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Song of the Chattahoochee

Paideia choir

Steven Darsey, Kate Murray and the Paideia Singers at the October 20, 2006 premiere of "Song of the Chattahoochee."

Scored for piano, medium voice soloist and SATB choir, Steven Darsey's setting of "Song of the Chattahoochee" is suitable for high school choirs, community and college choruses. The poem conveys a powerful moral lesson, and the music is tuneful and appealing.

The Paideia School of Atlanta presented a gala evening exploring "The Song of the Chattahoochee" via the premiere of a musical setting by Georgia composer Steven Darsey, March 30, 2006, 7:30 p.m. "Sidney Lanier's great poem called out for music," says Darsey. "The music seemed to spring directly from the poem, as the poem did from the river and its faithful journey across Georgia." The Paideia Choirs sang the new work under the direction of Katherine Murray.

Television journalist Sally Sears served as master of ceremonies and added commentary on Lanier's place in American letters today.

"Recall the familiar opening lines of Sidney Lanier's most famous poem:

"Out of the hills of Habersham,
Down the Valleys of Hall,
I hurry amain to reach the plain,
Run the rapid and leap the fall…"

(See the full poem below.)

It is instantly familiar to generations of southern school children. One of them, Cecil Alexander, went on to a career as a successful architect and civil rights activist, building much of modern Atlanta. He designed and created a new flag for Georgia which prompted the legislature to leave behind the divisive flag flown since 1956. But he never forgot the poetry of his youth." At the gala, he recited the poem and recalled what it meant in his life.

The program acknowledged a growing interest in Sidney Lanier. "Many Georgians know his name better than his poetry. But we hope this combination of music and word will help his revival," Darsey notes. "In this poem, we move through life like the river; charmed, tempted, and challenged by the wonders we see along the way, but never losing our commitment to duty on our path to the sea." Darsey provided commentary on why he chose this poem and how he created the folk melodies which bring it to musical life. See his full remarks here.

Sidney Lanier (1842–1881) is one of the greatest poets Georgia has yet produced, and his "Song of the Chattahoochee" is among Georgia's most loved poems. Born in Macon, Lanier served in the Confederate Army and contracted a fatal lung disease in the close confines of a prisoner of war camp. His flute playing brought him national recognition, and dreams of merging music and words. Lanier's career as a poet was just being realized when he died of tuberculosis at 39.

Song of the Chattahoochee
Sidney Lanier 1842–1881

Out of the hills of Habersham,
Down the valleys of Hall,
I hurry amain to reach the plain,
Run the rapid and leap the fall,
Split at the rock and together again,
Accept my bed, or narrow or wide,
And flee from folly on every side
With a lover's pain to attain the plain
Far from the hills of Habersham,
Far from the valleys of Hall.

All down the hills of Habersham,
All through the valleys of Hall,
The rushes cried Abide, abide,
The willful waterweeds held me thrall,
The laving laurel turned my tide,
The ferns and the fondling grass said Stay,
The dewberry dipped for to work delay,
And the little reeds sighed Abide, abide,
Here in the hills of Habersham,
Here in the valleys of Hall.

High o'er the hills of Habersham,
Veiling the valleys of Hall,
The hickory told me manifold
Fair tales of shade, the poplar tall
Wrought me her shadowy self to hold,
The chestnut, the oak, the walnut, the pine,
Overleaning with flickering meaning and sign,
Said, Pass not, so cold, these manifold
Deep shades of the hills of Habersham,
These glades in the valleys of Hall.

And oft in the hills of Habersham,
And oft in the valleys of Hall,
The white quartz shone, and the smooth brook-stone
Did bar me of passage with friendly brawl,
And many a luminous jewel lone
—Crystals clear or a-cloud with mist,
Ruby, garnet, and amethyst—
Made lures with the lights of streaming stone
In the clefts of the hills of Habersham,
In the beds of the valleys of Hall.

But oh, not the hills of Habersham,
And oh, not the valleys of Hall
Avail: I am fain for to water the plain.
Downward the voices of Duty call—
Downward, to toil and be mixed with the main,
The dry fields burn, and the mills are to turn,
And a myriad flowers mortally yearn,
And the lordly main from beyond the plain
Calls o'er the hills of Habersham,
Calls through the valleys of Hall.

 

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