What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach?

October 19, 2010 9:48 AM

Choral work in support of marriage equality, with text taken from a speech by a Republican WWII vet. Performed by the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers 2010.

A choral setting of excerpts of public testimony given before the Maine Senate by WWII veteran Phillip Spooner in a hearing to discuss the Marriage Equality Bill on April 22, 2009.
Good morning, committee. My name is Phillip Spooner and I live at 5 Graham Street in Biddeford. I am 86 years old and a lifetime Republican and an active VFW chaplain ... I was born on a potato farm north of Caribou and Perham, where I was raised to believe that all men are created equal, and I've never forgotten that.

I served in the U.S. Army, 1942-1945 ... I worked with every outfit over there, including Patton's Third Army. I saw action in all five major battles in Europe... I was in the liberation of Paris.

(I have seen much, so much blood and guts, so much suffering, much sacrifice.)

I am here today because of a conversation I had last June when I was voting. A woman ... asked me, "Do you believe in equality for gay and lesbian people?" I was pretty surprised to be asked a question like that. It made no sense to me. Finally I asked her, "What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach?"

For freedom and equality. These are the values that make America a great nation, one worth dying for.

My wife and I did not raise four sons with the idea that our gay son would be left out. We raised them all to be hard-working, proud, and loyal Americans and they all did good.
Nearly 4,000 people attended the hearing, with marriage equality supporters out-numbering the opposition 4 to 1. On November 2, 2009, Maine voters repealed the bill that allowed same-sex couples the right to marry.

Winner of the 2010 Simon Carrington Chamber Singers Composition Competition. Premiered by the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers on May 28, 2010, at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, MO, and First Presbyterian Church in Lawrence, KS. VIDEO.

posted by mormolyke (5 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

This is insanely fantastic. I thought it was going to be a choir with a sample of the testimony on top. It was quite a surprise that the choir was actually singing the testimony. Truly good, thanks for posting it here.
posted by micayetoca at 3:20 PM on October 19, 2010

So refreshing to hear something like this on MeFiMu - thank you mormolyke. I'm secretly a sucker for choral music and this is just lovely. I can't decipher the words from listening alone - but that's not a big issue. It's a very interesting idea in any event. My main pieces of constructive criticism are that this would benefit from a better recording. It's a little noisy and muddy, and there's a bit of distortion here and there. I'm talking about technicalities mind you - not the performance (which is fine). I also think it's a bit too long and could perhaps benefit from a litte judicious editing. Solely an opinion of course, and to be disregarded at will!
posted by MajorDundee at 1:26 PM on October 22, 2010

Hi MajorDundee. Regarding the recording -- the audio is taken from a video, actually. The professional release is being done by the choir, and Simon is a notorious perfectionist, so it most likely won't be out until next year. I took a video of the recording session so that I could have something to throw on YouTube sooner than that (because I am an impatient soul).

The length is an interesting issue -- I'm currently studying for my comprehensive exams (getting my Ph.D. in composition), and there's nothing like the required listening list for impressing upon me that I am descended from a tradition where it's perfectly normal to have a single work (developing limited thematic material) go for, oh, well over an hour. Of course, thanks to early vinyl, we're all used to hearing pieces of music under 5 minutes now, and I think it's had an effect upon our attention span. I mean, trained as I am, I'm often sacrilegiously yawning and thinking about my to-do list halfway through the Brahms requiem (this piece is about the length of the shortest movement). My colleagues and I would consider "Omaha Beach" a very short piece, but if it were on iTunes, it would be album-only. Go figure.
posted by mormolyke at 4:59 PM on October 23, 2010

Hi mormolyke. Totally agree re the length thing. Now I come to think of it, when I was a kid at the height of prog rock it was no big deal to sit and listen to 15 or 20-minute tracks (I'm thinking Yes etc). And I'm a big jazz fan - many of my favourite pieces are way over 5 minutes. I've played in both prog and jazz outfits. Some things realy do need time to develop and unfold. So.....on second thoughts I retract my off-the-cuff comment about length! I've spent too much time over the last few years writing 3 minute pop songs....

I'd like though to hear someone record a choir in a different way. Now, I'm comparatively ignorant about choral music (i.e. my PhD definitely isn't in that), but it strikes me there's a very strong element of conservatism and orthodoxy at work in the sound that's often produced. You know - big enclosed space, loads of reflections and delay, ethereal transients, quasi- or overtly religious ambience etc etc. It would be cool to take a choir and really do something different recording wise - forget cathedrals and God, go for a different setting, make thngs more secular, use a few effects, maybe some tasteful percussion, hmmmm...........

These are just idle musings mormo - no big deal. :-)
posted by MajorDundee at 8:05 AM on October 24, 2010

Discussion on these points:

If a choir isn't very good (a lot of them are amateur choirs with mostly untrained singers), the easiest way to make them sound better is to soak them in reverb. Even if a choir *is* good, reverb will improve the sound. If a choir is recorded dry, when you're experimenting in the mixing room, you'll throw some reverb on it, and BOOM they'll sound so amazing, you won't want to take it off. There's not much getting away from it. Voices sound and blend better with verb.

There's lots of conservatism when it comes to choirs generally. The musical material is usually conservative because it's more difficult to perform tonally difficult passages in choirs than on instruments, where you can just put your finger down on a solid object and trust you'll get the right note. There are choral composers out there who have made careers and gotten rich on the most boringly tonal, insipid music which gets sung to death in high schools and churches, and which everyone loves as a result.

That last point is another thing - the vast majority of adult choirs are church choirs. They *want* church music. They *want* to sound ethereal. Choral composers tend to set religious material and sound churchy because they need to sell music and pay the rent. I'm currently pitching this piece to a lot of GLBT choirs around the country, but many (most?) of them are untrained and would probably find the piece too difficult. Established church choirs, some of whom might be good enough to sing the notes, will shy away from the lyrical content (unless they're Unitarian or some other pro-gay-rights denomination). If the choir has "Saint" in the name anywhere, I'm not even bothering to send them an e-mail.

There are a lot of secular choir pieces, of course, and these mostly get snapped up by schools, where god might be a taboo. Necessarily, you can't make the piece too hard or complicated, or a school choir isn't going to be able to sing it.

While I'm in school, I'm trying to write stuff that I think is challenging and outside of the church genre, because my fellowship is paying the bills for me. That said, if I had gone too far outside of the norm, I wouldn't have been able to get this recording at all.
posted by mormolyke at 10:01 AM on October 25, 2010

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