`The chorus has no preconceived notions of how the piece should sound.' John Buehler.
"Prayer" promises to strike audiences in different ways.
For one thing, it's new. For another, it sets a poem open to a number of different interpretations.
But several people in the Lawrence Civic Choir seem to love it.
"One person said she wanted it sung at her funeral," said John Buehler, a Baker University professor and the choir's director.
"Prayer" will be a part of the choir's semi-annual concert at 8 p.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church, 10th and Vermont. The concert will also feature Schubert's Mass in G, poem settings by Randall Thompson and three Hungarian folk songs.
The 95-member choir commissioned "Prayer" in honor of its 15th anniversary this year. For the commission, the choir received financial help from Hallmark Inc.
The music was written by Gerald Kemner, a composer and teacher at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and is based on a poem by Lawrence poet Philip Wedge.
"I SALUTE them for the work they do and their willingness to sing something new,'' Kemner said in a recent interview. "My piece is in good hands."
The commissioned work sprang from several committee decisions and the tastes of the composer, said choir member Janet Mody. The committee chose Kemner from several composers and then chose two poems he could work on. Kemner chose to work on "Prayer," obstensibly about a young person writing home about experiences in a new place.
"I played on the feeling of writing home from another culture or territory," Kemner said. "I took the passage to be a North American Indian. I talked to the author about my interpretation, and he said it was all right. Obviously that wasn't what he had in mind; he was talking about writing home to the prairie from Exeter in New England. But he said my interpretation was another way of looking at it."
KEMNER, WHO sat in on some rehearsals, said the piece would adhere to more tradional modes of choral music."
"It's not an avant-garde piece," he said. "`Prayer' is a tonal work."
For Buehler, who's directed the choir about five years, teaching a brand-new work to a volunteer choir proved to be an enjoyable challenge.
"In general, I think that in one way it's very good," he said. "The chorus has no preconceived notions of how the piece should sound. On the other hand, the members of the chorus are operating at different levels of understanding about the piece."
The new work has helped to motivate the choir members as well, said Carolyn Jordan, the group's president.
"IT IS a challenge, but we've been very enthusiastic about it," she said. "Wherever it's sung again it will have our imprint on it, and we're very pleased about that."
The choir began in 1975 as a recreational and performing outlet for people in Lawrence who wanted to sing.
"There were a lot of people who thought it would be nice to have a vocal group that could perform good choral music," Jordan said.
Membership in the choir rises and falls from season to season, as does attendance from performance to performance, something director Buehler has come to accept.
``I look at it as a fun opportunity to direct a large group, something I don't usually do," he said.