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Students Collaborate with Composer Chris Patton to Write and Perform an Oratorio on Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay

April 19, 1999
This evening, students at James Hubert Blake High School will present the world premiere of the first movement of A Chesapeake Oratorio, a new work by local composer Chris Patton and Blake High School students. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. in the school auditorium and admission is free.

The piece, for chorus and chamber orchestra, will be performed by musicians from Blake and from nearby Sherwood High School.

This unique work is the culmination of a year-long collaboration between Patton, Blake's composer-in-residence, and a group of writing students at the school. In October of last year, Patton joined 14 students and two staff members for a day on a skipjack cruising the Bay to learn about its history, ecology and environmental challenges. Following the trip, students met Tuesday after school during the months of November and December to work with the composer and faculty advisor Joseph Caulfield, developing poems about the Bay that would serve as the libretto. Students were introduced to concepts relating to lyric and libretto writing: meter, rhyme schemes, the use of imagery that lends itself to a musical treatment, and the need for brevity.

In January, as Patton set the lyrics to music, he consulted with students frequently as the music and text took final form. Vocal and instrumental music students from Blake and Sherwood High Schools have been rehearsing the work for the past two months.

Patton will continue to work with Blake students next fall on the final two movements of A Chesapeake Oratorio.

Funding for the oratorio has been made possible in part by a grant from the American Composer's Forum. The project is the subject of a documentary that will be broadcast on National Public Radio in April.

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