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Black Mountain Songs

Black Mountain Songs

Art song meets rock and roll, as a youth chorus and eight composers and performers celebrate the birth of the American avant-garde.


October 22, 2015Brooklyn Youth Chorus performs “Black Mountain Song,”the title track from Black Mountain Songs

Posted by: Brooklyn Youth Chorus

Brooklyn Youth Chorus performs the title track of Black Mountain Songs, written by The National’s Bryce Dessner. Recorded live in concert at BAM, Nov 20-23, 2014, as part of the BAM Next Wave Festival.

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The Brooklyn Youth Chorus (BYC) and its collaborators seek support for Black Mountain Songs, an evening-length, cross-genre, collaborative work that celebrates the birth of the American avant-garde at Black Mountain College. Curated by Bryce Dessner, the work will involve a group of composer/performers from both pop and classical traditions, and will be performed by the BYC alongside several of its composers, premiering on BAM’s Next Wave Festival on November 20, 2014. At Black Mountain College in the mid-20th century, the American avant-garde was born. American artists and European refugees developed entirely new modes of dance, music, art, and writing; and generated important interdisciplinary collaborations, including the 50-year partnership of Merce Cunningham and John Cage. Black Mountain Songs celebrates the energy of this period in American artistic history, and introduces it to a new generation of artists and audiences. The work will be a 75-minute piece in multiple movements. These will incorporate both traditional singing idioms (shape note singing, antiphonal singing, traditionals) and more experimental composition. Text is drawn from the Black Mountain poets: Robert Creeley, Larry Eigner, and Charles Olson (and John Cage, who wrote in a similar vein). Eschewing traditional poetic structures, Black Mountain poets wrote as a direct extension of the meter of the heart and the pacing of the breath: “the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE/the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE” (Charles Olson). These poems, so in tune with the voice and the breath, are ideal for a choral/vocal work. Composers will include Dessner (The National), Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire), Aleksandra Vrebalov, Caroline Shaw, Nico Muhly, Tim Hecker, Jherek Bischoff, and John King. BYC will perform the work alongside Parry, Shaw and Dessner. The production will incorporate visual projections, innovative staging, dancers, and other production elements. Maureen Towey (http://maureentowey.com/home.html) will direct the project, and Matt Wolf (http://www.mattwolf.info/) will oversee projections and visual design. Black Mountain Songs builds on BYC’s growing track record of commissioning contemporary work, including evening-length collaborative productions in 2011 (Tell the Way by Nico Muhly and collaborators at St. Ann’s Warehouse), 2012 (Brooklyn Village with the Brooklyn Philharmonic at Roulette), and 2013 (an evening with the Kronos Quartet). These productions have built BYC’s capacity and reputation to produce large and complex contemporary work. This project is the culmination of that effort, and through it, BYC seeks to redefine choral music, and reframe the youth chorus in the public imagination as a creator of innovative and edgy work. All sections of Black Mountain Songs are already written, and three of them are included as work samples. The work was rehearsed during a spring 2014 weekend-long artistic retreat with the composers and production team in Woodstock, NY, and was developed throughout the spring of 2014. Prior to the premiere, the composers and BYC will have a one-week residency at BAM’s Fisher Center, with residency activities and preview performances for school and community groups. The premiere performances will take place at BAM’s Harvey Theater from November 20-23.

Project-related Media

Its Motion Keeps by Caroline Shaw

A section of Black Mountain Songs by Caroline Shaw, recorded in performance featuring the Brooklyn Youth Chorus on December 14, 2013.

Bubbles by Aleksandra Vrebalov

A section of Black Mountain Songs by Aleksandra Vrebalov, recorded in performance featuring the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and the Kronos Quartet on May 7, 2013 at Roulette.

Tour Eiffel by Bryce Dessner

A prior work commissioned by Brooklyn Youth Chorus from Bryce Dessner, premiered as part of 2011's Tell the Way at St. Ann's Warehouse.

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Project Details

Start and End Date

11/20/2014 - 11/23/2014


Brooklyn, New York

Updates (1 RECENT)

Last Updated October 22, 2015

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Brooklyn Youth Chorus

Brooklyn, New York

The recent achievements of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus run the gamut from its 2005 Grammy® award for a recording of John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls; to its annual performances with world renowned orchestras (New York Philharmonic, American Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony); to collaborations with a range musical artists across a broad musical spectrum...


Aleksandra Vrebalov

New York City, New York

Role: Composer

Caroline Shaw

New York, New York

Role: Composer, Performer

Richard Reed Parry

Montreal, CANADA

Role: Curator, Composer, Performer

Bryce Dessner

Role: Curator, Composer, Performer

Maureen Towey

Role: Director

Nico Muhly

Role: Composer

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