The St. Olaf Choir (Anton Armstrong, conductor) performs "The Homecoming (In Memoriam Martin Luther King, Jr.)" by David Conte.
0:00 - 5:11 Spoken introduction by Anton Armstrong
5:28 - 11:30 Performance
This performance was part of the choir's home concert in Boe Memorial Chapel on the campus of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, February 17, 2013.
To view the complete concert, please visit: http://stolaf.edu/multimedia/play/?e=744
TEXT: The Homecoming
Color where in jail you're on fire
With the heart of thousands
With the heart of millions.
Color it with azure
for the skies of the heavens.
Make them ring
with the cries of the birds who call them "home."
Color it with verdure
for the trees of the earth.
Make them sing
with the shrieks of the apes who call them "home."
Color it with ardor
for the spirits of men.
Make them cower
with the wrath of their gods who call them "home."
Color where in jail you're on fire
With the heart of the God they abandoned:
Color it with apocalyptic purity,
with white, for the wombs of the mothers;
Make them shine
with the salve of the babes who called them "home"...
The babes from whose mouths
shall pour forth the words that quench the fire and set you free and call you home.
- John Stirling Walker
for Martin Luther King, Jr.
May 1, 2003
On May 1, 2003, I found myself in a community in Norway where my wife and I were seeking a position as caregivers, serving the Camphill impulse that tries to give the developmentally disabled a life as equals with those from whom they require help. That day, for some reason, I was overcome by the feeling that this situation—people receiving help without feeling indebted, because it is simply in accord with their human dignity and destiny that they be helped—bespoke a reality that obtains in all of human life, and that this spirit is what was behind Martin Luther King's impassioned rhetoric about justice. The experience led me to put down in words what I thought could fill the increasingly empty rhetoric about King's greatness with color, and give expression to a related sense I had that day: That more and more souls are appearing who won't put up with anything less than what their dignity and destiny makes their due.
John Stirling Walker shared his poem The Homecoming with me soon after he wrote it in 2003, with the idea that I might do a musical setting sometime before the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's death. As the time approached, I decided to send the poem to Joseph Jennings. I was moved and gratified when he responded with the invitation to compose this work for Chanticleer. Throughout the composition of The Homecoming, Joseph and I continued our now decades-long conversation about matters of race, society, education, and the subtlties of choral composition, which contributed richly to my work on The Homecoming.
Before beginning any setting of a text, I ask myself the following questions: Who is the speaker, and to whom are they speaking? What kind of change does the speaker go through in the course of the poem, and where are the climaxes of realization of these changes? The answer to these questions guides me in choosing every aspect of the musical materials of the piece, including the tempo, meter, tonality, texture, and formal shape. In The Homecoming, the speaker is one of the souls that Mr. Walker refers to in his note above, a soul who is restless and angry that the justice Dr. King dreamed of has not yet come to pass. This soul is speaking to Dr. King, who I envisioned as continuing to reside in a kind of spiritual jail, because people are not listening to his message. The speaker is addressing Dr. King, to inspire him and to affirm that he will "be home" when people stop ignoring what he said. The work begins in an impassioned C Minor, and moves through many tonalities and choral textures before arriving at its climax at the words "and set you free," and finally sinking to rest in a calm C Major on the words "and call you home."
Music Copyright © 2010 E.C. Schirmer Music Company.
Posted by special permission of the composer.
Copyright © 2013 St. Olaf College.
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