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The Composer's notes on "A Psalm from the Dispersion"

Thank you for your interest in this choral work that is very special to me. I wrote it in 1994 but only recently had a group that was able to record it. It is a direct quote of Psalm 137 verses 1 through 6, taken from the New American Standard translation of the bible. The "New American Standard" translation is, by the way, one of the best kept secrets and I have no idea why. It is a direct from Hebrew and Greek translation that speeks very plainly and clearly. Most of us who are familiar with this text are probably most familiar with the King James translation but this is a simple transition once you realize the meaning of the text and how it is conveyed.

There is only one line of text that is left out of the song which is verse 2:

"Upon the willows in the midst of it we hung our harps."

You will notice that even though that verse not textually stated, it is actually still in there in the accompaniment part. The accompaniment begins with a harp which continues through the first section. Where it stops, therefore, musically portrays the people of Israel; those who had survived the battle and were being carried off into captivity in Babylon (modern Iraq) hanging their harps on the willow trees along the Euphrates River. It does not say this in the text but it seems likely (and scripturally consistant) that those carrying the harps would have been Levites. The Levites were redeemed into tribal identity and into the posture of priesthood because they stood with Moses against the perpetrators who had made and worshipped the golden calf. Because being a priest meant serving the people and ministering to God, many of them took up the posture of musicians to enhance praise and worship in the temple before God. This "musicians" position, therefore, began at the time of Moses (about 1525 B.C.) and they had continued in that posture until the overthrow of Jerusalem and the destruction of the first temple by King Nebuchadnezzar and his army (586 B.C.). These Levites were so broken-hearted over the destruction of God's temple and His people that they were willing to lay down their entire lives' occupation and even the very essence of being a musician. This was even further amplified by the fact that they had always used these gifts to bring glory to the God of Israel.

Section "B" (How can we sing the Lord's song ...) is without an accompaniment and in one place intensely dissonant demonstrating that what they are saying here would have seemed insane to them. Up until this point many of them were refusing to hear Jeremiah's warnings. They could not believe that the temple of the living God could be destroyed by any army. This section should be very free almost abandoning the feeling of meter.

You will notice in the text "May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth" that the final chord progression in that statement moves from a "g" minor chord to an "Ab9" chord and that the alto part is the only part that does not move. This one note that appears to get stuck is meant to represent a persons tongue getting stuck against the roof of their mouth.

Although the whole piece is full of longing, the last page is especially so in the three statements of "Jerusalem," the third being brought forth by the altos very reflectively and unexpectedly. The audience is sure that the second statement is the final because of the chord progression and final cadence feeling. If you are planning on performing this work, "milk it." The harp re-enters at the very end now demonstrating a distant but undying memory that is deeply precious to their hearts. Those people that were able to return from that captivity had to wait seventy years for that to happen, making the youngest of those employed musicians (who still remembered how it was done) about ninety years of age. Probably not too many of them made it.

I would like to offer you the sheet music to this composition but at this time it is being reviewed by a major publisher and therefore I am not free to do that at this time. Rest assured it wil be on our next album.

Blessings in Him who is able to keep us.

James Wingerter


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