By Huck Fairman
As area residents have pushed through an often wet, cool and windy spring, many have sought relief beyond hopes for warming weather. Among the most transformative options has been a performance of The Princeton Singers, most recently at the Art on Hulfish (street) space, an alternative site while the Princeton University Art Museum is renovated.
The Princeton Singers is primarily a choral group, under the art direction of Steven Sametz, who also composes for them. But the group draws on music styles from around the world and from different times. The singers are an experienced collection from opera and other choral groups, and included in this week’s performance were harpist Chelsea Lane and Vibraphone player, Greg Giannascoli, both producing beautiful accompaniments to the singers.
The title for this performance was “For the Beauty of the Earth.” And the range of the music, and that of the lyrics from different cultures around the world, certainly evoked the natural treasures that our planet and its peoples offer.
The evening started off with three pieces from Felix Mendelssohn’s music combined with three German songs.
The evening’s notes included translations into English, allowing us to imagine:
“The first green of the sown wheat,
the scent of violets …
Showers of sunlight, balmy air …”
Following came an arrangement of a poem by Robert Frost (The Pasture) and then Two Choruses in a Time of War, arranged by Sametz from poems by Kendall Harrison and Olivier de Magny.
Next came Japanese folk and children’s songs:
“This dark stormy hour
The wind, it stirs
The scorched Earth cries out in vain. …”
A poem, For the Beauty of the Earth, by Conrad Kocher followed: “… For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night …”
And then a chorus from the Book of Isaiah, one from the Objibway people of Canada, and one from a Chinese poet, Chang-Tsai (1020-77).
In each of these, different combinations of The Princeton Singers and the two musicians presented the celebrations of the earth and its beauty.
Another piece came from Chief Dan George Tsleil Waututh while another came from an ancient Mayan text.
A squabbling “Denier’s Chorus” provided some humor before a Walt Whitman segment from Leaves of Grass spoke more seriously:
“… The earth remains jagged and broken
to those who are jagged and broken …”
A final chorus from Sametz reminds us of the wonders we have inherited and now threaten.
“We have forgotten
The earth’s beauty
The azure of the sky
The greenness of the valleys …”
We pray and weep
But will not learn …
The earth cries out to us …
The earth cries.