Vocal and Choral
select a title below for audio sample, score sample, and more information

Oars in Water, texts by Jeanne Minahan (2016)
medium voice, piano, 13'30"

I. Oars in Water

II. Seascape

III. All I Ever Think About

IV. Elegy

Elisa Sutherland, mezzo-soprano
Laura Ward, piano

score sample

Oars in Water commissioned by the Lake George Music Festival
Seascape, All I Ever Think About, and Elegy commissioned by Lyric Fest
Complete set premiered March 31, 2017 by Elisa Sutherland, mezzo-soprano, Laura Ward, piano, Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia

Oars in Water (title song) recorded by Brooklyn Art Song Society: Kyle Oliver, baritone, Michael Brofman, piano – New Voices, Roven Records, 2015

The first of the four songs that comprise Oars in Water was written in response to a commission from the 2014 Lake George Music Festival for an art song that would address the theme of aquatic invasive species, a topic of great interest to the festival's local community.  Although poet Jeanne Minahan's words do not dwell on individual threats to the environment, the poem reminds us of what we treasure in the lake and speaks powerfully of its necessity for both the individual and the greater community.  A few years later, a commission from Philadelphia's Lyric Fest provided an opportunity to enlarge the work.  To that end, I selected three other Minahan poems that use similar maritime imagery to explore a wide variety of themes.

The premiere performances of the complete Oars in Water were given March 31 and April 2, 2017 by Elisa Sutherland, mezzo-soprano, and Laura Ward, piano, on the Lyric Fest concert series in Philadelphia.


Oars in Water

Dory stowed with field glasses, thermos of coffee, Grandad's wicker creel,
cuts of bread and New York cheddar.  We've duffel-stashed a summer here
beside the pail we heft to bail our worries.  Oars we've renamed Saturday,
Sunday.  We favor them each morning.  To lose one day of this eternity
(the wind across Lake George), too heavy for my small pail, the thought.
I look up.  Sails of neighbors stretch.  A bowrider churns a wake; paddlers
wave from kayak quiet.  Jacques and Madeleine shout from paddleboards.
The work some call preserving, a reckoning: anchor, keel, trailer wheel.
A compass bids me on.  It's time.  It's time to dip and pull the oars.


Seascape

Beside the rocks
a small house
two lines and a door
behind the trees
behind my heart
that hidden hiding heart
so much quiet
(surf roaring)
so much beckoning.


All I Ever Think About

The nudging tide of why
(tumblers of polar ice, fistfuls of shale).

Empty nets; blight.
Stars alight in the too bright night.

Fisticuffs, keening,
on dry land.

Dawn breaks, even so, even so.
Tempest, calm, of us.

That small boat offshore, rocking.


Elegy (for Mary Shortt)

And sometimes, sometimes, stepping off
the wharf, someone berths your hand,
holds fast all lines, stands for you,
a mooring post, as you step down,
and down, rimwise, to the deck,
which may be lower than the dock,
before it swings higher with the tide.
Your feet collide. Eyes swerve
to sea, sky. Waves.
The boat, as boats will do, rocks.
(There is so much I do not know.)
Someone, in the end,
someone takes your hand
just before you go.



In bed together, text by Kenny Fries (2013)
high voice, piano, 2'30"

video recording
Elizabeth Weigle, soprano
Michael Djupstrom, piano

score sample

Commissioned by pianist Thomas Bagwell
Premiered November 14, 2014 by Elizabeth Weigle, soprano, Michael Djupstrom, piano, Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy, New York, NY

This song was written at the request of Thomas Bagwell, curator of a series of concerts commemorating the 20th anniversary of the AIDS Quilt Songbook.  Originally performed at Lincoln Center in 1992, the Songbook was conceived by baritone William Parker as a musical response to the confusion and shame surrounding the outbreak of HIV and was one of the first art song publications to deal directly with the topic of HIV and AIDS.  I was honored to be among the composers Bagwell invited to contribute new works for the anniversary concerts, and I am grateful to poet Kenny Fries for permission to set his words to music.


In bed together watching the t.v. news,
flipping through the entertainment section

I notice Leontyne Price will be singing
somewhere outside the city.  We better go,

you tell me, might be the last time we get
to see her.
 Are you saying this will be

her last appearance here?  Or we may not
see her again together?

Or you at all.  I don't ask
but think:  What is love without

plans?  Without a future?  How will those
high notes sound without you?




Raise Our Voice, texts by Chip Alfred (2012)
TTBB chorus, piano, 13'

I. Planting the Seed

II. Song

III. Two Hearts

IV. Raise Our Voice

Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus, cond. Joseph J. Buches

score sample

Commissioned by the Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus, Joseph J. Buches, Artistic Director
Premiered June 15, 2012 by the PGMC, conducted by Joseph J. Buches, Michael Djupstrom, piano, Prince Music Theater, Philadelphia, PA

Raise Our Voice was commissioned by the Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus in celebration of the group's 30th anniversary season.  It is a four-movement cycle whose texts reflect upon the commissioning organization's history and purpose, exploring its humble beginnings, the transformative power of music, and a lighthearted take on a typical chorus rehearsal, all leading up to the final movement's vision of a harmonious future for humankind.


Planting the Seed

It was a different time.
It was a different place.
We were misfits, second-class,
the closet our space.

Friends and lovers sick, dying
from a mystery disease.
What could we do to help?
How could we find relief?

And like mighty oaks
grow from tiny acorns,
with a handful of singers,
our chorus was born.

Through our hearts and devotion
we united in song,
found a purpose, a mission.
With our voices we were strong.

As one, we were a family
in a new kind of home.
It was safe, we were welcomed
more than we'd ever known.

The birth of something special
like the break of a new dawn.
Our fears, our hesitations,
our doubts; all were gone.

The music filled our souls.
The music made us whole.
It showed the world we cared
for our brothers and sisters everywhere,
no matter how near or far.

We're proud,
we're proud,
we're proud of who we are!


Song

Our music can enlighten,
it helps a soul take flight.
The melodies lift us,
make us feel that all is right.

Our harmonies build bonds,
they bring us all together.
A brotherhood in song,
a single voice in solidarity, a family.

A symphony of voices
sings out loud, proud and free,
opens eyes, hearts and minds.
We are who we want to be.

In tune we come alive.


Two Hearts

Chorus:
Bo bo bo bo,
bo bo bo bo,
bo bo bo bo,
mee may mah moh moo!
La la la la la [etc.]

Solo 1:
I walked into the room.
One hundred men were there.
I couldn't concentrate
on the song I had to share.

Solo 2:
They were all gay
and they were staring.
(Chorus: And we were staring!)
At least I thought they were.
Oh my God, what was I wearing?

Solo 3:
My audition was a mess.
Not one note did I get right.
Now I understand stage fright!

Soloists:
Does my hair look okay?
Could my fly be down?
Was there mustard on my face?
Then I took a look around.

Chorus:
That's when I saw him,
across a crowded room.
A hottie, and a tenor:
maybe my future groom?

His warm brown eyes met mine,
and he had me with a smile.
I never thought I'd find him
sittin' right across the aisle.

I feel two hearts beating as one.
Could it be two hearts, but beating as one?
I see two hearts, I'm dreaming of two hearts
that used to be blue hearts, together forever.

Doo dooby doo dooby doo [etc.]

Solo 2:
I could see it all in my head:
a dog, two cats, and a baby,
Solo 3:
a house out in the burbs,
and me, a daddy? Well, maybe.

Solo 1:
It was twenty years ago
(Chorus: Long time!)
that fateful night we met.
(Chorus: Destiny!)
Who know it would last?
Chorus:
We wouldn't have bet!

Soloists:
But now we're two hearts beating as one.
Now we're two hearts just beating as one.
I said two hearts, always two hearts.
We're two true hearts together forevermore.

Chorus:
The moral of this story is
no matter how you try,
you don't know when or where
you'll find the perfect guy.


Raise Our Voice

We've come so far along this road
to get where we should be
but our journey isn't over
until we all feel free.

Raise our voice for peace and unity,
raise our voice above adversity,
raise our voice for equality, for harmony,
for the vision of our wishes, hopes and dreams.

Our music has the power
to bring us all together,
but which songs to sing, what message within
to change the world forever,
to reach out with kindness and love?

Raise our voice for the victories
in a war we never asked to fight.
Raise our voice for equality, for harmony,
and nothing less than equal rights.
Raise our voice.

And looking back across the years,
it seems so very clear
that the trials that we've been through,
every fight and every tear,
brought the world a greater triumph
than we thought that we would find,
for the victory was for everyone, for humankind!

Raise our voice, our song will never cease.
Raise our voice for dignity and peace,
raise our voice!
Join with us, sing with us,
let your song ring with us now!

Raise our voice, together we are strong.
Raise our voice, it's never too late!
Raise our voice as one in unison,
as humanity, raise our voice!

But the greatest gift of all
that our music can give
is joy and love for everyone
every day that we live.

Raise our voice!
Raise our voice!
Raise our voice!




Suite from "The Wedding" (2011)
soprano solo, tenor solo, symphony orchestra, 10'

Tenor aria


Interlude


Soprano aria

Elizabeth Zharoff, soprano
Diego Silva, tenor
Curtis Symphony Orchestra, cond. Vinay Parameswaran

score sample

Instrumentation:
(2, 2, 2, 2) (4, 2, 3, 1) (timp + 2 perc, celesta, harp) (strings) (solo soprano, solo tenor)

Premiered April 25, 2011 by Elizabeth Zharoff, soprano, Diego Silva, tenor, and the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Vinay Parameswaran, Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, PA

The music for this work was drawn from The Wedding, an operatic scene composed for a November 2010 production by International Opera Theater of Philadelphia.  The libretto was adapted from Giovanni Boccaccio's "Decameron" story of Nastagio degli Onesti, whose unrequited love for Paulina Traversari finds fulfillment only after he quite literally scares her into marrying him.

In the stage version, in order to show Paulina the consequences of refusing a potential suitor, Nastagio forces her to witness a horrifying scene:

A beautiful naked woman is being chased through the forest by a knight and his hunting dogs.  The woman stops to explain the situation in an aria – long ago, the woman's rejection of the knight's love led to his suicide, and though both have long since been dead, they are now condemned to eternally reenact the terrible scene of the knight's vengeance.  After telling his own version of the story, the knight then murders the woman, and within moments, she jumps to her feet again and continues her desperate flight.

The present orchestral suite combines these arias for tenor and soprano with a brief orchestral interlude that links the two.  Although the naked woman and the knight tell us almost the same story, their perspectives and emotional states are totally different, and it was a wonderful challenge to write both the soprano's desperate plea for mercy and the tenor's passionate love song.

Tenor:

Nastagio degli Onesti
eri ancor giovinetto
quando io, Guido degli Anastagi,
amai questa fanciulla con ogni fibra del mio essere.

Ella, sì piena di crudeltà
portommi a sì gran dispero
che un dì trapassai con codesto spadino
il mio cor dilaniato.

Ella non si pentì della gioia
originata dal mio martirio,
e fu maledetta, per la sua ferocia,
agli eterni dolori dell'inferno.

Ed io, che sì l'ebbi amata,
fui dannato ad inseguirla,
non come mia amata
ma come mio mortal nemico.

Il mio rapimento in rabbia mutò,
la mia devozione in vendetta.
Gli occhi di lacrime rigonfi,
l'anima lacerata dal mio petto.
Ed il suo cuore marmoreo
fu divorato da barbare bestie.

Lasciami, te ne prego
piamente adempiere al volere divino.
Abbì mercè.


Soprano:

Strazio infinito,
incubo senza risveglio...
Tregua!

Dannata,
sono dannata
per essermi presa gioco
dell'amore di un uomo
ed essere morta impenitente.

Dannata,
dovrò fuggire per l'eternità
da colui che ho respinto.
Mi bracca con i suoi mastini
come fossi una fiera,
e quando i cani mi hanno ghermita
mi trafigge con uno stocco,
lo stocco con il quale si è ucciso per me.

Dannata! dannata!
Mi squarcia la schiena e ne estrae
il cuore duro e freddo
che non volli mai schiudere
all'amore né alla pietà.
Dannata! dannata!
E dopo il cuore
mi cava il resto delle viscere
per darle in pasto ai suoi cani.

Ma non potendo morire,
perché sono già morta,
subito mi rialzo, e l'inseguimento riprende,
e sento ancora una volta sulla pelle
gli aghi di pino e le spine degli arbusti,
sento il caldo delle fauci dei mastini
ed il freddo della lama.
Pietà, pietà,
pietà di un'anima dannata!


Tommaso Sabbatini
.

Nastagio degli Onesti
you were still a little lad
when I, Guido degli Anastagi
loved this damsel with every fiber of my being.

She, so filled with cruelty,
brought my life to such despair
that one day I plunged this rapier
deep into my broken heart.

She repented not of the joy
she had in my suffering,
and was condemned, for her savagery,
to the pains of eternal hell.

And I, who so loved her
was doomed to hunt her,
not as my beloved lady,
but as my mortal enemy.

My rapture turned to rage
my devotion to revenge.
My eyes filled with tears,
my soul ripped apart
Her callous heart
was devoured by wild dogs.

Leave me, I beg you,
to piously execute the decree of divine justice,
Have mercy.




Endless torment,
nightmare without waking...
Truce!

Damned,
I am damned
for I mocked
the love of a man
and I died without repentance.

Damned,
I will run for eternity
from him whom I rejected.
He hunts me with his dogs
as if I were an animal,
and when the dogs have reached me
he pierces me with a sword,
the same sword he killed himself with for me.

Damned! Damned!
He rips my back open and extracts
the cold and hard heart
that I never wanted to open
to love or mercy.
Damned! Damned!
And after the heart
he extracts the remaining viscera
to feed to his dogs.

But since I cannot die,
because I am already dead,
I instantly get up, and the hunting begins again,
and I feel again on my skin
the pine needles and the thorns of bushes,
I feel the warmth of the dogs' mouths
and the cold of the blade.
Mercy, mercy,
mercy for a damned soul.


Karen Saillant



The Wedding, text by Karen Saillant, Italian version by Tommaso Sabbatini (2010)
opera scene for soprano, tenor, baritone; flute, clarinet, violin, violoncello, piano, percussion, 15’


Son Jae Yeon, tenor
International Opera Theater Chamber Ensemble, cond. Gianmaria Griglio

score sample

Commissioned by International Opera Theater and the American Composers Forum, Philadelphia Chapter
Premiered Nov. 12-14, 2010 by International Opera Theater, stage direction by Karen Saillant, conducted by Gianmaria Griglio, Prince Theater, Philadelphia, PA

The Wedding was originally one of seven opera scenes written to Italian-language libretti based on stories from Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th century classic “Il Decameron.”  The scenes were then staged and produced together to form a single large work entitled Decameron.  My scene is an adaptation of the tale of Nastagio degli Onesti, whose unrequited love for Paulina Traversari finds fulfillment only after he quite literally scares her into marrying him.

In this version, the action begins at the end of the story, at the couple’s wedding.  Nastagio can hardly believe his good fortune; Paulina, on the other hand, is not so sure.  When the priest asks Paulina to take her vows, she hesitates, for she has been blackmailed into the marriage.  In order to demonstrate the consequences of refusing a suitor, Nastagio has forced her to witness a horrifying scene, one that is revealed to us in the form of a flashback:

A beautiful naked woman is being chased through the forest by a knight and his hunting dogs.  The woman stops to explain the situation – long ago, the woman’s rejection of the knight’s love led to his suicide, and though both have long since been dead, they are condemned to eternally reenact the terrible scene of the knight’s vengeance.  After telling his own version of the story, the knight murders the woman, and within moments, she jumps to her feet again and continues her desperate flight.

We then return to wedding, where Paulina has still not answered the priest’s question.  Finally, she consents, and the couple is married.

Besides featuring a wonderfully inventive plot, this scene was intriguing to me because it presented the opportunity to write two extremely contrasting arias in almost immediate succession.  Although the naked woman and the knight tell us almost the same story, their perspectives and emotional states are totally different, and it was a wonderful challenge to write both the soprano’s desperate plea for mercy and the tenor’s passionate love song.




Three Teasdale Songs, texts by Sara Teasdale (2010)
high voice (or medium voice), piano, 9'

I. I would live in your love

II. Absence

III. Spring Rain

Allison Sanders, soprano
Bonnie Wagner, piano

score sample

I would live in your love commissioned by the Lotte Lehmann Foundation
Absence and Spring Rain commissioned by soprano Kimberly Walton
Complete set premiered May 9, 2010 by Walton, Ji-Young Lee, piano, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY

These three songs were written to poems by Sara Teasdale, an American poet active in the early part of the 20th century.  The first, I would live in your love, was originally commissioned separately by the Lotte Lehmann Foundation in 2006; the others followed when soprano Kimberly Walton asked me to write a few more songs to create a small Teasdale set.  Seen as a group, the poems form a kind of loose narrative describing various stages of a love affair: I would live in your love depicts the powerful rush of emotion that accompanies the beginnings of a romance; Absence speaks of a great separation between lovers; and in Spring Rain, the narrator looks back upon life with the wisdom of experience.


I would live in your love

I would live in your love as the sea-grasses live in the sea,
Borne up by each wave as it passes, drawn down by each wave that recedes;
I would empty my soul of the dreams that have gathered in me,
I would beat with your heart as it beats, I would follow your soul as it leads.


Absence

I cannot sleep, the night is hot and empty,
My thoughts leave nothing lovely in my heart,
You love me, and I love you, life is passing,
We are apart.

The August moonlight vibrates with the voices
Of insects and their passions frail and shrill—
Oh from what whips, oh from what secret scourgings
All of earth's children bow before her will.


Spring Rain

I thought I had forgotten,
But it all came back again
To-night with the first spring thunder
In a rush of rain.

I remembered a darkened doorway
Where we stood while the storm swept by,
Thunder gripping the earth
And lightning scrawled on the sky.

The passing motor buses swayed,
For the street was a river of rain,
Lashed into little golden waves
In the lamp light's stain.

With the wild spring rain and thunder
My heart was wild and gay;
Your eyes said more to me that night
Than your lips would ever say....

I thought I had forgotten,
But it all came back again
To-night with the first spring thunder
In a rush of rain.




Adam lay ybounden, text anonymous, 15th century (2007)
SATB chorus, organ, 2’


Choir of St. Mark's Church, cond. Matthew Glandorf

score sample

Commissioned by the Epsicopal Church of St. John in the Wilderness, White Bear Lake, Minnesota
Premiered December 16, 2007 by the St. John in the Wilderness chorus, conducted by David Gehrenbeck, White Bear Lake, MN

Commissioned for inclusion in an annual Lessons & Carols service, this work is based upon an anonymous 15th century version of the story of Adam and Eve:

Adam lay ybounden, bounden in a bond,
four thousand winter thought he not too long;
And al was for an appil, an appil that he took,
As clerkes finden written in their book.

Ne hadde the appil take been, the appil taken been,
ne hadde never our lady a been hevene queen;
Blessed be the time that appil take was,
Therfore we moun singen Deo gracias!




Noche Extensa (Vast Night), text by Pablo Neruda (2007)
soprano, clarinet, violin, violoncello, harp (or piano), 5’


Elizabeth Zharoff, soprano
Kelly Coyle, clarinet
Elizabeth Fayette, violin
Sarah Rommel, violoncello
Coline-Marie Orliac, harp
Lio Kuokman, conductor

score sample

Premiered June 29, 2007 by Jutta Holmberg, soprano, and musicians of the Académie musicale de Villecroze, conducted by Michael Djupstrom, Chapelle Saint-Victor, Villecroze, France

An extraordinary Neruda poem gave me all the inspiration necessary to compose this piece:

Un animal pequeño,
cerdo, pájaro o perro
desvalido,
hirsuto entre plumas o pelo,
oí toda la noche,
afiebrado, gimiendo.

Era una noche extensa
y en Isla Negra, el mar,
todos sus truenos, su ferretería,
sus toneles de sal, sus vidrios rotos
contra la roca inmóvil, sacudía.


El silencio era abierto y agresivo
después de cada golpe o catarata.

Mi sueño se cosía
como hilando la noche interrumpida
y entonces el pequeño ser peludo,
oso pequeño o niño enfermo,
sufría asfixia o fiebre,
pequeña hoguera de dolor, gemido
contra la noche inmensa del océano,
contra la torre negra del silencio,
un animal herido,
pequeñito,
apenas susurrante
bajo el vacío de la noche,
solo.
A small animal,
pig, bird or dog,
defenseless,
bristling with feathers or fur,
I heard it all night long,
feverish, moaning.

It was a vast night
and on Isla Negra, the sea,
all of its thunder, its hardware,
its barrels of salt, its glass shattered
against the immobile rock,
the sea shuddered.

The silence was clear and aggressive
after each blast or shower.

My sleep was being sewn
as if spinning the interrupted night
and then the small, furry being,
little bear or sick child,
was suffering suffocation or fever,
little bonfire of pain, a cry
against the immense night of the ocean,
against the black tower of silence,
a wounded animal,
so small,
barely whispering
beneath the emptiness of the night,
alone.




Walden in Winter, text by Michelle Regalado Deatrick (2004)
male voice, female voice, harp (or piano), 4’45”


Paul Max Tipton, baritone
Suzanne Klock, soprano
Rachel Brandwein, harp

Premiered April 13, 2004, by Christopher Temporelli, baritone, Suzanne Klock, soprano, and Nadia Pessoa, harp, Kerrytown Concert House, Ann Arbor, MI

This short dramatic scene was written for a collaborative course pairing writers with composers.

When I opened your letter this morning,
I knew it was your last.
There’s something I’m going to tell you,
Before my future becomes your past.

I loved Walden in the winter,
walking the path that circles the frozen pond like desire,
and smoothing back your hair,
that was red and lovely as tamed fire.

But you want May without December,
to see a sky that’s always blue.
You want the harvest without any reaper,
You’ve made no climb, but claim a Mount Everest view.






It was after midnight in mid December,
when I dreamed of a hollow grave.
I woke to the cold of our hard, hard bed.
I kissed your sleeping hair, but already
your untamed heart had fled,
there was nothing left to save.











I’ll tell my chosen few
you’ve got your May without December
you’ve got that Calvary view.

There’s only one way to make you see
that the sacrifice for your genesis was me.

They’ll say I ignored the warning signs
but skated smiling onto Walden’s thin ice.
All true, and as a story, it wraps up very nice.

And yet before they’re through, they’ll also have to tell
that I sank like the stones in my pocket.
I made no struggle—
as I fell.
















You wouldn’t listen when I told you
that fear of nothing brought me here
where I walk Earth’s belly without shame
under storms that let down both locusts and rain,
and the swift fall of night opens me like a vein.






It’s the oldest lie and the ugliest,
that beauty’s price is pain.
I learned its untruth before I stepped off the plane.

And when I shook the dirty snow from my sandals,
I knew I wasn’t the vandal that you claimed.
It’s you who wears love like a stain.

But if you think you’ll feel better,
go ahead and tell your chosen few
I’ve got my May without December,
brought in the harvest without a reaper
I’ve made no climb
but I’ve got that Calvary view.





Lullaby, text by Sarah Rubin (2004)
soprano, piano, 45”


Suzanne Klock, soprano
Michael Djupstrom, piano

score sample

Premiered April 13, 2004 by Suzanne Klock, soprano, and Michael Djupstrom, piano, Kerrytown Concert House, Ann Arbor, MI

Like “Walden in Winter,” this simple lullaby was written for a collaborative course pairing writers with composers.

Beneath the blanket of the moon
the ravens dip and swoop and croon

As arrows drop they stop mid-flight
to bid the sleeping child good night.




Berceuse al espejo dormido (Lullaby to a sleeping mirror), text by Federico García Lorca (2002)
SATB chorus a cappella, 4’


Tanglewood Festival Chorus, cond. James Lee III

Premiered July 28, 2002 by Tanglewood Festival Chorus, conducted by James Lee III, Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, MA

“Berceuse al espejo dormido” was written during the summer of 2002, while I was a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, as part of a special project run by composition faculty member Steve Mackey and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and its conductor, John Oliver.  Each of the seven composition fellows wrote a new work for chorus, either unaccompanied or with small ensemble, which was then conducted by another young composer, eventually being presented in a public concert in Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood.  In addition to the chance to compose a work for chorus, the project gave me my first experience as a conductor as well as the educational opportunity to witness the preparation and revision of each work throughout the rehearsals.

The unusual and evocative language of Federico García Lorca’s poetry had long seemed to me ideal for musical setting.  While searching for a text for this project, I discovered this beautiful berceuse for the first time and immediately knew I had found what I needed.  The gentle, insistent rhythm of the poem generated the idea of a repeated duerme (“sleep…”) in the music, and first half of the work spun out naturally from this initial motive.  The brief and subtle blossoming of the poetry – which returns thereafter to the quiet, restrained language of the opening – provided the structure for rest of the piece.  The medium of a cappella chorus seemed perfect to express the poem’s striking mood: a quiet sense of human warmth and comfort floating through a strangely unsettled atmosphere.  The work carried special meaning for me, as well; a dear friend of mine was suffering emotionally at the time of the work’s composition, and I wanted to offer whatever solace I could through my music.

I always imagined that this piece might someday serve as a central movement of a larger Lorca choral cycle.

       Duerme.
No temas la mirada
errante.
        Duerme.

Ni la mariposa
ni la palabra
ni el rayo furtivo
de la cerradura
te herirán.
        Duerme.

Como mi corazón,
así tú,
espejo mío.
Jardín donde el amor
me espera.

Duérmete sin cuidado,
pero despierta
cuando se muera el último
beso de mis labios.

        Sleep.
Do not fear the wandering
eye.
        Sleep.

Neither the butterfly
nor the word
nor the furtive ray
through the keyhole
will wound you.
        Sleep.

As my heart is,
you are,
my mirror.
Garden where love
awaits me.

Sleep without worry,
but wake
when the last kiss from my lips
dies away.





Three Songs, texts by Claude McKay, Wallace Stevens, Alfred Kreymborg (2000/revised 2002)
mezzo-soprano, piano, 10’30”

I. The White House

Eudora Brown, mezzo-soprano

II. Vacancy in the Park

Leena Chopra, mezzo-soprano

III. Lima Beans

Melissa Schiel, mezzo-soprano
Sandra Lee, piano

3rd Prize, ASCAP/Lotte Lehmann Foundation Song Cycle Competition, 2005

Premiered in July 2002 by Eudora Brown, Leena Chopra, and Melissa Schiel, mezzo-sopranos, and Sandra Lee, piano, Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, MA


The White House

Your door is shut against my tightened face,
And I am sharp as steel with discontent,
But I possess the courage and the grace
To bear my anger proudly and unbent.
The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,
A chafing savage, down the decent street,
And passion rends my vitals as I pass,
Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass.
Oh I must search for wisdom every hour,
Deep in my wrathful bosom sore and raw,
And find in it the superhuman power
To hold me to the letter of your law!
Oh I must keep my heart inviolate
Against the potent poison of your hate.

Claude McKay

 

Vacancy in the Park

March . . . Someone has walked across the snow,
Someone looking for he knows not what.

It is like a boat that has pulled away
From a shore at night and disappeared.

It is like a guitar left on a table
By a woman, who has forgotten it.

It is like the feeling of a man
Come back to see a certain house.

The four winds blow through the rustic arbor,
Under its mattresses of vines.

Wallace Stevens


Lima Beans

[expecting the husband’s return, setting the table]

THE WIFE: (Wistfully whimsical.)
Put a knife here,
            places a fork there—
            marriage is greater than love.
            Give him a large spoon,
            give him a small—
            you’re sure of your man when you dine him.
            A cup for his coffee,
            A saucer for spillings,
            A plate rimmed with roses
            to hold his night’s fillings—
            roses for hearts, ah,
            but food for the appetite!
            Mammals are happiest home after dark!

(The rite over, she stands off in critical admiration, her arms akimbo, her head bobbing from side to side.  Then, seriously, as she eyes the husband’s dinner plate.)
                                   
But what shall I give him to eat to-night?
            It mustn’t be limas,
            we’ve always had limas—
            one more lima would shatter his love!

excerpted from “Lima Beans,” drama by Alfred Kreymborg