There’s no doubt in my mind that “Chronicles of Blue and Gray” will be performed again and again for generations to come. The Knoxville Choral Society commissioned the piece in honor of their director, Dr. Eric Thorson. They sang the world premiere performance of it last night at the Tennessee Theatre.
I had heard a few samples from the composition when I interviewed composer John Purifoy a few weeks ago. The difference between the bare-bones studio demo and the fully orchestrated performance with a 200 voice choir was remarkable. The words of Lincoln, Whitman and others came to life on the stage. As Purifoy predicted in the interview, the last few lines of the poem “The Blue and the Gray” by Francis Miles Finch were especially moving when set to music.
When I entered the theatre, I saw a man and woman dressed as Abraham and Mary Lincoln. They were seated near the sound and light booth. I looked at Lincoln and said “watch out behind you.”
The Choral Society stood on risers across the width of the stage. Members of the Knoxville Chamber Chorale, a subset of the Choral Society, stood on stage right, in front of the main group. The Carson-Newman A Cappella Choir stood on stage left. Dr. Thorson’s conducting stand was in the center. Prior to the performance, Thorson explained that the Chamber Chorale would sing parts representing the North, while the A Capella Choir would sing parts representing the South. In fact, he deliberately placed them on the north and south sides of the stage.
After the performance, the Choral Society hosted a private reception across the street at the East Tennessee History Center. My wife, who sings with the Choral Society, and I had a chance to congratulate John Purifoy and Doc Thorson. As you can imagine, they were both swamped with well-wishers who were moved by the excellent performance.