Coming Out of the Dark - Chicago a cappella

Coming Out of the Dark

Program Notes

Program Notes

February 2022

I cannot adequately find words to tell you what a pleasure it has been, over the past year and a half, gradually to put this program together in anticipation of these very special performances.  Even in the midst of our shared darkness the concept gradually took shape, as the singers and I passed ideas back and forth.  In so doing, we have re-lived some of the most poignant, painful, and even most precious moments of the past two incomparable years.

Preparing a program during a pandemic is not a simple matter. Zoom preparation, masking, testing, extra protocols, and backup plans (plan B, plan C…) have tested some of our most precious resources – not least our creativity, courage, and even (at times) our hope.

But now, here we are.

Though you will see ten performers on stage, they represent a crowd many times that size: an unseen host of  composers, arrangers, collaborators, advisors, supporters, subscribers, staff, and loved ones.

Some of this program will speak for itself.  Some of it will speak with our stories. And some of it, we very much hope, may even speak – or sing – for you.

Welcome back.

John William Trotter,
Artistic Director

Program Song List

Lamentations of Jeremiah – Aleph

Thomas Tallis

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free

Billy Taylor, arr. Margaret Bonds

The Coolin

Samuel Barber

She’s No Lady, She’s My Wife

Lyle Lovett, arr. Jonathan Miller


Jeremy Bell

The Blue Bird

Charles Villiers Stanford

Precious Lord

Thomas A. Dorsey, arr. Arnold Sevier

Here Comes the Sun

George Harrison, arr. Kirby Shaw

Angel Band

William Bradbury, arr. Shawn Kirchner


Lamentations of Jeremiah – Daleth

Thomas Tallis

The Sound of Silence

Paul Simon, arr. Alexander L’Estrange

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

Edna Yeh

Psalm 59:16, C: Safety and Refuge

Sarai Hillman

Chili con carne

Anders Edenroth

The Storm is Passing Over

Charles Albert Tindley arr. Barbara W. Baker

Let my love be heard

Jake Runestad

Light of a Clear Blue Morning

Dolly Parton arr. Craig Hella Johnson

Encore:  How Can I Keep from Singing

Robert Lowry, arr. Jonathan Miller


Notes on the Music

by John William Trotter

Lamentations of Jeremiah  – Aleph

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585)

Thomas Tallis was a master composer of the English Renaissance. He served several consecutive monarchs, adapting his compositional style to suit the tastes of each, all the while surviving the religious controversies and conflicts which made life dangerous for so many at the time, including composers.

The Lamentations of Jeremiah is an extended acrostic poem, each verse beginning with a successive letter in the Hebrew alphabet (Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth, He). The poem laments the state of a city in trouble, 
its conditions reminiscent of a pandemic-induced lockdown.  Neighborhoods that were once teeming with life are now desolate.  Festival celebrations are ignored.  The joy and pride of the city seem lost.

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free

Words and Music by Billy Taylor (1921-2010)
Arr. Margaret Bonds (1913-1972)

American jazz pianist, composer, broadcaster, and educator Billy Taylor was astoundingly prolific, composing more than 300 songs and and appearing on hundreds of albums. This song, later covered by Nina Simone as the opening track of her 1967 album Silk & Soul, became the unofficial anthem of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The Coolin

Words by  James Stephens (1880-1950)
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

This poem, from the anthology Reincarnations, was originally published as The Coolun.  Both titles refer to a traditional Irish air, to which several texts have been set over the years. Composer Samuel Barber furthered the reimagining process when he set the text not the traditional melody, but within a new madrigal-like setting. The text is very closely set, with passing shades of meaning reflected in melody and harmony.

She’s No Lady, She’s My Wife

Words and music by Lyle Lovett (b. 1957)
arr. Jonathan Miller (b. 1962)

Lyle Lovett’s tongue-in-cheek account of a marriage reminds us that relationships can sometimes be complex. 


Words and Music by Jeremy Bell (b. 1986)

The Blue Bird

Words by Mary E. Coleridge (1861-1907)
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)

Dublin-born C.V. Stanford attended Trinity College, Cambridge.  Before the age of 30 he became one of the founding professors of the Royal College of Music.  He also became a longtime Professor of Music at Cambridge and director of the Trinity College Choir.  Among many other contributions, Sanford helped train some of the most renowned English composers of the following generation, including Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Precious Lord

Words and music by Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993)
Arr. by Arnold Sevier (b. 1942)

Dorsey is a towering figure in music history, credited by some with inventing gospel music itself, a style found in a significant portion of his 3000 songs.  Precious Lord was a favorite for many, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Dorsey wrote this piece while in the depths of bereavement, having recently lost both his wife and firstborn son in childbirth.

Here Comes the Sun

Words and music by George Harrison (1943-2001)
Arr. by Kirby Shaw (b. 1942)

From the Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road.

Angel Band

William Bradbury (1816-1868), arr. Shawn Kirchner

This 1860’s gospel song became more widely known through the Stanley Brothers version featured on the soundtrack to the Coen brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou?  This arrangement by Shawn Kirchner transplants the melody into a rich choral texture.

Lamentations of Jeremiah – Daleth

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585)

The Sound of Silence

Words and music by Paul Simon (b. 1941)
Arr. by Alexander L’Estrange (b. 1974)

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

Words by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
Music by Edna Yeh (b. 1966)

The composer writes:

“This piece was written during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the only safe option for choral singing was online. With this in mind, it was composed to allow for maximum flexibility in interpretation, whether performed online or in person.” 

Edna Yeh’s setting utilizes time and notation in non-traditional ways, including the use of boxes and arrows, leaving the performers considerable discretion in interpretation.  She continues:

“…singers should feel free to experiment with the boxes to find what works best for them.  Singers can start each box in unison (to bring out the text) or as a cloud of sound (to maximize the effect). The initial statement of each text fragment can be emphasized if desired.”

Psalm 59:16
C: Safety and Refuge

Sarai Hillman (b. 1998)

The composer writes:

This is the third movement from a collection of pieces based on the text from the Christian Bible that reads:

“But as for me, I will sing about your power.  Each morning will sing with joy about your unfailing love.  For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.”  (Psalm 59:16 [NLT])

This text was chosen because of the vitality and ambiguity of the Power, Unfailing Love, Refuge, and Safety mentioned in this verse. The importance of singing in the text also greatly influenced the choice to use it.

In this text, David is writing about the time Saul sent soldiers to watch his house to kill him, and this verse is comparing how David’s enemies conduct themselves to how he conducts himself. He states that his enemies prowl the street at night like vicious dogs, scavenging for food and leaving unsatisfied. David, then, switches to a complete contrast in the verse above to describe himself, even using directly opposite language like “night” for his enemies and “morning” for himself. The juxtaposition of imagery is what drives the importance of this text and these pieces.

Although it speaks of safety, this movement is the most vocally vulnerable due to the added open space between the sounds made. The neutral vowel sounds used in this movement also intensify the level of discomfort as it calls for a very high level of precision and unity from the performers. This movement is meant to feel removed from reality and overtly introspective. What makes this idea stick out is the layering of textures throughout the piece, until the end when all the voices finally find “refuge” in their unity. Unlike the other two movements of this work, the main ideas of this movement, refuge and safety, are not musically expressed for majority of the piece, but rather, they are intensified by the expression of the complete opposite, instability and vulnerability.

Chili Con Carne

Anders Edenroth (b. 1963)

Swedish musician Anders Edenroth studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, where he and a few fellow students founded the renowned a cappella quintet The Real Group.  

The Storm is Passing Over

Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933)
Arr. by Barbara W. Baker (b. 1947)

This has been a good song to hang onto throughout the pandemic.  Our longtime plan has been to share the vocal parts to our audience in order that we may sing it all together “on the other side” of COVID-19. For now, please help us keep time by clapping!

Let My Love be Heard

Words and music by Jake Runestad (b. 1986)

Light of a Clear Blue Morning

Words and music by Dolly Parton (b. 1946)
Arr. by Craig Hella Johnson (b. 1962)

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