Review: The Land of Harmony CD

Choral music has flourished in the United States since the time of the Pilgrims. This recording presents an enlightening and entertaining historical survey of short sacred and secular a cappella works by important American choral music composers. 

The recording is taken from a 2014 concert performance by Quire Cleveland, a solid band of singers under the firm direction of their Artistic Director Ross W. Duffin.  Choral settings are original or arrangements crafted to sound like the period.  Opening their concert with all four verses of the Star-Spangled Banner, Quire Cleveland convincingly navigates the stylistic evolution of this music composed over a period of nearly three centuries — from the 1640 Bay Psalm Book (the first book printed in North America) to 1920. 


Highlights include four pieces from America’s first great choral composer, William Billings, who was a master of texture and counterpoint.  The original arrangement ofAmazing Grace by 19th-century singing master William Walker sounds rustic and quite lovely, with that wide-open-spaces, American feel. 

Stephen Foster, “the father of American music,” is represented by Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming, which features a soprano line that floats above the lower parts, evoking long-ago happy times.  Edward MacDowell, America’s first internationally renowned composer, contributed The Witch in 1898, mysteriously under the pseudonym “Edgar Thorn.” It’s an alternately humorous and suspenseful work for men’s voices. 

One of the most successful black composers, R. Nathaniel Dett, pioneered the use of spirituals in classical compositions.  Quire Cleveland’s performance of his Don’t be weary, traveler of 1920 is goosebumps-inducing, aided by a soulful solo from bass Brian MacGilvray. 

Much of the music in this recording has lain dormant for years. With their warm and spirited performances, Quire Cleveland makes a strong case for uncovering and disseminating these American musical gems.

Reprinted with permission.