by Sally Cohen
The Choristers, a superb choral group based in North Wales with members from all over the greater Chestnut Hill area, will present its spring concert — one that has already garnered attention in the United Kingdom — on Saturday April 28, 7:30 p.m.
The major work the choir will present is Ralph Vaughan Williams’ rarely-performed, passionate prayer for peace, “Dona Nobis Pacem.”
In keeping with the message of the work, the performance is dedicated to 23-year-old Army Specialist David Emanuel Hickman, the last U.S. soldier to lose his/her life in the Iraq War.
“Dona Nobis Pacem” (Grant us peace) is a plea that human beings have urgently prayed for over many centuries. According to David Spitko, artistic director of The Choristers, “Vaughan Williams’ ‘Dona Nobis Pacem,’ composed in 1937, was a forewarning of World War II, yet is as relevant today as it was then.
“The lyrics come from the Mass, Walt Whitman, the Bible and a political speech by John Bright. It spends considerable time focusing on the bloodshed and aftermath of war; yet ends with an uplifting and positive prayer for peace.”
The choir will be joined by soprano Maureen Francis (http://www.maureenfrancis.net/biography.asp) and bass Ben Wager (http://fletcherartists.com/artist.asp?ID=23). Additional works by Vaughan Williams will be performed, including “Five Mystical Songs” with East Falls resident Suzanne DuPlantis as the soloist and “Six Studies in English Folksong” for solo clarinet, harp and strings featuring principal clarinetist Arne Running, who also wrote the new arrangement. (http://www.mec-sing.com/suzanne.html and http://lyricfest.org/about/founding-artistic-directors/suzanne-duplantis/)
Why is the work rarely performed? Aside from its choral complexity, which rules out any but a very talented concert choir, the score calls for a large professional orchestra — 47 pieces — an extremely costly expenditure requiring a herculean fundraising effort.
To assist the choir in affording the $23,000 orchestra, The Choristers was awarded a $4,000 grant from the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust based in the United Kingdom, an imprimatur from one of the guardians of Vaughan Williams’ legacy.
In addition, the London-based Ralph Vaughan Williams Society has made its members aware of the concert as many of them are located in the U.S. The Society also placed the concert on its Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/Ralph-Vaughan-Williams-Society/202673946456879
On Nov. 14, 2011, just a month before the final U.S. troops left Iraq, South Carolinian Army Specialist David Emanuel Hickman lost his life to an improvised explosive device. Family and friends remember him as a jokester with the nickname “Zeus” because, he playfully said, his physique was so impressive that the gods would be envious.
According to Spitko, “Hickman was a high school outside linebacker who was the linchpin of a defense so complicated that his school had to scrap it after he graduated because no other teenager could figure it out. He was someone with a goal of one day joining the Special Forces. We seek to honor his service and sacrifice with our concert.”
The concert will be held at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church, Susquehanna Ave. & Butler Pike in Ambler. Tickers are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors, $10 for students and free for children under high school age. Tickets will be sold in advance and at the door.