Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sharing the Texts of 2012-13 Commissioned Pieces

For me, choice of text is the most important and crucial  aspect of writing choral music. I often receive compliments on my text choices.Thank you to those who have noticed and said something- it means a lot to me, to know that the many hours I devote to text searching means something to you as directors and singers!

Here is a compilation of the texts I used for the commissions I wrote for various groups for the 2012-3 concert season. I have blogged about some of these, and will make links to those discussions- but here I will also just give you a chance to read through all the texts- hopefully they interest you and intrigue you as well. Some of these piece have already been premiered and the scores are now available to the choral community at large (let me know if you would like any free perusal scores), other have yet to be premiered. I will list them in the order they were composed (beginning in Spring of 2012 and just finishing up in late December 2012).

For the ACDA national women's choir consortium,
coordinated by ACDA national choir  Iris Levine:

Full Fathom Five (William Shakespeare, The Tempest)

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.

This piece has already been sung by four of the choirs out of the 32 consortium members- I expect a lot of performances in Spring 2013 now that holiday programs are out of the way. Thanks to Phillip Swan, Nancy Menk, Jill Burleson, and Pam Pierson, for getting the ball rolling on performances. I Skyped with three of the four choirs about the piece, and visited Nancy Menk's singers in person for a rehearsal.

For Prometheus (a professional chamber ensemble led by Paul Crabb)

Paul Crabb

Dirge for Love (Phillip Sydney)
Ring out your bells,

Let mourning shews be spread;

For Love is dead.

All Love is dead, infected with plague of deep disdain;

Worth, as nought worth, rejected,

And Faith, fair scorn doth gain.

Refrain: From so ungrateful fancy, from such a female frenzy,

From them that use men thus, Good Lord, deliver us!

Weep, neighbours, weep; do you not hear it said

That Love is dead? 

His death-bed, peacock’s folly; His winding-sheet is shame;

 His will, false-seeming holy: his sole exec’tor, blame.


Let dirge be sung, and masses rightly read,

For Love is dead.

Sir Wrong his tomb ordaineth, My mistress’ marble heart;

Which epitaph containeth, “Her eyes were once his dart.”


Alas, you lie: rage hath this error bred;

Love is not dead.

Love is not dead, but sleepeth in her unmatchèd mind,

Where she his counsel keepeth, till due deserts she find.

Therefore from so vile fancy, to call such wit a frenzy,

Who Love can temper thus, Good Lord, deliver us! 

This was my second Elizabethan text for the season, and a text area I have little explored. New York City-based composer Matthew Harris' great success with Shakespeare texts has spurred me toward getting beyond my dislike of some of the archaic language (I usually favor 20th century texts) and this turned out to be  a fun one to write. It is basically an SSAATTBB madrigal and Paul Crabbe's group sang the heck out of it and had great fun with it. I was in St. Louis for the July premiere, and then also at Missouri ACDA a few days later where they also performed it with success. I also presented an interest session at Missouri ACDA and that was enjoyable too. It will receive a performance in February on Kathy Fitzgibbons' Clark College anti-Valentine's Day program in Portland!

For Elysian Voices, a new chamber choir directed by my good friend Paul Laprade

Paul Laprade

In the Moonlit Garden (Wen Tang Yun, 813-870)

In the moonlit garden, softly she dreams of him,
Green branch of young willow, floating in the breeze of Spring.
At their parting she heard the horses neigh,
The grass was green beyond the gates.
Fragrant candles sighed in tears.
In her dream they meet in petalled path.
Their desire flows sweetly through the night,
As she trembles in his arms.

Paul Laprade asked me for a sexy piece for his group's Valentine program in February 2013- and while I found some pretty decadent stuff (God forbid I set Charles Bukowksi- haha) I decided that this old Chinese poem was perhaps not so sexy, but certainly delicious in its images and sweetness. I set the piece for SATB/cello/piano and the main melody is a series of rising phrases- certainly not the typical melodic shape.
I did this on purpose to create something new and to push myself to create using some new ideas. The piece will be premiered in early February and I think it will be very sweet.

For the 34th Annual Ithaca College Choral Festival
Ithaca College Choir, directed by Larry Doebler

Larry Doebler

'''to balance myself upon a broken world"  (original poem title "September, 1918" by Amy Lowell)

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight
The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;
The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,
And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.
Under a tree in the park,
Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,
Were carefully gathering red berries
To put in a pasteboard box.
Some day there will be no war,
Then I shall take out this afternoon
And turn it in my fingers
And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,
And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.
Today I can only gather it
And put it into my lunch-box,
For I have time for nothing
But the endeavour to balance myself
Upon a broken world.

I had decided to make sure and not write anything blandly beautiful or ho-hum pretty for this important commission. I've heard enough blandly beautiful, overly homophonic choral music in the last ten years- maybe you have, too? The previous commissioned composers for this series are some heavy hitters- Norman Dello Joio, Vincent Persichetti, Daniel Pinkham, Dan Locklair, Chen Yi, Lowell Lieberman, Rene Clausen, Steven Stucky and many more. The very expressive war poetry (from a civilian's point of view) was very well-received by director Larry Doebler, his singers at Ithaca College, and by the audience at the premiere in early November. I was their guest and was treated so nicely. And, no one told me the piece was beautiful! What they did say was that they truly appreciated the choice of text and the expressive way I set it. I was amazed at the skill level and artistically expressive approach by all the groups at Ithaca under Larry and Janet Galvan (one of my series editors at Roger Dean Music) and this visit was a career highlight for me.

This score is now available for perusal by the choral community. I have already blogged about the
setting process here

Janet Galvan

For the Lexington (KY) High School Choir Program, Adam Beeken and Rob Vanover, directors

At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners

This is a three movement piece at a challenging level for high school singers, as per the request by Adam Beeken. The choir will sing part of the piece when they tour Chicago in  March, and then premiere the entire work in Lexington in late March. There was a very interesting process to choosing the texts for this, and Adam played a large part in how that evolved. To read more, go here where I have already discussed that process.

The Christopher Smart text:
For the Glory of God is always in the East, but cannot be seen for the cloud of the crucifixion.
For due East is the way to Paradise, which man knoweth not by reason of his fall.

The Nicene Creed text:
Crucifíxus (just this one word from the Nicene Creed which follows--
setiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato;
Passus, et sepultus est,
Et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas,
Et ascendit in cælum, sedet ad dexteram Patris).

The John Donne text:

At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go ;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom war, death, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space;
For, if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,
When we are there.   Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent, for that's as good
As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood.

For the Saint Mary's College Madrigal Dinners 40th Anniversary, Nancy Menk, director

Nancy Menk

Nancy asked me for some new holiday settings of the 40th anniversary of the St. Marys Holiday Dinners.
I obliged with three settings, all of which she used for the programs. My son Aidan and I attended one of them and we had a lot of fun- enjoying not just the great food and singing, but also the jugglers who were a blast, especially when they juggled flaming torches outdoors after the program.

Th three pieces I set were:

In dulci jubilo (the original fairly odd, macaronic text in Latin and German, with new melodies by me).
I was happy to write some juicy feature moments for the altos! SSA with simple percussion

Lullay, myn liking (another old, well known text, but with an original melody) SSA, with a solo toward the end

The Angel Gabriel (The Angel Gabriel in Heaven did Sing)  SSA, two recorders or flutes

During August through now I got so much into this repertoire of traditional Renaissance (and some Medieval) Chrismas traditional texts and/or melodies that I wound up writing a bunch more of them. I will be sharing them with Nancy and with other women's choir directors and am now creating a self-published book of about eighteen of these pieces, thirteen of which are completed. They range from a cappella settings to those with a single cello, or two recorders, or some percussion- in other words, a book with a lot of variety, including a variety of difficulty levels. If anyone out there is interested let me know and I will send you some of these to read through. In the meantime, many thanks to Nancy for getting me started on this project.

Two pieces for a peace concert by the ensembles of the children's choir
organization Spirito! Singers, directed by Molly Lindberg

Molly Lindberg

Peace  (text fragments submitted by the Ragazze Singers (a younger group), compiled by me

Peace, peace
Peace, peace
An eagle soaring overhead
Peace, peace
Trees budding
Grass greening
Wind rustling
Spring coming
Peace, peace

A starry night
Music of a creek
Dancing leaves in the wind
Circles of friends
Voices in perfect harmony

Sisters (Brothers)

An eagle soaring overhead
Wind rustling
Spring coming
Peace, peace
Peace, soaring
Peace, peace

Dona Nobis Pacem  (for the advanced high school age group- the phrase "dona nobis pacem", plus peace quotations by various authors):

Dona nobis pacem

On this beautiful path, I walk in peace (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Peace is joy at res, and joy is peace on its feet (Anne LaMott)

I offer you peace, I offer you love,
I see your beauty, I hear your need (Mahatma Ghandi)

We now should make ourselves empty,
that the great soul of the universe
may fill us with breath (Lawrence Binyon)

We shall find peace, we shall hear angels,
we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds (Anton Chekhov)

These two pieces are for a peace program that will occur in May 2013. The ensembles are both excellent, and reflect the high level of skill, musicianship, and enthusiasm within the youth choir movement in the US these days. The use of amateur poetry from the group members is something I have been doing quite a bit lately, and I hope to blog about it soon. Lately I have done variations on this with the Cincinnati Children's Choir, directed by Robyn Lana, as well as The Young Naperville Singers, directed by Angie Johnson. 

The voicing for Peace is SA (with a bit of SSA)/piano

The voicing for Dona Nobis Pacem is more adventurous: three antiphonal SSA choirs (at times merging into a single choir)/vibraphone/orchestra bells/suspended cymbal (three players). The vibe part includes some avant-garde technique in one very expressive section. I'm looking forward to heaving this piece live, and not just in a Finale program playback!

So there you have it- all the, at least to me, very interesting texts I used for commissions for the 2012-13 concert season. I hope you enjoyed reading through them. I will begin writing pieces for next season soon, and hint-hint, am currently fielding inquiries for commissions for next season.

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