By George Basler

Three community arts organizations are joining forces for an April 14 concert that organizers hope will provide an uplifting message in troubled times.

The concert, “America Speaks,” will combine readings of great American poems by members of Southern Tier Actors Read (S.T.A.R.) with musical settings of the poems performed by the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton.

The theme is built around the wonder of the stars, said Denise Helms, a member of the Madrigal Choir and one of the concert’s coordinators. “There is so much in the news that’s not uplifting. The message in the poems is that, even with all the problems, you can look up at the heavens and be hopeful,” she added.

The concert will begin at 4 p.m. at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Binghamton. A main feature will be the performance of Randall Thompson’s Frostiana, a musical setting of seven Robert Frost poems that celebrate the countryside and people of New England. Fifteen musicians from the Binghamton Community Orchestra will accompany the choir.

Thompson wrote Frostiana after being commissioned by Amherst, Mass., to write a piece commemorating the town’s bicentennial in 1959. Frost had lived in Amherst for several years and was a friend of Thompson. The composer picked some of the poet’s best-known poems to set to music including “The Road Not Taken,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “Choose Something Like a Star.”

Other pieces to be performed are:

  • “The Day is Done,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem exploring the theme of finding comfort in poetry. The musical setting is by Stephen Paulus, an American classical composer who wrote more than 600 works that have been performed throughout the world.
  • “Sure on This Shining Night, American poet, novelist and critic James Agee’s poem expressing the idea that. even through the darkest time in life. there is still kindness in the world.  The musical setting is by American composer and teacher Morten Lauridsen, who is a National Medal of Arts recipient.
  • “Stars” by Sara Teasdale, an American lyric poet who celebrated nature’s majesty and its ability to put human worries in perspective. The musical setting is by Ēriks Ešenvalds,  a young Latvian composer who incorporated tuned water glasses into the piece.

The idea for the concert originated with Bruce Borton, artistic director of the Madrigal Choir, and Judy McMahon, co-director of S.T.A.R., which holds regular public readings of classic and modern plays. They planned it as a celebration of American poetry and music.

“The concert has a unique number of different elements,” Helms said. The choir will sing one piece a cappella, one piece with a piano played by Jean Herman Henssler, one piece with the water glasses and one piece with the Binghamton Community Orchestra members.

“What’s exciting for me is to hear the poems read professionally and then hear them set to music. That’s a new experience for many people,” Helms said. She hopes audience members will leave the concert feeling “lifted up.”

IF YOU GO: “America Speaks: Reading and Settings of American Poetry” will be presented at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 14, at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 1 Aquinas Way, Binghamton (the church is near West Middle School). Tickets at $20 are available at Students are free. Members of the Lyceum program affiliated with Binghamton University who wish to receive a $5 discount can register at