Day is Dying in the West

Poetry by Mary A. Lathbury
SSAATTBB a cappella (2020)

Choral Score

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by Jonathan David


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Perusal Score


Laude, First Congregational Church of Los Angeles
Directed by Dr. David Harris
Virtual Premiere Video


5 min


August 22, 2021 (Virtual Premiere)
Laude, FCCLA
Dr. David Harris, Director of Music
First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA




Mary A. Lathbury : Day is Dying in the West

Program Notes

We were supposed to premiere “Day Is Dying In The West,” written by my close friend Jonathan David, on Good Friday 2020. When you hear the images of death and rising that Jonathan deftly crafts through descending cascades (dying) and subsequent rising cascades (rising), the Holy Week connection will make sense. However, in spring of 2020, I felt that the tension of the moment made hearing the word “dying” over and again as it appears in the piece a challenge. The original “Day is Dying” is a camp song, written for the visitors to Chautauqua camps in the late 19th Century (it’s hymn tune name is “Chautauqua”). Jonathan borrowed the text, but not the tune. Once a ubiquitous summer gathering across the nation, Teddy Roosevelt said about Chautauquas that they were the most American thing about America. There are only 3 remaining today. Jonathan took this simple evening song and created an anthem for our time. The opening pages flow with a metaphoric release into change as the treble voices slowly descend on the word “dying”. After the last year and a half, this minute and a half of music carries a weight whose power pulls on the fiber of our being. The middle of the song features a brief example of Jonathan’s imaginative vocal canonic writing on the text “when forever from our sight pass the stars, the day, the night, Lord of angels, let our eternal morning rise.” For Chautauquans, it was a call to peaceful rest so that the next day of hiking, music making, and celebration of summer could commence. For us, these words remind us to hold lightly the perplexities of this life, and to lean into tomorrow’s promise even in the midst of chaos. Jonathan then brilliantly balances the piece with a mirrored cascade that begins in the lower voices and climbs back into the treble voices on the word “rise.” He finished writing the piece in early 2020 as news of Covid began to circulate in earnest. Although there was no way he could have predicted what would happen, it is as if Jonathan anticipated that we would need a piece that would help us grieve, find solace, and refocus for the coming season all in one brief gesture. Perhaps this is the essence of welcoming perplexity into our being.

Dr. David Harris