Classical music is having a bit of an identity crisis. Opera houses and orchestras face mounting deficits amid a very slow recovery in our barely post-recession economy. Meanwhile, smaller ensembles seem to be popping up everywhere, and for those smaller ensembles fortunate enough to have roots already planted, they are growing. In many ways, this embodies American entrepreneurialism and the willingness to create something unique. As the great institutions of American classical music find a way forward, they must find a way to welcome the next generation of listeners into the concert hall.
One thing that is incredibly important to Cantus is relevance and accessibility. When we create a program, we are not seeking to create an exclusive experience that appeals to only the most astute classical music audience. Instead, we want to bring people from all walks of life together to experience the transformative power of music. As citizens of a global society, it is easy for us to see our differences and hard to find our commonalities. Perhaps art and music are the keys that we seek.
We believe in good music, and we believe that good music flows from the pens of master composers and local songwriters. We also believe in storytelling. A Cantus concert aims to not only stimulate your ears, but your heart and your mind. By programming with a theme and a narrative, we use our music to piece together a story. Because each piece is drawn from the theme, you might find a Dave Matthews tune paired with a shape-note anthem by colonial composer William Billings. Although the pairing might seem illogical on paper, in the context of the program, it makes perfect sense.
In A Place for Us, we chose a simple theme: finding home. It’s a search that is universal. Sometimes the search leads only a few blocks away from childhood memories, while other times it takes a person to the other side of the world. Each and every human being desires to find a place that feels like home. Our concert this spring, A Place for Us, reflects on the timelessness of this very search.
Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” from West Side Story carefully catalogs all of the reasons why Tony and Maria should remain hopeful that there is a place where their love would be embraced. The song carefully balances the struggle of living as a new immigrant in the United States with the very hope that continues to bring people to our shores.
Whether the search is for new opportunities, religious freedom, or basic safety—sometimes the only thing that gives a person the strength to survive is the hope that “there is a place for us.” In Elise Witt’s “My Journey Yours,” we hear this simple phrase sung in Kurdish, Arabic, Mano (Liberia), Amharic, Bosnian, Vietnamese, and Somali. With melodies drawn from the folk traditions of each culture, these simple phrases layer and swirl together to create a beautiful diversity that represents many of the refugees who have sought shelter in the United States.
While the story of the journey is truly compelling, we would be remiss if not to honor those who occupied this land long before we dared to even dream our dreams. “Lakota Wiyanki” and “Nukapianguak” celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the Lakota and Inuit people, respectively. The Canadians refer to the Inuit people as “First Nation,” which honors not only their presence on the land but also the presence of their society.
While it is easy for us to celebrate the musical diversity of our nation, true acceptance of the complexity of living in a nation of immigrants remains one of our greatest challenges. Paul John Rudoi’s “Let America Be,” with text by Langston Hughes, reminds us that America still has some room to grow before it is truly the land where “… life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.”
As we all strive to create that more perfect union, and as you continue down your path, we hope our music will continue to provide direction, solace, energy, or strength to guide you home.