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Download an MP3 file of a performance of this work by the "Feminine Tone" Chorus, Maricel Lucero, conductor.
Commissioned by the Portsmouth Women’s Chorus to celebrate their 20th season: 1985-2005
Premiered by the Portsmouth Women’s Chorus and the Voices of AIR Young Women’s Chorus, Priscilla Stevens French, Music Director, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
The program notes for this song will be autobiographical.
Several years ago, I attended a Quaker Meeting in Lake Worth, Florida. This particular Meeting evolved into a dramatic experience. Two of the members, a middle aged man and woman, had recently been married (second marriages for both), with the Meeting’s blessing. Now, it seemed, the marriage was not working.
First one, then the other member of the couple stood up to speak to the Meeting. The man asked that the Meeting, which had blessed the wedding, now assume the role of holding the marriage together. The women spoke quite briefly, saying that she and her new husband had strong differences, and that she did not feel that the marriage would or should last.
The tension in the Meeting was extreme. As we waited for some sign of decision or reconciliation, one older woman very quietly began to sing the song “I’ve Got Peace Like a River.” Everyone felt a calmness descend upon the room. And, the married couple eventually found their own path, to reconciliation or separation, in a peaceful way.
Remembering this experience, I have always felt that ”I’ve Got Peace...” was a song of healing and of guidance. Each verse offers a different means for coping with life’s stressful times. Therefore, in writing this work whereby the adult women share their wisdom with younger women, I wanted to incorporate this familiar song.
Words of Strength takes the form of a dialogue between the generations. Young women turn to the adult women for the knowledge and experience to overcome difficult times. “I have no confidence. I am frightened. I am lost.” The women answer by singing verses of “I’ve Got Peace Like a River.” The generations alternate in their singing, with the younger voices joining in with the adults as the message becomes clear. By the end, the two choruses sing together: “We can find the words to build a life of hope.”
Notes by the composer