Friday, July 21, 2006

Geistliches Lied

Last night the Cornell University Summer Choir gave its fourth annual concert. I have sung with this group for the last three summers. It has traditionally been composed primarily of members of the Glee Club and Chorus. While I have never belonged to either of those organizations (the Glee Club because I haven’t been able to commit the time, and the Chorus because—well—it’s a women's ensemble), they have been kind enough to permit me to join them in music-making. I think the fact that I sang at St. Olaf was my “in” the first year, and thereafter I had the benefit of a precedent. This year, for various reasons, we ended up with only six singers (hence one member billed the choir to her friends as the “Summer Sextet”). Good musicians all, and we had a great time rehearsing and delivering the performance.

As almost any proper choral concert should, ours included a mix of music reaching back into the Renaissance, up into the 21st century, with both classical “art” songs and folk songs. The second piece we performed was Brahms’ Op. 30, Geistliches Lied, whose title means “spiritual song.” It is a marvelously composed work: slow, peaceful, yet highly contrapuntal. Each section is a double canon—one canon between the soprano and tenor, the other between the alto and bass. The text is by Paul Flemming, and is apparently difficult to translate properly; one choir member described Flemming as a “German John Donne,” with whom he was contemporary. Below is the German text and a decent translation I found online.
Lass dich nur nichts nicht dauren mit Trauren,
sei stille, wie Gott es fügt, so sei vergnügt mein Wille!
Was willst du heute sorgen auf morgen?
Der Eine steht allem für, der gibt auch dir das Deine.
Sei nur in allem Handel ohn’ Wandel,
steh’ feste, was Gott beschleusst, das ist und heisst das Beste.

Do not be sorrowful or regretful;
Be calm, as God has ordained, and thus my will shall be content.
What do you want to worry about from day to day?
There is One who stands above all who gives you, too, what is yours.
Only be steadfast in all you do,
stand firm; what God has decided, that is and must be the best.
We also premiered a piece I wrote, entitled Promised Land. It was the last big number of the concert (not quite the closer, since we sang two lullabies by Charles Ives afterwards), and was well-received. There’s a story to how this song began: early one Saturday morning around March of 2005, I was awoken by the cold wind blowing in through my window. Almost immediately the first line of the second verse below started going through my head. A little while later (still lying in bed), I came up with the first verse and a second tune, which is intended to be a “walking” tune. The words throughout tell of hope, of reaching a final destination. For me, this song captures how I was feeling that morning—a bit chilly, increasingly dealing with life’s struggles, but sure of God’s providence.
Though the road is harder now, I feel like I can make it,
Feel like I can make it all the way;
Though the road is harder now, I feel like I can make it,
Like I can make it to the promised land.

The wind blows colder now, and I feel like I’ve been walkin’,
Feel like I’ve been walkin’ for so long;
The wind blows colder now, but you know I'll keep on walkin’.
I'm gonna make it to the promised land.

One day my Lord called; He said, “It’s time to make the journey,
Time to make the journey of your life.”
I said to Him, “Oh, Lord, I pray it won’t be too long.”
He said, “My grace is enough for you.”

I'm goin’ stronger now, ’cause His Spirit lives within me
To lead and guide me all the way.
I'm goin’ stronger now, ’cause His Spirit lives within me,
And He will take me to the promised land.

Glory, Hallelujah,
I'm singin’ glory, Hallelujah!

The rest of the program:
  • Ave Maria, Jean Mouton
  • The Well-Beloved (Armenian folksongs), collected by H. Gudenian, arr. Deems Taylor
  • Anthony O’Daly, Samuel Barber
  • Locus Iste, Anton Bruckner
  • Blessed is the Man that Trusteth in the Lord, Alan Hovhaness
  • Poor Pilgrim, collected by R. Nathaniel Dett
  • Tryin’ to Get Home, trad.
  • City Called Heaven, arr. Josephine Poelinitz
  • Berceuse and There is a Lane, Charles Ives, arr. H. Haufrecht

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