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Where Every Voice Is Heard and Songs of Children

January 17, 2012

Birdsong from “Songs of Children” Anonymous 1941

He doesn’t know the world at all
Who stays in his nest and doesn’t go out.
He doesn’t know what birds know best
Nor what I want to sing about
That the world is full of loveliness.

 When dewdrops sparkle in the grass
And earth’s aflood with morning light,
A blackbird sings upon a bush
To greet the dawning after night.
Then I know how fine it is to be alive.

Hey, try to open up your heart
To beauty; go to the woods someday
And weave a wreath of memory there.
Then if the tears obscure your way
You’ll know how wonderful it is
To be alive. 

CHAW has a rich creative history, most obvious in the visual and performance arts that have come to life inside and beyond its walls.  CHAW has also served as the inspiration for “Where Every Voice Is Heard,” a suite of four songs that Jeffery Watson composed on the occasion of CHAW’s 30th Anniversary.  Watson was CHAW’s Executive Director at the time and in collaboration with Laura Mitchell wrote lyrics and music that joyously confirm CHAW’s mission (building community through the arts) and vision (a place where the arts connect and transform).

The Capitol Hill Chorale with CHAW’s Capitol Hill Youth Chorus performed the premiere of “Where Every Voice Is Heard” on October 5, 2002.  Subsequently, it was performed for CHAW’s 35th Anniversary by the Lesbian & Gay Chorus of Washington, D.C. and it will be offered again on February 12, 2012, 4 PM, at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church as part of a concert celebrating CHAW’s 40th Anniversary Year.  A community chorus formed in October 2011 has been rehearsing under the direction of C. Paul Heins in preparation for the February 12thconcert, when Jeffery Watson will conduct the chorus in performance.  CHAW’s Capitol Hill Youth Chorus will also be performing as part of “Where Every Voice Is Heard” and will offer its own set.  The concert will include performances by a cappella ensemble Not What You Think, David Lazere, a student in CHAW’s private music studio, and the newly-formed Children’s Honor Chorus from Brent Elementary.  Just before the concert from 3:15-3:45 PM, Convery and Watson will offer perspectives on their choral works moderated by Peter DiMuro, CHAW’s Creative Consultant for Special Projects.

Also on the program are six selections from Robert Convery’s “Songs of Children” – a cantata in memory of all children who perished in the Holocaust.   The texts for “Songs of Children” are poems written by children who were interned at the Terezin concentration camp.  The cantata was commissioned by The New York Concert Singers; its premiere was April 21, 1991.  Convery is known for his writing for the voice; his music is characterized by his musical lyricism, rhythmic vitality, keen harmonic sense, and transparent textures.  “Songs of Children” received its Washington, D.C. premiere at the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on April 16, 1993.

I suppose that one might be puzzled at first about the wisdom of programming these two pieces together as the keystone of a celebratory concert.  As the person who suggested the program and as someone who has sung both pieces and knows both composers, it made sense to me.  It seemed necessary to sing both compositions to create a meaningful celebration of CHAW’s work.  The somber subject matter of the Holocaust is difficult to bear.  The beauty of Convery’s musical composition and the crystalline words of the children encourage us to face difficult questions and realities.  Watson’s joy unveils a world where children are encouraged to play and fully articulate their artistic souls.  Listening to both pieces, the singer/audience member is asked to  hold two thoughts at the same time:   that one child’s experience is eating “black potatoes” and living in filth while thinking s/he has “smiled by some mistake,”and that another’s is “experiencing the wisdom of play,” “rippling, trippling, hollering, jollering, huddling, muddling, rollicking, frolicking.”  The contrast makes us remember, provides context, and calls us to action.  We may have much to celebrate, but clearly our work is not done.

Home from “Where Every Voice Is Heard” by Jeffery Watson

To seek
in art,
the soul,
the heart,
a life to live as one.

To dream
a world,
a home,
a place
where every voice is heard.

To dream
a world,
a place,
a home,
a life we live as one. 

Thanks to Paul Heins, Barbara Schelstrate, and the singers of the 40thAnniversary Chorus who have worked so diligently and musically to bring these pieces to life.  Thank you Jeffery and Bob for the gift of your compositions.  The 40th Anniversary Chorus was made possible by a gift to CHAW from the Lesbian & Gay Chorus of Washington, D.C., which ceased operations in June 2010, after 26 years of singing boldly in our community. 

-Jill Strachan

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