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Sunday Quarantine Deep-dive June 28, 2020

June 28, 2020

We have developed a system of meeting as a chorus on Sunday nights over the last two month of pandemic life. On zoom, first we have a “guest” instrumentalist or composer, then a social time, including a kahoot game about each section (tonight the tenors), and then we sing the piece of the day, plus “Where There is Light in the Soul” by Elizabeth Alexander, which we will record soon virtually. Tonight I am adding a sing-along for our final event before summer hiatus—We will play our YouTube of “Let the River Run” and sing along (muted of course L).

Tonight’s special guest is composer Lori Laitman. Her piece which I programmed on the “moon” concert is definitely the most challenging musically, so we’ve been having some “sectionals” leading up to tonight’s “sing through.” (Tenors, that’s why yours is at 7 tonight).

Lori’s setting of one of her Art Songs, Partial Lunar Eclipse, for chorus follows logically on last week’s discussion of Richard Hundley’s Moonlight’s Watermelon and Elena Bird’s lovely introduction to Art Song. Here is a recording of baritone Richard Scarlata singing it.

Described by Fanfare Magazine as “one of the most talented and intriguing of living composers,” Lori Laitman has composed multiple operas and choral works, and hundreds of songs, setting texts by classical and contemporary poets (including those who published in the Holocaust). Her music is widely performed, internationally, internationally and throughout the United States, and has generated substantial critical acclaim. The Journal of Singing wrote “It is difficult to think of anyone before the public today who equals her exceptional gifts for embracing a poetic text and giving it new and deeper life through music.” Lori is also the sister of our good friend at Morris Arts, Lynn Siebert!

Lori’s most famous choral piece is Vedem, an oratorio that tells the story of the boys of Terezin and their secret journal Vedem (Czech for “In the Lead”). The Three Feathers is a one-act children’s opera commissioned by The Center for the Arts at VA Tech. Based on a tale by the Brothers Grimm, given a feminist take, the opera presents a young female protagonist, Princess Dora, as its hero. The opera The Scarlet Letter was recently premiered by Opera Colorado and released by Naxos. If you explore Lori’s unofficial biography you can find the inspiring story of how she balanced a music career and raising three children, and how she came to vocal writing and Art Song fairly late in that career.

Lori provides these notes for Partial Lunar Eclipse:

Partial Lunar Eclipse Sept. 7, 2006 sets a poem by Sri Lankan poet Anne Ranasinghe. The song was composed in 2007 for solo voice with piano, the first of two songs of a short cycle entitled And Music Will Not End, commissioned by the Lyrica Society of Word Music Relations. In 2018, the Alexandria Choral Society, under the direction of Brian J. Isaac and the Virginia Choral Society, under the direction of Sarah Gallo, co-commissioned me to re-envision the song for chorus with piano accompaniment.

The poem reflects the mystery and timelessness of the universe, our place in that universe, and Anne’s realization that she was nearing the end of her life. I found the poem to be particularly well-suited to a choral adaptation, with the colors of the additional vocal lines and the richness of the choral adaptation, with the colors of the additional vocal lines and richness of the choral sound helping to create a sense of the vastness of the universe. The piano part proceeds along its own orbit, slightly dissonant and repetitive. Above this the voices glide with several instances of word painting: for example, a small descending motifs associated with the word “slipping”; a quickened pace as the “orb” begins to “sail its lonely journey”; and a climax with a long, loud choral chord emphasizing the idea of a “link with the universe”. As the song draws to a close, the original pacing returns, and the voices and the accompaniment drift off unresolved. Cementing the idea of “no return”.

“No return” could also be biographical of the poet’s early life. Anne Ranasinghe (1925-2016) was born Anneliese Katz in in Essen, Germany. Fearful for her after Kristallnacht, in 1938 her parents sent her away to stay with an aunt in England. Her parents and all other relatives were killed in the Holocaust. Later she left England when she married a Sri Lanken doctor, becoming a citizen in 1956. Sri Lankan blogger Uditha Devapriya  sums it up thus: “the theme she resorted to the most: the thin, fragile line between the past and present, between forgetting and remembering.”

One more thing will aid your understanding of this poem:

pe·num·bra /pəˈnəmbrə/

  1. the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object. ASTRONOMY
  2. the shadow cast by the earth or moon over an area experiencing a partial eclipse. ASTRONOMY
  3. the less dark outer part of a sunspot, surrounding the dark core.

Partial Lunar Eclipse

The eerie drama

of moon and earth and cloud:

an eclipsed orb slipping

from penumbra to umbra

to penumbra, reappearing

newly created, from earth’s shadow,

to sail its lonely journey —

golden, remote, mysterious;

a link with the infinite universe.

I too will slip

from penumbra to umbra, but

while the moon navigates the millennia

for me there will be no return.

Partial Lunar Eclipse, Sept. 7th, 2006 by Anne Ranasinghe(1925-2016).

Used by permission of the poet.

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