LIGHT UPON SILVER, by James Sclater, with Nell Adams, Edward Dacus, Viola Dacus, James Meaders, and Dana Rice, vocal soloists, and Carol Joy Sparkman and Angela Willoughby, pianists, at MS College's Jean Pittman Williams Recital Hall (in the Aven Building), October 3, 2006.

         This was the dedication of the newly renovated recital hall, made possible by a gift from Jean Pittman Williams, an alumna of the college, It opened with a brief piano duet, "School Days", played by Mrs. Williams and her Granddaughter Anna Kate Williams, a charming beginning. First, about the hall - it is somewhat more intimate than the one in Swor, well lighted, and, most important, has excellent acoustics. While the two side aisles are carpeted, every other surface (except the seats and the stage, which was curtained) was relatively hard. The room is not particularly reverberant, but was perfect for the music of the evening, as well as for the spoken remarks; no one used (or needed) a microphone.

         Sclater's work was based on black and white photos his father - Arthur L. Sclater - took over a period of 30 years. These were of family, friends, work, and surroundings of Mobile, AL. The work - "Light Upon Silver", is a series of settings for voice and piano of poetry written by the composer about a number of the photos; one poem was written by Sclater's daughter, Patricia, thus involving three generations. The poems were in free verse, and each photo in turn was projected as its poem was sung. Overall this was a very intimate and moving experience. Each of the five singers, all members of the music faculty of MS College, had five solos specifically written for them, and the pianists took turns with the accompaniment. The quality of performance was extraordinary. J.S. Bach is reported to have said, of organ playing (and by implication other forms of music), that it is really simple: you just press the specified key for the required period of time. I do not remember an event where Bach was proven wrong so dramatically. Without exception, each singer and both accompanists provided a rich extra layer of expression that made the music come alive with humor and pathos and everything between.

         Sclater has composed similar things before; in 1996 there was a performance of "Witness to Matters Human and Divine", a series of vocal/choral settings of passages by Joseph Agee ("Let Us All Praise Famous Men") with projected images (for a review of this, Click here), and, more recently in 2003, "Remembrances" Click here. The other aspect, the music itself, revealed the composers imagination. It is a daunting task to do 25 relatively short pieces and have each one sound unique, but Sclater carried that off handily, both in the vocal line as well as in the accompaniment. Again, there is a precursor in his music, his 2002 Variations and Toccata on a Theme by Paganini, for Piano (also reviewed; Click here) For me the most poignant image was the last one, of a man at his retirement party, whose facial expression clearly said "I wonder who needs me now?"

- Glenn A. Gentry