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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.

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

Posted on October 22, 2015 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.


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 Media

Its Motion Keeps by Caroline Shaw

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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

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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
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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.

Start and End Dates



Brooklyn, New York

1 update
Last update on October 22, 2015

Project Created By

Brooklyn, New York
Brooklyn Youth Chorus is a collective of young voices led by Founder & Artistic Director Dianne Berkun Menaker. “A polished ensemble of miniature professionals” (The New York Times), the world-class chorus performs fluently in multiple musical genres. Achievements include a 2005 Grammy® for a recording of John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls; annual performances…

In Collaboration With

Curator, Composer, Performer
Curator, Composer, Performer
Montreal, CANADA
Composer, Performer
New York, New York
New York City, New York


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