Insights into Walt Whitman’s Poetry in A Procession Winding Around Me
By Kevin Hindley
Jeffrey Van’s four-movement song cycle “A Procession Winding Around Me” is an enthralling and cathartic backward gaze into American history. To empower his masterful word-painting compositional style, Van utilizes poetic reflections produced by Walt Whitman upon his own return from visiting American Civil War camps. Setting the text for mixed choir accompanied by a single classical guitar, Van achieves a great breadth of texture, from full and frantic to sparse, isolated, and pure.
The work in four movements takes us into the mind’s eye of a Civil War soldier: in the first movement, experiencing the winding, restless, fitful, fearful, and longing thoughts of a quiet camp or “bivouac” the night before battle. In the second movement, we awake to the violent heat and terror of battle, fighting for life and ideals and without regard, as was common in our terrible Civil War, for family-relation, youth, age, position, or gender. Nothing could stand in the way of the beating drums and sounding bugles of the marching war machine.
Movement three: the heat of the battle has gone with the sun, and the bright light of the moon and quiet of the night reveal the eerie and abhorrent remains left in the wake of war. It is easy to forget how much the carnage of battle has changed since cannon-and-rifle warfare. Van bleakly cradles the bloated bodies, purple and death-rattled corpses, in a detached but gentle and serene moon-glow.
It is said that the population takes two generations to forget. When the time comes that a dark era in our history is not remembered by anyone still living, we simply release the emotions that were attached to it. Van calls his final movement, “Reconciliation.” Here we have a sharp, audible contrast to the other, more dissonant movements, which explore forms of fear: worry, terror, and haunting. “Reconciliation” reassures us with consonant, soothing, rich strokes of sound that as time passes, the violence and injustice of the past is cleansed from our hearts and memories, we see not enemies but only humanity, and the world renews itself.
We hope you will join us for a live performance of this beautiful, visceral, and thought-provoking work at Denver Pro Chorale’s concert, Friday April 11th at 7:30pm at the Church of the Ascension, 600 Gilpin St., Denver, CO 80218. Buy your tickets online here.
Kevin Hindley is a composer, actor, and vocalist in Denver, CO. He specializes in vocal and choral writing, and strings. Kevin currently performs with the Denver Pro Chorale, and will be appearing this summer at Littleton’s Town Hall Arts Center in “The Music Man.” To hear samples of his work, search “Kevin Hindley” on YouTube.com.