Our Spring Concert: “The Definition of Beauty”

The theme of our concert, “The Definition of Beauty” comes from four Emily Dickinson poems on that theme. Each poem addresses a different aspect of Beauty, as Dickinson sees it. The songs in each section of the program reflect that aspect. Emily Dickinson’s poetry can be read in the program list. All of the music and almost all of the poetry are by North American composers and poets. Siskiyou Singers will be touring Italy this June and participating in the Alta Pusteria International Choral Festival. American music is what the rest of the world wants to hear from us!

The poems are set to music by the brilliant American composer Alice Parker. Alice Parker sadly passed away on Christmas Eve this past year at the age of 98. We will miss her dearly. In addition to her great contribution to American music, I personally can attest to her warmth and caring for everyone around her.

The first poem by Emily Dickinson speaks about Heaven and its connection to Beauty. The pieces in this section are filled with rich visions of Heaven from the early American experience. At The River is a classic setting by Aaron Copland of an early hymn tune. Bright Morning Stars, arranged in an emotional setting by Shawn Kirchner, recalls our loved ones that have passed. And No Time is a camp meeting song exhorting us to continue our journey to heaven. We conclude the section with the classic spiritual arranged by William Dawson, Ain’a That Good News.

The next poem evokes the beauty of Nature and the impossible task of understanding that beauty. Each of the pieces look at nature from a different view. The Pasture and Choose Something Like a Star are both from the suite of pieces named “Frostiana”, settings of the poetry of Robert Frost by Randall Thompson. maggie and milly and molly and may is a whimsical piece with a deep underlying message. We round out the first half with Don’t Fence Me In by the always clever Cole Porter.

After Intermission, Emily Dickinson’s third poem posits a puzzling idea; one, though, that we may all have experienced. Something beautiful can actually make us sad. Why? The Spirit section of the program explores many disparate emotions. The Cloths of Heaven is a setting of a poem by a lovesick W. B. Yeats. He asks his love not to tread on his dreams. David’s Lamentation and The Boy Who Picked Up His Feet To Fly are settings by the original young composer, Joshua Shank. The emotions of the two pieces range from the depths of despair to the heights of exhilaration. The joy of community is found in the arrangement of the Nootka Paddle Song, a tribal song from the Pacific Northwest arranged by Canadian composer Imant Raminsh.

Sure On This Shining Night, the classic setting of James Agee’s poem by Samuel Barber, helps us contact the wondrous beauty of Infinity, the fourth section of our concert. Emily says that Beauty is Infinity. Brian Tate’s Gate Gate gets to the “heart” of the matter of Infinity with the celebration of the realization that the entire universe is intimately connected. And Of Crows and Clusters is a humorous setting of Vachel Lindsay’s poetry that features two old crows trying to get to the bottom of the question of cause (“caws”) and effect.

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