Bound for Glory

February 2017

Program Notes

Witness  

arr. Jack Halloran

Hear de Lambs a'Cryin'  

arr. Paul Carey

  *****  
Ezekiel!  

arr. Stacey V. Gibbs

  *****  
Give Me Jesus  

arr. Larry L. Fleming

  *****  

I Want Jesus to Walk with Me

  arr. Moses Hogan
  *****  

Crucifixion

  arr. Adolphus Hailstork

Amen

  Jester Hairston
  INTERMISSION  

Am I a Soldier of the Cross

  arr. Joseph Jennings

Motherless Child

  arr. Craig Hella Johnson
  *****  

Old Testament Spirituals

  arr. Jonathan Miller

     Little David, Play on Your Harp

   

     Daniel, Moses, Joshua

   
  *****  

My Lord, What a Morning

  arr. Harry T. Burleigh
  ******  

This Little Light of Mine

  arr. John William Trotter

Since I Laid My Burdens Down

  arr. Rollo Dilworth

 

Notes From the Artistic Director, Jonathan Miller 


Spirituals have been part of Chicago a cappella’s concerts since our very first performance more than 23 years ago. They are essential to our ensemble’s DNA of repertoire. This is due in part to my own intense formative experience with singing spirituals and gospel music as a boy in the Chicago Children’s Choir, which began when I was nine years old. We young choristers were taught spirituals by Joseph Brewer (who also taught us gospel music by ear, an unforgettable thrill) and Christopher Moore. Chris, a Unitarian minister, was a firm believer in spirituals as an art form and my first mentor in the art of choral programming. In fact, one of the reasons that I initially founded CAC was that I wanted Chicago to have a virtuoso professional vocal ensemble whose singers would do justice not only to the more “standard” classical genres of Renaissance and contemporary choral music—which many fine choirs were already doing—but also to the rich legacies of African-American spirituals. The overall intention was to have a single group bringing the same attention to details of style and tradition to everything we would sing, casting the widest possible net of repertoire that we could. This is not particularly novel in 2016, but even in 1993 it was a bit unusual, especially with such a small ensemble. I feel that Chicago a cappella’s ongoing work requires us regularly to showcase this incredible repertoire.


We offer this music to you in a spirit of humility and gratitude. Our ensemble is not primarily African-American. All of us, musicians and audience alike, are the beneficiaries of an art form that we cannot take for granted, and which, in many ways, we do not deserve.


Spirituals affirm our common humanity. They were composed by people whose names are lost to history, and yet they are immortal treasures—treasures of dignity and honor, treasures of hope and longing for a better life here and hereafter. They are the musical embodiment of the essential argument put forth by theologian Howard Thurman in his brilliant book, Jesus and the Disinherited:  what good is our faith if it does not call us with prophetic voice to a better, more just, more compassionate, more righteous, more forgiving set of actions from each and every one of us, regardless of the position we occupy on the ladder of social power?


The spiritual has a bracing power that wakes us up and reminds us to be in the present, alert and awake to suffering and to our place in the world. I will never forget the day in early 2002 when the three great storytellers, Momma Kemba (Anna Johnson), Mama Edie Armstrong, and Oba William King, sat me down and reminded me (well, it was more like a loving reprimand) that the moan is an essential quality—really, the defining quality—of the spiritual. The moan, just like the spiritual, is born out of the suffering of the brutal Middle Passage across the Atlantic Ocean and of the harsh realities of plantation life. Even the songs that have a more upbeat quality still have the moan inside them, which is one reason that the spiritual moves us so deeply.


On vacation in early January, I had the privilege of reading Jodi Picoult’s new book, Small Great Things, a brilliant and heartbreaking book about race relations in America. (Read it.) She reminded me how far we have come and how far we have to go to do what in my own Jewish tradition is called tikkun olam, the repair of the world. May our singing of these spirituals remind us all that the human spirit ultimately cannot be broken, and that one way to hold it together is to step forward into the future with our hearts joined in song.


—Jonathan Miller


A Message from the Music Director, John William Trotter


America’s greatest contribution to choral music worldwide is the African-American spiritual. Stating this straightforward fact does nothing to take away from this country’s many other choral music achievements—it simply correctly values the extraordinary and wide-ranging impact of this incomparable genre.


Just as the choral music of Johann Sebastian Bach is loved with similar fervor in Japan and Germany and the United States, choral musicians and their audiences celebrate the African-American spiritual with deep appreciation and devotion from Brazil to Indonesia to Austria to Canada…and of course, across the diversity of this vast country. 


Much like a tree, the African-American spiritual tradition has roots, a trunk, and branches. The roots are in such elemental practices as moanin’ and field/work song call-and-response. The trunk is the massive corpus of spirituals that became codified and passed on within the community. These contained messages (both overt and secret), truths, stories, and prophecies which were, for their original creators, often a matter of survival. The branches are the various outgrowths from this corpus, both in terms of repertoire and performance practice. For example, Adolphus Hailstork’s Crucifixion combines elements of the spiritual with elements of the European madrigal. Jonathan Miller’s arrangement Daniel, Moses, Joshua explores what happens when spirituals celebrating important figures from Jewish history are brought together within a single piece. The familiar music to This little light of mine was written by Henry Dixon Loes of Moody Bible College in Chicago.


All around the world, amateur singers have discovered that if this music speaks to them, they can sing it.  If you have already had this experience, you can have it again tonight by joining the members of Chicago a cappella in song—the singers will make it clear when you can join in. If you have never had this experience before, we hope you will make your “debut” tonight! 


—John William Trotter

 

 

NOTES ON THE MUSIC by Jonathan Miller and John William Trotter


arr. Jack Halloran: Witness
Jack Halloran studied music at Northwestern and ended up in the Los Angeles area, where he was active in choral music for radio, television and films. He was the choral director and arranger on The Dean Martin Show and created his own choir, The Jack Halloran Singers. “Witness” was published a year before his death, in 1986, and immediately became a hit across the country.


arr. Paul Carey: Hear de Lambs a-Cryin’
Oak Park-based composer Paul Carey has created a haunting, completely effective arrangement of this spiritual. Carey notes, “I heard an old recording of Marion Anderson singing this piece and fell in love with it.” The love is evident in the great care that Carey takes with the emotion in the melody and the lyric.

arr. Stacey Gibbs:  Ezekiel!
Stacey Gibbs is one of the leading arrangers of spirituals active today. This energetic rendition splits the ensemble into two choirs, which alternate presenting the material and come together with extra force at appropriate places in the text.


arr. L. L. Fleming: Give Me Jesus
John Trotter notes: “Fleming’s simple yet luxurious arrangement of Give me Jesus has a special place in the hearts of several of our singers, who remember singing it when they were members of their own High School choirs.”


arr. Moses Hogan:  I Want Jesus to Walk with Me
This minor-mode spiritual is full of pleading. Shortly after the Civil War, the Fisk Jubilee Singers broke new ground on its concert tours (initially designed to help keep Fisk University afloat) by singing slave songs for white northerners. Moses Hogan, the arranger of this tune, was a tireless promoter of the a cappella spiritual; he probably did more than any other musician in recent times to bring the spiritual to concert stages across this country.


arr. Adolphus Hailstork:  Crucifixion (“He never said a mumbalin’ word”)
Prolific American composer Adolphus Hailstork (once a pupil of Nadia Boulanger) frequently combines music from his own African-American heritage with European traditions.  His virtuosic work Crucifixion combines elements of the spiritual with compositional techniques developed during the European Renaissance.


Jester Hairston: Amen
This catchy tune was originally written for the film Lilies of the Field with Sidney Poitier. It was actually Jester Hairston’s voice, not Poitier’s, heard singing the song in the movie. Nevertheless, this song showed Poitier, an out-of-work young journeyman, teaching spirituals—both style and dialect—to the German nuns whom he encountered in his travels. The song has since then become a concert classic. A charmingly condensed telling of the life of Jesus, it has a sweet smile behind it all the way through.


INTERMISSION

arr. Joseph Jennings: Am I a Soldier of the Cross
This style of music is rarely performed in classical concert halls, as it comes from the African-American church tradition and is typically sung informally by people in church. The words are by the great Isaac Watts (1674-1748), and in the tradition of “lining out” found here, such call-and-response singing is referred to in some church circles as simply “Dr. Watts. Such a rendition can include the entire congregation, with solo lines migrating from person to person. This setting came to us from Chanticleer’s recently retired music director, Joseph Jennings, one of the most important choral conductors of his generation.

arr. Craig Hella Johnson:  Motherless Child
Craig Hella Johnson is the GRAMMY®-winning director of Conspirare in Austin, Texas. A gifted arranger, he uses some of the techniques championed by Alice Parker to spin out long-breathed melodic lines based on the original spiritual. A gifted pianist, Johnson also displays a great command of harmony, pulling chords together to create just the right amount of musical tension and repose.


arr. Jonathan Miller: Old Testament Spirituals
Jonathan Miller writes as follows:
For this cycle, which I wrote on commission for Chicago a cappella, I chose spirituals about characters of the Old Testament: King David, Daniel, Moses, and Joshua. The cycle is in two movements. The first, short movement is “Little David, Play On Your Harp”; the much longer second movement is a layered combination of “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel”; “Go Down, Moses”; and “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho.”


Movement 1:  “Little David, Play On Your Harp”
I learned the tune for “Little David” from the classic collection of spirituals arranged for solo voice and piano by the distinguished composer Harry T. Burleigh, whose work appears later on the program. The simple tune only uses five notes of the scale. (This is called, for obvious reasons, a pentatonic scale.) I wanted to somehow reflect the pentatonic melody in my arrangement. I ended up doing just that: the entire piece, including all four voice parts and solos, is composed only using the five pitches of the melody’s own scale.  The tune is in F pentatonic, so the pitches are F, G, A, C, and D.  This posed a little bit of a challenge, because it meant I couldn’t use certain harmonies, such as a real “IV” or subdominant chord, which in this case would be a B-flat major chord.  Therefore, I had to hint at things that felt like that missing chord. In many ways the restriction of pitches made the job easier, and I put in a few “crunchy” harmonies that may remind some listeners of shape-note hymnody. However, this song remains a spiritual, so it became imperative to make sure that the element of the “moan” was preserved; this was done mostly through the intensity of emotion in the verses. The refrain remains on the simpler side, almost like a playground song or sweet lullaby.


Movement 2:  “Daniel, Moses, Joshua”
For this movement, based on three spirituals, I wanted to create a piece of choral music whose direction was not obvious at first, but emerged from a more atmospheric opening. The piece starts with humming and then works its way into vowels that suggest, but do not actually declare, the names involved in the three spirituals. Only gradually do actual words and names come into relief where they are more recognizable. Once the characters are introduced a little more fully, then the melodies start to take more recognizable shape too.  The “Daniel” tune starts to emerge, only to have “Go Down, Moses” take over with verse and chorus.  Once that is done, “Daniel” takes over in the women’s voices, accompanied by “Moses” in the tenor and bass.
This piece uses a layering technique that was possible for several reasons.  All three tunes—“Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel,” “Go “Down, Moses,” and “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho”—are often sung in the key of D minor. (This is sort of funny to me, because D minor is also a key often found in Jewish folksong, and these are Jewish characters in the songs.) The spirituals are usually associated with definite harmonies; the more I looked at them, the more it seemed in particular that the refrains to “Daniel” and “Joshua,” although they tell different stories, are in truth almost the same melody!


You may notice that the last line of the refrain to “Daniel” reads:  “An’-a why not every man?”  The last line of “Joshua,” similarly, reads:  “An’ de walls come tumbalin’ down.”  Not only are the texts and syllable counts similar, but the melodies at the corresponding places in the refrains are almost identical, with the figure of a falling-down scale.  This “an-‘a” phrase is the very point where “Daniel” transitions into “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho,” which now gets a full hearing, along with all the verses and a majestic tenor solo, to conclude the movement. As a final observation: I got rather excited about the “tumblin’ down” image, and that idea appears all over the song.


arr. Harry T. Burleigh:  My Lord, What a Mornin’
Burleigh was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1866 and was known for his singing voice, which took him to area churches and synagogues and then to the National Conservatory in New York City, where he studied with (and probably taught spirituals to) Antonin Dvorák. Burleigh was one of the most prolific arrangers of spirituals in the first half of the 20th century. Chicago a cappella has performed his greatest hit, Deep River, on many occasions; this is our first time performing My Lord, what a mornin’.
John Trotter notes: My Lord, what a mornin’ looks ahead to the “end times”—not with apprehension, but from the sober point of view of one who longs for an end to worldly suffering.  

arr. John William Trotter:  This Little Light of Mine
Our arrangement of This little light of mine, with lyrics by Avis Burgeson Christiansen (1895-1995) combines a lesser-known melody by Moses Hogan with the more commonly-known tune of Harry Dixon Loes.  We need the audience’s help for this one, so follow the lead of Music Director John William Trotter as we craft this musical texture together.


arr. Rollo Dilworth: Since I Laid My Burdens Down
John Trotter notes: Rollo Dilworth is a composer with deep Chicago connections, and deep connections to Chicago a cappella.  Since I laid my burdens down is an outright celebration of salvation and the hope of eternal life in paradise.