Voyage Though Death to Life Upon These Shores
7 pm Friday, February 25th, 2022
St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, San Diego
with the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir of San Diego
Pre-concert lecture by Dr. Geoffrey West
5 pm Thursday, March 3rd, 2022
Terrace Theater, Long Beach
American Choral Directors Association Regional Conference: Lift EVERY Voice and Sing
Content warning: This piece graphically depicts atrocities and uses sexist and racist language, including the n-word, as written in Robert Hayden’s poem “Middle Passage” and as set by composer Anthony Davis.
Voyage Through Death to Life Upon These Shores*
Becca Ung, Soprano; Elly Roseberry, Alto; Adam Davis, Bass; Colin Barkley, Daniel Moyer, Tenors
Composed by Anthony Davis
In keeping with the tradition of the Spirituals and Gospel Music, selections will be announced from the stage
Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir of San Diego
Worship the Lord
Composed by Edwin Hawkins
*Only this work will be performed as part of the American Choral Directors Association Conference
PERFORMERS & LEADERSHIP
R. Aaron Bullard
Juan Carlos Acosta, Artistic Director
Aaron Burgett, Assistant Conductor
Adam Ferrara, Collaborative Pianist
Becca Ung, Chorus Manager
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Karl Bunker, President
Tori Haberman, Secretary
Eric Swanson, Treasurer
Founded in 2009 by Krishan Oberoi, SACRA/PROFANA quickly gained acclaim as “San Diego’s go-to choral ensemble” for their collaborations with the region’s top performing arts groups including the San Diego Symphony, the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir of San Diego, the L.A. Choral Lab, Mainly Mozart, Malashock Dance, La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego Opera, Bodhi Tree Concerts, and San Diego Dance Theater, among many others. Notably, the group gave the red carpet world premiere live performance of Michael Giacchino’s score for Star Trek: Beyond with the San Diego Symphony at San Diego Comic-Con in 2016, as well as Alan Menken’s and Stephen Schwartz’s stage adaptation of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2014.
Specialists in the work of living composers, SACRA/PROFANA have given world, national, and regional premieres by contemporary luminaries such as David Lang, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Shawn Kirchner, Saunder Choi, Brandon Waddles, Anthony Davis, Amy Gordon, Stephen Feigenbaum, Jason Carl Rosenberg, Stephen Sturk and many others. They have also embraced the challenging choral masterpieces of twentieth century icons Arnold Schoenberg, György Ligeti, Dominick Argento and Ernst Krenek.
The group released their first full length album Elegies & Ecstasies in 2012, followed by the world premiere recording of when we were children by David Lang in 2014. Since then, the group has produced numerous recordings and videos, most notably their socially distant pandemic cover of “Cars” by Gary Numan. SACRA/PROFANA recently released A Longing for Christmas with Grammy award winning producer Peter Rutenberg.
JUAN CARLOS ACOSTA, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
Juan Carlos Acosta was appointed Associate Artistic Director and principal conductor of SACRA/PROFANA in 2015, and named Artistic Director in 2018. Under his direction, the group has continued its artistic excellence and commitment to contemporary choral music, while diversifying its repertoire, representation and engaging in socially relevant issues.
Juan Carlos has received critical praise for his interpretations, as well his refinement of the choral sound, with Ken Herman (San Diego Story) writing “The warm, superbly balanced sonority of Sacra/Profana persuasively communicated this work’s emotional depth. Kudos to Acosta for cultivating such a well-balanced, finely tuned ensemble sound that still retains the color and vitality we cherish in a great singer.”
In 2018 Juan Carlos conducted San Diego Opera’s collaborative performance of All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 for three sold out audiences and live broadcast on KPBS. The performances were hailed as “masterfully conducted” (San Diego Union-Tribune) and were awarded the 2018 Craig Noel Special Event award by the San Diego Theater Critics Circle.
Over a career that is approaching twenty years, Juan Carlos has been active nationally, regionally, and locally as speaker, presenter, and clinician for such groups as Choristers Guild, the American Guild of Organists, the San Diego Arts Mega Conference, and the California and American Choral Directors Association (ACDA). Together with composer Brandon Waddles, Juan Carlos and SACRA/PROFANA were awarded the inaugural Diverse Voices Collaborative Grant by the ACDA for a work based on the life and work of activist James Baldwin for double choir and jazz trio.
In addition to his work with SACRA/PROFANA, Juan Carlos Acosta also serves as the Director of Worship at the Village Community Presbyterian Church, where he directs the Chancel Choir, Youth Choir, Choral Scholars, and the Village Community Chorale. He has also conducted the Concert Choir and Choral Scholars of the University of San Diego, the Cuyamaca College Choir, and served as choral director for the Chula Vista School for the Creative and Performing Arts. He holds a Bachelor of Music Education, and a Masters of Music in Choral Conducting from San Diego State University. Juan Carlos has done additional study with Charles Bruffy at the Westminster Conducting Institute, and Jon Washburn with the Vancouver Chamber Choir.
MARTIN LURTHER KING JR. COMMUNITY CHOIR OF SAN DIEGO
KEN ANDERSON, DIRECTOR
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Choir San Diego (MLKCCSD) is a non-profit charitable organization. The Choir’s purpose is to raise funds through a series of concerts for educational grants that we distribute to aspiring college-bound high school majors in Visual and Performing Arts from the San Diego County area.
The repertoire of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Choir San Diego is primarily gospel, both traditional and contemporary. Unlike traditional gospel choirs, we include a part for bass and baritone. The choir is also proficient in Negro spirituals, anthems, and oratorios. With the exception of classical pieces and some Negro spiritual arrangements, the music is taught by rote, after the oral tradition from which the music comes. Participants are non-auditioned, needing only to be able to sing in tune. Some vocal training is provided and some coaching for those who don’t read music.
ANTHONY DAVIS, COMPOSER
Anthony Davis is widely regarded as one of the most important composers of our time and has been called “the dean of African American Opera Composers” (Michael Cooper, The New York Times) and “A National Treasure” (Opera News). His compositional output for stage and concert hall have often dealt directly with issues of racism and social justice, such as X: The Life and Times of Malcom X, Amistad (both an opera and symphonic work), and Wakonda’s Dream. In 2020 Anthony Davis received a Pulitzer Prize for Music for his opera The Central Park Five which had its premiere with the Long Beach Opera Company in June of 2019. Other works often explore political and national trauma including SHIMMER a music theater work about the McCarthy Era, and Restless Morning an oratorio that addresses the 911 tragedy.
A native of Paterson, New Jersey and graduate of Yale University, Mr. Davis is currently a professor of music at the University of California, San Diego. In addition to his acclaim as a composer, Anthony Davis is a highly regarded and sought after jazz pianist. He is known for his free-jazz solos, and his role as both bandleader and sideman, with over forty commercial releases in jazz and classical idioms.
ROBERT HAYDEN, POET
Robert Hayden was born in the Paradise Valley neighborhood of Detroit in 1913 and earned degrees from Detroit City College (later Wayne State University) and the University of Michigan, where he later became the first Black faculty member in the English Department. Hayden was also the first African American to be appointed as the “Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress,” which is commonly referred to as the United States Poet Laureate.
Mr. Hayden spent a considerable amount of time researching Black history, starting in the 1930s through the Federal Writers Project and continuing throughout his career. His interest and study included the story of Black people from their roots in Africa to their condition in the United States, and much of his output stems from this study. Writing for MELUS Vilma Raskin Potter remarked “The gift of Robert Hayden’s poetry, is his coherent vision of the black experience in this country as a continuing journey both communal and private.”
Mr. Hayden’s poem “Middle Passage,” originally published in 1945 and revised in 1962, depicts the transatlantic slave trade and the slave revolt on the ship La Amistad from the perspective of European participants and seeks to “contribute toward an understanding of what our [African-American] past had really been like.” The epic text draws from historical resources and the Western literary tradition to confront the horror of chattel slavery and its fundamental place American history.
Mr. Hayden’s output is by no means limited to the Black experience, and many of his most famous poems deal with nature and personal experience. Among the many awards Robert Hayden received during his lifetime were honorary degrees from Fisk and Brown Universities, and an Academy of American Poets Fellowship.
“In an era in which Critical Race Theory is coming under attack, and racism is banned from being taught in schools, the presentation of this work can be seen as an act of defiance.” Anthony Davis recently said of Voyage Through Death to Life Upon These Shores. Originally commissioned by a consortium of America’s top professional choirs including Chanticleer, the Dale Warland Singers, and Musica Sacra in 1991, this challenging work has only been performed by a handful of choirs since. SACRA/PROFANA is the first choir to return to the piece.
While this a cappella secular cantata is an exemplar of Mr. Davis’s oeuvre, its frank depiction of historical atrocities make it a departure from standard choral repertoire. In addition to the difficult subject matter, Voyage Through Death to Life Upon These Shores is set in the octatonic mode, which organizes the 12 steps of the chromatic scale into an 8-note scale of alternating whole and half-steps. The scale has no functional tonal center, and while it was commonly used in jazz improvisation, it is infrequently used in choral music. The text setting is driven by polyrhythmic speech and jazz influences.
The focal point of the composition is Robert Hayden’s iconic 1945 poem “Middle Passage,” which was revised in 1962. The piece is divided into three movements according to the structure of the poem, and is intended to be performed in sequence without pause. Robert Hayden draws from multifarious sources, including the logs of slave ships, court records, and Shakespeare, to bring these historical atrocities to life. Mr. Hayden uses indentations, italics, and quotations to indicate various voices and sources, and to comment on those texts. Mr. Davis ingeniously crafts his choral setting to give voice to different lines of poetry simultaneously, often antiphonally or in hocket, to further illustrate and comment on Hayden’s text.
TEXT FOR THE "MIDDLE PASSAGE"
Jesús, Estrella, Esperanza, Mercy:
Sails flashing to the wind like weapons,
sharks following the moans the fever and the dying;
horror the corposant and compass rose.
voyage through death
to life upon these shores.
“10 April 1800—
Blacks rebellious. Crew uneasy. Our linguist says
their moaning is a prayer for death,
ours and their own. Some try to starve themselves.
Lost three this morning leaped with crazy laughter
to the waiting sharks, sang as they went under.”
Desire, Adventure, Tartar, Ann:
Standing to America, bringing home
black gold, black ivory, black seed.
Deep in the festering hold thy father lies,
of his bones New England pews are made,
those are altar lights that were his eyes.
Jesus Saviour Pilot Me
Over Life’s Tempestuous Sea
We pray that Thou wilt grant, O Lord,
safe passage to our vessels bringing
heathen souls unto Thy chastening.
“8 bells. I cannot sleep, for I am sick
with fear, but writing eases fear a little
since still my eyes can see these words take shape
upon the page & so I write, as one
would turn to exorcism. 4 days scudding,
but now the sea is calm again. Misfortune
follows in our wake like sharks (our grinning
tutelary gods). Which one of us
has killed an albatross? A plague among
our blacks—Ophthalmia: blindness—& we
have jettisoned the blind to no avail.
It spreads, the terrifying sickness spreads.
Its claws have scratched sight from the Capt.'s eyes
& there is blindness in the fo’c’sle
& we must sail 3 weeks before we come
What port awaits us, Davy Jones’
or home? I’ve heard of slavers drifting, drifting,
playthings of wind and storm and chance, their crews
gone blind, the jungle hatred
crawling up on deck.
Thou Who Walked On Galilee
“Deponent further sayeth The Bella J
left the Guinea Coast
with cargo of five hundred blacks and odd
for the barracoons of Florida:
“That there was hardly room ’tween-decks for half
the sweltering cattle stowed spoon-fashion there;
that some went mad of thirst and tore their flesh
and sucked the blood:
“That Crew and Captain lusted with the comeliest
of the savage girls kept naked in the cabins;
that there was one they called The Guinea Rose
and they cast lots and fought to lie with her:
“That when the Bo’s’n piped all hands, the flames
spreading from starboard already were beyond
control, the negroes howling and their chains
entangled with the flames:
“That the burning blacks could not be reached,
that the Crew abandoned ship,
leaving their shrieking negresses behind,
that the Captain perished drunken with the wenches:
“Further Deponent sayeth not.”
Pilot Oh Pilot Me
Aye, lad, and I have seen those factories,
Gambia, Rio Pongo, Calabar;
have watched the artful mongos baiting traps
of war wherein the victor and the vanquished
Were caught as prizes for our barracoons.
Have seen the nigger kings whose vanity
and greed turned wild black hides of Fellatah,
Mandingo, Ibo, Kru to gold for us.
And there was one—King Anthracite we named him—
fetish face beneath French parasols
of brass and orange velvet, impudent mouth
whose cups were carven skulls of enemies:
He’d honor us with drum and feast and conjo
and palm-oil-glistening wenches deft in love,
and for tin crowns that shone with paste,
red calico and German-silver trinkets
Would have the drums talk war and send
his warriors to burn the sleeping villages
and kill the sick and old and lead the young
in coffles to our factories.
Twenty years a trader, twenty years,
for there was wealth aplenty to be harvested
from those black fields, and I’d be trading still
but for the fevers melting down my bones.
Shuttles in the rocking loom of history,
the dark ships move, the dark ships move,
their bright ironical names
like jests of kindness on a murderer’s mouth;
plough through thrashing glister toward
fata morgana’s lucent melting shore,
weave toward New World littorals that are
mirage and myth and actual shore.
Voyage through death,
voyage whose chartings are unlove.
A charnel stench, effluvium of living death
spreads outward from the hold,
where the living and the dead, the horribly dying,
lie interlocked, lie foul with blood and excrement.
Deep in the festering hold thy father lies,
the corpse of mercy rots with him,
rats eat love’s rotten gelid eyes.
But, oh, the living look at you
with human eyes whose suffering accuses you,
whose hatred reaches through the swill of dark
to strike you like a leper’s claw.
You cannot stare that hatred down
or chain the fear that stalks the watches
and breathes on you its fetid scorching breath;
cannot kill the deep immortal human wish,
the timeless will.
“But for the storm that flung up barriers
of wind and wave, The Amistad, señores,
would have reached the port of Príncipe in two,
three days at most; but for the storm we should
have been prepared for what befell.
Swift as the puma’s leap it came. There was
that interval of moonless calm filled only
with the water’s and the rigging’s usual sounds,
then sudden movement, blows and snarling cries
and they had fallen on us with machete
and marlinspike. It was as though the very
air, the night itself were striking us.
Exhausted by the rigors of the storm,
we were no match for them. Our men went down
before the murderous Africans. Our loyal
Celestino ran from below with gun
and lantern and I saw, before the cane-
knife’s wounding flash, Cinquez,
that surly brute who calls himself a prince,
directing, urging on the ghastly work.
He hacked the poor mulatto down, and then
he turned on me. The decks were slippery
when daylight finally came. It sickens me
to think of what I saw, of how these apes
threw overboard the butchered bodies of
our men, true Christians all, like so much jetsam.
Enough, enough. The rest is quickly told:
Cinquez was forced to spare the two of us
you see to steer the ship to Africa,
and we like phantoms doomed to rove the sea
voyaged east by day and west by night,
deceiving them, hoping for rescue,
prisoners on our own vessel, till
at length we drifted to the shores of this
your land, America, where we were freed
from our unspeakable misery. Now we
demand, good sirs, the extradition of
Cinquez and his accomplices to La
Havana. And it distresses us to know
there are so many here who seem inclined
to justify the mutiny of these blacks.
We find it paradoxical indeed
that you whose wealth, whose tree of liberty
are rooted in the labor of your slaves
should suffer the august John Quincy Adams
to speak with so much passion of the right
of chattel slaves to kill their lawful masters
and with his Roman rhetoric weave a hero’s
garland for Cinquez. I tell you that
we are determined to return to Cuba
with our slaves and there see justice done. Cinquez—
or let us say ‘the Prince’—Cinquez shall die.”
The deep immortal human wish,
the timeless will:
Cinquez its deathless primaveral image,
life that transfigures many lives.
Voyage through death
to life upon these shores.
THANK YOU TO OUR DONORS
We are grateful to our supporters for their generous contributions! Please join us in thanking them for being an important part of what we do. Total donations February 1, 2021 to January 31, 2022. Please let us know if any info is listed incorrectly.
THANK YOU TO OUR DONORS
Tori & Aaron Haberman
Karl & Leslie Bunker
Larry & Susan Gerling
Glenda & Rob McKibben
Susan & Douglas McLeod
Eric & Rexanna Swanson
Juan & Andrea Acosta
David & Patricia Lokensgard
Greta & Stephen Treadgold
Holly & Warren Otto
Qualcomm Charitable Foundation
Jan & Rick Farley
Alan & Pam Hay
Marilyn & John Shelton
William Slack & Mark Malean
Jay & Mary Hanson
Mary Ellen O’Malley
Bill & Georgiana Simmons
Darin Arnston, Lead Pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church;
Dr. Geoffrey West, UCSD Analytical Writing Department;
Libby Weber, Program Note Assistance;
Clara Joy Welcome, Program Design
To Support SACRA/PROFANA
Donate online: www.sacraprofana.org/donate
By Check Payable to:
P.O. Box 712049, San Diego, CA 92171-2049
SACRA/PROFANA is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, EIN 46-0549914. All donations to support SACRA/PROFANA are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
Financial support is provided by the
City of San Diego.
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