The Cantata Singers are commencing their 40th anniversary season with Mozart’s unfinished final masterpiece, Requiem, and the Boston premiere of Marjorie Merryman’s One Blood. Under the direction of David Hoose, who is entering his 21st season as Music Director, the Cantata Singers have commissioned and premiered six major choral-orchestral works. The group was founded in 1964 to perform the cantatas of J.S. Bach—a body of works largely unknown at the time—and has expanded its repertoire since, performing diverse works from the 17th Century to the present day. The Boston premiere of One Blood will coincide with performances of Requiem on Friday, November 7th at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, November 9th at 3:00 p.m. at the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, Boston. Requiem will be performed by Karyl Ryczek (soprano), Gloria Raymond (mezzo-soprano), Rockland Osgood (tenor), Mark Andrew Cleveland (baritone), and the 44-member chorus. Karyl Ryczek will also sing solo soprano in One Blood.
Drawing on the inspiration of historian John Demos’ The Unredeemed Captive, Marjorie Merryman composed One Blood with the events of February 29, 1704 in mind. On that particularly snowy day, a group of French soldiers and Canadian Mohawk warriors attacked the English settlement of Deerfield—the most northeasterly outpost of colonial New England. The Deerfield raid was a politically motivated event that terrorized the colonists and left hundreds killed. 112 survivors were marched off to captivity in Canada—”New France.” Those too weak to keep up were slaughtered by the Mohawks. Families were divided and the children adopted by their Indian captors. Within two years of the raid, many of the captives were ransomed and returned home. The prominent Reverend John Williams returned home with all his children except for one—his daughter Eunice. The Mohawks did not want to part with her—nor she with them. Negotiations to secure her return were intense, involving the governor of New England and even his French counterpart. After five years of “captivity” and now thirteen years of age, Eunice declared to an English negotiator that she would not be returning home. And she was not alone. Many captured children of this period chose to remain with their native families—some sources go so far as to suggest that the Native American/Canadian way of life was more tolerable than the rigors of Puritanism.
Eunice Williams did eventually pay visits to Deerfield with her Mohawk husband and their children. Long after her death, the extended community continued to struggle with the meaning of race, religious faith, and brotherhood. Merryman’s composition is a tribute to that struggle. The reconciliatory and redeeming One Blood takes its poetry and verse from accounts written by Rev. Williams, family members’ diary entries, Native American poetry and prayer, and Christian psalms. The eighth movement is a solo based on a letter Eunice Williams wrote home, almost seventy years after the events of 1704—her only extant written communication.