Saturday, June 16, 2018

Let Freedom Ring...and Sing!

Let Freedom Ring...and Sing!

I sang with Robert Shaw back in the mid 1980's when I was a public school choral director in Georgia. Eventually, I went to Florida State to obtain my master's degree and Ph.D., but I was fortunate to retain many wonderful friendships that were made in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus by singing together as we worked hard to achieve Mr. Shaw's "perfection" (I'm not certain we ever achieved such...but we tried).

Among the many stories that gave me chills, one of my favorites concerned a European tour the choir made to East Berlin. At that time, Germany was divided into East Germany and West Germany, the latter being the free country. East Germany was under the oppression of a communist government. The choir was performing Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, and as they sang the last movement containing Schiller's Ode to Joy, the audience spontaneously joined in and "sang their socks off." Such an emotional event of music, freedom, and empowerment...all brought about by the power of music! The singer who related the story began weeping as she said, "You know, it wasn't long at all until that wall separating East and West Germany came down. I wonder if we might have had something to do with it." Quite a sobering thought, huh?

We Americans sometimes forget how powerful our art can be in the hands of an inspired, passionate group of people who love and care about "something" we agree on. It is true...our government does not always make the decisions we would make, but we live in a country where we can literally and figuratively change the entire complexion of our government by exercising our right to vote. According to The Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights, we have been provided numerous ways to change process in our government. Two of those include "the right of peaceful protest" and "the right to vote."

I have been amazed with the demonstrations of disagreement that have transpired over the past couple of years. I am even more amazed (and angered) to hear many of the protesters say that they did not show up to vote when they had the opportunity to do so...and they are protesting the things that have transpired when they did not vote. That does not make sense to me. But you know what? They have as much right not to show up to vote and protest the result as I have to vote and vocalize my opinion regarding the result and those who did not participate in the process. Interesting, huh? The freedoms of our country protect all of us.

Let's hope that all of us on both sides of the democratic process have realized how important it is to show up!!  I am not making a political statement...I am making a common sense statement.  If we care enough to take time to demonstrate and protest, it seems to me that it would be helpful to use that same amount of courage, time and energy to avoid the potential decisions of those whom we do not approve. Am I wrong here?

When we sing with passion for freedom and "love of country," we invaribly find others who will sing with us. We might not agree politically, but we can sing...together. We can be of the same mind or not...and we can still sing together in joyful harmony for whatever this country has meant to us independently. Hopefully, there is something that brings about joy in all of us when we ponder "love of country." Everyone can sing for joy...the joy they find in celebrating a place where many of our ancestors have been welcomed as immigrants from far away, though many have experienced discrimination and hurtful reactions. However, for those who have firmly continued in the process, they can officially call themselves "American"...the same word used to describe others who were born on the soil of the USA. It is this inclusive America we can all sing about and celebrate.

It is in this spirit of unity as Americans that a new arrangement has been composed for SATB voices, piano, and orchestration (Flute, Horn, Trumpets, Trombone, and Timpani) "Let Freedom Ring," is an arrangement of the familiar "My Country 'Tis of Thee" ("America"). The harmonic progressions are a bit unique, and I have tried to express the words of each verse with musical creativity and interesting choral combinations. The primary reason I wanted to arrange this tune is that I have not seen many arrangements of this piece that are written for everyone (audience and choir) to sing all verses with the choir.

I wrote this piece to focus on the verse "Let music swell the breeze and ring from all the trees, sweet freedom's song. Let mortal tongues awake. Let all that breathe partake." That means everyone. We all get to sing. We all get to sing of freedom! It is our country...and we celebrate together!!

We must all sing together of the joy of freedom! Let freedom ring...and sing! Sing!