Stirring the Silence (A Choral Piece for Divided SATB Choir, optional Children’s Voices and String Orchestra) was commissioned by the Virginia Chorale in celebration of Music Director Robert Shoup’s Tenth Anniversary Season (2006-2007). The seven-minute, one-movement composition was composed in Winston-Salem, NC, during late summer and early fall of 2006 for a 23 March 2007 World Premiere by the Virginia Chorale and Virginia Symphony Orchestra in Virginia Beach, as a part of a telecast concert surrounding the NEA-sponsored Virginia Festival of American Voices.
The poem that I have set in Stirring the Silence was written by the distinguished American poet, Fred Chappell. Entitled The Attending, it was written less than a month after the 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. Mr. Chappell, then Poet Laureate of the state of North Carolina, created the poem for the October 3 opening ceremonies that launched North Carolina’s Arts and Humanities Month. As described by North Carolina Arts Council members Joe Newberry and Maryanne Friend in the Southern Arts Federation November/December 2001 issue of Southarts: “The poem focuses on the importance of the arts and humanities in light of America’s recent terrorist tragedies. Chappell pays homage to artists in the past who were able, time and time again, to rebuild a world damaged by violence, war and hate. Chappell’s words encourage Americans to join past artists ‘in spirit’ and to follow their footsteps to help rebuild. The Attending communicates that now, more than ever, the arts are important to our country.”
Just as a life-changing event, with strong patriot consequences, was the impetus behind Mr. Chappell’s poem, a beloved American patriotic tune, MATERNA, was the musical impetus behind the creation of Stirring the Silence. Though the piece is not a variation on MATERNA, the intervallic structure of the melody is at the heart of the musical materials used in Stirring the Silence. MATERNA was composed by Samuel A. Ward around 1888 and, in 1912, the tune was united with Katherine Lee Bates 1893 patriot poem, O Beautiful for Spacious Skies. Though a part of the tune is briefly heard in the opening dissonant chords surrounding the text, “Let us, in this time of bitterest lament…”, it is not until the final part of the composition that MATERNA fully emerges in the strings, uniting the two primary musical ideas of the piece. Throughout the piece dialoguing abounds between the choirs, perhaps extra-musically symbolizing the value of all dialogue. A successful marriage of words and music is always my aim with any choral or vocal work that I create. That has again been my goal in setting Fred Chappell’s moving poem and it is my hope that the unity created by this marriage of poetry and music will, to the listener, “Speak like gentle winds stirring the silence”.
Let us, in this time of bitterest lament,
Go awhile apart and meditate
And reverently attend the ancestral choir
Of prophets, sages, founders of the state,
Who lend us strength and solace when the world is rent
And everywhere besieged with fire.
Let us linger, as we may, within the grove
And hear those voices in the heat of day
Speak like gentle winds stirring the silence
Softly in their never-ceasing play
Of loving variations on the theme of love
And weary descant against violence.
For we are nothing without the ones who came before,
They who with palette, loom and graceful pen
And sculpted stone, with treatise and debate,
Built our world and built it up again
When it was brought to rubble by incendiary war
And the towering, sword-blade flames of hate.
And let us join with them in spirit by going to
Their words and deeds that make our history
A matter of some pride, if we will know
The best of it, forgoing vanity
And boast and doing calmly what we ought to do,
As they did then, a world ago.
*Reprinted and used in this piece with the kind permission of the poet and copyright holder, Fred Chappell.