Skip to content

Paintings in Song

Crescendo at the Norman Rockwell Museum

by Kathryn Boughton

Nine famous illustrations created by Norman Rockwell have been translated into music for the Crescendo Vocal Ensemble and members of the Berkshire Children’s Chorus. They will preview some of the works this Saturday, November 26th at 5:30PM.

Paintings in Song: Visions of Norman Rockwell results from a collaboration of the museum, Crescendo and composer John Myers, a faculty member of Bard at Simon’s Rock College.

Crescendo founder and artistic director Christine Gevert said that Meyer agreed to write a second original piece for the chorus and based his work on some of Rockwell’s best-known works, including his famous Four Freedoms—Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Fear and Freedom of Worship.

Meyers, who teaches at Simons Rock, wrote text to reflect the meaning of the paintings. In an artist’s statement, he wrote that he chose the paintings based on two ideas: that Rockwell conveyed universal and timeless qualities while “remaining grounded in his own temporal context” and that the artist’s career spanned much of the 20th century.

“I wanted to select a range of paintings that reflected this,” he said. “At this time in America, people should be thinking deeply about who we are as a nation. The values of acceptance and compassion that Norman Rockwell expressed so well are incredibly important to us today. I hope that my music, while it does draw upon the narrative elements and specific content of the paintings, will also invoke those deeper values.”

“There are nine pieces in all and we will preview four of them, including Freedom from Want, which is a Thanksgiving painting,” said Gevert. “We will also present Freedom from Fear and Freedom of Worship. The fourth one will be the picture Rockwell painted of moving day, with a black family moving into a white neighborhood. These are very timely, these issues,” the German native said in her lightly accented English. “It is wonderful to be working on these pieces that are so incredibly relevant in these times.”

“We chose paintings from each decade,” Gevert said. “(Meyers’) wife and daughter are professional graphic artists and they have animated the paintings. We won’t project the pictures Saturday, but the concert will be in the Main Gallery at the museum with the Four Freedoms Gallery right beside it.”

The finished work featuring all nine movements relating to the Rockwellian works will premier this spring, performed by a full chorus and a jazz/chamber instrumental ensemble, with a multi-media accompaniment. The smaller program Saturday will include the Crescendo Vocal Ensemble, and members of the Berkshire Children’s Chorus, accompanied by a small ensemble of instrumentalists from Simon’s Rock conducted by Gevert.

During Saturday’s program, Meyers and Gevert will comment on the music, discussing its composition and explaining how Meyer’s realized his interpretations. “John used elements of the music that was prominent in each of the decades of the paintings,” Gevert said. “The Four Freedoms are from the 1940s, so you hear the Blues. In the ’50s you hear some bebop. (In other decades), you will hear Brazilian samba chords and progressions—you will even hear a little Bach in there. There is an interesting and well-chosen fusion of styles.”

The presentation is made possible in part by the museum. The participation of the instrumental musicians is supported by a grant from the Simon Rock’s Faculty Development Fund.

Admission is free for museum members and is included with museum admission. For those attending just the performance, there is a $10 charge. A reception will follow the hour-long presentation. The Norman Rockwell Museum is located at 9 Glendale Road, Route 183, Stockbridge MA.