BRIGITTE DOSS-JOHNSON

Three areas of Baltic music activity.

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Research

Productions

Lyrics

Kristina Vasiliauskaite

 

1. Moravian Brothers influence on Estonian and Latvian culture and music.

 

Also known as the Bohemian Brethren, they came to western Estonian and Latvia as ecumenical aid to the Lutheran pasters in 1736. They believe in independent industry and worship through music and native language. They became more popular than the Lutherans and were thus banned, but what they taught continued to grow. Their prayer huts still stand today. Moravian music traditions reenter Estonian music by way of Gustav Ernesaks' study of Moravian men's choirs. The underrepresentation of the Moravian Brothers in Estonian musicology is presented below, although their religious efforts are documented.

RESEARCH

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2. How glasnost affected Baltic composers and their output.

 

Depending on the generation a composer comes from and when they were actively composing, the ones I've interviewed have answered quite differently. The younger the choral composer was at the time of glasnost, the less change was manifested. The older composers who have varying degrees of religious sentiment and Soviet sponsorship and popularity, answered my questions with recollections of more angst.

 

PRODUCTIONS

 

1. Concert with local Baltic societies.

 

Musicians from the Estonian Society, Latvian Society, Lithuanian Society, and Finnish Foundation came together in a concert promoting Baltic music which closed with choral orchestral music by Sibelius and Arvo Pärt. Here is the program.

 

2. Choral Festival of Baltic Music and Deportation Theme

 

Collegiate and semi-professional choirs participated in a festival of a capella choral music from the Baltic region to commemorate the victims and survivors of the Deportations. Multimedia presentations ranged from a silent video of deporation statistics, footage from several documentaries of the Latvian director, Dzintra Geka, a slideshow preview of Ashes in the Snow, the film adaptation of Between Shades of Gray by Lithuanian American author, Ruta Sepetys, and video greetings from choirs, directors, and composers from the Baltic Countries. More details can be found at the Baltic Choral Music Foundation website and on the program below.

Silent Video of Deportation Facts & Figures

The audience stayed still and quiet during this presentation. All the lights were off and the house was black before and after the video. It was very effective and you could hear sniffling.

SONG TEXTS

Collaboration as a bridge, bringing contemporary artists together for the audience.

1. Graceful People

 

I worked with Vytautas Miškinis on a song for the choral festival. I wrote the text focusing on the survivors of the deportations. Miškinis selected passages that inspired him. The performance of the music is preceded by a reading of the camp names I saw on a map at the Vilnius KGB museum. My hope is that this song will educate and touch people who don't know the history of the Baltic people and how they have survived and overcome oppression with grace.

Miškinis talks about composing Graceful People

Graceful People with Text Animation

(Includes reading of deportation camp regions. Song begins at :51.)

Live recording of Graceful People

2. Wind, The Matchmaker

 

I met Andres Lemba when he came to San Francisco as the accompanist on tour with the Estonian National Opera Boys Choir led by Hirvo Surva in 2016. I thoroughly enjoyed his song Üles, Üles, Hellad Vennad.

A few weeks later, I asked him if he would be interested in writing a song for me to sing at my concert which was a month away. Of course it depended on whether he would be inspired by the text. I sat and ran through ideas, being influenced by the lyrics of all the other songs I was preparing, one of them being Dace Aperane's Emily Dickinson songs. Thinking about Dickinson's life, I also thought of some of my friends. The idea of the wind playing as a matchmaker came to me and then I had to separate the thoughts into verse and sequential events. I sent Lemba the text and he composed the song in two weeks, giving me two weeks to learn it. I love what he did. I hope someday he may make an SSAA arrangement. The song is available here.

Wind, the Matchmaker

by Brigitte Doss-Johnson

Wind, who goes through my fingers,

with a lover’s touch that lingers,

did you come from the hand

of my love, in a far away land?

 

When will you bring him to me,

laden with the mist of the sea?

So, like you, he may kiss my cheek,

and leave an impression of mystique?

Wind, is it you who plays with my hair?

I wish you’d declare,

that you came at his request,

to lift and shift and twist.

 

How real the love you interlace,

when we can not meet face to face.

In every gust you give me a sign,

that you know … the one … who is to be mine.

PRESENTING BALTIC MUSIC

Three ways to present Baltic music with impact.

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1

Distinct Country & Tradition

  • Use country names.
  • Print the map in the program.
  • Mention major neighboring countries
  • Show how the music sounds different from European traditions.

2

Spark Interest

  • Have full translations in the program.
  • Have a friendly bio of the composer, not just academic.
  • Say why the director likes it, the audience can relate.

3

Personal Connection

  • Make a historic song modern.
  • Make an obscure concept commonplace. (Relating things to basic needs such as food or love helps.)
  • Enliven old sacred text by relating it to something that people have a reverence for.

Below is a presentation on how I would help an ensemble develop a personal investment in performing an incredibly difficult piece. I witnessed another advanced choir try to prepare it for performance in 2 weeks, with part English words, and they turned it into a piece for sensationalism, not of deep meaning, and it was lackluster, so far from what it could be. At some point, the director and ensemble is responsible for approaching a work in order to honor it.

This is a PREZI presentation and may not work properly on a mobile device browser. It will work on the mobile app.

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