"All Souls" A World Premiere Choral-Orchestral Work by Scott Gendel

On Sunday, April 28, 2013, the All Souls Choir and Chamber Orchestra premiered a new choral-orchestral work by award-winning composer Scott Gendel. Commissioned by All Souls Church and written specifically for the All Souls Choir, this 35-minute work sets texts by Langston Hughes, Wendell Berry, and William Ellery Channing, and explores a vision of the beloved community and the broken world that we are called to heal as members of the great family of all souls. You can find more information about performing this work on Scott Gendel's website.

The Composer

Scott Gendel, composer of "All Souls"

Scott Gendel is a professional freelance composer and accompanist / vocal coach / music director living in Southwest Virginia. His music has been published by E.C. Schirmer and the Tuba-Euphonium Press, and upcoming publications are scheduled with Classical Vocal Reprints. Recordings of Scott's art songs are available on Naxos and on Albany Records. He was also the first ever winner, in 2005, of the ASCAP / Lotte Lehmann Foundation Song Cycle Competition. This year, Scott's choral setting of Walt Whitman's "The Last Invocation" was the winner of the international Vanguard Voices Choral Composition Contest.

Scott is currently the official company pianist and coach for the Madison Opera. This summer, he’ll be in central Virginia, serving as musical director for Endstation Theatre’s summer season. He received his doctoral degree in composition from the University of Wisconsin—Madison, where he also designed and taught an undergraduate composition curriculum as part of the faculty. Scott's recent commissions include the full-length music theatre work UNEARTHED for the 2013 Blue Ridge Summer Theatre Festival and a song cycle for soprano and cello to be premiered in multiple cities in 2014.

When he’s not composing on commission, or traveling for various musical endeavors, Scott is an at-home dad to his two amazing little girls, Lotte and Twyla, while his lovely wife Kelly teaches in the theatre department at Emory & Henry College. Visit www.scottgendel.com for more information and news of upcoming performances.

The Texts

I. My People

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

--Langston Hughes

CLIP - Gendel - 1 - My People.mp3

 

II. I Dream a World

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom's way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!

--Langston Hughes

CLIP - Gendel - 2 - I Dream a World.mp3

 

III. Dreamer

I take my dreams and make of them a bronze vase
and a round fountain with a beautiful statue in its center.
And a song with a broken heart and I ask you:
Do you understand my dreams?
Sometimes you say you do,
And sometimes you say you don't.
Either way it doesn't matter.
I continue to dream.

--Langston Hughes

CLIP - Gendel - 3 - Dreamer.mp3

 

IV. Look Out

Come to the window, look out, and see
  the valley turning green in remembrance
  of all springs past and to come, the woods
  perfecting with immortal patience
  the leaves that are the work of all of time,
  the sycamore whose white limbs shed
  the history of a man's life with their old bark,
  the river quivering under the morning's breath
  like the touched skin of a horse, and you will see
  also the shadow cast upon it by fire, the war
  that lights its way by burning the earth.

Come to your windows, people of the world,
  look out at whatever you see wherever you are,
  and you will see dancing upon it that shadow.
  You will see that your place, wherever it is,
  your house, your garden, your shop, your forest, your farm,
  bears the shadow of its destruction by war
  which is the economy of greed which is plunder
  which is the economy of wrath which is fire.
  The Lords of War sell the earth to buy fire,
  they sell the water and air of life to buy fire.
  Their intention to destroy any place is solidly founded
  upon their willingness to destroy every place.
  Their power is the willingness to destroy
  everything for knowledge which is money
  which is power which is victory
  which is ashes sown by the wind.

Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
  go into the streets, go into the fields, go into the woods
  and along the streams. Go together, go alone.
  Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
  which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
  to the air, to the earth, to the trees,
  yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
  and the animals and every living thing, yes
  to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes. 

--Wendell Berry

CLIP - Gendel - 4 - Look Out.mp3

 

V. All Souls

I am a living member of the great family of all souls,
and cannot improve or suffer myself
without diffusing good or evil around me
through an ever-enlarging sphere. 
I belong to this family.
I am bound to it by vital bonds.
I am always exerting an influence on it.
I can hardly perform an act that is confined
in its consequence to myself. 
Others are affected by what I am, and say, and do,
so a single act of mine may spread
and spread in widening circles,
through a nation or humanity.

--William Ellery Channing

CLIP - Gendel - 5 - All Souls.mp3

 

Program Note (a personal narration by Scot Hanna-Weir)

A year ago, I had the pleasure of leading the All Souls Choir and chamber orchestra in a performance of the Vaughan Williams Dona Nobis Pacem. In selecting a larger choral work for the choir to tackle, I had explored much of the choral/orchestral repertoire, searching for pieces that were particularly appropriate for our Unitarian/Universalist faith, our congregation, and our choir. The list of “perfect pieces” was not long, and the Vaughan Williams was at the top of the list. So after an incredibly rewarding experience rehearsing and performing this work, the question immediately became, what could we do next year?

While there are still many excellent extant works for our choir to explore, the possibility of commissioning a new work emerged. It could be something that was specific to our ensemble, and specific to our church and congregation. Could we find a composer and create a new work that would speak to the essence of All Souls Church and our Unitarian/Universalist faith?

I had become friends with Scott Gendel when I was a masters student at the University of Madison. Scott was completing a DMA in composition and singing in the choral ensembles. While I was there, I had the opportunity to see his first opera premiere and to sing several of his pieces. He is also a fantastic pianist (still regularly accompanying for Madison Opera, though he lives in Virginia), and he also played for several of my choral performances. I had long hoped of having the opportunity to work with him on a commission, and thought that this might be just that opportunity. When I approached Scott about the chance to write for us, he was as excited as I was. Rob Hardies, Tom Colohan, Scott Gendel and I all began meeting over the summer and discussing texts and ideas for what a piece written for All Souls would look like.

After an exciting discussion about themes and poets that particularly speak to us, we had some broad ideas and sent Scott away to cull and cultivate a concept for the work. What he came back with is a five-movement cantata that speaks to what is the essential task of humanity, and specifically as us, members of the great family of all souls. The central text, the larger quote from which we gather our church’s tagline, “I am a living member of the great family of all souls” became the kernel for the work. Scott chose, three Langston Hughes poems for the beginning of the work, and a massive Wendell Berry poem as the dramatic centerpiece.

All Souls is first a vision of the world as we would like to see it. The world is beautiful, as are the people in it, and what is within those people. The second poem is a dream of a world where we live together in peace and respect. But the third Hughes text is a beginning of disintegration. While these visions may be of the world we wish, there is a real darkness that that permeates what is around us, and we must hold fast to the dreams we have.

The Wendell Berry is a tripartite poem (adapted her by the composer) beginning first with the vision—a continuation of the vision set up by Hughes dreams. There is a beautiful world full of life and the passing of time. But you will also see the shadow in this world, cast by war, greed, wrath and the other corrupting forces that act upon us. Berry then calls us to respond. In the first two sections of the poem we have come to the windows and looked out. We looked out at beauty and we saw destruction, but now we are called to leave our windows, and go out into the world.

…Go together, go alone.
Say no to the Lords of War…
Say no by saying yes.

This is how we act as members of the family. The great family of all souls is called not just to observe the world in all that makes it good, and in all that casts its shadow. We are called to action and service. “I am a living member of the great family of all souls, and cannot improve or suffer myself without diffusing good or evil around me through an ever-enlarging sphere.” What we do has an effect, not just on ourselves, but also on the world around us.

Scot Hanna-Weir, All Souls Choir Director