Program Notes: In February 2022 during the onset of the war in Ukraine, I was in Raleigh, North Carolina at a regional American Choral Directors Association convention. In addition to my shock at what the world was witnessing, I’d never felt more powerless in my desire to be part of rectifying the wrongs of the world and manifesting a future for humanity worth living in. Now, over a year and a half later, as Ukraine continues to fight for its survival as a democratic nation with little end in sight, I feel the world beginning to shrug. When wars grow long, we grow numb to the human toll of every waking hour. This desensitizing only serves Russia’s imperialist ambitions, and if condemnation turns to indifference, Ukraine is as good as gone.
In this poem written in the middle of WWI, Sara Teasdale takes the earth to task for harboring the gall to showcase natural beauty at a time when the war was extracting a cost felt around the world, ultimately claiming over 11 million lives by the time the war officially concluded. Through her poetry, Teasdale sought to deny the world the chance to look away or turn to other distractions. In many ways, I seek to do the same thing with this piece. I resent that the world offers so much to grieve about, but I am firmly grounded in the belief that art’s continual insistence that humanity not look away from what ails it plays an extraordinarily valuable mission in creating a world worth fighting for.
In October of 2022, the University of Louisville Cardinal Singers were participating in a competition in Magdeburg, Germany. Part of the event was a friendship concert with a local boys’ choir in a Magdeburg church. Sharing our music with an international audience was a gift, and after the last piece, I remember thinking that it might’ve been the best choral concert I’d ever been a part of to date. Then, after the concert, a woman holding the hand of a young child walked up to my significant other. She said, in limited English, “I came here from Ukraine six months ago. I had no hope, but you gave me hope.” Never believe for a second that art doesn’t matter. In the grand scheme of the world, art is how we change hearts and remind humanity of the future it is called to create. Whenever I feel numb to the chaos in the world, I think of that woman and her child and remember that what I do makes a difference. May everyone who hears or performs this piece be reminded of their ability and calling to bring about a better world, and may that woman and her son one day be able to return home.
Spring in War-Time, by Sara Teasdale:
I feel the spring far off, far off,
The faint, far scent of bud and leaf—
Oh, how can spring take heart to come
To a world in grief,
The sun turns north, the days grow long,
Later the evening star grows bright—
How can the daylight linger on
For men to fight,
The grass is waking in the ground,
Soon it will rise and blow in waves—
How can it have the heart to sway
Over the graves,
Under the boughs where lovers walked
The apple-blooms will shed their breath—
But what of all the lovers now
Parted by Death,
Premiered on November 6th, 2023 by the University of Louisville Collegiate Chorale, under the direction of Dr. Kent Hatteberg.