If one were to travel across all the corners of the United States (including the parts outside its continental "corners"!), richly varied landscapes, natural wonders, and cultures would be revealed—each with its own story and character, part of the history of this land, which has seen profound changes over time.
Likewise, the story of the musical landscape of America—although much briefer than the story of the land in which it was conceived—is an equally rich portrait, reflective of the great diversity of cultures and traditions that make up this nation.
With Until I Found the Lord and Shall We Gather at the River, we visit the sacred choral tradition of our country, one which has enabled the choral art to become a ubiquitous form of expression in our culture. The two selections—a gospel piece and a spiritual arrangement—are representative of genres that had their roots in being composed and performed by the common people, but have found a deserving place in the concert stage.
Shenandoah, in an arrangement by James Erb, speaks of the beauty of our land with equally beautiful lush harmonies and melodies. The Gift To Be Simple takes its melody from the famous Shaker tune "Simple Gifts," a tune widely used and perhaps most closely associated with music from Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, which prominently features the melody you will hear in this arrangement.
Though Danny Boy is not originally an American tune, it has worked its way into the fabric of our country. Set to the Irish tune “Londonderry Air,” with lyrics by an Englishman, it is often sung at funerals (notably that of President Kennedy, Elvis, and memorial services of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks) and is also commonly sung as a farewell song. Its presence at moments of significance may surely contribute to the feeling that this song is one of our own.
Gwyneth Walker’s Sounding Joy begins with a unison declamation that soon breaks into separate but imitative parts—a compositional device reminiscent of the Singing School tradition from 18th New England. With a more complex counterpoint and harmonic language, the piece is undoubtedly Walker’s own, and does not fail to do justice to its title and convey its joy.
The final segment of this portion of the program takes us to composers who have given us some of the most memorable songs of the past and present. From Stephen Foster, the great song writer of the 19th century, to the legendary Leonard Bernstein, whose 100th anniversary we celebrate this year, to James Taylor’s exquisitely soothing melodies.
It would be impossible to craft a single program reflective of all that our musical culture contains. I hope, however, that these selections provide us with an opportunity to appreciate the rich and diverse traditions of our musical landscape and energizes us in the discovery of the music that will become part of it.
-Guillermo Muñoz Küster