Atlantic Monthly and, when set to the tune of "John Brown's Body," became the best-known Civil War song of the Union Army. Probably the most frequently-performed version of "Battle Hymn" came from the pen of composer, conductor, and educator Peter Wilhousky. His stirring arrangement serves as a fitting finale for this concert of music "Made in America."