Tag Archives: Pennsylvania Girlchoir

How Do I Love Thee?, in performance at Verizon Hall

KimmelStill flying high after Monday night’s performance of How Do I Love Thee? by the Pennsylvania Girlchoir under the direction of Vincent Metallo. This was part of the June 16th Commonwealth Youth Choirs Gala in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, continuing the 10th Anniversary celebration of the Girlchoir. The concert included the Keystone State Boychoir and many other groups.

But if that weren’t enough, the emcee for the evening was Miss America Nina Davuluri. So that means, you bet it does, that my name was read by Miss America from the stage of Verizon Hall.

More information about my setting of the famous Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem is here. The girls sounded wonderfully focused and exquisite in that space, and I cannot say enough about Vincent’s directing. His preparation of my piece and others chosen for this evening (including two difficult and ravishing Eastern European works) show the amount of work that goes into an “effortless” performance. What a blessing to be a part of it.

SSAA with piano or string quartet, 7′. Commissioned by the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, Vincent Metallo, music director, for its Tenth Anniversary. Premiered 1 June 2014, the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith;
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
“Sonnet 43,” Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1845

How Do I Love Thee? at the Kimmel Center June 16th

Kimmel

Just got word from Vincent Metallo that he’s programmed How Do I Love Thee? on the 7 pm Monday, June 16th 2014 concert of the  Pennsylvania Girlchoir at the Commonwealth Youth Choirs Gala in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.

This continues their Tenth Anniversary celebrations, and the concert includes the Keystone State Boychoir. More details here.

I’m so proud to be a part of their celebrations, and honored to be included in this grand concert!

How Do I Love Thee? SSAA with piano or string quartet, 7′. Poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Commissioned by the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, Vincent Metallo, music director, for its Tenth Anniversary. Premiered 1 June 2014, the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith;
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
“Sonnet 43,” Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1845

How Do I Love Thee?, the Premiere

SSAA with piano or string quartet, 7′. Poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Commissioned by the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, Vincent Metallo, music director, for its Tenth Anniversary. Premiered 1 June 2014, the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia.

PAgirlchoirlogo

I can’t say enough about the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, their premiere of my How Do I Love Thee?, their tenth season-ending concert yesterday, and the work of Vincent Metallo.

Five years ago they performed, with mezzo-soprano Suzanne Duplantis, my Two Laudate Psalms, and they were fantastic then. I can hardly believe it, but they have grown even better since, although, with some graduating seniors having been founding members, that’s quite a legacy to draw on. PG consists of five age-based choirs, with girls from ages seven through 17. Conductors Maureen Haley and Zerrin Agabigum Martin directed the younger of the groups, and Music Director Vincent Metallo, the oldest one.

The concert was brilliant, and never lagged. Different groups sang singly and in various combinations. The oldest, “Motet” choir sang in English, Latin, Hungarian, and Czech; that set included a rich Kodály piece and was inspired.

My setting of the famous Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem came right before the end (my program notes are here). The two oldest choirs, Motet and Trouvères, sang it with luscious sound and elegant diction and control. Katie O’Mara, off for Westminster Choir College in the fall, sang the short solo gorgeously. I could not have been happier with the breadth of sound and emotion. Vincent’s conducting is wonderful: apt and moving without being showy, and getting so much out of the singers by very efficient means.

And they’re taking it on their tour of Italy!

The Pennsylvania Girlchoir is a group to watch, with a strong organization, active parental backing, and inspired leadership. I’m so happy and honored that PG asked me for How Do I Love Thee?, their 10th anniversary piece.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith;
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
“Sonnet 43,” Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1845

How Do I Love Thee?

SSAA with piano or string quartet, 7′. Commissioned by the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, Vincent Metallo, music director, for its Tenth Anniversary. Premiered 1 June 2014, the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia.

HowDoILoveTheeP1Setting Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” for the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, I knew that the big moment would obviously be in the last three lines: “I love thee with the breath,/ Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,/ I shall but love thee better after death.”

I wanted that to hit as one of my favorite moments in music hits: the opening of the Five Mystical Songs of Ralph Vaughan Williams. (More about the whole process of composing this is here.) The text begins, “Rise heart; thy Lord is risen,” but before those words there’s a succession of gathering triplets, the building up and layering of mild dissonances that finally break upon a seawall of massive, stacked chords of thirds, pounding while “Rise heart” soars overhead.

“I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears” ought to have unfolded similarly, heating the voices to a rolling boil, washing, splashing, overlapping. After a disappointing start, where I composed only Vaughan Williams lite, it slowly came into view. No triplets, just straight quarters. I kept a lot of the thirds but changed many other aspects. Yet the spirit of Vaughan Williams hovers, for me, over this passage.

It’s a calm work, even for that loudness. At first the passion of the words ruled, but then their precision came to the fore, almost as if the poet stops, takes a breath, and wishes to reason with herself. It’s why the first line is repeated at the end of this setting. Capturing first love and lasting love, innocence and wisdom, and the voice of Elizabeth Barrett Browning sung by the young women of the Pennsylvania Girlchoir was foremost in my thoughts.

As I write this, the sound of their voices, directed by Vincent Metallo at one of their last rehearsals before the premiere, rings amazingly. They are able to sing with so much subtlety around tip-toeing harmonies and yet then can unleash a breathtaking wall of sound. They are a remarkable choir, Vincent brings a wonderful vision, and there was no need for me to say anything at the rehearsal: it was that beautifully in hand. I’m thrilled to have been asked to be a part of their tenth anniversary celebrations.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith;
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
“Sonnet 43,” Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1845

Dying, How Do I Love Thee?

[First published in the Broad Street Review, 21 Jan 2014, as “When Vic Morrow meets Vaughan Williams” and reprinted by permission.]

MorrowSaundersIt was a good death.

I sprinted toward the safe spot just past the garden, but Gary Tierney stepped out from behind the maple and opened fire. Eh-eh-eh. Eh-eh-eh-eh-eh. His tommy gun spat, the bullets crashed into my chest, and I twisted through the air, the energy snapped out of my legs. My limbs whirligigged, the rifle spun out of my grasp toward Gerry Doeffler’s fence, and, with a hopeless “Uhh” escaping my throat, I plowed into the lawn. The back of my right shoulder thudded into the turf, my head and legs crumpled in. I bounced once and an arm was pinned under me, but I didn’t move, didn’t breathe. It was a good death.

“Let me try again!” I sang out as I popped up. My chest, I thought, should’ve registered the impact of those bullets better. “Naw, it’s my turn!” said Gary, and the negotiations of playing army continued through the afternoon.

We called it playing army, but in the early ’60s that meant playing Combat! And that meant deciding who would be Sgt. Saunders—Vic Morrow—who was, and who to this day still is, the single coolest man ever to appear on television.

I wouldn’t mind being Kirby, the id with the Browning Automatic, any day. Caje, who spoke French, was swift and deadly, and you had to have a soft spot for the gentle giant Littlejohn. If there were a lot of us, I’d even agree to being Lt. Hanley.

(Nobody wanted to be Lt. Hanley, but in my ear I knew I had captured his carbine, with that sound-effect echo. With the ch from Bach or challah it was KH-chKH-ch. The Thompson machine gun, done correctly, was Tttt!-Tttt!-Ttttttt!, but Gary was only six maybe, and you needed a lot of aggression to force the air over the tongue and between gritted teeth.)

But to be Sgt. Saunders was It. Vic Morrow was the smoldering method actor who had ignited the big screen as a thug in 1955’s Blackboard Jungle. Selig Seligman, Combat!’s executive producer and a former Nuremberg Trial lawyer, made Morrow the leader of the squad endlessly fighting Germans and conscience.

Watching Saunders interpret treelines while the patrol scraped along a dirt road—or scan the rooftops of the French village they were always entering, or leaving, or defending, or avoiding—or following his veiled lids as they assessed Hanley’s latest radioed directive from HQ—or seeing him lean into a pocked wall or the socket of a tree and breathe—or gazing with an eight-year-old’s experience as he slung his tommy gun upside-down over his shoulder and rolled his hips forward for one more advance—you could believe in everything anyone had ever said in favor of fighting. Or against it.

Saunders was the hero of old. The true hero has no time for heroes, nor for antiheroes. Beowulf quaffs ale, cracks an arm out of a monster, knows he did right, and laments.

Vaughan Williams or Andy Williams?

When I set Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?,” which I just finished for the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, I knew that the big moment would be in the last three lines: “I love thee with the breath,/ Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,/ I shall but love thee better after death.”

I wanted it to hit like one of my favorite moments in music hits me: the opening of the Five Mystical Songs of Ralph Vaughan Williams. The text begins, “Rise heart; thy Lord is risen,” but before you hear those words there’s a succession of gathering triplets, the building up and layering of mild dissonances that finally break upon a seawall of massive stacked chords of thirds, pounding and pounding while “Rise heart” soars overhead.

My plan was that “I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears” would heat the voices to a rolling boil, washing, splashing, overlapping. But when I wrote it down, the accompaniment was merely Vaughan Williams lite; the voices, more like singers backing up Andy Williams.

Try as I might, I cannot escape the sounds of my youth, which are locked into the commercial swing I listened to on my parents’ LPs and sang in Christmas and Broadway arrangements in my junior high choir. It also centers so much of the sound of Motown, really my generation’s music. If I could sing “La La Means I Love You” with the Delfonics (OK, Sound of Philadelphia, not Motown), or back up Tex Beneke in “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” with harmonies so tight you couldn’t slip a piece of paper through them, that’d be the sweetest nostalgia.

Nostalgia soothes, all right, but it soothes you to death. It makes you a transcriber, not a composer. To create means to drill deeper, to strike the vein that energizes that nostalgia. We all grow up in our own circumstance, and mine is just one mineshaft down to the vein. Once there, we have to make something out of what we hit.

Instincts are good but they only go so far. Then the work starts. Only the thrashing of notes—after a long time, usually—brings ore out of the vein. Slowly, “I love thee” came into view. Little by little I uncovered “the breath, Smiles, tears.” No triplets, just straight quarters, KH-chKH-ch. I kept a lot of the thirds (oh boy, did I), but I switched up voice directions and completely re-engineered the bass notes. These suggested new harmonies, which I then tweaked some more.

Tttt!-Tttt!-Ttttttt! One by one, I killed off Ralph, Andy, Kalamazoo, Motown. They were good deaths. I still love them, and they’re still in there somewhere, but for better or worse, they’re dead and they’re me. And in the next piece, I can pop up and sing out to the gardens and fences and maples and treelines and rooftops, “Let me try again.”

How Do I Love Thee, Double Bar?

doublebarJust got to the end of my new piece for the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, a setting of a certain poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Although there’s still lots and lots of work to do now that I’ve hit that double bar, I love hitting double bars, I love hitting double bars, I love hitting double bars.

Let me count the ways.

Andrea Clearfield, Mendelssohn Club

Looking forward to this Sunday, 29 Apr, 4pm, for the Mendelssohn Club concert (in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Girlchoir) featuring Andrea Clearfield’s fascinating new work Tse Go La.

I’m moderating a panel discussion beforehand, 1:30 at fye, Broad & Chestnut, which will illuminate the work and its background. I know it will be illuminating because of the panelists, who, in addition to Andrea, are anthropologist Sienna Craig, Mendelssohn Club Artistic Director Alan Harler, The Venerable Losang Samten, and Tsering Jurme of The Tibetan Association of Philadelphia.

Also on the concert, the Fauré Requiem. Hope to see you there!