Richard Bales was the music director at the national gallery – a museum dedicated to visual art. He arranged his cantatas dedicated to the Civil War nearly a full century after the war ended.
VOCI’s artistic director Loren Veigel says Bales also had a historian’s eye as well as a musician’s ear.
The wisdom of Bales
“I would equate it to someone who writes an excellent biography. You have to know so much about it that when you chose your materials, they become alive. That’s the way these cantatas feel. They feel like a like a little window that makes you want more.”
Veigel says he’s become increasingly convinced of what he calls the “wisdom of the writing of Bales” over the last two months, as his choral group rehearses the musical narratives – arrangements of songs like “General Lee’s Grand March” and “Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Battle Cry of Freedom” and “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground.”
Veigel calls them simply "the concise compilation of a sense of that time.”
Like the war, Bales divided his cantatas into the Confederacy and the Union. (A Southerner, he put the Confederacy first.) The music went unpublished and, though recordings were released on the centennial of the war – M.J. Albacete says there’s no evidence the cantatas were ever performed together.
When: Sunday, March 8, at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Timken Auditorium, 521 W.Tuscarawas St., Canton.
- Concert alone $18 ($12 with a student ID)
- Concert and Italian buffet at the historic Onesto: $33 ($30 with a student ID)
National Gallery of Art performance:
When: April 12, 6:30 p.m.
Where: West Building, West Garden Court, Washington, D.C.
For more information, call 330-455-1000 or go to VoicesofCanton.org
Albacete – the now-retired director of the Canton Museum of Art -- brought the idea of performing the cantatas together to VOCI. And four years ago, the choral group took him up on it with a concert marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the war. It’s doing it again here then heading to Washington on April 12th not just to mark the end of the war, but what would have been Bales’ 100th birthday.
A 150-year-old connection
Stephen Ackert will be at both the Canton and D.C. performances. He’s researched the cantatas for the gallery, and says what they all do is allow people to care about something long past.
“Music gives us a means of celebrating something even if its something in which there is a huge element of sadness and tragedy, like the Civil War.”
Sam Klinger gets that. He’s 19, the youngest of the roughly 70 people whose voices make up the Canton choral group. He calls the old music a new release.
“It’s not like I’m making music of my own time. So it’s sort of a means of going through somebody else’s words. And it’s not just words. You can sing just a vowel and still feel something.”
'Close your eyes'
M.J. Albacete says what Klinger and audiences feel is the progression of the war.
“If you can close your eyes and send yourself back to the beginning of the war, the rapture, the bliss of going to a war that was going to last maybe a three months. Your fine uniform, the beautiful blues, beautiful grays of the Confederates. The pride and joy of going to battle. It was a dream; it was a vision. It was an illusion. And then little by little, it falls apart.”
Lee, Lincoln, Whitman and Douglass
During the performances, Albacete will be narrating Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.
It’s one of four segments dedicated to the spoken word. The others are Lee’s Farewell to the troops, Walt Whitman’s “Hush'd be the Camps Today” and Frederick Douglass’ “Meaning of the Fourth of July.”
The last was added by VOCI Artistic Director Loren Veigel in recognition that Bales left an important voice out of his work: African Americans.
“His speech basically is why the 4th of July is not his celebration. And wow, are they powerful.”
Respite in a time of war
The National Gallery of Art concert in April will be free on a Sunday evening – a tradition at the gallery going back more than 70 years. In fact, Stephen Ackert says it’s the reason his visual art gallery has a music program at all.
As another war -- World War II -- was getting underway, the director of the gallery launched the weekly concerts to boost the collective spirit of Washington.
A similar story line comes with the creation of VOCI – originally known as the Canton Civil Opera -- in 1939 when the Depression was still fresh and the new war loomed -- and music was seen as needed a release.