Instrumentation: Mezzo, baritone, orchestra (2,2,2,2,2,2,2,1,2, strings) electronics (CD) made from indigenous wild animal calls
Commission: Wintergreen Performing Arts, through Americans for the Arts Animating Democracy Program
Wintergreen Orchestra, Conductor David Wiley, Soprano Angela Horn, Baritone Thomas Barrett
Singing the Blue Ridge was commissioned by Wintergreen Performing Arts through the Animating Democracy Initiative of Americans for the Arts, funded by the Ford Foundation. It is part of a project called Preserving the Rural Soundscape, whose aim was to use Art-Based Civic Dialogue to raise awareness of issues of growth and planning as citizens in Nelson County worked out plans for area development. In addition to composing the piece, I taught improvisation classes, led assemblies for schoolchildren, worked with civic groups, and led soundwalks. All of these activities helped people connect more strongly with the soundscapes in which they live and think about the importance of the sounding environment. We gave people tape recorders to record the sounds in their environment that were important to them, again focusing on their relationship to their sonic world.
Singing the Blue Ridge invites us into the habitat we share with other living creatures in this area – such as deer, frogs, otter, raccoon, wolf, peeper and toad. New technology has made it possible to bring the calls of animals right into the concert hall. The scoring of Singing the Blue Ridge combines mezzo, baritone, orchestra and electronic playback made from those animal calls. I am grateful to Lang Elliott of Nature Sound Studio (https://www.naturesound.com) and to the Macaulay Natural Sound Library of Cornell University (https://birds.cornell.edu/LNS/) for permission to use many of their excellent field recordings.
Four poems were commissioned specially for this composition from the distinguished Bethesda-based poet Barbara Goldberg. The first sings of a glorious spring morning celebrated in the wild; the second, of the fate of frogs and people when they collide; the third, of the natural cycle of eat or be eaten; the last, of the havoc wreaked by humans through greed or carelessness, as well as the hope for better stewardship to come.
I wish to thank the staff of Americans for the Arts and Wintergreen Performing Arts, as well as the Board of Wintergreen Performing Arts; zoologist Chris Hobson of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation; Ed Clark and Kathy McNair of the Virginia Wildlife Center; Dave Topper, technical director of the Virginia Center for Computer Music at UVa; Connie and Joe Tasker, whose tower room inspired the creative process; and Robin Eastham, who does so much to support animals in the wild. Singing the Blue Ridge is dedicated to my mother, Dr. Harriet Evelyn Sommer Shatin, from whom I learned the miracles of the natural world and so much else. Singing the Blue Ridge was premiered by David Wiley and the Wintergreen Festival Orchestra on July 5, 2002, with mezzo Angela Horn and baritone Thomas Barrett. –JS
“Judith Shatin is a nationally-and internationally-known composer, recipient of many commissions and awards, and a professor of music at UVA. She has composed electronic music as well as music for conventional instruments and voices. Singing the Blue Ridge combines all these media with superb success. It can be described as a cantata in four movements…with an environmentalist message. The vocal soloists, Brenda Patterson and Woodrow Bynum, sang four poems written for the work by Washington-based poet Barbara Goldberg, each relating to the wildlife and sound-environment of the Blue Ridge. Taped sounds of animals, birds and insects are intergated with the orchestra in a successful symbiosis. The vocal parts, one movement each for the two singers and two movements for both together, were highly expressive and beautifully sung. Colorful, atmospheric and intense, the performance relied on the intrinsic musicality of its ingredients, including traditional tonality and masterful orchestration.”