As he began the process of putting together this spring’s concert program, all Genesee Chorale Director Ric Jones could sense was turmoil in the world. He felt that there was a large divide in the world, a divide that seemed to grow larger every day. He wanted to counteract that divide and encourage people to embrace unity and peace.
Thus was born “The Call of Humanity,” a mix of contemporary, Gospel, choral and classical music, including the debut of one piece written specifically for the Genesee Chorale.
“I tried to do a variety of mini-themes within the program,” says Jones. “Prayer,” in the words of Mother Teresa, is about helping the needy. Other selections, such as “We Shall Overcome,” “Harriet Tubman” and “MLK,” address civil rights and some of the mega figures who have had an impact on that movement. The lyrics of “Across the Bridge of Hope” come from a poem written by a group of young friends in Ireland; one of the boys was killed in the fighting shortly after their poem was written.
Two pieces form the foundation of the concert program, “Song of the Universal” by Ola Gjeilo from a Walt Whitman poem, and “The Waking,” written for the Genesee Chorale by Composer-in-Residence Daniel Baldwin from a Theodore Roethke poem.
“Song of the Universal” was the first piece to “grab” Jones as he went through the selection process. “The text is beautiful,” he said, “and I love the composer. I kept going back to it. I decided I’d make it the centerpiece.”
“The Waking” stems from Jones’ desire to find “something different that inspires the Chorale and brings the community into Chorale.”
Luckily, GO ART! grant money was available, so, with the blessing of the Chorale’s Board, Jones began the fun and frustrating process of choosing text and composer for an original piece. He and his wife, Karen, pored over “a ton of different poems,” but kept coming back to Theodore Roethke’s famous poem. “I liked the rhythm in the text,” says Jones, “and I like the overall message.”
The text was also an inspiration for Baldwin, the composer chosen by Jones.
“The majority of text chosen for me to set is older and in the public domain,” Baldwin said in an e-mail interview. “The poem (Jones) sent was contemporary and very well done, but also spoke to me in a way I was not expecting. When writing vocal or choral music, text is the most important element and must flow naturally (speech, even conversational speech, has its own rhythms, etc.).”
For Baldwin, the text is the beginning.
“I always write out the poem by hand and apply rhythms to the text based on what feels natural when reading the poem aloud,” he said. “Then, based on the message and perceived mood of the poem, I assign themes to these rhythms, harmonize, etc. It’s a process!”
Baldwin hopes that people “read through the wonderful text in advance of hearing the piece. A vocal or choir performance is the musical equivalent to a dramatic reading. I set the poem how I heard it and how the text affected me. I hope the audience enjoys my interpretation.”
Jones has published some of Baldwin’s other works as part of his Imagine Music business.
“I love his music,” he said, “and I’ve watched him evolve. His music feels cinematic to me usually – that epic sound with grandiose chords. I wanted to see what he’d do with this text.”
What Baldwin did was surprise Jones.
“This was more on the contemporary side,” Jones said. “It is different than I expected, and the first time I heard it, I went ‘hmmm,’ but as I listened, there was something haunting about that motif.” It is, he notes, a challenging piece and Chorale members have had to work hard to prepare it for the concert.
Concerts are at 7 p.m. May 4 at St. James Church and at 4 p.m. May 6 at Pavilion Junior-Senior High School Auditorium, 7014 Big Tree Road., Pavilion. Presale tickets cost $8 and are available from Chorale members or online at GeneseeChorale.com. Tickets at the door cost $10.