Lorelei Ensemble & Beth Willer | Reconstructed

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by Lorelei Ensemble & Beth Willer

This album is a collection of works by individual American composers for women’s voices, fearlessly reconstructed from the rich body of American musical language and style that proceeds us.
Genre: Classical: Choral Music
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Africa
Lorelei Ensemble & Beth Willer
1:31 $0.99
2. Vermont
Lorelei Ensemble & Beth Willer
2:28 $0.99
3. Saro
Lorelei Ensemble, Margot Rood & Beth Willer
6:37 album only
4. Inman
Lorelei Ensemble & Beth Willer
2:58 $0.99
5. Taunton
Lorelei Ensemble & Beth Willer
4:36 $0.99
6. Utopia
Lorelei Ensemble & Beth Willer
3:33 $0.99
7. Reconstruction: 1. Crowns (Mercy Seat)
Lorelei Ensemble & Beth Willer
3:53 album only
8. Reconstruction: 2. Wrath (Battle Hymn of the Republic / John Brown's Body)
Lorelei Ensemble & Beth Willer
3:24 album only
9. Reconstruction: 3. Brother, Sister, Mourner (Amazing Grace)
Lorelei Ensemble & Beth Willer
2:28 album only
10. Reconstruction: 4. Farewell (Long Time Travelin')
Lorelei Ensemble & Beth Willer
5:57 album only
11. Reconstruction: 5. Salvation (Song of the Lamb)
Lorelei Ensemble & Beth Willer
5:11 album only
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
To define an “American” aesthetic, or any national aesthetic for that matter, is to bind our artistry to a place and its people. It is a task of seeking personal identity within a specific reality or community. This definition is particularly hard to pin down with any certainty in a nation of increasing diversity. What remains constant in American musical language, amidst this constantly shifting landscape, is a certain melodic optimism caught amidst harmonic and/or rhythmic contention. There is inherently a struggle, most often dressed in sentiments of revolution, defiance, or victory. It is unapologetic and open, clear and earthbound. It does not seek a specific order, but rather accepts multiple orders and philosophies as essential to its identity. American music is, essentially, a music that strengthens and champions the individual as an independent agent of a whole—a composer's distinct style, the personal expression of a folk tune. Accepting this cultural reality, American musicians have developed an acute awareness of what has gone before, but always with an eye on what has not yet been attempted.

William Billings and his colonial contemporaries sought a new American style that was distinct from Western classical models. Contention is heard in the raw harmonic language and reckless voice-leading of his hymns and anthems. Billings' extensive output primarily utilizes texts of his contemporaries—local poets (particularly the fiery words of evangelist Isaac Watts, credited with 750 hymns), alterations of biblical verse in the vernacular, and even his own poetry. Through the publication of six collections in this new “American” style, Billings showed his commitment to the cultivation of a vibrant culture of group singing in America. Händel-ian figures and imitative textures in his 'fuguing tunes' (Taunton) subtly bow to European tradition, while the texts, notation, and performance practices (voluntary octave doubling, free folk-like ornamentation, and strident vocal production) were wholly contemporary. Living in Boston, and working alongside figures such Samuel Adams and Paul Revere (Revere engraved Billings' New England Psalm Singer in 1770), Billings was driven by both philosophy and place. Qualities of optimism and resilience in American music certainly found their roots here, among revolutionaries.

Contemporary “shape-note” tunes on this album, by Adam Jacob Simon, Moira Smiley, and Dana Maiben, are rooted in this early musical tradition as preserved by Northern Harmony (a contemporary ensemble based in Vermont). Maiben’s optimistic tune adopts the progressive spiritual voice of Emily Dickinson (Vermont, arranged here for Lorelei from its original SATB version). Simon sets a poem of Isaac Watts (Billings’ contemporary an choice poet) infused with subtly contemporary harmonies and stirring in its profound simplicity (Inman). As per tradition, each of these composers ties their hymn to a place (independent of the text itself): Maiben rode on a bus through Vermont as she wrote Inman is Simon’s square in Cambridge. Smiley’s place is not her own, however. Utopia (“no-place”), a setting of selected verses from Joseph Swain’s 18th-century hymn, refers to sentiments of longing for an unknown place of redemption and rest.

The works commissioned for this album speak directly to contemporary conversations about personal and national identity in the U.S., while remaining rooted in traditional tunes and texts. Pretty Saro is an English folk song thought to have originated in the 1700s and “rediscovered” in the Appalachian Mountains in the early 20th century. Its lyrics had been altered but the subject remained: lost love due to geographical separation.

Composer Josh Shank writes about the personal meaning he drew from this text: “Singers would often tailor their renditions to local customs or their own life experiences and, in the various interpretations of the story, there are many different descriptions of who Saro is. Sometimes she is a sister, sometimes she is lover. Either way, she is apart from the speaker and it's obvious that this person—be it man or woman—has lost a love which sustained them in an incredibly profound way…What I always think of when I hear this tune is the experience of a person immigrating to the United States and what it must have been like for them to leave someone they loved thousands of miles away…from immigrants processing through Ellis Island in 1905 to a Hispanic boy in 2014 wearing a t-shirt that says “Don't Deport My Mom,” it's clear that sometimes things still don't go the way we want them to. In this moment, our lives are defined by one heartbreaking event: saying goodbye.”

Joshua Bornfield’s Reconstruction is a stirring and progressive contemporary statement, based on five explicitly sacred tunes: three from the 19th century Sacred Harp songbook (“Mercy Seat,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Song to the Lamb”), and two popularized during the Tent Revival movement in the Reconstruction era.

In composing this set, Bornfield was committed to both preserving the historical context of these tunes and texts, while opening them up to modern perspective: “Crowns references the mercy seat and consists of two musics: the old, and the new that attempts to usurp it. As in the case of each of these songs, the old music refuses to allow the new to take hold long enough to change the listener’s perception…Most of the text for Wrath is drawn from Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but intentionally lacks the chorus (“Glory, glory, hallelujah!”). Instead, we are left with simple philosophy and the glorification of war. Brother, Sister, Mourner comes from a version of “Amazing Grace” written by R.F.M. Mann. The juxtaposition of assumption and truth that defines Reconstruction is most apparent here: the people listening know the words to this song, but the song itself is unknown to them; at least that is the case until the final verse, in which the well-known tune is presented with one of Newton’s verses that is no longer regularly performed. “Farewell” is based on Edgar Dumas’s 1856 setting of John Dobell’s “Long Time Traveling. ”Though most of the piece is built on manneristic personalization of well-known melodies, these two sections allow the performers to express themselves without being encumbered by an expected tune, making them both the most personal and the most sincere sections of the work. The final song, “Salvation,” is the movement that owes the most to its source material (“Song to the Lamb,” author unknown). Though its text hearkens to the Agnus Dei, the closing line of the last verse is passive, opting for personal evangelical fulfillment rather than asking the listener to work for a communal blessing. “Salvation, glory, and joy remain/Forever on Thy head” may be a beautiful sentiment, but it dismisses the listener’s agency and responsibility to bring about change. “Salvation” makes no attempt to undermine the listener’s expectation for what ought to happen in this very obvious music, except that the tension generated at the end of the piece is not released within its own confines. The listener must resolve that tension by themselves.”

This album is a collection of works by individual American composers. While it is united in purpose, it presents a multiplicity of perspectives and philosophies defining American values and identity. In uniting these works into a single album for women’s voices, we offer you a collection of new American music, fearlessly reconstructed from the rich body of American musical language and style that proceeds us.



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