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Dedicated to Linda Radtke, contralto - Middlesex, Vermont
Premiered by Linda Radtke with Judy Wild, violin, Erin McNeely, viola, and Margaret Gilmore, cello
First Congregational Church of Lebanon, New Hampshire, May 20, 2018
The combination of voice and strings is a resonant and highly dramatic idiom. When selecting the lower voice range (Contralto or Baritone), the fullness of the deep sonority envelops the strings in a particularly beautiful way. Thus, the familiar songs presented in this set have depth and weight to their character. And yet there is hope throughout.
In "Lord Jesus, Think on Me," the vocal range is generally low and dark, expressing phrases such as in all my pain and misery, be Thou my breath and life. A contrasting section calls for the melodic line to ascend near the end, with the message of hope in the lyrics that I may eternal brightness see. The voice then returns to the low range, in prayer, as the strings float overhead.
An instrumental interlude connects the first song to the second, "Steal Away." Here the strings play descending scales, marked "as falling tears." The refrains (Steal Away) are generally mournful, with resignation of looking to the next life for solace. However, the verses (My Lord calls me...Green trees abending...I see the lighting) are more animated, making for an inherent duality of sorrow versus anticipation. This is both a peaceful and an active song. At the end, the voice floats off to heaven with My Lord calls me, calls me home.
"Let Us Break Bread Together" focuses on two central images: breaking bread together in communion and falling on one's knees in prayer. The first image speaks the message of healing, and the second reflects humility. Verses one and two are familiar: Let us break bread together...Let us love one another. A new verse is added: Let us rise up together all as one. These words speak to this time of great divisions in our country, when there is a need for strength through unity. The climax is sung with intensity, Lord, have mercy, and then the music fades into a quiet ending...and bring us peace. [This work is dedicated to Heather Heyer, of Charlottesville, Virginia, who gave her life for our mission of tolerance -- of breaking bread together.]
The final song, "Every Time I Feel the Spirit," is truly the most hopeful of the set. The supplicant is not waiting to hear the Lord's calling. Rather, the message is already coming through forcefully! Throughout the song, the colorful lyrics inspire the musical interpretations. For example, in the refrain, the words Every time I feel the spirit, movin' in my heart, I will pray, spark an energetic bass line (a walking bass for the Cello) as the driving force. In one of the verses, the line O River Jordan is chilly and cold is matched by "shivering tremoli" in the strings. An astute listener might hear a train whistle (in Violin) responding to there's only one train runs on this track.
Much energy was put into the creation of this new arrangement. After all, Saint Peter is waiting at Heaven's gate exhorting: COME ON, SISTER, DON'T BE LATE!
Notes by the composer