The news out of Dallas was horrifying this morning…people shot and killed and others wounded at what was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration. I purposefully didn’t listen to coverage as I drove north from my home in Hartford, CT to our studios in downtown Springfield. I spent my commuting time as I usually do, thinking about, and praying about friends and loved ones. Upon arrival, I was pondering just what to do…I already had the morning pre-programmed. (I usually have my show programmed a week ahead, so the music I had for the morning was chosen last week.) As I looked the playlist over, I knew I just couldn’t begin with Gliere’s “Russian Sailor’s Dance” from The Red Poppy. It just didn’t fit the day. So after mulling it over a bit, I turned to music that always helps me when there is turmoil of any sort in my life – choral music.
I’ve been a choral singer for over forty years, from the days when I sang in my high school Concert Choir, through the years with numerous ensembles – The Milwaukee Symphony Chorus, various madrigal groups, several church choirs, and gatherings of friends who simply like to get together and sing stuff. I have a fair collection of choral and vocal music on CD, and it’s usually from that treasury which I’ll select something when events in my life, or in the world at large, have me feeling blue.
So today, I searched for “Hymn to the Fallen” by John Williams, sung by the ensemble VOCES 8, from their disc “Eventide”. The piece originally was part of Williams’ score for the 1998 film ‘Saving Private Ryan’, sung by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In program notes for a performance by the Redlands Symphony Orchestra, Chris Meyers writes that “Hymn to the Fallen is an elegiac theme of noble elegance evoking a somber atmosphere of tribute to those who, in the words of Vice President Wallace, “spoke for the common man in terms of blood on the battlefield” to ensure that he continues “on the march toward even fuller freedom than the most fortunate peoples of the earth have hitherto enjoyed.” The performance by VOCES 8 is a smaller, more intimate setting than the film score version, but no less soothing or invigorating. It just SEEMED right to play it right after the news this morning.
What comes next? (You’re getting a small glimpse of how I do my programming, you know!) Well it seemed perfect to add another choral piece, this time by American composer Frank Ticheli, “There Will Be Rest”. The text, by Sara Teasdale seemed to offer just the right note of hope and beauty.
‘There will be rest, and sure stars shining over the rooftops covered with snow.
A reign of rest, serene forgetting, the music of stillness holy and low.
I will make this world of my devising out of a dream in my lonely mind.
I shall find the crystal of peace – above me stars shall I find.’
The performance by the Hartford-based VOCE, conducted by Mark Singleton and from their 2015 CD “VOCE Live” was exactly what I was looking for. Their sound propels Ticheli’s music and Teasdale’s text upward and outward, through soaring lines and liquid chords. It’s just the right balance of hope and determination, and peaceful rest. Again, just what I was looking for. And the best thing for me was that a number of folks sent emails over the course of the morning, to say ‘thanks’, and how the music reached them, too. It’s good to know that we were thinking along similar lines – that I wasn’t alone in needing something uplifting, something soothing, something that suggested there would be brightness ahead.
So that’s it…whatever lies ahead, know that I’ll continue to look for music that uplifts, that propels us forward, that we can share with each other. It’s what I do, especially when events seem poised to overwhelm, crush and destroy.
There will be rest. And I shall find the crystal of piece.
If you are interested in the pieces I’ve mentioned, you can find “Eventide” with the VOCES 8 ensemble here:
And VOCE Live, conducted by Mark Singleton here: