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Let That Day Be Darkness

A setting of Job in Krio. Composed in 1989.

Instrumentation: SATB and West African Drum, Balangi (Xylophone)

Duration: 40 min.

Commissioned by Chanticleer

Premiere: Chanticleer, Herbst Theater, San Francisco (1989)

Praise for Let That Day Be Darkness:

Chanticleer, San Francisco's excellent male vocal ensemble, unveiled a major new work at Herbst Theater Saturday, Jan Gilbert's Let That Day Be Darkness. It's a work that one might first look on as a novelty, but in end, see as a universal testament of man's search for grace.

Let That Day Be Darkness ... is a sacred piece based on the Old Testament tribulations of Job. But its text is in the West African language of Krio, and its musical structure is based on African microtonal chanting, rhythms, improvisation and tonal drumming.

It is the drumming that gives the work its dramatic glue and mortal fire. At Saturday's premiere, the audience was treated to the drumming of Sowah Mensah, a Ghanian musician, who is a colleague of Gilbert's at Macalester College in Minneapolis.

Mensah comes by his title of "master" as one who has committed to memory the complex drumming rhythms and languages for festivals and social and family rituals. He will pass this knowledge on to future generations.

Gilbert, whose previous musical works have often dealt with myth and sacred texts, got inspriation during a lengthy visit to Sierra Leone. Krio, a hybrid language absorbing vocabulary and grammar from English and many West African dialects, is the language there for poets and other literary lights. English, often with a Christian twist, came to be there with the return to West Africa of freed slaves in the 19th century. Its tones are heard in such lines as "Leh dah day dae dark", Krio for Let that day be darkness.

The Chanticleer singers ... were grouped behind Mensah, changing position on the dramatic and darkly lit stage as they deliberated Job's fate in solo, small ensemble and group chants. The structure of the piece was determined by the drummer, who begins and ends the piece with a tonal recitation of The Lord's Prayer "Me Poppa."

There was an eerie and mysterious beauty to the performance of Let That Day Be Darkness. Even though most of the material was new, its subject matter, language, music and fully-involved performance were key factors in a spiritual combination with metaphorical application for all.

-Marilyn Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle

Chanticleer gives light to "darkness"

Let That Day Be Darkness emerges as an astonishingly austere opus, appealing as much to the intellect as to the senses; exoticism for its own shake is shunned. The European composer who comes to mind immediately is Karlheinz Stockhausen ... Chanticleer outshone itself in attempting the score, at once so primitive and sophisticated.

-Allan Ulrich, San Francisco Examiner

Let That Day Be Darkness is a giant performing piece, about forty minutes long. It features nearly every form of vocal expression possible ... The choral setting of The Lord's Prayer was magnificent, and the use of the Krio language gave a special beauty ... At the conclusion of the prayer, after a short dramatic pause, Mensah signified the end of the service with a message on his drums. It was an exhilarating experience.

-Clark Mtize, KXPR FM91


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