As a music student at Michigan State University, Juneau Pride Chorus co-manager Marsha Buck struck up a friendship with a pianist named Ken Medema. He was a gifted composer, and when he played he could flow seamlessly from one musical style to another, all the while with a sense of humor. He also was blind since birth.
"We would go to parties together and someone would say, 'Play "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" in Mozart and Beethoven' or 'do "Happy Birthday" in Brahms,' " Buck said. "It was pretty clear to everybody in the music department that he was going to do very well."
Medema wrote "Crack in the Wall," the song the Pride Chorus plans to sing for the finale of its 7:30 p.m. Saturday Feb. 7 show at Northern Light United Church. And like the department predicted, he's done very well. He began his career as a touring artist in 1973 and opened his own publishing house, Brier Patch (www.kenmedema.com), in 1985. He's now known internationally for his church music.
A few years ago, Buck's daughter gave her a copy of Medema's 1992 compact disc, "Just One Dance," which includes "Crack in the Wall." He wrote the song during the Reagan years of the 1980s to empathize with social activists who were hurt, imprisoned or killed for protesting social injustice. His cause, at the time, was nuclear disarmament. The "crack in the wall" symbolized the renewed consciousness he sensed among social crusaders.
"The song is about how people are oppressed and how oppression happens in the world," Buck said. "We're part of PFLAG and we often speak about or advocate against oppression against gay, bi, lesbian and transgendered people. So one day it struck me, this song would be a good one for the Pride Chorus."
PFLAG is Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Buck contacted her old friend, and Medema gave the Pride Chorus permission to use the song. But Medema's version sounds almost like rock.
"It has a lot of rhythm, a lot of driving force," Buck said. "It's not a lullaby. It has a lot of accents and a swing rhythm. It's very vital and energetic."
Buck recruited a friend, Carol Hedland, Egan Library director at the University of Alaska Southeast, to help pay for an arrangement. Hedland contributed a few years ago for the Pride Chorus trip to Benaroya Hall. Medema's arranger cost too much, so they turned to J. David Moore, a nationally known musician who does a lot of arranging for The Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses.
"I'm a member of PFLAG, and so this was out of general support for that association," Hedland said. "And I just love those voices, that harmony, those kinds of songs they sing. I've been going to their shows as long as they have existed. They sing songs that identify problems in the world, and they also encourage ways of behaving that move us all forward."
They paid Moore almost $900 for a 19-page arrangement in four-part harmony: first soprano, second soprano, first alto and second alto. The first soprano stretches to a high G above the treble clef. The lower alto sinks to a comfortable E-flat or D. The second alto section has been revamped with several new women since last summer.
"I asked (Moore) to shorten it a little," Buck said. "The original song was very long, especially the introduction. In one spot, it has a very nice solo. And one spot, it has a quartet singing. It's very complex, very rhythmic. The piano part is very difficult, because Ken is a pianist."
Pianist Jacque Farnsworth will provide the accompaniment. The song also includes an interesting descant - a movement in which a quartet sings a part higher than the rest of the chorus.
"We've worked on this," Buck said. "It's not a simple song. When you commission a song like we did, we have exclusive rights for a year. And then after that, it will be available for the chorus to purchase and sing."
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.