“I call it real American music.”
That’s how Stephen Caracciolo, artistic director of the LancasterChorale, describes the program for An American Mosaic, the chorale’s upcoming concert of American folk songs, hymns, spirituals, concert works and popular fare.
“We decided that we want to do a concert during the Lancaster Festival,” Caracciolo said in a recent interview. “And that is when I actually redid my whole season and decided to reprogram for the festival American music that would be (performed) during the summer in the lovely hills of Fairfield County.”
Echoing through those hills and showcased on the program will be several selections from The Sacred Harp, an 1844 collection of American folk hymns notated in shape notes, published in New England and promulgated in southern states.
LancasterChorale will sing some of the Sacred Harp selections in their original versions, and others in more recent choral arrangements by Robert Shaw, Paul Christiansen and Caracciolo.
“You rarely ever hear (folk hymns from The Sacred Harp) sung by a classical choral ensemble because many people hear them as being too hollow or rough-hewn, not quite schooled enough,” Caracciolo said.
“But we would like to feature harmonizations from The Sacred Harp side-by-side with harmonizations that fill out the harmonies and counterpoint for concert use,” Caracciolo continued. “And you be the judge: Which one do you prefer? Do you prefer the original rough-hewn version, or do you like the more worked-out arrangement for choir?”
The Sacred Harp gave rise to singing societies devoted to performing the collection’s folk hymns and to a distinct way of vocalizing these hymns. Sacred Harp societies throughout the United States have carried forth a distinct sound and style of singing and have enjoyed something of a renaissance over the last decade.
During An American Mosaic, LancasterChorale will aim to give audience members a sample of the Sacred Harp sound.
“The singing societies sing very strong and very bright and with no word inflection at all, but it’s a very earthy sound,” Caracciolo said. “So I think that we are going to do a tip of the hat – classical singing (with an) extra-bright sound.”
Independent of the Sacred Harp folk hymn tradition, LancasterChorale will also perform choral arrangements of American folk songs, including Gail Kubik’s classic arrangement of He’s Goin’ Away – the story of a woman left behind when her beloved goes off to war – and Norman Luboff’s arrangement of the Appalachian folk song Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.
The traditional Appalachian Sourwood Mountain, arranged by British composer and conductor John Rutter, is the concert’s sole transatlantic contribution.
“I don’t mind adopting John Rutter as an American for this particular concert, since he is so well-loved in the United States and does a lot of arrangements of folk music,” Caracciolo said.
Popular songs from the American songbook and Broadway also appear with classic spirituals arrangements by Jack Halloran, Undine Moore and Larry Fleming.
In addition to works inspired by the American hymn, folk song and spiritual traditions, the performance also will feature American works for concert choir, including one of Morten Lauridsen’s best-known works, Dirait-on, and Howard Hanson’s inspiring Prayer of the Middle Ages, among others.
“I wanted to make sure that concertgoers to a LancasterChorale professional choral ensemble also got to hear some concert fare, things that are not based on spirituals or folk songs necessarily,” Caracciolo said.
Caracciolo will conduct the LancasterChorale in An American Mosaic, Sunday, July 21 at 4:30 p.m. in First Presbyterian Church, located in Lancaster.