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A New Work Sings of Freedom with Understanding

Composer Robert Cohen

As we celebrate America this summer, a new choral work reminds us that American culture goes back way beyond 1776. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more on Spirit of the Winding Water.

Susan Lewis: What is America? A land of many ethnicities and cultures. But composer Robert Cohen took note that one of our oldest civilizations is also one of our least well known.

Robert Cohen: Native Americans have gotten the shortest stick, so to speak. There is an extraordinary culture and history that we’ve pretty much forgotten,

Cohen: That's what art does. It shares with other people.

SL: In response, Cohen created the choral work, Spirit of the Winding Water.

RC: It’s telling the story of the mythology of Native Americans—their belief that God resides in all living things.

SL: Lyricist Ronald Cadmus writes of “warm winds,” “purple sunsets,” and “the sacred mystery of those who roam the winding waters.” Cohen uses Native American instruments (flute, drums, rattles) and voices singing English as well as select Navajo words. Music can be a path towards understanding, not just about others, but about our own collective history as human beings and Americans.

RC: When we lock out a culture, whether it be Native American, or whether it be a particular religion, we are taking away from the whole of ourselves, because we are a make-up of all these things.

SL: So as we celebrate America and freedom on our national holidays, it’s worth remembering the freedom to share.

RC: Ultimately I think that’s what art does. It shares with other people. It shares our ideas and it shares ideas we may be lucky enough to be able to express.

Spirit of the Winding Water premieres Sunday, June 11th with the Philadelphia Boys Choir and Chorale at the Kimmel Center. The concert, “Let’s Be Free,” also includes Bobby McFerrin and a dramatic work with spirituals put together by musician and author James McBride.