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DAVIDSON: A Singing of Angels / And David Danced Before the Lord

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Charles Davidson (b.1929)
A Singing of Angels
And David Danced Before the Lord
  A SINGING OF ANGELS In 1971 Cantor Jerome B. Kopmar founded a children's chorus under the auspices of his congregation in Dayton, Ohio, for the dual purpose of elevating the musical content of its services and of offering concert performances for a broader general public. Known as the Beth Abraham Youth Chorale, the ensemble (some eighty members between the ages of nine and eighteen, at its peak) quickly attracted national attention--the only Jewish youth chorus to do so in the postwar decades. It performed twice in Israel, as well as in England and Holland, toured the United States, and appeared on national television on the NBC network--all in addition to its annual spring concerts in Dayton. The typical voicing for Jewish choruses both in Europe and America has always been either SATB--for mixed four-part chorus or for boys singing soprano and alto with adult male voices on tenor and bass--or in the mannerchor tradition, TTBB, for all adult male voices. Very little worthwhile sacred or secular Jewish music existed in three-part treble format (SSA). Therefore, commissioning new music for its own performances was a priority for the Beth Abraham Youth Chorale. Indeed, beyond the valuable educational and artistic experience for the young choristers and the aesthetic pleasure they brought to their audiences, the most lasting contribution of this all-too-brief episode in American Jewish cultural history is the body of new works commissioned by the Chorale. Over a period of twenty-seven years, until Kopmar's retirement, in 1996, and the dissolution of the Chorale, full-length works and shorter individual pieces--sacred and secular--were commissioned from such composers as Issachar Miron, Morton Gold, Ralph Schlossberg, Abraham Kaplan, Sholom Kalib--and Charles Davidson. Davidson's A Singing of Angels was born thus as a Beth Abraham commission in 1966 and received its premiere by the Chorale in Dayton in 1967 under Cantor Kopmar's direction. (It was a co-commission with the Beth El Junior Choral Society of Beth El Congregation in Akron, Ohio.) Davidson envisioned a "folksong suite" comprising original choral settings and arrangements of traditional Jewish folk or folk-type songs, which would be reimagined for young voices and refocused through an artistic lens. For his subject matter and musical material he turned to the vast storehouse of eastern European Yiddish folklore, and he selected a group of songs that evoke--through a series of vignettes, anecdotes, and dialogues--various aspects and emotions of daily Jewish life in the villages and small towns of 19th- and early-20th-century eastern and east Central Europe. Most of these songs are well known to the cognoscenti of Yiddish culture; a few are generally familiar among wider segments of American Jewry as well. They vary in mood, flavor, and tone. Some are lively, sparkling with energy and humor; others are dreamlike and reflective, expressing poignant yearning and romantic love. Collectively they recall some of the typical, if admittedly romanticized, family scenes and struggles, reveries, situations, hopes, and folk superstitions (along with the satirical mockery they have sometimes provoked) that once appertained among large segments of Yiddish-speaking populations--throughout the Pale of Settlement of the Czarist Russian Empire as well as in such regions of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire as Galicia and southern Poland. Apart from avoiding the hazards inherent in requiring both Jewish and non-Jewish American children to sing accurately and meaningfully in a language entirely foreign to most of them (notwithstanding a minuscule handful who still do have formal exposure in Yiddishist schools and summer camps), Davidson wanted to achieve an immediacy with contemporary audiences who were generations removed and perhaps culturally distant from the world depicted in these songs. He therefore conceived A Singing of Angels as an English-language work, not simply or reluctantly as a set of songs in translation; thus, no Yiddish option is provided. He collaborated with Samuel Rosenbaum, a talented and creative translator of many Yiddish songs and poems and a scriptwriter for numerous Judaic cantatas. Rather than pursue literal translations for these lyrics, Rosenbaum created English adaptations that are liberally based on the original texts, but which convey no less vividly their authentic spirit within an accessible context. No mere substitution for the original Yiddish, this work takes on, by artistic intention, a unique flavor of its own. And it becomes thereby a vehicle for a deliberately imagined sense of nostalgia, with which audiences who have never experienced the world to which they refer can still somehow identify. Of the nine songs Davidson selected, some have always been considered genuine folksongs, while others, some with known authorship, have come to be perceived as such. All were at one time integrated into orally transmitted repertoires and traditions, within which they were most commonly sung without concern for their origins. These nine songs provided the raw ingredients (tunes and lyrics) for the composer's inventive choral treatment, with his original harmonization, moments of counterpoint, instrumental accompaniment, and even some new material. For live concert performance, the work also includes a dramatic spoken narration (not part of this recording), which amplifies the historical-cultural context and bridges the movements. Yiddish Folksong: Origin and Oral Tradition Apart from the other parameters that might be included in a generic definition of folksong, folksongs are by nature part of an oral tradition--disseminated, learned, sung, and passed down by oral transmission, without recourse to notated sources. Notwithstanding some now discredited and naive 19th-century romantic notions, obviously no tune or poem, however simple, can have emerged authorless, as if it had created itself--sprung by some imagined spontaneous generation "from the natural expression of the folk," as otherwise sophisticated collectors and even scholars sometimes suggested when the fields of ethnology and ethnomusicology were in their infancy. The identity of a song's composer may be unknown to us, but that anonymity in no way nullifies the fact of human origin and authorship, any more than the anonymous Elgin marbles in ancient Athens could have come into being without having been chiseled by sculptors. Whether or not we know or suspect the originator's identity--as most often we do not--every folk tune and its text still began life as someone's invention. The folksong embryo was then subject to subsequent and, in some cases, continual alteration and development by others who sang, modified, and transmitted it orally in an ongoing and vital folkloric process. The germination and historical course of folksong adaptations is similar. The deliberate attachment of a new text (newly composed or preexisting) to a previously known tune, either anonymous or attributed--or vice versa, i.e., a new tune joined to an older text--must also be initiated by some individual before acquiring its folksong function and gaining currency in a folk repertoire. Eventually the new hybrid entity may be considered a folksong--if it achieves assimilation and acceptance within an oral tradition. Folksong can also include those songs whose tunes and texts were conceived together as corresponding parts of performable units, which might have been composed initially as renditions for popular entertainment by professional tunesmiths or bards. For example, many Yiddish songs that became part of genuine folk tradition and took on practical folksong functions were introduced as professional or quasi-p
Item number 8559436
Barcode 636943943625
Release date 01/07/2006
Category WIND
Label Naxos Milken Archives
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Amy Goldstein
Douglas Webster
Composers Charles Davidson
Conductors Brad Lubman
Nicholas Wilks
Orchestras Finchley Childrens Music Group
Buffalo Vocal Ensemble
Finchley Childrens Music Group Chamber Choir
Jewish Heritage Youth Chorus
Ramon Ricker Jazz Quintet
Disc: 1
Baroque Suite (excerpts)
1 I. Once My Pair of Oxen
2 II. My Pages are Snowy White
3 III. In the Valley
4 IV. If Dreams Came True
5 V. Dance with Me
6 VI. The Merry Rebbe Elie
7 VII. Softly Shines the Moonlight
8 VIII. Yome, Yome
9 IX. No One Else
10 I. Shir hashirim
11 II. L'kha dodi
12 III. Bar'khu
13 IV. Ahavat olam
14 V. Sh'ma yisra'el
15 VI. Mi khamokha
16 VII. V'sham'ru
17 VIII. Hatzi kaddish
18 IX. Grant Us Peace
19 X. Yih'yu l'ratzon
20 XI. An'im z'mirot
21 XII. Kiddush
22 XIII. Aleinu
23 XIV. Adon olam
24 III. Courante (Halomi)
25 IV. Sarabande (Et shimkha l'varekh)
26 V. Minuet (Kol kokhvei voker)
27 VI. Fugue (Helki adonai)
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