May Victory Be Yours! - the journey of choral recovery
For the Children's Chorus of Carroll County's Spring Concert 2022, I programmed a set of two very contrasting pieces for Cantare Bel Canto II, CCCC's most advanced ensemble.
One was a beautiful setting by Andrea Ramsey of the Langston Hughes poem "Dream Keeper." The accompaniment for this SSAA piece was scored for piano, vibraphone, and wind chimes.
The second selection was Ethan Sperry's challenging arrangement of "Jai Ho" by Indian composer A. R. Rahman. With vocals splitting in up to 11-part divisi during the song, the only accompaniment was the driving rhythms of a quartet of Indian percussionists.
But, for me, there was a unifying storyline through these two songs.
In the inside cover of the choral octavo for "Dream Keeper," the biographical information provided about the poet Langston Hughes concludes, "Hughes understood the great power which lies in dreams and their capacity to lift people from unfortunate circumstances to a better life. He also knew that tattered dreams could crush the human spirit, preventing people from achieving all of their potential."
"The Dream Keeper" by Langston Hughes Bring me all of your dreams, You dreamer, Bring me all your Heart melodies, That I may wrap them In a blue cloud-cloth Away from the too-rough fingers Of the world.
These past few years, our lives - and our "heart melodies" - have certainly been touched by many "too-rough fingers." But, as another Langston Hughes poem implores us, we continue to "hold fast to hope." It is with hope that we find the strength to persevere.
The Hindi phrase "Jai Ho" is a shout for victory - a strong hope for victory to prevail. Composer A. R. Rahman said that he conceptualized this song as "a vision of the whole world celebrating this victory."
The poetic text of this song paints a picture of living with determination and persevering through trials. It goes even further with a call to dance, regardless of what problems there may be. And, it urges, "Taste it, taste it."
Pause and savor this moment together.
As I know is the case for most choirs around the world, my choir and our members have faced - and are still facing - many hardships as we slowly work to rebuild and recover after all that was lost. Even just learning the pitches and rhythms of "Jai Ho" this spring was a significant challenge for us, as our skills of musical independence and artistic interpretation are still recovering.
But, you know what? We did what choirs always do.
We leaned on each other. We carried each other through.
May victory prevail! May victory be yours!
We are in this all together. And, all together, we hope, we persevere, and we prevail.
Maybe we haven't fully reached our victory yet. But... maybe the victory itself isn't really the victory we need right now anyway.
Our victory - our impetus for dancing - is our rekindled connection. That is our focus. The connection of our hearts. Of our voices. Of our hope.
This is what I have savored most this past year. It's something that I always knew I loved about choral music-making, but somehow I also just took it for granted at times.
Choir is such a special place.
As always, but especially now as we continue to strive forward, the victory is who we are and who we become individually and corporately as we pursue our victory together - as we stand together and face the "too-rough fingers of the world" with a unified shout of "Jai Ho!"