Evan Chambers' work The Old Burying Ground - in a new arrangement for soprano, folksinger, violin, clarinet, and piano - consists of settings of tombstone texts from two cemeteries in New Hampshire, embodying the hopes, sufferings, and transcendent hope of a community.
The Old Burying Ground consists of settings of epitaphs on tombstones that Evan Chambers gathered in Jaffrey Center NH in 1998, and on a trip to Portsmouth NH in 2003. Always drawn to cemeteries – walking in them for many years, Chambers made a meditation of reflecting upon how lives appear and disappear in this world. Even the barest information provided on a gravestone provides an excellent opportunity to confront both the inevitability and the simple fact of death, which is one of the central truths of life on earth. The gravestones in New Hampshire seem to be particularly compelling, though, and often directly challenge the reader to engage with the sometimes frightening, sometimes more peaceful aspects of our mortality and the grief we leave behind when we die.
Chambers had a teacher once who insisted that to sing for someone didn't mean simply to sing while someone listened, but rather to sing for them, or in their stead. This carries the idea of putting yourself in someone else's place, and the singer in these pieces does, in fact, stand in for people who have been dead quite a long time. When imagining the voice that these early 19th century residents of rural New Hampshire would sing with, it was hard for Chambers to imagine them breaking out into song in the voice of an Italian bel canto Tenor. Needing to find a style of writing that would create a feeling of naturalness, he wrote the songs to be sung by a Singer of any stripe, although the songs are informed by a mixture of a number of styles ranging from Anglo-Irish balladry to 70’s pop music. In spite of the span of time across which these messages reach us, there is not so much to separate us from these voices coming up out of the ground. We are headed for the same place after all – this fact may provide the warnings and comforts offered herein with an unexpected urgency and currency.
This chamber version of the work was commissioned by HAVEN and violinist Carolyn Stuart in 2018. The first set of piano/vocal songs was completed in 2003, the second in 2007. An orchestral version of the songs was premiered in December 2007, and released on Dorian Sono Luminus in 2010.