The New Rhythmus Award
Ah from a little child,
Thou knowest soul how to me
all sounds became music
No performance art draws more participants than choral singing. Sacred or secular, traditional or avant-garde, in almost any language or even in solfege syllables, Americans sing by the millions.
In 2008, the Providence Singers created an award to honor people who have helped sustain and advance that wonderful state of affairs — composers, musicians, conductors, choirs, vocal artists, music educators, choral advocates of all sorts. But what would the award be called?
We found our answer in the text of Proud Music of the Storm, Carlyle Sharpe’s setting of the Walt Whitman poem. The work, for chorus and orchestra, was commissioned by the Providence Singers and given its world première in the fall of 2001.
Whitman, a great favorite of composers and choruses, was the poet who famously claimed to hear America singing.
In “Proud Music,” the poet is startled awake by an enormous thunderclap and falls into a reverie with his soul, pondering the phenomenon of natural sound and its relationship to music. These sounds — pouring cataracts, distant guns, hawk’s sharp scream, songs of current lands — are much more than mere sounds, Whitman said. They are “a new rhythmus fitted for thee,” the fresh experiences and raw material for a creative process that is “bridging the way from Life to Death.”
Singers, conductors and other performers revel in those moments when notes on the printed page become sounds and when the combined sound of human voices becomes music. It is that potential for experiencing the New Rhythmus — playing a real part in the creation and realization of music — that we value and that we recognize in the lives and work of everyone to whom we will present the New Rhythmus Award.
The presentation award, done in gilt lettering on slate, was created for the Providence Singers by Rhode Island graphic designer Sandra Delany.
Dave and Iola Brubeck June 2008
Tens of millions of college-age Americans discovered new music and new rhythms in the 1960s through the albums and performances of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. The Providence Singers discovered Brubeck’s choral music when the group performed The Gates of Justice with Dave and the quartet at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2004. That led to a world première of Brubeck’s The Commandments at Lincoln Center and a December 2009 performance of his Canticles in Cranston, R.I. The Providence Singers presented the award to Dave and Iola, his chief collaborator and librettist.
Alice Parker June 2010
No chorus can get very far into the choral repertoire without encountering the work of Alice Parker. As composer, arranger, editor, conductor, and educator, she and her work have had a profound effect on choral practice and the growth of choral singing in the United States. In 2007, as part of the Providence Singers’ NEA-supported “American Masterpieces” choral festival, Parker led a community sing at the Columbus Theater in Providence, transforming a widely diverse community audience into a single chorus. It was an a cappella triumph — she using only her voice, without piano or instrumental backup, and the audience following her lead.