An Equal Humanity
for mixed chorus, male narrator, and eighth blackbird ensemble
Jeffrey Riehl, narrator & choral director
Dominick DiOrio, conductor
Commissioned by the University of Richmond Department of Music
for Schola Cantorum, Jeffrey Riehl, conductor; &
eighth blackbird, ensemble-in-residence,
with support from the UR Cultural Affairs Committee
“Of obedience, faith adhesiveness;
As I stand aloof and look there is to me something profoundly
affecting in large masses of men following the lead of those who
do not believe in men.”
-- Walt Whitman
An Equal Humanity is a dramatic portrayal of Khalil Gibran’s pessimistic moral tale, The Criminal. As all good fables go, this one leaves the observer with a stern warning: the smallest seeds of selfishness and callous avarice can easily fester and multiply into the most demonic of atrocities. This poem is paired with two others: Tennyson’s Beautiful City, which serves as a monolithic frame for the work’s two beginning and end; and Katharine Lee Bates’ A Song of Riches, a simple meditation on life’s most valuable currency.
The musical design is structured after a Baroque cantata, with choruses, recitatives, and a chorale at the center. Perhaps the most dramatic statements herein are the turba, crowd-scenes typical of Passion settings. They are used to depict both the worshippers mocking the beggar, and the inner-turmoil and resentment of the criminal. The amplified male narrator fills the role of Gibran, most often speaking the poet’s words— though at times the words are taken by the chorus to aid in the narrative delivery of the story.
The scoring is colorful, making extensive use of a wide sonic palette made possible by the conjoining of two excellent ensembles: eighth blackbird and the University of Richmond Schola Cantorum with Jeffrey Riehl. This work is humbly dedicated to these very fine artist-musicians.
Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)
A young man of strong body, weakened by hunger, sat on the walker's portion of the street stretching his hand toward all who passed, begging and repeating his hand toward all who passed, begging and repeating the sad song of his defeat in life, while suffering from hunger and from humiliation.
When night came, his lips and tongue were parched, while his hand was still as empty as his stomach.
He gathered himself and went out from the city, where he sat under a tree and wept bitterly. Then he lifted his puzzled eyes to heaven while hunger was eating his inside, and he said, "Oh Lord, I went to the rich man and asked for employment, but he turned me away because of my shabbiness; I knocked at the school door, but was forbidden solace because I was empty- handed; I sought any occupation that would give me bread, but all to no avail. In desperation I asked alms, but Thy worshippers saw me and said "He is strong and lazy, and he should not beg."
"Oh Lord, it is Thy will that my mother gave birth unto me, and now the earth offers me back to You before the Ending."
His expression then changed. He arose and his eyes now glittered in determination. He fashioned a thick and heavy stick from the branch of the tree, and pointed it toward the city, shouting, "I asked for bread with all the strength of my voice, and was refused. Now I shall obtain it by the strength of my muscles! I asked for bread in the name of mercy and love, but humanity did not heed. I shall take it now in the name of evil!"
The passing years rendered the youth a robber, killer and destroyer of souls; he crushed all who opposed him; he amassed fabulous wealth with which he won himself over to those in power. He was admired by colleagues, envied by other thieves, and feared by the multitudes.
His riches and false position prevailed upon the Emir to appoint him deputy in that city - the sad process pursued by unwise governors. Thefts were then legalized; oppression was supported by authority; crushing of the weak became commonplace; the throngs curried and praised.
Thus does the first touch of humanity's selfishness make criminals of the humble, and make killers of the sons of peace; thus does the early greed of humanity grow and strike back at humanity a thousand fold!
Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
Beautiful city, the centre and crater of European confusion,
O you with your passionate shriek for the rights of an equal humanity,
How often your Re-volution has proven but E-volution
Roll’d again back on itself in the tides of a civic insanity!
A SONG OF RICHES
Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929)
What will you give to a barefoot lass,
Morning with breath like wine?
Wade, bare feet! In my wide morass
Starry marigolds shine.
Alms, sweet Noon, for a barefoot lass,
With her laughing looks aglow!
Run, bare feet! In my fragrant grass
Golden buttercups blow.
Gift, a gift for a barefoot lass,
O twilight hour of dreams!
Rest, bare feet, by my lake of glass,
Where the mirrored sunset gleams.
Homeward the weary merchants pass,
With the gold bedimmed by care.
Little they wise that the barefoot lass
Is the only millionaire.