Watch and Pray

Certainly this is one of the most moving songs in all of art song repertory. The text is of a slave mother talking to her child about tomorrow's auction, where they will most likely be separated. Capturing poignancy and horror in an art song is an amazing feat. The first time we heard the song was January 21, 2001 at Hampton University when Lorraine McFadden Bell, soprano, gave her faculty recital "Art Songs and Spirituals by African American Composers." She sang Watch and Pray as well as another song by Undine Smith Moore, Love Let the Wind Cry…How I Adore Thee (text by Sappho).

For this writer, the African American art song is the pinnacle of music that has given me joy since my youth. I discovered gospel music on our local radio station in the mountains of West Virginia. As a young adult my interest expanded to include folk singers doing spirituals and, more recently, the spirituals arranged for Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle. I also enjoyed Aretha Franklin and her magnificent instrument. Until recently, I had not heard art songs by African American composers.

All that changed November 5, 2000 when Norfolk Art Song Society brought the elder statesman of this repertory, Dr. Willis Patterson, who compiled the Anthology Art Songs by Black American Composers in 1977, to speak to the group. The art songs performed by singing members were by Harry T. Burleigh, Florence Price, William Grant Still, John W. Work and Undine Smith Moore. But for me, Lorraine's recital took all of this to a higher level of enjoyment.



Program

Lorraine McFaddden Bell, soprano
Leslie Neal Douglas, piano
Elisa Dickon, harp
Dr. Bennie G. McMorris, flute

 

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child
The Little House of Dreams (Arthur Wallace Peach)
Stan' Still Jordan

Harry T. Burleigh

The Negro Speaks of Rivers (Langston Hughes)
Lord, I just Can't Keep From Cryin'
Dry Bones

Margaret Bonds

Grief (Leroy V. Brant)

William Grant Still

Night (Louise W. Wallace)

Florence Price

Dancing in the Sun (Howard Weedun)

John W. Work, Jr.

Love Let the Wind Cry...How I Adore Thee (Sappho)
Watch and Pray

Undine Smith More
Intermission

In Time of Silver Rain (Langston Hughes)
Love and Know Not Why (Anonymous)

Jeraldine Saunders Herbison

Springtime (Shakespeare)

Betty Jackson King

A Set of Three Dunbar Poems
Dawn
Theology

 

Afro-American Songs
Creole Girl (Leslie M. Collins)
The Heart of A Woman (Georgia Douglas Johnson)

Leslie Adams

i thank you God (e.e. cummings)

Adolphus Hailstork

I Want Jesus to Walk with Me

arr. by Consuela Lee Moorehead

Blessed Assurance (Fanny J. Crosby)

arr. by Roy Jennings


On the evening after the recital I sent an e-mail to Lorraine:

Dear Lorraine,

When you sing a song or two for the Art Song Society, I feel like I've had an excellent hors d'ourvre. This time I feel like I had a full meal of wonderful music and left the theatre all filled up.

The emotional depth that you reached in several pieces such as Grief, Watch and Pray and In Time of Silver Rain went very deep into my psyche. I wish there was a way to have had Dr. Willis Patterson hear what you did today. He would be so proud to have this music done so superbly. You had us laughing, crying and feeling so much. Thank you.

The range of your selections is very impressive. The amount of work to bring us a concert of twenty-two pieces was most ambitious. The arrangement of old songs made them new again and exciting to hear. Springtime is one I've known for over thirty-five years and today it was a new song. The same is true for Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child. I first heard it by Odetta about 1965.

So many riches you laid at our feet. Once again, thank you.

Her reply:

Dear John,

Thank you for your kind words and thoughts. You have made me feel that my task has been done, but it has only just begun. When I was first introduced to art songs by African American composers, I was like a kid in a candy store, awed by the vastness of the music that exists. As I have researched over the years, I have become more and more aware that these works are not being performed as much as they should be. I am glad that I decided to take on the challenge of doing so. It has been a very rich experience for me. I am so pleased that you enjoyed them so much. It was a great joy to prepare them. I am looking forward to doing this program again. Thanks for your support and encouragement.

Lorraine Bell


Lorraine McFadden Bell Sings with Heart and Voice

      The occasion was the 5th Annual Margaret Phillips Davis Memorial Scholarship Concert, sponsored by Circle Two of Saint Cyprian's Episcopal Church in Hampton, Virginia on November 23, 2002. Born in 1912, Mrs. Davis was a music educator who devoted her life to teaching. While at Carver High School she originated the first string program in Hampton and in 1968 developed a city-wide orchestra program that has continued to the present. The group provides scholarships for music students with the funds they raise.

      Having enjoyed hearing the lovely voice of Lorraine Bell for many years, it came as a surprise to hear her most recent recital at St. Cyprian's. There was a new power and surety in her voice, a brighter, fuller, more forward sound. George Frederick Handel's Dank sei, Dir Herr (Thanks be to Thee, Lord) was her opening selection, followed by I will sing new songs of gladness by Anton Dvorak. The excellent pianist Leslie Neal Douglas accompanied these pieces with precision and passion. They were joined by the Peninsula String Quartet (Jiashi Hou, violin, Eric Reiff, violin, Jerry Bracey, viola, and Donna Taylor, cello) for Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate (Motet, K. 165.) There was a wonderful freshness in this familiar music as if I were hearing it for the first time. What a thrill to hear the "alleluias" spun out in such rich full sound. The intermission was unique in that the Peninsula String Quartet played for us in the church hall as we visited and had refreshments.

      We returned to the sanctuary to hear two pieces by Rachmaninoff: Vocalise and Oh, Cease thy singing, maiden fair. In the Vocalise it was exciting to hear the high notes and the sensuous musical line was was sustained throughout. Megan Jenifer on violin joined Ms. Bell and Ms. Douglas for the lushly romantic Oh, Cease ... .

      Green Pastures, set by Wilfrid Sanderson and Feed My Sheep, set by Jeanne Alden Joy and with a text by Christian Science Church founder Mary Baker Eddy, opened the final set. These pieces were well done and their inclusion on the program pleased the audience.

      The program concluded with two fine spirituals Round about de mountain by Roland Hayes (1887-1976), and You can tell the world by Margaret Bonds.

      The story-line of the Roland Hayes song is the death of a young woman in the mountains of Tennessee, who accepts Christ as savior in her last hours. The song is a recessional as she is carried around the mountain to her final resting place while the congregation rejoices at her "being saved." Roland Hayes arranged many spirituals for solo singer to use in his own art song concerts. He was the leading African-American concert singer from the 1920s to the 1940s and single-handedly broke the color-line in classical concert music. It was difficult but in time his steadfast vision of bringing people of all races together overrode the prejudices of audiences and concert promoters. Unfortunately this great contribution to art song was overlooked and eventually his name faded while Mariam Anderson, Paul Robeson and many other singers had the benefit of what he had begun. This information comes from the CD booklet The Art of Roland Hayes, Smithsonian Collection of Recordings, RD041. These recordings of Hayes' slender and sensitive voice and cultivated manner were recorded over a thirty year period, 1939-1967. Highly recommended.

      The Margaret Bonds song You can tell the world has a complex piano accompaniment which makes great demands for speed, agility and accuracy on the pianist. Ms. Douglas was an equal partner with Ms. Bell in bringing this closing song to their audience. It ends on the words "Joy, joy, joy, to my soul" and left us all in an exuberant mood.

Program

Dank sei dir, Herr

(Anon.) Attributed to Siegfried Oches
(1858-1929)

I will sing new songs of gladness

Anton Dvorak

Exsultate, jubilate (Motet, K.165)

Wolfgang A. Mozart
Intermission  

Vocalise Op. 34, No.4
Oh, Cease thy singing, Maiden fair

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Green Pastures
(Helen Taylor)

Wilfrid Sanderson

"Feed My Sheep"
( Mary Baker Eddy)

Jeanne Alden Joy

Roun about de mountain

Roland Hayes

You can tell the world

Margaret Bonds


Biography

      Lorraine McFadden Bell, soprano, performs extensively as a recital and solo artist. She has appeared as guest soloist in Handel's Messiah, Brahms' Requiem, Schubert's Mass in G and Magnificat, Saint Saen's Christmas Oratorio, Haydn's Creation, Bach's Magnificat, and Vivaldi's Gloria. Her repertoire includes opera, art song and contemporary works. She has premiered vocal literature by the American composer Adolphus Hailstork and collaborated with him in a performance and lecture of his solo vocal works ast the University of Arkansas. Her performances and lectures on the topic of African American Art Songs have taken her to colleges, universities, conferences and communities across the United States.

      Mrs. Bell is frequently engaged for opera and music education programs. She has served as Artist-in-Residence at elementary, middle and high schools throughout the state of Virginia. Mrs. Bell presented a one-week residency at Roosevelt Roads Elementary School in Ceiba, Puerto Rico entitled Lollipops and Opera. She has been on the Artist Roster with Young Audiences of Virginia, Inc., which presented Hooray for Opera!, an introduction to opera for young audiences. She served as a performing artist on the Virginia Commission fo the Arts Touring Directory and is a performing member of the Virginia Art Song Society.

      Mrs. Bell began her studies at Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Maryland. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Vocal Performance at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia. Mrs. Bell is a candidate for a Doctorate of Musical Arts at Shenandoah University, Shenandoah Conservatory. Mrs. Bell presently serves as Assistant Professor of Voice in the Department of Music at Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia.

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