Singing to the circles of our lives

Courtesy of Paul Boyer

Durango Women’s Choir members Wendy Gillis, Elizabeth Crawford, Julie Wigton, Zoa Huckins and Carol Thurman, directed by Linda Mack Berven, perform in October for the “He & She” concert at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

By Judith Reynolds
Special to the Herald

“Again, again, we come and go, changed, changing.”

The poetry of Wendell Berry has served many a nature-lover, many a composer and many a music lover. “Circles,” Berry’s poem about the cyclical nature of life, is the title of the final concert of the Durango Women’s Choir this season.

A rare joint performance with the Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble will be staged twice – here and in Santa Fe. The first will be Sunday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. The repeat performance will be one week later at Santa Fe’s First Presbyterian Church. Linda Mack Berven and Linda Raney conduct.

It’s pure coincidence that the two directors are both named Linda.

“I’ve known Linda Raney for many years,” Mack Berven said. “It occurred to me that we have the same number of singers and the same repertoire. A year ago, I threw out the idea of an exchange concert, and here we are.”

Each ensemble will sing separately, and the two groups will come together for four pieces, Mack Berven said. They’ll each conduct two.

On either side of the intermission, for example, two settings of “Ave Maria” will be performed– one by Franz Biebl, the other by Gustav Holst.

The program will open with Z. Randall Stroope’s “Magnificat,” a bold setting of the age-old prayer of the Virgin Mary. And the final double-choir work will be a relatively new arrangement of the beloved American folk song “Shenandoah.”

In between, each ensemble will perform spirituals, ballads and folk songs from England, Ireland, Australia and Ecuador. At the heart of the Durango concert will be an unusual work commissioned by yet another Linda for the Durango Choir a year ago.

“A Song of Grace,” by Santa Fe-based composer Linda Rice Beck, has been set to a text by the early 17th-century Metaphysical poet Richard Crashaw. The piece received its world premiere at the Choral Society’s April concert, which the composer attended.

“For a very long time,” Mack Berven said, “the Crashaw poem has been a favorite of mine. There are two parts: A prayer and then an expression of hope for salvation. When I gave it to Linda Beck, she understood the meaning right away. The music is very evocative. It has tension and release in all the right places, and the ending is an ascent.”

The poem will be reprinted in the program, Mack Berven said, because Crashaw may not be as well-known as other English Metaphysical Poets – John Donne, George Herbert and Andrew Marvell. Caught in the throes of the English Civil War, Crashaw, a Catholic, led a precarious life in exile and died at age 36 in Italy.

His poetry is both passionate and contemplative, known for its deep sense of joy and spirituality.

Crashaw’s poetry, Mack Berven added, sets a standard for the texts represented in other selections. Poems by Emily Dickenson, John Keats and William Blake, for example, have been set to music and serve as a basis for the music. “And every work has been composed for women’s voices,” she said.

Wendell Berry’s “Circles” is no exception. When Mack Berven found a setting of Berry’s poem by Texas composer Dede Duson, that completed another circle for her, she said.

The Durango Women’s Choir has been performing for more than 20 years. The Santa Fe Ensemble is celebrating its 31st season.

Both choral organizations have won Choral America’s Alice Parker Award for Adventurous Programming.

Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at jreynolds@durangoherald.com.

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