BAR HARBOR — The musical choices director Jamie Hagedorn made for this spring’s Acadia Choral Society concert at St. Saviour’s Church last weekend could not have been more appropriately evocative of its theme or of the season in which it was sung.
Each piece in its own manner celebrated the beauty of the earth in general and our beautiful little piece of earth in particular with George Emlen’s “Song of Acadia,” Rick Barter’s “Acadia Waltz” and David Brunner’s “Earthsongs.”
These three compositions were linked together by almost a dozen other pieces, which included Longfellow and John Muir poems set to music, sea chanteys, hymns and even a stop in Alice’s Wonderland, all joyfully sung by the chorus and accompanied by Kimberly Haller’s excellent piano and several guest musicians.
The first part of the program opened with a series of compositions that took us from sunrise – Carson Cooman’s “Mornings” – to an afternoon climbing mountains with John Muir.
Their companions? A mesmerizing twilight, with Janet Gardner’s “The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls,” based on the Longfellow poem, and nightfall, with Greg Gilpin’s “And the Night Shall Be Filled with Music,” which was both hauntingly beautiful and a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This first half of the concert closed on a deeply personal note with Emlen’s “Song of Acadia,” which was commissioned by the park to celebrate this year’s centennial.
Accompanied by Max Tretler on cello and featuring a stirring tenor solo by Jay Emlen – another musical member the family – this piece brought to mind Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Lark Ascending,” but instead of the airy ethereal violin evoking bird flight, the cello’s repetitive theme, here, kept us happily earth bound. The chorus urged us to listen to the songs composed and sung by the birch trees, ferns, mosses, stones, birds and waters of this exquisite place. Theirs was a song most thrilling to hear when Jay Emlen’s tenor voice could be heard soaring above the harmonies of the full chorus and cello. It was as if we were hearing the composer’s thoughts as he sat at some lovely spot on an Acadia mountain, listening and writing down the words and notes as they came to him.
The second half of the program continued with this celebration of nature with the poetry of Wendell Berry; two rousing hymns by Seth Houston; a manly sea chantey sung by the basses and baritones; a sweet, keening song about loons performed by the women; and strictly for fun, Irving Fine’s “Lobster Quadrille” from the “Mock Turtle’s song in “Alice in Wonderland.”
But arguably the most charming moment was delivered by a trio of ukulele players – Amy Kurman, Barter and Fred Benson playing and singing Barter’s folk tune “Acadia Waltz,” which was so engaging and accessible one could picture the audience members getting up from their pews and waltzing in the aisles.
The concert ended appropriately with Brunner’s “Earthsongs,” accompanied by David Woolsey on oboe – another deliciously earthy instrument. This three-movement composition is based on a poem from the 19th century geologist James Percival, a Buddhist prayer and a United Nations call to protect the earth.
Hagedorn explained that while Brunner composed his piece before visiting Acadia, he commented after a trip to Mount Desert Island that he now understood what it was all about.
And judging from the thunderous standing ovation the chorus received from the audience, so did we.
Another performance is scheduled for St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Ellsworth on Sunday, June 4, at 7 p.m.