THE WISDOM OF COLUMBIA COUNTY is the vision of lyricist Margaret Trenchard-Smith, history scholar/teacher/poet and Alice Rice Boyer, choral director extraordinaire, presently directing the Columbia Choir in St. Helens, OR. They found me through connections at a local coffee shop! I’m delighted to have composed a 35 minute cantata for them. It will be premiered on June 16th, 2023 and again (with orchestra) at Carnegie Hall on May 27, 2024.
The performance will be composed two braids, a European story and a Native American story. My composition “The Wisdom of Columbia County” is the European braid which begins with Margarets beautiful description (in English) of a Chinook family tradition. The other braid is told by First Nations people in their own language and from their own perspective. I cannot tell you what our Indian collaborators will do and leave it up to the Great Mystery to provide. The native braid is directed by Shaun Washburn, Yakima nation. It will open the Cantata with prayer, interlace my music with song, prayer, and story from a native perspective, and close the performance in ceremony.
Margaret captured the history of the land now called Columbia County, Oregon, in 8 “poetic snapshots” which I grouped into 4 movements of 2 “songs” each, the first of which flows into the second without a break.
Take a closer look at Margaret’s lyrics HERE.
The first movement opens SATB, Mother and Child (Spring) conveying the timeless Chinook tribal presence. The music is a variation of Charles Ives’ strings background from his The Unanswered Question. A sea-chanty The Sea Captain (1792) interrupts with a cannon blast. Two choruses argue what to name the river – the Chinook “Wimahl” or Captain Gray’s “Columbia”.
The second movement covers the 1800s and describes a frontiersman’s life The Frontiersman (1827) followed by The Pioneer and Settler (1852), a description of the hardships and wisdom of a pioneer woman who settled here.
The third movement describes the 1900s, beginning with a double chorus raucous ride on a logging train in The Logger (1918), followed by a pastoral description of back-to-the-land settlers late mid-century called The Stewards (1958).
The fourth and final movement, The Newcomer (Autumn), sets present day Columbia County – describing one of thousands of new residents who find a new home in its forested rural land. It is followed by Postlude, a reprise of the Ives’-inspired opening chorus, and echoed by a second chorus delayed two beats and by chorus 3 four beats later, giving an effect of a river flowing from one side of the stage to the other.
Hear the music and see the score.
Come join us! We need your voice!
I have sung under Music Director Alice Rice Boyer’s baton for a few years now. If you’re a little nervous about jumping in, let me assure that Alice makes it fun. She is spontaneous and creative and gets the sound she wants. I’ll be sending you lots of materials so that you can learn your part. If you’re not local to Columbia County, OR, we will take care of you in a variety of ways, including zooms, and rehearsals. We plan on traveling to several choirs distant from Columbia County Oregon to hold workshops and rehearsals.
TWO CONCERTS are scheduled; the world premiere in Columbia County, Oregon in 2023 and the performance at Carnegie Hall in 2024. For the 2023 Inaugural World Premiere concert, I hope you’ll sing the whole cantata, but learning only 2 or 3 of the movements is fine. Learning a 35 minute work may be too much for busy singers and high school choirs that already have their school year planned, so we support partial participation. I only ask that you always include at least the last movement in your choices because it employs three simultaneous choruses, demanding as many singers as possible. To help you decide, this guide shows movement durations and note-ranges for each part HERE.
As for the Carnegie Hall performance, you will be singing on one of the grandest most famous stages in the world. What more can I say? It’s going to be life changing!!