- Published on Nov 27, 2007
- Contact Frank Provenzano
ANN ARBOR, Mich.The haunting melodies in Evan Chambers' evocative song cycle come from a deep, resonant place?a sacred ground that holds memories of those buried six-feet deep. Now, Chambers' unique phrasings inspired by implied stories etched in epitaphs will travel from country cemetery to one of the world's most famous stages.
The work, "The Old Burying Ground," inspired by Chambers' visits to a centuries-old cemetery in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, is heading to Carnegie Hall in New York. The University Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kenneth Kiesler will perform the piece Feb. 28.
Before the New York trip, "The Old Burying Ground" will premiere Dec. 10 at Hill Auditorium on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor.
The 45-minute piece is comprised of two sets of songs based on Chambers' interpretation of tombstone epitaphs. Many of the songs are gentle and peaceful, imparting otherworldly wistful melodies. Several of the pieces resound with a distinctive avant-garde twist; large metal tubs and trashcans wrapped in chains provide the percussion.
Chambers is chair of composition at the U-M School of Music, Theatre and Dance. He is also associate director of Electronic Music Studios at the school, and an acclaimed Irish traditional fiddler.
A soprano, tenor and folksinger perform the songs in "The Burying Ground," while several poets read their works during the interludes. Contributing poets include Thomas Lynch, Keith Taylor, Jane Hirshfield, Paul Meehan and Richard Tillinghast.
In his work, Chambers bridges the traditional with the contemporary, looks at history through the lens of the compassionate present, and composes a folksy tonal range that rises to the operatic.
"I needed to find a style of singing that would create a feeling of naturalness," said Chambers, who noted that it was hardly plausible for the residents of early 19th-century New Hampshire to croon in the voice of an Italian Bel canto. "I had this aim to create a work that sounded as if the voices were rising from the ground."
Since his collegiate days at Bowling Green State University, Chambers has found a walk through cemeteries to be serene and powerfully inspiring.
It is not unusual for him, to lie on the ground near a tombstone, and rub his fingers into the fading letters etched into granite as he tries to figure out a word or phrase. From there, he's likely to weave a probable narrative of the lives of families that lie in the eternal ground.
"While cemeteries are places of great peace, they also carry remnants of profound human suffering," said Chambers. "For me, they provide an ideal place for a meditation upon how lives appear and disappear in this world."
"The Old Burying Ground" will be performed at 8 p.m. Dec. 10 at Hill Auditorium, 825 N. University, Ann Arbor.
Watch a video of Evan Chambers as he describes the inspiration for his work
More on Chambers