Borders | John Muehleisen

­­Borders

by John Muehleisen

for Soprano solo, Children’s choir (2-part), SATB choir, Readers, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass, timpani, percussion, and piano

 

Friday, November 17, 2023 | 8pm

Bastyr Chapel

14500 Juanita Dr NE, Kenmore, WA 98028

 

Great Bend Chorale & Youth Chorale

Matthew Melendez, Director

Tess Altiveros, Soprano

 —

1. Welcome Song

Soprano solo, SATB choir, Children’s choir, Instrumental ensemble

2. Mothers of Exiles

          a) An Irish Mother’s Prayer (1850)

             Soprano solo, Instrumental ensemble

          b) The Mother of Exiles (1883)

              SATB choir, Instrumental ensemble

3. Strangers in a Strange Land

          a) Refugees­­

              SATB choir, Instrumental ensemble

          b) The Mother of Exiles – Reprise (Chorale)

              SATB choir, Children’s choir, Instrumental ensemble

          c) Welcome Song – Reprise

              SATB choir, Children’s choir, Instrumental ensemble

4.  Interlude: No Irish Need Apply (1863)

SATB choir, Soprano solo, Instrumental ensemble

5.  Sweet Land of Liberty

          a) Anthem

              SATB choir, Readers (incl. Soprano solo), Instrumental ensemble

          b) Lullaby: Arrorró mi Niño

              Soprano solo, Instrumental ensemble

          c) Border Lines

              Children’s choir, Readers, SATB choir, Instrumental ensemble

 6. Song of the Stranger

TUTTI: SATB choir, Children’s choir, Soprano solo, Instrumental ensemble

Matthew Melendez conducts the Great Bend Chorale and Youth Chorale at Carnegie Hall, May 24, 2019 at the first performance of “Borders” – at that time with cuts in order to accomodate time constraints. The Shelton, Washington performance of the work one week later went on to win an American Prize in the Ernst Bacon category which recognizes and rewards the best performances of American music by ensembles and soloists worldwide, based on submitted recordings. 

The first full performance of the work, November 17, 2023 at Bastyr Chapel in Seattle, will also result in a commercial recording thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Program Note

 

Borders was commissioned by Matthew Melendez and the Great Bend Center for Music in collaboration with the Distinguished Concerts International New York Premiere Project and with support from the Mason County Washington Historic Preservation Commission and Sierra Pacific Industries. Due to time constraints at its original 2019 Carnegie Hall premiere, the performance was not able to feature three of the movements originally planned for the full version of the work. But thanks to generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the work is finally being performed in its full form. Borders is scored for soprano solo, adult SATB choir, children’s chorus, strings, piano, timpani, and percussion.

On one level, Borders might be called an “immigration cantata”; however, it’s about much more than immigration. Beginning with a Pacific Northwest Salish song of welcome, Borders weaves together traditional European, African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latinx music and lyrics with the poetry of Emma Lazarus, Brian Bilston, and Alberto Ríos, a letter from an Irish mother during the potato famine, and quotes from immigrants both past and present to deliver a riveting and emotional musical odyssey that explores not only the history of immigration in America and the enduring significance of America’s identity as the ultimate melting pot; it also proposes a vision of life together that transcends the physical borders between nations and states, as well as the more symbolic political, social, and cultural borders, and even borders between each of us as individuals. On another level the work explores the question: “How should we treat the stranger in our midst?”—whether or not they are immigrants or just someone who is different from us.

Ultimately, Borders endeavors to transcend the increasingly divisive political discussions about immigration and to put a human face on the root reasons for immigration. Borders is not a political work and is neither pro- nor anti-immigration—in fact, both sides are represented in the work. Rather, it endeavors to challenge us all to place the complex and emotionally charged topic of immigration policy within the context of compassion and empathy for our fellow human beings. The text for movement 2a.“An Irish Mother’s Prayer” is a letter from a  desperate Irish mother written to her older son during the Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century in which she describes her suffering and that of her younger son. In it she begs her older son (already in America) to fulfill his promise to bring them to America. In that spirit, Borders encourages us to look beyond the complex political issues around immigration in order to put a human face on the discussion and to consider the reasons why people would want to emigrate from their current homes to another country, especially to America, with its promise of hope, liberty, freedom, and the ability to make a better life for themselves and for their families. In other words, to fulfill their “yearning to breathe free,” as Emma Lazarus states in her poem, The New Colossus, the words of which are enshrined on the Statue of Liberty and which form the text for movement 2b. “The Mother of Exiles” in Borders.

The human face of immigration is also described so eloquently in Alberto Rios’ poem, Border Lines:

We seem to live in a world of maps:

But in truth we live in a world made
Not of paper and ink but of people.

Which way we look at the drawing
Makes all the difference.

 

Those lines are our lives.

Together,
Let us turn the map until we see clearly:
The border is what joins us,
Not what separates us.

John Muehleisen, Nov 2023.

Read the libretto

1. Welcome Song

SATB choir, Children’s choir, Instrumental ensemble

Sopranos + Children’s choir

Oh ho, Oh ho

Oh ho, Oh ho

Oh ho, Oh ho

Oh…

– Traditional Salish Nation Welcome Song

Tenors

As a beam o’er the face of the waters may glow,

While the tide runs in darkness and coldness below,

So the cheek may be ting’d with a warm sunny smile,

Tho’ the cold heart to ruin runs darkly the while.

 As a beam o’er the face of the waters may glow – Traditional Irish Folksong

Basses

Fanga alafia,

Ashay, ashay.

Fanga alafia,

Ashay, ashay.

Welcome, blessings

Amen, amen,

Welcome, blessings,

Amen, Amen

Ikabo alafia,

Ashay, ashay.

Ikabo alafia,

Ashay, ashay.

Welcome, peace

Amen, amen,

Welcome, peace,

Amen, Amen

 Fanga Alafia– Traditional African Welcome Song

Altos

Arirang  arirang arariyo…

Arirang gogyero nomoganda

Narul borigo gashnun nimun

Shimnido mogasaw balbyungnanda.

Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo…
You are going over Arirang hill

My love, you are leaving me

Your feet will be sore before you go 3 miles.

 Arirang – Traditional Korean Folksong

2. Mothers of Exiles

a. An Irish Mother’s Prayer (1850)

Soprano solo, Instrumental ensemble

Soprano solo

Dear Patt,

I received your letter [from America] with the thirty shillings in our greatest of want. I hope God will reward you for it. The day it come, I was without one bite to eat. Dickey’s 8 weeks in bed, without a stitch on him, and my petticoat and coat’s all pawned.

Dear Patt, we’ve no place to lay our heads. We were lodging under James Street arch, but were put out of it. Then a few nights up in the Sconce, still without a bite. We’d be dead long ago, only for two neighbors that often gives me a bite, for God’s sake. Little ever I thought it’d come my turn to beg. No more would I beg, only for your father’s death. But thanks bit of God, whatever me or his child here is suffering, your father died and was buried the way he lived: respectable and decent.

Dear Patt, I’ve had not a penny. The blankets, bed and boots of my feet was pawned. You can’t know how we’re suffering unless you were in starvation and want, without friend or fellow to give you a shilling, then you’d know. But on my two bended knees, Patt, fresh and fasting, I pray to God that you nor none of yours may ever know, nor ever suffer, what we are suffering now.

Oh Patt, hurry and take us out of this. It’s the poorest prospect of a winter that ever I had, without house or homefire, friend nor fellow nor bit of food to eat. That’s my prospects. For the love of God, dear Patt, bring me and little Dickey out of this, as quick as you can. I pray that God’s Holy Spirit be with you all. You promised to take us out.

Your loving mother until death.

– Letter from Mrs. Nolan, County Kilkenny, Ireland, to her son Patrick,

 October 8, 1850 during the Irish Potato Famine

[T]here at [their] sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

 

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles.

– from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus (1883)

….attacca

b. The Mother of Exiles (1883)

SATB choir, Instrumental ensemble

SATB choir

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates [there stands]

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

– from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus (1883)

….attacca

3. Refugees

a. Refugees

SATB choir, Instrumental ensemble

SATB choir

They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way


(NOTE: At this point in the original poem, the poet instructs the reader to “now read from bottom to top.” For convenience, I have arranged the lines below per the poet’s instructions.)

The world can be looked at another wayDo not be so stupid to think that
A place should only belong to those who are born there
These are people just like us
It is not okay to say
Build a wall to keep them out
Instead let us
Share our countries
Share our homes
Share our food
They cannot
Go back to where they came from
We should make them
Welcome here
They are not
Cut-throats and thieves
With bombs up their sleeves
Layabouts and loungers
Chancers and scroungers
We need to see them for who they really are
Should life have dealt a different hand
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
So do not tell me
They have no need of our help

                                    – Refugees by Brian Bilston

….attacca

b. The Mother of Exiles – Reprise (Chorale)

SATB choir, Instrumental ensemble

SATB choir

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Give me your tired, your poor,

Give me your tired, your poor.”

                                                            – from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus (1883)

….attacca

c. Welcome Song – Reprise

SATB choir, Children’s choir, Instrumental ensemble

Choir Sopranos

Give me your tired, your poor, (repeat)

– from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus (1883)

Children’s choir

Oh ho, Oh ho… (repeat)

– from Traditional Salish Nation Welcome Song

Choir Tenors

As a beam o’er the face of the waters may glow (repeat)

– from Irish folksong of the same name

Choir Basses

Fanga Alafia,

Ashay, ashay!

Ikabo Alafia,

Ashay, ashay! (repeat)

Welcome, Blessings

Amen, amen.

Welcome, Peace,

Amen, amen.

 Fanga Alafia– Traditional African Welcome Song

Choir Altos

Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo (repeat)

– from Arirang – Traditional Korean Folksong

4. Border Lines

Children’s choir, SATB choir, Readers, Instrumental ensemble

SATB choir + Children’s choir

My country, ’tis of Thee,
Sweet Land of Liberty
Of thee I sing;

­– from America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee) by Samuel Francis Smith (1831)

Adult Reader(s)

The border is mighty, but even the parting of the seas created a path, not a barrier.

The border is a big, neat, clean, clear black line on a map that does not exist.

– from Borders: A Double Sonnetby Alberto Rios

SATB choir

We seem to live in a world of maps:

But in truth we live in a world made
Not of paper and ink but of people.

Which way we look at the drawing
Makes all the difference.

Those lines are our lives.

Together,
Let us turn the map until we see clearly:
The border is what joins us,
Not what separates us.

Spoken by two young children from the Children’s choir

A weight carried by two
Weighs only half as much.

 from Border Lines by Alberto Ríos

….attacca

  1. Interlude: No Irish Need Apply (1863)

SATB Choir, Soprano solo, Instrumental ensemble

 

SATB choir

from the London Times Newspaper, February, Eighteen-Sixty-Two:

WANTED—A smart active girl to do the general housework of a large family,
one who can cook, clean plates, and get up fine linen, preferred.
N.B.—No Irish need apply.          

– London Times Newspaper, Feb. 1862

 

Soprano solo

I’m a simple Irish girl, and I’m looking for a place,

I’ve felt the grip of poverty, but sure that’s no disgrace,

‘Twill be long before I get one, tho’ indeed it’s hard I try,

For I read in each advertisement, “No Irish need apply.”

Alas! for my poor country, which I never will deny,

How they insult us when they write, “No Irish need apply.”

                                    – from No Irish Need Apply, written and sung by Miss Kathleen O’Neil (1863)

SATB choir

God save our gracious Queen,

Long live our noble Queen,

God save the Queen!

 

Send her victorious,

Happy and glorious,

Long to reign over us,

God save the Queen!

­– from God Save the Queen (National Anthem of the United Kingdom);
  authorship of text is unclear.

 

Soprano solo

Now I wonder what’s the reason that the fortuned [English] few,

Should throw on us that dirty slur, and treat us as they do,

Sure they all know Paddy’s heart is warm, and willing is [my] hand,

They rule us, yet we many not earn a living in their land,

O, to their sister country, how can they bread deny,

By sending forth this cruel line, “No Irish need apply.”

                                    – from No Irish Need Apply, written and sung by Miss Kathleen O’Neil (1863)

 

SATB choir

My country, ‘tis of Thee,

Sweet Land of Liberty

Of thee I sing;

 

Long may our land be bright

With freedom’s holy light.

From ev’ry mountainside

Let Freedom ring.

­– from America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee); Words by Samuel Francis Smith (1831)

 

Soprano solo

Ah! but now I’m in the land of the “Glorious and Free,”

And proud I am to own it, a country dear to me,

I can see by your kind faces, that you will not deny,

A place in your hearts for Kathleen, where “All Irish may apply.”

Then long may the Union flourish, and ever may it be,

A pattern to the world, and the “Home of Liberty.”

                                    – from No Irish Need Apply, written and sung by Miss Kathleen O’Neil (1863)

  1. Sweet Land of Liberty

 

5a. Anthem

SATB choir, Readers, Instrumental ensemble

 

SATB choir

My country, ’tis of Thee,
Sweet Land of Liberty
Of thee I sing;

­– from America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee) by Samuel Francis Smith (1831)

 

2 Adult Readers (alternating lines)

The border is a line that birds cannot see.

The border is a beautiful piece of paper folded carelessly in half.

 

Male Teen Reader

The border is where flint first met steel, starting a century of fires.

– from Borders: A Double Sonnet by Alberto Rios

Detention Reading 1 (Male Teen)

“If they really…want to know how hard life is down there, they should go see it. There are kids who don’t make it past five [years old] because they die of hunger. Their parents can’t work because there are no jobs. [W]here I [lived and] studied there were lots of…gang members. They had killed the two police officers who protected our school. The gang told me that if I returned to school, I wouldn’t make it home alive. [They] had killed two kids I went to school with, and I thought I might be the next one. If I hadn’t had these problems, I wouldn’t have come here. Just give us a chance. Let us better ourselves so we can be something better than what we are today.”

 

– Combined quotes from Alfonso, from El Salvador, Age 17 and Mauricio, from Honduras, Age 17

from Children on the Run, a report of the office of the UNHCR

(United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) of the UN Refugee Agency

 

SATB choir

Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountain side
Let Freedom ring.

­            – from America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee) by Samuel Francis Smith (1831)

2 Adult Readers (alternating lines)

The border is a belt that is too tight, holding things up but making it hard to breathe.

The border is the blood clot in the river’s vein.

 

Female Teen Reader

The border says stop to the wind, but the wind speaks another language, and keeps going.

– from Borders: A Double Sonnet by Alberto Rios

 

Female Reader

“We saw all these people behind the fence…hanging onto the wire, and looking out because they were anxious to know who was coming in. But I will never forget the shocking feeling that human beings were behind this fence like animals. And we were going to also lose our freedom and walk inside of that gate and find ourselves…cooped up there…[W]hen the gates were shut, we knew that we had lost something that was very precious; that we were no longer free.”

– Mary Tsukamoto, upon entering a Japanese Internment Camp (1943)

 

SATB choir

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet Freedom’s song;

­– from America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee) by Samuel Francis Smith (1831)

2 Adult Readers (Alternating lines)

The border is a brand, the “Double-X” of barbed wire scarred into the skin of so many.

The border has always been a welcome stopping place but is now a stop sign, always red.

Male Teen Reader

The border is a handshake that becomes a squeezing contest.

.– from Borders: A Double Sonnet by Alberto Rios

Detention Reading 3 (Male Teen)

“When I left, and my dad wasn’t with me, they told me not to worry, that he would be coming in a moment…and felt very relieved and happy that he would follow. But…I haven’t seen him since then. I do not want to be here anymore, especially since I know how much my father is suffering. The way I have been treated makes me feel like I don’t matter, like I am trash.”

– Sergio, a 17-year-old from Guatemala housed in Casa Padre — the largest facility for immigrant children, run by Southwest Key in McAllen, Texas — told interviewers that he and his father were separated shortly after presenting themselves at the border, and taken to different detention centers. His father, he said, now faces deportation.

SATB choir

No tyrant hand shall smite,
While with encircling might
All here are taught the Right
With Truth allied.

­– from America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee) by Samuel Francis Smith (1831)

2 Adult Readers (Alternating lines)

The border is an equation in search of an equals sign.

The border is a locked door that has been promoted.

 

Soprano solo

The border is a place of plans constantly broken and repaired and broken.

.– from Borders: A Double Sonnet by Alberto Rios

Detention Reading 4 (Soprano solo – A mother in detention)

“[My 9-year-old son continues to be anxious after seeing parents separated from their children…] He saw someone bound with chains and asked me whether I would be chained in the same way. He wonders when we will get to the United States. I do not tell him that we are already here. He wouldn’t believe that the United States would treat us this way.”

– A single parent in CBP custody, identified as Mayra­

….attacca

 

5b. Lullaby: Arrorró mi Niño

Soprano solo, Instrumental ensemble

 

The mother to her child

Arrorró mi niño,
arrorró mi sol,
arrorró pedazo,
de mi corazón.

Hush-a-bye my baby
Hush-a-bye my sun
Hush-a-bye oh piece
of my heart.

Este niño lindo
ya quiere dormir;
háganle la cuna
de rosa y jazmín.

This pretty child
Wants to sleep already
Make him a cradle 
of rose and jasmine.

The mother to herself

How can I assure him

that we’ll both be safe?

That I won’t be taken

from him and bound in chains?

 

The mother to her child

Háganle la cama
en el toronjil,
y en la cabecera
pónganle un jazmín
que con su fragancia
me lo haga dormir.

Make him a bed
On the lemon balm 
And at the head
Put jasmine
With its fragrance
To put him to sleep for me.

The mother to herself

They moved us to separate cages,

They yelled and said not to look

At our children locked up without us

Or they’d punish us both if we did.

 

The mother to her child

Este lindo niño
se quiere dormir…
cierra los ojitos
y los vuelve a abrir.

This lovely baby
Wants to sleep
He closes his eyes
And opens them again.

Do not worry my dear one,

You are safe with me;

Your father and the gangs

Cannot harm us anymore.

 

Arrorró mi niño,
arrorró mi sol,
duérmase pedazo,
de mi corazón.

 

Hush-a-bye my baby
Hush-a-bye my sun
Fall asleep oh piece
of my heart.

 

Do not worry my dear one,

You are safe with me;

Arrorró mi niño

Arrorró,

Duérmase,

You are safe with me.

–  from Arrorró mi Niño, Traditional Spanish Lullaby with poetic

English paraphrases of detainee quotes by John Muehleisen

….attacca

 

5c. Border Lines

Children’s choir, Readers, SATB choir, Instrumental ensemble

Children’s choir

My country, ’tis of Thee,
Sweet Land of Liberty
Of thee I sing.

­– from America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee) by Samuel Francis Smith (1831)

Adult Reader(s)

The border is mighty, but even the parting of the seas created a path, not a barrier.

The border is a big, neat, clean, clear black line on a map that does not exist.

– from Borders: A Double Sonnet by Alberto Rios

 

SATB choir + Children’s choir

We seem to live in a world of maps:

But in truth we live in a world made
Not of paper and ink but of people.

Which way we look at the drawing
Makes all the difference.

 Those lines are our lives. 

Together,
Let us turn the map until we see clearly:
The border is what joins us,
Not what separates us.

Spoken by two young children from the Children’s choir

A weight carried by two
Weighs only half as much.

                                    – from Border Lines by Alberto Ríos

….attacca

6. Song of the Stranger

TUTTI: Soprano solo, SATB choir, Children’s choir, Instrumental ensemble

SATB choir

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,…

– Isaiah 11:6

Children’s choir

…and a little child will lead them all.

– Isaiah 11:6

Children’s choir, SATB choir, + Soprano solo

I was hungry, and you gave me food; [and you fed me];

I was thirsty, and you gave me drink:

I was a stranger, and you welcomed me;

I was naked, and you clothed me;

I was ill and you cared for me;

I was in prison, and you visited me.”

– Matthew 25:35–36, Romans 12:16

Live in harmony with one another

– Romans 12:16

Performer Bios

John Muehleisen

John Muehleisen’s more than 150 vocal and choral works have been variously described as “masterful writing…imaginatively harmonized…beautifully realized…and brilliantly crafted.” He has been Composer-in-Residence for Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble for most years since 1996, for the Dale Warland Singers (2003–2004), and for Choral Arts Northwest (2011-2012 and 2016–2017), which commissioned the oratorio Pietà, premiered in March 2012 to critical acclaim. As part of a consortium, they also commissioned John’s oratorio, But Who Shall Return Us Our Children – A Kipling Passion (2017) to commemorate the Centennial of World War I. Between them, Muehleisen’s two oratorios have received nearly 25 performances over the course of just six years, and in April 2019 Choral Arts Northwest’s recording of the Kipling Passion was released internationally on the prestigious Gothic label. Most recently, the Great Bend Center for Music and DCINY (Distinguished Concerts International New York) commissioned the cantata Borders, which received its world premiere by Matthew Melendez, soprano Tess Altiveros, and the Great Bend Chorale in Carnegie Hall on May 24, 2019 to a standing ovation and enthusiastic response from both the audience and the reviewer. Muehleisen was appointed DCINY Composer-in-Residence for that world-premiere event.

Other commissioning groups include Conspirare, The Esoterics, Harvard Glee Club, Northwest Girlchoir, Seattle Girls’ Choir, Seattle Pro Musica, and Volti. His works have been performed throughout North America, Europe, and Asia by choral groups including the Ansan City Choir, Choral Chameleon, John Alexander Singers, Magnum Chorum, St. Olaf Choir, Yale Schola Cantorum, and the Louisville Orchestra. More than 80 of his works have been commercially recorded, and his compositions were featured at the Sixth World Choral Symposium; the 2007 NEA American Masterpieces Choral Festival in Austin, TX; at multiple ACDA conferences, and at the 2013 Chorus America Conference. Awards include the 1988 Louisville Orchestra Composition Award, Third Place in the 2013 American Prize in Professional Choral Composition, and the 2014 Dale Warland Singers Commission Award. Granting agencies include the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, the Jerome Foundation, New Music USA, the Distinguished Concerts International New York Premiere Project, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Noted for her “enthralling” (Seattle Times) and “particularly soulful” interpretations (L.A. Times), soprano Tess Altiveros is equally at home in a wide range of repertoire from the 17th century to the 21st.

In the 22/23 season, Ms. Altiveros brings her portrayal of Soldier in The Falling and the Rising to Des Moines Metro Opera, Arizona Opera, Intermountain Opera and Opera Memphis.  She returns to her home company of Seattle Opera as Giannetta in L’Elisir d’Amore and Nana in the highly anticipated world premiere of A Thousand Splendid Suns. Concert engagements include Messiah with Boise Phil, Mozart Mass in C Minor with Seattle Pro Musica, Chansons d’Auvergne with WestSound Symphony, Mozart Requiem with Evansville Philharmonic, Bach’s St Matthew Passion with Dame Jane Glover and Music of the Baroque, and the U.S. premiere of Ripper’s Cinco Poemas de Vinicius de Moraes with the Seattle Symphony.

Opera credits include Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro (Intermountain Opera, Kentucky Opera), Soldier in The Falling and the Rising (Seattle Opera), Angela in In Real Life (Opera Memphis), Fiordiligi in Cosi fan Tutte (Skylark Opera), E in O+E (Seattle Opera), Euridice/Proserpine in L’Orfeo (Pacific MusicWorks), Clorinda in Seattle Opera’s acclaimed production of The Combat, Pamina in Die Zauberflöte (Pacific Symphony), Maria in West Side Story (Central City Opera/Boulder Philharmonic), Musetta in La Bohème with Mo. Andrew Litton (Colorado Symphony), Miss Jessel in Turn of the Screw (Eugene Opera), and Elle in La Voix Humaine (Vespertine Opera).

On the concert stage, her voice has been hailed as “darker, creamy, sensuous…sprezzatura personified” (Opera Today) and “pure gold” (Opera Magazine). Engagements have ranged from the American Prize-winning world premiere of Muehleisen’s Borders at Carnegie Hall to the critically acclaimed West Coast tour of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo with Grammy winning conductor Stephen Stubbs.  Ms. Altiveros has been featured with the Colorado Symphony, Pacific Symphony, the Boulder Philharmonic, Portland Baroque, Early Music Vancouver, Shreveport Symphony, San Francisco Early Music Society and the Vancouver Bach Festival.

A native Seattleite, Ms. Altiveros is proud to be a regular singer for all her hometown teams, including the Seattle Mariners, OL Reign, Seattle Kraken, and the Seattle Sounders.

Matthew Melendez is Great Bend’s founder, and the Chorale’s director. Matthew’s passion is making music with people who don’t think of themselves as musicians.

Kids who have never sung in groups. Seniors who haven’t sung since high school. Tourists who had no idea they were walking into a Beer Choir.

Really, no one is safe from singing around him.

In addition to undergraduate degrees in the arts of persuasion (Advertising Copywriting and Social Psychology), he has a master’s degree in vocal performance and pedagogy (where his thesis research focused on the power of cultural tourism to revitalize rural communities) and a doctoral degree (ABD) in choral conducting. His current research is centered on the community development applications of music: how it can be used to build educational equity, civic engagement, health and wellness. He’s part of the inaugural cohort of the Teaching Artist Training Institute, and is particularly passionate about the El Sistema approach to empowering children through music.

In 2019 he made his Carnegie Hall debut leading two non-auditioned youth and adult ensembles in a world-premiere choral cantata commissioned for the occasion. The Shelton, Washington performance of that work, “Borders” by John Muehleisen, won second in the community division of the 2019-20 American Prize: Ernst Bacon Award for the Performance of American Music. But even before this, community ensembles he’s either led or managed have shown a strong propensity for getting Lincoln Center and White House invitations.

Singers and Players

Youth

Ashlin Ingalls

Grace Martinache

August Melendez Blegen

Elliana Siemssen

 

Soprano 

Kathryn Brooks

Laura Johnson

Cassie Harris Smith

EmmaRae Siemssen

Jenny Spence

Jae Still

Christina Wellman

 

Alto

Leisa Ashbaugh

Noorhani Dickson

Katrinka Hibler

Sara Kaufman-Bradstreet

Erin Martinache

Anna Miller

Heidi Nelson

Laurie Shanin

 

Tenor

Amy Bohn

Gary Cannon

Kimberly Gregg

Dustin Kaspar

Ferren Morse

 

Bass

Eric Blegen

Michael Harris

Andrew Payne

Philip Tschopp

Robin Wyatt-Stone

 

Violin 1

John Kim, CM

Quinn Price

Mary Manning

Lizzy Pedersen

 

Violin 2

Karen Sorensen, principal

Monica Boros

Sue Jane Bryant 

 

Viola

Betty Agent, principal

Aleida Gehrels

Maria Ritzenthaler

 

Cello

Erika Pierson, principal

Rose Bellini

 

Bass 

Todd Gowers

 

Percussion

Gunnar Folsom

 

Tympani

Rob Tucker

 

Piano

Joe Sartori

Special thanks to the amazing Virginia Dziekonski.

What is The American Prize?

In the classical music world, we have our own version of the Oscars. The American Prize (TAP) panel of judges is composed entirely of professional classical musicians at the top of their game. Our peers. While TAP may not be a common topic for general dinner party conversation, winning one can pave the wave for performance invitations at outstanding venues, recording contracts, access to national grant funding, and more.

So we were thrilled when our June 1, 2019 Shelton performance of Borders by John Muehleisen (the work we commissioned for our Carnegie Hall premiere) won second place in the community ensemble division of TAP’s Ernst Bacon Memorial Award for the Performance of American Music. 

Of all of the TAP award categories, the finale prize, their version of Best Picture, is the Ernst Bacon. Taking silver in that category marked our performance as one of the two most significant performances of American music that season by community ensembles worldwide. And we thinking winning the award not for our Carnegie Hall performance but for our Shelton performance makes it even better. 

Borders, the American Prize-winning commission by Seattle composer John Muehleisen, explores the question, “How should we treat the stranger—the foreigner—amongst us?”

Borders draws from many of the constituent cultures that make up the American tapestry. It was inspired by, and begins with, a Salish Song of Welcome.

The Salish people—the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America—understand that making music is inherently an act of community, and as a result, their culture has great reverence for the power of song. So great is their respect for this power that there are rich cultural traditions (and taboos) about how and when and by whom (and with whom) individual songs may be performed.

Imagine, then, being visited by an entirely different race of people whom you had never before encountered, who look and dress very differently from your own people, wielding completely alien technology and an unrecognizable language—and choosing to sing a song of welcome to them! This was the response of several tribal communities from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state upon first contact with European explorers. The Salish knew that making music meant making community; that singing illuminates all that we have in common.

The recording below from our June 1, 2019 Shelton performance features soprano Tess Altiveros. This recording also won an American Prize for the 2019 performance season.

– Matthew Melendez, 2020

 

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