Giving Voice to the Silenced
The acclaimed New Hampshire Master Chorale this month offers the world premiere of a major choral work called Voices of the Silenced that features texts from people representing those whose voices are often suppressed or marginalized.
The Master Chorale commissioned the new work from the internationally acclaimed young Norwegian composer Kim Andre Arnesen. It was funded by a $15,000 contribution from an anonymous donor, a $10,000 grant from the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation, another grant from Choral Arts New England, and individual gifts from the group’s supporters.
In 2017 the Master Chorale performed Arnesen’s The Wound in the Water, a piece that laments our imperiled planet and humanity’s troubled psyche – and celebrates the redemptive, unifying power of music.
Voices of the Silenced furthers the Chorale’s mission to explore emotional and social issues not often tackled in concert halls. The new work gives voice to those jailed for their beliefs, living with HIV, struggling with their personal identity, coping with disability, or enduring other challenges that often go unmentioned.
Each movement of the 40-minute work represents a different voice. The final movement is based on a new poem about a universal dilemma -- the difficulty of being truly seen or heard -- by Euan Tait, a frequent Arnesen collaborator who wrote the libretto for The Wound in the Water.
Chorale Director Dan Perkins, director of choral activities and Stevens-Bristow Distinguished Professor at Plymouth State University, says the Master Chorale is dedicated to the unique power of choral music. “For us this means pushing into new territory in the realm of choral music performance, making statements, and performing at the highest level,” he says.
Master Chorale concerts over the past four years have had themes that featured the narratives of women; the life cycle; the nature of time; the need to heal a wounded world; the necessity of hope in the face of despair; and the nature of hate and answering power of community.
Perkins and a group of Chorale members worked with Arnesen to identify the theme of the commissioned work and select texts. “Even though many of these texts describe challenging situations,” Perkins says, “we were mindful of the need to keep the overall energy and tone of the work hopeful and positive.”
Arnesen’s settings employ lush harmonies and lyrical melodies that maintain that uplifting tone. Perkins says the musical settings “represent the purity and honesty of the speaker’s voice – not asking for pity but just understanding, and a desire to be heard.”
Marjorie Moorhead’s poem Me exemplifies that desire; it’s the basis for the second movement of Voices. She’s an AIDS survivor and the long-term patient of a Dartmouth-Hitchcock doctor who sings in the Master Chorale.
Moorhead, who lives in Lebanon, said AIDS effectively silenced her and required her to grow defenses she likens to a turtle’s hard shell. “The stigma was very strong and it lasted a long time,” she says. “I didn’t want people looking at me with death in their eyes.” Moorhead, who began to write poetry only in her late 50s, was gratified her poem was chosen for the new choral work. “It’s an amazing thing to find your voice,” she says.
In addition to Voices, the upcoming concerts will include:
The Peace of Wild Things, a setting of poet Wendell Berry’s meditation on finding consolation in the company of creatures “who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”
True Colors, a fresh arrangement of a well-known 1980s pop tune that’s become an LGBTQ anthem – but carries a universal message of acceptance.
The Sound of Silence, a lively arrangement of Paul Simon’s 1965 favorite that decries the silence of self-censorship, which “like a cancer grows.”
I Dream a World, a 2012 setting of Langston Hughes’ aspirational 1941 poem that visualizes a society “where man no other man will scorn.”
Concert tickets are available at nhmasterchorale.org as well as at the door. Tickets are free for undergraduates and students in grades K through 12, $25 for seniors, and $30 for general admission. The Master Chorale also has a “pay what you are able” ticket policy to ensure that anyone can attend regardless of financial ability.
Friday, November 22, 7:30 p.m. First Congregational Church, 10 South Park St., Lebanon, NH
Saturday, November 23, 7:30 p.m. First Congregational Church, 117 North Main St., Concord, NH
Sunday, November 24, 4 p.m.
Plymouth Congregational Church, 4 Post Office Sq., Plymouth, NH
Tickets Available Here Via TicketLeap
The New Hampshire Master Chorale, led by Dr. Dan Perkins, is a non-profit choir established in the spring of 2003. This premier chamber ensemble is dedicated to excellence in the art of choral music performance. Members of the group are trained singers, auditioned from throughout New England, who have performed as soloists and in choral ensembles throughout the world. You can get a taste of the NHMC on our SoundCloud page: soundcloud.com/nh-master-chorale or find us on Facebook and twitter: www.facebook.com/NHMasterChorale and twitter.com/nhmasterchorale.