New Piece “Everyone Sang”

Since my last post, I have safely moved into my new apartment in Los Angeles.  In reality, I’m actually really excited to begin this new chapter.  Surprisingly, I’ve made this transition relatively smoothly, which is a big deal for me.  I still miss all my great friends still living in Provo as well as my mentors and other great professors at BYU.  For some reason I just feel this invigorating sense of possibility right now.  Anyway, more on that later, on to what I’m supposed to talk about.

This last summer I was commissioned by Dr. Staheli to write a new piece for BYU Singers.  I decided to compose a new setting of “Everyone Sang” by Siegfried Sassoon.  At first I was very hesitant to take on this challenge.  BYU Singers just sang the incredible, mind-blowing (extremely difficult) version by Dominick Argento two years ago.  I had that version in my head for so long and there have been other great settings by other composers, I just couldn’t see how I could make a significant contribution and have my own voice for the text.  After a while though, I found it too difficult to resist and admitted that I actually might have something worthwhile to add to it.

Composing this was a rather strange process for me because I essentially composed the entire piece backwards from end to beginning.  I didn’t mean to and I’d never done it before, but it turned out okay!  I compose basically from what I hear in my “mind’s ear” and the first thing that came was “O but everyone was a bird,” then the previous line, etc.  It just goes to show: trust inspiration, it just knows.

I absolutely love the poem and was struck by it the very first time I read it:

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on–on–and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

– Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)

Surprisingly, when Sassoon wrote this poem he was not elated or euphoric but rather depressed and defeated:

“It was a sultry spring night. I was feeling dull-minded and depressed, for no assignable reason. After sitting lethargically. . . for about three hours after dinner, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing for it but to take my useless brain to bed. On my way from the arm-chair to the door I stood by the writing-table. A few words floated into my head as though from nowhere. . . so I picked up a pencil and wrote the words on a sheet of note-paper. Without sitting down, I added a second line. It was if I were remembering rather than thinking. In this mindless manner I wrote down my poem in a few minutes. When it was finished I read it through, with no sense of elation, merely wondering how I had come to be writing a poem when feeling so stupid.” (Sassoon, Siegfried’s Journey)

Despite the cynical origins of the poem I still firmly believe in the optimistic sentiment and self-evident truth of the poem.  I believe it stands as a testimony, that even in times of great despair and desolation, something jubilant and joyful is waiting beneath the surface screaming for release.

I’ve delivered it to Dr. Staheli and we’ve been able to trim and polish it a bit more over the last month.  I’m very excited because it’s going to be performed at three possible sets of concerts this fall.  One of these concerts will be when BYU Singers opens the Utah All-State Choir Concert in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on October 13th.  That’s the concert that I will be attending in person (God bless frequent flyer miles).  I’m thrilled!  I’ll post more as dates become confirmed.

Anyway, enough of that, here’s what most of you want now: The first page.

Farewell to Provo

I’ve finally made the move out of Provo and now live in the city of angels “ready” to start my DMA program at USC (I use the term “ready” very loosely here).  A friend of mine asked me what some of my favorite moments at BYU were, and it got me thinking.  It might be the best way to talk about this transition.  There’s been a quote going around attributed to Dr. Suess (don’t know if it was him, and I don’t feel like taking the time to verify right now) that says “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Here are some of my favorite moments/times that I had at BYU in no particular order:

  • Being at the inauguration of President Samuelson as the President of BYU by Gordon B. Hinckley.  It was the first time I had been in the same room as the prophet.  It was electrifying.
  • My very first day in Concert Choir with Professor Hall.  Completely changed my life.
  • Singing the premiere of “Midnight Clear.”
  • The premiere of “In Paradisum.”
  • Our study abroad in London learning about English choral music.
  • Returning to Ireland on tour.
  • The first time I conducted BYU Singers in performance.  Will Todd’s “Ave verum corpus” in the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake.
  • Singing “Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine” in the Provo Tabernacle.  I’ll never forget the audience reaction.
  • Taking Counterpoint and Independent Readings (Renaissance Music) with Dr. Bush.
  • Conducting the Men’s Chorus in the MTC.  “Choose the Right,” arranged by Rosalind Hall.
  • Climbing to the top of Squaw Peak, Y Mountain, Cascade, Timpanogas and Nebo.

As you can see, most of these best times involved the choirs in some way. That’s how important they have been in my life.  As a final gesture, I want to post one of my favorite choral pieces.  These last several years have shaped my life in a way that few other things have.  I usually can’t listen to this without tearing up . . . a lot.

Recordings of Schola Cantorum Occidentalis

I just realized that I meant to post these recordings a long time ago after our concert, but then got swept away by the BYU Singers tour and completely forgot about it.  Here’s to making amends and getting this posted.  These both came from our set of composers from the Spanish Renaissance.

“Vere languores” by Tomás Luis de Victoria

“Canite Tuba” by Francisco Guerrero

Save Sibelius

It’s been a while.  But I did want to take a little bit of time to promote a petition called “Save Sibelius.”  Sibelius is a music notation software that I and many other composers, editors, engravers, arrangers, conductors, performers, teachers and students use.  It’s been a great tool to use for several years.  Now, sadly, Sibelius’ parent company, Avid, is closing the Sibelius main UK office and outsourcing its development to save money.

Avid is apparently bleeding money elsewhere in their company and are making a short term expense decision that will have long term effects.  While Avid claims that this wont affect the product, they will certainly be losing their competitive edge working with professional musicians in the London area as well as the continuity of the same development team.  It makes sense on paper, but in the music business, it’s a huge loss.

I’ve joined a petition asking Avid to sell Sibelius to new owner as it’s a viable self-standing company and to keep the development with the UK team.  I also encourage you to do the same.  If you’re a Finale user you should also be concerned about this development.  The fierce competition between Sibelius and Finale has made both products significantly better for its users.  If you don’t use any notation software, this might not concern you as much, but please sign the petition anyway as it does affect professional and amateur musicians around you.

Please sign the petition here.  You can also check out their Facebook page here.