AUBURN — Dozens of singers from across Maine are gathering weekly to practice singing, of all things, the U.S. Bill of Rights.

The classical composition by Wesleyan University music professor Neely Bruce is a sort of hymn to America, a bid to remind citizens of the country’s fundamental rights.

The Constitution Choir will present the Maine premiere of “The Bill of Rights: Ten Amendments in Eight Motets” at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at the First Universalist Church, 169 Pleasant St. in Auburn.

Bruce will conduct his piece and U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, plans to share insights about the Bill of Rights.

Freewill donations will go to support Youth Journalism International, an educational nonprofit based in Auburn, and to the restoration fund at the church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We’re  excited to be able to bring the Maine premiere to our community,” said Jackie Majerus, concert organizer and Youth Journalism International’s executive director. “Now more than ever it’s important to know and celebrate the freedoms we have enshrined in our Constitution.”

With backing from the First Amendment Museum in Augusta, the Maine Humanities Council and local businesses, including the Sun Journal, organizers are confident they can stage a successful concert.

Richard Hicks leads a practice session of “The Bill of Rights: Ten Amendments and Eight Motets” downstairs at the First Universalist Church of Auburn on Monday night. The Constitution Choir will present the Maine premiere at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at the church at 169 Pleasant St. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The effort is nonpartisan, Majerus said. She said singers and members of the small instrumental ensemble are from many towns and musical groups in Maine.

For some, being at the rehearsals is a challenge.

“Just having a different group of singers is challenging as it’s summer and people are out on vacation for legitimate reasons,” said Shelly Rau, a retired occupational therapist and longtime Maine resident who is singing alto.

K Mae Schares of Lewiston said she joined the choir to find support from other social activists.

“It’s lonely to do it by myself,” Schares said. “I’m glad to be singing. It’s an act of raising political awareness to sing the 10 amendments. I am excited to be a part of this.”

Stephanie Hughes, another singer, said each of the amendments is important, but before she began singing the Bill of Rights piece, “I couldn’t rattle off 10.”

Bruce has said repeatedly he wrote the music in 2005 to “encourage young people today to be more aware of the rights so many people have struggled” to preserve.

“Once you sing something,” Bruce said, “you remember it forever.”

Since its original premiere in Connecticut, his Bill of Rights piece has been performed in historic Faneuil Hall in Boston, the Newseum in Washington, D.C., and many other locales.

For some vocalists, the rehearsals help reinterpret the Constitution.

“When you sing it, you might put the accent and certain accents more than others,” said soprano Carrie Jadud of Lewiston. “Hear it in a new way.”

“Like  just being a citizen, it’s sort of underneath it all,” said lawyer Rick O’Brien, a Winthrop resident.

He noted that while he works in law, his experience with the Constitution is similar to everyone else’s.

“It’s  there,” O’Brien said. “It’s part of the fabric of law.”

Jadud, a member of the Maine Music Society Chorale, said she became involved with the effort because it is a “great cause” but also a “dorky project.”

Youth  Journalism International student reporters Joanna Koter from Poland, Owen Ferguson from Scotland and Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan from Singapore contributed to this story during a recent reporting trip to Maine.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: