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I Was a Stranger

  • St Edwards Church Shelton, WA (map)

The Great Bend Chorale preforms their Carnegie Hall presentation on home turf! Celebrate this inaugural performance in Shelton. Tickets

The Salish people—the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America—think about music very differently. They understand that making music is inherently an act of community, and as a result, their culture has great reverence for the power of song. So great is their respect for this power that there are rich cultural traditions (and taboos) about how and when and by whom (and with whom) individual songs may be performed.

Imagine, then, being visited by an entirely different race of people whom you had never before encountered, who look and dress very differently from your own people, wielding completely alien technology and an unrecognizable language – and choosing to sing a song of welcome to them! This was the response of several tribal communities from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state upon first contact with European explorers. The Salish knew that making music meant making community; that singing illuminates all that we have in common.

Commissioned for this concert, American composer John Muehleisen’s cantata “Borders” draws from many of the constituent cultures that make up the American tapestry. Scored for soprano solo, adult choir, children's chorus, strings, piano, and percussion, the work explores the question, “How should we treat the stranger—the foreigner—amongst us?” Beginning with a Salish song of welcome, Muehleisen weaves together European, African, Asian, and Latin American folk songs with his own settings of the poetry of Emma Lazarus, Brian Bilston, and Alberto Rios in a powerful and moving musical journey that explores the historical roots of immigration and the modern relevance of America’s identity as the great melting pot.

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The De Profundis, or "Psalm 130", is a penitential psalm which expresses great sorrow in its cry for help. Catholics traditionally recite it at vespers or as a means of preparing for confession, but the text crosses many cultural boundaries. In Judaism it is recited as part of the liturgy for the high holidays and it is also commonly recited as a prayer for the sick. The psalm also appears throughout world literature, most notably in the works of the Spanish author Federico García Lorca and in a long letter by Oscar Wilde to his lover. It has frequently been set to music by composers as diverse as Bach, Handel, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Vangelis, Pärt and Bernstein.

Russian-born American composer, conductor, singer, and educator Andrey Stolyarov’s setting was written shortly after his family suffered a tremendous loss. Stolyarov describes the music as his “eulogy, expressing my thoughts and prayers where words fail.” It is a work of great empathy. The Psalm’s core sentiment is represented by a plaintive musical motive that moves up from the lowest voices (out of the depths) while migrating, slowly, from the minor into the major mode. The work, like the psalm itself, is predicated in the belief that there is hope in the future, and great power in acknowledging our need for help.