Although 1992 marks the 100th anniversary of Walt Whitman's death, that fact is not the prime reason why so much of the poet's work shows up in a concert tonight.
The poetry itself, when set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Howard Hanson, chronicles the horror of war and the value of peace. The two musical pieces, dedicated to peace, make up the program for a concert of the Kansas University combined choirs and University Symphony Orchestra at 8 p.m. today at Yardley Hall at the Johnson County Cultural Education Center, College Boulevard and Quivira Road, in Overland Park.
"The theme has always kind of fascinated me,'' said James Ralston, KU director of choral music, who will be one of the conductors for the program. "Walt Whitman had some very brief Kansas experiences, and I was always kind of fascinated with these poems.''
THE PROGRAM includes Hanson's "Songs from Drum Taps,'' conducted by Michael J. Bauer, assistant professor of organ and choral music, and "Dona Nobis Pacem'' by Vaughan Williams, conducted by Ralston. Julian Shew is the conductor of the symphony orchestra.
Both selections feature Whitman's poetry are based on his experiences during the Civil War; Hanson's piece made its debut in 1935, and the Vaughan Williams piece was first performed in 1936.
"Dona Nobis Pacem,'' which means "Grant Us Peace,'' also includes portions of the Latin Mass and a speech to the British House of Commons on the eve of the Crimean War. Vaughan Williams, of course, was British, and he wrote based on his experience with World War I.
"Vaughan Williams is typically English to me,'' Ralston said. "Much of his music usually calls to mind the English countryside. Vaughan Williams is to me the perfect picture of English life.''
THE HANSON setting of Whitman's "Drum Taps'' and "Inscriptions'' overlaps with some of the poetry in "Pacem.'' Hanson for years was the director of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.
"The music bsically picks up on the power and meaning of the text,'' Ralston said. "It's very pictoral.''
The concert will feature more than 220 students, including about 140 in the combined Concert Choir, University Singers and the Men's and Women's Glee Clubs. It is the third music and dance department performance at Yardley Hall: Earlier this month the University Dance Company and the Concert Band played there.
Ralston said he looks forward to working in Yardley Hall, which opened in early 1991, although he was concerned with space for the choirs and with rehearsal time. Since Hoch Auditorium burned in 1991, the university has not had a large rehearsal space, Ralston said the orchestra and chorus rehearsed in part at West Junior High School.
"I would have loved to do a Brahms requiem, but we decided that it was too big an endeavor to put together for this concert,'' he said.