Concert features Yankee ingenuity in music

By Karen Greer
For the Journal Inquirer
April 24, 2008

MANCHESTER — The New England tradition of innovation inspires Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale’s next concert, “Our New England Heritage”. On Saturday, April 26 th, Chorale Music Director Kevin L. Mack will conduct the MSOC in a performance of American music from three centuries. For this program, Mack has selected works displaying the originality of music composed by, or for, New Englanders.

Daniel Read’s ingenious setting of Down Steers the Bass is from one of the earliest collections of choral music published in New England. Many of these early American songs end with a “fuging tune,” in which each voice sings a similar line independently, joining in harmony at the end. The words of this song describe a chorus whose vocal parts “in s ympathetic strains enchanting wind their restless race, till all the parts are joined.”

The Celestial Country, composed at the very end of the nineteenth century, looks forward to the twentieth. The text exhorts: “Seek the things before you, not a look behind.” While the choral movements reflect the musical styles typical of that time, Ives’s unmistakably modern harmonies can be heard in short organ preludes. Grace Shuman, who was on MSOC’s program committee, says, “When Kevin suggested the Ives, we were very leery because Ives can be very dissonant. This piece is not dissonant at all, and I like it very much. The choruses that we sing run through my head often.”

Ives was an innovator not only in music, but in his successful insurance career as well, which gave him the independence to write music without concern for its popularity. He once said if a composer “has a nice wife and some nice children, how can he let them starve on his dissonances?” Like Ives, MSOC members find it rewarding to add musical activities to their other roles in life. “ I use the music, the preparation and the performance as a way to relax, to get away from the stress of the work day,” says Chorale member Keith Lindstrom. “Concentrating on interpreting the music and the text the way the director wants it interpreted is a release for me.”

American twentieth-century composers often experimented with rhythm and harmony to achieve dramatic effects. While most parts of Randall Thompson’s Americana are clever or humorous, some are, in Thompson’s own words, “ not “pleasant” music.” About one section that describes the execution of four convicted murderers, he wrote: “It is a short, one-act opera, deliberate and macabre — intentionally so.” Chorale member Cindy Trenholm is impressed by the wide emotional range of the work. “I think Thompson has a great way of creating moods with his harmonies and the sounds created by the voices.”

Aaron Copland’s only commission for chorus and orchestra was for one of New England ’s best-known centers of invention, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Canticle of Freedom was performed at the opening of Kresge Auditorium in 1955, its striking design by architect Eero Saarinen echoed by Copland’s sweeping sonorities.

Now in its 48th season, MSOC itself is a tradition sustained by innovation. MSOC’s increasingly diverse repertoire offers new experiences to concertgoers, and the members especially hope it will attract new musicians. “ The selections in a given program are never repetitious, always challenging to both the singer and the listener,” says Lindstrom.

“Our New England Heritage” will be performed on Saturday, April 26th at 7:30 PM at the Church of the Nazarene, 218 Main Street, Manchester, Connecticut. Tickets can be purchased at the door. Prices are 15; $12 for seniors and students, and free for those under 18 years of age. For further information, phone 860-228-2921, E-mail MusicSix [at], or visit the MSOC Web site at