Songs For The People

Bosque Chorale audience taps, hums and sings along with Bosque Civic Music Association Spring Concert at the BAC’s Frazier Performance Hall

CLIFTON – Twice a year – in the spring and in the winter – under the direction of Maestro David Anavitarte, the Bosque Chorale brings magnificently sung music to its audience. And they like to mix up inspirational pieces with deep meaning with some lighter fare.

Bosque Arts Center’s Civic Music Association’ Bosque Chorale presented “Songs of the People,” in the Frazier Performance Hall last Thursday night. Besides the 42 voices, the concert featured two pianists, two violinists, a viola, a cello and a bass that performed a treasured collection songs familiar to all – Songs of the People by composer Stephen Foster (1826-1864). The orchestra truly enhanced the vocal instruments of the choir.

“The BCMA’s vision is to bring music into our community,” BCMA President Donna Jarman said in her welcome. “We hope to take you down memory lane with songs to enjoy. Feel free to tap, hum and even sing along.”

Setting the tone for the evening, and audience participation, Musical Director David Anavitarte like to start the choral’s musical evenings with everyone singing “Amazing Grace” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” “This is our music; the music of the Americas,” Anavitarte said. “A lot of the songs came from ‘across the pond.’”

The first three songs – “The Shanty Boys,” “The Nightingale” and “The Girl I Left Behind Me” were arranged by Dr. Dan Forrest in his Folk Songs of America. According to the New York Concert Review Forrest “a man with an undoubted gift for writing beautiful music….that is truly magical”. Forrest’s arrangements are well established in the United States choral repertoire

The Shanty Boys” from the 1840s took the audience back to Irish immigrants who ended up in the lumber camps in the Maine, living in temporary shanties as they cut lumber through the icy cold winters. In spite of the ever present danger, harsh living conditions and back-breaking work, the song shows the joy and camaraderie at the camps. Forrest’s arrangement includes directions like “freely, happily” and “jolly with a swagger.”

Like “Amazing Grace,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “Cotton Eyed Joe,” and “Auld Lang Syne,”“The Nightingale” is a pentatonic tune – a musical scale or mode with five notes per octave instead of the regular seven notes; played on the piano’s black keys. The simply beautiful “The Nightingale” is an American variant of an English folk song “The Bold Grenadier,” with roots traced back to 17th century England.

With its narrative style and light-hearted fife tune “The Girl I Left Behind Me” also has its origins in England and Ireland that was popular in colonial America. The song makes Anavitarte think of the Old West. With that in mind, the song had a certain cadence that conjured up the image of covered wagons, swaying with the pace of the oxen; rolling hills in the distance urging the caravan onwards.

Both songs are about a soldier whose tales of love are lost in his rollicking, carefree life and jovial tales of soldiering.

One of the most memorable pieces of the evening was “Ashokan Farewell,” starting with an exquisite solo by First Violinist Kurt Sprenger. Sprenger’s introduction about his connection to the song made it all the more special.

Sprenger always loved the song and had played it hundreds of times with Anavitarte. Adopted and growing up in Hawaii, Sprenger – thanks to the DNA test 23andMe – was astonished to find out his roots lay in Ashokan, NY.

The violin Sprenger played dates to the Civil War and was gifted to him by his biological family, who he has renewed contact, adding to the emotional connection with the song.

Even though “Ashokan Farewell,” has a colonial feel, it was composed by American folk musician Jay Ungar in 1982.

Next followed “An Americana Songbook” arranged by Douglas E. Wagner incorporating popular classics like “Ching a Ring Chaw,” from Aaron Copland's 1952 Old American Songs song set; the African-American spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” attributed to freedman Wallace Willis; the North Carolina folk song “I’m Goin’ Away;” the ever-popular “Shenandoah,” derived from the Algonquian schind-han-do-wi; the classic song of the West, “Red River Valley;” the hand-clapping inducing, jazzy spiritual that has been around for an indeterminate amount of time but popularized by Louis Armstrong “When the Saints Go Marching In;“ “Good Night, Ladies” a folk song attributed to Edwin Pearce Christy, originally intended to be sung during a minstrel show in the 1850s. According to ballad and folk song hunter John A. Lomax, “Cindy,” originated in North Carolina, becoming popular in the early and middle 20th century.

Anavitarte regretted that he could not get a harmonica player for the next song on the program, which he called “an anthem for the State of Texas.” The arrangement by Mark Hayes for choral singing was a slow, solemn, majestic rendition interpreting the wide open spaces of the cowboys of yore as they sing to their herds “Give me a home where the buffalo roam and the deer and antelope play, where seldom is hear a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.”

Kansas native Dr. Brewster M. Higley wrote the lyrics as the poem "My Western Home" in 1872 or 1873 – with at least one source indicating it was written as early as 1871. In 1947 – "Home on the Range" became the Kansas state song and in 2010, members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 western songs of all time.

Foster wrote more than 200 songs, many of which remain popular today. He has been called the most famous songwriter of the nineteenth century and is also called the “Father of American music,” creating many foundation stones of the American songbook. In a tribute the chorale sang a medley of Foster songs arranged by Joseph M. Martin. The medley included songs like “Oh! Susanna,” which was first published in 1848. It is among the most popular American songs ever written; the minstrel song with group interjections and refrain “Camptown Races;” another minstrel song, the “Swanee River,” also known as “Old Folks at Home” has been the Florida official state song since 1935, although the original lyrics were revised in 2008; “Some Folks Do,” and “The Glendy Burke,” about a paddle steam boat, with the chorale wrapping up their tribute by returning to the toe-tapping “Oh Susanna.”

In spite of Foster’s musical success, his increasing debts, loneliness and alcohol dependency led to his early death at 37. His death followed the completion of his last great song and ultimate lullaby for a girl “Beautiful Dreamer,” which was revamped by Roy Orbison in 1963.

After bringing back “Amazing Grace” – because one cannot hear that hymn by poet and clergyman John Newton enough and there is “no folk music without some spiritual songs” according to Anavitarte – the Bosque Chorale sang the “Deep River,” also a Hayes arrangement. Hayes is well-known for his unique choral settings which draw from such diverse styles such as gospel, jazz, pop, folk, and classical to achieve a truly "American sound.

As Jarman had said, it was a glorious evening with glorious, heartfelt songs, that left the audience with the “Some Folks Do” lyrics “Long live the merry, merry heart that laughs by night and day, filled with love and joy no matter what some folks say,” and Bosque Chorale, sing, sing, sing all day long for your own merriment and that of your audiences.

“We felt it was an outstanding performance,” Jarman, who is one of the Bosque Chorale altos said. “Everyone in the chorale works very hard, and David is a strong, strong director. He expects a great deal, but guides us towards the best possible result.”

Anavitarte likes to close the Bosque Chorale concerts with “Never Walk Alone” and “Climb Every Mountain.” Because with laughter and music in your heart, you will never walk alone and no obstacle will stand in your way.


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