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Dickinson Musicians Sound Call for Peace

Photo illustration by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Photo illustration based on John Singer Sargent's 1919 oil painting, Gassed.

April concert explores timely themes

By MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

As news from Ukraine continues to dominate global headlines, Dickinson’s Department of Music presents musical reflections on the ravages of war and the universal call for justice and peace. War, Peace and Justice: A Musical Plea will ring out in Rubendall Recital Hall, Weiss Center for the Arts, on Saturday, April 2, at 7 p.m., and at Sunday, April 3, at 4 p.m.

The concert brings students, faculty, staff, alumni and local community members together to perform music by Vaughn Williams, Arthur Bliss and Sam Phelps ’19 and poetry by Wilfred Owen, Walt Whitman and Wendell Berry. It's led by Jennifer Blyth, professor of music, and Professor of Music Amy Wlodarski, director of the college choir.

The double performance is dedicated in memory of Sherwood McGinnis, a former national-security expert and Department of State official who taught Russian and international studies at Dickinson and passed away last year. McGinnis had instigated the idea for the concert as a complement to a military-civilian symposium on war, peace and justice. Although the spring symposium was rescheduled, the concert's going on as planned this spring as a tribute to the former professor, in recognition of his service to, and his support of, the Dickinson music program, as a dedicated audience member.

The program

War, Peace and Justice: A Musical Plea begins with the final movement of a new work by Phelps, a music-program alumnus. Commissioned by the music department with support from Dickinson’s Center for Sustainability Education, Phelps’ composition sets to music selected poems by Wendell Berry, best known for his writings on environmental themes.

“Although I usually hear Wendell Berry’s name in connection with environmentalism, I find his work to be more deeply concerned with what it means to be human, and ideas like givenness, truth, and grace,” says Phelps, who has long admired Berry’s work and struck up a correspondence with the poet shortly after graduating from Dickinson’s music program. “I thought the College Choir would be a good fit for Berry’s work, given the ethos and mission of the school.”

Next up: Morning Heroes, Bliss’ work on the devastating aftermath of World War I, written in 1930. Six years later, as unrest in Europe intensified in advance of World War II, Bliss’ better known contemporary, Ralph Vaughan Williams, composed Dona Nobis Pacem, which incorporates poetry by Wilfred Owen and Walt Whitman. Vaughn's work closes the concert with a hopeful note.

Stirring effects

The program highlights the talents of College Choir members and also brings professors, staff members and community members into the mix. Past and present music faculty members Emmanuel Borowsky, Kevin Gorman, Jonathan Hays, Timothy Lupia, James Martin, Grace Salyards, Elizabeth Shoenfelt, Greg Strohman, Jeffrey Wohlbach and David Zygmunt will perform. Soloists include alumni musicians Sara Tillett ’17 add Frederick Schlick ’14, as well as mezzo-sopranos Leah Gibson, theatre & dance production coordinator, and community member Katie Perkowski. Professor of Theatre Todd Wronski delivers a dramatic reading as part of the Bliss work.

Together, these Dickinsonians and friends create a stirring event that resonates for Dickinsonians like Christian Winter ’24, a music major who sings baritone in the College Choir.

“The whole concert is a testament to the horrors of war, which are so easy to forget in times of peace,” Winter says. “It feels really important to be singing this specific repertoire at this time, given the events in Ukraine.”


Published March 29, 2022