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Baritone Mark Rucker is the featured soloist with the Sackets Harbor Vocal Arts Ensemble's concert on May 4th at Trinity Episcopal Church in Watertown.  Photo:  Jen Joyce Davis
Baritone Mark Rucker is the featured soloist with the Sackets Harbor Vocal Arts Ensemble's concert on May 4th at Trinity Episcopal Church in Watertown. Photo: Jen Joyce Davis

"Am I an American?" Watertown concert celebrates American artists

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The Trinity Concert Series continues at Trinity Episcopal Church in Watertown on Sunday, May 4, with a focus on the words, poetry and music of American writers, poets and composers. The concert will feature the Sackets Harbor Vocal Arts Ensemble and orchestra.

Founded in 2006, the ensemble includes over 50 singers from around the region. Baritone Mark Rucker will be the featured soloist in "Ballad for Americans" composed by Earl Robinson.

Music Director Richard Probert told Todd Moe that the concert will also feature spirituals, the poetry of Robert Frost and music composed by Aaron Copland and Randall Thompson.

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Reported by

Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer

Todd Moe: Talk about this "Ballad for Americans", which is what, pre-World War II America?

Richard Probert: It was pre-WWII, and it was really first performed in 1939. It was really made famous by Paul Robeson who recorded the work in the late '40s early '50s, but it is so patriotic that it almost verges on being quite Hollywood. It includes…the soloist who speaks basically throughout the piece and sings throughout the piece, people from the chorus respond by asking if he is an American and he says “Am I an American?” and he goes on about why he is an American. It was really one of the most performed pieces throughout the '40s into the '50s, every high school did it. Now it is of course out of print at this point.

Todd Moe: So we have Earl Robinson, Aaron Copland, Randall Thompson, poetry of Robert Frost, really a nice mix.

RP: What is interesting here is that if you go to the old American songs by Aaron Copland…these Copland works that we are doing were arranged by Irving Fine. Now Irving Fine was a very good friend of Leonard Bernstein, studied with Nadia Boulanger, and also was a very close friend of Aaron Copland. So when it came to reset these pieces for chorus he did a magnificent job and literally kept them in the same keys, so they are very exciting with orchestra of course.

And then the Randall Thompson, who I think is probably yeah I could say without too much reservation the 20th century's best choral composer, he knows the geography of the voice well and he does very well with his orchestrations, so [on] Frostiana, which a lot of choral singers would know, he has beautiful orchestral settings of those pieces, they are normally done with keyboard. But they are beautiful orchestrations on the Frostiana; we are doing three of the six.

TM: Well I want to put in a shout out for Frostiana; those are gorgeous pieces so I am glad you programmed those.

RP: They’re exquisite…he captures the poetry of Frost so incredibly well and there's as connection between Frost and nature that is really brought out by the orchestrations.

TM: In the past, you have done some larger works and it sounds like this time around you really are focusing on, even with the spirituals and the patriotic songs, really a focus on words and the poetry and the beauty. You know playing with those words and the beauty of those words.

RP: I absolutely am…When we do something like the Brahms requiems, or Elijah, or Mozart's Requiem, you are dealing with one composer, one what I like to refer to as “geography” in terms of the singing lines, the harmony, etc. So for the singers once they get started in that piece get stuck in basically a corridor of the way the composer writes…Whereas, in this kind of a concert it is more of a recital as opposed to a large production like an opera or something.

So the demand is that the singers have to constantly change styles and of course focus a great deal on the words which of course the audience also has to work hard with to. All of the words will be printed so they can follow the words carefully. So yes, it is really a study of words and music and all of it 20th century except for things like…the Star-Spangled Banner and a few other patriotic songs that they audience will join us with.

This is a perfect opportunity for parents to bring a young child, you know eight, nine, or 10 years old to experience the wonders of it, the wonders of music. Because it is so diverse I think it would hold the interest considerably of young people, so I urge people to do that and in fact all students, including college students, are admitted free.

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