Joyce Mekeel’s Toward the Source

On January 29 and 30, the Concord Orchestra will perform Toward the Source by Joyce Mekeel. The music celebrates the history of Concord and was commissioned for the orchestra by the Concord Bicentennial Committee. We performed the music in 1975, 1976, and again in 1998. For these 2016 performances, we’ll be joined by the Spectrum Singers.

Here are some program notes from a 1998 performance by our long-time program annotator Richard Porter.

Joyce Mekeel (1931-1997): Toward the Source (1974)

Joyce Mekeel—American composer, harpsichordist, and sculptor—was born in New Haven, attended the Longy School and the Conservatoire National de Paris, and received her bachelor and masters degrees at Yale and her doctorate at Boston University. She also privately studied composition with Nadia Boulanger and Earl Kim and harpsichord with Ralph Kirkpatrick and Gustav Leonhardt.

Mekeel moved to Boston to teach at the New England Conservatory and later joined the faculty of Boston University, where she directed the Electronic Music Studio and for a time studied ethno-musicology in West Africa.

Mekeel’s compositions include solo instrumental works, chamber music, orchestral and vocal music, and dramatic pieces for dancers, actors, and actresses with instrumentalists. Her compositions were especially championed by Richard Pittman and the Boston Musica Viva.

Toward the Source for orchestra and chorus was commissioned by the Concord Bicentennial Committee and premiered by the Concord Orchestra and the Concord-Carlisle High School Concert Choir for the April Patriots’ Day celebration in 1975. To complete her assignment to interpret “Concord, its rivers, and its search for values,” the composer spent many hours studying the town’s history, people, streets, and river. The program annotator for the premiere 1975 performance, Mary Schultz, included the composer’s explanation in her program notes:

Toward the Source is for the people of Concord past and present… about them, their history, and their Concord River—the river that was there in the beginning and remains a central fact of life in Concord. The piece represents one segment only of the river’s time: from the primeval source in 1635, to the “river of names” that flowed beneath the North Bridge 140 years later.

There is a mid-passage description of the people who lived beside it in the 17th century, based on material from the Bay Psalm Book of 1698 and George Tolman’s catalogue of tombstone inscriptions from Concord’s cemeteries. The piece ends as the river flows toward the 19th century, with a quote from the hymn that Ives used as the basis of the Concord Sonata, his monument to the Transcendentalists.

The chorus recites Indian place names, sites on the river, Biblical quotes, tombstone inscriptions, and finally the name of every colonial fighter who heard “the shot heard ‘round the world” at the North Bridge that day. Among these men were two African slaves—for Concord had twelve slave-holders in 1775, abolition not to be decreed in Massachusetts until its Constitution of 1780.

— Richard Porter

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