changing perceptions & EPITAPH
changing perceptions, a five-movement choral cycle, was commissioned and premiered in 1987 by The Choral Art Society of Portland, Maine (Dr. Robert Russell, Music Director). Composed in memory of my father, Archie Greer Locklair (1916-1986), changing perceptions & EPITAPH was the top prize winner of the 1989 Barlow International Composition Competition.
The poetry of changing perceptions concerns issues of life and death and begins (I – what do we know about life) and ends (V – like the river that passes away) with movements based on poetry by the Arizona poet, Carol Adler, from her collection, Day Lilies. Movement II, A.M.H., based on poetry by the Kennebunkport, Maine, poet, Christine Teale Howes, reflects on the grief of the birth, in 1962, of her stillborn son, Arthur McKeary Howes. In the piano part of this movement, early American composer Williams Billings’ moving hymn tune, When Jesus Wept, provides a pungent counterpoint to the freely composed choral parts. Movement III, Grief Poem, with words by the Japanese/Canadian poet, Joy Kogawa, is the only piece in the cycle that is sung unaccompanied. The poem for Movement IV, High Flight, was given widespread national attention when then-President Ronald Reagan used it to help console a nation in shock following the Challenger space capsule disaster. In 1939, the poet of “High Flight”, John G. Magee, Jr., came to the United States from Shanghai to enter Yale University on a full scholarship. Shortly thereafter, however, he withdrew from Yale and joined the Spitfire Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force only to be shot down and killed in 1941 at the age of nineteen. This poem, celebrating first flight, was written one year before his untimely death. Though not obvious, the well-known hymn tune, ST. ANNE (O God, Our Help in Ages Past) is spread throughout this movement in the dance-like piano accompaniment. Since “memories” are reflected in the final movement, the listeners’ memories are reflected back to the musical nature of Movement I.
Dedicated to Bob Russell and sent as a gift to The Choral Art Society, the brief EPITAPH is intended to always be sung after the five-movement changing perceptions is sung and acknowledged by the audience. Based on an epitaph from an old Norfolk, England, tombstone, it reminds us that even death needs not always be taken seriously!