Vermont's Social Band is an a cappella chorus that mostly favors songs of yesteryear - American shape-note songs, Appalachian, British Isles folk, Balkan traditional, European Renaissance, and so forth. But the group, directed by Amity Baker, also commissions modern-day local composers. And that's exactly what it did, almost exclusively, for its 2008 spring concert, which begins a two-weekend series this Saturday.
Having solicited songs on the theme of work (does someone need a vacation?), Social Band's latest is aptly called "While I Labor." The set list includes original songs such as "When the Torch Is Passed" by Pete Sutherland; "While I Labor on This Earth" by Colin McCaffrey; and "Restoration" by Jeremiah McLane. University of Vermont music prof Thomas L. Read set to music two poems by Oliver Wendell Holmes for a work he calls "A Treadmill of My Own."
Perhaps to offset these earnest-sounding compositions with a little levity, Social Band wisely called upon the reliably offbeat David Gunn - even though, or perhaps because, his previous piece for them was about slugs. The Barre composer went against the grain of this year's stated theme as well: "Since I abide by the philosophy of 'write what you know,'" he says, "I wrote about the avoidance of work." Gunn's piece, titled "Crasta Nation," involves three rappers - "crappers," in SB parlance - a four-part chorus, and a pre-recorded bass-and-drum track. It requires the usually acoustic singers to set up a sound system.
"Crasta Nation," about, obviously, procrastination, manages to rhyme "chia pet" with "tourniquet" and "Alex Pope" with "sigmoidoscope." Let's hope the song doesn't compel Social Band to skip the whole endeavor and, well, take a vacation.
Social Band's "While I Labor" will be performed on Saturday, March 29, at the Richmond Public Library, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 30, at the Montpelier Unitarian Church, 4 p.m.; Saturday, April 5, at the Burlington Unitarian Church, 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, April 6, at the East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church, 6:30 p.m. $12 tickets at the door or at 86-FLYNN.