Three Choral Cycles on Poems by Langston Hughes

William Averitt

ROBERT BODE, conductor

Natalie Lassinger, soprano
Melissa Loehnig, piano
Lee Thompson, piano

MSR Classics DISCOVER Series



“This was quite an exciting disk, however, and has a lot to recommend it. ... It really is a fabulous collection, though, particularly since it was recorded before a live audience... Whilst written recently and in a modern idiom, Averitt's music is quite listenable and I think anyone who likes choral music will enjoy it. There are only twenty-four singers, but the depth of sound is rich and satisfying, and the performances solid. The piano accompaniment is well realized — supportive when needed, and more prominent when appropriate. Strongly recommended.”
Geoff Pearce, Music & Vision [May 2015]
“The singing in these concert performances is excellent, which comes as no surprise because music at the UMKC Conservatory is about as good as it is anywhere. If you’re in the market for something interesting and new, this could fill the bill nicely.”
Greenfield, American Record Guide [January/February 2015]
“ is to the credit of William Averitt, professor emeritus of music at the Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University, that he has produced three major cycles... one cannot but respond positively to the obvious sincerity with which Averitt sets these lines. One must appreciate the sensitive selection of the poems, and their thematic arrangement ... One must delight in that imagination with which he at times responds to Hughes’s rich imagery... The applause of the Kansas City audience says it was just that: delighted. That appreciation was particularly appropriate for the performances of this fine student chorus... The Dream Keeper was recorded by the commissioning chorus, Seattle’s Choral Arts (Gothic), conducted by the same Robert Bode who leads the Kansas City chorus [which] yields little in polish or feeling to his acclaimed West-Coast singers.”
Fanfare [November/December 2014]
“The musical concept of these cycles is an interesting one: all are for chorus and piano four hands, scarcely a typical combination... Afro-American Fragments is a stylistic mixture of jazz, ragtime and blues, arranged in three short-long movement pairs. The Dream Keeper...ranges from chordal and other slow passages to fast-moving ones and contains a particularly impressive setting of “As I Grew Older”... Lovers of Hughes’ [The Deepness of the Blue] will certainly enjoy hearing the many ways in which Averitt sets it in these cycles, and these world première recordings are impressively sung throughout.”
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad [July 2014]
I first worked with Langston Hughes’ poetry in 1987 while my wife Frances and I were on sabbaticals from teaching and living for six months in Paris. I was feeling especially “American” being in that great city, surrounded by a wonderfully sophisticated yet exotic culture, so nothing felt more appropriate at the time than to write a cycle of songs using Hughes’ quintessentially American words in combination with American popular music idioms. The resulting work, Shadow of the Blues, included blues, an up-tempo dance tune, and a tango. That cycle proved to be something of a compositional turning point for me as many of my scores in the years since, including the three cycles on this recording, have utilized jazz harmonies and rhythmic idioms embedded as “local color” in an otherwise classically-based contemporary, compositional context.

Afro-American Fragments (1991) was composed for Winchester Musica Viva, a chamber choir of which I was Founder and Music Director. It was written for the concluding concert of our 10th Anniversary season and featured piano 4-hands as the accompaniment simply because, during the course of our 10 seasons, we had enjoyed the collaboration of two fine keyboardists whose talents I wanted to utilize on this celebratory program. Its six movements are organized poetically and musically into three pairs in which the first of each pair (Nos. 1, 3 & 5) is brief and generally introductory to the second of each pair (Nos. 2, 4 & 6). A variety of African American musical styles are alluded to through the cycle: slow jazzy waltz in “Wonder,” ragtime in “When Sue Wears Read,” blues in “Song for Billie Holiday,” slow spiritual in “Feet o’ Jesus” and up-tempo spiritual in “Fire.”

The Deepness of the Blue (2012) is the most recently written of my three Langston Hughes cycles. In this set, the first and second poems of five look to the night sky for their imagery. The first (“New  Moon”) rides on a constantly twinkling syncopated figure high in Piano I while the second (“My Loves”) is accompanied by an oldfashioned slow boom-chick rhythm of the sort found in innumerable popular songs of the Great American Songbook. The poignant central “Poem [To F.S.]” stands alone in a simple, unaccompanied setting. The final pair of movements sets two poems based on drum imagery: the strong death-imagery of “Drum” is treated as a wild, pounding, syncopated and violent perpetual motion while the concluding, sensuous “Danse Africaine” is a long, hypnotically spun-out tango. The piece was commissioned by the Texas Lutheran University Choir under Douglas Boyer.

The third cycle, The Dream Keeper (2009), actually was the second to be composed. In four stand- alone movements, its music is the most demanding of the three sets, reflecting the virtuosity of the commissioning ensemble. Hughes’ voluptuous “The Dream Keeper” is set in a slow, lush harmonic world featuring rich, sustained chords in the chorus. “Dream Variations” contrasts with very fast, non- stop movement and aggressive accents in the piano parts supporting quick-moving soprano and alto lines in alternation with sustained four-part harmonies. “As I Grew Older” is a powerful poem about how the dreams of youth can become obscured by the shadows of time that, in a telling conclusion, nevertheless emerge optimistically “Into a thousand lights of sun, Into a thousand whirling dreams Of sun!” Musically, most of this movement is held firm by a clock-like succession of slowly repeated notes, only to open out with Hughes’ words at the end into bright whirling figures in the Piano I. The concluding “Song” is marked tempo di milonga and can be heard as a sort of spirited, energetic version of the tango. The piece was commissioned, premiered and recorded in 2009 by Choral Arts, the Seattle-based chamber choir, under Robert Bode. [William Averitt]

William Averitt has composed numerous works that have been performed throughout the United States and in Western Europe, Russia and Asia. Averitt has received fellowships, grants and commissions from a wide variety of sources, including the National Endowment for the Arts, VMTA/MTNA, the Library of Congress, Choral Arts (Seattle), Texas Lutheran University, Maryland Symphony Orchestra, Bach Choir of Pittsburgh, Opus 3 Trio, Murray State University Choir, Winchester Musica Viva and Shenandoah Conservatory Chamber Choir. His two-hour St. Matthew Passion was co-commissioned by eleven southeastern university choral departments and performed in 2010 at the Southern Division-ACDA Conference in Memphis, Tennessee. Afro-American Fragments (1991) won the 1992 Roger Wagner Center Choral Composition Competition; in 2004, Conspirare released three movements as part of their acclaimed CD “…through the green fuse…” Choral Arts (Seattle) commissioned The Dream Keeper and recorded it on their award-winning CD “Mornings Like This”. Averitt’s works have been published by ECS, Treble Clef, Falls House, Little Piper, Fred Bock Music, Trevco, ALRY Publications, Concordia and MMB Publications. His music has been the subject of two doctoral treatises. He is Professor Emeritus of Music and formerly Coordinator of Composition at Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia, where he was on the faculty for 38 years - from 1973 to 2012.

Robert Bode is the Raymond R. Neevel Missouri Professor of Choral Music and Director of Choral Activities at the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Prior to his appointment at UMKC, Bode served on the faculty at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA, where he was the Alma Meisnest Endowed Chair in the Humanities and Fine Arts and Director of Choral and Vocal Studies. Dr. Bode received his doctorate in Conducting from the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music in Ohio. Prior to attending the Cincinnati Conservatory, Bode won a conducting scholarship to the Aspen Music Festival, where he studied opera conducting with Fiora Contino. In 1982, he studied in Wales as a Conducting Fellow at the University-College of Music in Cardiff. Bode made his Carnegie Hall conducting debut in 1990, conducting the Walla Walla Symphony Chorale in the New York Premiere of The Waking by John David Earnest. In addition to his distinguished teaching career, Bode has enjoyed a successful international conducting career as guest conductor of the Kammerorchester Leipzig, Filharmonia Sudecka in Poland, Vratca Philharmonic in Bulgaria and Yunnan Provincial Chorus in China, among many others. Also noted for his strong advocacy of music by American composers, he has commissioned more than fifty works for chorus from composers including William Averitt, John David Earnest, Eric Barnum, Jake Heggie, Gwyneth Walker, Richard Hundley, Rick Asher, Melinda Bargreen, William Hawley, John Muelheisen, Frank Ferko, Jake Runestad and others. Currently, Bode is the Artistic Director of Choral Arts, a semi professional chamber chorus in Seattle, Washington. In the spring of 2010, Bode and the chorus received the Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence, presented by Chorus America.
AFRO-AMERICAN FRAGMENTS for chorus and piano four hands (1991)
Commissioned by Winchester Musica Viva - William Averitt, Music Director
When Sue Wears Red
Dream Dust
Song for Billie Holiday
Feet o’ Jesus

THE DEEPNESS OF THE BLUE for chorus and piano four hands (2012)
Commissioned by the Texas Lutheran University Choir - Douglas Boyer, Music Director
New Moon
My Loves
Poem [to F.S.]
Danse Africaine

THE DREAM KEEPER for chorus and piano four hands (2009)
Commissioned by Choral Arts, Seattle - Robert Bode, Artistic Director
The Dream Keeper
Dream Variations
As I Grew Older


MSR Classics