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Kirke Mechem

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Songs of the Slave (1993)
G Schirmer Inc
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
34 Minutes
Mixed Chorus
Bass baritone, Soprano
Alternate Orchestration

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Programme Note
Kirke Mechem Songs of the Slave (1993)
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), an escaped slave, became the greatest African-American leader of the 19th century. A close friend of John Brown, Douglass is the central figure in this powerful new cantata by Kirke Mechem. The Sacramento Symphony previewed an earlier version of three of the movements on its 1991 Martin Luther King Day concerts, which the Sacramento Bee called "a sensational success ...beautiful writing for the chorus."

The work begins with new music to the text of John Brown's favorite hymn, "Blow Ye the Trumpet," a choral piece whose inspiring and solemn words prophesy both the day of jubilee and the martyr's death that Brown knew would hasten the destruction of slavery. The centerpiece of the suite is "Dan-u-el," a rousing piece in the rhythmic style of the black spiritual. Already published as an octavo, "Dan-u-el" has become one of the most acclaimed new American choral works, receiving worldwide performance.

In the suite's second movement, Douglass sings of the sorrows of the slave. In the fifth, he describes American slavery to an English audience, using all his powers of ridicule, pathos and mimicry. This leads directly into a finale that brings the cantata to a great climax, Douglass and the chorus singing a portion of the Declaration of Independence: "All men are created equal."

  • For CDs or scores call Katy Tucker at 212 254 2100:
  • 19 APR 2018
    McCrary Theatre Center for the Arts, Elon University, Elon, NC
    Elon University
    Performing select mvts only; Gerald R. Knight, conductor
  • 09 APR 2018
    Boston Symphony Hall, Boston, MA
    Boston University Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Choir
    Miguel Felipe, conductor
  • 06 APR 2018
    First United Methodist Church, Ft. Collins, CO
    Larimer Chorale
    Michael Todd Krueger , conductor

    Other Dates:
    7 April - First United Methodist Church, Ft. Collins, CO
  • 16 FEB 2018
    Hochstein Performance Hall, Rochester, NY
    Rochester Oratorio Society
    Performing select mvts only; Eric Townell, conductor
  • 24 JUN 2017
    Carnegie Hall
    Manhattan Concert Productions New York City Chamber Orchestra with Festival Choir
  • 09 JUN 2012
    Albany, NY
    Albany Pro Musica
    Keith Kibler, Heather Hill; David Griggs-Janower, conductor
  • 21 MAY 2011
    Milwaukee, WI
    Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
    Richard Hynson, conductor
  • 30 MAY 2009
    Santa Rosa, CA
    Santa Rosa Junior College
    R. Daniel Earl, conductor

    Other Dates:
    31 May - Santa Rosa, CA
  • 30 MAY 2009
    Santa Rosa, CA
    Santa Rosa Junior College
    R.Daniel Earl, conductor

    Other Dates:
    31 May - Santa Rosa, CA
  • 03 MAY 2009
    Baltimore, MD
    Morgan State University
    Eric Conway, conductor
  • 07 APR 2009
    Houston, TX
    Project Divisi and VOX
    Ron Raines; Rob Seible, conductor
  • 07 MAR 2009
    Rochester, NY
    Rochester Oratorio Society
    Jeffery McGhee; Eric Townell, conductor
  • 02 DEC 2005
    La Jolla, CA
    La Jolla Country Day School
    J. Diener; Jenn Boyum, conductor

What a work it was. With 130 voices...and two vocal soloists...Strickler led the singers and musicians in performing Songs of the Slave, a suite that the Wichita-born, Topeka-raised composer Kirke Mechem drew from his opera, John Brown. ...SONGS OF THE SLAVE proved stirring. And it was not just for the lush and lively score by Mechem but also for the text he chose from history....The fiery abolitionist John Brown arrived 150 years ago in what was "Bleeding Kansas."...But slavery's legacy didn't end with the South's defeat. When Shepperd sang...words from a speech by Frederick Douglass, the former slave who championed liberty for his served as a reminder of another moment decades later that put Topeka's name in the history books....Mechem cemented that historical connection by closing his cantata with a phrase from the Declaration of Independence....That wasn't the suite's only dramatic moment....Mechem [composed] a movement based on a letter that a slave, Harriet Newby, wrote to her husband. She tells him she fears she will be sold if he doesn't soon return. [He] was killed in Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. She was sold. ...a memorable concert.
Bill Blankenship, The Topeka Capital-Journal,01/01/0001
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