'Over There' explores the music of WWI

Howard County Times

Columbia Pro Cantare will revive American, British and French popular music of a now-distant era when it does a program titled “Over There: Music of World War I” on Saturday, May 5, at 8 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake.

Although the poison gas-filled trenches and other terrible aspects of a war fought between 1914 and 1918 are seared into our collective memory, the majority of selections on the upcoming program serve as reminders that the World War I-era public mostly listened to patriotic and sentimental songs.

“It was a horrible war that they called the war to end all wars,” said Columbia Pro Cantare music director Frances Motyca Dawson. “When I am planning our programs, I usually think about composers who are approaching a major anniversary of when they were born or died.

“Here I thought that it has been 100 years since World War I ended, and this would be a chance to shine a light on the music from that time. There are no living voices today to speak to a lost generation that sacrificed their individual lives, but we have words and music.”

In researching this topic, Dawson was struck by how many composers wrote songs encouraging people to enlist in the service and otherwise support the war effort. The upcoming program’s medley of songs associated with George M. Cohan, for instance, includes “Yankee Doodle Dandy,“You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Over There!” Dawson noted that such musical material stylistically fit within the vaudeville tradition, and, indeed, the medley also includes “Give My Regards to Broadway.”

“George M. Cohan was a major force in that period, and people still know those songs,” Dawson observed.

A challenge that Dawson faced in assembling this program is that there is a wealth of orchestral and choral music from several countries to consider, and most of the pieces are quite short. There is also a range of emotional tones to consider, because some of the selections are cheerful and others are more reflective.

Among the many pieces on the program are Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Rest," Maurice Ravel’s “Menuet in Memory of Jean Dreyfus,” Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano,” Sir Edward Elgar’s “Nimrod” and “For the Fallen,” George Butterworth’s “Songs from a Shropshire Lad,” Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s “Jerusalem,” Harry Carrol’s “I'm Always Chasing Rainbows,” and additional period tunes including “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” and “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm.”

Among the above-mentioned pieces, one that has a meditative quality reflecting the enormous losses of World War I is Elgar’s “For the Fallen.” It is one section of his longer composition “The Spirit of England.” Composed during World War I, this work for chorus, orchestra and vocal soloists has a text by poet Laurence Binyon that mourns the wartime dead.

The performers who will be kept very busy with this program are the Columbia Pro Cantare and its Chamber Singers, baritone Rob McGinness, soprano Kayla Currie, pianists Sammy Marshall and Erik Apland and The Lexington Brass Quintet.

And as if this weren’t enough music for a single program, the evening ends with the winner of a “Battle for Frances’ Baton” conducting “You'’e a Grand Old Flag.” This year’s candidates for that brief conducting gig are Steven Snelgrove, president of Howard County General Hospital; Suzi Padgett, vice president and branch manager, Long and Foster Real Estate Columbia office, and president of the Columbia Festival of the Arts; and Mary Ann Scully, president of Howard Bank.

Columbia Pro Cantare performs on Saturday, May 5 at 8 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake, 5460 Trumpeter Road in Columbia. Tickets are $23, $20 for seniors and students, in advance, and $2 more at the door; $10 for children 15 and under. There is a pre-concert lecture at 7 p.m. and a post-concert reception. Call 410-799-9321 or go to procantare.org

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