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Our love of freedom: Willamette Master Chorus salutes Veterans Day with virtual concert

Carrying on a tradition launched 17 years ago, the Salem choir opens its 37th season with a salute.

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Each Veterans Day cracked and faded photos are gently lifted to the light; precious mementos are unboxed and laid out. 

Photo by Daryl Browne.

Some families recall the joyous day of coming home; others recall a day of saying goodbye. Flags are flown, stories are retold, tears of gratitude and of sorrow are shed. And in Salem, the Willamette Master Chorus sings.

Willamette Master Chorus’s 37th season, titled “Gratitude and Perseverance,” opens with a Veterans Day virtual concert on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. It is a celebratory 20th season for Artistic Director and conductor Dr. Paul Klemme, by whose instigation–in alignment with the choir’s mission to be “essential to our community”–the Veterans Day concert tradition was launched 17 years ago. Klemme and singer/board member Amy Amend spoke of the Veteran’s Day tradition in a Nov. 2019 interview on Salem cable program InSight

The armistice of World War I was November 11, 1918. Held in remembrance by many nations, it was proclaimed a U.S. legal holiday in 1938: Armistice Day, dedicated to the cause of world peace. In 1954, Congress passed a bill to rename it Veteran’s Day in order to include all American veterans who served their country. The small inclusionary changes to the holiday over eighty-three years are reflected in the variety of music and stories in this annual WMC event.

Opening the 37th season program will be “Star Spangled Banner” followed by a medley of familiar and inspiring armed forces songs. This full frontal patriotism sets the stage for one example of what freedom means: the right of citizenry to advocate and propose changes for the good of all.

Musician and teacher Amy Shapiro and her husband Jeffrey Olenick had long been advocating for revision of the lyrics to the state song “Oregon, My Oregon” written in 1920 by John A. Buchanan. “The changes we have proposed are small but they are profound,” Shapiro wrote in 2020 testimony to the Oregon Legistature. “Outdated, misleading and offensive words glorifying oppression and murder are replaced with inspiring words glorifying Oregon’s natural beauty – majestic mountains, forests and rivers  – as well as our love of freedom.”

Shapiro was invited to perform the song with revised text for the Oregon legislature in 2020. Oregon District 38 Representative Andrea Salinas sponsored a bill to make the changes.

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Shapiro singing revised “Oregon, My Oregon” at the State Capitol in 2020.

Among the many people in favor of the change was Oregon’s 2018-2020 Poet Laureate Kim Stafford. In his letter of support he wrote “Please pass the Salinas bill to give the full community of Oregon a chance to sing who we are.” On June 7, 2021, the Oregon Legislature voted in approval of the bill (47-6 House, 25-5 Senate). Governor Brown signed it into law.

Shapiro and Oregon State District 27 Representative Sheri Schouten will appear on the WMC virtual stage to explain the trail that was blazed to make the revision.

The original melody of the song, composed by Henry B. Murtagh, has been retained. Composer and WMC choir member Chris Jones has arranged an SATB choral version of this new “Oregon, My Oregon” which, Klemme believes, will be the first public choral performance of the revised state song.

The Fire Brigade

Willamette Master Chorus can make magic with Mozart and run with Rutter, but they’ve been known to add some blues or Broadway. Their Veteran’s Day program always includes several patriotic song arrangements and war/peace/freedom-themed choral works. They often welcome local school choirs and guest speakers to share the stage. And sometimes they extend their gratitude beyond veterans to include others who keep us well and safe.

This concert honors firefighters, specifically the firefighters of the Idanha-Detroit Rural Fire Protection District who served bravely in the Beachie Creek inferno of September 2020.

Sept. 8, 2020, 3:20 a.m. 

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Marion County (Oregon) Sheriff’s office issues a Level 3 “leave now” order: “Conditions in the Santiam Canyon east of Mehama have become extremely dangerous and all residents who have not yet evacuated need to do so immediately.” Within hours the evacuation orders included the Highway 22 cities of Detroit and Idanha. 

Fire Chief Will Ewing, Lieutenant Laura Grimes and Lieutenant Andrea Martinez represent their brother and sister firefighters–many of them volunteers–who roused people from tents, homes and RVs and escorted them to safety. Their ordeal received local and national coverage, and you can meet them at this WMC concert.

The Fire Brigade by Ryan Amend, also a WMC singer, will employ some of the choir’s solo talent: Amend and fellow tenor Gerry Johnson; baritone Sterling Roberts; and bass John Wright. State song arranger Jones has also written an original piece for the program, Remember Them Well. 

Accompanist for this concert is an artist well appreciated by Willamette Valley audiences. Debra Huddleston, who is also one third of the Salem area Halcyon Trio, has been accompanying WMC for twenty years.  Klemme told us he is grateful for her keyboard skills and dedication.

Love Your Neighbor is a work by Northwest composer Reginald Unterseher, who reflected that the piece and its Golden Rule are “perfectly appropriate for a firefighter tribute,” folks in public service “who do for everyone.” Soloists are sopranos Amy Amend, Caitlin Clark and Madison Hall; tenor Kent Wilson; and bass Thomas Carpenter.

The concert concludes with an arrangement of “America the Beautiful” and the rousing I Hear America Singing by Andre Thomas.

Each Veterans Day WMC brings the community together, steps into the background as others are honored, then stands tall to sing who they are. It is a gesture small but profound.

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Seattle Opera The Life and Times of MalcolmX McCaw Hall Seattle Washington

And now let’s move on to Christmas

Yikes! That was abrupt. Sometimes it’s best to just pitch it out there and duck for cover. But there’s a method to this “but it’s not even Thanksgiving” madness. It serves to acknowledge that “move on to Christmas” is exactly what WMC singers have to do to bring their December 19 “Annual Holiday Concert” to the virtual stage. 

WMC produced some very fine virtual performances for our enjoyment last year. The singers, coached well by Klemme, learned their parts and laid down the audio. Production values, particularly the sound mixing, were excellent. Both the Veteran’s Day concert and the upcoming Holiday concert have the same crew, so they ought to be top notch. An up side: virtual performances reach a wide audience and can include everyone safely, audience and performers, vaccinated or not. 

But what’s missing? You are: their audience. The sounds of your appreciation and the joy on your faces. And the singers are missing each other. Very much, according to Klemme–which is why he has set, he says hopefully, “a soft goal” of returning to live performance in February. It is a Christmas wish.

Willamette Master Chorus conductor, Dr. Paul Klemme. Photo courtesy of WMC.
Willamette Master Chorus conductor Dr. Paul Klemme. Photo courtesy of WMC.

So, here’s to the “but it isn’t even Thanksgiving” singers as they set out to record their virtual voices on classic Christmas choral arrangements by Andre Thomas, Dale Warland, and their own Chris Jones. Here’s to the Salem Academy Concert Choir under the direction of Kent Wilson, who will combine to perform The Dream Isaiah Saw by Glenn Rudolph. And here’s to another group of heroes among us–doctors, nurses, and Emergency Medical Technicians–to whom WMC will dedicate the Holiday concert and a special arrangement in their honor, The Work Shanty, by Ryan Amend. More gestures of gratitude, small but profound. 

The Veterans Day Concert (Nov 14, 3 p.m.) and Holiday Concert (Dec. 19, 3 p.m.) are both free virtual events. They will also be available for future viewing. Subscribe here

Yup. It has begun. The Christmas choral concert previews began rolling out very soon. Plan your holiday concert-going using the PDX choral calendar.

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Portland Opera The Snowy Day Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

Connections

Other songs in a state

State song “Maryland, Oh, Maryland,” sung to the tune of “O Tannenbaum,” has lost its state-song status. Maryland State legislature repealed the designation on May 18, 2021–not because of the tune but, as in Oregon, because of the exclusive and divisive lyrics. No replacement has been chosen.

Poetry 

In Kim Stafford’s At the Student Poetry Reading the words of young poets illustrate their understanding of being noticed, visible, included.

Same date in another city

Oregon Arts Watch writer Charles Rose wrote a tribute obituary to Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, who died in August 2021. Eugene Vocal Arts, conducted by Diane Retallack, will return to the live stage on Nov. 14th to offer two rarely heard/experienced works of Schafer. The Five Flower Songs of Benjamin Britten and the serene Seraglio Garden of Wilhelm Stenhammar will also be sung, under projected images of blooms and colors which promise to “soothe the senses” (choir notes from WMC website). Concert location is the Soreng Theater, Hult Center, Eugene which has Covid vaccination and/or testing protocol. Tickets are available at Eugene Concert Choir

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Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Concert Rooted Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

Food

In a fire station house on a “normal” workday, the two most important criteria for food are 1) recipes that can wait until crews return from a callout and 2) plenty of it. One popular recipe for all tastes and diets seems to be a build-your-own rice bowl. 

Prepare protein (strips, pieces or ground); a selection of veggies (cooked or raw); a selection of sauces (to complement flavor profile); fruit (like mango which makes a great contrast to a spice or salt); and additional textures or palette poppers (nuts, chips, capers, olives). And sometimes pour hot broth over the top of it all for a swimmimg rice bowl. To name a few possibilities: deconstructed burrito, deconstructed fajita, deconstructed Thanksgiving dinner bowl (including the stuffing), deconstructed egg rolls. Prepare earlier in the day, store elements separately, heat if needed and lay it all out for the gang to dig in.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Daryl Browne is a music educator, alto, flutist and writer who lives in Beaverton, Oregon.

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