The Mark Hayes composition Music Makes Me Feel Alive saw its orchestral world premiere on Apr. 7 when it was performed by the Symphony of the Americas together with the South Florida Gay Men's Chorus.
Mark Hayes was present for the world premiere of his musical composition last week when the Chorus alone performed at Ft. Lauderdale's Sunshine Cathedral. The piece is the first work ever commissioned by the South Florida Gay Men's Chorus, now celebrating its fifth year under the baton of Artistic Director Gordon Roberts. He is pictured here at the Broward Center, where he shared the baton throughout the concert with the Artistic Director of the Symphony, James Brooks-Bruzzese. In the joint concert the Symphony performed a few orchestral pieces, which I will comment on at the end of this review of the Sunshine Cathedral event that first appeared last week.
To initiate creation of Music Makes Me Feel Alive, members of the chorus gave responses to why they sing, and Hayes then used that as source material. The result is a joyful song that at times exhibits Broadway quality, and other times is very choral- the ideal mix for a gay men's chorus.
In an interview, Hayes told me the composition exhibits "infectious syncopation" and exudes a "joyful feeling." The lyrics took a day to write, followed by the orchestration which took two days. "I work fast," he said. Not surprising since he has more than a thousand compositions to his credit.
He shared with me his thought process on musical creation. "Once I have the lyrics I look at perhaps 4 lines and see where it fits into section A, and then 6 lines for section B. Then it percolates through my mind as I decide which lyrics to highlight."
In introducing the concert, Roberts said the annual March concert was originally thought of as the "classical concert" but it has "become the great choral songbook." This new composition by Hayes fits perfectly into that scheme with lyrics such as "music makes me dream", "music brings me joy", "music makes me laugh", "music makes me cry", "music makes me feel alive." Its lyrics acted like a prism through which other works in the concert could be seen and understood. Just as white light can be broken up by a prism to show the (gay) rainbow, so Music Makes Me Feel Alive showed that the apparent diversity of the choral numbers in the concert were really just one part of a unity of feeling about music.
Music I Heard With You delved more deeply into the "music makes me cry" angle. It is based on a poem by Conrad Aiken, written in 1916. Roberts arranged the 1938 musical version of the poem for the chorus. Roberts explained what Aiken's lyrics mean: "There are things that remind me of you but they don't remember you. It is I who remember you."
The "music makes me dream" portion of the rainbow spectrum was showcased by the moving Battle Hymn of the Republic, which first appeared in the midst of the Civil War in 1862. Its words became a crucial part of a later action, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the dream of equality in America.
The biggest acclaim of the evening went to the solo by Douglas Ferguson, who joined the Chorus recently. He offered up the "music brings me joy" portion of the spectrum with his heartfelt rendition of Edith Piaf's great romantic song from 1949 L'Hymne a L'Amour. Its English lyrics are well known: "Whan at last our life on earth is through, I will share eternity with you. If you love me, really love me, then whatever happens I won't care."
Then we come to "music makes me laugh." That part of the gay musical spectrum Hayes' composition let us appreciate in a new way was offered up by Give Me a Choral Medley, featuring soloist Scott Hindley. It is a spoof of choral medley singing, done by Andy Beck, and was a delight.
That leaves the most important one of all, "music makes me feel alive." The honour goes to What a Wonderful World, introduced by Louis Armstrong in 1968. The choral arrangement for this iconic tune was done, appropriately enough, by Hayes.
The over-arching prismatic concept of the concert was fittingly capped by a rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
The musical spectrum given to us here by the Gay Men's Chorus of South Florida shows us how lucky we are in Ft. Lauderale to have such a fine ensemble of singers under the inspired leadership of Gordon Roberts.
At the Broward Center concert, the Symphony performed Cuban Overture by Gershwin. It is one of his little-known works, and deservedly so as it seems to lose focus after a strong start that evokes a real feel of Cuban music. The programme notes say it has a "touch of languor in the middle section." I would characterise it as aimless wandering. In any case it is always good to hear works that are not familiar, and the orchestra certainly did a fine job with the score.
Another suite of music not often heard is the score of the 1990 movie Dances With Wolves. Despite the film's popularity, its music by John Barry is not well known. Certain passages evoke a real sense of primal fear, and it was another welcome selection.
Also welcome for another reason were the Hungarian Dances No. 5 and 6 by Brahms. Both of these, especially No. 5, are among the most popular and familiar works Brahms ever wrote. Roberts told me afterwards that these dances can be performed in a variety of ways, but I thought he paced the orchestra just right to deliver the punch of the melodies without turning them into a whirlwind of notes.
Along with three compositions by Mozart, this served as a fine finale of the season for Symphony of the Americas. The 28th Season kicks off on Oct. 13 with its annual tribute to Italian and Hispanic music, followed by the West Point Glee Club on Nov. 10 and the Christmas concert Dec. 8 and 13, 2015.
For the Symphony, visit the website: www.sota.org
For the Gay men's Chorus, visit the website: www.gmcsf.org.
Photos of Roberts and Ferguson by C. Cunningham