NPR’s Morning Edition on Wednesday, April 25, included a fascinating segment on poet Kevin Young which made special mention of the oratorio Repast, for which Young wrote the beautiful text – and which had an important premiere by the Dartmouth College Glee Club. A movement of Repast is on the program of the Glee Club concert on Sunday, May 6, 2 pm, in Spaulding Auditorium.
As the final spring concert of the Glee Club under retiring director Louis Burkot, the May 6 program revisits some works especially important in Burkot’s 37 years at the group’s helm, and Repast is certainly one of them. In fall 2016, the Glee Club premiered a new choral version of the oratorio.
Repast tells the compelling true story of Greenwood, Mississippi waiter and restaurateur Booker Wright, who paid severely for sharing Jim Crow truths in a 1965 nationally broadcast documentary. Commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the oratorio premiered on October 26, 2014 by bass-baritone Justin Hopkins and pianist Bruce Levingston at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium in Oxford, Mississippi.
Burkot about Repast through an NPR story on that premiere. “The moment I heard the solo version of Repast, I immediately wanted to commission a version for chorus,” Burkot wrote recently. “The music had such power and warmth, and words portray the character of Booker Wright with dignity and strength that I felt that I understood the importance of this man.”
Burkot immediately contacted the oratorio’s composer Nolan Gasser about creating a version for solo baritone plus chorus. Gasser spent time on campus at the time of the premiere, meeting with students and faculty both about composition and about digital music distribution, which, as the founding architect of Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project. is a topic he knows well.
The commissioning process “was an extraordinary experience for me and the Glee Club. Working for a few months with the composer on how best to keep the solo voice of Booker Wright and add the power of a chorus was inspiring. Through this powerful musical setting, we experienced the humanity of a person of historical significance at an important time in modern US history. Through incredible serendipity, the Glee Club had the opportunity to travel last fall to the Greenwood, Mississippi region, Mr. Wright’s home, and perform portions of Repast for audiences throughout the state with our own Emmanuel Howze-Warkie 18 (from Cleveland, Mississippi) as soloist.”
The May 6 Glee Club program also includes the full Fauré Requiem in D minor—a signature work during Burkot’s decades at the Glee Club’s helm—as well as a host of traditional Glee Club favorites, including Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Bogoroditsye Devo, a selection by legendary African American composer Moses Hogan and some of Dartmouth’s traditional songs.