One of the loveliest poems ever written is Sara Teasdale’s “Barter,” with the opening line “Life has loveliness to sell.”
I’ve programmed a choral setting several times over the years, but no performance has ever equaled the first time I heard it.
I was in San Antonio at the 1993 convention of the American Choral Directors Association. The Indianapolis Children’s Choir took the stage, Henry Leck at the helm. About five or six numbers into their set, they sang a setting of this by the Indianapolis composer James Mulholland. At the conclusion of that magnificent final suspension, the place exploded. Applause went on and on. I was in tears. Many of my colleagues in the audience were as well.
Rarely have music and poetry so kissed each other with tenderness and elegant result.
This weekend, I discovered my CD of the Indianapolis group’s “Acclaimed Performances.” And tonight, just before leaving my desk, I listened again to something I first hear nearly 20 years ago. The magic was still there.
God bless Henry and James, and all those children who are now 30-something adults.
Here’s a video of the piece, as performed by the 2005 New Mexico MEA All-State Treble Choir, with my colleague Lori West at the helm:
And for good measure in honor of James Mulholland, here’s a recording of me leading the Ball State University Chamber Choir 2004 in his “A red, red rose,” arguably his best-known choral work.