With an original composition, Fresno Master Chorale celebrates the right of women to vote
Covid messed up a lot of important stuff, including some of the activities planned for 2020 by the Fresno County League of Women Voters marking the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women in this country the right to vote. But an important special project was able to go forward, albeit with some modifications due to social distancing.
You’ll have the opportunity to share in that project at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in the live Zoom video premiere of “A Hundred Years of a Thousand Tries,” an original choral work performed by the Fresno Master Chorale. Here’s the Zoom link. The passcode is 801177.
Here’s a rundown:
What you’ll see: The 32-minute video begins with a 20-minute conversation featuring Francine Farber, representing the League, along with the four principal people involved in the video’s creation. That is followed by the 12-minute video itself, a vibrant visual presentation with footage of nature combined with clips of individual singers performing in outdoor environments. (Some of you might have already seen the video of the musical number by itself; I wrote about it and included a YouTube version in a November post. Scroll down to second item for video.)
The interview is a must-see: It’s fascinating to follow the creative process from beginning to end. The project got its start with League member Janet Baker, who suggested that the Fresno Community Chorus organization (of which the Fresno Master Chorale is a part) could collaborate. That led first to the writing of lyrics by poet (and science teacher) Glady Ruiz, then the music by composer/collaborative pianist Joungmin Sur, then the performance, led by Master Chorale conductor Anna Hamre, and finally the addition of images and editing of the individual performance clips by videographer Jason Hopper.
The collaboration: There was lots of it. One happy byproduct of the project was that it gave the musicians – obviously sidelined by the restrictions of the pandemic – an opportunity to keep their creative juices flowing. Hamre puts it this way: “It was the one miraculous thing that came out of this pandemic for us.” Along with the League, the project was sponsored by the Fresno Arts Council and the Fresno County Office of Education.
The theme: Ruiz put her science background to work, crafting a message in words. Farber explains: “The premise of the lyrics is that scientific research has definitely shown that ‘mother’ trees communicate with other trees, their ‘daughters,’ by sending nutrients to them underground. What a parallel to mothers passing on knowledge and support to their daughters during the ‘hundred years of a thousand tries’ to get voting rights.”
The music: Sur’s lyrical language feels lush, sweeping and, at times, delicate and plaintive. Inspired by the speeches of such pioneers Ida B. Wells, Lucy Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, there is a vigor and strength, but also a sense of struggle.
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The lyrics: I’m not crazy about the title of the piece and the recurring phrase it’s based upon, but the rest of the words themselves are strong, wrapping themselves around the mother trees metaphor while at the same time expressing the idea of concerted struggle:
Listen, daughter, mother would say to me
When shadows would fall upon your dreams
When your voice is cast aside
When wrongs outnumber all the rights
Resist and arise
Resist and arise
The video: Hopper said he spent hours just “focusing on bark.” It was a challenge to be the last step in the creative process, but “as soon as I heard the music, it all just got kind of locked in and became one.” He also had a challenge stitching together individual clips. Singers used JackTrip technology – which allowed choral groups across the country to sing together during the pandemic – for rehearsal. I also liked the subtle way Hopper superimposed historic images from the women’s suffrage movement onto the trunks of trees.
The settings: One of the most impactful things about the video is the locations chosen by the singers. Many of them look as if they are in their backyards. Others picked scenic locations: a forest, a lake, a mountain road. Hamre conducts outside, the wind riffling her score. Dog and cat lovers will take a particular light with numerous shots with pets held (and being sung to).
Mothers and daughters: The most affecting image is singer Rebecca Mabe, who includes her daughter, Aria, wearing a yellow bow in her hair, in the shot. The pair nestle in the crook of a tree as Mabe sings to her who sings to her daughter. It’s immensely touching. When the chorus finally does a full-fledged performance open to the public, says Hamre, she wants Aria to sing that last line.