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Last fall, The Crossing premiered David Lang’s sobering choral work protect yourself from infection, and the ensemble has now released a powerful online film of the work.
Prescient and probing
protect yourself was a choral commission by Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, part of their Spit Spreads Death exhibition on the impact of the Spanish Influenza pandemic. On September 28, 1918, despite medical warnings, Philadelphia mounted a Liberty Loan Parade that contributed to the highest death rate of any major American city, with more than 17,500 dead within six months.
The composer cites an especially poignant connection to the event: “I am named after a relative of blessed memory who died in that epidemic,” Lang said. Though strongly connected to the past, the piece is remarkably and disturbingly prescient, with text from the 1918 government pamphlet “Protect Yourself from Infection” that has staggering parallels to current strictures.
The music has two overlapping and interwoven threads. First is Lang’s “kind of musical motto . . . which I made out of the health manual.” Eerily weaving in and out of the words are singers’ melodically invoking names of past Philadelphians who died or cared for the sick.
On September 28, 2019, The Crossing gave Lang’s work a totally 21st-century premiere: The Mütter invited Philadelphians to participate in a parade memorializing Liberty Loan victims, and protect yourself was heard through participants’ mobile phones. Recently, the piece was also broadcast by “Performance Today" on American Public Media.
As coronavirus pandemic fears swiftly became reality, The Crossing's director, Donald Nally, and his creative team were struck by the timeliness and weight of Lang’s work. “It inspired us to create a kind of reincarnation of protect yourself from infection from those raw materials,” a seven-minute film with striking artwork (by Crossing tenor Steven Bradshaw) and beautiful singing. Nally hopes its message will speak to “the health care workers in our minds, friends and family in our hearts, and millions of neighbors we don’t know in our thoughts.”
On March 16 the ensemble instituted “Rising w/The Crossing,” a series releasing one recorded piece each workday. There are 37 selections archived on their website, and this exceptional film – powered by Lang’s haunting music is their April 27th offering.
What, When, Where
protect yourself from infection by David Lang, sung by The Crossing. Conceived and conducted by Donald Nally; film by Brett Snodgrass; artwork by Steven Bradshaw; audio recording compiled and produced by Paul Vazquez. See more online.
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