Last week, on April 24, I attended "An Evening of Poetry & Music" at a lovely church in Alexandria, Virginia. The Sunday event featured readings and commentary by California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia and music by the U.S. Army Chorus. After hearing me talk about it, a friend remarked, "Sounds like a magical evening."
Yes, it was! Both the music and the poems linger in my head.
Gioia introduced his readings with commentary about beauty, the art of poetry, and music's and poetry's (indeed all the arts') inspirational qualities. He read from memory three sets of poems, all from his most recently published collection 99 Poems: New & Selected (Graywolf Press, 2016); each group of readings was followed by a choral selection. Among the many wonderful poems Gioia read were "Pity the Beautiful", "Cruising With the Beach Boys", "The Apple Orchard", "Majority", "Prayer", and "Marriage of Many Years". Gioia is an engaging, philosophical, and humorous reader. He knows how to hold his audience rapt by bringing his words alive.
The selections sung by the U.S. Army Chorus were gorgeous. All were composed by the deservedly acclaimed Morten Lauridsen. They comprised several Lauridsen masterworks — O Magnum Mysterium (O Great Mystery), Dirait-on from Les Chanson des Roses (Rilke), and Sure on this Shining Night from Nocturnes (Agee) — and the movingly performed Prayer (Gioia). The latter was sung by second tenor SSG Benjamin Pattison and guest soprano Nancy Scimone; the poetry they found by uniting words and music carried fully into the audience, many of whom had tears in their eyes when Prayer concluded.
Lauridsen, I learned subsequently, is the subject of an award-winning documentary Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen (Song Without Borders) from Michael Stillwater and Doris Laesser Stillwater. It was filmed between 2010 and 2011 in a number of locations, including Aberdeen, Scotland; Waldron Island, Washington; and San Francisco and Los Angeles, and interweaves commentaries by composers and conductors, performers, and Lauridsen's friends. As may be seen and heard in the trailer below, Lauridsen has a great passion for music and poetry and those lucky enough to perform his radiant compositions are forever changed.
Additional videos related to Shining Night may be viewed and excerpts of musical selections may be heard at Lauridsen's Website.