Nothing to Fear

Master Singers travel for FDR concert

Katie Vagnino, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

As we inch closer to a presidential election in which our country seems more hopelessly divided than ever, it’s almost inconceivable to imagine a time when a president was so beloved and nationally supported that voters bypassed the traditional two-term limit. That president, of course, was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who took office in 1933 during the peak of the Great Depression, and played a key role in leading the Allied forces to victory in World War II. In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the Eau Claire Master Singers, led by Dr. Gary Schwartzhoff, are traveling to Manassas, Va., this weekend to lead the Four Freedoms Choral Festival, a concert celebrating the legacy of FDR. Backed by a full orchestra and joined by high school ensembles as well as other singers from around the country, the free performance will include the world premieres of two pieces based on text from various iconic speeches, including FDR’s 1941 State of the Union address outlining the “four freedoms” central to American democracy (Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear), and the D-Day Prayer, a radio broadcast delivered on June 6, 1944, the night before the invasion of Normandy. Composer and former UW-Eau Claire faculty member Ethan Wickman, whose dramatic five-part opus “A Destiny of Liberty” is the centerpiece of the festival, said the source material could not have been more inspiring, also noting how eerily FDR’s words still “speak to modern and current culture as much as they did all those years ago.” Schwartzhoff hopes that the underlying message of American strength in the face of tyranny, and the call for “a just peace,” will resonate. “A Destiny of Liberty” concludes with the oft-quoted line from FDR’s First Inaugural Address, reminding citizens of the crippling divisiveness of fear (“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”).

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