We sing a broad spectrum of great choral music from the 16th century to the present, including Renaissance motets, newly commissioned choral works, world folk music, traditional college songs, and the great choral orchestral masterworks.
I. New Music
Angélica Negrón – Paradise (Composed for the 2019-20 Yale Glee Club)
In advance of the Glee Club’s concert tour to Puerto Rico later this season, we have commissioned a new work for SATB choir and electronic soundscape by Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón. Negron writes of this work in progress, ”Paradise explores the effects of systems of colonial oppression by using words that the early colonizers used to describe Puerto Rico as well as it’s inhabitants. Most of the text for the piece comes from words taken from ‘A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies’ by the Spanish friar Bartolomé de las Casas (1542) as well as other chronicles by Fray Iñigo Abbad y Lasierra (1788) which talk about the mistreatment of and atrocities committed against the indigenous peoples of the Americas in colonial times. The electronic soundscape that accompanies the chorus is comprised of micro-samples from various travelogue videos from the 40’s & 50’s depicting life in Puerto Rico and visits from the US Army to the island.”
Reena Esmail – Tuttarana
The title of this piece is a conglomeration of two words: the Italian word ‘tutti’, means ‘all’ or ‘everyone’, and the term ‘tarana’ designates a specific Hindustani (North Indian) musical form, whose closest Western counterpart is the ‘scat’ in jazz. Made up of rhythmic syllables, a tarana is the singer’s chance to display agility and dexterity. While a Hindustani tarana is a solo form, I wanted to bring the tarana into an ensemble setting.
Tuttarana was commissioned by the Mount Holyoke College Glee Club for their 2014-15 season, and has since been performed across the US, also in arrangements for SATB and brass quintet.
An addendum: Three years after I wrote this piece, the #metoo movement, created by Tarana Burke broke on social media. It occurred to me that the title of this piece, if read a different way, literally means “We are all Tarana.” I couldn’t believe the incredible coincidence that this work, a powerful 3-minute tidal wave of sound, written for an all-female ensemble from the oldest women’s college in the country, bore this name. I’m so grateful for what this movement has done to move the discussion forward about the horrors we face as women, and how we can begin to change and heal our society.
- Reena Esmail
Caroline Shaw – And the swallow
A deep breath and then—How beloved—an assertion in a unified major chord that something is good. But then a yearning upward movement together, a minor plea, because the dwelling place of the Lord of Hosts is not yet the dwelling place of the psalmist. Then the voices are scattered. The soul faints, the heart and flesh cry and dissolve into desperate hums, yet the voices persist in their upward, yearning journey. “The sparrow found a house”—perhaps so will we.
Caroline Shaw’s and the swallow takes its text from the 84th Psalm, one of the 150 set for Lincoln’s Center’s “The Psalms Experience” in 2017 as part of its annual White Light Festival. In an interview with NPR, Shaw said she was inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis to choose this psalm that expresses both joy and longing for home. The Psalm and the piece center around the image of mother birds seeking a place to nest and lay their young—a place to protect their families. Shaw’s piece seems to offer hope to the painful experience of refugee families: hope in the reality of a beloved home and future rest even in a time of wandering.
Like nearly all of the Biblical Psalms, Psalm 84 is precariously balanced on the paradox of faith and doubt, its poetry both crying out and praising. This balance is embodied in Shaw’s desperately beautiful melody that echoes through the desolate-sounding “Valley of Bakka”. But perhaps both desperation and certainty are required to actually draw water from the earth. As the voices stagger from triplet to eight-note rhythms and scramble over tritones, they weave a beautiful braid of sound. Finally, in a moment of humble triumph, “they make it a place of springs,” and the piece cycles back to the hope of the first chord. The final image is one of utter refreshment: a place of springs, pools of water formed by autumn rains. The strained hummings melt into consonants of “na” like rain water. Perhaps this is the beloved dwelling place.
Caroline Shaw’s setting of Psalm 84 is profoundly moving, as stories of hardship and hope have always been. Maybe this time, we will be moved to act with the same faith and desperation as those who have passed through the Valley of Bakka, whose faith is stronger because they have had every reason to give up.
-Raquel Sequeira ‘21
II. On Peace
Keane Southard - Dona nobis pacem (Winner, 2019 YGC Emerging Composers Competition)
Dona nobis pacem is the winner of the Yale Glee Club’s 2019 Emerging Composers Competition, and was premiered by the ensemble in October, 2019 under the direction of YGC assistant conductor Daniel Tucker. Composer Keane Southard writes, “I frequently hear music in my dreams, but often it is too complex for me to remember upon waking. However, over the past several years, there have been a handful of times when I have been able to remember some of the music in a dream and transcribe it upon waking. The alto melody that opens my Dona Nobis Pacem is one such example, and in this case the melody and words came together from my dream. I’m not sure when exactly this dream happened, but my guess is that it was in the summer or fall of 2012. Shortly after, I worked out the soprano opening melody, but this then sat in my notebook until November 2014 when I approached it again and completed this setting. It wasn’t until having nearly completed this piece when I realized that the opening and closing sections are actually in the form of a canon just like the well-known traditional ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ setting that is often attributed to Palestrina or Mozart.”
Traditional African-American spiritual, arr. Stacey Gibbs – Down by the Riverside
“Gonna Lay Down My Burden”, is a classic spiritual that predates the American Civil War. After being passed down through oral and cultural tradition for centuries, the song was formally written down and published in 1918, in the book Plantation Melodies: A Collection of Modern, Popular and Old-time Negro-Songs of the Southland, and first recorded by the Fisk Jubilee Singers (of which Glee Club’s very own Devin’s father and grandfather were members!).
The spiritual, despite its somewhat turbulent roots, evokes a sense of peace in the words “I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield”, “I ain’t gonna study war no more”, and “I’m gonna lay my burden down.” These are statements of purpose, declarations that evince a reclamation of peace and identity in a tumultuous world of slavery. The river itself represents not only a return to nature, but also a potential pathway to freedom for those trapped in the clutches of slavery in the South.
The river is also a place of cleansing, and in adopting this identity also carries religious connotations. T.S. McMillan, in his book The Meaning of Rivers: Flow and Reflection in American Literature, writes, “the riverside of the song suggests baptism in the holy waters of the New Testament and also evokes the Old Testament crossing of the river Jordan into the Promised Land, “the fulfillment of the covenant” and the promise of rebirth.” The promise of rebirth highlighted in the religious imagery echoes the same purpose mentioned above: a reclamation of peace. The singers return to the river in jubilance, not in strife.
The Glee Club will be singing a traditional arrangement of the piece by Stacey V. Gibbs, an internationally acclaimed arranger of spirituals, as well as a renowned choral conductor. We hope you enjoy, as you lay your burdens down and listen.
-Malini Wimmer ‘22
Heinrich Schütz – Verleih uns Frieden
Verleih uns Frieden genadiglich was writen by Heinrich Schütz in 1648. Heinrich Schütz was a German composer born in 1585 in Köstritz. His musical talent was discovered when he was only 14 when Moritz von Hessen-Kassel, a member of the German nobility, heard him sing at an inn and insisted he be sent to continue his education at the court. He continued to study as a vocalist and an organist and worked as a court composer to the Elector of Saxony in Dresden. During this time, he became one of the most important composers of the 17th century and is still considered the most important German composer before Johann Sebastian Bach. Most of his music was written for a religious context, and he was frequently commissioned by the Lutheran Church, the Electoral Chapel, in Dresden. Verleih uns Frieden genadiglich was one of these works, setting a text by Martin Luther. The translation means “Grant us merciful peace, Lord God, in our time: there is no other who could do battle for us.” This text is set against music featuring counterpoint and imitation, recalling Renaissance polyphony while looking ahead to the baroque.
-Maya Ingram ‘23
Sydney Guillaume – Dominus vobiscum
Sydney Guillaume realizes his piece Dominus Vobiscum as not a direct invocation to God, but rather a narration of the human search for divine power and a calling to our ability to find it within us should we “search, seek, and ask.” While the text of the piece is primarily in Guillaume’s native Haitian Creole, the refrain Dominus Vobiscum is a Latin phrase translating to “The Lord be with you,” inflected by the piece, I believe, to mean decisively that higher wisdom is always with us.
What fascinates me most about this piece is its ability to travel through so many rhythmically, harmonically, and thematically distinct movements while orbiting this idea of constancy. The movements bounce between phrases of question and answer, both in a lyrical sens - asking when the light will come, declaring, “he is among us”- and in a musical sense, with commanding homophony and unconventionally warm resolutions. It is as if the piece is leading us through the course of one’s life as they look for, find, lose sight of, and search yet again for God, discovering answers they didn’t know to ask and questions persistent through generations.
From a standpoint either religious, secular, or spiritual, Dominus Vobiscum is a moving representation of looking inward to find both questions and answers at different points in our lives, inviting us to accept this plurality of paths to understanding. Through this clarity can we deliver to ourselves and others what Guillaume phrases beautifully as “the light of peace, truth, joy, hope, love, and life.”
-Hannah Morrison ‘23
III. Whitman Settings
Timothy Snyder – Shine
This piece was commissioned in 2012 by the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of its founding. Composed by Timothy Snyder, a distinguished composer, chorusmaster, and music educator at Jacksonville University (and a former interim conductor of the Yale Glee Club), this piece for tenor and bass voices generates its artistic force from the text to which it is set— a short segment from Walt Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking”, originally published in the 1860 edition Leaves of Grass under the title “A Word Out of the Sea.”
Whitman’s astounding text in free lyrical verse tells the story of a young boy’s poetic awakening. The boy sits in the company of singing birds and whispering sea, cultivating his own natural literacy. The poetic persona of the boy can, for the first time, translate the tales of boundless joy and aching pain emanating from all corners of the world he occupies.
Shine gets its text from one short segment of the poem: an aria sung by two in-love birds and translated by the boy. The two lovers sit atop their nest and bask in the radiance of the sun, caring only for the gift of the moment.
One should listen for Synder’s text painting, as the shape and texture of the music mold to the literal meaning of the text. Vocal lines wend past each other and eventually converge to unencumbered unison as the two lovers ‘bask’; harmonies travel from bright to dark as the voices imagine day and night; rhythm and tempo break down as the birds lose track of time.
- Josh Brooks ‘21
Missy Mazzoli – As Long As We Live
According to the composer, “As Long As We Live began its life as a song for singer/pianist/composer Gabriel Kahane. The text, by Walt Whitman, is an excerpt from ‘Song of the Open Road,’ which first appeared in his 1856 collection Leaves of Grass. The original version of As Long As We Live was generously commissioned by Linda and Stuart Nelson.” The version of the work performed by the Glee Club is for soprano and alto chorus, and was premiered by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus in 2012.
René Clausen – The Last Invocation
Walt Whitman—America’s central poetic predecessor and the father of its literary sublime—chants in The Last Invocation an inward prayer for release: a release from the body, a release from interiority, and a release from the bounds of the poet’s mortal transience. This is a “death poem,” read simply. But, as René Clausen’s musical setting gestures, it reads less as elegy than as benediction—a transformation, and an opening.
From gently-rising tones, Clausen weaves an ethereal melody. Whitman’s invocation (from the Latin invocare, “to call upon”) is a summoning of the inner daemon, mirrored in this musical setting by the soaring ascent of the word “wafted.” Both Clausen’s airy phrases and Whitman’s verbiage recall the image of effusion from the finale of his dominant poem, Song of Myself:
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
But despite both Whitman and Clausen’s graceful presentation, the soul’s effusion encounters conflict. The gravity of “flesh” and “love” anchors the soul definitively, and frustrates its attempt to “glide noiselessly forth.” Notice the dissonance that shades the melody when it moves toward the “well-closed doors.” And listen, too—in Clausen’s final progressions—as the choir’s lower voices beckon for an opening, for an anxious alto line: the tense persistence on the word “tenderly,” as if our speaker fears the opposite, a violence between the self and the soul.
The soul and Whitman’s truest concept of his own being often stand at odds. In the fifth canto of Song of Myself, “the other I am” is this real self:
I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.
This seeming incompatibility between both entities is present in The Last Invocation and in Clausen’s composition. The question, then, is whether our speaker succeeds in ushering his soul beyond the doors of the self, despite the contest.
Whitman acknowledges the challenge inherent in that act, which requires that the soul “Be not impatient.” And while the musical transposition omits this phrase, its effect remains. The choir addresses the self and the body, repeating beautifully, “Strong is your hold.” Then, the melody dwells deeply in the rich chords of flesh and love, and there resolves to end.
The Glee Club sings this piece, along with two other works set to Whitman’s writing, to mark the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth.
-Andrew Ballard ‘20
IV. Folk and popular traditions
Rafael Hernández Marin, arr. Guarionex Morales Matos – El Cumbanchero
Rafael Hernández Marín (1892-1965) was one Puerto Rico’s most prolific songwriters, specializing in Puerto Rican canción, bolero, and guaracha styles and writing both vocal and instrumental pieces. Marín played music starting in his early childhood, beginning formal studies under Jose Ruellan Lequenica and Jesús Figueroa at the age of 12. He learned multiple instruments and played in an orchestra in San Juan. In 1917, upon the start of World War I, he and his brother Jesús were recruited to join the 369th Infantry “Harlem Hell Fighters,” an African American regimental band of the US Army headed by Jason Moran that played American jazz throughout Europe during the war. Following the war, Marín moved to New York City where he began writing the songs that have made him well-known today. He eventually moved back to Puerto Rico where he continued composing and conducting for the remainder of his life.
Marín’s piece El Cumbanchero was first released by Marga Llergo and Antonio Escobar in 1946, and went on to inspire President John F. Kennedy to give Marín the nickname “Mr. Cumbanchero.” “Cumbanchero” has been translated to mean both fun-lover and someone who dances to Latin American “cumbia” music. The lyrics speak of exciting, rhythmic music being played by a bongo player, mirrored in Marín’s upbeat, rhythmic composition.
The present arrangement is written by Guarionex Morales Matos, a Puerto Rican composer who co-directs Orfeón San Juan Bautista, a professional choir that the Glee Club will share a concert with on their upcoming tour to Puerto Rico. His arrangement uses interlocking rhythmic patterns and percussive text to mimic the sound of the bongo. This sound is enhanced by the accompaniment of bongo and clave in the Glee Club’s performance.
-Brooke Milosh ‘21
Traditional chantey, arr. Marshall Bartholomew - Shenandoah
A classic American folk song closely identified with Yale, Shenandoah in Marshall Bartholomew’s male chorus arrangement was the first song published in G. Schirmer’s Yale Glee Club Series (1927). It was not included in a Yale song anthology, however, until the present edition. Its origins are shrouded in uncertainty, with multiple explanations offered for its meaning and even its ethnic derivation (French, Irish, and African American have been suggested). Although it evolved and was popularized as a sea chantey, the song most likely originated as a land ballad in the 1820s around the Missouri and Mississippi River valleys. The name “Shenandoah” may refer to the river that courses through West Virginia and Virginia or, more likely, to an Indian chief whose daughter was the object of a white trader’s love according to the original ballad’s extended verses. Regardless of the circumstances of its creation, it had been adopted as a capstan chantey (see “Away to Rio”) by the time of the lyrics’ first publication in a Harper’s magazine article in 1882. The “-doah” ending is sung on one syllable in performance.
- Timothy DeWerff ‘92
Marin, arr. Matos – Preciosa
Traditional freedom song, arr. Jeffrey Douma – Woke Up This Morning
Woke Up This Morning was originally a spiritual (“Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Jesus”). Like many freedom songs of the civil rights era of the 1960’s, its words were adapted to more specifically reflect the goals of the civil rights movement, in this case by freedom riders imprisoned in the Hinds County Jail. This new arrangement was composed for the 2015-16 Yale Glee Club.
Choral Orchestral Works
GF Handel - Messiah
WA Mozart - Requiem, KV. 626
Ludwig van Beethoven - Choral Fantasy
Julia Wolfe - Newly commissioned work TBA