The Komen Race for the Cure drew huge crowds on a Saturday morning, tying up West Raleigh streets for hours. The cause could not be more worthy. The battle against breast cancer – to find a cure for breast cancer – is ongoing. At some point, it will be won. But meanwhile there's hope and support, and massive doses of those were on display at the end of the weekend, on Sunday evening, in Meymandi Concert Hall, as two important regional performing arts ensembles with strong followings on their own joined forces for a rare collaborative concert dubbed "A Proclamation of Hope" that featured the Triangle premiere of Sing for the Cure.* The bottom line is that this was one of the most moving and consistently-engaging musical works heard hereabout in many a moon. It's a shame that more participants in the big race couldn’t have stuck around for this exceptional artistic finale for a most remarkable weekend.
The participants were the Common Woman Chorus, Cindy Bizzell, director, and the Triangle Gay Men's Chorus, John-Philip Mullinax, director. Participants from the former numbered 29 sopranos and altos; the TGMC consists of 23 tenors, baritones, and basses. This occasion wasn't the first time they've worked together but this appeared to mark a new level of artistic collaboration in pursuit of a single large-scale work. The singers were accompanied by a small orchestra consisting of a wind ensemble, harp, keyboards, and percussion. There was light albeit completely unobtrusive amplification. The placement of the artists on stage was ideal for the venue – the instrumentalists were arrayed just forward of the conductor's stand and the vocalists stood on risers at the back of the stage. Conducting duties were shared. And there was some quite incredible narration by two of our very best public speakers – WRAL's Debra Morgan and David Crabtree enjoy a strong working partnership in the news business, and their compatibility and congeniality shone through the hour and a half, eleven-section score.
The evening began with "Hear Our Song" by Kevin Tillman, sung by vocalists scattered throughout the hall, and ended with "Let Me Be the Music" by Portia Nelson and David Friedman, but Sing for the Cure was the main offering.
This was not your typical oratorio, for each section was by a different composer. Most of the music seemed to fit the Broadway mold. Unifying the work was its text – Pamela Martin contributed the lyrics and the narratives that introduced and bound up each section – and the orchestration, which prominently features harp, solo winds, percussion, and more. The TGMC's Kevin Tillman did the orchestral reductions used in this performance.
A Coplandesque "Prelude for an Uncommon Woman" set an atmospheric mood leading to a structured presentation of the cold facts and the emotional overtones surrounding a diagnosis. The parts are worth recapping, although doing so in no way hints at the poignancy of the actual performance. They are: The Community's Voice, Facing Diagnosis, The Partner's/Spouse's Voice, Taking Control, The Child's Voice, Finding Humor in Treatment, The Sister's Voice, The Mother's Voice, Pursuing a Cure, and Proclaiming Hope. These were set in various ways, mostly for four-part chorus but with numbers for the men alone, the women alone, and, along the way, various soloists, all truly exceptional, who stepped from the combined chorus to illuminate the words and music. The entire program was sung completely from memory.
That the place was not packed to overflowing, with people clamoring for admission, is one of life's great mysteries. This is a piece that merits widespread acclamation. This was a performance that did it extraordinary justice. Yes, we were moved when we experienced Mozart's Requiem in the wake of 9/11. Yes, there are few works that stir the soul like Beethoven's Missa solemnis or Verdi's heaven-shaking Messa da Requiem. Sing for the Cure, although certainly not as profound in terms of its compositional basis, worked comparable emotional impacts on many of the attendees. It was that good. It was that important. Here's hoping for a revival in the not-too-distant future. And until that happens, the cooperating choruses have certainly made their mark on the community, in no uncertain terms. Look for announcements of future concerts in our calendar in the months ahead.
*Additional information is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9B4tLzLruvQ.