Holiday Concert Puts American Revolution to Song

Performance

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY WEDNESDAY PHILANTHROPY EDITION WEDNESDAY JUL 3, 2019

Before the sun goes down and the fireworks go up on July 4th, the Choral Artists of Sarasota will stage its own musical celebration at the Sarasota Opera House with “The Sounds of Independence.” Presented in collaboration with the musicians of the Sarasota Concert Band and local poet Cedric Hameed, the holiday concert will feature patriotic standards and traditional favorites that highlight vocal, orchestral and spoken word performance, as well as the area premiere of a piece that brings them all together.

Under the direction of Dr. Joseph Holt, the Choral Artists of Sarasota will begin the concert with the national anthem, before continuing the theme through selections like “America, The Dream,” which sets the words of Langston Hughes to music, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “God Bless America.” Later, with William Barbanera conducting, the Sarasota Concert Band will offer its part through performance of classics like John Phillip Sousa’s “The Thunderer,” Morton Gould’s “American Salute” and Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”

The two groups will ultimately join forces onstage for the area premiere of Sarasota resident Jerry Bilik’s “Independence.” Written in 1976 as a celebration of the United States Bicentennial, the composition mines historical documents from both sides of the ocean for a musical account of the beginning of the American Revolution. Serving as narrator, Hameed will set the stage, while also performing the parts of King George III and various members of 18th century British Parliament, using their own words from records of the time. The Choral Artists of Sarasota perform in response as the American colonists, singing the words of the Declaration of Independence in defiance of British rule. “Because it’s from the people,” explains Bilik, “it should be a chorus.”

Setting the Declaration of Independence to music proved an easy task for Bilik—“It could essentially be sung already”—the instrumentation proved a bit more involved. “[The American Revolution] changed the world,” says Bilik. “I didn’t think a piano playing along would be big enough.” Wanting to further reflect the disparate viewpoints involved, the music changes as the dominant perspective shifts. So what begins as a “stately, courtly dance” to capture the “sounds of Britain,” rapidly evolves into something much more militant as the colonists start to arm themselves.

Still, despite the occasion marking that most divisive of human activities—war—Bilik likes to think “Independence” can celebrate a coming together over shared history. “I am an extreme romantic,” he says. “Probably to a fault. But I look at music as a way of bringing people together. I can sit in my room and play the piano, but the real music is when other people share what you’re feeling.”

“The Sounds of Independence” begins at 4pm at the Sarasota Opera House.

Pictured: Choral Artists of Sarasota. Photo by Barbara Banks.

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