Category Archives: New Compositions

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.

There Is No Great and No Small

americanflagThere Is No Great and No Small. Mezzo-soprano, piano, 3′. Text by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Premiered Philadelphia: 8 Oct 2016, the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 9 Oct 2016, the Academy of Vocal Arts.

For Lyric Fest’s opening concert of the 2016/17 season, titled I Hear America Singing, I was commissioned to set a poem of Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his 1841 first series of Essays. The poem sometimes carries the title of “The Informing Spirit.” I composed this song for mezzo-soprano Suzanne DuPlantis and pianist Laura Ward, the co-directors of Lyric Fest.

There is no great and no small
To the Soul that maketh all:
And where it cometh, all things are;
And it cometh everywhere.

I am owner of the sphere,
Of the seven stars and the solar year,
Of Cæsar’s hand, and Plato’s brain,
Of Lord Christ’s heart, and Shakespeare’s strain.

I read somewhere that the elemental vibration of the universe is a B-flat. What that means, or how that is calculated, I don’t know, but it gets your attention. Emerson’s words connected me to that concept, so I put the song in B-flat, but the dichotomy of small and great suggested a twist. So instead of a big, fat B-flat major or a dark B-flat minor, I twisted it into one of my favorite modes, the lydian, the defining note of which is the raised 4th, so I hope you like the entrance of that first E natural as much as I do. There is a simplistic, almost silly spinning of 8th-notes, which work themselves into a two-part counterpoint of different small phrases. These I repeat at different scale degrees and in different orders, and that is a fair description of what goes on in the song. The words, as words will always, tell me where to stretch, where to lay back, and where to land.

I Hear America Singing featured an all-American program of Stephen Foster, George Crumb, Elliot Carter, Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Marc Blitzstein, and along with There Is No Great and No Small there was a commissioned new arrangement by John Conahan and a premiere finale by Daron Hagen.

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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

Out of the Depths

Out of the Depths. Text: Psalm 130. SATB, 6-1/2′. Commissioned by Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Bryn Mawr, Pa., Jeffrey Brillhart, music director. Premiered 13 March 2016.

outofthedepthsp1There are qualities in Anton Bruckner’s music that inspired both this setting of Psalm 130 and a work I composed a couple of months before, the O Antiphon O Rex Gentium.

As a choral bass I’ve sung Bruckner’s Ave Maria and Virga Jesse recently, and the qualities that come to mind in the middle of singing him are “audacity” and “belief.” Moments of sheer beauty and of passing strangeness, almost ugliness, appear. Certainly, odd harmonic juxtapositions and wide extremes of volume and register not only inhabit, but propel the music (the nine bars of loud, low E that conclude Virga Jesse will rivet any bass’s attention).

But this is not an audacity of effect. It is integrity itself. Bruckner writes this way not to impress the audience or to show off the voices. He writes this way because he is compelled to. The text drives him to this music. Simply, he believes every single word he sets. His music spades down into the depths of his belief.

Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

So I thought I owed two things to this setting of Psalm 130: to believe the depths, and to believe the mercy. Balancing truths—of iniquity and forgiveness, of waiting and hoping, of supplication and redemption—is the life of the believer. Ignoring one side cheapens the other.

Musically, I balance the related four-flat keys of A-flat major and F minor, going from one to the other fairly quickly. At “Lord, hear my voice,” there’s a hesitancy in the women’s voices, depicting the awareness of unworthiness. The sweeter key of B-flat major colors “But there is forgiveness with thee,” which leads to the un-Brucknerish but important inspiration (to me) of early American fuguing-tune writing, at “I wait for the Lord.”

The Broad Street Review I wrote about a de profundis experience while composing Out of the Depths.

The Stars Shine, New Release on iTunes

I’m so happy to report that The Same Stream, the new choir formed by Westminster’s James Jordan, has chosen a work of mine to be on their inaugural recording. “The Stars Shine,” the last movement of The Consolation of Apollo, is included on The Same Stream. It’s an honor to be included with music by Thomas LaVoy and Cortlandt Matthews.

Here’s a promo for the release:

The wonderful English sound engineer Andrew Mellor is part of the recording team on this. Release date is December 28th, and you can pre-order here.

James Jordan heard The Crossing’s premiere of The Consolation of Apollo and immediately programmed “The Stars Shine” with his Westminster Williamson Voices, then brought it over to The Same Stream for this project. Thank you to James Jordan, and thank you to The Same Stream choir… and thank you to Donald Nally and The Crossing!

 

Where Flames a Word: ACDA, CT

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Khorikos

Thanks, Jesse Peckham and Khorikos for presenting Where Flames a Word at the Connecticut American Choral Directors Association 2015 Fall Conference, held at The Hartt School Saturday last, October 24th.

I’m looking forward to next week at the Modern Masters (yikes!) concert, Saturday, November 7th, 7:30 pm, at the Shrine Church of St. Anthony of Padua in New York City.

And Seeing the Multitudes

And Seeing the Multitudes is a cello concerto commissioned by the Helena Symphony as part of my 2014-15 residency with them for their 60th anniversary. It was written for Ovidiu Marinescu. The music director, and the driving force behind this project and the entire residency, is Allan R. Scott. The work is dedicated to Ovidiu and Allan. It was premiered January 31st, 2015 at the Helena Civic Center, Helena, Montana.

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rehearsing And Seeing the Multitudes, Ovidiu Marinescu and Allan R. Scott

It is in one movement, 20 minutes long. The instrumentation:

2+pic, 2,2,2—4,3,3,1—timp+3(incl marimba)—piano, harp—solo cello—strings

The title is taken from the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount passage in the Gospel of Matthew. It is built upon the Beatitudes, with the chorale Herzlich lieb’ ich dir, O Herr following. It is not a well-known chorale, even among those who sing chorales, but if it is known in America, it will be in its Catherine Winkworth translation: “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart.”

When I began to compose this in earnest, news of police shootings and angry riots was inescapable. Wondering what a composer’s response might be, “Blessed are the peacemakers” kept coming to mind. I considered a work hanging on the Beatitudes as a framework, but soon realized that a response to them was needed, which is when I turned to the chorale tune to end the work. I then used that as material for the eight Beatitude sections—sometimes obvious, sometimes not—so in effect the piece is a theme and variations, with the variations coming first.

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Ovidiu Marinescu, concertmaster Stephen Cepeda, associate concertmaster Allison Elliott

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came to him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The Gospel of Matthew 5:1-10

“Lord, Thee I love with all my heart” translated 1863, Catherine Winkworth (1829-1878), from Herzlich lieb hab’ ich dir, o Herr (c.1567), Martin Schalling (1532-1608), based on Psalm 18; Bernhard Schmid, Orgelbuch, Strassburg (1577)

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rehearsal