Sanctuary Road: An oratorio Based on the writings of William Still, a conductor for the Underground Railroad
Music by Paul Moravec / Text by Mark Campbell
We Are One
Monday, MaY 7, 2018, 8:00 pm
Notes on the Program
by Marie Gangemi
Paul Moravec: born in Buffalo, November 2, 1957
Mark Campbell: born in Washington, D.C., March 18, 1953
Behzad Ranjbaran: born in Tehran, July 1, 1955
The Oratorio Society of New York closes its 145th season with the world premieres of two timely works by contemporary U.S. composers that speak to freedom, peace, and mutual understanding. Together, they encourage us to hope that human dignity will prevail.
We Are One by Behzad Ranjbaran is a celebration of the desire for peace, diversity, and tolerance throughout time. It draws its message from different cultures, religions, and time periods. Each text is sung in its original language, and throughout, the word peace is sung in 20 languages that represent more than 100 countries.
We Are One opens with the words of Benito Juárez, the nineteenth-century president of Mexico through a civil war and the French invasion. The words are inscribed on two statues of Juárez—in Washington, D.C, and in Bryant Park, New York City. Both statues were gifts from Mexico. The second text is excerpted from a poem by the thirteen-century Persian poet Sa’di. It is one of the most celebrated and widely recited poems in Farsi and was chosen to be included in the Voyager spacecraft as the sole representation of the poet’s native Iran.
The next text is drawn from traditional Hebrew prayers. It is followed by a poem by Ibn Arabi (1165–1240), the great Andalusian mystic Sufi poet who wrote during the golden age of religious tolerance when medieval Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived in peace for several hundred years in southern Spain. We Are One concludes with “We Shall Overcome,” an African American spiritual and the anthem of the Civil Rights movement.
In 2008, Behzad Ranjbaran composed an a cappella choral setting of the Sa’di text entitled We Are One. Tonight marks the premiere of his second work by that title, composed in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. It illustrates the timelessness and universality of King’s message.
This message is brought sharply into focus by Sanctuary Road: An Oratorio Based on the Writings of William Still, a Conductor for the Underground Railroad. The son of a freedman and an escaped slave and known as the “Father of the Underground Railroad,” during the 1850s William Still helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom through the Philadelphia station of the Underground Railroad. He kept detailed records—the escaped slaves names, aliases, biographies, destinations, and owners, and saved newspaper notices and handbills, personal correspondence, committee minutes, and legal documents. Since assisting escaped slaves was illegal, he kept his records hidden. His ultimate goal was to reunite families, a goal he frequently accomplished, including reuniting with a brother he had never known. In 1872, he published his memoirs in an 800-page book.
In Sanctuary Road, Pulitzer-prize winners Paul Moravec (composer) and Mark Campbell (librettist) have collaborated to bring Still’s memoir to life. As in the other Moravec works the Society has performed (Songs of Love and War, 2008 and The Blizzard Voices, 2013), Sanctuary Road tells the stories of ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Mark Campbell noted “Sanctuary Road honors the courage and humanity of individuals escaping to freedom, while celebrating the inspirational, collective power of the movement William Still recorded in his memoir.”
Moravec assigned the individual stories of the escaped slaves and commentaries from William Still to the soloists. The chorus offers encouragement to the fugitives, repeats the handbills and newspaper accounts circulated by the owners—descriptions, rewards, “last seen,”—and quotes two Scripture verses, “I waited patiently for the Lord,” the psalm Henry Brown promised himself he’d sing if he and the crate he had himself shipped in arrived safely in Philadelphia, and the Moses’s edict that slaves not be returned to their former masters, which Still set as the epigraph to his book.
When Joanne Spellun, a former member of the chorus announced her decision to support the commission of Sanctuary Road, she said, “I made this commission because I feel it is important to sing choral pieces that are musically new and yet reflect timeless concerns. Human enslavement and escape has been with us throughout history, and is still present in today's societies around the globe.” As Ms. Spellun wished, the heroism portrayed in Sanctuary Road and the wisdom expressed in We Are One sing out for harmony among humankind.
Text and Translation
We Are One by Behzad Ranjbaran
Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.
The word peace is repeated in 12 languages.
Among individuals, as among nations,
respect for the rights of others is peace.
—Benito Juárez, the first Zapotec Indian president of Mexico, 1858–1872
Bani Âdam (Persian)
Bani âdam azâye yek peykarand
keh dar âfarinesh ze yek goharand
Cho ozvi bedard avarad roozgar
degar ozvhâ râ namânad gharâr
Tu kaz mehnateh digaran bighami
nashâyad keh nâmat nahand âdami
Human beings are all members of one family.
Created with one common essence and soul,
if any of us suffers or bears pain,
we all know and share the suffering together.
To not feel sympathy for human suffering
is to be less than human.
—Sa’di (c.1213–c.1291), one of the greatest and most beloved poets in Persian literature
The word peace is repeated in 12 languages.
Peace be upon you,
and say amen.
Laqhad kuntu qhablal yawmi onkiru Sahibi
Itha lam yakun dini ila dinihi dani
Vaqhad Sara qhalbi qhabilan kulla Suratin
adinu bidinil Hubbi anna tawajjahat
rakaibuhu fal hubba dini wa imani
I used to turn my back to a friend
whose religion was not close to mine.
But now my heart has become accepting of all images.
I follow the religion of love wherever its caravans head,
for love is my religion and creed.
—Ibn Arabi (1165–1240), the great Andalusian mystic Sufi poet
We Shall Overcome
We shall overcome.
We’ll walk hand in hand.
We shall not be silent.
We are not afraid.
The truth shall make us free.
We shall overcome someday.
We shall live in peace!
—African American spiritual and the anthem of the Civil Rights movement
The word peace is repeated in 20 languages.
Throughout, the word peace is sung in 20 languages representing more than 100 countries.
Sanctuary Road by Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell
Sarah Grace, a slave all her days, separated from her family. Ellen Craft, sold three times.
Clarissa Davis, born in Martinsburg, a slave all of her life, a slave all of her days.
Wesley Harris . . . Talbot Johnson . . .Fled from Richmond on horseback all night.
Barnaby Grigby . . . Isaac Jackson . . . Fled from Charleston . . . Samuel Green
“The Underground Railroad: A record of facts, authentic narrative, letters, et cetera, narrating the hardships, hairbreadth escapes, and death-struggles, of the slaves in their efforts of freedom, as related by themselves and others, or witnessed by the author; together with sketches of some of the largest stock-holders and most liberal aiders and advisors of the road, by William Still.”
Escaped on the roof of a train . . . Cordelia Loney . . . Emiline Chapman . . . Charlotte Giles
Wesley Harris, on horseback all night, on foot, on a steamer. Talbot Johnson, a slave all of his life. John Henry Pettifoot
Separated from her family. Henry Brown. Owner had 500 slaves. Edmundson Turner
Isaac Jackson. Fled from Charleston. Fled from Atlanta. Hid in a cave for one year.
Write it down. Write it. Write. Record. Recount. Chronicle. Write it down. Every word. Every word they say. Every detail. Every sentence. Every phrase. Every syllable. Write it down. Write it. Write. Set it to paper. Preserve every story, every fact, every event. Preserve, collect, compile every testimony.
Clarissa Davis . . . Harriet Eglan . . . Ellen Craft . . . Mary Epps . . . Our struggles
Cordelia Loney . . . Sarah Grace . . . Our struggles
Isaac Jackson . . . Sam Green . . . Robert Carr . . . Our stories
Emiline Chapman . . . Charlotte Giles . . . Our testimony
From cities and plantations, rice swamps and cotton fields, kitchens and mechanic shops, from cruel masters and kind masters, they arrived. By steamer, by skiff, by train, on foot, shipped in a crate, they arrived.
Quartet & Chorus
Our testimony, our stories cannot be forgotten. Our testimony, our stories will be repeated over and over. Our testimony will never be forgotten. Our struggles, our triumphs, our sacrifices will be remembered. Remembered. Write it down, very word they say. Every word, every detail will be remembered. Remembered.
Their testimony will never be forgotten. Write it. Write, write, write it down. Every word they say, every word, every detail. Dip the quill in the well. Draw, draw from it deeply, deeply, and write. Write it down. Write it. Write. Record. Recount. Chronicle. Write. Write it. Write. Write.
Spoken in a whisper, never too loud, Quietly, quietly. Just a rumor. Too good to be true. Free.
Hard to believe. Not a hope in heaven. But there it is, even just a chance. They must never hear. They must never know.One little word, one sweet little word. Free. To have your own life. To raise your own family. Free to have your own life. Free, to be your own person, your own soul.May not be tomorrow. May take us a while. Imagine it. Pray for it. Find a way. Make it come to be. Quietly, quietly. Free.
Reward will be paid! Runaway slave! Age . . . Appearance . . . Countenance . . . Demeanor . . . Last seen.
Reward will be paid! Runaway, runaway slave!
One hundred dollars. Two thousand dollars. Four hundred dollars. One thousand, six hundred dollars. Will be paid. . . . For the apprehension. . . . For the safe return. . . . For the arrest and confinement of a runaway slave. Talbot Johnson . . . Josiah Jackson . . . Edward Morgan . . . Emiline Chapman . . . . John Henry Proudfoot . . . Robert Carr . . . Sarah Grace . . . Saj Tracey . . . Cordelia Loney . . . Clarissa Davis . . . Wesley Harris . . . Mary Epps . . . Sam Green. . . Barnaby Grigby . . .
Twenty-nine . . . Forty years of age . . . Thirty-four years old . . . Thirty-six . . . Fifty-nine years old . . . Between nineteen and twenty-two . . . Older than he looks . . . Sixty-four . . . They both are twenty-five . . . Forty-seven years old . . . Younger than her years . . . On the verge of womanhood . . . Lies about his age.
Five feet seven inches . . . A little over five feet . . . High cheekbones . . . A little bow legged . . . Broad across the shoulders . . . Round featured . . . Stoops while walking . . . Face rough . . . A scar above his eye . . . Small mustache and beard . . . Thickset and stout made.
Arrogant eyes . . . A happy countenance . . . Can read and write well . . . Plays on the violin . . . A confident manner . . . Quick spoken . . . Laughs a good deal . . . Of awkward manners . . . Stammers some.
Reward will be paid! Last seen . . . On their way up north . . .
New York . . . Boston . . . A free state . . . Philadelphia . . .
4. THE SAME TRAIN—ELLEN CRAFT
He doesn’t know. He shuffles into the train, huffs a “hello,” and sits across from me, right across from me. My master’s brother. I’m done for. I’m finished. He sees through my disguise! Knows I’m a slave. Throws me in jail. Has me whipped. Shot. Worse. But, he doesn’t know. Last night I served him leg of mutton, sweet potatoes, blueberry pie. Poured his wine, cleared his plates, twice folded his napkin, everything but chew his food for him. Last night I was a slave—young, female, black. Today I’m a gentleman, old, feeble, and white, at death’s door, [Coughs theatrically.] On my way to see my “doctor” in Philadelphia. Dressed up in a fine suit, tinted glasses, a little powder to lighten my skin, my head bandaged up. I pretend not to hear if someone speaks to me, but no one does. No one knows. Not a soul.
They see me as a sick, white gentleman who has his own valet, a black man who sits with the other slaves in the other car. But he’s not my valet. That man is not my valet. He’s the man I will marry, the man I will marry in Philadelphia. He’s in a different car. But we’re on the same train, humming along like a hymn, all the way to Philadelphia. To Philadelphia.
5. INTERVIEW I
How old are you?
Thirty-two years old, first day of June.
Were you born a slave?
How have you been treated?
Badly all the time.
6. RUN, PART I
Run, run, run through the woods, along the creek, past the marsh, up the ridge, down the hill. Avoid the trail. Avoid the road. Avoid the port. Anywhere they wait to stop you. Run, run, run.
7. THIS SIDE UP—HENRY “BOX” BROWN
They can’t seem to read. They don’t seem to know. The crate I’m in, it says: “THIS SIDE UP WITH CARE” in big, big letters. To clarify: This side up is above me, not below.
Been on a cart, on a train, on a steamer, and on a train again. It’ll be twenty-six hours since I had myself nailed in a shipping crate. It’ll be twenty-six hours of being thrown this way and that, of not seeing the light of day, of not moving a muscle, of not saying a word. Twenty-six hours of breathing through a hole in this box no bigger than a button.
My brain may burst from being upside down and my eyeballs may explode. But it’s worth every second, every second of those twenty-six hours, even if I’m caught, even if I’m beaten, even if they hang me from a tree. For just a chance, for the slightest chance, the dimmest hope, for just a chance, the slightest chance, the dimmest hope that this crate, this crate I mailed myself in arrives safe and sound in Philadelphia. Philadelphia. Now if only these fools could READ.
8. I WAITED
I waited, I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined unto me, and heard my calling.
9. RUN, PART II
Run. Go. Run, quicker than the wind, quicker than their horses, quicker than their whips, quicker than their bullets. Run. Go. Run. Hide under a house. Hide in a cave, in a hollow, up a tree, in a barn. Hide. Then run, run again.
10. INTERVIEW II
What do you mean by being treated badly?
Have been whipped and sold three times.
What was the name of your master?
Where did he live?
11. AUNT ABIGAIL
HARRIET EGLAN AND CHARLOTTE GILES
Soprano & Mezzo-soprano
Oh, oh, oh, poor, poor Aunt Abigail. Summoned to heaven. Too, too, too early. By gout. By scarlet fever. So sudden. So, so, so sudden. Too soon, too soon. Plucked from our arms by the clutches of death. Oh, oh, oh. Poor Aunt Abigail. Will our suffering ever, ever cease?
So far, so good on this train. No one wants to question, no one wants to trouble the black women in black, their faces covered in veils. But we’re not in mourning, and poor Aunt Abigail, she doesn’t exist. And if someone looks askance, if someone suspects, (like that man walking right toward us), then it’s . . . Oh, oh, poor, poor Aunt Abigail. Will our suffering ever cease? Oh, oh, oh.
How many tears? How many sobs? How many whimpers? How many whimpers, how many “ohs” and how many nose-blows to Philadelphia?
12. RUN, PART III
Run, run, run through the woods, along the creek, past the marsh, up the ridge, down the hill. Avoid the trail. Avoid the road. Avoid the port, anywhere they wait to stop you. Run. Go. Run quicker than the wind, quicker than their horses, quicker than their whips, quicker than their bullets. Run all day, all night.
All day, all night.
Was that a voice?
You don’t hear it.
Was that a face?
You don’t see it.
Was that a shadow?
Don’t look back. Don’t look around. Not there.
Was that a shot?
You don’t hear it.
Was that another shot?
You don’t hear it. You don’t feel it.
There was no shot. And it’s so close, so close you can wrap your arms around it.
You can taste it. You’re nearly there.
So close, nearly there.
13. INTERVIEW III
We’re giving you some new clothing, a good meal, money, and a ticket away from here to New York and then Boston and then further north. Talk to no one. Don’t look around. Do not look back. Keep on moving. Keep on going until you’re over the border.
New clothing. A good meal. And a ticket away from here. Talk to no one. Don’t look around. Do not look back. Keep on moving. Keep on going.
14. RAIN—CLARISSA DAVIS
Come down, rain. Come down hard. Come down fast. Come down Noah’s Ark heavy. Empty the streets. Empty the squares of those who might want to catch me. Empty the streets of those who might want to stop me, who might want to hurt me, who might want to kill me. Double the darkness of this night, that I might slip away like a shadow and get to the boat that will take me up north to liberty, to my own life. Come down, rain. Come down hard. Come down fast. Come down Noah’s Ark heavy. And when I’m free, I’ll dance in that rain that hid me, that saved me, that delivered me to freedom.
Come down, rain. Come down hard. Come down fast. Come down Noah’s Ark heavy. And when I’m free, I’ll dance in that rain. I’ll dance.
15. INTERLUDE 1861–1865
Five years since I hid these records. Five years, five terrible years since the start of the war. And fearing the outcome, concealed them in a shelf in Lebanon Cemetery. The war is done. The records must be recovered. Gently, gently, so that they don’t fall apart. Gently, and pray that no moisture or mice got in to trouble the page, to trouble the fate of their testimony.
Survived. Every page, every record, every handbill, every account, every letter. And here, the best letters, the ones from Canada, sent when they got there. Sent when they first knew freedom. Sent when they first saw their new flag and shook hands with the lion’s paw.
Dear Mister Still, I take this method of informing you . . .In health and mind . . . My dear friend Mister Still, excuse me for not writing sooner as I don’t write myself. . . . Dear brother in Christ, as I don’t write myself . . . Dear Sir, . . .that I am well. . . . I arrived safe into Canada . . . I arrived on Friday last . . . And I am happy to tell you I am well.
Write it. Recount every word. Record every syllable.
Shaking hands with the lion’s paw. Hear that big cat roar. I’m unbound, unchained, unshackled. A slave no more.
Every word they say. Every detail. Every phrase. Every syllable. Write every story, every detail.
Much pleased with Toronto. . . . Made a good start. . . . Endeavored to make every day tell for itself. . . . I will open a shop for myself. I go to work this morning. . . . Went right to work at the Willard House . . .
Sixteen dollars a month . . . Five dollars a week. . . . I shall, with the help of the Lord, go to school. . . . I have no master in Canada, but I am my own man. . . . Learning to read and write. . . . The wedding takes place on Saturday.
Quartet & William Still
Shaking hands with the lion’s paw. In the nick of time. Fin’lly found a place where freedom is not a crime.
I wish all in bondage were as well off as I am. . . . I must request from you to write a few lines to my wife. . . . If my brother is well, send him on for I have a place for him. . . . Send me word if any of our friends have been passing through. . . . I am grateful for my liberty. . . . Obliged to you for all you have done and for your kindness. . . . When I was in distress and out of doors you took me in. . . . I was hungry and you fed me. . . . For these things God will reward you. . . . I hope to meet you all again, if not on Earth may we so live that we shall meet in that happy land where tears and parting are never known.
Quartet, William Still, & Chorus,
Shaking hands, shaking hands with the lion’s paw. Here I know I’ll stay. The sky, the land, the whole world is mine today. Shout from every roof top, loud as can be, joyfully, finally come true. Free. Free. One sweet little word. Everyone must hear, everyone must know.
Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant who has escaped his master unto thee.
Shout from every rooftop, loud as can be: Free.