“New Horizons: Music Without Borders”: Congressional Chorus presents Tin’s “Calling All Dawns”

The Congressional Chorus of Washington DC presented an ambitious concert Saturday night, June 3, 2017, a week before Gay Pride, “New Horizons: Music Without Borders” at the First City Christian Church at Thomas Circle in Washington, DC.

I’ll cut to the chase. The featured work for the program occurred after the intermission, the choral symphony “Calling All Dawns: A Song Cycle About Life”, about 65 minutes (by my phone), composed by Chinese-American Christopher Tin, for mixed chorus, soloists and chamber orchestra.

The work is in 12 movements, each in a different language.  The first five movements make up “Day”, the next three “Night”, and last four are “Dawn”.

While some of the work has simplified and repetitive harmonies that we associate with some oriental music, by and large the work is inspired by the choral symphonies from the world of German and sometimes Russian post-Romanticism, by Mahler, Schoenberg (“Gurre-Lieder”) and even Shostakovich. The work comes across as a hybrid of oratorio and traditional symphony.

The underlying tonality seemed to be G Major.  Each of the three sections seems to have interrelated themes.  In the first section, the biggest climaxes occur in the last song, “Rassemblons-Nous” (“Let Us Gather”) in French, exploring resistance leading to revolution (as it happened in France).   The second section begins with quiet Latin settings from the Requiem, before moving to a Gaelic poem “To Cry”, followed by a Polish Catholic hymn “to the Holy Trinity”.  These two movements have the most interesting writing in the work, rather like a slow movement, with a lot of instrumental passages having some chromaticism and polytonality, perhaps resembling Shostakovich. The Catholic Hymn has a theme somewhat reminiscent of the “Applause Theme” in the finale of my own Sonata 3; in my setting, it starts in F# Major and tries to and does return to C Major; here the theme circulates in stanzas, broken apart into little counterpoints, hovering around C Major.  There is lavish beauty, and yet this sounds like a hymn you can’t sing in church in any straightforward matter.

The Finale, with the separate songs arranged to simulate a rondo-like structure, builds to its finale climax at the end of last song in Maori, with one huge G Major chord, and then four notes almost a cappella, in one solo voice, as an afterthought.

The twelve languages (which would please YouTube’s “Paul”), are Swahili, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, French, Latin, Irish Gaelic, Polish, Hebrew, Farsi, Sanskrit, and Maori.

The concert would conclude with the Combined Choruses in Greg Gilpin’s “Rise Above the Walls” (in defiance of Donald Trump?)

The first half comprised nine pieces: “The Whole World Is Singing” (Tom Anderson), “Inscription of Hope” (Randall Stroope), “La Musica” (Jay Althouse), “Song of Peace” adapted from Jean Sibelius’s “Finlandia” by Gary Fry; “An Afro-Celtic Diddle” by Michael Coolen; “Give Love a Chance” by Grayson Warren Brown, “Sililiza” (“Hear Me”), by Jim Papoulis, “Jai Ho!” by A. R. Rahman from the 2008 film “Slumdog Millionaire” (best song Oscar), and “Al Shlosha D’varim”by Allan R. Naplan.

Performers included the Congressional Chorus Chamber Ensemble, the NorthEast Senior Singers, and the American Youth Chorus (ages 8 through high school).

This Sunday morning, the Call to Worship on Pentecost Sunday at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC was in several languages: Spanish, Portguguese, Tagalog, Yoruba, German, and American Sign Language.

Composer website for “Calling All Dawns”.

(Posted: Sunday, June 4, 2017 at 5:30 PM EDT)