Civil War Songs & Stories — Some Video Clips

I received DVDs of our Civil War concert over the weekend. I was devastated to learn a few days after the program that, due to some technical difficulties, we lost a large chunk of the second half. There were some important scenes and beautiful solos in that half that together constituted much of the show’s emotional heft, so I’m sad I only got to see it once and don’t get to share it with anyone else. We may attempt to record some of it later (at least audio, in case the soloists want to use the recordings in their portfolios, but I doubt we’ll recapture the emotion of the full live performance).

Anyway, I attempted to break the parts of the program we did get into smaller pieces so I could share them here. The embedded clips here are from an early version of the video — my colleague in Mass Communication (on top of everything else he has already done) was able to uncompress some of the audio, so I may post updated clips later.

Things move largely in order below.

Part 1: An imagined debate among the Presidential candidates in 1860. With Dr. Scott Billingsley as Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Bruce DeHart as Stephen Douglas, Dr. Jeff Frederick as John C. Breckinridge, and Dr. Weston Cook as John Bell. The lines here come from a variety of documents, including the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 and Howell Cobb and Alexander Stephens arguing for and against secession. Followed by the men of the University Chorale (conducted by Dr. Jose Rivera and accompanied by Dr. Seung-Ah Kim) singing “The Battle Cry of Freedom.”

Part 2: History students reading excerpts of letters and diary entries by soldiers and their wives, followed by the women of the University Chorale singing Ron Nelson’s arrangement of “He’s Gone Away.”

Part 3: A sequence of readings designed to present the “emancipation as military necessity” argument emerging in the summer and fall of 1862. This sequence opens with history instructor Anthony Johnson portraying Alexander Stephens giving his famous “cornerstone speech,” and then attempts to present the contraband theory, featuring Dr. Ryan Anderson as Benjamin Butler, theatre major Kayla Cox as Harriet Tubman, and Dr. Billingsley as President Lincoln. Our guest musicians, members of the Huckleberry Brothers Band, play “Darling Nelly Gray” as the choir re-enters, and they conclude with William Dawson’s “Aint’a That Good News.”

Part 4: A student brass quintet plays “Rock Me to Sleep, Mother.”

Part 5: The program’s finale. The very beginning of this piece got cut off, so it opens mid-line for soloist Fabian Griffith, who portrays Frederick Douglass in this ensemble from Kirke Mechem’s opera John Brown. The University Chorale joins him.

What’s missing? Well, the Huckleberry Brothers Band played a full set between parts two and three, but I didn’t want to post the video of that without their permission, so I may add it later. The brass quintet opened the second half of the program, and from there we had a number of elements that got lost. Kayla presented a monologue she wrote herself, drawing heavily in Sarah Bradford’s Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman, 1869. A student soloist sang Harry Burleigh’s setting of “Steal Away.” Three of the history students from the earlier scene came back to read letters and diary entries from later in the war, followed by another student soloist, this time performing Jon Kander’s “A Letter from Sullivan Ballou.” Drs. Billingsley and Anderson returned, this time with Ryan portraying General Sherman (allowing him to play two of the most hated men in the south in one night!), to move us toward the end of the war. The choir sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and then another student gave a fantastic solo performance — this time, Kurt Weill’s setting of “O Captain! My Captain!” From there, we concluded with the John Brown excerpts you see above.

I really do appreciate all the hard work everyone put into this program. Any images you see on the screen behind the performers were put together by our two student assistants, who also did a great job. Thanks are due as well to the North Carolina Humanities Council and the Blumenthal Foundation for the Arts, who provided funds for the costumes and guest performers.

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