ALICE PARKER Sermon from the Mountain
ROBERT RAY Gospel Mass

Sunday - February 28, 1999 - 3:00 pm

Unitarian Church of Evanston
1330 Ridge - Evanston

with soloists
Denise Finneran, soprano
Millicent Sylvester, mezzo-soprano
Henry Pleas, tenor
Ian Geller, bass-baritone

Rev. James C. Wade, narrator

Thirty Years ago, upon the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Alice Parker was commissioned to compose Sermon from the Mountain. Combining text from the Bible with Dr. King's own words, the cantata is a moving tribute to the slain leader. Our performance will be another Mid-West premiere. Robert Convery’s I have a dream for Baritone, chorus and strings, is based on Dr. King’s famous words delivered at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. This concert concludes with the uplifting Gospel Mass.


for the February 28, 1999 Concert
by Donald Draganski

This year of 1999 marks the 70th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., and it is fitting that we mark the occasion with a celebration in music of his work and dreams.

Born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929 to the son of a Baptist pastor, King was subsequently ordained in 1947 and became minister of a Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama where, in 1955, he led a boycott against the segregated city bus lines, thereby attaining national prominence as an advocate of passive resistance to segregation. After his success in Montgomery, King organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which spearheaded the furtherance of civil rights activities, first in the South, and later nationwide. By the mid 1960s, his interests widened to include criticism of the War in Viet Nam and a deeper concern over poverty as it effects all people. Dr. King’s career was cut short by an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968. His birthday is now a national holiday, celebrated on the third Monday of January.

Music played an important role in Dr. King’s mission of peace and justice, and on more than one occasion he said that the spirituals he had learned as a child held special meaning for him.

We share Dr. King’s belief in the power of the music, particularly when wedded to the words of that great moral and spiritual leader.


Alice Parker, born in Boston in 1925, studied under Robert Shaw and later with Vincent Persichetti at Juilliard. She has since served on the faculties of the Meadowbrook School, the Aspen Festival School, and the Blossom Festival School. Ms. Parker is a prolific composer whose credits include chamber works, keyboard music, much vocal music, and a sacred opera The Martyr’s Mirror. Today we present her Cantata A Sermon from the Mountain, a tribute to both Dr. King and the non-violent movement. It was commissioned in 1968 by the Franconia Mennonite Chorus and first performed by them in 1969. Ms. Parker explains her choice of texts in assembling the piece:

"There were two main sources of inspiration for its writing: first, the Biblical verses often quoted by Dr. King as a basis for his beliefs, and the Spirituals which so often uniquely illuminate and apply the texts. My sources for the Biblical texts are Dr. King’s sermons, articles (notably Letter from Birmingham Jail) and books. Central to the understanding of the man and his mission must be the realization that he took the Sermon on the Mount with complete, terrifying literalness. The basis of the non-violent movement was to ‘return good for evil. Christ showed us the way, and Mahatma Gandhi showed us it could work.’"

Ms. Parker goes on to point out that the Sermon is cast in the form of a church service with a leader who intones the Biblical texts along with quotations from Dr. King’s speeches, and a congregation which responds musically to his preaching. Although the work was originally scored with a full orchestral accompaniment, Ms. Parker has authorized performances with scaled-down forces. Today’s performance uses a string ensemble supplemented by a rhythm combo.


Robert Convery’s I have a dream for Baritone, chorus and strings, is based on Dr. King’s famous words delivered at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, a landmark speech witnessed by 200,000 people and the inspirational high point of that historic March on Washington.

Convery, born 1954 in Wichita, Kansas, holds degrees from Curtis Institute of Music, Westminster Choir College, and Juilliard. Among his teachers are David Diamond, Vincent Persichetti and Ned Rorem. His output is prolific: four operas, twenty cantatas, choral works of every description, and more than 150 songs. His catalog also lists an impressive number of orchestral and chamber music. Mr. Convery has held composer residencies with Philips Exeter Academy, Dickinson College, and the New York Concert Singers.

I have a dream was prompted by the bass soloist David Frost who suggested that Convery write a piece based on Dr. King’s speech. Mr. Frost subsequently premiered the work in Philadelphia. The work is scored for Baritone solo, chorus and string orchestra, and it is dedicated to Vincent Persichetti.


We close our concert with the uplifting Gospel Mass by Robert Ray. Mr. Ray, born 1946 in St. Louis, is currently minister of music at St. Paul A.M.E. Church in St. Louis and is on the faculty of St. Louis Conservatory of Music. Mr. Ray’s output consists largely of Gospel music, although his interest in that idiom was only awakened in 1968 when he joined the faculty of the University of Illinois where he was asked to work with the University Black Chorus. He has subsequently founded the Black Voices of Inspiration at Purdue University, and the Robert Ray Singers.

In the late seventies, Mr. Ray made the acquaintance of Father Clarence Rivers, a leader in the movement to integrate Afro-American worship experience into the Catholic Liturgy. Robert Ray actively participated in a number of workshops on liturgy planning which Father Rivers had organized, thus sparking the idea of writing a mass incorporating elements of gospel music. Today’s performance utilizes the original scoring of Gospel Mass for chorus and jazz combo.


Donald Draganski was born in Chicago and received his Bachelor’s degree in music from DePaul University where he studied composition privately with the late Alexander Tcherepnin. He is now retired, after having served as Music Librarian at Roosevelt University for twenty-five years. He holds the chair of first bassoonist with the Evanston Symphony Orchestra and is also composer-in-residence for the Pilgrim Chamber Players. His musical compositions include works in all forms, vocal and instrumental, including his Geometry of Music, a choral piece written in 1985 to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the North Shore Choral Society. He has been writing program notes for the Society since 1980.

Copyright © 1999 by Donald Draganski