Philadelphia classical music events, discussion, and directory
The Singing City was founded in 1948 with a mission of integration which, according to their program guide, "believed that differences between races, religions, and cultures could be bridged by people coming together in shared activities". They continue to bring people together today and they are additionally involved in underserved communities and educational outreach.
Peace was the theme of the concert on Sunday and it featured two works: Randal Thompson's "The Peaceable Kingdom", and Karl Jenkins "The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace". I was surprised to learn from the program notes that The Armed Man is one of the most performed works of contemporary classical music in the world today. Singing City teamed up with musicians from The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra and a film synchronized to the music was visible behind the chorus. The stage was packed to the gills, and the instrumentation selection of piano, organ, flute, trumpet, percussion, timpani, and a lone stringed instrument: cello, provided a lot of sound with relatively few musicians. The versatile pipe organ (in this case, electronic) can do a pretty good job of filling in for a large number of missing instruments and I have wondered for some time why it's not utilized more in situations like this. Of course it helps to have a rising star such as Thomas Sheehan at the console. Keeping all these elements in synch was a daunting challenge but conductor, Jeffrey Billhart, expertly coordinated the details as attentive musicians followed his directions.
The Armed Man is a song cycle that includes texts from a wide variety of sources as it describes the progression of war and ends with a message of peace. The music is highly accessible and powerful, and when coupled with the images from the movie, result in a highly emotional experience. The work was dedicated to the victims of Kosovo but the movie has been updated to include newer images that assure a close and immediate emotional connection to the events depicted.
"Theater like" in its presentation and style of music, this is a work best experienced live. Singing City took it even one step further by providing a panel and audience discussion immediately following the performance. They wisely announced it and dove right in before the audience headed for the doors. The panel consisted of Michael Gagne, Executive Director of the Envision Peace Museum in Philadelphia, and Gili Ronen, Conflict Resolution Education in Teacher Education. They read a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that summed up the mission of the newly forming Peace Museum and the music that we had just heard:
"It is not enough to say: We must not wage war ... it is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it; we must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but on the positive affirmation of peace"
This well executed program was a deeply emotional experience, but even more importantly, it inspired thought and discussion about war and peace that will be carried forward by those who were there.