The American Dream

October 2006

Program Notes

 Yankee Doodle Dandy

George M. Cohan, arr. Deke Sharon

 The Star-Spangled Banner

arr. Jerry Rubino

*  *   *   *   *   *   *

 Great Is Life!

Sheena Phillips

*  *   *   *   *   *   *

 Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor

Irving Berlin, arr. Derric Johnson

 City of Chicago

Barry Moore, arr. Nick Page

 How Long?

Bernice Johnson Reagon

*  *   *   *   *   *   *

 from CAPITAL CITY           

 Words: Peter Watson Jenkins

Music: Jonathan Miller

  i. The Washington Monument


  ii. The Lincoln Memorial


  iii. The Capitol


*  *   *   *   *   *   *

 Amazing Grace: A Meditation

John Austin

 Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?

arr. Paul Crabtree


 Advance Democracy 

Benjamin Britten

 Sim Shalom

Max Janowski

*  *   *   *   *   *   *

 I, Too, Sing America

Bob Applebaum

*  *   *   *   *   *   *

 "O Sun" from September Sun

David Conte

 Many Waters  

Daniel Pinkham

*  *   *   *   *   *   *


 Sing-along: America, the Beautiful

Ward/Bates, arr. Deke Sharon



Welcome to The American Dream.

Long the refuge of outcast peoples, our nation continues to draw those from afar who crave the American experience. Imperfect though they be, our many blessings stem from what our founders—and those who have amended our constitution more recently—deemed most essential in being an American. Despite an increasingly polarized political climate and a fractious debate about the balance between civil liberties and national security, we still enjoy freedoms that are, for the most part, the envy of much of the world.

Using our choral music as the vehicle, this concert celebrates the promise of our remarkable nation—as well as a few snapshots of times when that promise goes unfulfilled. For starters, Walt Whitman’s faith in America is infectious. The dream also is gloriously manifest in Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor; likewise, the hopes of aspiring newcomers come alive in City of Chicago. By contrast, How Long? expresses the dashed hopes of those who are denied the American experience.

Freedom of religion here has created a country with an unusual variety of religious practices, in contrast to the European democracies which mostly have state religions (in which, ironically, hardly anyone participates). Despite our general separation of church and state, some of our quintessential musical character contains either direct or remote references to sacred music; think of Appalachian Spring. In that vein, John Austin’s Amazing Grace is simply superb music; in Sim Shalom, Max Janowski celebrated the WWII armistice with language of the Hebrew liturgy; Dan Pinkham’s Many Waters, set to biblical verse, was written in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Together, these works give a backdrop for the quietly tragic lament of David Conte’s O Sun.

Our beloved colleague Bob Applebaum has graced us with his setting of Langston Hughes’s verse. Sheena Phillips, a newcomer to CAC’s concerts, has done the same with her lively setting of Walt Whitman’s lines. Both works are having their world premieres here, as is my own trio of songs from CAPITAL CITY—two light-hearted and one pensive.

     ---Jonathan Miller



George M. Cohan, arr. Deke Sharon: Yankee Doodle Dandy

Deke Sharon is a towering presence on the national collegiate a cappella scene. He founded CASA, the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America, and is tireless as a promoter of quality repertoire for young people. He is also a skilled arranger, as this chart shows.

Arr. Jerry Rubino: The Star-Spangled Banner

A music educator of international repute, Jerry Rubino is in demand as a conductor, clinician, arranger, and performer. He served for 22 years as the associate conductor of the Dale Warland Singers in the Twin Cities. This setting of our national anthem displays his expertise in the voicings of vocal jazz and his superb command of harmony.

* * * * * *

Sheena Phillips: Great is Life!

Great Is Life! piece was written specifically for this “American Dream” concert by Sheena Phillips, a composer based in Columbus, Ohio, where she is busy composing and arranging choral and chamber music. A native of Britain, she grew up in the London area and studied at Cambridge University. Her composing career has flourished since she moved to the USA in 2000, with commissions and performances from groups on both sides of the Atlantic. She is Director of Music at Summit United Methodist Church, and Artistic Director of the Magpie Consort.

The lyrics are drawn from the original (1855) edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. The last poem in the book, entitled “Great are the myths,” is the inspiration for the piece. The composer notes as follows: “Whitman is one of the quintessential voices of the American dream: full of energy, optimism, romance, and excitement. I wanted to quote Whitman’s images of American society, which I think still resonate strongly today, but at the same time, to cast shadows of doubt and disturbance over them, reflecting some of our current anxieties about the world. . . . Statements such as 'Great is the earth' or 'It is good to live in this age' are made to sound like wishes rather than assertions. . . . In the middle of the piece, thoughts of death and wickedness compete literally and musically with thoughts of liberty and equality: this conflict is actually present in Whitman's poem, but not so darkly. The mood at the end of the piece is tinged with plangency, but is essentially positive. After all, life is a great gift.”

* * * * * *

Irving Berlin, arr. Derric Johnson: Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor

From the 1949 musical Miss Liberty, this is the only song in the Irving Berlin canon for which he used lyrics written by someone else. In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote these stirring words as part of her sonnet, The New Colossus, for an art auction “In Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund.” While France had provided the Statue of Liberty itself, American fundraising efforts like these paid for the Statue's pedestal. In 1903, sixteen years after her death, Lazarus' sonnet was engraved on a plaque and placed on the pedestal as a memorial. Lazarus was a member of the New York literary elite in the late 1800s, and she worked tirelessly in her later years for the rights of Russian immigrants—one of whom was Irving Berlin himself. We are performing a recent arrangement by Derric Johnson, the longtime music director at Walt Disney World and a renowned arranger and producer.

Barry Moore, arr. Nick Page: City of Chicago

When Chicago a cappella issued its call for scores for this concert, this song arrived as a pleasant surprise. Based near Boston, Nick Page is a major force in choral and community music. For decades he has led church, children’s, and community choirs around the world in semi-improvised singing events that are remarkable for their spontaneity, energy, and ability to inspire everyone present. Nick was a conductor for the Chicago Children’s Choir in the early 1980s and also conducted at Unity Temple in Oak Park. He sent us his a cappella arrangement of this song about the waves of Irish immigration to Chicago in the early nineteenth century.

Bernice Johnson Reagon: How Long?

A figure of tremendous significance in American music, Bernice Johnson Reagon is known best as founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock, a world-renowned women’s sextet. Dr. Reagon produced the four-CD series, Wade in the Water, for Smithsonian Folkways Records. Reagon’s music is rooted in social-justice issues, as she has been an activist for civil rights during most of her life. She writes in the preface to this song, “Together we can raise questions about symbols and institutions that rain down half-truths betraying the trust of the people whose interest they claim to serve—if you’re ready.”

* * * * * *

Jonathan Miller: Three Movements from CAPITAL CITY

The cycle CAPITAL CITY stems from a collaboration between composer Jonathan Miller and the poet Peter Watson Jenkins. The duo have worked together to create, among other works, the Christmas cantata Journey to Bethlehem (2002) and the Unitarian Easter anthem, Arising (2006). An Englishman by birth, Mr. Jenkins served Unitarian congregations in the UK and the United States as a minister for many years before turning to writing poetry, prose, and film scripts.

The three movements on today’s concert are designed to work musically as a small set. Their texts are drawn from a larger cycle by Jenkins, CAPITAL CITY, which reflects on the encounter with various places in Washington, D.C. Jonathan Miller’s music for the second movement, a sonnet called “The Lincoln Memorial,” was commissioned by the remarkable high school choral program at Central Bucks County High School—West (Doylestown, PA), directed by Dr. Joseph Ohrt, and was premiered in Chicago in April 2005. The first and third movements were composed specifically for these “American Dream” concerts.  “The Capitol” was made possible by a commission from David Molnar, a friend of the ensemble and former member of CAC’s Artistic Advisory Group.

* * * * * * *

John Austin: Amazing Grace: A Meditation

John Austin began singing in grade-school music class, inventing descants in the back row. He continued to sing throughout high school, in Boston's Chorus Pro Musica during his college years, in the Vienna Singverein Chor under von Karajan, Karl Richter and others, and in the Chicago Symphony Chorus under Jean Martinon, Georg Solti and others. During composition studies with Roy Harris in the 1950s, the two would trade improvised phrases—sung, of course. All these experiences resonate in John Austin's music—instrumental as well as vocal. Austin holds an M.A. in Music from Roosevelt University, where he studied with Robert Lombardo, and a PhD. from the University of Chicago, where he studied with Ralph Shapey.

Amazing Grace: A Meditation is an extended tour-de-force. Its haunting vocalized interludes alternate with verses strongly evocative of Copland. John Austin notes: “In the fourth stanza the three lower voices lay down a tapestry of recurring phrases over which the sopranos intermittently proclaim the melody’s four phrases in the manner of a chorale-prelude. The reprise of the first stanza exploits the spare, open intervals characteristic of the melody’s Sacred Harp, shape-note tradition.”

Paul Crabtree: Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?

The African-American slave experience shaped the worldview of people in northern as well as Confederate states. Ever since the spiritual was introduced as a concert genre by the Fisk Jubilee Singers (whose 1871 and subsequent tours wowed white Northerners and eventually European royalty), the spiritual has been a symbol of the quest for justice and freedom that affects both the individual and the nation. Paul Crabtree wrote this setting of “Daniel” as an encore for our Deep River concert last February, and his driving rhythm captures the urgent message perfectly.


Benjamin Britten: Advance Democracy

In 1937, Fascism was on the rise in Europe. Randall Swingler, the editor of The Left Review in London, penned this poem, which found a musical emissary in Benjamin Britten. While British democracy is not identical to American—nor have been the responses of their respective publics to the current situation in Iraq—the two countries have tended, nevertheless, to be more similar than different. Swingler’s words, almost seventy years old, seem strikingly relevant right now.

Max Janowski: Sim Shalom

Max Janowski (1912-1991) was arguably the most significant composer of Jewish liturgical music in America during the mid-twentieth century. His songs, including Avinu Malkeynu, Sim Shalom and Sh’ma Koleynu, are now staples in the repertoire of virtually every Reform synagogue in the USA. Several Conservative congregations (many of which require a cappella singing) have also successfully adapted his works to enhance their liturgies. Born into a musical family in Berlin, Janowski fled Nazi Germany when his brilliance as a pianist helped him win a competition for a professorship at Tokyo’s Mosashino Academy. He came to New York in 1937 and settled a year later on Chicago’s South Side, where he served KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation from 1938 until his death in 1991. He published more than 150 works of Hebrew liturgy and wrote dozens of others still in manuscript. Janowski’s music springs from the “creative retrieval” movement, which helped the motifs of traditional European cantorial melodies to survive in the New World, through settings mostly for soloists, choir, and organ. A man of unusually broad and ecumenical outlook, Janowski also served All Souls Universalist Society in South Shore for several decades, where he arranged hymns, folk songs and spirituals.

Sim Shalom was written as the final movement of a cantata, Prayer for Peace, written for the World War II Armistice. The remainder of the work is lost.

* * * * * *

Bob Applebaum: I, Too, Sing America

In 1980 Bob Applebaum began to compose Jewish liturgical music for use in services. In addition to three complete Shabbat services, he has composed nearly a hundred different choral settings of prayers, psalms, and other Jewish texts, as well as numerous arrangements of non-liturgical Hebrew and Yiddish songs. His choral music has received frequent performance in both concert and worship settings throughout the country. His music has been featured in Washington, D.C. in a holiday concert at The White House by The Chicago Children’s Choir, in performances by Kol Zimrah at the North American Jewish Choral Festival in New York, and in concerts of the New York City-based women’s ensemble SHE. Bob has played piano in concert and on CDs of the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band; Bob and his son, Mark, have performed in the Applebaum Jazz Piano Duo since 2000.

This remarkable song springs from the poem of Langston Hughes, who claims for himself full status as an American—the “darker brother” who does not want merely to be sent “to the kitchen when company comes.”

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David Conte: “O Sun” from September Sun

David Conte has received commissions from Chanticleer, the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, the Dayton Philharmonic, the Oakland-East Bay Symphony, and the Stockton Symphony. A professor of composition at the San Francisco Conservatory, Conte also has composed songs for Barbara Bonney, Thomas Hampson, and Phyllis Bryn-Julson.

“O Sun” is the a cappella second movement from a larger work, September Sun, composed for the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and premiered at St. Bart’s in Manhattan, an Episcopal church with a renowned music program. The two choral movements are framed by a prelude and postlude for string orchestra. The poetry is by John Stirling Walker.

Daniel Pinkham: Many Waters

Educated at Harvard and a longtime member of the faculty at New England Conservatory, Boston-based composer Daniel Pinkham (b. 1923) has been decorated with honors and awards too numerous to list in detail here. He is a prolific and versatile composer whose music carries a characteristic boldness of rhythm and dissonance.

A recent work, Many Waters was commissioned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The commissioning church was the Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church, which provided funds for the music; the piece was then given to the Choir of Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church in New Orleans, directed by John Hutton.

The text draws on Lamentations, Psalm 69, Jude, and the Song of Songs. Taken together, these passages dramatize the tragedy of the hurricane, ask for help, and celebrate the undying power of love.

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Ward/Bates, arr. Deke Sharon: America, the Beautiful

We’ll cue you when it’s time to sing along.