Sunday, June 28, 2009


I'm finally on my way! Well, sort of. I'm currently on a seven hour layover in Washington-Dulles airport ... yeah, SEVEN hours. Of course this is better than yesterday, when I was supposed to leave but couldn't because my flight got canceled - stupid United airlines. I got rescheduled for today and am excited to be on my way to Vienna, Austria.

Members from four choirs in Durham (Duke Chapel Choir, Duke Student Chorale, Choral Society of Durham, and the NC Vocal Arts Ensemble) under the conduction of Dr. Rodney Wynkoop are traveling together to Vienna to participate in the International Haydn Festival. We're performing Joseph Haydn's tenth setting of the mass, Missa in tempore belli (Mass in time of war), and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Dona Nobis Pacem. These are both very impressive works of musical genius, though the RVW is incredibly moving and apropos for the current worldwide involvement in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.

We'll be performing in the Konzerthaus of downtown Vienna. It is simply a beautiful venue and I'm thrilled to be singing baritone in this monolithic event where we'll be accompanied by the Vienna festival symphony. The RVW music is quite powerful and the texts are taken from the mass, three poems by Walt Whitman, a political speech, and sections of the bible. The most striking of the texts are the poem settings by Whitman. Here is one of them entitled 'Reconciliation':
Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly
wash again, and ever again, this solid world;
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin--I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.
It captures the tormented mind forced to deal with the realization of its own mortality through that of his fellow man.

My favorite movement of the RVW uses the text from Whitman's 'Dirge for Two Veterans'. A tribute to my grandfather and any other man or woman who died serving their country, fellow citizens, or free people of the world.

The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish'd Sabbath,
On the pavement here, and there beyond it is looking,
Down a new-made double grave.

Lo, the moon ascending,
Up from the east the silvery round moon,
Beautiful over the house-tops, ghastly, phantom moon,
Immense and silent moon.

I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key'd bugles,
All the channels of the city streets they're flooding,
As with voices and with tears.

I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring,
And every blow of the great convulsive drums,
Strikes me through and through.

For the son is brought with the father,
(In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell,
Two veterans son and father dropt together,
And the double grave awaits them.)

Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive,
And the daylight o'er the pavement quite has faded,
And the strong dead-march enwraps me.

In the eastern sky up-buoying,
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin'd,
('Tis some mother's large transparent face,
In heaven brighter growing.)

O strong dead-march you please me!
O moon immense with your silvery face you soothe me!
O my soldiers twain! O my veterans passing to burial!
What I have I also give you.

The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music,
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.

To hear these words set to the music composed by RVW simply tears at the heart.

The last movement pulls from multiple texts and more than hints at the great Handel's Messiah. I wish all of you could come hear this concert in Vienna when we perform. If you want a sample of how moving this concert will be, here's a clip of the last six minutes of the RVW conducted by Robert Shaw with the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus. Now, just imagine you're sitting in the audience of the Konzerthaus of Vienna:

Soon I hope to share with you some of my fun experiences in Europe!