Week 13: Friday, June 15, 2018
“The Striped Ones” – Mvt. 9 from Holocaust Cantata: Songs from the Camps
Folk tune, arranged by Donald McCullough
Polish text by Zofia Karpinska; English lyrics by Denny Clark
SSAA, a cappella
Note: By nature, I focus this blog on repertoire for the women’s/treble ensemble. Today is no exception, as the movement in question is set for SSAA. However, if you have a strong mixed ensemble with solid musical and emotional capacity (or SA and TB ensembles which can be combined), and a performance on which to present a full-length work, I highly encourage you to look at the larger cantata as well.
The Holocaust Cantata: Songs from the Camps is a 13-movement, 40-minute work for mixed chorus, SAB soloists, narrator(s), piano, and cello. Full orchestration is also available to rent. The ninth movement of the cantata is set for SSAA a cappella, and is entirely functional as a stand-alone selection. [For details on how to license just this movement, please see details below.]
From the publisher’s website (paraphrased from more complete notes on the composer’s site):
Based on original materials from the Holocaust memorial museum in Washington, D.C., this is an emotional musical journey through one of the bleakest episodes in human history. Working from translations of the original Polish and often starting with a single line of melody, McCullough has fashioned a haunting choral tribute to all whose lives were destroyed by the horrors of the Holocaust. What emerges is a sense of music’s life-affirming powers.
For a detailed description of the creative process (searching for melodies and texts, acquiring translations, creating singable English lyrics, and much more), please visit the Donald McCullough’s website, which has a full description of the cantata and program notes from the CD liner. These detailed program notes are a wonderful source of historical context as well as an exceptional view into how this work evolved. The links are below, along with others which speak more directly to this specific movement.
Movement 9 of the Cantata is titled “The Striped Ones,” referencing prisoners in the concentration camps and the striped uniforms they were made to wear. The text, originally in Polish, is credited to poet Zofia Karpinska, herself a prisoner. According to the score, the melodic and poetic material was originally related to a female prison song from Warsaw, which then became the Women’s Anthem of Majdanek [Majdanek/Lublin concentration camp, circa 1943]. Denny Clark’s translation of Karpinska’s poetry is flowing and lyrical, and McCullough’s harmonization is haunting, capturing both the poignant sorrow of the situation and the hope that was kept against all odds.
The text is strophic, comprised of three verses. The first verse describes the people – their clothes and shoes, their familial relationships, and the pride that they hold close. The second verse speaks of the physical – the barbed wire and watchtowers, the separation – as well as the hope still present despite the circumstances. The third verse notes the different backgrounds and histories between prisoners which could divide them, but stresses the need for unity and solidarity in order to survive. “…let nothing divide us, let all here unite, for we are the women marked with stripes.”
McCullough’s musical setting begins with verse one in two-, three- and four-part homophonic texture, in minor, with some parallel motion, some contrary. There are skips and leaps within the key, but also a good deal of stepwise motion. Each voice part alone is not complicated, and my students were able to learn the first verse in student-led sectionals, then come back together to combine their efforts.
Next, the SSAA homophony of verse one gives way to the SA imitation of verse two. The sopranos have the same melodic material as S1 in verse one, while the altos are set a fourth lower and off by a measure. No matter your ensemble’s comfort level with independent voice lines, this is a quality chance for them to be successful, as the lines are rhythmically and harmonically clear, and easy to distinguish from one another in rehearsal.
Verse three returns to homophony – similar to verse one and yet slightly more expansive in range. For the final phrase, quoted above, the setting is first vertical harmony, then a cascade of motivic repetition through each voice part, returning again to homophony to close. The song as a whole is moving and evocative, but the final phrase in particular is overwhelmingly so, in its melancholy and beauty.
This is a selection that would work well for groups of varying size and level. It can be done by an intimate group – even a quartet of soloists – or a large ensemble. And because the difficulty level of ranges and rhythms are compatible with almost any level of ensemble, the main rehearsal focus can be connecting the music to the text, and the text to real people and their history. When my students performed this selection, it was done by an intermediate-level group of 11 students, as part of a concert titled “Mindfulness & Music.” Throughout that semester they journaled, researched, and discussed our pieces – taking specific time to connect, both individually and as a team, to the material we were presenting. Even over a year later, students still mention this piece, and the impact it had on them as students, as musicians, and as people.
General description of the full cantata
In-depth program notes for the full cantata, from the CD liner
Music & the Holocaust: Majdanek
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Lublin/Majdanek Concentration Camp
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Zofia Karpinska data record
|Title:||The Striped Ones (Movement #9, from Holocaust Cantata)|
|Arranger:||arr. Donald McCullough|
|Date of Arrangement:||1998|
|Text Source/Author:||Original Polish text by Zofia Karpinska (1908-1945);|
English lyrics by Denny Clark
|Date of Text:||~1943|
|Subject(s), Genre:||The Holocaust, history, women’s history, remembrance|
|Publisher:||Hinshaw Music HMB219 (full work)|
For licensing of this individual movement, contact Hinshaw Music Customer Service:
|Publisher’s site for the full work, including recording excerpts and purchasing:|
Recording excerpt for this particular movement: http://media.hinshawmusic.com/musicsample.php?folder=HMB219&file=05%20Excerpts%20from%20Holocaust%20Cantata%20-%20The%20Striped%20Ones.mp3
Until next week!
Dr. Shelbie Wahl-Fouts is associate professor of music, Director of Choral Activities, and music department chair at Hollins University, a women’s college in Roanoke, Virginia.