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Program Notes

Reflections of Emerson

Concord Band commission (1996)

Thomas J. McGah, composer

The Concord Band is proud to have presented the premiere performance of Thomas J. McGah’s work for band, Reflections of Emerson. McGah combines Emerson’s own words with all the forces of the modern concert band to create a musical reflection of Emerson’s thoughts. The work has five distinct sections, each separated by a narration. The commissioning of this new work was partially funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

The text of the narration:

Ralph Waldo Emerson. Born at Boston, May 25, 1803; died at Concord, April 27, 1882. Teacher, Minister, Poet, Philosopher, Lecturer, and Essayist. In all of these capacities, Emerson is a man committed to the pursuit of "character," a pursuit of the "genuine man." The marks of the "genuine man," he wrote are:


Emerson’s writings give us a "genuine man." His writings still tell us how to lead genuine lives in a social and political context. Let us listen...

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and devines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today. "Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood." Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

I do not despair of our republic. We are not at the mercy of any waves of chance. Citizens of feudal states are alarmed at our democratic institutions lapsing into anarchy and the older and more cautious among ourselves are learning from Europeans to look with some terror at our turbulent freedom.

It is said that in our license of constructing the Constitution and in the despotism of public opinion, we have no anchor. Fisher Ames expressed the popular security more wisely, when he compared a monarchy and a republic, saying that a monarchy is a merchantman, which sails well, but will sometimes strike on a rock and go to the bottom; whilst a republic is a raft, which would never sink, but then your feet are always in the water.

It is natural to believe in great men. If the companions of our childhood should turn out to be heroes, and their condition regal it would not surprise us. All mythology opens with demigods, and the circumstance is high and poetic; that is, their genius is paramount. In the legends of the Gautama, the first men ate the earth and found it deliciously sweet. Nature seems to exist for the excellent. The world is upheld by the veracity of good men: they make the earth wholesome. They who live with them find life glad and nutritious. Life is sweet and tolerable only in our belief in such a society; and actually or ideally we manage to live with superiors.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the Divine Providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated in their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort and advancing on chaos and the dark.



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