Sing Out Mr. President: Woodrow Wilson Releases Democratic Energy

"I believe in democracy because it releases the energy of every human being." —Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson i i

hide captionWoodrow Wilson, who led the nation during World War I, was the only president to hold a Ph.D.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson, who led the nation during World War I, was the only president to hold a Ph.D.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Throughout February, hear new works by contemporary composers based on words of 16 American presidents, in recordings by conductor Judith Clurman and Essential Voices USA. Today, Andrew Lippa brings to life words from Woodrow Wilson.

Woodrow Wilson, our 28th president, was a force for progressive change in government, but at his core he believed in good old-fashioned democracy.

After winning the 1912 election, he pushed through in his first term the Federal Reserve Act, the Federal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act and the Federal Farm Loan Act. One of his most famous quotes is: "I believe in democracy because it releases the energy of every human being."

It was the all-inclusiveness of the quote that struck composer Andrew Lippa when he sat down to set it to music for Judith Clurman, the creator of the Mr. President project.

Andrew Lippa i i

hide captionAndrew Lippa

courtesy of the artist
Andrew Lippa

Andrew Lippa

courtesy of the artist

"I like that it says 'every human being,' not of just a few people or your elected representatives," Lippa says. "And so every time I set the phrase 'every human being,' every syllable has equal weight in the setting. For me it was a musical way to emphasize the idea that it was about every human being, not just about any human being."

It was also the inclusiveness of Wilson's vision of democracy that hit close to home for Clurman.

"I personalize this text," Clurman admits. "Every time I see the Statue of Liberty I get teary-eyed, that I had immigrant grandparents, and they came, and here's this land of freedom and a democracy. I am who I am because they came over here. I wish I could see them now and hug them. I am proud to be an American, and to release my energy in my music. Our land enables us that freedom."

Wilson campaigned on a political platform called the New Freedom in 1912, lobbying for individual freedoms and states' rights. And although he led the country through World War I, and afterward helped create the League of Nations (a precursor to the Untied Nations), he's not as iconic or as well-known as Teddy Roosevelt before him and Franklin Delano Roosevelt after him.

And that's were Lippa's piece might help — at least a little. The music is designed to be short enough and easy enough for students to perform.

"For history teachers and music teachers to work together, I think it's a real opportunity," Lippa says. "I picture myself as a sophomore in high school having limited awareness of Woodrow Wilson, if any, and no awareness of Andrew Lippa. And so there's an opportunity for learning that expands beyond just, 'Hey, we're learning a piece of choral music.'

"There's a real wonderful thrill about the idea that in some high school student's choir folder they see a new piece and it says 'Music by Andrew Lippa.' And that's just a thrill for me, because when I was a student in high school, I used to thrill to whatever new pieces we would learn in choir, so it feels like a full-circle thing for me."


About The Composer

Andrew Lippa graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He was awarded the Drama Desk Award in 2000 for music and the Outer Critics Circle Award for an off-Broadway musical for the Manhattan Theater Club's production of The Wild Party, for which he wrote the book and lyrics. His show The Addams Family is now running on Broadway. His choral work Hope is published in Judith Clurman's G. Schirmer Choral Series.

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