November 2022 Concert: “I Believe”

Recorded Nov. 12 & 13, 2022; premieres Saturday Nov. 26, 2022, 7:30 pm on YouTube:

(Bellevue Chamber Chorus Official Channel:

Program Order and Notes:

(program notes by Ben Luedcke unless otherwise attributed)

Thank you for tuning in to the recording of the first concert of Bellevue Chamber Chorus’ 2022-2023 season, I Believe! This concert explores belief systems from around the world: we begin by honoring the creeds, codes of ethics, and mantras of four of the world’s major religions: Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. The second half of the concert takes a broader look at spirituality and presents different perspectives on faith, inner peace, and happiness.  The texts come from a variety of sources including the Torah, the Roman Catholic mass, the Dalai Lama, Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  In offering a variety of perspectives, this concert does not seek to codify human belief, nor force connections across cultures.  Instead, we present a broad sampling of experiences, and we celebrate their unique contributions to human existence.

Cover image from "I Believe" concert program

Shavu’ot…………………….Joshua Jacobson (b. 1948)

Before retiring in 2018, Joshua Jacobson (b. 1948) served for forty-five years as Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Northeastern University, including six years as the Bernard Stotsky Professor of Jewish Cultural Studies.  He is a leading pioneer of his generation working to broaden the scope of choral music in the United States to include music from Jewish culture, and he is well-known for his many excellent arrangements of Jewish choral music.  The holiday of Shavu’ot celebrates the gift of the ten commandments to the Jewish people as described in the book of Exodus, Chapter 20, and the text is chanted in the synagogue.  In his piece of the same name, Jacobson employs traditional Ashkenazic melodies as well as free canons, where each singer is singing the same melody but at their own pace in order to recreate the sound of a large congregation chanting the text.  Additionally, Jacobson sets several of the commandments with a similar echo effect, seeking to create the reverberations of God’s voice.

A prelude to the commandments; 
before beginning the recitation 
I request authorization and permission.
Great indeed are the seraphim, each one six-winged
Until they are given the signal,
they must be still in total silence.
          1.  I am ADONAI your God who took you out of the land of Egypt
          2.  You shall not recognize the gods of other before My presence
          3.  You shall not take the name of ADONAI your God in vain oath
          4.  Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it
          5.  Honor your father and mother
          6.  You shall not kill
          7.  You shall not commit adultery
          8.  You shall not steal
          9.  You shall not bear false witness
         10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s home

                  ~ Exodus 20

I Believe…………………….Mark A. Miller

Featuring: Dale Schlotzhauer, soloist; Kristine Anderson, piano; Dawn Posey, violin; Ken Lin, violin; Mariya Ksondzyk, viola; Erika Pierson, cello

Mark A. Miller is Associate Professor of Church Music and Composer-In-Residence at Drew University in New Jersey, and serves as a lecturer in the Practice of Sacred Music at Yale University. He is also the Minister of Music for Christ Church in Summit, New Jersey, and Composer-in-Residence of Harmonium Choral Society.  The precise history of the text to I Believe is contentious among scholars, though it is popularly attributed to an anonymous Jew hiding in a cellar during the Holocaust.

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. 
I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God even when God is silent.  

                  ~ Anonymous

Credo (RV 591)…………………….Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Featuring: Kristine Anderson, piano; Dawn Posey, violin; Ken Lin, violin; Mariya Ksondzyk, viola; Erika Pierson, cello

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) is best known today for his instrumental concertos, with his Le Quattro Stagioni (“The Four Seasons”) being his most famous for its musical depiction of sounds of the natural world.  Many of his sacred choral works set psalm texts, whereas his Credo (RV 591) is one of a few mass settings of the Catholic Mass.  “Credo” in Latin literally means “I Believe,” and Vivaldi divides this long list of beliefs from the Nicene Creed into four movements.  The first and last movements are set in a declamatory style that features the instruments and voices on a more equal footing; this concerted style is characteristic of Baroque secular music, and the clear texture is meant to propel the meaning of the text.  In contrast, the second and third movements speak of a brief account of Jesus’ life on Earth.  It is in these middle two movements that Vivaldi changes musical character and utilizes the older style of sacred Renaissance polyphony, where the voices move more independently and weave a complex web of chant-like melodies.  This “church style,” is commonly evoked by Baroque composers, and Vivaldi uses it here with slower tempi and controlled dissonance to create a penitent and prayerful mood.

I believe in one God, the Father almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
only begotten Son of God,
Begotten of his Father before all worlds.
God of God, light of light, Very God 
of very God.
Begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father:
by whom all things were made.
Who for us and for our salvation came 
down from heaven.

And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary:
And was made human.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate:
suffered, and was buried. 

On the third day He rose again according to the scriptures.
And ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father
And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead:
His kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Ghost, Lord and giver of life:
Who proceedeth from the Father and Son.
Who with the Father and Son together is worshipped and glorified:
Who speaks by the Prophets.
And in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. 
And look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

                  ~ Nicene Creed, Roman Catholic Mass 

On Compassion…………………….Stephanie K. Andrews (b. 1968)

Featuring: Tori Force and Trevor Tsang, soloists; Kristine Anderson, piano

Stephanie K. Andrews (b. 1968) is a composer, church musician, and educator in Austin, Texas.  Her piece, On Compassion, sets two quotes by His Holiness the Dalai Lama excerpted from The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living.  First presented by soloists, Andrews creates a simple chant-like melody that rises to an apex when addressing the future of the human race.  After the meditative opening, Andrews also employs a second text: a Tibetan Buddhist mantra, “Om mani padme hum,” which is chanted to oneself and meant to ease suffering and pain.  This mantra is presented in longer note-values in a chordal texture while sections of the choir continue to sing the opening text and tune.  Over the course of the piece the perspective shifts from an introverted peacefulness to a passionate cry for compassion.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.  
Without them, humanity cannot survive.
Om mani padme hum.

                  ~ His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso 

Zikr…………………….A.R. Rahman (b. 1967), arr. Ethan Sperry (b. 1971)

Featuring: Jim Leininger, soloist; Bob Rees, percussion

Zikr was composed by film composer A.R. Rahman (b. 1967) for the soundtrack of a documentary called Bose: The Forgotten Hero.  The text is in Urdu, and “Zikr” translates as “remembrance” or “devotion,” and refers to holding God in one’s thoughts and actions, and can also be used to refer to the repetition of a phrase or prayer.  Ethan Sperry (b. 1971) created this arrangement for choir and percussion, and states that Mr. Rahman adheres “strictly to his Muslim beliefs, but this is the only statement of faith [Rahman] has made through his music… [The piece] is based upon the music of the whirling dervishes, Sufi Muslim musicians who perform this style of music from Egypt across the Silk Road to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Thailand, and Malaysia.  In this style, the musicians pick a chant and elaborate upon it while dancers spin in a circle.  As the tempo of the music increases, the dancers spin faster and faster hoping to achieve a trance-like state in which they can commune with the divine.   This arrangement begins with the chant melody sung monophonically, alternating with other sections of the choir chanting “Hu Allah” (God is One).  The chant develops into simple polyphony and eventually to several melodies superimposed on top of each other.”

Light of Muhammad, may peace be upon him. There is no other truth except Allah.  Allah is one.  
          O, those of you who are thirsting, come, the Oneness of Allah calls you!  
          There is no action superior to Zikr.  This is the saying of the prophet of Allah! 
          Zikr is Peace, Zikr is Victory, Zikr is Healing, Zikr is the Cure. 
          Allah is the only Eternal and Immortal - all else perishes and is returned to Him. 
Light of Muhammad, may peace be upon him. There is no other truth except Allah. 
          In every flower, in every soul, in every creation is the Light of Allah. 
          May Allah’s Zikr stay in every single heart and every single moment. 
          Zikr is better than hatred. Zikr is better than ignorance. 
          Zikr is better than desires. Zikr is better than back-biting. 
Light of Muhammad, may peace be upon him. There is no other truth except Allah. 
          O you the Amazing, O you the Eternal, O you the Beginning, O you the End. 
          O you the Forbearing, O you the Gracious, O you the Greatest, O you the Merciful. 
          O you the Beneficent, O you the Great. O you who teaches us to read. 
Light of Muhammad, may peace be upon him. There is no other truth except Allah. 

                  ~ Sufi Prayer

Hymne au Soleil…………………….Lili Boulanger (1893-1918)

Featuring: Kristine Bryan, soloist; Kristine Anderson, piano

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) was born into a musical family; most notably among her close relatives was her older sister, Nadia, who was a famous teacher of composition whose students include Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Astor Piazolla, Virgil Thomson, among others.  Lili was incredibly talented but faced health challenges that eventually took her life at a young age.  It was her illness that compelled her to become a composer, and Hymne au Soleil (“Hymn to the Sun”) is the first of her compositions for chorus and orchestra (presented here with piano only).  The text comes from a French play, Le Pariah by Casimir Delavigne (1783-1849), and the god mentioned refers to Helios, Greek God of the Sun.  With its parallel chords and even flowing rhythms, the piece shares many characteristics with French impressionistic music which was incredibly popular in the early twentieth century.  However, for the second stanza of text, Boulanger employs an active dotted rhythm in the piano and chorus to represent the “seven steeds.”  This polyphonic texture and text painting has more in common with German compositional practices and stands in stark contrast to the rest of the piece.  More broadly, this “Hymn to the Sun” is representative of a continuation of a trend started by many prominent Romantic European composers of the previous century: increasingly bored by texts of Western sacred institutions, many composers found new dramatic potential in Eastern religion, mysticism, and mythology.

Let us bless the power of the resurging sun.
With all the universe, let us celebrate its return.
Crowned in splendor, it rises, it soars aloft.
The awakening of the earth is a hymn of love.  

Seven steeds, which the God can scarcely keep in check,
Set fire to the horizon with their burning breath.
O abundant sun, you appear!

With its fields in flower, its mountains, its dense woods,
The vast sea burning with your fire,
The universe younger and fresher,
The mists of morning are sparkling with dew. 

                  ~ Casimir Delavigne (1783-1849) 

Keep Me Fully Glad…………………….Mark Sirett (b. 1952)

Featuring: Kristine Anderson, piano; Dawn Posey, violin; Ken Lin, violin; Mariya Ksondzyk, viola; Erika Pierson, cello

Conductor, composer, pianist and organist, Mark Sirett (b. 1952) is the Founding Artistic Director of the award-winning Cantabile Choirs of Kingston, Ontario in Canada.  Dr. Sirett has taught at the University of Alberta, Western University and Queen’s University. His piece Keep Me Fully Glad sets a text by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), a Bengali poet, painter, song composer, and social reformer. This text is emblematic of Tagore’s poetic style which is often marked by simultaneous peace and child-like exuberance found in the natural world.  Sirett captures this serenity with a beautiful piano and string accompaniment that employs a “two against three” rhythmic pattern.  However, coupled with a sudden key change, an increase in tempo and rhythmic drive highlights the earnestness of the text as the narrator urges, “take up my heart and play with it!”  Revisiting the same music to close the piece, Sirett evokes the exuberance of the “cloud-hidden stars [that] thrill in secret,” as he abandons the calming triplets and delivers a musical buildup to the ultimate request for fullness and joy.

Keep me fully glad with nothing. Only take my hand in your hand.
In the gloom of the deepening night take up my heart and play with it as you list. Bind me close to you with nothing.
I will spread myself out at your feet and lie still. Under this clouded sky I will meet silence with silence. I will become one with the night clasping the earth in my breast.
Make my life glad with nothing.
The rains sweep the sky from end to end. Jasmines in the wet untamable wind revel in their own perfume. The cloud-hidden stars thrill in secret. Let me fill to the full my heart with nothing but my own depth of joy. 

                  ~ Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

In Remembrance (from Requiem)…………………….Eleanor Daley (b. 1955)

Eleanor Daley (b. 1955) is a Canadian composer, conductor, and pianist.  As a composer, she has received many commissions from choirs and choral organizations throughout North America and Europe.  “In Remembrance” is the fourth movement of her Requiem for a cappella chorus, and while the work employs some of the traditional Latin texts from the Catholic “Mass for the Dead,” it features additional texts by Carolyn Smart superimposed amidst the ancient prayers.  The text of the fourth movement excerpted here is anonymous, and Daley elegantly captures the simplicity yet profound beauty of this wonderful poem.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glint on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle morning rain.

And when you wake in the morning’s hush,
I am the sweet uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die.

                  ~ Anonymous

Across the Vast, Eternal Sky…………………….Ola Gjeilo (b.1978)

Featuring: Kristine Anderson, piano; Dawn Posey, violin; Ken Lin, violin; Mariya Ksondzyk, viola; Erika Pierson, cello

Across the Vast, Eternal Sky is a collaboration between Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo (b.1978) and American poet Charles Anthony Silvestri (b. 1965).  The poem is set from the perspective of the archetypal phoenix, the mythological bird that dies in a burst of flame but is immortal and reborn anew.  Gjeilo crafts the perfect contrast of melodic figures: the first is a rising step-wise melody which is first presented by the sopranos in the opening chorus, and it depicts the bird boldly facing its certain end, only to triumphantly rise from the ashes.  In contrast, a second melody is first presented by the piano and then taken up by the sopranos, and its playful dance creates a more light-hearted and hope-filled warmth to this fiery life cycle.  Ola Gjeilo has written many pieces for chorus, piano, and strings, but this one truly captures the glorious expansiveness of the subject matter, while simultaneously delivering an intimate and touching account of this human spiritual need for hope and renewal.

Sunlight shines on my face;
This is my grace, to be
Restored, born again,
In flame.

When I was young I flew in the velvet night;
Shining by day, a firebird bathed in light!
Grey now my feathers, which once were red and gold;
My destiny to soar up to the sun

Sunlight shines on my face;
This is my grace, to be
Restored, born again,
In flame.

Do not despair that I am gone away;
I will appear again
When the sunset paints
Flames across the vast, eternal sky.

                  ~ C. A. Silvestri (b. 1965)

Alway Something Sings…………………….Dan Forrest (b. 1978)

Featuring: Grace Franck Smith, soprano (sponsored by Debra and Dennis Defotis)

Kristine Anderson, piano; Dawn Posey, violin; Ken Lin, violin; Mariya Ksondzyk, viola; Erika Pierson, cello

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet who is largely heralded as the father of American individualism and the transcendentalist movement in the middle of the nineteenth century.  American composer Dan Forrest (b. 1978) modified an excerpt from a collection of Emerson’s poems titled Music, and Forrest created Alway Something Sings for piano, strings, choir, and treble solo.   The choir delivers the text, whereas the soloist sings a high and brilliant line that soars above the rest of the music.  Set apart from the choir, the solo line represents all that is good in a world where there is so much suffering, ugliness, and evil.  We close the concert with this simple yet profound statement of hope in the human spirit, for nothing else in this world – divine spirit or otherwise – has the power to touch a hardened heart more aptly than the voice of a child.

Let me go where'er I will
I hear a skyborn music still:
It sounds from all things old,
It sounds from all things young,
From all that's fair, from all that's foul,
Alway something sings.

It is not only in the rose,
It is not only in the bird,
Not only where the rainbow glows,
Nor in the song of woman heard,
But in the darkest, meanest things
There alway, alway something sings.

'Tis not in the high stars alone,
Nor in the cup of budding flowers,
Nor in the robin’s mellow tone,
Nor in the bow that smiles in showers.
But in the darkest, meanest things
There alway, alway something sings.

                  ~ R. W. Emerson (1803-1882)