On Nov. 3, Professor of Music Karen Leigh-Post preformed a vocal recital in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel to an attentive audience of students, staff and community members. After ending the final notes of the eerily discordant “Furthermore” by Christine Davis, she joked that the first 40 minutes comprised what she called the “baby-boomer” half of the show, primarily consisting of still-living composers, though she noted the selections were from a diverse mix of male and female musicians as well as from composers of different ethnic backgrounds. The texts of the performance, handed out to the audience before the show, shared a common theme of searching for a sense of home in the face of disruption.
The second piece of the program, the Pawnee “Song to the Trees and Streams” was a piece commissioned with cello to celebrate nature in the face of a plant threatening to encroach on Pawnee land. The composer made a powerful, conscious choice to focus on the nature the Pawnee wanted to preserve rather than an indictment of the plant, thereby giving voice to the future they desired instead of focusing on what they did not want to happen. The piece encapsulated a profound reverence for nature, opening with a rich, deep cello intro that softened into subtle pizzicato with the introduction of voice. The voice and cello moved together dialectically, mirroring relationships in nature as the cello filled vocal rests. Alice Fletcher, an ethnomusicologist cited in Leigh-Post’s program, wrote that the Pawnee Hako ceremony emphasizes that humans depend on the family for peace and happiness, ultimately expanding the family circle to include those not in the bloodline. It is at this point that the traditional “Song to the Trees and Streams” is sung, as a monument to the familial value of nature.
The next two pieces, “Ask Me” and “Quo Vadis,” poems by William Stafford set to music, built on the theme of nature’s significance in one’s life and returned to the overarching persistence of home. Both portrayed rivers as pensive places to visit in search of wisdom and change. In the latter poem, Stafford contemplated the possibility of the nomadic nature of rivers being fulfilling for humans, asking “Is there a way to be gone and still belong? / Travel that takes you home?”
The subsequent pieces, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” with poetry by Walt Whitman, “Going Back” by Marina L. Roscher and “Memories of Prague” by Petr Ginz, slightly deviated from the themes of nature and moved on to the familiarity and love of cities and their buildings and how deeply they are missed in absence. Roscher’s appreciation of a cathedral in “Going Back” set up a religious background for the celestial pleas later presented in Langston Hughes’ “Prayer” and Chinook Psalter’s “Agnus Dei,” begging for home and consolation for those who expect, as Hughes wrote, “no love from above.”
Leigh-Post filled what she described as the “lighter half” of the show following intermission with a selection of German pieces including “Die Nonne” (The Nun) by Johan Ludwig Uhland, “Scheidend” (Parting) by Felix Mendelssohn, and “Six Duets” set by Mendelssohn, once again cementing the theme of nature in familiarity and home. Leigh-Post assembled an incredibly cohesive, poignant and thought-provoking program and executed it exquisitely, leaving no mystery behind her numerous operatic successes.