The Los Angeles Master Chorale's Oratorio Project received national attention this week featuring on PBS NewsHour, the daily evening news program that airs on over 300 PBS stations nationwide.
This year's Oratorio Project—part of our award-winning Voices Within education program—was in partnership with Van Nuys High School. Eighty-five students took part in the project that had the topic of Japanese American internment camps during World War II. While primarily a historical look back, the topic became more relevant following the election of Donald Trump to President as deportations and talk of ethnic registries became more prevalent. The resulting 45-minute oratorio the students composed called In America poses the question: “Where can I be an American; If not in America?”
The students performed In America accompanied by eight members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale at Van Nuys High School at two free concerts in February, the performances coinciding with the 75th anniversary of President Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9066 that resulted in the forced removal and incarceration of around 120,000 Japanese Americans.
The performances were the culmination of the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 20-week Voices Within Oratorio Project program. The program places three teaching artists, performer Alice Kirwan Murry, lyricist Doug Cooney, and composer David O, in the classroom to work with students in writing the libretto and creating melodies for each movement of the oratorio. The students, who range from 9th grade through 12th grade, are mentored by the artists on how to use musical techniques to capture the voice of the characters they create, propel the momentum of the plot, and paint the mood of the scene. After the oratorio has been written, the students audition for featured roles and are coached vocally to prepare for the performances. Eight Los Angeles Master Chorale singers perform the oratorio with the students, providing additional professional guidance.
To further enhance their understanding of the camps and the impact of Executive Order 9066 on the Japanese American community, the students visited the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in downtown Los Angeles in November. Museum docent Mas Yamashita, who was interred in a camp as a child, was interviewed for the PBS NewsHour story and attended a rehearsal and performance of In America. Of the performance, reviewer Eric A. Gordon of People's World said: "The Oratorio Project is more than creating a piece of music to sing: It’s an integrated learning experience embracing history, English language, arts, technology and music. Our schools, and our young people, need so much more of this."
Voices Within is an educational artists’ residency program developed for the Los Angeles Master Chorale by Marnie Mosiman in collaboration with Bernardo Solano, Penka Kouneva, David O, and Doug Cooney.
Photo of children at Manzanar compliments of Alan Miyatake, Toyo Miyatake Studio.