Category Archives: Children’s Music

I Could See the Sky

I Could See the Sky. For SATB, 2-part Treble Choir, Keyboard, optional String Quartet, 17 minutes (Treble Choir may be boys and/or girls or a few women)

The editing process is usually severe. Many good things—music, text, both—are often left on the cutting room floor, and you grieve for a moment but you move on. In 2011, I left texts behind when I wrote the song cycle Plain Truths for David Yang and the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival. It set the writings of Newburyport authors, professional and amateur, and two years later, when David asked me to expand the cycle, I was able to add more, but still, grudgingly, left some behind. I never really know why something strikes me more or less than something else. Much of it may simply be timing.

If that’s true, then the timing for this new cycle turned out to be crucial. When David called me about writing this new piece, I was driving in my car. I pulled over to talk because I saw his name on the phone and I always enjoy talking to David, who is warm, brilliant, and soulful.

I also was in no hurry. I was driving to my brother’s house, where he had taken his life a few days before. The next day was trash day in his town. The trash cans needed to be taken around to the curb, and that is what I was driving there to do. [I have written more about this here.] So, I was in no hurry to return to the house. I told David where I was driving and he would not talk any more about music or business but only about my brother, and about my family. My older sister Carole had died the year before, after a long battle with cancer. Of the children, Susan, the youngest, and I remained.

Later, when I looked for texts in earnest, the John Lagoulis account of his near-drowning came roaring back to me out of the Newburyport writings I still held onto. I knew I had to set it. Everything else fell immediately into place.

These words, with a poetry that screams from within their commonplace garb, bludgeoned me. There is a little bit of my childhood in each of these, but the Lagoulis pulled them all together. I made that one the final section and dedicated it to my brother and sisters.

For the premier concert David also asked me to arrange something of the Plain Truths cycle for solo organ, so I chose the one most closely aligned in spirit to this new cycle, “Annie Lisle,” and also the rousing “Spirit of Freedom.” I call this new set for organ Ballad and March.

First performance Saturday, 19 August 2017, Central Congregation Church of Newburyport, Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, David Yang, artistic director; George Case, conductor; Newburyport Choral Society, George Case, music director; Greater Newburyport Children’s Chorus, Gina McKeown, music director; the Choir School at St. John’s, Margaret Harper, director; Yonah Zur and Yuri Namkung, violins; David Yang, viola; Claire Bryant, cello; Margaret Harper, organ. Text for Nos. 1-4 from Life in Newburyport, 1950-1985, collected by high school students of Jean Foley Doyle, edited by Jennifer Karin. Text for No. 5 from Newburyport: As I Lived It! by John Lagoulis. Commissioned by and dedicated to the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, David Yang, Artistic Director.

1. The Ide of Jay
Anne Teel

Right near our house, and this does not exist today, there used to be a little boatyard. There was only one boat in that boatyard and that boat was called the Ide of Jay. It was a beautiful sloop sailboat. Every year the Ide of Jay would get launched. It was a very wealthy man that owned it. He would go south with the Ide of Jay and in the fall he brought her back up. They would bring her back up into the shed. And I could remember it was almost a holiday when the Ide of Jay got launched. This huge boat being launched into the water. If they tied her up for a week or two before he left for the south, we would sneak up on her deck and dive off the fantail. I had a wonderful childhood.

2. I had a brother, Harold
Betty Doyle

I had a brother, Harold, they called him “Gramp.” And I had a brother, Norman, they called him “Boogie.” Don’t ask me why. And this was part of the gang. “Goat” Perkins, “Cowie” Little, “Duke” Little, and “Farmer” Hamilton. Years ago everybody had a nickname. There was “Spud” Pollard, “Fishy” Morrill and “Gumdrop” Lawler.

3. We lived everywhere
Bob Fuller

We lived everywhere in Newburyport. Most of my time was spent in the northend. The people are different from the southend; I think this still applies. There’s a difference. I always liked the southend. It was older, warmer.

4. I have lived in this house
Sid Weiner

The square, at that time, was not what you see today. I have lived in this house for eighty-five years.

5. I was looking up
John Lagoulis

I was looking up. I could see the sky and the wharf and my sisters and my brother looking down at me.

When I pulled hard on a rope to bring the dory in, it responded like a spring, the anchor was entrenched. I pulled real hard. A boulder was under the surface. I hit my head. I had a comfortable feeling like sleeping in a bed and had no desire to move. I was lying on my back at the bottom of the Merrimack River.

I was drowning and I didn’t know it.

I saw my brother leap into the water. Jumped right in after me with all his clothes on. He lifted me up with one arm and with his other arm held to the rope and pulled us toward the wharf. My sisters helped. They rolled me back and forth over a barrel. People on the river knew, it was common knowledge among sailors and people.

All my life I have been proud of my brother and sisters.

The Bremen Town Musicians, for Orchestra

Orchestrated for narrator and small orchestra, 2016, for the English Symphony Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductor, and premiered 10 Jul 2016. 1111–1110-1perc-narrator-str. 8′

Original composed 2008. Violin, cello, narrator.From a story compiled by the Brothers Grimm; version by K.S.  (Program notes, text, and recording of original here.

Here’s MIDI audio of the orchestral version:

Click on the first page below for the entire score:


Grandmother’s Garden

Grandmother’s Garden. Text: Grandmother’s Garden, the children’s book by John Archambault. 2-part Children’s Choir, Piano, opt. C Instrument, 9′.

GrandmothersGardenCommissioned by Settlement Music School, Philadelphia, in honor of the 10th Anniversary of the Gleeksman-Kohn Children’s Choir, Rae Ann Anderson, director. Premiered April 10th, 2016, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cherry Hill, N.J. and May 1st, 2016, First United Methodist Church (Germantown), Philadelphia.

I was honored to be asked to celebrate the choir’s 10th Anniversary by setting this book. I was so taken with the text and illustrations that the musical ideas came to me very quickly—and that does not happen often. The magic of the book, I think, is in the realization and acceptance of two opposing thoughts, that we are all separate, and that we are all together. We are all different, and all the same. Each thought is made stronger by the acceptance of its opposite.

The book makes it real by picturing our fingers in the soil, by picturing our faces rising to the sun—while time stands still. The individual names and countries are sources of pride; there is nothing wrong, and everything right in that. At the same time, there is pride in our togetherness. All different, all the same, all in one garden.

Grandmother’s Garden plays a part in my essay Patriotism and Music, first published in Broad Street Review.

GrandmothersGarden.p3Roses, carnations, chrysanthemums—
In Grandmother’s garden, we are all one.
She tenders us, gentles us, nurtures us with care.
Born from the earth with water and air,
Born from the earth with water and air.
Earth is a garden turning ’round the sun,
With room to bloom for everyone.
We’re all flowering faces reaching for the sun.

In Grandmother’s garden, we are all one.
In Grandmother’s garden, we are all one.
We are one, we are one.
In Grandmother’s garden, we are one.
Turning ’round the sun,
We are one.

Grandma Rose used to say to me,
“Feel the earth on your hands and knees.
Till your fingers through the soil ’til the time stands still,”
In Grandmother’s garden.
It all starts from a tiny seed.
A little patch of earth is all we need.
Fresh river water or falling rain,
A little bit of sunshine and lots of love.
A little bit of sunshine and lots of love.
Different colors, different faces, different names—
Underneath our skin, we are all the same.
We are flowering faces reaching for the sun.

In Grandmother’s garden, we are all one.
In Grandmother’s garden, we are all one.
We are one, we are one.
In Grandmother’s garden, we are one.
Turning ’round the sun,
We are one.

Grandma Rose used to say to me,
“Feel the earth on your hands and knees.
Till your fingers through the soil ’til the time stands still,”
In Grandmother’s garden.
Joseph, Camille, and Alexandria—
In Grandmother’s garden, we are all one.
She tenders us, gentles us, nurtures us with care.
Born from the earth with water and air,
Born from the earth with water and air.
José from Mexico, Celine from France,
David, Mohammed, Sarah, and Hans,
Stanley, Tyler, Michael, and Collette,
Sergei, Kevin, Keiko from Japan,

In Grandmother’s garden, we are all one.
We are one, we are one.
In Grandmother’s garden, we are one.
Turning ’round the sun,
We are one.

—John Archambault

The Greatness of Hansel and Gretel

[First published in WRTI’s Arts Desk, 21 December 2015.]


Hänsel und Gretel; Alexander Zick (1845 – 1907)

A young mother wanted to sing to her children. She wrote poems based on a story by the Brothers Grimm and asked her brother to set them to music. He did, but then kept working with them, and in two years those songs turned into Hansel and Gretel.

The 1893 fairy-tale opera by Engelbert Humperdinck was a hit at its premiere. It immediately swept from Germany through Europe, and into England and the United States. Its popularity has never wavered.

Hansel and Gretel premiered on a December 23rd, and although Christmas doesn’t appear in the opera, Christmas-time most often sees performances of this. It’s a morality tale and a witch story, but it’s really about two things: children and great tunes.

The music ranges from flighty to folksy to scary to heart-rending, but it’s all brilliant, all colorful, and all deeply emotional. Humperdinck shatters the idea of children’s entertainment as, well, childish, and the idea that serious art has to be oh-so-serious.

Hansel and Gretel completely engages everyone. If artistic greatness is measured as emotional reach across people and countries and centuries—and age groups—then here’s a vote that one of the greatest of all operas has to be Hansel and Gretel.

Patriotism and Music

[First published in Broad Street Review, 17 Nov 2015; printed here by permission.]

flagOn 9/11, on that Tuesday in 2001, the first thing I did was to put up the American flag. I went into the coat closet, fetched it, went out on the porch, put the staff into the holder, tightened down the knob, looked at the flag hanging there for a minute, and went back inside. I left it there for 11 years. I asked myself often in the days following 9/11, and then in the ensuing weeks and months and years, if I should take it down. The answer was always “No.” Eventually, though, one day the answer came back, “Okay, that’s enough,” and now it’s back to flying on holidays.

Sibelius’s Finlandia, Copland’s Appalachian Spring, and a new work by Hannibal, One Land, One River, One People were on the Philadelphia Orchestra program Saturday evening. But the concert opened with an unscheduled piece, “La Marseillaise.” Because of the terrorist attacks in Paris the day before, concerts everywhere included the French national anthem. Whether it’s a natural calamity that devastates, like a tsunami hitting Japan, or a proclaimed and common enemy that attacks, like the Islamic State, we look for ways to unite with others in their grief.

Skip the national anthem

A couple of weeks ago in the Washington Post, Scott Cantrell expressed his dislike of hearing the national anthem at concerts. I appreciate his sentiment; I don’t think I’d like to hear it at every concert. But every one of his arguments, I believe, is wrong. Concerts are not patriotic displays, he writes, and this is true. But neither is a ball game. There’s no more reason for a patriotic display at a sporting event than at a musical one.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” doesn’t fit with Beethoven and Mozart in a concert, he writes. This may be true (I’m not sure it is, even though our anthem isn’t great music), but the appeal of the patriotic display lies in its dissonance—even its inappropriateness—to its surrounding. “That’s not why we’re there,” is correct. But a red, white, and blue flag also clashes with the cream yellow and green trim of my house. The clash is of no consequence; the appeal of both is even enhanced by the jarring.

Is patriotism the problem?

The problem, however, isn’t with patriotic display. It’s with patriotism itself, isn’t it? We can tell because the word is seldom allowed to stand on its own. Cantrell mentions “perfunctory patriotism” as if patriotism is always a pose, just as he mentions “narrow nationalism” as if nationalism is always jingoism.

But when I think of nationalism, I first think of that Sibelius Finlandia or of Copland’s Appalachian Spring, of Borodin and Grieg and Ives and Vaughan Williams and Bartók. I think of all the composers in all the countries who looked for, and found, and created their own country’s voice. Many times this nationalism sprang up to break the 19th-century hegemony of German training that ruled classical music. But whatever the reason, it advanced a love of country, and behind it, a love of liberty, which is after all what the “Marseillaise” or the “Hymn to Liberty,” is.

But doesn’t patriotism go beyond this?

Too much of a good thing?

Certainly it can feed into domination or tyranny or imperialism. But any good thing can be turned. Macbeth shows that even the love of one’s wife or husband can be ill-used. Loving your mother can be perverted, according to Psycho. But the love of mother, spouse, and country are good things. I don’t love America and my family because they’re good (I happen to think they are), but because they’re mine. I don’t therefore hate France or Finland or somebody else’s family; it’s not either/or. Rather, my love of country and family opens me up to all countries and to all families, because it opens me up to love.

True, it means that I’ll defend what’s mine. I haven’t lived in New Jersey for 40 years. But that’s where I’m from; I’ll always be a Jersey kid. I can make jokes about New Jersey, but, as this bit of doggerel explains,

The Barrens, gardens, suburbs, speak—
Along with beaches stretching wide,
Along with roads on which you ride—
And by themselves defy your cheek.
They don’t require, for all your fun,
Defense from me at what you spoke.
But try your lame New Jersey joke
On me; let’s see how much you laugh when we are done.

Flying many flags

Driving up Fifth Street, into Hunting Park and north, I see flags of Puerto Rico flying from cars. Pennsylvania is one of 19 states requiring just a rear license plate, so it’s not uncommon here to see Irish, Italian, German, U.S., and other flag plates on the fronts of cars. Those flags, of whatever country, are the emblems of American patriots, because anyone who loves any country that much knows what patriotism is, and will love this one, too.

I just finished a work called Grandmother’s Garden for the Settlement Music School Children’s Choir, to be sung next spring. The children’s book by John Archambault says that all of us—roses, carnations, whoever we are—grow in one garden. The rain falls and the sun shines on all of us together. Then it says this:

José from Mexico, Celine from France,
David, Mohammed, Sarah, and Hans,
Stanley, Tyler, Michael, and Collette,
Sergei, Kevin, Keiko from Japan,
In Grandmother’s garden, we are all one.

I love that José is from Mexico and that Celine is from France. That pride is real; that pride is good. I will stand during their national anthem any day of the week. There is no time clock on patriotic display or on grief. National pride is not the enemy of the oneness we hope for. Patriotism is the very ground of unity.

[Editor’s note: I am reminded of the scene in Casablancayou know the one.  Judy Weightman]

The Crossing, 2014/2015

47From The Crossing’s newsletter:

2 New Works of Kile Smith; The Crossing on WRTI

– The first concert of the 2014/15 season, with a new work by Kile Smith
– MoM III: 2014 on WRTI this Sunday
– Another new work from Kile Smith
– Two archival recordings from MoM II: 2010 released
– Secure your seats; buy your tickets for the season online now

Kile Smith: The Consolation of Apollo (world premiere)
David Lang: The Little Match Girl Passion

Friday, October 10, 2014 @ 8pm
Saturday, October 11, 2014 @ 8pm
Institute for Advanced Study
1 Einstein Dr, Princeton, NJ 08540
Visit for tickets

Sunday, October 12, 2014 @ 5pm
The Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square
1904 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Buy your tickets online and save

David Lang’s minimalist passion, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, has become a Crossing signature work – immediate, stark, beautiful, it contemplates the value of recognizing the suffering of others. Lang’s work is so iconic, we commissioned a companion piece from Kile Smith whose libretto offers an unlikely, brilliant pairing: Boethius’ sixth-century musings on man and beast, and transcripts of the historic Christmas Eve 1968 broadcast of Apollo 8 astronauts reading Genesis. Smith considers in music what we are and what we can be, how the earthbound free their imagination in flight.

Donald notes, “We challenged Kile in mixing the poetic musings of Boethius with the banter of astronauts steering their craft to get a better view of …well, of us. His musical response is so imaginative – and surprisingly spatial and lyrical – it’s as if he was with those pioneers floating 239,000 miles from the earth and witnessing the first earthrise. You must hear it to believe it.”

with generous support from Eric Owens, The Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia, The Chestnut Hill Community Fund, and the Edward T. Cone Concert Series at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study

The Crossing on WRTI
Month of Moderns 2014: 3
October 5, 3:30 PM EST

Tune in this Sunday from 3:30-5:00 PM EST on 90.1 WRTI for the broadcast of our third concert from this year’s Month of Moderns festival. On July 12th, we joined forces with PRISM Saxophone Quartet for an eclectic, kaleidoscopic program featuring a long-awaited world premiere from British composer Gavin Bryars.

The concert also included works by Monteverdi, Stratis Minakakis, and Tõnu Kõrvits, and took place in the extraordinary acoustic of the Icebox at Crane Arts in Northern Liberties. The broadcast is hosted by Donald, and can be heard live here!

PRISM Quartet warms up in The Icebox
PRISM warms up in The Icebox

May Day – Kile Smith and Ryan Eckes
We recently received another new work from Kile Smith, May Day. This work, commissioned in collaboration with the J.S. Jenks School in Chestnut Hill, will be premiered by The Crossing and the 4th- and 5th- graders of the Jenks School on April 18, 2015. This project continues to be a great privilege and joy; we hope you’ll join us in supporting new music and the next generation of musicians.

Read more about Kile’s new work on his website.
For more information on this concert, visit our website.

Lyric Fest Composer in Residence

artwork by Laura Pritchard

artwork by Laura Pritchard

I’ve attended their concerts for years, so I’m excited to be a part of Lyric Fest’s upcoming season as Composer in Residence!

A Shakespeare trio, a choral work with audience participation, a large song cycle using new poems inspired by new paintings, and lecturing on Lieder are all part of my 2014-15 residency with Philadelphia’s Lyric Fest, which for more than ten years has been bringing imaginative art song performances to the aficionado and newcomer alike.

More details about each of the concerts are here, and their brand-new brochure is linked here. Lyric Fest is a unique musical offering, equally noted for scholarship and entertainment, presenting artists of national and international stature in the intimate setting of song. Critics call Lyric Fest “compulsively enterprising” and “an irresistible mix of high art and humane feeling… as entertaining as a well managed party.”

I hope to greet you at one of the concerts. My deep thanks to Suzanne DuPlantis, Laura Ward, and everyone at Lyric Fest for this wonderful opportunity!