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Wicker Park Choral Singers

Building community through choral music

Wicker Park Choral Singers is a Chicago-based all-volunteer choir dedicated to building community through choral music. 

Introduction/General Background and Framework

 “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”—Article 13.2, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948

 “To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.”—Aaron Copland, “The Pleasures of Music,” 1959

 In June 1942, then 48-year-old composer Aaron Copland wrote a short piece for a public radio program entitled, “The Composers of South America.” Here, Copland recounts his recent travels in Latin America and remarks on his experiences with Latin American music as a younger man. Declaring to have found there an incredible diversity of music, Copland is struck by the lack of attention paid by U.S. musical institutions to the rest of the western hemisphere. In previous years, he claims, “practically nobody had given a thought to South America,” not to mention those few who “had the temerity to hope that the United States might some day contribute to the stream of world composition.” More recently, however, “world conditions have provided an unexpected impetus to our musical relations with neighboring American countries. Up to now, we have both been facing in the direction of Europe for musical sustenance. Now the time has come to turn about and face each other.”

Copland’s enthusiasm about the possibility, indeed the necessity, of musical exchange between the people of the Americas testifies to a spirit of international conviviality prevalent among artists of the time. The musical movement of Modernism had swept the world, holding the promise of an organic musical “progress” that was to play out in each nation-state according to its own sonic resources and the unique character of its inhabitants. Indeed, by the time Copland wrote this in 1942, he had established himself as “the Dean of American composers,” the figurehead of a compositional school devoted to cultivating such a distinct “American sound.” By that same time, of course, the U.S. had entered the fray of World War II, and the world would soon come to know the full extent of the atrocities that had been wrought in the name of nationalism and its tenets of universal progress. Yet as his own writing makes clear, the narrative of Copland as the quintessential “American composer” conceals the myriad influences and interests that brought him to the iconic style for which he became renowned.

Not least among these factors was Copland’s involvement in an international network of composers and musicians from throughout the Americas. From the 1920s onward, this roster would come to include some of the most influential composers working in Latin America: Heitor Villa-Lobos of Brazil, Carlos Chávez of Mexico, and Alberto Ginastera of Argentina. This program is an attempt to trace the circuitous routes and chance encounters that brought these composers into conversation with one another. Importantly, the freedom of movement—across national borders, language barriers, musical traditions, and aesthetic tastes—proved essential to how they exchanged artistic ideas and came to conceptualize their music within a polyvalent American (in the full, hemispheric sense of the word) soundscape. At the same time, each of these composers bears the colonial inheritance of extracting local musical material, often that of Indigenous people and people of color, in service of a national art music. In the works we present, the choral medium provides a unique setting for negotiating this complex convergence of the voices and identities of diverse peoples across the Americas, who intersected at a critical historical moment. Paying close attention to this moment, listening carefully to these voices, is vital to ensure that history does not repeat itself. As Copland would later write, “all of us can understand and feel the joy of being carried forward by the flow of music.” To halt the movement of music, and the people who make it, “would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.”

 

Las Agachadas                                                                    Aaron Copland (1900-1990)

 

Aaron Copland has proven to be one of the U.S.’s most enduringly successful composers. His prolific output of music spans a range of genres and styles from across the twentieth century, such that any American would be hard-pressed to have not heard a Copland piece. As a Jewish homosexual with radical leftist views, working at the height of U.S. xenophobia and homophobia, his achievements are all the more striking. Born in Brooklyn to Lithuanian Jewish parents, in 1917 Copland began his composition studies with Rubin Goldmark. In 1921, he spent a summer at the American Conservatory of Fontainebleau. While he grew disillusioned with his teachers there, he remained in Paris for another three years, continuing his studies with the famed composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. Under her supervision, Copland learned to absorb and integrate a mélange of musical influences, from Stravinskian sonorities to the rhythms of African American jazz. Upon his return to the U.S., Copland became a fierce advocate for American composers, and the center of a circle dedicated to raising American art music to the level of its European counterparts. During the 1930s and 40s, Copland took a populist turn, achieving widespread acclaim for a series of works that explored national and patriotic themes using an accessible musical language—the distinctive style for which he is today most well-known.

 “Las Agachadas” premiered in 1942 at a New York Carnegie Hall concert honoring Kurt Schindler, a renowned German American conductor and ethnomusicologist. Composed at the request of Hugh Ross, Copland selected a dance tune Schindler reportedly heard in the Burgos province of Spain in 1929. The text paints a comical portrait of the religious life of local monks, comparing their pious acts of genuflection (agachadas) to folk dances. In his setting, Copland seeks to capture the rhythmic drive of a Flamenco dance, with the four-voice solo ensemble carrying a lyrical melody and the choral accompaniment emulating the percussive strumming of the guitar. Having just returned from travels in South America, Copland’s formidable experiences with Hispanic and Latino music must have been fresh on his mind.

 

Las Agachadas - original Spanish text

Ese baile que llaman las Agachadas, Agachadas

Ese baile que llaman las Agachadas, Agachadas

Con el sacristancillo quiero bailarlas, quiero bailarlas

Anda y agáchate Pedro

Anda y agáchate Juan

Anda y vue’lvete a agachar que las agachadillas

tu las pagarás con el sacristancillo

Cuatro frailes franciscos

Cutaro del Carmen

Cuatro del Aguilera son doce frailes

Ese baile que llaman las

Agachadas las agachadas

Pagarlos con el sacristan

 

(English text) —translation by SSG Alberto Torres

 Drun de dun dun dun, etc.

The dance they call The Genuflections, The Genuflections

 The dance they call The Genuflections, The Genuflections.

Drun de dun dun dun, etc.

With the Sacristan I want to dance to it, I want to dance to it.

Drun de dun dun dun, etc.

Go on and kneel, Peter.

Go on and kneel, John.

Peter, John,

Go on and kneel once again.

For with the kneelings you will pay

the Sacristan, the Sacristan.

You will pay the Sacristan.

You will pay if you must pay.

You will pay the Sacristan.

Dance to the Genuflections.

Four Franciscan friars,

Four from Carmen,

 four from Carmen,

Four from Aguilera,

 Are twelve Friars, are twelve friars.

Go on and kneel, Peter.

Go on and kneel, John.

 

SOLI GROUP

Go on and kneel once again

For with the kneelings

You will pay the Sacristan.

You will pay if you must pay.

You will pay the Sacristan.

Drun de dun dun dun, etc.

The dance they call the Genuflections, the Genuflections.

Pay them with the Sacristan,

With the Sacristan.

Drun de dun dun dun, etc.

Go on and kneel, Peter.

Go on and kneel, John.

Peter, John,

Go on and kneel once again.

 For with the kneelings, you will pay the Sacristan.

You will pay the Sacristan.

You will pay if you must pay.

You will pay the Sacristan.

 If you should pay, if you should pay.

Drun de dun dun dun, etc.

 

 

Arbolucu, te sequeste                                                             Carlos Chávez (1899-1978)

Carlos Chávez was the foremost Mexican composer, conductor, and educator of his generation. Born to a bourgeois creole family of government officials, Chávez received his formal musical training as a pianist, and learned composition mostly by analyzing the music of other composers. His exposure to European art music was supplemented by his contact with Mexican Indian culture during summers spent in Tlaxcala. Following the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1921, Chávez became heavily involved in a government-sponsored movement that sought to bring art to the masses, developing a nationalist style that relied heavily on musical elements from Indigenous cultures. From 1923-28, Chávez made sporadic visits to New York, receiving invitations to U.S. premieres of his works and engagements as a guest conductor. Around the same time, he apparently met Copland, who reports that, “in a tiny one-room Greenwich Village apartment where he lived around 1927, Carlos Chávez played for me his Mexican ballet ‘The Four Suns.’ I was enthusiastic about what I heard…the concept of a Latin American music really stuck.” For Copland, Chávez provided a concrete glimpse of the potential for productive dialogue between U.S. and Latin American composers, and the two remained close friends and colleagues.

 “Arbolucu, te sequeste” premiered in 1942 on the same concert as Copland’s “Las Agachadas.” Like Copland, Chávez based the piece on a folktune taken from Kurt Schindler’s collection Folk Music and Poetry of Spain and Portugal. His lamentful setting combines evocative imagery with hauntingly lyrical melodies, conveying the rich range of emotions expressed in the speaker’s ode to this “Tree of Sorrow.”

 

Arbolucu, te sequeste, Teniendo la fuente al pie: Y en el troncu la firmeza, Y en la ramuca el querer.

Tree of sorrow, I bewail you, With the fountain at your feet: For your trunk is full of vigor, And your foliage full of love.

 

Lamentations of Jeremiah                                               Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)                                                                          

Alberto Ginastera is widely considered to be one of the leading 20th century composers of the Americas, as well as a founding father of a number of Argentinian musical institutions. Born in Buenos Aires to parents of Catalan and Italian descent, from an early age Ginastera showed great promise as a musician, taking private lessons as a child before completing his studies at the Conservatorio Nacional. In 1941 he joined the music faculties of his alma mater and the Liceo Militar General San Martín, beginning a prolific teaching career with students that included Ástor Piazzolla and Alcides Lanza. That same year, Ginastera met Aaron Copland, who was traveling throughout South America in search of young composers who would benefit from musical study in the United States. Copland urged Ginastera to apply for a Guggenheim fellowship, and though he was granted one the following year, the ongoing war delayed his travel to the U.S. until 1945. During the summer of that year, Ginastera enrolled in Copland’s composition class at the Tanglewood Music Festival. The two became fast friends, and would exchange artistic ideas and remain in contact for much of their lives.

Ginastera’s Lamentations represents the culmination of his summer studies with Copland at Tanglewood, and the first large-scale choral work that he had yet written. Traditionally ascribed to the Jewish prophet Jeremiah, the biblical Lamentations mourns the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple and expresses empathy for the Hebrews in exile. Of the five books of Lamentations, Ginastera sets verses from four, using the Latin vulgate text favored by composers since the Renaissance. The work’s unusual three-movement form allows Ginastera to dramatically explore a wide range of emotions and musical affects. Over the course of the three movements, restless harmonies and doleful melodies gradually give way to musical expressions of hope and acceptance. While this trajectory could serve to illustrate the conflict between God and his chosen people, it also brings to mind the social and political trials Ginastera was beginning to face at the time. Indeed, when Ginastera left Argentina in 1945, the fascist government of Juan Perón had dismissed him from his position at the Militar General for protesting unfair treatment of the staff. He would continue to butt heads with the Perón regime for the rest of his career. Even so, he became the most respected and beloved composer in Argentina, and he would continue to look to Copland for guidance and feedback. In a 1953 letter to Copland, Ginastera expresses this sentiment explicitly: “Your music is not only the expression of a strong personality but it represents the deep and real sense of your country. This is what I would like to do myself. To be not a voice, but the condensed voices of a whole country.”

1. O vos omnes

O vos omnes, qui transitis per viam,

attendite et videte si est dolor sicut dolor meus:

quoniam vindemiavit me,

ut locutus est Dominus in die irae furoris sui.

Vide Domine quoniam tribulor,

conturbatus est venter meus,

subversum est cor meum in memet ipsa,

quoniam amaritudine plena sum:

foris interficit gladius, et domi mors similis est.

Idcirco ego plorans,

et oculus meus deducens aquas:

quia longe factus est, a me consolator,

convertens animam meam:

facti sunt filii mei perditi,

quoniam invaluit inimicus.

Persequeris in furore,

et conteres eos sub coelis, Domine.

— Lamentations 1:12, 20, 16; 3:66

 

O, all you who pass this way,

behold and see if there be any sorrow like my sorrow:

For the Lord has afflicted me,

as He said in the day of his raging anger.

See, Lord, I am troubled,

my bowels writhe in anguish,

my heart is turned within me,

for I am full of bitterness:

abroad the sword destroys, and at home is death.

For that reason I lament,

and my eye pours down water:

for the consoler, who may renew my soul,

is taken from me:

my sons are desolate,

for the enemy grows victorious.

Persist in fury,

and crush them under the heavens, Lord.

 

2. Ego vir videns

Ego vir videns paupertatem meam

in virga indignationis eius.

Me minavit et adduxit in tenebras,

et non in lucem.

Vetustam fecit pellem meam, et carnam meam,

contrivit ossa mea.

In tenebrosis collocavit me,

quasi mortuos sempiternos.

Sed et cum clamavero, et rogavero,

exclusit orationeam meam.

Et dixi: Periit finis meus,

et spes mea a Domino.

---- Lamentations 3:1–2, 4, 6, 8, 18

I am the man who sees my poverty

under the rod of His indignation.

He has led me away and suspended me in darkness,

where no light is.

He has made my skin and flesh old,

and has broken my bones.

He has put me in dark places,

like those long dead.

But whenever I cry out and plead,

He shuts out my prayer.

And I said: my strength has perished,

and my hope, because of the Lord.

 

3. Recordare Domine

Recordare Domine quid acciderit nobis,

intuere et respice opprobrium nostrum.

Converte nos Domine ad te, et convertemur:

innova dies nostros, sicut a principio.

Tu autem Domine in aeternum permanebis,

solium tuum in generationem et generationem.

— Lamentations 5:1, 21, 19

Remember, Lord, what has befallen us:

look and consider our disgrace.

Turn us back to you, Lord, and we shall come back:

renew our days as in the beginning.

You, however, Lord, forever will remain,

your throne for generations and generations.

 

Select Art Songs                                                                     A. Copland              

Accompanist, Jordan Crice                                                 Florence Price (1887-1953)

Zion’s Walls (Copland)                                                                                    

Sunset (Price)

I Bought Me a Cat (Copland)

Travel’s End (Price)

Rise Mourner  (Price)                                                                                

Composed and published from 1950-52, Copland’s collections of Old American Songs are comprised of American traditional nineteenth-century tunes from a variety of sources. In 1951, they received their American premiere at Town Hall in New York, with Copland at the piano accompanying the distinguished African American baritone, William Warfield. The texts treat subjects ranging from politics to religion to pastoral evocations of the American countryside. While Copland remains mostly faithful to the original folk melodies, his sophisticated, playful accompaniments and knack for story-telling have ensured the continued popularity and performance of these art songs.

 Among the most under-appreciated of Copland’s contemporaries, Florence Price was the first African American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first to have her work premiered by a major orchestra. By age 14, Price had graduated high school and enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music. Burdened by racial tensions, she concealed her race and self-identified as an immigrant from Pueblo, Mexico, in order to safely obtain her music degree. Based in Chicago, as a composer Price depended heavily on teaching, as well as serving as an organist. Her work combines musical influences from her southern roots in Arkansas, her European-style classical training, as well as her experiences as an adult in Chicago. Her large collection of songs, composed throughout the 1930s and 40s, reflect her personal spirituality, her formidable friendships with icons as Langston Hughes and Marion Anderson, and her lifelong dedication to the promotion of African American music. In 2009, a large collection of her music and papers were discovered in an abandoned house in St. Anne, Illinois, inspiring an ongoing revival of her work.

 

 

Ave Maria Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)

Estrela e lua nova

 Heitor Villa-Lobos has been described as the most creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music. Largely self-taught as a composer, in his youth Villa-Lobos witnessed a social revolution that opened up new possibilities for Brazilian culture. While exposed to classical music, the diverse musical life of his home city of Rio de Janeiro provided the central source of inspiration for much of his compositional output. His early years as a composer were spent experimenting sporadically with the combination of modernism and elements of traditional Brazilian music. With the support of French composer Darius Milhaud and pianist Artur Rubinstein, Villa-Lobos received his big break in 1922 when he was chosen to represent Brazilian modernist music in São Paulo, subsequently traveling to Paris for a number of years. In 1923, Copland reports being “introduced to a short and dynamic individual at the Paris apartment of Nadia Boulanger. Someone told me that this gentleman with the dark complexion and the fiery eyes was a composer from Brazil by the name of Heitor Villa-Lobos.” It was not until 1944 that they would meet again, when Villa-Lobos visited the U.S. for the first time and conducted several of his works with major U.S. symphony orchestras. Throughout his career, Villa-Lobos remained dedicated to a nationalist style that drew from Brazil’s mixture of African, Indian, and Portuguese musical roots, especially the chorinho tradition of Rio.

 These three songs were composed/collected at various points during his life in Brazil. “As Costureiras” depicts the weaving of skillful “sewing girls” and the sound of sewing machines through onomatopoeic repetition of nonsense syllables. “Estrela è Lua Nova” uses a mixture of Brazilian kibundo (Native language) and Portuguese to represent the Afro-Brazilian ritual of macumba, a syncretic practice in which chanting and the beating of drums build and climax into a trance state. “Ave Maria” is a Portuguese setting of the sacred Latin prayer. Besides its Christian religious connotations, the piece is markedly different from the other two due to its motet-like contrapuntal style.

Avé Maria

Avé Maria, cheia de graça, o Senhor é convosco.

Bendita sois entre(as) mulheres;

E bendito(é) o fruto do vosso ventre.

Santa Maria, mãe de Deus,

rogai por nós, pecadores, agora

e na hora da nossa morte. Amen.

 

Hail Mother, full of grace, the Lord be with you

Blessed are you among women

And blessed is the fruit of your womb

Holy Mary, mother of God

Pray for us, sinners, now

And in the hour of our death. Amen

 

Estrela é Lua Nova  

Estrella do céu é lua nova
cravejada de ouro ma kumbêbê,
Óia ma kumbêbê,
Óia ma kumbaribá

Star from the sky is the new moon
studded gold, ma kumbêbê
Óia ma kumbêbê,
Óia ma kumbaribá.

 

 In the Beginning                                                                                                A. Copland

In the Beginning is unique within Copland’s oeuvre for a number of reasons. One of less than a dozen choral compositions, the work  Throughout its composition, Copland reached out to some of his influences via a letter to Chavez and then in his dedication of the piece to his former teacher, Nadia Boulanger. He even conducted this piece in Israel on the shores of Galilee in 1951, four years after its premiere. The creative process of In the Beginning, however, is an unusual one.

Copland was commissioned to write the piece for the Harvard Symposium of Contemporary Music in 1947, and it was premiered on May 2 of that year under the direction of Robert Shaw and his Collegiate Chorale. The Symposium’s coordinators wanted Copland to use a Hebrew text. Since he was already writing for chorus, which was a relatively unfamiliar terrain, Copland decided to use an English text and, after much debate, settled on the first thirty-eight verses of Genesis.

               Copland struggled to compose In the Beginning. In fact, the piece almost didn’t happen. Despite choosing his text, Copland seemed rather uncertain by it. In a letter to Chavez, Copland wrote, “I was reluctant to use the bible as a text but just couldn’t find anything else suitable!” He even sequestered himself in Boston for six weeks to write, but even then, Copland delivered the score two months late. This left only four weeks for rehearsal before the premiere.

               The finished piece is quite profound. There are very few a capella choral works that are sixteen minutes long and contains such complex intonation. The basic framework outlines the story of Creation Day by Day while alternating between mezzo-soprano soloist and chorus and incorporates a pulse of a storyteller retelling a familiar story. The soloist has a lot of God’s dialogue, which is noteworthy not only because a female singer fulfills this role but also because Copland purposefully breaks away from his Torah tradition of using a tenor or baritone. Additionally, using a mezzo-soprano gives a lighter, gentler voice to the narrator, like a mother telling a bedtime story to her child.

Copland further implements clever text painting to outline each Day of Creation. Copland uses the text, “and the evening and the morning were the nth day,” in an ascending key scheme to connect each Day before delving into the next portion of the text.

  • First Day - Day and Night from a formless void: Copland introduces a a textural crescendo to highlight the piece’s form. He also uses a melodic element of 8 7 5 3 motive, which appears forty-five times throughout the piece. Copland applies the chorus’ descending lines to portray the creation of day and night and uses rich harmonies to highlight their differences.

  • Second Day - Firmament, the separation of heaven from earth: Copland integrates duple versus triple cross-rhythms in addition to triadic arpeggiations to paint the separation. He also wields the conjunction “and” to depict the continuous new life forming on the earth.

  • Third Day - Dry Land and Flora: The formation of dry land is musically straightforward, but Copland expands on the flowering vegetation through mixed meter in homophonic passages and the elaboration of the beginning motive. It is important to notice the inclusion of “And God saw that it was good,” which highlights Copland’s Jewish roots to celebrate that this day brings good fortune.

  • Fourth Day - Lights in the Firmament: Copland uses jazz rhythms to perpetuate and expand on the creation of the sun, moon, and stars. He takes out bar lines and emphasizes intervallic leaps to portray this day of Creation.

  • Fifth Day - Fowl and Water Creatures: In this section, Copland sets the beginning motive in wavelike lines to depict swimming fish and flying fowl in a polyphonic motet style.

  • Sixth Day - Land Animals and Humans: This section is twice the length of the other Days. Copland represents the creation of humans in wide leaps and in the discontinuation of the beginning movement. He also expresses his Jewish humanist outlook in the rhythms and articulations within the wide vocal ranges during the passages where mankind has dominion over all the earth’s creatures.

  • Seventh Day - Rest: In this penultimate section, Copland is not quite ready to end on this Day, so he honors the Jewish tradition of a day of rest within the working week by writing homophonically. This shift in melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic ideas paints tranquility but not a final ending.

  • Epilogue - Soul: Here, Copland delves into the first four verses of Genesis 2. He emphasizes sharp keys and the Lydian mode to convey optimism in humanity in addition to further revising his earlier contrapuntal passages. He also revisits his textural crescendo to create his conclusion of the most vital aspect of God’s Creation: humans possessing a “living soul.”