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  • Writer's pictureJohn Michael Cooper

THE SOUND OF PEACE

A Bright Star, a Dove, and Two Christmas Gifts from Margaret Bonds


Margaret Bonds (1913-72) was no stranger to humanity’s never-ending quest for peace.


Peace is a major theme in many of her works, and her music offers a beautiful lens into the meaning of peace. One might say that it lets us hear the sound of peace.


This Christmastide, the sound of peace, à la Margaret Bonds, is newly and recently available in two works and several ways:


Bright Star: this “Christmas Song” was written by Bonds on a poem by her friend and frequent collaborator Janice Lovoos (1903-2007) and published by Solo Music (Beverly Hills) in 1968. As I’ve explained elsewhere, that’s the year in which Dr. Martin Luther King, jr., and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, and the depth of the senseless and deadly violence of the Vietnam War. So it’s no coincidence that this song, scored by Bonds for SATB chorus with optional piano, is not a recounting of the Christmas story, but rather a prayer for peace – a plea for the titular bright star to lead us to peace as it led the magi to the cradle of the Prince of Peace in Bethlehem so long ago. I shared the music with Bonds champion Lara Downes in 2019, and she released a recording an arrangement of it for piano solo in December of that year.


And today, lyric baritone Robert Sims has released a new recording of an arrangement for solo voice with piano. The arrangement for low voice with piano accompaniment was prepared by renowned vocal pedagogue Jacqueline Hairston after she was shown the music by the tireless and ever-resourceful arts promoter John Malveaux, founder of MusicUNTOLD (https://musicuntold.com/ ).

Here is Robert’s beautiful recording:




 

When the Dove Enters In: This “gospel song” for solo voice and piano is one of Bonds’s many collaborations with iconic poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967), whom she befriended in the basement of the Northwestern University Library in the early 1930s (because that’s where Black folk had to study – in the basement), and who persuaded her to leave her native Chicago for New York after she received her Master’s degree in 1934. Poem and music draw on the symbolic value of the dove as icon for peace – in this case, personal peace achieved through prayer.


Happily, this still-unpublished song has now been brought to light three times in three different ways – each different from the others, each authentic and beautiful.


The most recent, posted today, is actually a re-release of a music video original posted in July 2020 by the Antwerp-based #SongsofComfort team featuring bass-baritone Justin Hopkins and pianist Jeanne-Minette Cilliers Richards:



Additionally, this song was to performed in an intimate livestream performance by composer and baritone Damien Geter for Portland Opera’s Live from the Hampton Opera Center series:



Damien’s recording is beautiful in its own right – but it has something more to say to the year 2020 because it is an intimate and personal concert video that might never have been made if not for the social and artistic measures forced upon us by COVID-19. In it an artist shared the sound of peace as he would both because of that deadly malady, and in spite of it. And the musical art is the winner.


Finally, When the Dove Enters In was the centerpiece and conceptual starting-point for the most recent episode of NPR Music’s hit show AMPLIFY, in yet another rendition – this time by the show’s host and co-creator Lara Downes along with baritone Davóne Tines. In this episode, Lara and Davóne use Hughes’s poetry and Bonds’s music as a lesson in the importance of connection and healing, especially in the age of COVID-19. The song comes in at 3’34” of this remarkable, timely, and inspiring episode:


The sound of peace: may it, in Margaret Bonds’s music and in general, be with us all as we follow the bright star of peace out of the chaos of 2020 and into the coming year.

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