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Summer Chorale to perform Emlen/Stookey “23rd Psalm”

Bar Harbor -

BAR HARBOR – Mount Desert Summer Chorale concert  “Of Psalms and Kings”; performances are scheduled at 8pm for Saturday and Sunday, August 7 and 8, at St. Saviour’s Church in Bar Harbor. A pre-concert talk by David Schildkret will start a 7:30. For further information visit the Chorale’s website at www.mountdesertsummerchorale.org.

It was in 1977 that George Emlen started making late-night visits to Noel Stookey’s “henhouse” studio in South Blue Hill to help him create a five-movement choral version of the 23rd Psalm. George and Noel got to know one another when George was organist at the Blue Hill Congregational Church and Noel sang bass in the choir. Noel had recently made a life change by moving to Blue Hill when his trio Peter, Paul and Mary decided to take a break from their intense touring schedule. George had decided to trade in his work as a newspaper editor and freelance journalist to pursue a graduate degree in choral conducting.

The overall concept for the a new musical setting of the best-known of all psalms came from Noel. In his ears and mind, the text fell into five distinct sections, and he had clear musical ideas for each. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” was a lonely pizzicato bass line under a single solo soprano voice. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” was a party scene with tambourine accompaniment. And so on.

George’s job was to flesh out and mold these ideas into complete musical forms, with particular attention to choral sound. In fact the work soon expanded and developed in unexpected and exciting ways. From the beginning it had deep roots in the rich contrapuntal writing of J.S. Bach. Noel had recorded “Et Misericordia” from Bach’s “Magnificat” years earlier, and that music had a powerful influence on the development of the 23rd Psalm. Before long it began to seem like an homage to the Baroque master, with a full-blown fugue for the text “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

It wasn’t until 1986 after many henhouse sessions that the work finally saw its first performance. George conducted his own Mount Desert Summer Chorale in the world premiere of the piece that summer, to great acclaim. Bonnie Scarpelli and Cherie Magnello were the soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists, and Allen Sever was the organist.

This summer the Chorale will give its third performance of the piece, with David Schildkret conducting. This time the work will have a fuller orchestration. With Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” also on the program calling for harp and percussion in addition to organ and with trumpets available as well, George took the opportunity to give the “23rd Psalm” a fuller, richer sound with the instruments at hand.

For More Information:

Contact Name: Marty Ward

Telephone Number: (207)244-0042

Website: http://www.mountdesertsummerchorale.org

Email: summerchorale@gmail.com