"Where Shadow Chases Light," a moment of music and reflection
by Teri Duerr for Vocal Area Network
Posted November 8, 2018

Melodia: Where Shadow Chases LightAround the time the Tree of Life synagogue shooting violently disrupted a quiet community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I had been listening on repeat to the six works from “Where Shadow Chases Light,” Melodia Women’s Choir’s 2018 fall program, wondering how to meet the challenge of summing up Artistic Director and Conductor Cynthia Powell’s singular vision for the choir this season. As is typical of any season from the New York City ensemble, at first glance, the songs, which span territory from Native American history to Hebrew love poems to Christian divinity to Hindu sacred prayer songs, defy easy categorization.

London-based composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian’s Red Bird is a world premiere commissioned work as bold and lovely as the Sioux woman Zitkála-Šá whose life as an artist and civil rights activist it celebrates. Horrocks-Hopayian, a British Composer Award-winner, was recently nominated for another--her third nomination.

Deanna Witkowski, a jazz musician and composer with her own impressive news (she was just named in three pre-nomination Grammy categories), binds classical and jazz sensibility with Indian poetry from the Gitanjali for the New York premiere of Where Shadow Chases Light, to complex and wondrous effect.

Eric Whitacre’s Five Hebrew Love Songs set to poetry by his wife, soprano Hila Plitmann, are a snapshot of their early courtship in romantic, playful and soulful movements. Stylistically divergent, but equally intimate is Memorial Rag, a tender and playful work dedicated to the memory of her mother from celebrated Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin.

And then the exultant and powerful Mass No. 6 from Romanian-Hungarian György Orbán and last, but never least, an angelic and holy Ave Maria from the always-sublime Gustav Holst, the English composer being a favorite of the choir over its 15 years of repertoire.

But in the wake of the Pittsburgh tragedy and subsequent hate crimes closer to home--the recent arson and vandalism at Union Temple and other Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn; the defacement with racist graffiti of theAfrican Burial Ground Monument in Lower Manhattan--the abstract themes of intermingling darkness and light seemed to take on a more weighted meaning. It seemed we were entering the holiday season in dark days, many of us feeling somber, angry, hurt, scared.

But, then, there has also been light.

“A light during these past few days,” tweets Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone @Mottel, an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn, “my Jamaican and Senegalese neighbors on our little block in Crown Heights both came by to check how we were doing, offer if they could help.”

There has been a seemingly disparate mix of people coming together with support, solidarity, activism and love in response to recent events in a show of shared humanity. Somehow, all those voices make for something more powerful and more beautiful than any of the individual parts.

It paralleled for me the seemingly wild and disparate chorus of songs in Melodia’s program—the unexpected harmony of different traditions, different composers, different cultures coming together—from which arose a shared musicality that speaks to our human condition through universal themes of meditation and reflection, spirituality, of the importance of hope, of the struggle between higher calls and earthly clamor, the sadness of mourning and loss, and of course, the beauty of love. It is a cliché to say that music has the power to transcend differences and bring people together, but it’s also said that clichés hold power because they can hold truths. As the German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine is noted for saying, “Where words leave off, music begins.” And as the holiday season begins, “Where Shadow Chases Light” offers choral listening audiences a musical moment of reflection to share and celebrate our human differences, especially those that bring us together, whether in music or in life.

Please join Melodia Women’s Choir of NYC for “Where Shadow Chases Light” featuring the world premieres of Red Bird by Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian and the New York premiere of Where Shadow Chases Light by Deanna Witkowski. November 17, 2018 at 7:30 PM at the Holy Apostles Church, 296 Ninth Avenue, Chelsea, NYC and November 18, 2018 at 3 PM at West End Collegiate Church, 245 West 77th Street, NYC. $20 in advance; $25 at the door. Students and seniors $15 in advance. For tickets, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/producer/5998 or call (212) 252-4134. For more information, visit melodiawomenschoir.org.

Teri Duerr is a writer, editor and music lover based in Brooklyn, New York.