Haunting and Challanging - A Very Different Perspective
j_mackintosh | San Jose, CA USA | 11/30/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First, as a former Chorus member, I am both extremely familiar with the work and probably a little biased toward it. The listener should bear in mind that this is an intense piece, the full effect of which is not experienced until the third or fourth playing and careful listening. Being more experienced with "classical" music, it took a while for me to appreciate the style of Roger's music and certain parts of the texts can also be difficult to accept - we want to block them out. (They also are more easily understood in the context of the music than simply read separately.) But after living with this music for a while, I believe Hidden Legacies and the vocal adaptation of Corrigliano's Symphony No. 2 may be the only pieces on this subject which will survive the test of time.Using a broad range of styles for each track, Composer Roger Borland's music underscores John Hall's generally poingant and potent libretto. The opening tracks, "Before the Storm" and "The Nightmare," are raucus, frequently punctuated with synthesizers, setting the stage to convey the fast-paced life commonly found in areas like Grenwich Village and West Hollywood in the 1970's and early 80's. Acquisition and advancement are the central themes. This is a stark contrast to the panic and confusion which moved through the gay community like a shockwave at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Under the direction of the masterful Jon Bailey, the Chorus' sound is lush, intense, and at times ominous. Unfortunately, when combined with the wide range of dymnamics and synthesizer effects of Borland's score in the first two movements, some of John Hall's better libretto is difficult to make out. I strongly recommend reading the lyrics to the first two tracks when initially listening to this recording. The subtle lyrics draw parallels between the new obsticle between portions of the gay community and the obsticles which have long existed between the gay community and the general population.Track 3, "Give Us a Death Undiminished" is a capella response to those who blame the victim in order to justify discriminating or simply ignoring another human in need of physical and spiritual healing. The simple request the song makes - to be treated with human dignity in life and in death, with its rising and falling dynamics and beautiful soaring passages, is a wonderful example of the enviable capabilities of the Chorus. But far from being a quiet plea for equality, the massive amounts of restrained mesical tension are like a pressurized vessel under careful control, and in danger of explosion. This movement is in fact a demand for ethical treatment in the guise of a calm request. And it will not be ignored.It is also a complete rejection of that extremist concepts espoused by Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson, Lou Sheldon, and their ilk, who are all to happy to lie, scapegoat, and create irrational fear in order to line their own pockets. Sadly, such hypocritical behavior survived the 1980s and was alive and well in September, 2001 when Fallwell and Robertson claimed the World Trade Center and other disasters of September 11th were evidence that God has abandoned the United States in response to the growing tendency to let gay people simply live out their lives like everyone else. Track 4, "Left Behind" is a paradoxical juxtaposition of musical style and lyrics. Its Country-Western style reflects the growing popularity of the music, dances, and line dances in the gay community in the late 80's and early 90's. The subject of the libretto, however, is a reflection on and recognition of the medical personnel, social workers, friends, and most of all our lesbian sisters, whose generousity of spirit and widespread involvement at all levels peaked at a time when it was most urgently needed. It is presented from the perspective of the helper, not the patient, and is likely to be very familiar to anyone who has lost a loved one."The Dinosaur" has some of the most touching lines of the entire work. As older community members watch younger friends - practically children - and even in some cases their partners die prematurely, the lyrics use humor to soften such a sanguine subject ("I was good for a laugh, I was kind - even pretty," "I rejoined the gym, bought new clothes, tried to diet," and "I even bought friends and tried to find loyalty - from those far to young to recognize Royalty." ) Most off us can identify with these aspects of aging. Older friends pass on and we make younger ones, but they don't seem to understand us as well. For me the most devastating lines follow, unsoftened by the preceding humor: "You're gone . . . I'm still here, with nights growing longer. I think of the future but memory's stronger. For now I'm alone; for now there's no more us." Like other movements, this story portrays the similarity of many of the emotions experienced by all types of people upon the loss of a loved one, particularly a spouse, but most devistatingly a child. With one exception - gay and lesbian people don't get anywhere near the same level of compassion and companionship from the general population. In many cases, not even any bereavement leave."Hidden Legacies" (The Lullabye) is the next in the steps of grieving - acceptance. We have finally put aside our own desires and refocused on the needs of the patient. In the final stages we try to calm and reassure them, to remind them of the good times in their lives, even in the midst of our own doubts and struggles. "Remembered laughter, warm and free, will be your final gift to me . . ." We have finally reached the point where we can perform selfless act of love, without any agenda or ulterior motives. We learn that we must to let go so that they can let go and find peace and relief of their pain.The final movement, "We Sing," has always felt a bit odd coming on the heels of "Hidden Legacies." But its message is critical: in the face of almost overwhelming adversity, we must continue to share our gifts with one another, to carry the message of hope and love to others, and to support one another. These things are good and right and part of what makes us human. "We sing to keep from crying, our songs can't stop the dying, but focused in song, united and strong, you can hear - we conquer fear with Love."At the time this composition was written, the Chorus was experiencing the loss of one active or former member approximately every two weeks. I don't know how we survived it, except that we had no choice but to keep singing. Thankfully, the death rate has declined dramatically, but the war is far from over. Keep singing."
Haunting, Proud, and Comforting
j_mackintosh | 07/08/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This work commissioned by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles has added a powerful collection of songs to the pool of those that help define and testify to the breadth of human experience which is the AIDS pandemic. The mostly synthesized score adds a haunting touch to this "journey" through a community's grief. I highly recommend this CD as a balm for those surviving the loss of a loved one. "Hidden Legacies (Lullaby)" provides comfort in the face of a powerfully sung "Give Us A Death Undiminished"; whose defiant, tightly clustered chords are, for me, the highlight of this recording. Ric Garretson's clear tenor solo on "Dinosaur" provides a chilling look at the lonely "survivor's guilt" that engulfed so many in the first decade of AIDS. The bold irony of the jaunty country-western setting of "Left Behind" has made it an often-performed staple in the international gay chorus community."