In 1998 in New York City, Gary Madison and I presented "Songs in the Spirit" for the first time. With the exception of "Hallowed Ground," which had not yet been written, the songs are the same as in this album. Over the years we performed this concert at different venues in New York City and I had always wanted to professionally record it to bring this accessible and uplifting music, sung in a classical style, to more ears. The last time I performed it live was at the Assisi Music Fest in Italy, and I was accompanied by a new pianist and other singers who contributed their beautiful voices to parts I and III.
The second part of the concert highlights Dvorák's "Biblical Songs" - A Cycle of 10 Songs, Opus 99. The 10 songs were originally composed in Czech and the texts are from the Book of Psalms in the Bible. The translator was Humphrey Procter-Gregg and this edition was published by International Music Company. As a composer who utilized folk and jazz idioms, Dvorak's music here (the lyrics in English translation) is intimate and familiar, rather than formal and distanced.
Part III "America Praises" salutes the sacred music tradition in the United States. "My Lord What a Morning" and "Balm in Gilead" are spirituals in which the lyrics are derived from scripture. The spirituals evolved, in most cases during slavery. Since the enslaved were not permitted to read, nor could they openly discuss escape plans, these songs were often sung by slaves to give each other information about escape routes and directions. For example, "My Lord What a Morning" perhaps signified that a group of slaves might be leaving at dawn. The "heavenly ban" might have represented the slaves waiting at the next safe haven, or the freedmen further north.
The melody of "Simple Gifts, " based on a Shaker hymn, is also the theme of Aaron Copland's work "Appalachian Spring", quintessentially American, composed for the modern dance choreographer, Martha Graham. "Simple Gifts" some say originates from a nearly extinct religious denomination. The Shakers were characterized by their austere approach to their belief system. They broke away from the Church of England and formed colonies based on the interpretative teachings of Mother Ann, who they believed had encountered Jesus Christ. The Shakers saw simple, contemplative, celibate living as a way to become closer to God. In the hymn, "Simple Gifts", the words "to turn" are significant. For the Shakers it meant giving oneself, "turning oneself" towards God--correcting one's behavior to reflect God's way.
Lee Wilcox, a tenor and the composer of "Hallowed Ground" presented me with this poignant song/prayer that reflects on September 11, 2001. Given the important theme for New Yorkers and the very American style, I am honored to include this heartfelt piece in "Songs in the Spirit."
This album is dedicated to the memory of Bertha Senobia Garcia, my maternal grandmother, and to Mr. Bobbie Boulware, whose music lives on in our hearts.