When you’re out on the ocean, things can look the same in all directions — pretty much just water, waves and sky. Sometimes the only way home is to find something stable to help take a bearing. Life’s a little like that, too — looking for landmarks that help us find ourselves, where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going.
That’s a good way to describe the March 12-13 Wolf River Singers concerts: finding our way. Musically, we get around to all the biggies – religion/contemplation, legacies, work that brings satisfaction, friends, drinking and merriment, and what comes after life.
Our spiritual side
For contemplation or our spiritual beliefs, who better than Ivo Antognini? Antognini was born in Locarno, Switzerland, in 1963. Composition has been of great interest to him since childhood, and he quickly became dedicated to the activity as a self-taught composer.
He focused on instrumental composition, after discovering choral music in 2006 he says he has “never stopped composing for the human voice!” His simple “Agnus Dei” was composed as a gift to conductor Mario Fontana for the 20th anniversary of his choir. Antognini worked on this piece during a vacation in Greece on the island of Tinos. It is scored for women’s voices and the purity of its arrangement signifies the purity of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. We include two other pieces by Antognini: “Beati Omnes” and “O Filii et Filiae"
The world around us
Our physical world is represented with three nocturnes by Daniel Elder from the Westminster Choir College Series.
“Ballade to the Moon” is the first in the cycle of nocturnes and explores the observational and psychological experiences we associate with love, nature, darkness and light. This piece captures the mood of a moonlit walk through woods and fields. Its beauty is in its obscurity – is he talking about nature or a romantic attraction? You get to decide.
“Star Sonnet,” the second nocturne, takes on the poetic form of a Shakespearean sonnet – its subject, a single star in the night sky. The dark but reverent text expresses wonder at the star’s distant origin, its constancy and its emotional effect. As the middle nocturne, Elder meant it to serve as a haunting interruption to the romantic piano textures in the first and third nocturnes.
“Lullaby,” the third in the series, is a comforting and simple song of reassurance, Elder says, “as a mother may sing to her child to stave off a fear of darkness and solitude of night.” It also serves to comfort those who grieve, adding dual meaning to its beauty.
What we leave behind - our desired legacy
For this section, Director Ben Legett chose four diverse pieces.
“Child of Song” is a poignant adaption of the poetry of Euan Tait by composer Kim Andre Arnesen. It is dedicated to the memory of Stephen Paulus, a Grammy-winning and widely acclaimed American composer, whose legacy includes more than 500 pieces, including 13 operas and close to 400 choral pieces.
“The Bridge Builder” is Will Allen Dromgoole’s parable often quoted in writings that stress religion or moral lessons. It’s about leaving something for those who follow. An old man goes a lone highway he crosses a “sullen stream” and stays to build a bridge. As he builds he is scorned for building a bridge at evening tide since his “journey will end … you never again will pass this way.” The builder explains: “There follows after me today, a youth whose feet must pass the way.” He builds the bridge for him. Composer Don Macdonald gives it “a dreamy quality that draws the listener back through time.”
The Wolf River Singers have a long-standing tradition for including Shaker-inspired music in our concerts and "Bow Down Low," arranged by James Bowyer, is the perfect selection for this concert. The Shakers believed even the most common or lowly labor can have intense spiritual significance. “Bow down low and bend your head, for to sweep the Lord’s house clean.”
Dave Matthews’ “Gravedigger” is a haunting, dark yet beautiful song from his Grammy winning debut solo album, Some Devil. If you listen to Matthews’ reasoning behind the song, it takes a little of the darkness away. It’s his take on stories you might come up with while reading the names and dates of births and deaths on tombstones. As he said, “It’s sort of just telling those stories and others as you wander through a graveyard, and what you might think if you could walk into the graves and find out what people went through to get there.” It’s the perfect closer for our section on legacies or what we leave behind.
Friendship and merriment
“Landlord Fill the Flowing Bowl,” a traditional English folksong arranged by Daniel Hughes, is … well, a drinking song. “For tonight we’ll merry, merry be, tomorrow we’ll be sober.”
Two pieces arranged by WRS Director Ben J. Legett could also fall in the “drinking song” category but they take on more of the bonds of friendship and, as in “Here’s a Health to the Company,” lifting our voices “all grief to refrain – for we might never all meet here again.”
Legett’s “The Parting Glass” is a precursor of sorts to Auld Lange Syne and was once the most popular “parting song” in Scotland. “I’ll gently rise and I’ll softly call, goodnight and joy be with you all.”
Faith and convictions
“Even When He is Silent,” a second piece by Kim Andre Arnesen, is about belief and faith even in the face of dark and difficult times. Where the text is from depends on which account you read. Some references say the text was found written on a wall at a concentration camp after World War II. Other accounts say it scrawled on a cellar wall in Cologne where Jews hid from the Nazis.
No matter where it was found, the words are powerful and, says Arnesen, imagining what the person went through makes it even more so. He calls it a Credo about keeping faith in God, love and hope. “I think of the sun as a metaphor for hope.”
I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
I believe in love even when I feel it not.
I believe in God even when He is silent.