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South Holland Master Chorale concerts extend across centuries on May 19 and June 2

Singers, orchestra to join forces at Lansing and St. John churches

SOUTH HOLLAND, Ill. (March 27, 2024) – South Holland Master Chorale will combine music from the 18th century and the 21st century in a concert titled “A Mass for Troubled Times” to be presented May 19 in Lansing, Illinois, and June 2 in St. John, Indiana.

The concerts, under direction of Philip J. Bauman, will present the stirring work “i thank you God for most this amazing day” by contemporary American composer Dan Forrest, based on a text by E.E. Cummings, paired with the “Mass for Troubled Times,” also popularly known as the “Lord Nelson Mass,” by Franz Joseph Haydn.

The May 19 performance will be at 4 p.m. at All Souls Parish, 3010 Ridge Road, Lansing. The hour-long concert will be repeated June 2 at 4 p.m. at St. John the Evangelist Church, 10701 Olcott Avenue, St. John. Admission to both concerts is free; donations will be accepted. For more information, visit the Chorale website, southhollandmasterchorale.org, phone 708-210-2913, or email [email protected].

About the “Lord Nelson Mass”

“We certainly live in troubled times,” Bauman said. “This concert celebrates the amazing things God has given us, things to be thankful for, and a cry for peace in the world. The power of the human voice can change the world. Our voices resound in glorious harmony and in one accord as we conclude the Mass exclaiming, ‘Dona nobis pacem!’ Give us peace!”

Written in 1798 when much of the European world was in turbulent times with Napoleon’s army challenging European powers, the “Nelson Mass” is considered by many scholars to be among Haydn’s greatest compositions. At this time Haydn, in his mid-60s, already had completed 104 symphonies, as well as his choral masterworks “The Creation” and “The Seasons,” and was hailed as a musical genius throughout Europe. His employer, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy, had commissioned Haydn to compose a new setting of the Catholic Mass each year to mark the name day of his wife, Princess Maria. The Mass setting being performed in these concerts is the third of six that Haydn completed.

British conductor and choral music composer John Bawden notes that at that time Mass settings generally were “a straightforward affair with organ accompaniment and perhaps a small group of strings.” But now Haydn, “still alert to any opportunity for innovation, proceeded to expand the format, integrating the orchestral and vocal forces in an extended symphonic choral work.” Bawden further notes that “for economic reasons Prince Nikolaus had dismissed nearly all the wind players from his court orchestra, leaving Haydn with only trumpets, timpani, organ and strings. With typical resourcefulness he turned this apparent disadvantage into an opportunity, creating a highly distinctive sonority found in no other Mass.”

Although later published editions of this Mass were created with more “normalized” orchestration that became extremely popular, the presentation by South Holland Master Chorale will retain Haydn’s original orchestration.

Interestingly, Haydn’s manuscript of this Mass had no title or dedication, known simply by the key of D minor in which it was written. Only some years later did Haydn himself catalog it as “Missa in Angustiis” (Mass in Troubled Times), presumably a reflection of the uncertain times in which it was composed. However, two years after the Mass was written, British Lord Horatio Nelson, who had commanded the fleet that defeated Napoleon in the Battle of the Nile in August 1798 — about the same time that Haydn was composing this Mass — visited the Esterhazy estate near Vienna. During that visit, Haydn’s “Te Deum” and the “Mass in D Minor” were performed in Nelson’s honor. Bawden and others have suggested it may have been that presentation, as well as the militaristic tone of parts of the Mass because of the prominence of trumpets and timpani, that prompted the later association of Haydn’s Mass with Lord Nelson.

“Despite the foreboding of (these parts of the Mass),” Bawden says, “the prevailing mood of the ‘Nelson Mass’ is one of jubilation.” He adds that “Haydn once observed, ‘At the thought of God my heart leaps for joy, and I cannot help my music doing the same.’ The sparkling vitality of the ‘Nelson Mass’ is the very epitome of that statement.”

About “i thank you God for most this amazing day.”

The second work on the concert program is a setting by contemporary American composer Dan Forrest of E.E. Cummings’ poem “i thank you God for most this amazing day.” The text of the poem reflects elements of Cummings’ being raised in the Unitarian faith, which emphasizes the oneness of God, as well as his adult embracing of transcendentalism that celebrates humanity and nature. In the poem, the natural world triggers an awakening to “Truth,” which for Cummings is a person, a “You.”

South Holland Master Chorale performed this work in its concerts this past fall. That presentation included only piano accompaniment, while the upcoming concerts will feature the work with orchestral accompaniment for a more full sound.

Philip Bauman says that Forrest found the inspiration for this work while on a bike ride along the Atlantic coast.

Forrest described the event: “I’m riding my bike across this narrow bridge that goes across the marsh to get back to the mainland and the wind is pushing through all the reeds on the marshes, and the sun is shining — it’s just the most beautiful thing. And then out of nowhere this beautiful egret rises up out of the marsh, this white bird with a huge wingspan just pure snow white, and it rises up effortlessly and just starts floating across this sea of marsh grass blowing in the wind. And I thought, ‘i thank you God for most this amazing day.’

“It was seeing the kind of beauty that E.E Cummings was talking about in that text,” Forrest continues. “It was very shortly after that, something about the vast marshes and how it’s just grass as far as you can see may have lent itself to that kind of minimalism that starts the work. (It’s) just a very simple idea like one blade of grass but just repeated as far as the eye could see and yet constantly changing and moving in the wind and morphing into new things and then this bird just rising and floating over the top of all. It is almost like the choir rising and floating over top of all this grass underneath.”

As Forrest reflected on this work, he noted that he has rarely heard the work all the way through, but when he has he thinks, “Did that actually come from me? It is so beautiful.”

Bauman adds, “That is why South Holland Master Chorale and I love his musical writing. It always is ‘so beautiful.’

“I’m so thankful we have this work in our repertoire,” Bauman said. “Dan Forrest perfectly presents the text in an emotionally gripping way that takes the listener on an amazing journey. It’s a brilliant work of art. You will be touched.”

About the South Holland Master Chorale

South Holland Master Chorale has a long history as one of the premiere singing ensembles of the Chicago Southland, having grown from a group formed in the early 1970s at what then was Thornton Community College in Harvey. When the college transitioned into South Suburban College on a new campus in South Holland in the 1980s, the group became known as South Suburban Chorale and continued under that name for 30 years. The group assumed its current name when it came under sponsorship of the Village of South Holland in 2015.

Broadly diverse and proudly non-discriminatory, the Chorale currently comprises more than 60 active singers from communities extending from Chicago to Kankakee and from Orland Park to Chesterton and Valparaiso, Indiana.

The Chorale has a longstanding reputation of bringing to life great masterworks of the classical and sacred choral repertoire, as well as spirited performances of works in the African-American spiritual and gospel traditions.

South Holland Master Chorale
South Holland Master Choralehttps://southhollandmasterchorale.org/
South Holland Master Chorale grew from a group that began in the early 1970s at what was then Thornton Junior College, later renamed South Suburban College. The Chorale now receives financial support from the Village of South Holland, from which it takes its current name. Over its long existence, the Chorale has performed throughout the Chicago south suburbs and Northwest Indiana, presenting major works both classic and contemporary.