From the Archives

American Masterpieces

Twenty-Five Works | Three World Premières | Five Choirs

4 p.m. Sunday, March 4, 2007
VMA Arts and Cultural Center, Providence

Connecticut Choral Artists

Richard Coffey, artistic director

The Providence Singers
The Junior Providence Singers
Andrew Clark, artistic director

The Treble Chorus
Melissa Reynolds, director

   The Harvard-Radcliffe
   Collegium Musicum

   Jameson Marvin, conductor

Selections Presented by The Junior Providence Singers and Treble Chorus

William Billings (1746–1800)
Stephen Foster (1826–1864)
John Delorey (arr.)
Trevor Weston (b. 1967)

 – Wake Ev’ry Breath
 – Hard Times Come Again No More*
 – Deal Gently, Lord, With Thy Servants
 – O Daedalus, Fly Away Home (text by Robert Hayden)
   (World Première, performed with Treble Chorus)


Boston composer William Billings was known for his pioneering style of counterpoint, full of parallel fifths and octaves and other “mistakes” forbidden by traditional European rules of voice leading, a style that became a hallmark of the first truly American music. His staunch support of the American Revolution extended to changing the words of some of his choral works from hymn texts to patriotic songs. Wake Ev’ry Breath is a round in every sense, notated originally on a circular staff.

Stephen Foster did not come from Alabama with a banjo on his knee, but he did make that phrase synonymous with American folk music for decades. Well more than a hundred songs that are widely thought of as “traditional” are, in fact, Foster’s compositions, including such favorites as Beautiful Dreamer and Camptown Races. Hard Times Come Again No More has been performed by countless notable American musicians, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, James Taylor and the Junior Providence Singers.

New York born Trevor Weston studied piano and voice from the age of 10 at St. Thomas Choir School, moving on to organ and carillon in high school, and finally composition in college and graduate school. His music has been heard throughout the United States and in several other countries. The same could be said of Weston himself, who has studied or taught in New York, Massachusetts, California, Indiana, South Carolina and Paris. The Providence Singers premièred his Ma’at Musings for chorus and percussion in 2005. O Daedalus, Fly Away Home sets poetry by Robert Hayden that weaves mystical elements of the African American experience ... with classical references to exile and dreams of a return to freedom.

Selections Presented by The Providence Singers

Stephen Paulus (b. 1949)
Christopher Trapani (b. 1980)

H.T. Burleigh (1866–1949)
Robert Page (arr.)

 – Pilgrims’ Hymn*
 – O now the drenched land wakes (text by Kenneth Patchen)
   World Première  |  Listen to it
 – My Lord, What a Mornin’*
 – Amazing Grace (with Junior Singers and Trebles)


Prolific Midwestern composer Stephen Paulus has written numerous solo and choral works on American themes, including The Long Shadow of Lincoln, A Heartland Portrait, Hymn for America, and Prairie Songs, in addition to several American operas. The simple, moving Pilgrims’ Hymn is the concluding movement from Paulus’s church opera The Three Hermits, based on a story by Leo Tolstoy. It has quickly entered the repertoire, performed at the funerals of Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. The opera was commissioned in memory of Richard McMillan by Molly McMillan, parents of Providence Singers Executive Director Allison McMillan.

Christopher Trapani hails from New Orleans, where he studied trumpet, guitar, piano and composition. He is a graduate of Harvard University, studying music and English and American literature. He continued his studies in London at the Royal College of Music and in Paris on a two-year residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts. He has received commissions and won prizes from many distinguished organizations, including two ASCAP young composers awards. O now the drenched land wakes sets a poem by Kenneth Patchen, published in 1960 as part of The Love Poems of Kenneth Patchen.

Henry (Harry) Thacker Burleigh is known mainly as an arranger of spirituals. His career, however, extended well beyond that repertoire, including many original compositions, a long career as a concert baritone, and a tremendous impact on his teacher and employer, Antonín Dvorák. Burleigh is credited with inspiring Dvorák’s interest in black American folk music, notably the use of the lowered seventh scale degree. My Lord, What a Mornin’ is characteristic of Burleigh’s spiritual arrangements, adding complex Romantic harmony and occasional rhythmic contrast to a simple folk tune.

Selections Presented by CONCORA

Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990)
Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943)
Ned Rorem (b. 1923)
Nancy Galbraith (b. 1951)
Chen Yi (b. 1953)
Eric Whitacre (b. 1970)
Alice Parker (arr.)
Brazeal Dennard (arr.)

 – Almighty Father (from Mass)*
 – Ave Maria*
 – Breathe on Me, Breath of God and God Is Gone Up
 – Two Emily Dickinson Songs (World Première)
 – The Flowing Stream (from Chinese Folk Songs)*
 – Water Night*
 – Motherless Child
 – Fare Ye Well


Leonard Bernstein explored many types of music during his long and varied career. His many scores for Broadway helped bridge the chasm between the American musical and the opera. He was the first American-born conductor to be named music director of the New York Philharmonic and the first American to conduct at La Scala. His Mass (1971) has been described as “a multimedia piece of music theatre, not a liturgical work ... an American equivalent to Britten’s War Requiem.

Composer, conductor, pianist, organist and essayist R. Nathaniel Dett championed African American folk music as worthy of recognition. Unlike many such champions, Dett was himself African American. His arrangements of spirituals lacked the hand-clapping and folksy elements of many other arrangements and were therefore dismissed as inauthentic by critics accustomed to more primitive treatments. His Ave Maria (1930) was the last of his motets, though he continued to arrange spirituals and compose for the piano and organ until his death.

Ned Rorem is best known as a composer of songs for solo voice, a repertoire to which he has contributed more than 400 pieces. He studied composition at Juilliard, Tanglewood and Curtis and worked with Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson over the course of his rambling secondary education. God is Gone Up is the fifth of his Seven Motets for the Church Year, written in 1986. Breathe on Me, Breath of God was written in 1989.

Nancy Galbraith has been described as “one of the present era’s most original and dynamic composers.” She is based in Pittsburgh, where she teaches composition at Carnegie Mellon University. Her Missa Mysteriorum was commissioned and premièred by Robert Page and the Mendelssohn Choir in 1999. Galbraith’s Two Emily Dickinson Songs was commissioned for this weekend’s festival.

Chen Yi, born in Maoist China, came to the United States to study composition at Columbia University. Her music combines Western harmony with various elements of Chinese traditional music, including the use of traditional Chinese instruments. In addition to her Chinese Folk Songs, including The Flowing Stream, she has arranged the traditional American folk song Shady Grove.

Eric Whitacre, the composer of Water Night, is also the composer of Godzilla Eats Las Vegas!, a composition for winds that involves the players dressing as “Elvi” (Whitacre’s plural form of Elvis) and imitating various forms of music found in Las Vegas venues. What could be more American? Perhaps the fact that the piece has been performed on the steps of the U.S. Capitol by the United States Marine Band. Water Night was written in response to an inspiring conversation with a mentor who convinced Whitacre to complete his degree and pursue a career in music.

Selections Presented by The Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum

Earl Kim (1920–1998)

Donald Martino (1931–2005)
Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943)
Steven Sametz (b. 1954)
Jameson Marvin (b. 1941)

 – Frost at Midnight, Ode to a Nightingale, and To Autumn
   (from Some Thoughts on Keats and Coleridge, 1985)
 – Eternitie (from Seven Pious Pieces, 1998)
 – O Nata Lux (from Lux Aeterna, 1997)
 – Munus (2003)
 – Swing Low, Sweet Chariot/All Night, All Day (2006)


Earl Kim was professor of music at Harvard University from 1967 to 1990. His Some Thoughts on Keats and Coleridge offers a largely homophonic setting of the English Romantic poets, with rhythmic patterns closely tied to the inherent ebb and flow of the text itself.

Donald Martino also had a long association with Harvard, working in the music department for much of the 1980s before retiring to devote himself to composition. His setting of Eternitie, one of the Seven Pious Pieces on poems by the 17th-century English poet Robert Herrick, employs frequent, subtle dynamic and rhythmic contrasts and swift tonality shifts which often serve to highlight individual words.

The music of Morten Lauridsen is among the most widely performed in the modern choral repertoire. O Nata Lux typifies his style of largely homophonic text declamation, here with an alomst hypnotic regularity of eighth notes. Lauridsen makes frequent use of first-inversion triadic harmonies to create a serene yet dynamic harmonic sense.

Steven Sametz served as conductor of the Harvard choirs during Jameson Marvin’s sabbatical in the spring of 1985. Munus was written for Marvin’s 25th year as director of choral activities at Harvard and exploits the texture of rich choral sonorities in this setting of a Latin text by the English scholar and poet Alcuin.

Jameson Marvin will celebrate his 30th year as director of choral activities at Harvard in 2008. During his time at Harvard, Marvin has worked as both editor of early music for Oxford University Press and composer of choral music, including folk song arrangements. His setting of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot/All Night, All Day is in the tradition of the quodlibet, where two or more popular melodies (spirituals in this case) are interwoven in the same composition.

Concluding Selection by All Performers

Jameson Marvin – Each Future Song (text by Phillis Wheatley)

The last work to be performed in the festival weekend sets a poem by Phillis Wheatley (1753–1784), considered to be the first African American writer. Wheatley was born in Senegal, captured, sold into slavery at age 8, then purchased in Boston by John Wheatley, a merchant, in 1761. It was the Wheatley family that provided Phillis an education, including foreign languages and history. Her first poem was published in 1767 in the Newport Mercury, but her first book of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects (1773), was published in London. Publishers in Boston had refused to print the text.

Jameson Marvin chose to set these four lines from Wheatley’s longer poem, “To S.M., a Young African Painter, On Seeing His Works:”

Calm and serene thy moments glide along,
And may the muse inspire each future song!
Still, with the sweets of contemplation bless’d,
May peace with balmy winds your soul invest!