By Kat Boogaard
As a musician, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of tackling a piece of music that’s brand new to you—but there’s something extra special about performing a piece that’s new to everyone.
newVoices is fortunate enough to have that opportunity at our fall issue-based concert, “Aim High: A Musical Conversation About Gun Responsibility.” Three of the selections are so new that they’ve hardly been performed, and our choir has the incredible honor of introducing them to the world on stage at the Lawrence Memorial Chapel.
Which pieces are making their debut right here in Appleton? Below is a brief description of each.
Josh Clausen’s “Requiem”
True artists can find inspiration everywhere, and that’s evident in the hauntingly beautiful piece “Requiem” by Joshua Clausen.
This piece is special, as it’s based on a data sonification—meaning an audio representation of data—that was created by Sophie Chou at Public Radio International. Chou accessed the records of the Gun Violence Archive and used a piano to demonstrate the prevalence of mass shootings in America. In her sonification, each piano note represents a day when a mass shooting occurred. The louder the note, the more people who perished in that tragedy.
Inspired by that moving work, Clausen created “Requiem,” and the recorded data sonification actually plays throughout the piece. The choir repeatedly sings the Latin words, “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. Amen.” which translates to, “Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.”
David Fisher’s “26”
“26” by David Fisher is a gorgeous and moving piece, and the text is taken directly from the poem “26” by Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Griffiths wrote the poem in honor of the 26 lives—those of 20 children and six adult staff members—that were senselessly taken in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December of 2012.
“When I realized the poem had been written in immediate response to the Sandy Hook tragedy, I couldn’t stop reading it,” Fisher told me in an interview. “The more I understood the context of the language, the more poignant each image and emotion became.”
Fisher, who is a Lawrence University graduate himself, originally composed an SSAA arrangement of the piece for Lawrence’s women’s choir, Cantala, which is directed by newVoices’ artistic director and conductor, Phillip Swan. “Being close to many members of the group, I was eager to give them more material that diverges from stereotypically ‘feminine’ treble choir music,” Fisher said. “I knew they would sensitively handle this subject matter, and I felt confident in their technical ability.”
Finding the work to be particularly timely and relevant for our fall concert theme, Swan asked Fisher to revoice the work for SATB mixed choir. “We will be the first choir to perform the SATB version of the piece, and we’ll also have the opportunity to work directly with Fisher in a few rehearsals,” Swan said.
“This performance will be my first time back in Appleton, and at Lawrence, after graduating and moving to Baltimore,” Fisher says. “There is a special comfort and beauty in having a home that continues to support me artistically; it means a lot to participate in these important conversations in a community I have lived in almost my entire life.”
Daniel Elder’s “Absalom”
Daniel Elder’s “Absalom” takes a close look at violence and tragedy throughout history and poses the question: why does this continue to happen?
It’s an incredibly challenging piece of music, clocking in at a total 25 minutes of performance time with five separate movements. The final movement, titled “365” is actually the one that Elder wrote first—in just one afternoon, no less.
“One day after hearing of another mass shooting, I found myself surprised at the realization that I was already resigned to watching the same debate unfold; light shed on yet another identical stalemate, heralded by ‘thoughts and prayers’ and played out until the inevitable closing curtain of ‘second amendment rights,’” Elder says in the foreword to this piece.
“The real shock was that I thought I had a side in all of this, but I found I didn’t want to be in the debate. I would rather change this endless loop of polarized loathing and unfruitful, flawed rhetoric. Thus ‘365’ was born in a single afternoon—an expression of my frustration at our inability to productively address an issue that quietly continues to destroy lives, and the frightening normalization of the whole thing.”
However, Elder didn’t stop there. He wanted to bring an even larger perspective to this work. It was then that he got started on creating “Absalom,” an undeniably huge choral undertaking. “‘Absalom’ adopts a unified starting point then diverges onto two distinct paths: One continuing the Biblical narrative while the other speeds chronologically through history, pausing at significant points which each teach some small lesson to place in context the final arrival at present-day,” he says.
newVoices isn’t the first to perform this piece, as it was premiered by The Thirteen Choir—a group of just 13 vocalists—in Washington, D.C. in May of 2019. But, we are the second group to tackle this daunting challenge, and certainly the first choir of our size to do so.
We’re so looking forward to sharing these incredibly moving pieces at our fall concert, and we hope you’ll join us for this important and timely conversation about an issue that affects us all.
“Aim High: A Musical Conversation About Gun Responsibility” will take place at the Lawrence Memorial Chapel on October 26, 2019 at 7:30PM. Click hereto learn more about this concert and purchase your tickets.