Leaves of Grass/Ode to America (Whitman) for SSAATTBB choir unaccompanied; first performances by the Bucks County Choral Society June 2004, in Doylestown, PA, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Tallinn, Estonia.
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
it will be in the valley of love and delight.
Simple Gifts (Shaker Folk Song)
As a strong bird on pinions free,
Joyous, the amplest spaces heavenward cleaving,
Such be the thought I’d think to-day of thee, America,
Such be the recitative I’d bring to-day for thee.
Walt Whitman (1872) – from “As a strong bird on pinions free” (Leaves of Grass)
A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is, any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer, designedly dropt,
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd
and carry the young lambs in his bosom.
R. Nathaniel Dett – from Listen to the Lambs
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that
we may see and remark, and say, Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic;
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white;
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
Walt Whitman (1855) – from “Song of Myself” (Leaves of Grass)
* * *
O beautiful for pilgrim’s feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress,
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
Katherine Lee Bates/Samuel A. Ward – from America the Beautiful
….a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
…[can] any nation so conceived and so dedicated…long endure[?]
Abraham Lincoln (1863) - from Gettysburg Address
Duration – approx. 7 minutes