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From Sorrow Free

This beautiful recording reflects the spirit of the nation in vocal expressions ranging from traditional ballads to songs of Ives and Copland. The varied arrangements and use of the voices in contrasting textures and moods offer the aficionado of American vocal music many special gems. Charis (which in Greek means "grace") is a small vocal ensemble, conducted by Susanne Peck, noted for its purity of tone and careful blending of the voices. With its excellent, insightful program notes, From Sorrow Free adds a welcome dimension to the understanding and enjoyment of America's rich vocal repertoire.

Dr. Elise K. Kirk, author of American Opera from Washington, DC

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Track List

Click for sound clips from arbitrary portions of the track (explained below).
01The TravelerJ.C. Lowry
02BrevityAbraham Wood (1752-1804)
03DecayStephen Jenks (1772-1856)
04All is Well, P.M.
(solos: Julie Dolphin, Michael M. Chamberlin)
Arr: J.T. White, 1844
05Sorrow's Tear
(solo: Scott Munson)
Stephen Jenks (1772-1856)
(solo: Susanne Peck, organ: Shawn Hall)
Charles E. Ives
Copied by Moses Kimball (1794)
08AfricaWilliam Billings (1746-1800)
09Long Time Ago
(solo: Susanne Peck, piano: Shawn Hall)
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
10I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger (*)Julie Dolphin, 1999
11ShenandoahArr. James Erb
12I'm Goin' AwayArr. Mack Wilberg
13Johnny, I Hardly Knew YeArr. Alice Parker
14Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (*)Julie Dolphin, 1999
(solo: Susanne Peck, piano: Shawn Hall)
Julie Dolphin, 1999
16Adieu (*)Julie Dolphin, 1999
17Spring Cycle I (*)James Carr, 1994
18Spring Cycle II (*) 
19Spring Cycle III (*) 
(*) - Worldwide Recording Debut

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Liner Notes

The songs of America may be as diverse as the nation itself, but they share a distinctive strength of spirit that unites them. From the fervor of seventeenth-century colonial New England hymns and the mournful ballads of the Appalachian Mountains, to the hardened humor in a Depression-era tune and the rhythmic chant of work songs from the rivers, American melodies transported their singers out of the physical, often painful, world they inhabited by placing their hearts in a song. This emotional character endures in the works of contemporary American composers who continue to draw on the American experience for inspiration, on occasion "quoting" the people's music as a way to convey a nation's spirit. It is the strength of this American voice and its power to transcend the moment to touch the timelessness of the soul that we celebrate in From Sorrow Free.


The innovative Charles Ives (1874-1954) sought to create a uniquely American sound, and incorporated church, folk, and popular tunes in many of his polytonal works. He realized early on that he would be unable to earn a living from music, and so chose to become a businessman, composing primarily for his own pleasure. It wasn't until well after his retirement that his work became known, eventually earning him a Pulitzer Prize. In 1918, seeking to put his musical affairs in order following a severe heart attack, Ives privately published a collection of songs that included the meditative Serenity. This uncharacteristically tonal work demonstrates the rhythmic experimentation Ives loved, with keyboard and voice parts moving in complementary but independent lines.


A distinctively American singing style was born in the late 1700s with the invention of a new system of music notation called "shape-note."  Ministers in colonial New England needed ways to teach hymns to their musically illiterate congregants, and so singing schools appeared and flourished. Many used practice songbooks with musical notes of different shapes that corresponded to certain notes in the fa-so-la scale. The shape-note method soon dropped from favor in the North but became immensely popular in the rural South and West, where shape-note sings became community social and spiritual events and remain so to the present day. The Traveller comes from perhaps the most popular shape-note songbook of the nineteenth century, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (1835) compiled by William "Singing Bill" Walker, who claimed to have sold 600,000 copies. The story goes that Walker and his brother-in-law, B. F.  White, collaborated on the collection, but White was not credited when the book appeared in print and the two men never spoke to one another again. Walker's fame became such that he would follow his signature with the initials "A.S.H" for "Author of Southern Harmony."  But White went on to collaborate on the tune book that would become synonymous with shape note singing ever after, The Sacred Harp, which has been in continuous print for over 150 years and includes the joyous All is Well. Such tunes were customarily written for three or four voice parts, with the melody in the tenor line. When sung, some sopranos and tenors would double the other's part in their own register, creating a richly-layered five-or-six part texture from the music's simple harmony.


A common theme in early New England sacred music was the inevitability of death, as illustrated in the somber Brevity and Decay. Abraham Wood (1752-1804), a native of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and drummer during the Revolutionary War, was a prominent composer whose best work is noted for its eloquence and nobility. His Brevity uses simple, expressive harmony with just a brief dissonance on the word "evening" for dramatic effect. Stephen Jenks (1772-1856) was the compiler of ten collections of psalmody and was the major nineteenth century composer of "fuging" tunes, of which Decay is an example. The American fuging tune (the spelling favored at the time to distinguish it from the classical "fugue") features a section with a musical theme sung in overlapping succession by each voice part, and then repeated to increase the rhythmic vigor of the piece. Jenks also composed Sorrow's Tear, thought to be the earliest American setting of the popular Thomas Moore poem. The lyrics for Hatfield were also popular with several colonial composers, including William Billings.  Joel Cohen, music director of the Boston Camerata, found the lovely, interwoven arrangement on this recording in a Newburyport, Massachusetts library.


William Billings (1746-1800), born in Boston, was a tanner by trade but his passion for music led him to overcome physical deformity and lack of formal training to become America's first professional musician. Billings created a new style of music indigenous to the colonies, employing vigorous, dance-like rhythms that he claimed were "more than twenty times as powerful as the old tunes."  His composition Africa appeared in 1770 in The New-England Psalm-Singer, the first published collection of wholly American music and the first American songbook by only one composer. Billings' energetic style was well suited to the shape-note followers, and many of his songs appear in both The Southern Harmony and The Sacred Harp. Billings may also have been the first -- though certainly not the last -- professional American musician to die a pauper. He lies today in an unmarked grave in Boston Common.


The year 2000 marked the centennial of the birth of Aaron Copland (1900-1990). Born in Brooklyn but trained largely in Europe, Copland explored musical styles ranging from neo-classicism to symphonic jazz to 12-tone abstraction. But it was the popular work he composed around the 1940s, which centered on American heroes and folk melodies, that would earn him the reputation of dean of American music. In 1950, he published arrangements for five Old American Songs, including Long Time Ago, an anonymous minstrel tune first issued in 1837. The minstrel show, in which white (and even some black) performers appeared in blackface make-up, was nineteenth-century America's favorite stage entertainment, and became a leading vehicle for composers of popular songs, such as Stephen Foster.


In this recording, Charis is privileged to enjoy the talents of Julie Dolphin as both singer and composer. Ms. Dolphin, who joined the renowned Waverly Consort in 2000, has been performing and composing in various idioms for many years. Here she contributes two arrangements of traditional folk songs and two original compositions set to contemporary poetry. I Am A Poor Wayfaring Stranger is an example of the "white spiritual" known as the "religious ballad" that grew from revivalist meetings, where converts sought to witness their faith in narrative song. In this passionate arrangement, the lyrics carry great weight and dignity. Hallelujah, I'm a Bum by Harry "Mac" McClintock (1882-1957) appeared in 1909 in the Little Red Songbook published by the Industrial Workers of the World (known as the "Wobblies"), of which McClintock was a member. Ms. Dolphin's lively syncopation transforms the tune into a rhythmic, jazz-like dance. The great New England poet Robert Frost was known for using natural events to illustrate philosophical reflections. Ms. Dolphin has chosen October, from his first published collection of poems, to offer a meditation on mortality that climaxes with an impassioned plea for a slower passing of the day. Her final offering, Adieu, set to a poem by Irish-born Seamus DeBrun, uses shifts in meter, rhythm and dynamics to echo the pain of parting.


Folk music offers today's composers a rich and abundant source of material. Composer and conductor Mark Wilberg's lovely and lyrical I'm Goin' Away is a variation on the Appalachian folk song, Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet? It's theme of separation and faithfulness lies at the root of much southern folk music. Dr. James Erb, founder of the Richmond Symphony Chorus, has created an arrangement of Shenandoah that has become almost as popular as the original tune itself. Like most well-known folk songs, Shenandoah has been handed down in several versions (including one about the daughter of an Indian chieftain). Most music historians, however, categorize it as a sea chanty, probably sung by American and Canadian voyageurs boating the Missouri River as they recalled the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  Composer, conductor and lecturer Alice Parker has been active for almost six decades, and is perhaps best known for her twenty-year collaboration with the late choral conducting great, Robert Shaw. Her chilling Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye is actually an arrangement of an Irish anti-war folk song that dates back to the Crimean Wars, but is included here because it is easily recognized as the forerunner of the famous, war-glorifying American song, When Johnny Comes Marching Home. The American Johnny was published in 1863 by Louis Lambert, a pseudonym for Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, bandmaster for the Union Army during the Civil War and founder of the foremost professional band in the United States in the late 1800s. It comes as no surprise that he was also a native of Ireland.


Spring Cycle by contemporary American composer James Harold Carr is a work very close to our heart, and not simply because is the first original composition commissioned for Charis.  As Carr explains, "This work is a collaboration between myself, the poet Lynette Peck, and the conductor Susanne Peck.  I have dedicated the setting to their father, the late Reverend George Peck, who performed my wedding.  Each of us three has contributed in our own fashion to this three-part meditation on the arrival of spring.  Spring Cycle is a setting of three poems by Lynette Peck.  In each, a different aspect of the poet's relationship to spring is revealed as the seasons transform. In each poem, spring can be seen as a developing metaphor for faith and rebirth. I chose to modify my harmonic language to reflect this progression of inner states."

 Pamela Parker

Charis Chamber Voices

Susanne Peck
Artistic Director

[Click here to see full-size photo!]

Deborah P. Chodoff
Erica Denler
Julie Dolphin
Anne Harris
Maria Hladczuk
Margaret O'Brien
Colleen Roeschel

Michael M. Chamberlin
Jeff Kelley
Alan King
Terry Lautz
Scott Munson
Philip C. Wade (*)

Alessandra Brescianin Fischetti
Jennifer Hall
Liana MacKinnon
Pamela Parker
Patricia Rentas
Susan Saslo
Betsy Turner

David Chodoff
Shawn Hall
Erik Harris
John Matilaine
Eugene M. Mohr (*)
Todd Takken
Patrick Varekamp (*)

Shawn Hall

(*) Not shown in photo

Producers: Robert Kessler, Susanne Peck
Graphic design: Cris Kossow
Cover art: Susanne Peck
Recorded at South Presbyterian Church, Dobbs Ferry, NY, January 31 to February 4, 2000
Engineered and mastered by Scott Cresswell © & ® 2000 Charis Chamber Voices, Inc. All rights reserved