The Saint Louis Chamber Chorus takes 'Revolution and Revelation' to the Karpeles Manuscript Library
Kelly Moffitt & Mary Edwards of KWMU St. Louis Public Radio
February 10, 2017
The Saint Louis Chamber Chorus continues its 2016-17 season February 12 with a concert at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum. The centerpiece of the program is composer-in-residence Melissa Dunphy's “What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach?” which was inspired by the testimony in favor of the Marriage Equality Bill by 86-year-old World War II veteran Phillip Spooner.
Dunphy found Spooner’s speech to be a very moving experience. “I burst into tears watching this speech,” she said. “He talks about how he was a VFW Chaplain and he talks about his war service and you can hear and see the trauma that was writ on him by his service in World War II. And then he talks about how he fought for freedom and equality, that these were the things that he fought for on Omaha Beach, the reasons for the sacrifices that he and his fellow soldiers made. And he talks about how he has four sons and he wouldn’t want his one gay son to be left out.”
“It is an extraordinarily powerful piece,” said Saint Louis Chamber Chorus Artistic Director Philip Barnes. “I think it is way up there in the traditions of Copland or Roy Harris. It’s got a sort of quintessential American character to it, particularly when the choir sings ‘What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach, for freedom.’ When you hear that you can just imagine Aaron Copland doing that.”
Barnes was so taken by Dunphy’s work that he and the chorus asked her to be composer-in-residence and made the first CD recording of it.
It might be assumed that Barnes’ selection of a work on the topic of marriage equality was in response to current events. In actuality, the program, “Revolution and Revelation” was more than a year in the making. “We plan our programs really 18 months to 24 months in advance," he said. "I wanted to do a concert at this rather extraordinary building that’s opened up in St. Louis, the Karpeles Manuscript Museum, and I wanted to do music that was not our normal fare.” He explained that much of the chorus’ repertoire is religious music but this concert gave him the opportunity explore some very fine works from the secular realm in an appropriate place.
“The museum has brought in a lot of original manuscripts about Eva Peron, a real revolutionary in her own right, Evita, of course. And so the audience will get to see that exhibit in the intermission between the two halves of our program,” Barnes said.
Dunphy believes that choral music has the power to reach people even when it has a point of view outside of their norm. “I wrote this piece almost seven years ago now, she said, “and something that comes with writing pieces about current events is you always think, well one day it’s probably going to become a relic. It might not be quite as relevant but it’s almost like in some ways people need to hear this message that somebody who they would not expect to have this point of view can have this point of view. They need this message more than ever now.”
Listen to the full interview at KWMU