Music Notes From Robin – May 2021

May, the 5th month of 2021, has arrived!  Main Street has celebrated the Lenten and Easter Seasons, and Pentecost and Mother’s Day are approaching.  Thanks be to God!

I am thrilled to announce that I have been in contact with the members of The Charles Wesley Choir and The Sarah Allen Handbell Choir.  With the availability of vaccines, antibodies, and infusions, I think the choirs can safely (with precautions) meet and participate in our worship services.

Hopefully the month of May will see a joyous return to Main Street’s worship services…with musicians joining me and Shaw in the choir loft after a 14-month period of time.  Hallelujah!!  I can hardly wait.  Please pray for safety and guidance.

Robin


The American Spiritual

           During the Lent and Easter seasons, Robin and Shaw have featured several solos that are American spirituals…including “Were You There?”, “He Never Said A Mumbalin’ Word”, and “Give Me Jesus”…all arranged by Moses Hogan.  These pieces are truly masterpieces and can truly touch the heart.

Moses George Hogan (1957-2003) was born in New Orleans, Louisiana.  A pianist, conductor, and arranger of international renown, he was a graduate of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio.  He also studied at New York’s Julliard School of Music and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.  As a concert pianist, Mr. Hogan’s many accomplishments include winning First Place in the prestigious 28th annual Kosciuszko Foundation Chopin Competition in New York!

In a time and place where physical hardship and emotional anguish were a way of life for a people in bondage, God placed into their hearts and onto their lips a song.  So powerful was this song that…in its words was hope itself…in its melody the peace for which their hearts yearned…and in its rhythm, the pulse of the Almighty who sustained them.  That song was the spiritual, and it survives to this day as one of the most deeply moving expressions of the human spirit.

The spirituals were first sung by individuals whose names we can never know.  The anonymity of their authors, however, adds to the poignancy of these songs; for it leaves us to imagine the kind of suffering that pressed such music from their souls.  The words of the spirituals express the deep longings and the naked faith of people kept by design from formal education.  Their words, then, are necessarily simple and direct; and they convey the most fervent desires for freedom and family, for peace and prosperity, through unpolished dialect and biblical images.

The melodies of the spirituals likewise possess the haunting beauty that has simplicity as its handmaid.

But in their simplicity is hidden a degree of harmonic sophistication that was left for subsequent generations of arrangers and composers to explore.  Europeans such as Dvorak found in the spirituals a wealth of melodic material upon which to base symphonic compositions.  However, fittingly, it was a group of African-American composers and conductors who pioneered the art of arranging the spirituals for solo and choral performance.  In the hands of early masters such as Harry T. Burleigh and Hall Johnson, the spirituals retained their lyrical directness and their emotional power – while taking on a new measure of harmonic refinement.

It is upon the foundation of Burleigh and Johnson’s work that Moses Hogan has built, adding his own unique contribution to the American spirituals by fusing the harmonic sensibility, honed by his years as a student and practitioner of classical piano literature, his love of the human voice, and his musical roots in the African-American Church.

Moses Hogan’s pieces are a perfect equal collaboration between the singer and the accompanist to showcase the American spiritual.