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American Choral Music

Shalom was created during a period when John M. Keith, priest at Grace Episcopal Church in Mount Meigs, Alabama, was chairman of the Peace Commission for the Episcopal diocese of Alabama. I called to congratulate him on his appointment by the Bishop, and asked if he would consider writing a poem or short narrative which I might set as an anthem for Peace. I was thinking in terms of sixteen lines, at the most, and probably 48 measures of music. Father Keith's dialogue between War and Peace, which he brought to my office two weeks later, moved me so deeply that it evolved into the 816-measure work on this CD.

Shalom begins in Part I, section 1, as the dialogue between War and Peace. Section 2 tells us that Shalom involves more than a state of truce, a cessation of war. The War choir has claimed God on its side and asked for the destruction of its enemies. True "Shalom," as meant here, includes enough to eat, a decent place to live, clothing to wear, health, the opportunity to earn a good living, and safety.

In Part II we hear the warriors and armies of history asking God to subdue the peoples who are against them, while the Peace choir asks for beating swords into plows and spears into pruning hooks. Part III, "I, Nebuchadnezzar," is the pivotal section in which the leaders of wars throughout history say, "Peace be multiplied to you," and promise a political peace but continue to fight battles, take prisoners and commit crimes against humanity. The Peace choir questions, "Where is the peace you promised?" In section 6, "Thus saith the Lord," we are reminded that God's promise of divine Peace will never end.

From the beginning of Part IV to the end, the War and Peace choirs are no longer separate, but join in singing "Blessed are you, peacemakers."

"Grant us peace" is a prayer from the 1975 edition of "Gates of Prayer," and is the only section of the libretto not authored by Father Keith.

Double premieres of Shalom were given in Montgomery in honor of the retirement of Rabbi David Baylinson from Temple Beth Or, and at Huntingdon College, a liberal arts college supported by the Methodist Church, where I was Head of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts for thirteen years.

Shalom is dedicated to the memory of those who have worked for peace in our century, among them: Jonathan Daniels, the Episcopal seminary student who was murdered in Alabama as a Civil Rights worker; Martin Luther King; Dag Hammarskjold; Gen. George Marshall; Mohandas Gandhi; Yitzhak Rabin; and the nuns who were killed in El Salvador while trying to provide Shalom for the poor: Ita Ford, Maura Clark, Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan.

-Jeanne E. Shaffer
Montgomery, Alabama, April 17, 1997

Many-Colored Brooms, a choral song-cycle based on seven poems by Emily Dickinson, is scored for women's voices, (SSA) flute/piccolo, viola, and piano. I composed it in the summer of 1996 for my wife Anne, who conducted the first performance with the Horace Mann Girls Ensemble in New York the following year.

-Johannes Somary



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