Joshua for 12 trombones, mixed choir with soloists, organ (alternate: orchestra and choir)
This piece provides a musical retelling of the story of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho. The miraculous story, celebrated by Christians and Jews alike, portrays the incredible strength of God and the power of faith. Joshua, from the Hebrew name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (Yehoshu’a), means “Yahweh is salvation.” The leader’s name perfectly encapsulates the trust the Israelites placed in God. Their faithfulness in God ultimately won the Israelites their Promised Land, a new home after the travel-weary years of the Exodus. Nevertheless, Joshua’s conquest poses challenges for modern followers. The cities of Jericho and Ai came under herem, or complete destruction. After the walls of Jericho fell, the Israelites “destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep, and donkeys,” sparing only Rahab the prostitute. While most scholars conclude that the biblical exterminations are exaggerated or metaphorical, the Joshua and Jericho story still raises controversial questions. How do we approach God-sanctioned war? Although the Canaanites rejected God, did the Israelites experience remorse for their violent acts? Is it possible and meaningful to make comparisons between geographic displacements of people in ancient versus modern contexts? How do different nations respond to refugees today—similarly or differently than the Canaanites did?
Joshua begins with an instrumental introduction depicting the death of Moses and the succession of Joshua as the new leader of the Israelites. The opening section also serves to introduce primary musical materials. Of particular importance throughout the piece is the ascending-fifth melody, depicting the shofar (ram horn) call that would have sounded as Joshua’s priests blew their trumpets around the city of Jericho. The voice of God, represented by the contralto soloist, speaks to and exalts Joshua. The choir of Israelites looks on in awe, and a bright choral section celebrates the new leader.
The choral celebration subsides, supplanted by textural and metrical jaggedness. The choir describes the Canaanites’ denial of God, and the music’s harshness and intensity foreshadows the Battle of Jericho. The contralto returns within the role of God, and commands Joshua to march around the city for six days with priests blowing trumpets, while the Israelites remain silent until the seventh day. The accompanying choir falls silent, and an instrumental interlude depicts the shofar calls during the six silent days of siege. The tenor soloist, Joshua, encourages the choir of Israelites to shout on the seventh day. The choir’s shouts alternate between imitative sections of the shofar calls and homophonic passages of the harsh, metrically jagged music. The momentum and intensity grows until the choir and orchestra achieve a unification of full force, and the wall begins to fall in a great climax. As the wall miraculously falls, chaos ensues. At the final crash of the wall, the dust settles and hollow shofar calls ring out in the upper register of the organ, signaling the end of the battle.
A calm closing section reflects back on the prior events. Set polyphonically, the soprano soloist and choir offer different perspectives of the conquest of the Promised Land. While the Israelites unified as an unyielding force of faith during the Battle of Jericho, the individuals afterward respond to the violence of war in different ways, ranging from triumph to sadness, from gratitude to anger. The organ offers a universal elegy for the victims of human violence, lamenting even the denying Canaanites slain in battle, as well as the Israelites slain through attrition during the Exodus and the enslavement in Egypt. Ultimately, the music gives way to a drone in the choir accompanied by the distant sound of the shofar calls in the alto trombones. The piece ends open to the deep mystery of God.
Text adapted from the New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible. [Joshua 1-6]
When Moses died, the LORD spoke to Joshua,
“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you;
I will not fail you or forsake you.
Be strong and courageous;
For you, Joshua, shall bring Israel to the promised land.”
The LORD exalted Joshua
And Israel looked on in awe.
But Jericho resisted God.
The Kings of the Canaanites resisted God.
Jericho was shut up inside and out.
Jericho was shut up from God.
God said to Joshua, “March around the city,
With priests blowing trumpets for six days.
On the seventh day, Israel shall shout a great shout
And the city wall will fall down flat.”
So the priests blew their trumpets for six days
And the people were silent.
On the seventh day, Joshua said to the people,
"Shout! For the LORD has given you the city.
The city shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction."
People of Israel, shout up to the sky!
Down with Jericho!
Kill the Canaanites!
Shout a great shout!
So the Lord was with Joshua;
his fame was in all the land.
Give glory to God.
Gabrielle Gaudreault, conductor
Elleka Okerstrom, soprano
Elisabeth Culpepper, mezzo-soprano
Joseph Ittoop, tenor
Lucas Fletcher, organ
Ad hoc choir and trombone ensemble
David Flanagan and Jeff Kline
for the United Parish of Brookline